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Ethical Christmas Toys for Children

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GAH! WHAT IS WRONG WITH TOYS THESE DAYS!

If they are not ridiculously gender specific (pink toy laptop with half the functions of the boys one, anyone?) then they are dictating how to play with their flashing lights and music, created using a scarce resource that sends a world to war, or made by blistered hands just a little bigger than our own children’s.

I am a massive advocate of non-toys, finding that often jars of things, or baskets of odds, can stir a child’s imagination so much more than dictator toys. The toys we do have have been ferreted out from car boot sales and charity shops, we aim for things that are simple and aesthetically pleasing. Yeah, yeah, that just means vintage in my mind! (A few of our favourites, and my second hand shopping strategy can be seen right here.)

We are not massively legalistic though, in fact right now Ramona is utterly obsessed with Ginger the Talking Cat app on our smartphones. I’d go so far as to say they have a kind of friendship. She tickles him, cleans his teeth, he repeats everything she says. This means they argue quite alot. Tim overheard one argument the other day that went:

Ramona: “My daddy”

Ginger: “My daddy”

Ramona: “No, MY daddy”

Ginger: “No, MY daddy”

Ramona: “NO, my daddy!”

Ginger: “NO, my daddy!”

Ramona: “NO!! MY DADDY!!!”

Ginger…. You can probably guess what Ginger retorted, and just how long this argument lasted for. Neither were prepared to concede.

For the most part, when it comes to toys I request secondhand (both sets of Ramona’s grandparents are awesome at this) and I tend to craft things up to give. However, sometimes family members want to know what they can give your children for Christmas, and while you could say “Just write them a poem”  with a virtuous lilt, it can be nice to suggest some stuff they might feel more comfortable with.

For the last 5 years I have run an ethical Christmas Fayre. It began when we were living up in Oxford Circus and  were exasperated at the lack of Fairtrade gifts available, and it is growing each year. This year we have two venues, woot! We had our first one for 2012 this Saturday just gone. It was exhausting but not stressful – in fact the most stressful part was when I turned around to find Ramona had stripped off and was cavorting amongst the stalls almost in the nude. EEEEP.

Anyway, one awesome benefit of running the Fayres is that I get to keep up with the world of fairtrade and handmade, and see how stylish and gorgeous the products are becoming. I wandered around the Fayre on Saturday completely confident that 90% of the stuff blew stereotypes of “ethical consumerism” out of the water.

Bearing in mind all my own criteria for toys – imagination stirring, ethically made, not draining on the world’s resources, gender-neutral – I picked out my top 4 ethical gifts for kids:

Baby – a hand knitted bunny

Kinderkraft are a mother and daughter business based just down the road from me. They have the most gorgeous selection of hand cotton-knitted dolls, with a real modern feel, that are perfectly soft to the touch. They also create bespoke stuffed letter bunting so you can spell out a child’s name and can chose fabric – avoiding any nasty pink/ blue limitations.  Their Etsy shop showcases a lot of their stuff. 

hand knitted bunny

 

 Toddler – a fairtrade bus

We couldn’t resist buying this beautiful Fairtrade bus for Ramona, a cool momento of our time in London, and sure to fire her imagination. It is sold by the AMAZING Fair Share, who are based in Soho and have an incredible range of Fairtrade kids toys that you can also buy online.

fairtrade bus

 

Any age – eco wooden vehicles

These hand crafted wooden toys from Top Wooden Toys are so classic in their design I think they would suit any age, and even parents would get a lot of pleasure from them. Ramona LOVED their stall on Saturday, they had a whole load of stuff not even for sale on their website that she just kept returning to. You can also buy their products on Tinternet.Handmade Wooden Digger

Older kids – Pucket

If you haven’t played Pucket yet, you really haven’t lived. It is the most basic game  involving flinging wooden disks around a board, yet provides HOURS of fun for really anyone who has a little hand-eye coordination. Kids from 6 would love this, and Tim takes it to his Youth Club for teenagers, and they love it too, AND we get it out at Christmas for all us older ones.  A total classic. Find out more, and buy, here. 

pucket

 

All of these, and many more toys and gifts for the WHOLE family, will be available to buy at the Horniman Museum ethical Christmas Market this Saturday and Sunday 8th and 9th December. But if you can’t get there, help your family to avoid the tax evaders and plastic creators by giving them a list from the above traders!

Sometimes buying ethically does cost a bit more, but so often it is because you are paying for something that will last a lifetime, and you are paying the TRUE cost of an item. I really believe we can change the world by making good shopping choices, and our children and their generation will thank us!

