I am one very happy bunny at the moment and a lot of it is down to Yarn! How has Yarn become my medicine of choice?
I have enjoyed both knitting and crochet for a long time but now I am working from home I find that some of my craft hobbies needed a little added something to make me happier. That something was other people!
I know that while I prioritise making time for creativity many people don’t have that luxury and after reading the work of Brene Brown recently one of her statements resonated with me so strongly that I have almost adopted it as a mantra!
“I’m not very creative” doesn’t work. There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
With that in mind I set about creating a group locally to where I live that embraces all types of Yarn craft and means that members will have a definite time in their calendar which is just for them to exercise their creativity.
So far we have had two meetings at Sacher and Strudel, a local Viennese Patisserie. It was important to me to get myself and attendees out of the house, away from the chores, family and petty distractions. Plus, hello! VIENNESE PATISSERIE! Home made Apfel Strudel and gourmet coffee!
Luckily Antonia, the proprietor and pastry goddess was on board and we decided to charge £5.00 a session including a hot drink of choice and away we went!
Yarning (as we decided to call it after a Facebook poll) is open to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether they are old or young, beginner or experienced they can pop along, and just lose themselves in their projects, good conversation and amazing eats.
I am there to answer questions, help with patterns and provide resources that can be used by everyone. Attendees can bring their own projects or I have put together two kits. One for knitting, one for crochet that attendees can buy. These contain EVERYTHING needed for the project from beginning to end and are based on patterns freely available on the internet.
There is also a library of books and patterns (both knitting and crochet) that attendees can borrow simply by signing them out.
I have also started a Yarning Facebook Group which I am really enjoying finding fun and interesting content for. Members can ask questions, share useful videos and any yarn related humour is always welcome.
I brought along my crocheted spotty blanket to work on and even managed to get a few stitches in between helping others.
So far I have had a huge amount of fun at the Yarning gatherings. The idea was that the time is relaxed, enjoyable, inspiring and rejuvenating . Where solutions to other problems present themselves because they have simply not been at the forefront of your mind for a while and it is proving to be exactly what I was hoping for!
If you think this sounds like fun and are in the Hampshire area come along. I’d love to see you and we can enjoy the atmosphere together.
Scarily I have spent at least £500 on craft books in the last 3 years. Gorgeous, but useless books. Do you know what my single most used knitting book is?
Disclaimer: I purchased this book at full price for my own use. I did not receive it as a
gift nor was I asked to write this review. All opinions are my own.There are no affiliate
links in this post.
I should explain first of all that this isn’t a detailed “How to knit” book. I think that it works best in partnership with YouTube as probably the best medium for learning how to knit basic stitches and focusses instead on ways in which you can make your basic projects into professional looking articles. I refer to this a lot, especially to refresh my memory after I haven’t knitted for a while.
Boosting Your Knitting Ninja Skills
The retailers recommended price on this is £8.99 (although, at time of writing, The Book People seem to have a good deal on copies) this puts it at up to £10.00 cheaper than a lot of books covering similar subject matter. Plus it is the size of a small notebook which makes it incredibly handy to slip into your knitting bag. My version is paperback, which keeps weight down, although I know that a hardback version is published.
I like the fact that it is clearly written by a Brit and consequently talks in British knitting terms all the way through. It has a particularly useful needle size conversion chart for UK to US sizes but one of the few tricks I think it misses is including a chart to translate UK to US yarn weights. I have printed out my own and glued it into the back of the book for reference
Knitting patterns use abbreviations, you can find lots of keys as to what these mean (including one in this book) but what is often not covered are commonly used expressions, such as “place markers” or “easing in any fullness”. The author covers these common terms too.
The “Fixing Mistakes” section is probably one of my most thumbed. Picking up dropped stitches and untwisting them is something we all tend to need at one point or another! My other gem from this book is the demystification of the fabled “thumb cast on”. I still don’t like it but at least I now understand how it works in both the UK and European version!
I actually bought this book after attending a day workshop on finishing techniques because it has a really clear section on types of seams and where to use them.
