Category Archives: Sophie is crafting

Perfect pumpkins

The unschooling diaries: week forty-one

This is not a reflection on my amazing pumpkin-carving skills, but rather just a realisation of how the humble pumpkin makes a perfect vehicle for learning.

Our pumpkin journey began back in May, with three tiny plants from Rocket Gardens. Arthur helped me plant them, and over the weeks that followed we watered them and watched them grow.


And grow.


And grow!


To be honest I had probably been a little ambitious with the amount of plants we tried to squeeze in to our raised beds, but the pumpkins soon made a break for freedom and found the space they needed by crawling across the deck.


Arthur has been asking since August whether it is Halloween yet – he has been desperate to bring the pumpkins inside and carve them into lanterns. And this weekend we finally did.


He was bursting with excitement as we cut the pumpkins open and scooped out the seeds and flesh from inside


He had very clear ideas about what he wanted to create from his pumpkins: a ghost, a spooky dog, and an astronaut (we had to pilfer a squash from our veg box for the third one).

We looked online for images that fitted his vision, and then he guided me as I drew the outlines on the orange skin. We worked together to carve the shapes out, using Arthur’s ‘ghost knife’ that we’d picked up this time last year and a handy little saw.



As soon as the lanterns took shape Arthur sought out candles to illuminate them, insisting that we took them somewhere dark immediately for a better view and staring full of wonder when night began to fall and he could watch the flames flicker at the kitchen table before we finally dragged him off to bed.


This was only the start for the pumpkins, though.

Whilst Arthur and I had been carving their shells for Halloween lanterns, Leigh had been busy making pumpkin pie for Sunday lunch.


And once the carving was done, we dried and roasted the pumpkin seeds for snacking on – a real treat in my nut-allergic world where every packet of commercially available seeds warns of possible cross contamination!


There is even a portion of pumpkin puree left in the fridge, waiting to be cooked up into Halloween cupcakes this afternoon.

Honestly, who would have thought a simple vegetable could bring so much joy – and so much learning? I think we’ll all be sad to see the pumpkins go once this week is out. I’d best get thinking about what we can grow next…

The ping game

The unschooling diaries: week twenty-nine

It started with a stick.

Seeing as most sticks, lately, get made into guns and swords, I thought I would try to imbue this one with more gentle powers. Especially as it was so beautiful.

Arthur had found it on a walk at my parents’ house: it was gnarly and strong – hazel I think.

With the help of some treasures from my mum’s haberdashery collection I crafted it carefully into a wand. There was something enormously therapeutic, actually, about wrapping thread around its form, and teasing on beads to add to its magic.


By the time Arthur woke up from his nap, his wand was born.

I’m not sure who started the game – the pointing with a ‘ping’ to use this magical stick as a tool for transformation. It might have been me, with pedestrian suggestions of a frog or a bird.

Since then, though, Arthur has taken the concept and run with it.

With an imagination that would put most drama students to shame, he pings me into all sorts of things. A cannonball, a barbecue, glitter, a corkscrew: you name it, I’ve had to use my best improvisational skills to create it – much to Arthur’s amusement.

He currently prefers to do the pinging rather than be pinged, but he is growing in confidence, and when he does dare to take the stage comes up with brilliant (and hilarious) manifestations of whatever idea is thrown at him.

The wand has actually become superfluous now in the execution of this game. It is just a way to pass the time, to dispel boredom or to liven things up. It can (and does) unfold whenever or wherever we happen to be, and I love it.

Imagination, creativity, drama, communication, laughter: and all because of a stick.

“What shall we make with this?”

The unschooling diaries: week sixteen

I think those six little words might be the ones that have made me the proudest yet in this motherhood journey.

It started just over a week ago, when we came downstairs one morning to a couple of empty cardboard boxes waiting to be flattened down for recycling. Arthur looked at me, gasped with delight, and said:

“What shall we make with this, mummy?”

