When I bought my flat I gained three sets of curtains. Two were horrid synthetic material, which went into the bin, but one pair with a bold ivy pattern were destined to be repurposed.
What I didn’t realise until I started to cut one of the curtains into pattern pieces, was that there was a hitch. The curtains were made out of several pieces of fabric. I wasn’t exactly going to pattern match but there were some addition seams that I hadn’t bargained on.
As it turned out it wasn’t too much of an issue. I reinforced those seams and continued with the pattern (found in a charity shop). The instructions were not as clear as they could be! But I did discover how to sew a collar without a collar stand. So much simpler with front facings helping the look.
The fabric itself is pretty substantial being furnishing cotton not flimsy stuff. But my sewing machine coped, with a good pressing required along the way.
I’ve used larger buttons than with previous shirts and blouses, selecting a green thread to sew them on.
I’m pleased with the results, vintage-looking and upcycling. I have enough fabric to make matching trousers… but that might just be a bit OTT!
This week I’ve been looking at some of my miniature projects. This is a favourite that I made many years ago. The twelfth scale model is based on a photograph from the 1920s, of a general store in Portslade Old Village.
I loved making all the items to go in the general store. I had to guess at what was inside. For the outside though I stared hard at the photograph, taking in all the items, and tried to replicate them. The real shop no longer exists having been converted into a house a long time ago. This part of Portslade is a conservation area and contains some charming cottages.
My general store was on the front cover of Dolls House World magazine (issue 53), as well as being featured in an article inside. Not long after that I got a job working on that magazine, before being headhunted to a rival publication, The Dolls’ House Magazine. Being the editor of this monthly magazine was great fun. I saw so many amazing dolls’ houses, miniatures, and makers…. and chatting to the readers was always interesting too. Being a hobbyist myself I knew just how their minds worked.
Although I no longer work in publishing, I still love miniatures and dolls’ houses as much as ever, although I don’t think I’d have the patience to make such small items again these days!
Years ago I had an idea to create a miniature scene with a literary theme. This is the result.
The piece is called Writer’s Block. It shows a writer’s study….there’s a desk, bookcase, fireplace with mirror, clock and candlesticks. Every surface is covered with pages from paperback novels – except the writers papers, and the pages of the miniature books, these remain blank.
The miniature study is set inside an old book. The base is made to look like the edges of a book. The worded surfaces have been aged with washes of acrylic paint.
I really enjoyed making this piece. For me it is an artwork rather than a miniature. I think it can weave its own stories if you just look at it for long enough.
When I found this Doctor Who curtain in a charity shop I was delighted. I love the colours and the design. It wasn’t long before I ran up a dress using one of the curtains.
The second curtain has just been used to transform a small shopping trolley, picked up for a couple of quid in another charity outlet.
This is the second time I’ve made a trolley bag. It’s easy to do using the original bag as a template. Simply take it apart and use the pieces as your pattern. I’ve adapted this bag by adding a small interior pocket, complete with key loop, as well as a larger external one to the back.
The important thing is to work through the order of construction before you put needle to fabric. Know when it’s best to add Velcro fastenings, for example. I also lined my bag with a stronger fabric which made for some chunky seams (my poor machine….it groaned rather at times).
But the job is done, and I have a stylish trolley for those shorter shopping trips…through space, or just down to the high street!
When I think about my years of backstage work at the theatre it always gives me a thrill. I have a lot of good memories from a plethora of well-known (and a few more obscure…Dragon of Wantley anyone?) works. So when I’ve was asked to write a feature about my job as a Props Mistress for the Word Matters journal I was delighted.
Word Matters is the journal of the Society of Teachers of Speech and Drama. I know their researcher, Thérèse Williams, having met her when she did the makeup for Heber Opera.
It was no problem to come up with my experiences backstage working with amateur dramatic societies, both adult and youth groups. I hope it gives a humorous insight into what it’s like being responsible for all the miscellaneous items that help a production tell its story, the triumphs and tragedies of my experience. Luckily I had a number of photographs too to illustrate.
My favourite photo was used for the journal’s front cover. I love this shot of the gold masks that I painted for Heber Opera’s production of Nabucco. It was a powerful updated version of Verdi’s opera.