Beware Of The Knitting Purists
On the negative side it makes me smile how Debbie Bliss covers “Yarns” without mentioning that synthetic yarns exist. It fits in with her ethos of only using natural fibres but they aren’t all that is out there! Her edging reference section has some gorgeous ideas for decorative finishes for your projects and the book tempts you with more advanced things such as intarsia and bead work. It doesn’t provide an exhaustive guide to these though and you may well want more information before embarking on them.
In short this is a book that I would recommend for any “not quite beginner” which will last into expert-hood.
Are there any knitting books that you wouldn’t be without? I’m always on the look out for new titles to recommend to people attending my workshops (plus I need to feed my book addiction somehow!)
Easter is very early this year and if you are looking for Easter cards that also happen to look really good look no further than these easy block printed Easter cards. They also have the added bonus of being fun to make for pretty much any age group!
Block printing is a quick and easy way to get a stunning result. There are a lot of different ways to make a block and the method used in this project can be done by young and old alike. A really good excuse to get your fingers messy!
There are two versions of these cards, one is more traditional, the other a bit funky.
Family Friendly: Yes, with small adaptations can be done by all ages.
Skill Level: Easy. (Some accuracy with scissors needed).
Time Needed: One and a half hours (one hour to make the stamps, half an hour to print)
Approximate Cost: Around £5.00, including the card blanks.
2 A4 Craft Foam Sheets (if working with young children pre cut foam stickers may be better)
Ink Pads (Stamp Pads) in colours of your choice
Washi Tapes (optional)
Blank Cards and Envelopes (I used these, but many places sell similar).
Paper to practice on.
Double Sided Tape
Flat Bottomed drinking glasses
Ball point pens (one each)
A Hole Punch (optional)
How To Make Easy Block Printed Easter Cards
Using double sided tape stick your two pieces of craft foam together to make a double layer. Don’t use glue as it takes DAYS to dry due to the non-porous nature of the foam!
(If you have young children and are using pre-cut foam stickers pick two the same shape as each other and stick one on top the other)
This helps you to have a clearer outline and results in a better print.
Print out the Easter designs I have drawn up on a piece of paper and cut them out. Draw around them onto the craft foam with a ball point pen. Click here to download. Block Printed Easter Card Templates
When adding detail you can do it in two ways:
Use the ball point pen to draw the detail (like the zig zag lines) onto the foam shape. Press hard and go over it several times this indent will give you the pattern when you print.
Use scissors and a hole punch to cut the detail out of the two layers. This shows up more clearly when printed with but is more tricky.
Use double sided tape to stick the cut images to the bottom of the drinking glasses. They will come off again with soap and water but you could also use any flat, hard surface that will take a bit of pressure while you print (bits of scrap wood or empty jam jars would also work well). The advantage of using glass is that you can see exactly where you are positioning the stamp!
Choose what colour stamp pad you want to use. It works best if you press the pad onto the foam, moving it around as necessary to make sure the whole design is covered in a good layer.
Print onto your practice paper. Play with different layouts and find some you like. If you want to overlap two stamps in different colours it is best to wait until the paint from the first one is dry. Always start with paler colours and stamp darker ones over those if you want overlapping designs.
Step Five A (Optional):
If you want to make the funkier version of these cards. Choose five or six designs of washi tape (or alternatively alternate two or three) and stick lengths from the outer edge of the card. Don’t be afraid to tear the ends at an angle. That slightly ragged finish looks really good. Use scissors at the edge of the card to cut the tape to fit. Then proceed to step six.
Stamp your cards. You will have a good instinct now for how often to add more ink to the stamp and how to position it. Feel free to use mine as inspiration or a starting point. At this point you will really understand how easy block printed Easter cards are to make. Using glasses as your blocks should make it easier to line up your stamps as you want them.
Once your cards are dry, add personalised messages (I often cheat and print out my greeting in a handwritten style font I like, copy it in pencil and then go over it in pen!) You could even add a personalised stamp to the envelopes as well.
I hope that you enjoy making these easy block printed Easter cards. I had fun coming up with them. I would really love it if you would share pictures of your block printing adventures on the Il Magpie Facebook Page.