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Six steps to a thrifty Christmas

For the first time since we were students Tim and I are REALLY having to reign it in, money wise. We don’t have a lodger for the first time since having this GIANT mortgage, both of us only work part time and we just spent every last penny on a beautiful van called Betty. Of course, we aren’t poor, we just don’t have any dosh, if you know what I mean. We could get all entrepreneurial, and take extra hours and craft things up and sell and things, but Alan Sugar we’re not. Every spare moment is bound up in Enjoying Life and Committing to the Things We Value, of which money simply isn’t one.

So, this Christmas is becoming Seriously Frugal. Fortunately we have been practicing for a few years now, and here are six ways we are doing it:

Christmas Trees
Every year for the last few years we have picked up a discarded tree from a school or college. It does mean waiting a bit longer- at least mid-December but sometimes you don’t find one until the 20th. But these trees are ENORMOUS and WONDERFUL! Big fatties, we had to push it through our giant front window last year as it wouldn’t squeeze down our hall. The schools are normally thrilled to have it taken off their hands. We gloat as we sail past other massive trees going for £70.

Presents
For the last 3 years we have only do Secret Santa in our family. We agree a price and use an internet service so it is all proper hush, and someone else is in charge. (The one year I did it I managed to know exactly who was buying for who, I well messed it up.) This way someone gets something really thoughtful and there are not piles of pressies sitting around that provoke only pseudo-thanks.

For other people, dear friends and children, I don’t tend to do much, and if I do it nearly ALWAYS involves a jar. (These 18 ways to upcycle your jars should provide some ideas.)

Tim and I have never done proper Christmas presents, we stick to a £10 budget, and I suspect we will do the same with Ramona. I feel pretty passionate about helping Ramona to understand that Things don’t Equal Happiness, and that love can be shown in millions of ways even throughout a traditional period of gift-giving.

Decorations
I haven’t bought any Christmas decorations in my life, I am the opposite of my sister who is obsessed with them. But I have crafted some up over the last couple of years using pegs, old fabric and scrabble letters (sound gorgeous, don’t they?!) and have been rather pleased with myself! This search on Pinterest will hook you up with millions of possibilities.

Food
I have only hosted one family Christmas before and we simply shared the food gathering out. I think this is becoming increasingly normal, as people struggle to find the bulk of money to lay on an exceptional festive spread at their party.  I have a friend who every year does Christmas with  her old school chums and each year each one brings a different traditional contribution. Just this weekend someone wrote in to the Guardian Money supplement, questioning this practice and the overwhelming response by readers was that guests contributing food made for a special and wonderful celebration. Don’t be shy.

Wrapping
I am officially the world’s worst wrapper  (Wrapper that is, not Rapper- in terms of Rapping I am actually rather excellent, particularly with Do the Bartman and Ice Ice Baby). Often my gifts look like I have pulled them out of the bin (I usually have) (JOKES, honest, I only get things out the bin for myself.) (Cor, now I sound bin selfish) because wrapping requires a finesse I don’t have. I always use recycled paper and my pressies always look ugly.  However, I have a dear friend who wraps everything with newspaper and her gifts look AMAZING! Just check out the possibilities of using recycled wrapping.

Christmas Frocks
Christmas time is a time to look nice, no? To feel happy with your outfit, to feel fresh. For me, a new frock is synonymous with the festivities and has been since I was a tot. If this is the same for you I have to say: Get ye to a Swap Shop now! I already have a swap organised, at a local cafe down the road. A little google could show up one in your region, and if not just organise one for your street or even just your friends. It is THE thriftiest way to clear out your wardrobe and get some new things in, and have a whale of a time whilst doing it. I could not be more of a fan!

As you can see, I only have 6 areas that I have attacked with my Wand of Frugality. I am sure there are a million more. For those of you who have been doing a thrifty Christmas for yonks, how do you do it? Would love to collect some ideas on here.

18 ways to upcycle old jars

If you are like us and eat a lot of lemon curd and peanut butter you have a spare jar, or several hundred, in your home. I keep all mine in the little alley way alongside our kitchen, accessible only by our back garden, a place we try to pretend doesn’t exist. It’s covered with a tarpaulin and houses our Projects. I also, bizarrely, buy extra jars from car boot sales, but just if they are especially pretty or vintage – yep, my huthband doth dethpair.

