DIY Bags from anything!

DIY gift bags made from calendar pages

Ok, not quite anything.  but certainly from old calendars, newspapers and potato-chip tubes.

Last weekend I riffled through our overflowing recycling pile and extracted some paper to play with, experimenting with my sewing machine.  My favourite are these vibrant gift bags, made by simply stitching together two pages from last year’s calendar;


The local supermarket weekly newspaper becomes a single-use tote or gift bag when stitched on two sides and adorned with ribbon-scrap handles..

DIY recycled newspaper tote

And a souvenir from our recent trip to Cape Town – a free weekly mag from the winelands – becomes a fun bag too!

DIY book from old magazines

And finally Pringles tubes covered in leftover gift-wrap become handy packages for cookies, sweets or half-bottles of Valentine’s champagne (I write that in case my husband is reading; what is a blog for, if not to drop heavy marital hints?)



To make calendar bags…

If you still have last year’s calendar lying around (ours was from here),  separate and trim the pages and then stitch two of them together on your sewing machine, using a basic running stitch and staying as close to the edges as you can.  Make sure both picture-sides are facing out, to avoid gifting someone the insight of your carefully-detailed family events for the entire month of June 2019.  Use a hole punch to make holes at the top and thread through scraps of ribbon or string to make handles.  You could also add a pocket to the outside of the bag (to hold a gift card for example) by stitching on a square of card before you sew the two sides together.

To make newspaper or magazine bags…

These are less sturdy (despite my styling above, I don’t recommend using them for the weekly shop), but they’re great fun.  Try using a foreign language newspaper, or a glossy magazine  – they’re the perfect size and weight to hold a book or other lightweight gift.  Open up your newspaper and remove any staples, and keep just a few layers of the pages. You can fold the top over to make a cuff as I did with the Waitrose newspaper, or just leave them as is.  Stitch around the sides as before (make sure you leave the top open, of course..), and then you can either stitch on ribbon handles or use a hole punch and eyelets as above.

For the gift tube..

Take an empty Pringles tin (I’m afraid this craft may require you to eat a tube of Pringles first; consider it a display of your commitment to the muse), then roll it over a sheet of giftwrap to work out the dimensions of the paper you need.  Cut out the paper, paste it around the tube using watered-down white glue and then punch holes for handles when dry.  Don’t be alarmed by the drying process by the way, in which the paper will look awful.  By the morning it will be beautiful.

p.s. from the archives; book vases, stitched vessels and altered envelopes

Happy Thursday!

handbag logo

The Summer Shoe Project

Welcome back! After a crazy few weeks of work and travel and the general plate-spinning of life, I am at last perched on a chair in the art room once again, able to share a few projects and updates from the summer. Starting with a little child labour..

To fill some of the endless summer holiday time back in July, I gave Harry a small challenge; whenever he was bored he could earn upto £1 for a carefully executed portrait of any of my favourite shoes from the cupboard upstairs.  Each shoe had to be convincingly drawn and coloured, and would be judged before payment was made.   I had no particular expectations of this business opportunity – it was mostly to instil in Harry the principle that pocket-money could be earned, and to keep him doing creative things and not succumb to the lure of screen-time  - but in the end the results were surprisingly lovely…

The Summer Shoe Project

In each case, Harry could choose which shoes to draw; leopard-print kitten heels were an early choice (‘you could wear them on a safari, mum!’)

The summer shoe project


blue leopard shoes


My favourite beaded heels received a jaunty, flirtatious interpretation and look much more comfortable in Harry’s version than they are in real life;

Summer sandals

Most challenging were these velvet slippers with tiny gold bumblebees embellished onto them (‘It’s tricky to do all of the legs, mum’)…

Summer shoe project

All in all, £9 was earned over the course of a couple of weeks, and rapidly invested in dinosaurs, comics and chocolate.

For my part, I scanned my favourites and pasted them together into a powerpoint slide before printing out – and now have a lovely poster illustrating my shoe collection, ready to be hung on the wall in here!

framed shoe drawingsHave a lovely week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing.

handbag logo

DIY Balsa Wood Mobile

DIY Balsa wood mobileToday’s post is one of those projects where you can accomplish something impressive with very little practice or experience.  Trust me on this.  Make it, hang it somewhere obvious where your friends and family can’t miss it, and then allow them to believe you ordered it from MOMA.  Then, after a dramatic pause, reveal that you actually made it yourself IN THE BATHTUB.

Ok, well you can start the process in the bathtub.  I will explain.