All things print and printmaking have been on my mind recently. I have been on a fantastic Letterpress printing workshop with Inky and the Beast (more to follow about that!) and I am leading a workshop on the 25th where attendees design, make and print cushion covers with their own blocks. I particularly love this workshop as the students always come up with new and exciting ways to use blocks that I would never have thought of! If you are in the Hampshire area and want to build on your knowledge of block printing from these easy block printed Easter cards you can find more information here.
I splurged a bit on my planner this year and treated myself to the Blogtacular/Lollipop Life Planner which has huge flexibility in it’s layout to plan how I wanted to. One of the best things about it was that it comes with a plain grey board cover. The possibilities were endless. I always like to customise my planners. and this year I came up with this Geometric Notebook Cover DIY that I wanted to share with you.
After a great deal of mulling things over I decided that I wanted something bright, colourful, inspiring and personal. Anyone who follows me on Instagram knows that my insta feed is pretty colourful and I decided I want to use my photos from the last year to inspire the next. I also needed the cover to last the whole year without looking tatty. I’m thrilled with the Geometric Notebook Cover DIY that I ended up with and think it will do the trick beautifully.
Geometric Notebook Cover DIY:
What You Will Need:
Choose your photos. Instagram pictures work well because they are square to start with. Print them out onto thin cardboard. I found that two per A4 sheet worked out with about the correct proportions. I needed 21 images per cover. So to do the front and the back I needed 42 images.
I had an Inkjet Printer so I used that. If you have a colour laser printer you can skip Step Two.
Spray ALL of your images with 3-4 coats of transparent spray sealant. It is best to do this in the open air. I used my washing line and some pegs but make sure to check the wind direction first as you don’t want a face full!
You are doing this so that the ink doesn’t run when you coat it with Mod Podge. Doing this meant I got away with using the Inkjet printer instead of paying for colour laser print offs. Plus I get to keep the rest of the spray for other projects.
Measure your notebook. Mine was A5 size. I wanted a minimum of four complete triangles across the width of mine (I thought it needed at least this many to get the tessellated look I wanted but still be big enough to show the pictures off). A few sums gave me an isoceles triangle with a base of 4.5cm and a vertical height of 6.4cm (Allowing for a 2mm gap in between shapes). I also wanted the header “Life Planner” to show so I made a note of it’s size and location.
Using these measurements I made a template from a spare piece of card.
I placed the template over my images, moving it around to get the best “view” of the image before drawing around the shape with a pencil where I wanted to cut.
Then I set to and cut out all my little triangles!
I arranged the triangles as I wanted them and used my trusty double sided tape mouse (those things are seriously life changing!) to stick all of them into position (front and back). I didn’t use glue because I didn’t want to make the cardboard damp and risk it wrinkling.
I added some washi tape around the header text to make it stand out a bit more and another area on the back for continuity.
Break out the Mod Podge. I used it neat (un-diluted) and used an old paintbrush to paint a coat of it all over the front cover.
After the cover is thoroughly dry coat it with Mod Podge again (ordinary PVA glue will also work for this but I like Mod Podge because it isn’t quite so runny and I can get it in a matte finish). Keep the coats as smooth as you can for the best finish (if I did this again I would actually use one of those foam brushes to help with this). Keep doing this until you have 3 or 4 coats of Mod Podge on both the front and back covers. As the Mod Podge dries you will see that it really brings the colours of the images out on this Geometric Notebook Cover DIY.
I really love this Geometric Notebook Cover DIY, it was really good fun to make and now it cheers my days up. Helping motivate me through the rest of the winter towards sunnier spring days. I am also really loving the Life Planner itself. It is really flexible and actually allows me to bullet journal (which might be my new obsession).
What about you? How do you plan? Do you bullet journal? Any tips for a newbie journaller?
Welcome to this post on starting needle-felting and what you need to know.
This is the second post in a series that gives you the facts about a craft before you commit to buying kit, or possibly even before you try it. This post aims to be a “fact file” with the answers to the most common questions.
(Please note that the prices I quote are correct at time of publishing and they are from (almost) universally available sources like Amazon. You may well be able to find cheaper versions by shopping around!)