You see, you can NEVER have enough jars. They provide endless opportunities for giving thrifty but appealing gifts, for beautiful, craftilicious decoration and of course, simple and lovely storage. And for Christmas jars come into their own. Un fact, Christmas was MADE for jars. (Love and family and hope, they get a little look in too.) Despite there being already one million ways to up cycle a jar, I am still not sure the human race has even reached the full realms of what is possible.

But to get us started, here are 18 of the best…

Gift ideas

Use chalk board paint and sweets inside With a bit of tile grout and some ordinary acrylic paint you can whip up small, colourful batches of chalkboard paint. It slicks straight onto any surface, including jars, meaning you can fill a jar with sweets and label it with a cool message.

Put a figure on top and homemade finger paints inside Once you have glued a figure on top of a jar, and painted it, there is no turning back. It looks so wicked. In this instance I filled the jars up with matching homemade finger paints, and gave it as a gift to a toddler.
Decorate the lid and put a home made body scrub inside
Just a bit of cool paper and a decoupage technique (homemade mod podge) can transform a rubbish old jar. I filled mine with the easiest homemade body scrub ever.

Layer cake ingredients inside and give with instructions to make No, you  cynics, this isn’t a lazy way of giving some baking, it’s CUTE, all right? I like it.

Put together a tiny sewing kit and make the lid a pin cushion. A lovely friend gave me a sewing kit in a jar once and I just loved it. Such a gorgeous gift to receive.

Photo credit and How To from must-read Momtastic

Fill with reshaped old crayons Melting and reshaping old crayons makes a gorgeous gift for children. Putting them in a handy jar so you can see the shapes and colours against the side make it that bit more special.

Decoration Ideas

Use paper on the outside to create a beautiful tea light Cutting shapes into pages from a book and popping it around a jar to create a candle holder has to be the most simple decoration ever… oh wait, but look:

Decoupage leaf candle holder  Maybe that honour goes to the sticking of leaves to the outside of a jar to make a candle holder. So lush, and can be seasonal, in whatever season. A bit of nature in your home.

Photo credit and beautiful How to found at From Panka With Love

Glow in the dark jars You can get glow-in-the-dark paint from most craft shops, and it is put to stunning use here. How perfect for a child’s room.

A beautiful jar chandelier This is an upcycle that needs a bit more dedication, and possibly an electrician. But, if you are looking for a light feature THIS IS IT!

Christmas Ideas

Christmas snow globes A jar, a bit of glitter, some objects and some glue. Amazing. I am definitely going to craft up some of these with Ramona, I am going to keep my eyes peeled at car boot sales for especially kitcsh Christmas decorations I could feature in them.

Photo credit and stunning How To from Elisa McLaughlin Designs

Christmas in a jar Love this, giving someone everything they need to fill their home with the Christmas pong, I mean, SPIRIT. You could really adapt this idea, with what you can find that smells awesomely Christmassy.

Edible Ideas

A jar of DIY peppermint hot chocolate I love the idea of giving someone a little treat they can give themselves when the time arises. A ready to go drink would be something my husband would love.

Rainbow Cake in a jar All the glories of a classic 1980’s rainbow cake with the added gimmick of eating it out of a jar. Immense.

Photo credit and How to at the brilliant Run with Glitter blog

Berry crumble in a jar If someone was to serve me a pie in a jar I think I’d be their BFF.

You kind of get the idea here, I guess… bake things, but in jars.

Storage Ideas

Glue lids to underside of shelf, screw jars on to itThis is an ace idea, possible with just a glue gun, a shelf an some jars. Really ideal if you don’t have much surface space.

Photo Credit and How To from Good Housekeeping

Use a hot glue to spell out the contents of the jar and paint over  Another simple idea, but SO effective. I need this so that when I finally reach my one life’s ambition of having a cleaner they’ll know where to pop my tiny trinkets…

Tadah! They are my faves. What are the best ways you have seen to reuse a jar?

PS See beautiful pictures of all the above ideas on my Upcycle your Jars Pinterest board. (Crumbs, you know you have made it when you have a Pinterest board about Jars…)

Easy resin craft – Bambi and scrabble letters get Pompei’d

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I want to let you into a little crafter’s secret. I’ve mentioned it once or twice before. It is the key to making stuff that really doesn’t look home made.

Sometimes homemade IS the look you want; mismatched fabrics, crazy collections of buttons, novice stitching. But other times you want to be able to say “I blooming well MADE it!” without stating the absolute obvious.

Let me welcome to the stage, Resin. Crystal Resin.

