Arts & Crafts to do at Home

I asked friends on Instagram to share their ideas for crafts to do at home and I’ve never been so inundated with messages. They kept whizzing in – quilting and calligraphy, lavender bags and lampshades – so many wonderful ideas! This list is just the beginning – I hope we can share lots more over the coming weeks to keep everyone busy at home. If you have suggestions or ideas to add (amateurs welcome) then email me and do please share your creations with us on Instagram by tagging us @alittlebirdcom.

Illustration of a favourite place or view

What you need: Pencils, felt pens, brush, water, paper

What to do: Pick a place like your home or garden, or perhaps a favourite beach, mountain or church. Find a photograph to help you with the visual details. Roughly draw it out quite fast with pencil without worrying too much, then add some colour. Felt-tip pens work well for illustrations if you have a bit of water and a brush – just brush over them to blend into a watercolour effect. Tack your take on a favourite place to the bedside wall so you see it when you wake up or as you fall asleep. If you like this you could try doing a view from the window – by day and by night.

Top tip: Be bold with colour and keep things zingy

Inspiration: Have a look at some illustrators to see how they do things – three we like are Megan Niven (shown above), Madeleine Floyd (who designed our Christmas card), and Nina Cosford – especially her new Trans-Siberian railway book.

Paint a lampshade

What you need: A paper-based lampshade, acrylic paints, brush

What to do: Think about your design before you begin. Graphic patterns can be tricky to execute freehand, so instead go for curving lines or designs that allow more freedom of movement. Go for it and try not to be a perfectionist; these are going to look hand-painted and therein lies the charm.

Top tip: Avoid water – it runs and leaves a water mark

Inspiration: Simple line works effectively for Frances Costelloe (above), or if you’re feeling more ambitious we love Svenskt Tenn and something like these tulips would look lovely.

Try a Still Life with Indian ink

What you need: Winsor & Newton Liquid Ink (in black or colour), brush, pot of water, thick paper

What to do: Create your own still life scene by arranging a bowl of fruit, a jug of flowers, some shells or interesting shaped bottles. Dip your brush in the bottle of ink and pool some ink onto a palette (use an old plate or similar). Use water to dilute the ink a little – more water allows for a smoother line. Set to work on your still life, try to be bold and confident with your lines instead of delicate. If you’re happy with your handiwork these look great framed in sets – an inexpensive way to fill some space on the wall.

Top tip: Wear an apron as the ink stains.

Inspiration: We learnt from the ink pro, Frances Costelloe at one of her workshops. Check out her instagram (@francescostelloe) to see her work.

Pressing spring flowers

What you need: Flowers, a flower press (or lots of heavy books and 2 pieces of blotting paper). For instant gratification, use a Microfleur.

What to do: Pick a few flowers from the garden or out on a walk; at this time of year winter pansy work best and you can catch the last of the anemones. Blossom on willowy twigs are stunning and narcissi (daffodils a bit tricky with their bigger tubes).

Top tip: Papery-petals like anemones work better than juicy flowers like muscari.

Inspiration: We learnt from the pros at Jam Jar flowers, who sell this Flower Press so you can DIY at home. Decorate handmade paper to send cards to friends and family; arrange flowers in a photoframe and put by your bed.

Send a calligraphy postcard or make a wish tree

What do you need: Calligraphy pen with nibs, ink, thick paper or card, blotting cloth.

What to do: Beginners should start with a worksheet from The Postman’s Knock and practise! These can be bought on the website, or there are some free sheets to download and print at home here. Then when you’ve honed your technique (or near enough) write someone a few lines on a postcard and make an extra swirly envelope – think how pleased they will be when that arrives. Alternatively arrange some branches of blossom and hang calligraphy wishes off the tree – it could things you’ll do when life proper resumes again.

Top tip: Hold the pen in line with your wrist and arm – in a straight line and not at an angle like you would with a normal pen. Start with non-joined up writing giving each letter a long tail to give the illusion it’s flowing, and progress into joined up as your confidence builds.