Starting Needle-felting; what is it exactly?:
Needle-felting is a process that is used to make two and a half or three dimensional decorative objects. It involves using barbed needles to stab wool fibres again and again which causes them to lock together and the object to become denser, keeping its shape as you work. This happens because wool fibres have scales on them which lock together when they are rubbed against each other. The image below shows a merino wool fibre (top) viewed under a microscope alongside a human hair (bottom).
Photo courtesy of CSIRO [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The material produced as these scaled fibres rub together and lock is what we call felt. As you know if you have ever washed a “hand wash only” jumper in the washing machine it felts because the fibres are rubbed together by the washing process and lock together into a denser textile.
How Much Time Per Week Will Needle Felting Take Up?:
To be honest, like embroidery, starting needle felting can take as little or as much time as you want. Its sister activity wet felting takes a lot of set up and clearing up but needle felting can be done at any table and the kit takes minutes to get out and clear away. I suggest that you felt onto a surface that will not matter if it gets marked but apart from that small 3D projects can take an hour or less (Hobbycraft have some kits that make a good starting point, I particularly like the penguins). More detailed projects like the ones the amazing Mrs Plop makes take hours each to do (if not days) and require a lot of practice!
The simple needle-felted hearts that you can see in my images are done using a mould to help shape them (a bit of a cheat but it works!) and take about 15 minutes each.
However starting needle-felting should come with a health warning. It is SERIOUSLY addictive!
Do I Follow Patterns Or Do I Have To Make Up My Own Designs?:
There aren’t really “patterns” as such for needle-felting but if you search “Needle felting tutorials” on Pinterest you will find hundreds of “how to’s” for every animal and object under the sun. You can use these as your guide when starting to needle-felt.
Once you get confident you can spread your wings a bit. Knowing basic stuff like pipe cleaner “skeletons” or adding detail with a single needle will give you the confidence you need.
How Much Money Does It Take To Start Up?:
This isn’t the cheapest of crafts. You can buy a packet of felting needles for around £7.00 and use them as they are. However I find it a lot easier to mount the needles in a felting tool. I like the Pen Style Felting Tool by Clover which comes with needles and costs £8.25. I prefer the way this feels in my hand and it has better control for detail. A lot of people get on just as well with the more traditional style tool though, which is a similar price.
As an absolute minimum to start with you need a felting tool, some wool roving and either a brush style felting mat or a piece of dense foam to use as a surface to work on. Everyone has an opinion on which they prefer. A brush mat like mine can be bought for £10.63 and a piece of foam is around £5.60. Personally I prefer the foam for 3D work as it helps hold and shape the object being felted. Having said that the foam doesn’t last as long because the constant punching from the tool breaks it down.
Wool roving (also known as “Tops”) is available in loads of colours and quantities. A quick search on Amazon for “wool roving” yields around twenty pages of results with prices starting at £1.46 for a 10 gram bag.
Any additional moulds etc, are entirely up to you and the tutorial you are following.
Total cost to produce a simple first design is around £15.31 (around $21.85). This only gives you one colour of roving to work with though so you may want to factor in a few pounds for extra colours. This cost also is for the foam mat rather than the brush mat.
How Quickly Will I See Results?:
Quickly! As I mentioned before the small hearts take around 15 minutes each. The basic shape of the item you are felting emerges really quickly but the really fine detail takes time and patience (an usually use of a single, fine, needle).
What Previous Knowledge Do I Need?:
No previous knowledge needed at all. There are lots of tutorials and projects out there in cyberspace but I think some of the best are Hawthorn Handmade’s written guides to different parts of the process and their video tutorials.
It depends on the project. The more detailed the project, the more dexterity is needed to get that detail. Although small my felted hearts take very little dexterity because there is no detail. When I tried to turn one of them into a Conversation Heart considerably more dexterity was needed to add the wording. I used a single needle and almost needed a magnifying glass (I know I’m getting old!) Even then I wasn’t entirely successful!
How Much Brain Power Does It Take?:
Not a much unless you plan to take it to a very high standard or make your own designs. It’s also very cathartic after a stressful day to spend some time stabbing something!
One word of warning though. The needles do snap if you are too rough with them. As they are fairly expensive to replace try and avoid that by paying attention to where you are putting the needles.