I whipped up some bottle top magnets a bit earlier and waterproofed a jar lid before, but today resin is moving up from supporting act to main.

I embedded some paper – a tiny cut out deer (I Pompei’d his ass) and a sentence that said “so busy dreaming” – I love that you can see the words all the way through as they curl round. I also cut up a few flecks of sweet wrapper to act as glitter. And thirdly a scrabble letter. No craft experiment of mine is complete without getting a least one old scrabble letter in there.

The thing I especially love is that you could put absolutely ANYTHING inside and it would come out looking cool. An insect flew into the resin as it set – it looked grotesqely nice before I fished it out. Imagine getting your kids to collect random objects and then setting them in?!It is a way of making something together that you can both be stoked with. (Pasta shape pictures only go so far, eh.)

“Here mummy! Here’s a slug!” “Oh, darling. Such a shame, it’s not going to fit into the mold.”

As you can see, I made a necklace and I made a pencil end – it funks up a boring object, transforming it into a  magical wand. But you could really do ANYTHING with these molds. Magnets. Brooches. Rings. Leave them plain and put them in people’s drinks along with the ice as a delight for their eyes as they sip. Party favours or place settings even.

Logistics
At first it doesn’t seem hugely cheap- I use Gedeo which at the moment is online for £12.95 for 300ml. I fill the molds only a third up, so this makes these come in at about 50p each, which I think is pretty bargainous for a gift or bit of jewellery.

Have you noticed, apart from using the drill, this is completely skill free?! If you don’t know how to use a drill I suggest you sort that out pronto. It will change your life. You know the little bits that you poke into the end of the drill? Do you know what they are called? Drill Bits. Yep, it’s true. If that genius simplicity doesn’t make you want to learn how to use it I don’t know what will.

Linking up with Lakota’s spanking new Ta Da! Tuesday.

Also, if you get a moment to vote for me in the MADS, in the Thrift and Craft catergories, that would be phantasmagorically wonderful!

What reckon ye? Got any imaginative ideas for these molds or things to embed?

Ten new uses for old teacups

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What IS it that is so tantalising about a vintage tea cup? Is it its daintiness, a fragility that makes you feel kind of feminine? Is it the beautifully detailed roses, or bright, retro colours?

The love of tea cups has gone pretty mainstream now. I am surprised they are not selling them in Oliver Bonas,  made in a ginormous factory, flown on to shelves, packaged up as “unique!” and “vintage-like!” and “shabby-chic!“, The Apprentice style.

I think this is why we love them so much – it is simply their antiquity. A tea cup evokes an old world, where ladies in beehives spun tales together. When you sip from a perfectly curved patterned rim you know your Nana and her generation dunked their digestives in it. You imagine a tea party, china clinking on china, neighbourly solidarity, rum slipped in, laughter cackling, biscuits crumbling.  Perhaps drinking from a proper old tea cup helps you see this new world through a lens of nostalgia, rose tinted tea-steam.

But still, despite all that history and all those memories, you won’t catch me paying more than a pound for one.

I love the vivid blue rose one most. Do blue roses even exist?

Because everyone loves a nice tea cup they can be tricky to find, but I have rescued these four (the four nearest the camera)  from various charity shop shelves in the last few weeks to add to my collection. Each one cost exactly £1.

They are sitting on a cute little wooden shelf thing we found on the street last week. I think I will paint it up with a bit of white, or maybe grey. The years have ravaged this old thing and keeping it as plain wood only emphasises it.

I always nab a tea cup when I see it so over the years have gathered a list of ideas for them other than tea drinking, some I have yet to do. Please do add to this list!

Ten Uses for Old Teacups

1– Feed the birds, tuppence a tea cup. How cute do they look in the garden? How much do you reckon those birds are enjoying getting their food out of a vintage tea cup? I have lazily stuck one of our ready made shop balls in one, and even more lazily just hung it on a hook on our back wall. But I suspect you are not half as lazy as me, so you could go all out and whip up your own feed to stick in there OR, as the excellent and thrifty Mrs Syder has done, get a giant tea cup and drill it on to a stick.

2– Plant bulbs in them. These look amazing—as you can see here. It is just a case of drilling a hole in  the bottom with a 10cm diamond coated drill bit and planting then nurturing your bulb.  *Looks around at all the dead plants in my wake* *Smile to myself knowing that readers of my blog can not know this*

If you are not hugely green fingered  – yes, it’s true- there ARE some people who kill plants, you might want to read this for more on that nurturing bit.

