Fur and Feathers

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Happy Easter! Now is the time to celebrate all things cute and fluffy, like my amazing guinea pigs Merlin and Hermes! Here they are feasting on one of their favourites – lettuce!

Now that it’s warm enough, they can run around in the conservatory as well as in their usual run, which looks like this:

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Here’s Merlin:

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And here’s Hermes, modelling one of their favourite toys that I made by recycling an old pair of jogging bottoms that had holes in them!

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In the garden – guinea pig treats and nesting material for birds

A lot of my growing decisions this year have been influenced by what the guinea pigs like to eat. They get through an amazing amount of salad for such small animals… I’m growing them carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and parsley!

If you want to see what’s safe for guinea pigs to eat and how often they can have each type of food during the week for optimum health, this website, the Happy Cavy safe food list, is brilliant.

Dandelions aren’t many gardeners’ friends, although I’ve always let some of them survive for the benefit of the bees. But now they are very much my friend, as the guinea pigs absolutely love to eat the leaves as a treat!

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You need to be careful as there are lots of common plants that are toxic to guinea pigs – daisies for instance – so if you can’t let them run safely in the garden, you can always grow your own grass and other treats for them in trays indoors. Galen’s Garden makes it easy to order seeds to grow things especially for your furry friends! Merlin and Hermes love the oat and barley grass. I’m also growing them some yarrow to try this year.

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The grass was much taller than this, but it’s been significantly and enthusiastically grazed since then!

The guinea pigs are doing their part to help the garden grow too, with the hundreds of poo pellets they manage to produce every day! As guinea pig poo rots down and releases nutrients slowly, it can be applied directly around plants without burning the roots. Alternatively, you can mix it with some water and create your very own liquid fertiliser – this is next on my list of projects!

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Also in the garden this month I’ve been hanging out some alpaca fibre in fat square cages for the birds to take for their nests. I’ve been amazed at how quickly it’s been going down – some chicks somewhere are going to hatch out into a very warm, cosy nest! It’s a great way to watch your garden birds in action, and so funny to watch them flying away with their beaks absolutely stuffed with fluff!

In the bathroom – Easter egg soap

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I found some silicone egg moulds in a pound shop so I couldn’t resist making Easter egg soap. I added a small amount of yellow colouring to melt and pour soap, and poured it into two of the moulds, as each mould creates half an egg. Once they had solidified, I melted another small amount of soap , poured it on top of one of them, and then pushed the other half down on top of it so they stuck together. I paired the egg soap with a pom pom chick in part of an egg box with a ribbon as an Easter gift.

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It’s been a busy day eating for the guinea pigs, so it must be time for a nap…

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Fun things to do in early spring

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There’s something about the arrival of spring that motivates me to do and make things myself from scratch!

In the garden

Cut some flowers for the house

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Now that we’ve passed peak daffodil season, the next easy-to-grow flowers to bring into the house are hellebores. It’s best to wait until the seed pods have started to form, not only does this mean you’re not depriving bees and other pollinators of the pollen, but the stems become sturdier and the flowers will last longer in a vase.

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Hellebores can still have a habit of drooping quite quickly though, so an alternative is to just snip the flowers off and float them in a bowl of water. I’ve added a rhododendron flower for some extra colour. You can see the seed pods on these flowers, compared with the stamens you can see on the photo at the top.

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Make a natural hanging basket liner

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This is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time, and the early spring sunshine helped to motivate me! This is a bit of an experiment, so I’ll have to wait and see how it turns out. I wet felted (or more accurately, attempted to wet felt…) some alpaca fibre, hoping to cut out a piece to use as a hanging basket liner. There’s a great video on how to wet felt alpaca fibre here. I think I used too much wool, too much soap and too much water, so my first attempt wasn’t brilliant, but I’ve ended up with a few pieces of fluffy felt, so I’ll see how they perform when I’m ready to plant up the basket! I think the liner might be at risk from jackdaws looking for nesting material, but if they end up raiding it too much I’ll save this project as something to do for my hanging baskets of tomatoes in the greenhouse!