How Much Room Will It Take Up?:
(I’ve added this category from the last post at the suggestion of one of my readers who pointed out that she has little storage space at home and this would be a factor for her choosing a craft to try).
Needle-felting takes up a small amount of space. I can keep all my kit and materials in one box (like the one below) from Ikea that measures 27x35x20 cm.
(photo courtesy of Ikea UK)
Needle-felting is great fun and addictive but I would recommend that you try in for the first time in a class. The kit is then often provided for you to take home (either included in price or for a small extra fee). You should find it quite easy to find a local beginners class and take it. There are quite a few around and learning in a group is always less intimidating.
I’d love to know if this post is useful to you and I am more than happy to answer any questions you have via the comments, Facebook or Twitter.
Hopefully I have now convinced you to make crafting one of your New Year’s Resolutions, I have also let you know what questions I ask myself when I am picking a craft to try, So what about the answers to those questions, (for example what do you need to know when starting embroidery)? If you have never tried a craft before it may be a bewildering mess with no clear place to start so or my next few posts (and at semi regular points throughout the year) I am going to provide a “fact file” with the answers to the most common questions.
First up, Starting Embroidery…
What Is Embroidery?:
Embroidery is decorating fabrics with patterns and pictures sewn in coloured threads. Unlike cross stitch or tapestry it is usually done on ordinary fabrics without holes woven in to guide size and shape of stitch. A line drawing of an image is transferred onto the fabric using one of several methods and different stitches are used to make up different shapes and cover area, such as in the toadstool below.
How Much Time Per Week Will Embroidery Take Up?:
To be honest, starting embroidery can take as little or as much time as you want. A small project, like monogramming hankies will only take a couple of hours to complete and can be picked up and put down as much as you like.
A bigger project like Aimee Ray’s gorgeous cuckoo clock will take a lot longer, is a lot bigger and obviously that makes it less portable!
By the way, if you are thinking of taking up embroidery you should seriously check out Aimee’s books on Doodle Stitching. So cute and easy to follow, I love them!
Do I Follow Patterns Or Do I Have To Make Up My Own Designs?:
That is entirely up to you! If you check out Aimee’s Instagram feed you will see that she takes her own line drawings and turns them into transfers for embroidery. However you can buy ready made transfers that simply iron on or create your own from line drawing images found on the internet or books.
As I am no Leonardo Da Vinci I tend to use the images of others but I have used my own handwriting to embroider quotes for quilts etc.
How Much Money Does It Take To Start Up?:
To begin you really only need some fabric or a garment to stitch onto (100% Linen retails for about £7.50 per half metre). I quite often just use men’s hankies from Primark (£3.00 for five!).
That said if your fabric is too thin you will need to use a stabiliser to stop stitches ruckling it up. I use a water soluble one which means that you place it under your fabric in the hoop, sew into it and then wet the fabric so that it dissolves away (it’s like magic, I love it!). I paid £0.74 for a piece 20cm x 90cm in my local haberdashers recently.
An embroidery hoop is not an essential but I find it incredibly useful as it holds the fabric taut and makes it MUCH easier to position the needle accurately for the stitch. As I mentioned above it is also really useful for holding fabric and stabiliser together while you sew. I prefer a small hoop that I move around if I am working on a bigger design. A 10cm wooden embroidery hoop recently cost me £2.99
Embroidery threads (also known as Stranded Cotton) start at around £0.90 per 8 metre skein from Hobbycraft or any of your local Haberdashers. Metallic or variegated colour threads cost between £0.40-£0.50 more. There are two main manufacturers, DMC (pictured) and Anchor. I recommend sticking to them as many patterns use their colour numbering systems to tell you what colours you will need.
If you choose something like a simple Redwork design you will only need one colour of thread. Redwork is simple and rather beautiful and Mandy Shaw of Dandelion Designs does it beautifully. A packet of embroidery needles will set you back about £1.50.
To get your design onto the fabric you can trace in ordinary pencil (cost will probably only be some tracing paper), you can buy iron on transfers (cost depends on who has designed them but start at around £3.50) if you search for “iron on embroidery transfers” on Etsy some great results come up!