We have had an awful lot of fun making things out of cardboard boxes over the past couple of years, but generally it’s been me or Leigh who’s initiated it. Arthur has happily chipped in as the creation develops, offering direction and issuing demands. But this latest development, where it is him looking at a piece of trash and using it to kickstart his imagination, is just awesome.

On that morning, I bounced the question back at him and he decided we were going to try to build a spaceship. It was a little ambitious, but we worked together and came up with something he was pretty happy with – it had controls and a light and everything.

A couple of days later, Arthur’s new blackout blinds arrived, in THE BEST cardboard tube ever. Again Arthur took one look at it and asked the question:

“What shall we make with this?”

We spent a while exploring ideas – he used it as a channel for balls, experimenting with different sizes, and then as a tunnel for his cars, raising one end up on our mini trampoline.

But then he decided it would make an even better train tunnel, and together we incorporated it into a super duper train set, with the track running up and over another box then all the way down the tube. It took a few goes to get it right – some trains ran better than others – but we got there.


His other idea was on a smaller scale, but no less fun. He’d been picking up smaller boxes for a couple of days and insisting that we could turn them into a camera. He always managed to catch me at inopportune moment, and I couldn’t quite see how we were going to pull it off, but in the end we succeeded, and he took great pleasure in running around the house taking photos.


It’s not just cardboard boxes either: as we explore this whole act of making together he is beginning to see potential in all sorts of other things around the house. He picked up a ribbon yesterday and asked his same question:

“What shall we make with this, mummy?”

I was initially stumped, but he jumped in with “A twirly thing! Let’s make a twirly thing!” whilst spinning the ribbon in circles around his head. I had actually been planning for a while to make him a twirly thing out of ribbons (not sure what the technical term for it would be) so dashed upstairs to find an old bangle and my ribbon stash, and together we picked out a selection of ribbons to add to the one we’d started with and tied them on.


I love the extra injection of creativity it’s given to our everyday routine, and the sense of limitless possibility that Arthur exudes at the moment. He takes inspiration from everywhere – he declared on another morning that he would like to make a scarecrow, and it turned out that he had been fascinated by one in Curious George.

It sounded like a bit of a mission, but I didn’t want to let him down – and actually making a scarecrow wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it was going to be – and we now have him ready for when we finally get round to planting up our veg patch!

It’s not just pride at Arthur’s enthusiasm that I’m loving about this particular phase. It is also, as so many things about parenting are, incredibly liberating: to look at trash and see potential, to have an idea and to keep going until you achieve it.

Lessons for life from a three year old.


A lesson in slow crafting

The unschooling diaries: week ten

Arthur has yet to show much of an interest in arts and crafts. When he was tiny he just couldn’t abide the mess – he’s still not super keen on getting paint on his hands. Now that he’s older he’ll dabble, but it’s still really not his ‘thing’.

I’m ok with that – mostly – even though my inner crafter is crying out for an excuse to spend afternoons surrounded by tissue paper and glitter and it really doesn’t help my fear that he’s missing out on something by not being at nursery when I see all the pictures of toddler creations fellow mums share proudly on Facebook. But when over breakfast one day last week he started getting enthusiastic about the idea of making some Easter cards I couldn’t help but get a bit excited. Not least because it meant we might finally got round to saying an extremely belated thank you for his birthday and Christmas presents…

The teacher in me leapt to the blackboard to note down his ideas (sidetracked a little by Winnie the Pooh as his most vivid understanding of Easter comes from ‘Springtime with Roo’ – I have no idea where the armour came from).

He happily settled on the idea of painted eggs though – he frequently dances around singing ‘we’re hunting eggs today!’ at the moment, and I’m very much looking forward to his very own egg hunt on Sunday. He then decided he wanted chicks in his eggs (well he said ducks, but I think that’s what he meant…) which led us very nicely to an easy to accomplish collaborative card idea. It might not be very original, but he liked it.