In the craft room

Make an Easter basket

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I wanted to do something different than just giving my nephews chocolates for Easter, so I put together this Easter gift basket. It does of course include chocolate, but mainly lots of Easter craft supplies to inspire them to be creative, and a cute and cuddly bunny for the youngest.

In the kitchen

Make butter and buttermilk from cream

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This was so much easier than I thought it would be! It won’t save you any money, but you’ll get delicious fresh butter and buttermilk, and making it is really fun – it’s so exciting when the butter suddenly forms! You need double cream and an electric whisk. Just whisk the cream, and you will see it first go thick (whipping cream), and then very suddenly it will separate into butter and buttermilk!

Winter Wonderland part 2

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By the end of February it can start to feel like it’s been winter forever! And a lot of the winter crafts and activities I love are Christmas-themed, which is a shame given that most of winter is after Christmas! But here are some general winter-themed things to make to help brighten up the days as we wait for spring!

In the bathroom – snowflake shimmer lotion

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This is incredibly easy to make and perfect for adding a soft opalescent glow to winter skin. I melted shea butter in the microwave and then added sweet almond oil in a 1:1 ratio. I used shea butter because it’s so soft, but other butters would work too. A hard butter (like cocoa) and some beeswax would be good if you wanted to create a shimmer bar instead of a lotion.

Once the oil and butter were mixed together I added pearl mica, which creates the wintry shimmer effect. Micas are mineral pigments, and there are lots of colours available. I’ll probably try making one of these using bronze or gold mica for a summery alternative! You can add as much or as little mica as you like, depending on how shimmery you want the final product to be – just make sure it’s all well mixed in! Then leave the mixture to cool down (or put in the fridge to speed things up), and it’s ready to use!

In the craft room – snowflakes and pom pom snowmen

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I’ve loved quilling snowflakes ever since my friend Sammy-jo (@SammyRedBird) gave me this one to hang on my Christmas tree. I don’t have Sammy-jo’s skill and patience, but I still enjoy having a go! This one ended up looking a bit more like a flower than a snowflake, but it’s a nice embellishment for a winter gift tag, which you could use as a label for the shimmer lotion if you were making some as a gift!

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I’ve already shared how much I love pom poms, and what could be better in winter than a pom pom snowman? Make a small white pom pom for the head and a larger one for the body, and stitch together using white thread. Then you can decorate them! I used black buttons for eyes on the big one and black felt on the small one, and made them both hats out of black card. The noses are made from orange felt, and the scarves from scraps of old material. You could also add black buttons down the front.

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In the garden – early flowers and germination

At least by this stage of the winter we’re starting to see some signs of life in the garden, and can get on with sowing seeds ready for the new season! Hellebores and daffodils are adding colour to the garden, and can also be cut and brought in to brighten up the home. Daffodils are best not mixed with other flowers in a vase, as they exude a sap that makes other flowers not last as long.

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If cutting hellebores, it’s best to wait until the seed pods have formed, as the flowers will last much longer. None of my hellebore flowers are at that stage yet, so I’m leaving them in the garden for now!

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In the greenhouse, my tray of cauliflower seeds planted a few weeks ago have germinated, and also the first of my radishes!

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The overwintering onions are coming along well, and amazingly I’m still harvesting Christmas potatoes, despite everything I’ve read saying you’ll be lucky for them to last until January. I’ve also still got plenty of cabbages and leeks in the ground too.

I suppose despite my snowy crafts it’s generally been a warm winter, as evidenced by this pot marigold that has stayed alive and flowering since last summer! Any time now I can start sowing the seeds for its successors! 🙂

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Citrus

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Although January can be a bleak month, it can be brightened up by the fact that citrus fruits are now in season!

In the kitchen – dried orange and lemon slices

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You can buy dried orange and lemon slices, but it’s much cheaper to make your own, and it’s easy to do. Slice your fruits quite thinly and spread them on a baking tray, then put them in the oven on a very low heat for a couple of hours. You could use them to flavour drinks when it’s not practical to cut a fresh slice, but I use them as decorations for gifts and craft projects.