I decided to have a go at making something with balsa wood; the kind of deliciously long, thin strips you find in craft shops but can never quite think what to do with.  I’ve become fascinated by the work of artists like Tom Raffield and Jane Crisp who both steam-bend hardwood into amazing homewares, and wondered whether I could achieve the same by soaking strips of balsa wood in the bath and then twisting them into weird shapes.  I’m pleased – and somewhat astonished – to say that it WORKS!

Balsa wood forms V

I used pieces of wood that were 3′ long, 1.5″ wide and 1/32″ thick.  I soaked the wood strips in warm water for an hour to help it become more flexible and less inclined to snap, and then randomly bent it into shapes, holding each in place with a soft-grip laundry peg to dry out.  On this one I also cut a thin channel out of the wood with a craft knife, to give it a more interesting shape…


Then I threaded an ordinary sewing needle and held the shape together whilst I made a simple cross stitch in the place where the peg had been.  The wood is so light that a single stitch was all it needed; I like the shaker appearance this gives the forms;

Balsa wood forms VIBalsa wood forms I

Once I had a collection of different shapes and had carved different patterns into the ends, I strung each one up with another length of thread and tied them onto a wooden embroidery hoop, then played with the different lengths of thread and moved the shapes around the ring until I had a mobile form that I liked.

DIY Balsa wood hanging mobile


I decided it needed something else as a contrast, so I found a 2″ wooden sphere and threaded it too (use a button underneath to secure the thread and hold it in place) – and then I decided it was done. Here it is hanging in the spare room whilst I work out where to put it permanently (if Harry was still tiny, I would hang it over his crib!).

Balsa wood mobile DIY

Do give this a try; you could use the same technique to make wonderful napkin rings or even a fascinator for your hair :-) .  I’m still thinking of what else I can do with my latest obsession.  Never has the family had so many baths (or shared them with so much wood).  As always, I’m more than happy to answer any questions if this captures your imagination, from my limited, new-found knowledge.

Key equipment:

  • Balsa wood; as long and thin as you can find
  • Soft grip pegs to hold the shapes
  • A craft knife to carve out different patterns on the ends
  • A wooden hoop to hang the shapes from
  • Needle and thread for the stitches (or cheat and use a stapler)

Have a wonderful weekend!

handbag logo

ps Thank you for the lovely, lovely comments on last week’s post.


Adventures in giant knitting

On my birthday recently, my mother gave me a very large cardboard box.  I say she gave it to me; in fact she dragged it in through the front door with much huffing and puffing and muttered cussing, and left it in the hall whilst she lay down on the sofa to recover herself with a gin & tonic.

‘Is it a puppy?’ asked Harry hopefully.

‘Why no‘ she announced dramatically; ‘it is ….A BALL OF WOOL!’.

A 5kg ball of lightly-spun wool as large as a doberman in fact, and a pair of 60mm wide knitting needles to tame it with.  Welcome to the unladylike art of Giant Knitting.

Adventures in giant knitting

It took me a little while to begin the knitting because the needles were immediately seized to be used as light sabres and general tools for random destruction.  You can see the appeal…


Once in posession of both needles and wool, I studied the booklet that came with the kit (mine was from here), and taught myself the basic ‘knit one, purl one’ blanket stitch.  Unlike those genteel grandmothers you see clacking away on television, there was nothing effortless about my stitching; it required a vast turning circle of personal space (I jabbed so many family members in the eye and ribs with my herculean needles that I was eventually exiled to a small chair on my own); but good lord, there is something so satisfying about knitting a throw that is four foot square in just two hours.  To give you a sense of the scale, just 25 stitches completes a row (and also, I suspect, burns about 200 calories).

Occasionally the wool would come unspun and break apart if I tugged too hard, but you can immediately press it back together and carry on.  Dropped stitches are by their very size immediately obvious, making this the most energetic but also the most forgiving of needlecrafts.  I think I am in love.  The only drawback is the cost; a ball this size will cost around £100, which makes this not an economical hobby.  But as my husband says ‘Not bad value when you consider you’re basically knitting together an entire flock of sheep’.  Well quite.

My messy, irregular and somewhat whispy wool throw is a thing of great heft but also of quiet beauty, and magnetises the smallest member of the house.

A giant knitted throw Giant knitting (great for wannabe ghosts)Have you tried giant knitting before?  Any tips or second-project recommendations?  A couple of people on Instagram recommended arm knitting, which sounds like a natural progression, albeit not one to try when multi-tasking, I suspect.