Having bought in some supplies (very important to have the right shades of glitter), and prepped some eggs for him to decorate, we set aside a couple of hours last weekend to make a start. And he of course lost interest within approximately three and a half minutes.

I battled with him for another two before reminding myself that that really was not the point, and calmly telling him that it was fine – we’d come back to it when he felt like it. I didn’t tidy everything away, just organised his workstation enough for it not to descend into total chaos. And sure enough the next day he gravitated towards his eggs again, did a few more minutes of gluing and glitter scattering, and moved on.

And that’s sort of been the background to this week, really. Every so often this little activity has piqued his interest again, and he’s added a little to his eggs. We’ve tried out a few different techniques along the way – stamping, mixing colours to get the shade of pink he wanted, watering paint down so he could ‘dye’ his eggs, mixing it in with glue and glitter. And every time, just as I thought he might be getting into it, he’s walked away again, his attention taken by his diggers or the urgent need for a banana.

We’re still not quite done, but we’re getting there. He’s declared that the eggs are finished at least, so there’s just a bit of cutting and sticking left. I might need to take the lead on that bit, what with it being Good Friday tomorrow and everything, but I reckon that’s ok. I can’t expect him to do all the work!

Encouraging creativity

One of my goals at the beginning of this year was to try to carve out the time and space in Arthur’s routine for him get creative – and for me to work out how to give him more opportunities to enjoy arts and crafts. My mum was brilliant at all that when I was growing up. She is an artist, so I suppose on one level it came naturally to her, but I remember always being surrounded by interesting ideas and projects and materials to just have a go.

This week, I’ve finally got round to setting up a corner of the kitchen as a dedicated space for him to unleash his creativity – and to store the various bits and pieces I’ve been accumulating. My parents bought him an easel for Christmas which has centre stage, and with a bit of reorganising I’ve freed up a shelving unit. I’m certainly inspired – though I doubt I’ll be able to keep it looking this tidy!


We’ve been making some tentative steps into exploring different materials over the past month or so. Stickers and glitter are definitely Arthur’s favourites, but I think he’s gradually starting to get over his fear of paint.

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As he creates his little masterpieces, we’re adding them to a gallery in the hallway. He’s really enjoying seeing his creations on display, and he loves putting new pieces up when he finishes them!


I’ve had the niggling feeling, though, that we’re only just scratching the surface of what we could be doing. I’ve been seeking out inspiration online and in a couple of great books I’ve found, but what I’ve really been hankering after is somewhere Arthur can go and get involved in creative play with other kids, where I can see some new ideas in action and discuss logistics with other mums, and where I don’t need to worry quite so much about the mess!

So when I heard a local mummy friend of mine was setting up science-inspired arts and craft workshops for toddlers and preschoolers in Brixham I couldn’t wait to go and have a look.


Our first visit to Craftivity Lab was on Wednesday, and we loved it. The workshop was held in a lovely bright, airy space split into different zones for exploring, experimenting and getting messy. Whilst everything had clearly been very carefully planned (this week around the theme of weather), Amanda was keen to let the children take the lead and interpret her activities as they saw fit – with guidance if they needed it of course.


Arthur loved the sensory tray, and was especially keen on throwing the cotton ball clouds (or were they snowballs?) up into the air. I made a mental note to get some extra ones for home to satisfy his urge to throw – even he can’t cause any damage with cotton wool…

He was soon drawn towards the painting, and although he’s still not utterly convinced he hasn’t stopped talking about rainbows since.

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He wasn’t so interested in the chromatography, but it took me right back to early science experiments at school! I reckon it’s definitely one to try again when he’s a bit older…


What I think is particularly exciting about Craftivity Lab is how closely Amanda is observing the children playing and learning and creating to inform her planning for future sessions. She couldn’t help but notice Arthur’s love of throwing (to be fair, he wasn’t the only one…), and is going to build that in with some more physical activities next week. I’m already looking forward to it!