Over lockdown I’ve been taking a closer look at my father’s artwork, both his paintings and his pen and ink drawings. It’s long been in my head to write his biography and showcase some of his incredible talent, and at last I’ve made a start in that. The book is underway.
My father, Barrie Sydney Huntbach died in 2006, aged 71. He spent a lifetime drawing and painting, but it was always a hobby. Every spare moment was devoted to capturing the myriad of ideas from his head into thousands of works of art. He has two murals in Portslade, (a town to the west of Brighton, East Sussex). One in the town hall, and the other at the Brighton & Hove branch of Emmaus. Maybe you’ve seen these? He exhibited locally, particularly with his friends in The Society of Catholic Artists, and once in London. My father was fascinated by the subject of religion and it crops up in a lot of his work, though often juxtaposed to the pagan. Paintings can be deeply irreverent, whimsical, and disturbing in equal measures.
His work has been likened to that of Stanley Spencer, Marc Chagall, Beardlsey and Bosch. I think that the drawings have elements that Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame would appreciate. Some of them have Surrealist tendencies, others are pure Steampunk – before the term was ever coined!
It wasn’t the easiest of starts for my father. He was born prematurely and not expected to live. His parents were ordinary working-class folk living in Nottingham. They had no particular interest in the arts. His childhood was blighted by illness, and he suffered the loss of sight in one eye when a childhood game went wrong. But despite the halts to his education during various convalescent periods, his imagination ran wild. It continued to do so for the rest of his life.
His own working life was spent in a series of mundane, manual jobs. But every evening, and at weekends his fingers worked with acrylic, then oil paints to capture the moving images in his head, pinning them to board, canvas and paper. I’ve started an Instagram page to showcase some of his work, @thesussexsurrealist, please take a look and follow. My paternal grandparents moved to Portslade when my father was just a baby. My father lived in the town for the rest of his life. He wasn’t interested in travel, or material possessions. He was a kind and generous man, and my three siblings and I had a childhood filled with love.
I’ve particularly enjoyed looking at my father’s pen and ink drawings. These are amazingly detailed pieces of work. The drawings were done with no preparatory line work, the images simply flowed from his nib. One the last few weeks I’ve been isolating various elements from the larger drawings, and showcasing them on their own. My father would have been amazed by the technology that enable me to do this. And, I think he’d be fascinated how I can take elements from different drawings, and combine them into new artworks.
One of the challenges that I face is how to deal with the four long drawings – of which the largest is around 60 feet (by around 4ft wide)! It is filled with numerous characters. The more you look, the more you see. I think I’ll have to call in the services of a professional to capture it all properly. One of them has some delicate shading in coloured pencils, so beautifully executed.
The paintings are a riot of colour, but feature as quirky a cast of characters as the drawings. Saints and sinners, stylish women, knights, acrobats and clowns, with devils and gargoyles thrown into the mix. Here are just three. The use of symbols, patterned fabrics, candles, fruit, fish and collecting boxes are typical.
When the book is finished I’ll blog about it, and in it you’ll discover the genius that my father is. He never sought fame, he wanted to exhibit his work but he wasn’t pushy, but he was a humble man.
If you recognise this phrase you’ll know of the the animated kids tv programme, Scooby-Doo. It formed part of my 1970s childhood TV viewing. When I came across a brightly coloured single duvet in a charity shop featuring the characters; Shaggy, Fred, Daphne, Velma – and of course Scooby himself, I had to buy it.
It’s been a while since I made any clothes out of duvets. But it wasn’t straightforward due to the positioning of the design on the main side (top left image). The best way to get a piece of all of the characters was to make the slimline dress, rather than the 1950s style with the flared skirt. You can see both of these styles in previous blog posts of mine. I just had to decide who to feature where. I chose the girls, Daphne and Velma for the front, Fred is round to the side, with Shaggy and Scooby on the back.
Unlike with previous versions of this dress I wanted to include hidden pockets, rather than adding them to the front side panels. There are two, one one each side that are accessed from the side seam. Luckily I had lining fabric and a long zip to complete the dress.