Happy Monday!

handbag logo


DIY Printed Paper Sacks (to hold practically anything…)

Print-at-home paper potato sacks!

Harry, during a mere 7yrs on this planet, has accumulated approximately 9,847 soft animals.

Well, maybe somewhat less than that, though it certainly feels like a lot when you are saying goodnight to them each in turn.  I feel a little like Maria must have done in the Sound of Music when trying to recall all the names of the von Trapp children, though at least hers only ran to single digits.

Still, I am in part to blame; most of the animals came from me, either directly or via my alter ego of Father Christmas.  Now though, they need a home.  Harry’s favourites still warrant a VIP place under the duvet each night, but what the others need is storage.

DIY Paper Sacks


I discovered that for a mere £5 you can buy online a handful of giant paper sacks designed to hold 25kg of potatoes.  I am not likely to ever successfully grow 25kg of any vegetable, so instead ordered some to use for stuffed animals, laundry and the myriad of art materials filling every surface of the art room.  And then I decided to see if you can use t-shirt transfers to print on them – and you can!  Instructions below…


  • Large paper sacks like these or these; iron them on a low heat if necessary to ensure a flat surface
  • T-shirt transfer paper; I use Epson Cool Peel for most projects, including this one (not the cheapest, but really good results)


  1. Design your label and then print it onto the transfer paper, being careful to select ‘mirror image’ on your printer for any text.  Print it out and leave to cool…


2.  Position the transfer on your paper sack, being sure to leave enough space at the top if you want to roll it over as I’ve done here (I like the contrast between the white of the outer sack and the brown lining).

3. Iron on a medium heat to transfer the image or text; you might need a lower setting than with fabric to avoid scorching

4.  Leave to cool, peel off the transfer paper and admire your handiwork.

5.  Fill with animals, laundry, craft materials, family members *delete as applicable

Printed Paper Sacks

Job done!

These would also look gorgeous at Christmas as personalised gift sacks (and require a little less effort than these!).

Have a wonderful weekend…

handbag logo

DIY Bear Bag (made from a paper sack)

Eggshell mini-nests for an Easter table

Mini nests

Are you ready for Easter?  We usually love to have a big feast with friends, and I always think about to make the table look seasonal and different.  This year we’ll have tiny individual nests placed at each setting, shaped around gold-painted egg shells and filled with beautiful little praline eggs (not to be eaten until later!)


(I have to show these beautiful over-sized bowls here as often as I can; my best friend helped me drag 8 of them back from Paris after our trip there and never lets me forget how heavy they were; I feel compelled to demonstrate at every opportunity that they are well-used…)

First, gather some egg-shells, rinse them out and paint the inside gold (and the outside too if you like)…

tiny egg nests

Then weave a little sisal or hay around them and tuck in a few sprigs of moss.  Other ideas for elementary nest construction here!

I used a box of these eggs to fill them; small enough to fit, pretty enough to look startlingly real (and very edible).


Miniature nests

p.s.  from the archives; hand-decorating chocolate eggs, easter crafting and a Spring dress

handbag logo

Simple projects: tonal painted spoons

DIY Painted Kitchen Spoons

Until last week, we had just one wooden spoon in our kitchen.

Possibly the oldest kitchen item I own, it is a warped and aged thing, of a variety that you find lurking deep in the ‘Kitchenalia’ section of dubious antique stores.  Scarred by age and immune to the vigorous attentions of the dishwasher, it is also so short that every time I stir a boiling pan I risk steam burns and often drop the spoon entirely, having to fish it out with the toast tongs.  Why it did not occur to me earlier to buy a new spoon, especially when regularly purchasing such random things as toast tongs, I do not know.

Finally, I did.

I bought six in fact, having a tendency towards excess when shopping.  They are long and beautiful and  - let’s face it – rather dull, so I dug out all the leftover tester paint pots from our shed and gave them a good stir.  I taped off the tip of each spoon handle (use masking or washi tape) and then gave each two coats of paint.  When dry, I sealed with a satin varnish.  It took just an hour or so from beginning to end, but the result makes me smile.  Somehow stirring a dish with one of these makes it seem inherently more likely to taste good.

Paint pots

Leftover paint


Hand painted kitchen sitrring spoons

DIY painted kitchen spoons in a pot

(As I study the photo above, I notice I’m still somehow unable to throw away the short-and-unhygenic-and-entirely-useless wooden spoon that inspired this project).