I feel like I’m finally making headway with encouraging Arthur’s creativity, and now that we’re a bit more organised I think there should be plenty more opportunities for arts and crafts fun. I’m definitely still on the look out for more ideas though – so if you can think of anything Arthur might enjoy then please let me know!


My word of the week this week is creativity.

The Reading Residence

The homemade Christmas gift experiment


Last Christmas I got it into my head that it would be a really nice idea to make people’s presents. That was after I’d bought them of course, so it didn’t happen. And once the festive season began to fade my ambitions faded with it: I had a novel to focus on, and there simply wasn’t enough time for any serious crafting.

But then in mid-November the thought of a homemade Christmas fired up again. I started looking around for some inspiration, finding two books especially interesting: Makery and ReCraft, both using a combination of found and bought materials to create original and useful pieces.


I honed my ideas, and over the following couple of weeks began to gather the materials I would need. I was starting from a pretty basic set of skills – in fact the amount I was going to have to learn to pull of my plan was a major motivating factor. I had a sewing machine: it had been gifted to me last Christmas, but apart from a length of birthday bunting I’d never actually used it. But in my mind I’d committed by this point so I wasn’t about to give up.

I started small, with some gold necklaces made from refashioned toy animals and personalised notebooks for selected friends. But as Christmas drew ever nearer I realised I was going to have to take the plunge and tackle some of my more complex ideas.

It was a massive learning curve – especially where the sewing machine was concerned. I’d actually made the first few gifts before I realised that I was using it without the UK adapter. It’s a vintage Bernina, and fortunately very forgiving, but that did explain why it had been running at a million miles per hour…

I got over that hurdle, taught myself a few other crafting skills, and with the help of the books, the internet and a healthy dose of imagination, completed my mission a couple of days before Christmas itself.

What follows is a list of my craftings, mainly with pictures (apart from where it seems I got so into the making I forgot to take any) and with links where appropriate. I haven’t included detailed tutorials but I do hope to get round to that in the future – for some of these at least. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know more about then please let me know in the comments!

For the kids 

There were three children I wanted to make presents for: Arthur (nearly two) and his two cousins, aged three and five.

For Arthur I had decided months ago I wanted to make a doll. Having trawled the internet for ideas I decided on a Waldorf doll: I liked the principles behind it, and the fact that I could tailor it to suit him. There’s lots more I could – and will at some stage – say about this project, but I was generally pretty happy with how it turned out.


I came across a vintage pram in Oxfam to go with it, filled a couple of cardboard suitcases with a selection of clothes and accessories, and also made a doll-sized mei tai which only seemed appropriate for my little sling baby.



For Arthur’s cousins, I was keen to create things which would inspire imaginative play. For the three year old I decided on a hobby horse, inspired by one from Red Ted Art.


And for the five year old I made a wolf costume, loosely modelled on an idea in ReCraft.


For the brothers

There were five grown-up boys to make presents for, and they were actually my most challenging at first. By focusing in on their interests and just generally where they’re at, though, I soon came up with ideas.

Leigh’s brother is very into comics and graphic novels, as is Leigh. So when I came across the comic book coasters in Makery I figured they would be perfect. In the end Leigh did the actual crafting – clearly I couldn’t be trusted to choose the right pictures…

My eldest brother was about to embark on an adventure across the pond, beginning a new job in New York in January. So I carefully chose some fabric to make a passport case, again following instructions from Makery – and made a matching one for his wife too.



My middle brother is very into self-sufficiency and the environment, and has just finished a Masters degree in soil science. I made him a lunch pouch (another Makery idea), again choosing the fabric carefully, to help him on his eco-friendly path.


And the youngest… What exactly do you make an international rock star? I decided on something to make his life easier on the road, designing an allergy-friendly eating kit with stamped vintage cutlery and signs for the kitchens his food is prepared in. I might need to make a set for myself too!