The reverse of the duvet had smaller motifs spread across the fabric (top middle image, shown with pillowcase). This will make for easier placement of pattern pieces when I come to use it, most likely for a shirt at later date. I knew from the off that the accompanying pillowcase would make cloth bags so I ran up a couple for my next shopping trip…will I find more nostalgic duvets? Who knows!
It’s unsurprising that many of our homes are getting a fresh coat of paint during the Covid epidemic. Many of us have been staring at the walls for so long that even watching paint dry has given us ‘something to do’. I am no exception.
While every wall in the house had been given a new identity prior to lockdown, the hallway hasn’t been so fortunate. It has always been a place to pass through on the way to somewhere more exciting. I did create a book door to give it a little kick, but it was time for a bigger gesture.
The triangular side of the staircase seemed to me to offer potential for something. I needed something to do with my furlough time. And I needed something creative. This wall was my target. And I knew what to do – well, I had an idea of something that I wanted to try.
I recalled seeing in a home style magazine a study wall that the home owner had transformed using tester pots of pastel paints and masking tape in a neat section above a desk. I admired it at the time and thought that this was something to try on my staircase wall. But I wanted a much bolder colour palette. I had in my head an earthy orange/red, black and ochre yellow.
Despite what the DIY paint-matching service would suggest – finding that perfect shade of earthy orange/red didn’t quite match up. And I’d got it wrong with oranges before. So I ended up choosing an off-the-peg deep red shade (not too red, not too purple) – and the same again with the yellow. I reasoned that if my project didn’t work out I could always return the wall to its original white. After all in the house makeover budget paint is cheap.
Tape it up
I began my using masking tape to divide the wall into sections. Beginning with triangles, but creating tram-lines and short-stops too. I made some larger circles from masking tape (thanks You Tube) to mask off other areas. Then I set too with the paint. I used a small roller for the larger area, and kitchen sponges for the smaller areas. I wanted the red colour to major in my design, so I started with blocking in some of the smaller areas with the yellow, and then the black. I didn’t have any real plan beyond the ‘stand back every now and then and take a look, and a think’. And a cup of tea. Then it came to applying the red to all the areas that remained.
Of course, as with any paint job, one coat is never enough. I did one coat – it looked patchy and I looked worried. I told myself it would be OK once more coats were applied. And I was right. It’s only once the masking tape is removed that the design really becomes apparent. It was certainly bold and made quite a statement. And I could have left it there. I nearly did. I took a photograph of myself in a vintage fabric dress with a similar nod to the lines and spaces pattern as the new wall. Posted it on Facebook and received admiring comments for wall (and dress). But I was going further!
My partner and I had previously debated the ‘long wall’ in the stairwell and painting it a dark grey. Or covering it with paintings – we have lots – though it’s a difficult wall to get to the top of. I didn’t fancy hanging off a precariously placed ladder. I needed more walls to watch and more drying paint.
The only way is up!
The abstract design was continued up a ‘reachable’ section of the stairwell wall. And the painting process began again. More masking tape, more masking circles, more uncertainty, but also more ‘what the hell I’m doing it anyway’. I faced again all the ‘what am I doing’ doubt when painting the first wall but knew to have faith in the end result. I’ve just peeled off the masking tape for my ‘ta-dah’ moment.
I may call in the professionals to paint the top of the staircase wall above the abstract design up to the ceiling – in black – to create the full dramatic feature that this wall has become. And I may use black elsewhere in the hallway too. But for now I’m delighted.
And I know what you’re thinking – what if you want to sell the house in the future? Isn’t this just the sort of off-putting feature wall that you faced when you moved in (did I tell you about the flamingo suite?) It’s only paint. It’ll be easy enough to roller over in white. If needs be.
Update 31.3.21: the wall above the patterned section has been painted black, and taken around a short return. Very punchy!
In an earlier blog (23rd November 2020) I wrote about the flat that I had bought. It’s taken a while but at last I’ve completed its renovations. Christmas, lockdowns and workman injuries have all played a part in the various delays to completion. So, am I pleased with the results?
On the whole yes, but there are a few niggling points that I am learning to live with. Because this flat will be rented out I have had to keep an eye on the cost spent bringing it up to date. I’ve watched enough house-makeover programmes to understand why people can get carried away when making their choices of materials. I’ve tried to remember that I have financial constraints and budgets to work within.