In the bathroom – lemon poppy seed salt scrub

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An invigorating body scrub perfect for this time of year, simply mix poppy seeds, salt, sweet almond oil and a splash of lemon oil. If you’re making it as a gift, you could tie a dried lemon slice around the jar for decoration.

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In the craft room – orange slice decorations

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I actually made this to go on the Christmas tree, by attaching a button, cinnamon stick and dried orange slice to a pine cone using florist’s wire, and then attaching some natural twine to hang it up.

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In the garden – grow your own citrus fruits

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Citrus fruits aren’t that easy to grow in the UK. You can’t plant them in the ground as they wouldn’t be able to survive our freezing winters. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them at all. Plant your trees in containers and put them outside between May and October, when there’s no risk of frost. For the rest of the year, you’ll need to bring them inside into a conservatory or greenhouse. Keep moving them into bigger pots as they grow, just make sure the pot doesn’t get too heavy for you to carry in and out! It takes about 3 to 5 years before the trees will produce fruit. I only got mine last year, so I’ll have to wait and see how they get on!

I’m also thinking of planting a seed from inside the lemon and orange I cut to make the slices to see if I can grow a mini tree from scratch!

Christmas trees

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My black Halloween tree became my “snowy night”-themed Christmas tree at the beginning of November, and since then I’ve been working on lots of Christmas tree-themed crafts!

Pine cone Christmas tree

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For this simple craft, choose a nice big open pine cone and cover with dark green acrylic paint. Once it’s dry, decorate with a tinsel pipe cleaner (I threaded silver beads on to mine) and glittery pom poms! You can also make a base for your tree if you like. I used a trimmed cardboard plant pot painted with red acrylic paint, decorated with a Christmas ribbon.

Wool-wrapped Christmas tree

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These make great vases for holly and other evergreen foliage for the Christmas table, or can be used as candle holders. Take a recycled green glass bottle, and then starting at the bottom, coat the bottle with PVA glue and stick on dark green wool, carefully wrapping one row at a time. Once the glue has dried, attach the decorations including large glitter pom poms and tinsel pipe cleaners, which I attached using double sided tape, but hot glue would do as well.

Christmas tree foliage display

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I found some florist foam shaped like a Christmas tree, so I collected some foliage from the garden to create this centrepiece!

Christmas tree soap

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I’ve also been making lots of pine-scented Christmas tree soaps as presents! I used melt-and-pour soap base, with liquid green colour and pine essential oil, poured into a Christmas tree-shaped mould!

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Happy Christmas! 🙂

 

 

 

All wrapped up

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Christmas is approaching, and I’ve been investigating creative gift wrapping and have created a Pinterest board full of brilliant ideas!

The natural wrapping at the top is so easy and really effective, using brown paper, natural twine, two sprigs of rosemary, a cinnamon stick and pine cone.

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The tag is really easy to make, just cut green felt into the shape of a holly leaf, and stick on to a brown card gift tag with three red buttons.

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This is another cute homemade gift tag idea, create a snowflake using a white button in the centre, and paint the lines around the outside. It looks best when using a dark blue tag.

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This idea is great for children. Cut out a Christmas tree using green foam, and a star using yellow and a base using red foam. Stick on to the top of the gift box, and then provide a little drawstring bag full of crafty bits like glittery pipe cleaners, pom poms and stickers so that the kids can decorate the tree!

A homemade Christmas tree wrapping idea for adults makes use of those paint colour sample sheets you can get in DIY shops.

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Cut out each different shade of green into trapezium shapes, making them progressively smaller as you the shades get lighter, then stick them on to the box in a Christmas tree shape and add glitter pom poms for some extra colour.

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Cosy autumn evenings in are perfect for wrapping presents and crafting! As lots of wildlife is starting to snuggle up and hibernate for the winter, I’ve also been making these pom pom hedgehogs.

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You need to cover about a third of the pom pom maker with light brown wool, and the rest with dark brown wool, then cut and tie into a pom pom as usual. The key to making it look like a hedgehog is in the cutting after you’ve made the pom pom. You want to leave the dark brown bits long and loose, but cut the light brown bit so the wool is very short and compact. You can even try to cut it into shape so it has a slightly pointed snout! Then add googly eyes and a small oval of black felt for the nose.