Total cost to produce a simple first design is around £12.68 (around $18.41). Not a huge cost and this would give you several hankies to personalise as you wish.
How Quickly Will I See Results?:
A simple monogram like the one in the picture above usually takes about 30 minutes to get the transfer onto the fabric in the right place. Sewing it usually takes a maximum of two hours. Obviously the more colours and different types of stitch involved the longer it is likely to take. The toadstool took me about three hours, start to finish but there was a lot of solid colour to fill in.
I like to see results quickly so small projects like hankies work well for me plus they make wonderful presents for people.
What Previous Knowledge Do I Need?:
If you can sew a running stitch you can learn embroidery. I say this because running stitch is also an embroidery stitch! Craftsy have some wonderful guides for hand embroidery that are free to download if you sign up (free of charge to do that as well).
How Dexterous Do I Need To Be?:
Honestly? Pretty dexterous. I have improved A LOT with practice but the ability to wield a needle has to be there to begin with. Accuracy in placing the stitches can make a lot of difference to the final result. I will add that good lighting also makes a significant difference.
How Much Brain Power Does It Take?:
Starting embroidery takes a bit of brain power to learn a new stitch but once you get past the first few stitches you settle into a rhythm and it becomes soothing. To be honest I never memorise how to do some of the harder stitches (like French Knots) but re-learn them via You Tube whenever I need them. You can see one example below (thanks to Needleknowledge.com) but there are LOADS.
This stitch is one of the more complicated ones, so don’t be put off!
If video learning isn’t for you find a local beginners class, like the one I run, and take it. There are quite a few around and learning in a group is always less intimidating.
I’d love to know if this post is useful to you and I am more than happy to answer any questions you have via the comments, Facebook or Twitter.
I asked you to bear with me earlier this week when I evangelised that you should include crafting in your New Year’s Resolutions (see Why Make Crafting Your New Year’s Resolution? if you missed it). Now I feel that I have to put my money where my mouth is and help you with choosing a new craft. I will then spend my next few posts profiling some fun crafts that you might be interested in trying.
In the meantime, if you are feeling bewildered by the sheer number of crafts out there and the process of choosing a new craft I thought I would share my decision making process when choosing a new craft to try. I have put this in an infographic (my first ever attempt at one of these!) so feel free to pin, print or refer to it whenever you like.
What do you have to consider when you are choosing a craft or project? Tell me on Facebook, Twitter or leave a comment here and I may well add it to my infographic!
Happy New Year everyone! Have you managed any Christmas crafting?
Now is the time that most people (me included) are thinking about resolutions, words of the year or other ways in which to alter the course of their every day life for the better. It is a time of “Fresh Starts”.
Anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows that I strongly believe that including crafting in your lives is a great resolution to make. I thought I would make one of my resolutions to explain why!
Well, here we go…
Did you know creativity is good for your health?
In our modern world we are always on the go. We work long hours, run around after our kids in what little spare time we have and go to bed at night with our minds whirling and the worries of the day looming. According to the Mental Health Foundation 1 in 4 British people will experience a mental health problem during the course of a year. To me, this shouts that something should change.
In 2004 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Positive Psychologist at the Quality of Life Research Centre, Claremont Graduate University, California) gave one of the early TED talks on “Flow, the secret to happiness”.
He uses a graphic to illustrate his research over a period of years which clearly indicates that as the average income rises, happiness doesn’t!
He has studied creative people such as artists and composers and this has led him to his belief in “Flow”. This is a point, when you are engaged in doing something creative, as he puts it.
“when you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, as this man is, he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness, because he doesn’t have enough attention, like none of us do, to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time to feel that he exists”
It is, in a nutshell, what the trend for mindfulness is all about. Just look at the huge popularity of adult colouring books at the moment. This really underscores the point that the brain NEEDS a creative outlet, even for those who don’t think they are at all “creative”.
If you pass on crafting skills (whatever your method) you leave a legacy.
Think about what we have left of ancient civilisations. It is usually their art, their sculpture, their jewellery and architecture. If we are lucky their writings or music. Creative pastimes all of them. No legacy is left behind of how good they were at bringing home money or riding a horse. Creation is the legacy that civilisations leave behind.