Inspiration: The Postman’s Knock is full of advice, also look at Quill London for modern calligraphy and Alice Gabb for ideas (she also makes wonderful hanging banners).

Start a Commonplace Book

What you need: A notebook, scissors, glue, pens

What to do: Before Instagram and inspirational quotes hit the big time, there were Commonplace Books. A more private way of journalling all sorts of things, all you need is a notebook and you can begin. Add thoughts, sentences from books, stick in old tickets, photos and postcards, and write in quotes, poems and recipes. They become a cross between a scrapbook, a diary and a notebook and can be added to across a lifetime. I recently found my Grandpa’s and it was full of wonderful things.

Top tip: Make it a family effort and each add to it so that it becomes collaborative.

Inspiration: The 6th Duke of Devonshire’s commonplace book is shown above – snapped at Chatsworth.

Sew a lavender or rosemary bag

What you need: Aim for a roughly 7cm square bag for which you’ll need two pieces of fabric the same size (or one piece folded into two) and a 10cm length of ribbon, and a handful of dried lavender or rosemary.

What to do: Place fabric right sides together (or one piece folded in half) with the length of ribbon doubled over and positioned inside the fabric; pin all the way round the square and machine-stitch three-quarters and a bit all round, leaving only enough fabric to turn your bag the right way round at the bottom or one of the sides. Iron your square making sure you fold down the edges of the unstitched line. Insert dried lavender (or rosemary – although you’ll need a thicker material as it tends to poke through). By hand or machine, stitch the gap closed. The same instructions apply when making an eye pillow – fill with flax or similar-weighted seeds/beans scented with your favourite essential oil.

Top tip: Mix and match fabrics and ribbon – raid your wardrobe for fabric. You don’t need much. Place a lavender bag by your pillow for a good night’s sleep.

Inspiration: @luckyfinds makes them with gorgeous Indian block prints and velvet ribbons.

Lino block wrapping paper

Image credit: Susie Hetherington 2020

What you need: Soft lino block, cutters, water based paint, rollers and nice paper – as big as you can get it. A roll of brown paper would work too. You can buy kits here.

What to do: Most of us probably did this at school – it is so easy and there’s something therapeutic about scraping out the soft lino. You can draw your design on with a pencil before you begin carving out the negative space. For wrapping paper make a pattern, like these leaves above (though you could simplify this) and then print multiple times to make a larger design.

Top tip: Practise printing onto old newspaper to get the hang of it.

Inspiration: Susie Hetherington (picture above) is a pro. Follow her on instagram for lots of design ideas.

Hand-made greetings cards

What you need: Fabriano Medioevalis watercolour cards with envelopes (buy a few to get the lovely yellow boxes they come in). Dip pen (or the wrong end of a paintbrush would work), Winsor & Newton black waterproof ink and colours.

What to do: Draw the outline of your picture with your dip pen. Let the the pen drop two drops of ink before using it, then draw the outline and let the ink dry. Paint inside with watercolours/felt tips/coloured pencils/inks. You can always trace the image to begin with if that’s easier. The secret is that everything looks good on this kind of paper.

Top tip: Don’t worry if the ink blots it will still look charming!

Inspiration: Annabel Dover started making cards years ago for Harvey Nichols and Smythson using this technique – see her instagram @la_rousse_illustration for ideas.

Sew a tapestry to make into a cushion

What you need: Needle, scissors and a needlepoint tapestry kit, such as Ehrman Tapestry. Or freestyle with your own canvas and wools – draw your own pattern and pick a colour scheme.

What to do: Most kits come with instructions to tell you exactly what to do including which colour goes where and the number of holes for each stitch. Start in the middle and work out, keeping the stitches going in one direction (ie. vertical). When you get to the end of the thread you wind it back through the stitches on the reverse and snip off the end. It’s utterly absorbing and therefore relaxing – plus at the end you’ll be able to make a cushion.

