Wednesday, 23 December 2015

decorate: the best of the rest

I did a whole post on how we decorated the lounge for December's 'Styling the Seasons', so I thought I'd finish the job by taking a few (fairly grainy - these dark days are really shocking for photography!) pictures of the rest of the places in the house we've decorated.

Our house is really small, so we're pretty limited on how much we can do; we added this lovely wreath which was sent by the kind folk at Hayes Garden World to the front door - it's completely fake, but I love how realistic it is, and how huge the pinecones are! I also added bottlefuls of berry-laden branches, lanterns and garlands to the kitchen window, but it was a nightmare to photograph (streetlights, car headlights and other peoples houses all reflected on the window - so inconvenient! ;-) ), and we've got a small Christmas tree on the doorstep, which I forgot to photograph. Whoops!

For the first year ever, I decided to festive-up the kiddos room; I made silver circle and star garlands with shaped hole punches and those disposable roasting trays, and strung up a few lengths of fairy lights. My favourites are the ones that go across the window, which my lovely friend gave me for Christmas (she has epically good taste in gifts!) - they're made up of little wooden shapes, which can be removed, so you can use them all year round. Hurrah! I also made these frosted glass tealight holders from old jam jars and frosting spray - of all the crafts I've done this year (and there have been a LOT!), it was probably my favourite and most addictive. Finally, we bought them a miniature Christmas tree from B&Q, whic was decorated partly by them, and mostly by me when they got bored and wandered off. Some people have no Christmas spirit! ;-)

The kind folks at Hayes sent me the wreath to review, but as usual all words and opinions are my own. I was particularly impressed by the reasonable prices on the website - something you don't always find in garden centres!

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

give: botanical pendant

I discovered shrink plastic sometime last year, via the wonderful Craftivists, and fell in love with it straight away. It's one of those materials which is so easy to use, and if you get it right, you can make some amazing things with it - if you're struggling wth ideas for handmade gifts, my tutorial for a DIY botanical pendant might be just what you're looking for!

You will need:
Printable shrink plastic (I got mine from here)
A printer
A sharp craft knife and scissors
A hole punch
An old baking tray
A large bottom glass or glass jug

1. Start by choosing the image you want to use; once printed onto the plastic, it shrinks down to around 45% in size, so you need it to be fairly big to start with. I got mine from The Graphics Fairy, who have heaps of lovely botanical images for precisely zero pence.

2. Put your image into an image editor and adjust the brightness, contrast and saturation to make it look as washed out as possible - once in the oven, all colours darken, so it's best to start as pale as possible.

3. Print your image onto the shrink plastic, and cut it out carefully.

4. Punch a hole at the top to thread the chain through - it might look huge now, but will shrink down to just the right size.

5. Preheat your oven to the temperature stated on the packet, then place your cut out image on the baking tray. Place inside, and watch as the plastic curls itself up, and then uncurls again at almost half the size - it's like magic, I never get tired of watching it!

6. As soon as it stops moving, remove the tray from the oven, and then place the bottom of the glass on top of your pendant to flatten it out properly. You have to be quick when doing this, as the plastic hardens quite soon after it leaves the oven.

7. Thread onto a chain or leather string, then package up in a simple decorated envelope and give to your nearest or dearest!

You can also make brooches and collar clips using the same method - instead of punching a hole for the string, simply glue brooch pins to the reverse once the plastic has cooled.

This is the first of two festive posts today - I realised this morning that I've written more posts than there are days! 

Monday, 21 December 2015

winter solstice

Some of you might remember that way back when it was warmer, and the sun was still a thing, that we decided to celebrate the solstice with a little bit of baking. It didn't go quite according to plan, but it's definitely not put me off - the winter solstice is tomorrow, and once again I'm going to try and get busy with some sort of food-based project. Just, definitely NOT in a bundt tin.

The winter solstice falls on the shortest day of the year; traditionally, people spend the day celebrating the return to lighter mornings and shorter nights. In ancient times, there would be sacrifices, and feasts and all sorts of general bad behaviour, but these days it can be interpreted however you like; from celebrating nature and the sun to sharing food with friends. I'm going to be baking something tasty (well, it might taste like crap again, but at least the thought will be there!), lighting every candle in the house and faffing about with some greenery - but I've also come up with another few ideas to help you celebrate the solstice in your own way.