Have a wonderful weekend!  It’s a glorious one here; sunshine and daffodils and blossom and only an occasional gust of window to remind you that you are in England, still, and thus need to keep your wits, and woollens, about you.

handbag logo

p.s.  Whilst you have your leftover paint to hand, why not try painted pots, and use them to start a family sunflower race… (we’re planting ours this afternoon!).


The Odd Egg

The Odd Egg

With Easter fast approaching, Harry and I have been busy making an enormous egg.  Heaven knows what bird might have laid this egg, which is just short of 3 foot in length; it is certainly not a bird I would want to stumble across accidentally or whose nest I would want to unwittingly disturb.  Come Easter Sunday, it will hang from a tree in the garden filled with sweets and chocolate eggs, and be smashed, piñata-style, by an army of small egg-hunters.  Till then, it is safe and majestic atop a rather unsubstantial nest.

We began by inflating a large – huge – balloon.  Well actually, in truth we watched my husband inflate it and made encouraging noises as he turned slowly purple with the effort.  Team-work. Then we covered it with two layers of newspaper dipped in a mixture of white glue and water, pausing only occasionally to read the newspaper stories.

Paper mache balloon egg layer 1

And then a final layer, this time of white paper (we used two sheets of flipchart paper, torn up), so that we could see when we’d finished an entire layer.

Paper mache egg layer 2

And then I painted it with some pale grey leftover tester paint, before dabbing on circles and speckles of paint, in brown and copper colours….

Painted paper mache egg

It looks pretty convincing!

pinata egg

It’s very light, at least until filled with chocolate…

Giant duck egg pinata

Once it was completely dry, I cut a circular hole in the back (don’t cut it out entirely – it’s much easier to seal this way).  Harry filled the egg with chocolates, using an ‘add one, eat one’ policy and thus adding to the brown smudges around the egg.

DIY fillable Easter pinata

At Easter, we’ll thread a rope up in through the egg and tie it to the old apple tree in our garden that’s currently filled with blossom.  Until then, we can just admire it…

p.s. two more of our papier-mache projects; the hot air balloon and the moon.

Have a great rest of the weekend!

handbag logo

How to print a fish (and other useful skills you didn’t know you’d been missing)

Have you ever heard of Gyotaku?

Gyotaku fish printing DIY

It’s the ancient Japanese art of printing beautiful pictures from fish, and artists devote years – lifetimes, even – to refining the skill.  I stumbled across this by accident, and came across a myriad of sites which explain how to catch and then carefully cleanse and fillet your fish, before stuffing its every nook and cranny with absorbent tissue  and gently pinning its fins into a delicate, aesthetically pleasing fan shape before beginning your print.

Or. Or. You could do what I did and choose two sardines from the supermarket for the princely sum of 75p, and use those instead.  Yes; with apologies to the Gyotaku community of practice, here is the simpleton’s guide to achieving an acceptably pleasing print within a morning, and then being able to cook and eat your fish for lunch afterwards.  Just rinse it first, would be my insider tip.

gyotaku (Japanese fish printing) materials from

You’ll need;

  • A fish.  Two if you can afford a spare.
  • Rubber gloves.  Because it is a dead fish after all, and remember that you have a fresh manicure that it is not worth sacrificing for this project.
  • A piece of foam board or polystyrene that you can carve out for your fish
  • Pins, if you are keen to arrange your fish.  Skip this bit if your constitution is even remotely delicate.
  • Paint; I used silver, black and grey for my prints
  • A piece of silk or thin cotton, or super-light silk paper like this or this (try art and craft shops; it’s often sold with giftwrap or in small, single sheets).

First, rinse and pat dry your fish.  Oh, put the gloves on first.  Sorry.  Start with those.

Let’s try again.  Put the gloves on and then rinse and pat dry the fish.  Do not look it in the eye; it will only make it harder.

Then, draw around the shape of your fish on your foam board/polystyrene and cut out a shallow hollow for your fish to fit into.  This will stop it rolling around when you paint it and make prints.  Then, place your fish in the hollow you’ve made and daub colour all over your fish.  I used silver paint, and then added grey and black in the areas of the fish that looked the darkest.  I peeled off my gloves and took this single picture to help.  Then it just got too messy to take pictures of anything.  Too many fish scales; too much paint.

Gyotaku fish on board

Once you’ve painted your fish, you need to act quickly before it dries.  Pick up your piece of silk or silk paper and place it over the fish, and then pat it all over, making sure you press the shape of the fish and its fins into the paper.  Peel the paper off and place it aside to dry; you might get a second print, but usually you’ll need to reapply the paint to get a good second print.  Practice makes perfect; my first print looked like this….