Ben’s fiancee’s brother was also joining us for Christmas, and with Leigh’s help I made a set of scrabble fridge magnets. He’s in his final year at Oxford and I figured they fitted with the student vibe – I’d actually quite like a set of those as well…

For the girls

The four grown-up girls were a little easier to come up with ideas for. There was the passport cover for Greg’s wife, and for Ashley’s fiancee I created a picture from framed vintage lexicon cards to celebrate her growing business, Queen Bee Cakes. I’ve seen these all over the place, but I quite liked the addition of the lace background to give it a vintage feel.


For my youngest almost-sister-in-law I had a raft of ideas – she’s a clothes designer, and I came across all sorts of crafty things I thought she might like. In the end though I settled on a vintage tape measure brooch and a toy truck pin cushion – once again inspired by Makery.


Leigh’s brother’s wife was a little trickier, being considerably more sophisticated than me. But then I fell in love with these glitter candle holders made from vintage crockery in ReCraft– easy to make, but surprisingly effective.


For the parents

Neither of our dads are massive fans of stuff, so we decided to go down the route of photo gifts. For my dad I printed off an image I love of him with my Grampa from this summer, presenting it in a refurbished vintage frame.

For Leigh’s dad we cheated a little – we wanted to give him a jigsaw, and decided that one with the necessary complexity would be a little beyond my skills. So we created one with the help of photobox, and I made a little tin to keep it in from an old fairy light box.

Our mums were a little easier. Leigh’s mum is an expert at crochet, so I made her a bag to keep her supplies in – along with a pouch of new bamboo crochet hooks and a book of adorable crocheted animals.


For my mum, I fell in love with this mobile, inspired by a Liberty creation. She embraces the changing seasons in her countryside home, and I loved how this design brought beauty to the rain to brighten up even the greyest day.


For my Grampa

The final recipient of a homemade gift was to be my 96 year old grandfather. Again stuff was the last thing that he needed, but he’s been an invaluable support in reading the drafts of my novels and I thought he might like to sample some of my blog. He’s not online, but I found a brilliant company who turned a selection of posts from my blog into a beautiful book. Not quite homemade, but certainly with a lot of my creativity in it.

So there you have it! A selection of homemade gifts for all the family. There were moments when I’d regretted my decision – generally when it was three in the morning and I just had to finish one last thing – but it was immensely satisfying to give presents which I had made myself. Now I just need to get thinking about what I’m going to make next time round…

Linking up to The List with Hannah at Mums’ Days and Aby at You Baby Me Mummy.

Word of the week: create

You may have noticed things have been a little quiet around here this week, and that’s because every spare second has been taken up with creating! After warming up with some golden animal pendants before our trip to London, present-making began in earnest last weekend.


I’d actually been keeping myself awake at night worrying that there was no way I was going to find the time to put all my ideas into practice, so it was a bit of a relief to finally get the sewing machine up and running. You’ll have to wait to see the results of most of my efforts, but I’m pretty sure Arthur doesn’t read the blog so here’s a sneak preview of one of his gifts – a mini mei tai for the doll I’m planning on creating for him this week! It’s actually one of my favourite things I’ve made ever. Tutorial to follow…


It’s not all been about sewing. In fact I’ve been getting crafty with pretty much whatever I can get my hands on… The sewing’s been especially fun though – getting to grips with the machine I was given last Christmas, lots of problem solving and trial and error, and fortunately a reasonable degree of success!

Arthur’s been getting in on the crafting vibe too, enjoying getting glitter everywhere whilst I put the finishing touches to his cards.



Then there were the sticks we collected on our woodland walk to put to good use. I was keen to make something wreath-like for the front door, and came up with this:


Whilst Arthur and Daddy turned these antler-like sticks into our very own red-nosed reindeer.



There’s still lots to do, but we’re taking a bit of a break this weekend at my cousin’s wedding just outside Dublin. The whirlwind of creativity will continue next week I’m sure, and hopefully I’ll manage to get everything completed in time for Christmas!


The Reading Residence