1. Make a wreath or garland, or get involved with some other nature based project
Melanie from Geoffrey and Grace made an amazing midwinter ivy wreath, and spoke about traditions that her and her family have begun to celebrate the solstice, and I'm going to be trying to make some sort of garland-y-swag type thing for our stairs, but there are a gazillion ways to bring nature inside. Gather some pinecones, and arrange them in a glass bowl to use as a centrepiece, arrange some foraged or bought foliage in a beautiful vase, or make and decorate pomanders - keep it simple, and keep it fun.

2. Light candles
Down here in the south, we haven't seen the sun for weeks. It's warm, damp and grey, and completely un-Christmas like - I've had my festive scented candle lit most days to keep the miseries away, but the solstice for me is a good excuse to light the place up like a fairy grotto. I usually use large church or pillar candles and tealights, but I'm just getting into beeswax as well - they have a slighty wamer, gentler glow.

3. Get busy in the kitchen
I've decided to try my hand at baking some gingerbread, but really anything seasonal that you can share with friends and family is great. Homebaked bread is always a great choice, and it smells amazing when it's cooking, and a hearty slow-cooked stew with plenty of seasonal root vegetables is also a winner. Really, anything put together with love is grand. Edible is a bonus.

4. Head outside
What better way to celebrate nature and the sun, than getting outside for a long walk, a trip to the park with the littlies, or a den building expedition in the woods? Warm up afterwards with steaming mugs of tea or hot chocolate, a good selection of biscuits and a Christmas film or two (National Lampoons is the film of choice here!)

5. Explore the night sky
There are some great constellations to find during the winter (don't ask me which, I can't tell orion from the big dipper!), and whether you know what you're looking at or not, the night sky can be a spectacular sight. There are apps which you can download to your smartphone which help you to identify stars and constellations, and there are hundreds of resources online which are helpful as well.

The pictures at the top of this post are from Death to the Stock Photo; I've got a paid subscription, and for anyone who ever needs stock photography, I can't recommend them highly enough. Worth every penny, and a lifesaver when you need that perfect photo. (And no, this is not a sponsored post!)

Sunday, 20 December 2015

decorate: diy origami fanwheels

A few weeks ago, the lovely folk at Bensons for Beds challenged myself and some other bloggers to come up with tutorials for festive crafts based on origami. At first, I jumped at the chance, but then as I read more about origami, the more I scratched my head and couldn't work out my valley fold from my mountain fold. In the end I decided to go with an old favourite - super easy folded fanwheels, using the concertina fold. So here's my contribution! (You can see the other bloggers lovely projects over at the Bensons for Beds Sleep School, by the way!)

You will need:
Lovely 12-inch papers in varius colours and prints (these are from StickyTiger) in a square shape
Strong glue or a glue gun
String for hanging

1. Take your sheet of paper, and mark 1-inch from the end. Fold along the line, then fold back on itself. Repeat until you reach the end of the paper. (You should finish with both ends folded downwards - you might need to trim the paper to achieve this.)

2. Fold your concertina'd strip of paper in half, and join with a thin strip of glue to make a small fan shape.

3. Repeat another three times, then join all three fan shapes together into a circle.

4. Repeat the process with smaller squares for the top fanwheel - I usually find a 12 inch paper cut into four works well.

5. Using the glue, attach the top fanwheel to the bottom, and then finish with your embellishments. I used wooden stars from Wild Damson, but you could also use berries, small pieces of foliage, tiny ornaments.... anything that takes your fancy! 

Try experimenting with various sizes - you can make smaller ones to use as gift toppers, and really teeny ones to hang on the tree, or huge ones to string up into a garland. 

Many thanks to Bensons for Beds for collaborating with me on this post, and inviting me to join in with their challenge!