Gyotaku fish printing DIY project

Recognisably a fish, but only just.  So next time I added more paint, including a good splash of black over the eyeball, and got a much better set of prints…

Gyozo fish print 3

Once you’ve made a print that you’re happy with, wait for it to dry and use your brush and paints to add any further detail or highlights that you want to.  I then cut out my fish print and glued it to a piece of white card so that the print stood out more clearly..

Gyotaku fish printing simple DIP project


Gyotaku printing project - make beautiful prints of fish!


Gyotaku printing onto silk paper

Once you’ve made your prints, you could scan them and print them onto different surfaces or make patterns.  Or use the originals for cards, as I did.  It’s a great project to try with kids, because it’s messy, involves dead things and paint (cool combination!), and the results are instant and gratifying. Just allow a bit of time for clearing up….

Have a great week!

handbag logo

DIY Projects: The Book Vase

DIY Vintage Book Vase

Our village has an extraordinary supply of second-hand bookshops, including one that gives away books for free that have been rescued from landfill.  Every weekend we have a browse, and usually come back with new treasures.  As a result, my shelves are creaking and my supply grows faster than I can read or repurpose them. I used a vintage graphic atlas bought last year to make this gift for a friend’s new baby..

Matilda's Map Dress

I also use illustrations from childrens books to make colourful envelope liners, and make secret boxes from the covers of interesting-looking books, by removing the text block (tutorial here).

Kates secret book box

This time I used an old book full of tips for gardeners to make a simple vase for fresh flowers (I love the title; these days it would be the ‘Dummies Guide’ or similar; not quite the same..).  Here’s what you need;

Making a book vase

  • And old hardback book with a sturdy, undamaged spine
  • A cardboard box that fits inside the book, and is the same depth as the spine
  • A water bottle, with the top sawn off
  • Glue, craft knife, ruler and pencil.  Coffee, chocolate, good music all optional but recommended.

Firstly carefully remove the book text from the spine by slicing down either side of the pages that hold the book pasted to the cover. Remove the book and set aside, leaving your hardback cover which should lie flat.  Place the box (without lid) inside it to check for fit.

Carefully slice out one side of the box, leaving an inch around the edges for stability and to help it maintain its shape.  Press the long side edge of the box against the spine and then glue the box into the book cover, as shown below.  It’s best to leave several hours for the glue to set; lie it flat and place something heavy on top of it to encourage the adhesion.

making a book vase step 1

Once the glue is dry and secure, slide your water bottle into the open ‘book box’ so that it is resting on the bottom.  Use a jug to carefully fill it with water…

Making a book vase step 2

And then just add your flowers!


Add twigs for artistic effect.  Regret never having had any training in the art of floral arrangement.  Decide life is too short.

Book Vase

And then when your flowers are past their best glory, simply remove them and the bottle, and either clean out the bottle or replace it. Job done!

DIY Book Vasr

Have a wonderful weekend, when it comes!

handbag logo

Ampersand Cookies

Welcome back!

We’ve been making cookies this weekend; fun, alphabet cookies sandwiched together with jam and sprinkled with a liberal snowfall of icing sugar.  They fit in the palm of your hand and will make you happy for hours, I promise…

DIY cookies from katescreativespace

Firstly, we made a batch of sugar cookie dough, using our favourite basic recipe, though any one will do. We chilled the dough for 20 minutes in the fridge and then rolled it out  (my friend recently bought me one of these genius rolling pins, which ensures a regulation thickness to your dough; no more slanty, wobbly cookies for me…).

We used this small ampersand-shaped cookie cutter from Etsy to stamp out the top layer of cookies, and then for the bases, made a lighter imprint on the dough and I then cut around them carefully with a craft knife.  A bid fiddly, yes, but the only way I could think of to ensure I didn’t stamp out the holes in the bottom shapes.

DIY ampersand cookies

And then we simply baked for 10 mins (these cookies are small so they bake quickly; check on them regularly, and don’t get distracted with a good magazine and a coffee; I speak from experience here…).  Once cool, sandwich together with a dollop of raspberry jam, and sprinkle with icing sugar.  They are divine.  Trust me…

Homemade cookies from katescreativespace

Hope you’re enjoying a wonderful weekend!

handbag logo

p.s.  I styled our cookies on top a beautiful ampersand image I found  here; if you know the source do let me know so I can credit!