Inevitably, there were unexpected extras – the broken casing of the existing electric shower mean that it had to be replaced, and all the radiators, not just some. But neatening the spaghetti junction of pipework in the kitchen was worth the extra cost. Having said that – it’s looking so much better with clearer, and to my mind logical, counter space. Moving the sink to beneath the window was definitely worth doing giving an increased food-prep area. The electricians suggested that replacing the light switches would be an instant update (not necessary of course, the old switches worked). But they were right. The new ones aren’t fancy but they do look – and feel – better.
Although I had to buy extra base units in the kitchen to suit the new-arrangement I am delighted with how painting the old doors has worked out (numerous coats applied). I used white for the wall units that I left in situ, and teal blue for the bases. It’s good to see such a range of colours available now in the DIY stores. The existing doors were quality, cherry wood, and better quality that the MDF door that came with the new Wickes 40cm unit. The replacement Howdens base unit for the sink is better quality but of course more expensive. I was going to replace the door handles too, but again, although showing signs of wear, they have a pleasing patina, a comfortable look to them, so I’m using them. A cost saving too. My sister is planning in replacing her kitchen and I will have dibs on the handles there, so I will replace my wooden ones at some point in the future.
I am pleased with the revised kitchen but it wasn’t until the flooring went down that it looked as I had imagined it . I know that there is less storage having removed the old wall corner cupboards that were here, but I think it’s made up for in the ability to move more easily around the kitchen. It is a small space, but no longer feels cramped. I debated leaving space for an upright fridge-freezer in my revised design. But finally opted for more counter space instead, leaving space for just an under-counter fridge. A large hall cupboard has a power point to take a freezer. And a second large hallway cupboard provides further storage too. Now there is a room for a small table if required and the white metro tiles make it all modern, bright and airy. I’m so glad that I managed to remove the old countertops with their laminate – and layer of tiles. Frustratingly although the cooker looked to be in good condition when the electrics were checked it didn’t pass. So I had to buy a new cooker (another spend not accounted for in the planning). I saved £40 though by taking the old cooker to the tip and having our own electrician connect it up. To use that cliche – every little helps!
The bathroom has been refreshed, working with the existing pink bath was certainly a trial, but beyond my budget to replace. The new vanity unit helps to cover up all the pipework. The flat has concrete floors so pipes can’t be hidden under floorboards – because there aren’t any! I’m pleased with the grey and pink band of tiles that I did opt for. And my old ladder radiator has been repurposed here, giving a black highlight that I’ve echoed in the new flooring. The classic black and white tiled Lino adds a retro touch to the bathroom, toilet and kitchen.
The remaining areas have all been carpeted in mid grey, and new curtains have been hung in each room. Luckily I managed to buy three pairs before the November lockdown.
All I need are tenants (Middleton-estates.co.uk if you’re interested), and may be in a year’s time I might have covered my renovations costs.
I created two book doors in my previous home, and I loved them. I hope that the new owners did too when I sold the house. With those doors I mostly used sheets of wrapping paper printed with antique book spines to provide the source material. I also added in some photocopied book spines of my favourite paperbacks and a couple of DVDs.
During lockdown I decided that I wanted to a book door in my current house. The doors here are rather nice though, unpainted wood, and it took a while to actually go for it as the first step meant painting the door. But ultimately I thought, it’s only a door and that’ll be the cost if it doesn’t work out (have faith!).
The door that I chose faces into the hallway. Behind it is the snug, a lovely quiet space, ideal for spending some time with a good read. So entering the snug via a fake bookcase seemed appropriate. The inner panel of the door needed to be painted black, and the outer frame, and fake shelf edges (narrow strips of wooden moulding), white. Luckily I had plenty of paint left over from other projects to achieve this. Like any decorating project where paint is involved one coat doesn’t look good, it’s only when the second is applied that the reality appears. I hate that ‘half way through’ phase. But while waiting for the paint to dry I started to collate the book spines required.
In an ideal world I would love to use real books for a project like this although there is a lot of wastage with the pages unused (unless you have a paper mache project on the go too). But it’s lockdown and no cheap source is available. This time I didn’t have any suitable wrapping paper to hand either. But there were three boxes of books – in perfect condition – waiting to go to a charity shop when restrictions allow, and a printer.