Top tip: When picking a pattern don’t be put off by the colours on the packet as you could always swap these out for wools of your own choosing.

Inspiration: Butter Wakefield (whose handiwork is pictured above) makes Christmas stockings and cushions for her home, and do check out Fine Cell Work for needlepoint ideas.

Hand-sewn patchwork quilt

What you need: Cardboard, ruler, pencil or pen, fabric, scissors, glue stick, needle and thread

What to do: Choose a quilt pattern. Draw the pattern onto your cardboard and cut out the pieces individually. Back each cardboard piece with your chosen fabric, gluing down the fabric on the back to keep it in place. Line up individual pieces with the side of fabric facing each other and hand stitch along the seams. Repeat this stitching until each piece is sewn together.

Top tip: If you’re doing a quilt that’s made up of lots of different sections, like a traditional log cabin quilt, do each step in bulk (eg. creating cardboard templates) rather than having to complete an individual square from template to sewing in one go. So spend a full afternoon cutting, then another sticking, then sewing.

Inspiration: Little Women, American Colonial quilts and antique Canadian Log Cabin quilts. This idea was sent in by Kinship Quilting – a group of 7 women (also of @kinshippress) who are self-taught thanks to Google and YouTube. Why not start your own group and share tips and progress.

Make a Polish Pajaki (or hanging mobile)

Pajaki are a traditional festive Polish decoration – bright chandeliers made from wooden or seed beads, lengths of straw, paper disks and beautiful, jewel coloured tissue paper pom poms. Born of bitterly cold Eastern European winters and long days spent indoors, Pajaki can take time to make so we’re including step one here, which is how to make the paper pom-poms. More next week on how to thread them together to make the pajaki!

What you need: 40 tissue paper disks, each around 15cm in diameter, scissors, something smooth, narrow, and cylindrical – a narrow pencil or the handle of a crochet hook both work well,  glue stick, needle and thread, single small bead or button

What to do: 

  • Once you’ve cut your paper disks you will need to snip 8 equally spaced incisions into each: mark the centre of each disk with a pin prick or pencil mark and starting at the outer edge cut towards the centre, taking care to stop around 1cm from the mark. Once you’ve made your first cut, rotate the paper 180 degrees and repeat. Repeat the cuts to create four equally sized ‘petals’, and then again to create eight.  It is of course quickest to cut multiple sheets at a time, but take care not to take on too many at once – you can loose accuracy.
  • Next is shaping and sticking each section of your disk to create a tube. Run the glue stick along one cut side of one paper petal. Placing your pencil over the other edge of the same petal, roll the paper upwards and around the pencil all the way to the glued edge to secure. Repeat this until your paper disk becomes eight tubes joined by a flat central section with your pin prick right in the middle.
  • Pop the radio on, and repeat for the remaining 39 paper disks.
  • Thread your bead or button on to one end of a length of thread around 60 cm long. Fold the thread in half, thread your needle with the two ends so that the bead hangs secure.
  • Take your first paper disk and using your central pin prick or pencil mark as a guide, thread each disk pushing right down to the bead each time.
  • Once you have all 40 paper disks threaded, take the two ends of thread and pass one over the other to tie a knot, gently tightening the knot until the discs bunch together, and the tissue paper tubes take on the form of a ball. Tie one more knot to secure the pom pom’s shape.

Top tip: Don’t worry if you make a mistake, tear the tissue or accidentally break one of the tissue tubes off. It’s easy to do, and once you assemble your disks you’ll never know.

Inspiration: @shiptonoldpost – who makes these for children’s bedrooms. Based from the oldest Post Office in England, The Old Post near Chipping Nortonhopes to open for craft workshops, supper clubs and screenings in the summer of 2020.

Once again, if you have suggestions or ideas to add (amateurs welcome) then email me and do please share your creations with us on Instagram by tagging us @alittlebirdcom!

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