What will we leave for future generations of archaeologists?
On a more mundane note I have had huge fun doing creative things with my children. It has passed on problem solving skills, love of beauty, appreciation of artistry and (sometimes) valuable skills that should be preserved for future generations. I really think that sewing a button on, making a greetings card or baking a cake are skills that our society will need and want for a long time to come (alongside new and advancing technology).
Those who follow the Il Magpie Facebook page will know that I was really impressed and shared Sarah Hazell’s decision to spend 15 minutes a day hand sewing a piece of patchwork. That 15 minutes can take place anywhere, in the car waiting for kids to finish scouts, on a daily commute or in front of the TV in the evening but that 15 minutes will give her time to unwind and become absorbed in something outside here daily grind.
I often knit or crochet on car journeys (doable, despite travel sickness) and this cures boredom and allows me to process the events of the last few days. It’s like a mini holiday!
I founded Il Magpie to give people the chance to breathe, to relax and forget their worries. I try to give workshop attendees (and indeed readers) the confidence and skills to tackle new things. They can go home with something they can be proud of and if it is a jumping off point for further crafting adventures so much the better.
Albert Einstein once said “Creativity is intelligence having fun”.
Those of you who follow me on social media may have noticed that throughout this week I have been sharing my Halloween Pinterest Boards with lots of inspiration for easy food, decor and costumes. Now for my own contribution – Free Printable Labels to spruce up your Halloween treats.
I like to give out pre wrapped sweets and so opted for the mini bags of Haribo that you can buy at most supermarkets. I know some parents like to be able to see what it is their kids are getting very clearly so I designed two options of the same label.
Firstly you have the sticker version:
These are designed to be printed onto A4 Self Adhesive Labels using an ordinary inkjet printer and feature some howlingly bad Halloween jokes and my own hand drawn versions of famous monsters.
Last week I spent a day simply gift wrapping with Jane Means, doyenne of the the art, and I have never left a workshop feeling as pampered & relaxed. I was proud of my creations and confident to replicate them.
Any person can sometimes feel as if their creativity has “run out” in the day to day grind of just staying afloat and I must admit that before the day I wondered how gift wrapping could fill six hours (without the mountain of presents every parent wades through prior to Christmas Day).
Jane Means is the UK’s wonder of wrapping. A professional gift wrapper and designer she has wrapped for royalty and provides gift wrapping services for brand like Dior and Chanel. She also runs day long courses for members of the public to learn some of her secrets to making gifts look stunning.
Disclaimer: - I received a complimentary place on this day course. However all opinions are my own and the provider of the course has had no input in this review.
Arrival and Welcome:
First of all, let me be clear. This isn’t a class or a course. It’s an experience. From the moment you travel up the long drive to the Lainston House Hotel (other, similar, venues are available) you feel like a heroine in your own version of Jane Austen (or Jilly Cooper!). It would be a difficult venue to get to with public transport but quite a few of Jane’s other venues are much more centrally located.
As you arrive to a door it is opened by a Concierge and you are guided to the room where the course is being held. Jane and her lovely assistant Caroline greet you in the friendliest way possible and introduce you to the vast array of Tea and Coffee available. The surroundings may be posh but no-one stands on ceremony!
For 10-15 minutes there is a chance to have a cup of tea and a biscuit (from Fortnum’s no less, Jane had a meeting there earlier in the week and thought of us!) and a quick chat with the other attendees. My shoulders dropped and I relaxed, already feel like a queen.
I took my place. in the room and we were off…
You start by learning (or should I say re-learning) how to wrap a simple box. Boxes are weapon number one in Jane’s arsenal of wrapping weapons. She recommends buying postal boxes via Amazon in a sensible size to fit a lot of your gifts. Voila, a pair of slippers or a framed picture become MUCH easier to wrap impeccably.
We learned how to guesstimate the about of paper we needed and the secret of working on the area farthest away from yourself. It sounds counter-intuitive but once I tried it I was converted. We finished our ends symmetrically and I revelled in the feel of such lovely wrapping paper under my fingers. As I am a self confessed stationary addict this was one of the best things!