Friday, 18 December 2015

decorate: the humble christmas wreath

Wreath making this year seems to have reached fever pitch; people everywhere on Instagram and in Blogland have been getting busy with foliage, berries, leaves, dried fruits, wire, paper, yarn and anything else that they can bend into a circle and decorate. I've seen some amazing creations, from natural beauties incorporating feathers and dried hydrangeas, to more colourful versions made from modern materials, and finally the traditional wreath, plump and full with plenty of spruce, fur and pine cones. For work-related projects, I must have made well into double figures by now (and we still don't have one for the front door!), and I've learned a few tricks along the way - so I thought I'd share my top five tips for making a fabulous wreath.

1. Use what YOU like
Eucalyptus wreaths really seemed to be a 'thing' this year, and they looked beautiful; simple, natural and seasonal. When I tried using eucalyptus, I couldn't get it to sit right, and the leaves kept falling off - so in the end I gave up (after a giant tantrum, I might add). Instead most of my foliage came from offcuts of overgrown bushes in peoples gardens (path side - I'm no garden raider!) and the bottom offcuts from our Christmas tree. I also found some lovely baby eucalyptus (so much easier to work with, completely different ball game!) and other seasonal greenery at my local florist; foraging is great and all, and you all know that I love a good freebie, but if you can't find anything that will work, or you don't have time, or you simply don't feel like tramping about in bushes, go to the florist. Job done!

2. It doesn't have to be green... or round
While I was scrolling through Pinterest looking for inspiration, I found some amazing pictures of wreaths made from paper; folded into intricate origami stars, curled into cones and this amazing paper hydrangea wonder-creation, which made me look twice because it was so realistic. There were wreaths made from fabric, twisted into knots and folded into bows, and some amazingly spectacular yarn-based wreaths, including this one, which is made from old jumpers! Shapes ranged from the tradtional circle through to stars, triangles and even tree shapes; sticks and wire bent carefully and secured with string to create something a bit different.

3. If in doubt, cheat
I learned quite quickly that string and wire weren't going to hold everything together quite as securely as I would have liked - plus, I decided that I didn't have the patience to sit there meticulously bending wire into place for hours. So I cheated, and got out the glue gun; if it didn't stay in place the first time of trying, it got treated to a dose of the hot stuff - jobs that would have taken me hours were done in minutes, and apart from the time the glue gun got stuck to the floor, it was much less stressful. Nobody is going to know (or care!) whether it's secured with wire, string, glue or spit and crossed fingers. (My glue gun was this one from Hobbycraft. Cheap as chips!)

4. The base is everything
No matter what materials you're using, you need a good base; like the foundations of a house, your wreath base has got an important job to do, so it's worth taking time to get it right. If you're looking to make your own, head out into the woods or park and find some good sized sticks which have a bit of flexibility to them - they need to be robust, but not so thick that you can't bend them. Alternatively, a lot of craft shops (and eBay!) sell packets of willow which are perfect, and only cost around £5 - you do have to soak them for 72 hours prior to making, but they're by far the best option. When making your base, don't use any less than five sticks, or you won't have enough places to weave in your greenery - if you're making a large wreath, you're probably going to want more. Or, save a load of time and buy a ready-made base!

5. Don't forget to attach a hanger
Several times I'd finished the wreath, only to realise that I'd forgotten to attach some string or wire to hang it up with - cue lots of swearing and huffing while I tried to thread a needle through the whole thing without disturbing any of the leaves or dried fruits. Think how and where you're going to hang it before you get started - trust me, it's much easier in the long run!

styling the festive season with houseology

I'd already planned my Styling the Seasons post for December; there was going to be plenty of greenery, lots of candles and some lovely little ornaments - but then Houseology got in touch and asked me to take part in their winter styling challenge, and I happily agreed. So it ended up with plenty of greenery, lots of candles and, er, some lovely little ornaments.

It's never a challenge to work with any Houseology products, because they fit in so well with the things I love; a bit of vintage styling, some Scandi touches, beautiful rustic simplicity - it all slotted in perfectly. For the dining end of our lounge, I made a simple wreath for the wall and filled an old enamel urn with greenery, then set up the table for some lovely treats from Waitrose made by my own fair hands. (Well, I put the figs on top, that counts, right?) The sledge is one of my favourite things EVER, and I'm going to have real trouble packing it away after Christmas, while the giant lantern has ridged sides and makes the most beautiful pattern on the wall when the candle is lit.