The paperbacks were lined up on the printer and the spines copied. I used pieces of wallpaper lining paper because I like the texture of the printed spines. It didn’t matter which book was next to which as ultimately many of them would be cut from their neighbours and re-arranged. And, if you want to try this project yourself you can borrow books from friends and family if needs be. It took several batches, before moving on to books that we already had to provide enough volume for the proposed shelves. I also photocopied a playing card and train ticket to place between the books. I wanted to photocopy some monetary notes but the printed wouldn’t operate when these were on the plate. And I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice a real note. In my previous book door I had a £10 note tantalisingly peeping out from the shelf. My then printer had no qualms about reproducing it. Must be the new plastic notes that are the issue.
Some of the book spines have been individually cut out and stuck onto pieces of mountboard. When glued in place on the door these will give a slight relief to the books, making it appear more realistic.
Once the door was painted and the shelves glued in place – carefully spaced out, the main creativity began. Gluing the paper spines on the shelves is what it’s all about. The spines can be slightly angled, and interspersed with the ones on mountboard to create a realistic appearance. And there should be gaps left as well. You don’t have to completely fill each shelf. Of course you can have interesting reads next to each other for literary jokes. I put the playing card next to Casino Royale.
The finished door has helped turn the hallway into more of a room, and a quick glance reads as a bookcase not a door, which is of course the fun. I’m now turning my attention to the other walls in that hallway and adding to the interest in this area as a place to linger not just walk through.
Not for us the wall-mounted flat screen tv. When I watch home-style tv programmes (and I love them) I don’t understand why if people do have wall-mounted screens they place them so high up. Surely you want your screen at eye-level to view comfortably ?
When we moved in to this house the previous owners had wall-mounted screens in four rooms. When they left they took their devices but left us the mid wall sockets and, in one case, all the trailing cables too (they had a games room complete with Astro turf floor…we gave that away).
Walls in our house are for needed for artwork not electronics. We like our tv to be unobtrusive when not in use. It resides in an alcove, with a deep grey wall (white made the tv stand out) behind it.
When we watch the tv is bought forward and angled to suit. But it does mean an umbilical trail of wires (and I understand that a wall-mounted screen avoids this issue). The wires connect the to various gadgets that enhance or facilitate the visual experience. The wires occasionally get caught under the trolley wheels, annoyingly.
This morning I created a solution. It’d popped into my head a couple of days ago and was made in minutes. Let me introduce you to the cable hammock! Made from a remnant of vintage Barbara Brown fabric it is hung from a couple of hooks screwed into the (admittedly un-stylish) tv table.
Just the main cable visible. The trolley now wheels comfortably when viewing is required. Job done!
I’ve taken a lot of photographs in my time. But the most important ones are those in which I, and my loved ones appear. Now they’re all in one place.
Like many people I’ve used the various lockdown periods to sort through my photographs. I have a number of actual prints but far more digital images. Last year I made a photo book focusing on my childhood. It has photos of me, my parents and my siblings, covering me from birth to aged 18. It’s absurdly nostalgic!
With lockdown seemingly endless I decided to create a follow-up (aged 18+). This one I knew would be much more of a task to create. For starters it had a 40-year span to cover to bring it to the present, and it meant trawling through both prints and digital images. I knew I’d have to be selective – and creative! It was ‘This is your (my) life’ in photobook form.
I took as the basis for the approach to the book my name. Christened Christiane I now use the easier-to-pronounce Chrissie. The book works through how I got there as my life changed. It embraces various aspects of growing from an 18-year old student, to boyfriends, marriage, work, becoming a mother (the children will ultimately form the basis of a separate book in due course), divorcing, new relationships, hobbies (the miniatures and the creative stuff are already the subject of a previous books so I focused on the dancing & theatre here ), more jobs, friends and finally bringing it up to 2021 & life now.
The masthead on the cover was fun though time-consuming to create, but I’m really pleased with how it turned out. Behind each of the letters is a photograph. The stylised image of me is from a self-portrait, that in itself tweaked, with the words overlaid on top.
Some of the pages inside were prepared separately using Pixelmator on my laptop before being saved as jpegs. This enabled images to be turned into circles or distorted or cut-out. These were uploaded and combined with regular photographs to create the final layouts. I used my-picture.co.uk as I like their design suite and quality of printing.