Before the course I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the patience to fiddle endlessly with frills and frou-frou. Although I like pretty things I don’t do fussy. I needn’t have worried. Through her job Jane has developed an endless armoury of no fuss, fail safe approaches to wrapping conundrums that get the job done quickly and efficiently.
Then we graduated to the big leagues…
We each produced a pleated effect for the top/front of a parcel (again, much easier than it’s sophisticated appearance would have you think). Then it was onto gift bags.
Jane’s bold assertion was that “You’ll never buy a gift bag again”. I was sceptical that it could be so easy to make a gift bag that I would truly hate wasting the money on buying one. I was wrong. With the help of a hole punch it was a revelation how little fuss it was to create something gorgeous and personal.
From there it was an easy jump to gift envelopes and using natural products to prettify the envelopes. Not bad for a piece of wrapping paper eh?
I will be raiding the charity shops for artificial greenery to spruce up my parcels!
Bows were the next challenge, tailored and freestyle, and continued to introduce more “props”. A bell on our wreath ribbon, a rose made from wired ribbon
Then it was the turn of every Mum’s nemesis, the bottle. Jane advised us to use tissue paper and cellophane and showed us how to hold the bottle, gathering the paper in one hand. It was then a simple step to add more pieces of flamboyant tissue and ribbon to finish the look.
No-one would believe that inside is a bottle of mineral water!
Then came lunch…
On the terrace…overlooking the park… WOW!
Photo via Jane Means
Lunch time also provided a chance to shop the beautiful papers and ephemera that Jane had brought with her. Conveniently there was the opportunity to pay by either cash or card (my downfall!) It was a good job we were asked to bring a large carrier bag along with us. I concentrated on buying the stuff that was awkward to get elsewhere. A roll of cellophane, high quality wired ribbon, tear-able double sided tape and I couldn’t resist the most amazing glittery gift wrap!
I also patronised the most amazing Ladies Loo I have ever been in!
During the afternoon Jane proved again how well she knew her audience. The Malteasers were passed round and we learned how to wrap a bar of chocolate with no tape at all. I have to admit this was probably the thing that I found the most difficult all day. I managed a passable effort (decoration hides a lot of sins) but definitely need more practice!
Then came the “Challenge Jane” part of the afternoon. We had been asked to bring along any awkward shaped gifts that we needed help wrapping. Jane rose to the challenge with typical humour and aplomb, wrapping an unusual shaped box of sweets for one participant’s neighbours and a two part gift for my father in law’s birthday.
There was time for a few more tricks and tips… (Tissue Pom Poms anyone!)
Then time was up. Those six hours flew past and by doing everything “hands on” it boosted my confidence hugely. Jane was an extremely fun and knowledgeable course leader and both she an Caroline showed endless patience.
At the end of the day Jane was happy to pose for photos and sign copies of her book that attendees had purchased. I already had her book from last Christmas so she even went as far as to sign a sticky label (sourced by Caroline) that I could put inside my book.
I came away with armfuls of parcels, purchases and a copy of Jane’s DVD in case I forgot anything. I am the proud owner of a certificate to prove that I completed the course and a desperate urge to wrap everything in sight!
My Personal Take Aways From The Day:
I will now always sit at a table to wrap – so much easier.
Work on the side farthest away from you and pre-crease on the edges so that the wrapping holds its shape better.
Buy decent quality wrapping paper. You use less and it looks much better.
If in doubt use brown parcel paper – you can print it, glitter it, sticker it and generally make it fit any occasion.
Double sided sticky tape CAN be the easiest thing to use for wrapping – you just need Jane’s GENIUS hack for making it easy to peel!
Wired ribbon is the bees knees and an essential part of the gift wrapping armoury.
Pick up little bits and bobs as you see them in charity shops or pound stores to use as decorations on gifts.
To Sum Up:
This is an expensive day but the experience and materials you use are the very top quality. You have fun, relax and feel like Queen for a day. I was inspired and empowered and for me that was the most valuable thing.
Now I plot how to adapt and develop Jane’s strategies for my own use. How’s your gift wrapping? Do you have tricks and tips that I could use to become more of a wrapping ninja?