My mantle is my favourite place to style in the house (despite those stupid empty frames that the last tenants glued to the wall, fools), and it doesn't vary all that much throughout the year. Lots of vintage pots, plenty of nature and usually some sort of garland. For the festive season, I added dried fruits, seed heads and another wreath - I hung the lovely Scandi-style ornament from Houseology in the middle of this one, because I thought it looked a bit sad and empty. I also added in the wooden rocking horse ornament (would have been wasted on the tree!), a miniature lantern style tealight holder, and a beautiful geometric jug. I've got to be honest, I think this is my favourite Styling the Seasons post I've done so far - but then everyone likes a bit of Christmas, don't they?!

Shop the look: Wooden sledge, £6 // Glass votive, £7.50 // Pomax Liane Floral Garland, £12 // Wooden rocking horse ornament, £2 // Small tealight lantern, £12 // Metal star decoration, £3.50 // Bloomingville Carina Jug, £22 // Elvang basket throw, £90 //

Many thanks to the lovely folks at Houseology for collaborating with me on this post. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

give: delicate crochet coasters

I've got a real thing about crochet coasters; I love those really, really intricate ones, the ones that end up buried at the bottom of a basket full of old blankets in charity shops. So when I was coming up with ideas for my festive posts, I decided to include a pattern for my own take on the humble coaster; a bit less fussy, a lot less time consuming to make and far easier to follow. Make a stack and give them as presents, add them to Christmas place settings with some foliage and wooden stars, or string them up into a garland - they're really versatile, and can be worked up in around an hour.

You will need:
1 x ball of DMC Natura Just Cotton
1 x 3.5mm crochet hook
Sharp scissors
A yarn needle

1. Ch3, then work 12tr into the 3rd of ch3, and join with a slip stitch - this forms the first round of your flat circle.

2. Ch3, then work 1tr into the same space. Work 2tr into each stitch around, then join with a slip stitch.

3. Ch3, then work 1tr into the same space. Work *1tr, 2tr* into the next two stitches, then repeat * around. Join with a slip stitch.

4. Ch3, then work 1tr into the same space. Work *1tr, 1tr, 2tr* into the next three stitches, then repeat * around. Join with a slip stitch.

5. Ch3, then work 1tr into the same space. Work *1tr, 1tr, 1tr, 2tr* into the next four stitches, then repeat * around. Join with a slip stitch.

6. Ch8, skip first four stitches, dc into fifth stitch. *Ch7, skip next four stitches, dc into fifth stitch.* Repeat * around, finishing the round by joining with a slip stitch.

7. Work 9dc into each ch7 space, finishing the round by joining with a slip stitch.

8. Fasten off.

9. Rejoin your yarn with a slip stitch to any fifth of the 9dc. Ch8, dc into fifth of the next 9dc. *Ch7, dc into fifth of the next 9dc*. Repeat * around, finishing the round by joining with a slip stitch.

10. Work 11dc into each ch7 space, finishing the round by joining with a slip stitch.

11. Fasten off your yarn, and weave in any ends.

I've not long been writing crochet patterns, so if any of this is at all unclear, or just makes you go, 'huh?', then do send me a message and I'll try to explain a bit better. There were step shots, but unfortunately they were lost in the great laptop tragedy of 2015!

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

shop: the future kept

I've mentioned The Future Kept about a gazillion times on here and Instagram, but it really is the most wonderful shop. Owned by husband and wife team Jeska and Dean, I discovered it through Jeska's amazing Instagram account (seriously good!), and it's become my sort of 'go-to' place whenever I'm looking for something for the house, or a present or.... well, anything really!

Full of the most beautiful handmade homewares, ethical bath and body products, delicious food and drink, and the cosiest of blankets, there really is something for everyone, and today I've picked out my top Christmas gifts for the lovelies in your life. Happy shopping!