Next time will be all about Christmas trees! 🙂

O Come All Ye Frightful

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Apparently, Tim Burton got the inspiration for “The Nightmare Before Christmas” by seeing the concurrent sale of both Christmas and Halloween decorations in shops at this time of year. Given how much I love making things for Christmas, I decided to combine the two festivities and create Halloween versions of some Christmas traditions! So this is a Halloween-meets-Christmas-themed craft special!

Halloween tree

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I absolutely love Christmas trees, I’d leave them up all year if I could! I have managed to extend the presence of a tree in the house by creating a spring/Easter tree and a winter tree, and also this Halloween tree, which is my favourite! The tree is of course a black one, they’re easy to get hold of and are apparently becoming more popular as Christmas trees. I found purple bat lights and orange pumpkin lights online, and orange and purple tinsel in the pound shop! I also bought purple and orange baubles last Christmas. With a witch’s hat on the top and a few homemade decorations, the Halloween tree is complete! You might not have any presents to put under it, but pumpkins or fake spider’s web look good instead!

Ghosts and monsters

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These are a really easy DIY decoration for your Halloween tree. You will need a small rectangle of cardboard, and wool in white for your ghost, and whatever colours you want to use for your monster! I went with orange and purple to match my tree.

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Wrap the wool around the cardboard rectangle until it feels quite plump, then thread a piece of matching wool through the top – between the wool and the cardboard – as shown. You will use this piece of wool to tie it together to stop it falling apart, and also to hang it on the tree when it’s finished. Once you’ve tied a knot, you can remove the cardboard, and it will look like this:

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Then all you need to do is tie a piece of wool around the middle (to create the head), and cut the loops of wool at the bottom, as shown:

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Then add googly eyes for the finishing touch, and hang up on your tree!

Jingle bell spider

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Another good decoration to hang on a Halloween tree! Tie two jingle bells together and push pipe cleaners through the holes to make 8 legs. I added silver beads to stop the pipe cleaners from coming out the other side. Tie a small loop of string around the middle of the bells if you want to hang it on your tree.There are tutorials for fancier versions of the jingle bell spider on Pinterest!

Crackers

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These were lots of fun to make! In some ways, homemade Halloween crackers are easier than Christmas crackers, as there are plenty of small toys and themed sweets in the shops. I even managed to find a pack of spooky jokes! You’ll need recycled toilet roll tubes, tissue paper, cracker snaps (you can get these cheaply from lots of online retailers), gifts to go inside, and anything else you might want to use to decorate them.

Push the cracker snap through the tube and add your gifts, then roll the tube in the tissue paper and stick it all together. Then scrunch the ends together and tie them in place using wool or pipe cleaners. You’ll need to make sure your cracker snap doesn’t slide out of position while you do this! After that, you can add whatever decorations you want. I used black tulle fabric for a spider’s web effect, and made a bat and pumpkin using felt, with details added in foam. I’m looking forward to pulling the crackers on Halloween!

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Mummy lantern

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There are hundreds of ideas for Christmas lanterns, and this version using a recycled glass jar is probably the easiest Halloween alternative! Simple wrap an old bandage around the jar (I attached mine with double sided tape), stick on two googly eyes, and light a candle inside!

Candle

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This spooky fake candle is made from an artificial tea light and a recycled toilet roll tube. The artificial candle fits quite nicely inside, but some glue from a hot glue gun will help to hold it in position. You can also use the glue gun to create the dripping wax effect down the side of the tube. Once the glue has dried, you can paint the tube and the artificial candle black using acrylic paint. You might need to trim the end off the tube to make sure you can reach the switch to turn it on, unless you have quite long fingers!

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To fit with my Christmas theme for Halloween, I also found these purple and green candy canes, and spooky chocolate coins. I even found a pumpkin mug! I’ve had so much fun with these projects, I think I’ll try some new ones next year… maybe gingerbread mummies, a Halloween wreath, a spooky centrepiece, and maybe even a countdown calendar!

Happy Halloween! 🙂

Next month – “All wrapped up” – creative gift wrapping ideas and cosy autumn nights in.