3– Serve desert in them. Have you ever baked a microwave mug cake? I can testify, we did it in a lunch break a couple of years ago, despite only taking 3 minutes they are delicious! Halving the recipe and doing it in tea cups would be Next Level and look totes marvellous. Mind you don’t use tea cups with gilt though, sparks will fly.

4– They make beautiful fairy lights. I have tried this as you can see below. I felt they didst look stunning. The light shone right through them in the most gorgeous way. String them up, knotting around the handles, securing in place with tape. Make sure they are at the right angle so that the flame reaches past the rim.

I do suggest you do this with caution.  They get really hot. Stringing up teacups of fire around a party is a bit risky.  I may not be the best model. I used to make candles with keys, leaves, flowers, random crap etc, melted  in them. Lovely looking they were. I made one for Tim as a gift while we were long distance fiancés and he lit it at dinner with his folks and all the family and right then and there it self combusted and  caught fire to the table.

5– So, perhaps the SAFER alternative, and this still looks beautiful, is to either melt wax and add a wick to make a permanent (but not swinging from the walls fairy lights styles) candle. If you are less keen for the permanence (personally that is me—this week I chipped out a candle from a beautiful vintage mug that someone had gifted me so I could use it for drinking) then just fill your teacups up with water and use floating candles. (Remember floating candles? So nineties! But, c’mon, they look The Biz.)

6– Use them for sorting. They have revolutionised my dressing table where they are now home to my bobby pins and jewelry. Ideal for tiny little craft extras like buttons. If I’d known organising could be so pretty I’d have done it yonks ago.

7- Keep your body scrub in it. A little while ago I posted the How To for my favourite body scrub with three kitchen ingredients. I now have said body scrub in a little tea cup in our bathroom. Sweetness alright. Hmmm, actually, this would make an EXCELLENT gift…

8- Speaking of gifts… Give as a gift!  Yaawwn! No really, stay with me.  It is what you put in it, and how you present it, that makes these extra special. Fill with sweets, or with little sewing bits and bobs, or make some cookie dough and put it in there. Put the saucer on top and tie a bow.

9-  Use them as vases, particularly for blossoms and berries, or full heads of roses. They look utterly delightful on the dining table and you don’t have to do the normal peer-over-huge-vase- meerkat-neck to talk to someone.

10- Hold a tea party in a surreal place. When I was a youthworker we took a whole bunch of young ‘uns dressed in their glad rags to Macdonalds but set up the tables with candles and fine dining wares.   It added a huge element of fun to a pretty basic burger and fries.  Always take your tea cups on your picnics in the park this summer, they will add the magic!

Soooo. Set fire to anything lately? Got a favourite tea cup use? All this talk of vintage tea cups making you feel nostalgic or just ill with twee-ity?

Linking up with Liz and the Magpie Mondays! (Have you seen her new badge on my side bar over there? Swanky innit.)

It’s been framed: thrifty home decor

My tea towel. I love it. I bought it in a Faversham charity shop for 50p and knew instantly that it’s destiny had changed. It was not going to end up drying soapy water off Nutella jars disguised as cups. It would be art. Hung with great joy upon our kitchen wall.

I bought the frame for £12 from another charity shop (ripped off I know, it is just an Ikea one) and painted it white. It now sits on our brick wall and adds a massive oomph of Old Skool England into our rather Frenchy kitchen.

There is a thrifty principle here. (Although you have clearly realised this is just an excuse to show off my tea towel.) If you see something pretty and it is kind of flat- frame it! Prints are expensive, framed prints even more so, we have only TWO actual arty prints in our whole house, but our shelves and walls are filled with nice bits and bobs stuffed into frames. Here are some things I’ve framed.

Photos (hahahahahahaha, just kidding)

Record Sleeves

Buttons

Wrapping paper (Map prints/ London underground prints)

The graphic from a reusable bag (the bird – a native NZ Tui – here)

A swatch of fabric

Obviously some of these things are more to provide background depth to a collection of things you have on a shelf (like the fabric) and others are more to be a central piece on your wall.

Just for example, a retro tea towel would work quite well:

Keep your eyes peeled for anything lovely that captures you, and always buy good frames if you see them in charity shops. Especially big ones as they are hard to come by. I nearly always end up giving my frames a lick of paint. White frames can be overdone these days but sometimes a white frame just provides an unobtrusive way to show off your goods.

This tea towel is so old it is Made in the UK – when did we last have a tea towel industry here?!

Done anything thrifty lately? Why not get on board with #ThriftyThursday! Or tell me about it in the comments box…