From top left: Hand woven tote bag in grey // Lambswool wrist warmers in Putty // Pump Street Bakery chocolate // Herbal bath oil// House of Rym blanket // Wild harvested birch salve // Leather camera strap // Essence and Alchemy tealights //

Monday, 14 December 2015

top home picks for december

It's not been a good couple of weeks here at Accordion Towers; firstly, we were all ill, then the other day the hard drive in my laptop packed up, and yesterday I managed to ruin a work-related craft project. BUT it's December, it's almost Christmas, I spent Friday watching Ben in his school Christingle service and we took the kiddos to see Santa on Saturday, so it's not all bad. I guess it's just about keeping it all in perspective - I might have lost some of the kiddos photos and videos from my laptop, but I'm concentrating on the fact that I've been blessed with two happy and healthy children, and there will be plenty of opportunities to make more memories (which will be backed up eleven gazillion times in several different places!)

I've been getting into the Christmas spirit today, and ended up online looking for specific decorations (you know when you imagine something in your head, and then you search for it everywhere only to find that it doesn't exist? Well that was pretty much how it was) - there are so many amazingly lovely home-related things around at the moment, that I accidentally ended up doing a round-up of my favourite finds. Enjoy!

1. Felt embroidered tree / star, £1, Waitrose
2. Chenille stag cushion, £8.40, Marks and Spencer
3. House tealight holder, £2, Waitrose
4. Lantern for block candle, £7, IKEA
5. Fiona Walker snowflake heart, £6, John Lewis
6. British made wool throw in grey, £49, The Future Kept
7. Sheepskin rug in natural, from £59, Modern Rugs UK
8. Star baking tin, £7.25, IKEA
9. Winter jasmin candle, £4.50, Waitrose
10. Stag cushion, £20, John Lewis
11. Midwinter walnut and berry wreath, £5, John Lewis
12. Star pendant lamp in grey, £10, IKEA

This is a collaborative post.

Friday, 11 December 2015

pre-Christmas decluttering with vivendo

(Top: Borno chair and Altino coat stand. Bottom: Osanna sideboard)

Nobody was more surprised than me earlier this year when I decided to ditch the clutter and add some more contemporary things to our home; I got rid of five bin bags crammed full of 'stuff', gave away a load of my vintage knick-knacks and completely cleared out my craft supplies. We've now got more space, more clean surfaces, and it takes me way less time to do the cleaning- result!

The run up to Christmas is the ideal time to have a bit of a sort out - with all that extra space you could have a bigger tree, more decorations and metres of fairy lights (no such thing as too many fairy lights in my book...) Today I've teamed up with the lovely folks at Vivendo to bring you a quick guide to reducing clutter and giving your home a more modern feel.

1. Ditch everything you don't need, don't like or don't use - this is a great time to donate to charity shops, as a lot of people (me included!) often head there for Christmas presents. You might hate Jamie Oliver's cooking, but someone will love his latest recipe book!

2. Freshen up the room by painting the walls white - all of our walls are white, and it not only makes the space feel larger and more contemporary, it also acts as a great canvas to add prints and photographs as we like, without having to worry about clashing colours.

3. Once you've cleared everything out, invest in some seriously good storage. Sideboards are hugely popular at the moment, and they offer a lot of space inside to hide away DVDs, computer games and other stuff you'd rather not see. I'm in love with the Caseo wooden sideboard in light grey (my new favourite colour!), which has beautiful clean lines and plenty of room to store everything.

4. If space is short, consider ditching the coffee table and opting for a side table instead - this will give you more room to move around, and if you've got children, more space for them to play. I really like the Reton set of three tables, which are constructed from wrought iron and finished in white - they all stack together, so you can easily add or take them away as you please.

5. Make use of your walls by adding some simple shelving - string shelves are huge at the moment, and have the added bonus that you can string hanging plants from the side brackets, creating a wonderful focal point in the room. The Spera bookcase is great for mounting on the wall - the cube design is really popular at the moment, and it can be used either vertically or horizontally, depending on your needs.

Many thanks to Vivendo for collaborating on this post. 
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