The majority of the design was completed last autumn but I waited until January to get it printed so that I could include my December birthday photos.
One of the most tedious parts of the creation was checking the text! I spent 14 years as a magazine Editor so I tapped back into my skill bank for both layout and text editing. Hopefully there aren’t any typos. But I know from previous photo books, sometimes however carefully you check, they can still sneak through!
So now, if my computer crashes, or there’s a technical or un-fixable error I do have my favourite and most poignant images to hand. And when I’m much older than I am now or my memory starts to fail, I will have a great reminder of who I am and what I’ve achieved. Though of course, who knows what life will bring me next that’ll need documentation like this!
My Bluetooth headphones were losing their foam. Luckily a couple of days ago I found and kept two pieces of foam packing material. I thought they might come in handy. Now I knew what to do with them.
A lot of trial and error with this make. But I changed to oblong shape of the original to circular. I used the foam to shape around the earpieces, sandwiching a piece of netting between. This was all covered in a circle of old tee shirt. This circle had a middle piece removed with another piece of net sewn in place.
Gathered up it with some additional stitching it seems secure. I’ve lost a bit of the mobility of the original foam pads so I’m not sure if it’s the right solution,
I’ll have to see how comfortable they are on my next walk. But it’s all a learning curve. I’ll either end up trying again or buying new headphones. I kept the original though fraying pads, I can always try a different cover.
I continued to make clothes for the little puppet… then the larger 30inch one. The smaller was 20 inches tall. It was easy to scale up the clothes. At the bigger size it was easier to make pockets on the dungarees and trousers.
I found that blackout lining from a pair of curtains made great material to make their shoes from.
I used the remains of some vintage fabric to make a dress, hair band and bag.
Over twenty years ago I was making dolls clothes. Little did I think I’d be returning to the scaled down wardrobe once my children were adults.
The little clothes are for my eldest son. Well, not actually him but for one of his puppets. Edd is a keen puppeteer, actor, scriptwriter, director, drama teacher. When I first saw this puppet I was enchanted. It stands around 20 inches high.
Unlike a regular doll the puppet has operator’s handles…one behind the head, another at the base of the spine, and one for each hand. When designing up the clothes I had to take these into account. I began with a basic pinafore template cut from an old shirt to see how it would work. Then I moved to other fabrics.
The dresses were easy. I used Velcro for fastening to make clothing changes easier. I made little shoes out of some leathette. I know that I can improve on the design of these… I’ll have a go using felt.
Wanting to create a male identity I turned my attention to making a pair of dungarees. They were simpler than I imagined. It helped that I’d made human-sized trousers when it came to designing them. I added top stitching in yellow.
Old socks provided the material for the shoes. Cutting off a cuff section and shaping it with seams for sole, heel and toe. I’m very pleased with them.
I will be making more puppet clothes… some in plain fabrics to allow for a variety of characters to be imposed. And there is a larger puppet that I’ve yet to meet so I’ll be scaling up a bit. It’s feeding my creative needs which is perfect distraction from the re-scheduled Christmas plans.
It’s been difficult to feel in the mood for Christmas. Limited opportunities to socialise with family and friends. So I took the chance to accept a friend’s request.
I was asked to make a Christmas stocking, with fabric being provided. It was the perfect creative fix. With all the work being done on the house recently my sewing machine has lain idle. Today it was great to be back at the pedal.
The project was easy enough, the fabric anything but. It was in two layers…the top a pattern of gold swirls on a red gauze, the bottom layer red silk (a synthetic equivalent). The bottom layer was a nightmare to deal with… it ‘walks’! Experienced sewers will know what I mean.
The solution was to separate the two. I used the lining of a curtain for the stocking inside to give it a bit more body. I first attached the slippery red to this, zig zagging around the edge of the stocking shape. Each side done, I laid the less troublesome gauzy layer on top, right sides together. Sewed the two together and turned out. Adding a collar of gold pattered fabric (from a furnishing sample book) was the finishing touch, catching a hanging loop between.
As I’d cut off the binding trim from the original square of fabric I re-used it to sew a name on a fabric tag! Job done!