Sunday, 26 February 2017

Five Little Things : Surprises

We are travelling at the moment, visting friends and family. I like to have my camera with me on holiday and take shots of the things we see around us. Especially the surprises like this fantastic street art Maya and I stumbled across or the red sky last night predicting shepherd's delight and another beautiful sunny day this morning. Happy Sunday! We're off for a bit more strolling around taking pictures and hopefully a visit to St Etienne's museum of Art and Industry.

Wall Art St Etienne
Unexpected Art
Street Art St Etienne
Another bird
Street Art St Etienne
Big Bird Watching

Photo Night Sky
The Sky at Night
Photo Night Sky
Night Sky through the Window

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Homeschooling : How to make a Roman Soldier's Helmet

Noah has been fascinated by the Romans for quite some time now. As I posted recently we've been working on a Roman Fort model as well as and Ampitheatre. We've also watched lots of documentaries about the Roman Emprire and read lots of books. So it was no surprise when during are one on one time last week he asked to make a helmet to go with his Roman Centurion's costume. 
How to make a Roman Centurion's Helmet
Noah trying on his Roman Centurion's Helmet

I did a quick five minutes of online research and then launched freewheeled it. Here's what we did...

Roman Centurion's Helmet Tutorial
  • First I freehand drew the different parts we would need to make the helmet onto some cardboard (from a box). I got inspiration for the pieces here, you could print their templates and then trace them onto cardboard.
How to make a roman centurion's helmet
Cutting out the pieces
  • Next we painted all the pieces with silver paint (metallic for kids from a supermarket). You could also use gold or grey. We used a roller to apply the paint and because our box was white we only needed one coat. We painted the crest section red and then cut into it like for a fringe to give a feathered effect.
how to make a centurion's helmet
Painting the helmet parts silver
how to make a roman centurion's helmet
The crest is painted red
  • Once all the parts were painted and dried, we began to assemble the helmet. First we stuck the cheek guards to the semi-circular front piece. We then added the rectangular and pointed front piece. We also had to add on an extra rectangular piece to hide some annoying lettering on our box which the paint didn't cover even with two coats. We used staples to join the pieces together as they hold better than glue.
how to make a roman helmet
Sticking the pieces together

  • Finally we attached the two long rectangular strips to the front piece and adjusted them to fit around Noah's head. Well perhaps one or two other people might have tried the helmet on first!
how to make a roman helmet
Avé César !

Monday, 20 February 2017

Five Little Things : Promenons nous dans le bois ...

Lotta was the only child at her pony class on Saturday and so we were treated to a wonderful walk in the woods with her teacher Jennifer. Lots of cross for Lotta, up and down over big bumps and a wonderful photography opportunity for me and Noah. 

Photographing tree bark
Tree Bark
The bumps...
Horses meeting
A beautiful friendship begins
Photographing the forest floor
Pine Cone Stars
Photographing the forest floor
The forest floor

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Homeschooling History

Rockingham Castle
Noah at Rockingham Castle

As you may remember from previous posts, Noah really likes building things. When I discussed what he'd like to learn about this year, most of his ideas began with the word 'make'. So when we are learning about history making stuff has become an important part of how we do things. Making swords, daggers, shields and jewellery, castles and scrolls have all been useful projects to bring history alive. The kids also like to dress the part, Noah has a Roman Centurian costume as well as a shield we made following instructions from this book. Of course I don't have a single photo!

Today I want to share with you a project we've been working on for quite some time with the help of a kit from Usborne Books (see here). They have a series of wonderful cut-out model making books which all begin with the words Make This. We have several of these, Make this Roman Ampitheatre, Make this Medieval Castle but today I'm going to talk a bit about Make this Roman Fort.

Make this Roman Fort
Book Cover

We have been working on this one for quite a few weeks. These kits contain a well made series of templates to cut out and assemble. They involve a lot of cutting and have been a great way for Noah to improve his fine motor skills with scissors. There is a number scheme and instructions to follow for putting everything together. The instructions are clear and concise but some of the assembling is very fiddly. Noah is seven and needs help from an adult to follow the directions and stick the pieces together successfully. We have experimented with several glues (prit stick and liquid glue) and have come to the conclusion that the most important thing is to be patient! Holding those pieces together as long as possible is the key. 

Make a Roman Fort (Usborne)
The fort coming together

While we've been cutting out and building we've also been watching a variety of short documentaries about what life was like as a Roman soldier, as well as Roman engineering and how they built their forts. Noah has also been really interested in Roman battles and their military tactics. 

Make a Roman Fort (Usborne)
Close up on the soldier's barracks

Videos like this one which use modern computer technology to reconstruct buildings from the past helped us get a real feel for what a Roman fort would have been like. It also helped that we visited Hadrian's wall and the fort Vindolanda last summer.
A very wet August day at Vindolanda

We're planning to visit some Roman sites here in France later in the year. 

We've also been reading a lot of books of course. Including quite a lot about the Gaulois and the battles between Vercingetorix and Caesar. We get a lot of them from the library which means they're mostly in French hence the interest in les Gaules! We did come across this series though which is similar in style to Horrible Histories which we also own and which the kids really liked - You wouldn't want to be a gladiator! (link).

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Five Little Things : Knitting and Dwelling in Possibility

Well possibly a few more than five. While studying for the great online MOOC ModPo I really enjoyed the Emily Dickinson poems. In her great poem I dwell in Possibility she proposes that poetry is a freer imaginative world than prose. In fact the world she describes is limitless as the sky. Whether you agree with this or not - I also find prose to be a wonderfully large imaginative space - what I really like about this poem is the invitation to live in a place of what is possible. Not probable, or likely, not practical or convenient but possible. For me, to live always with an ear open to adventure, to taking a journey of the mind, to beginning something and seeing where it leads you. 
Olivia's blanket - some of wool's possibilities
Dickinson ends the poem with these beautiful lines,
For Occupation - This - 
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -
And as I was reading the poem again recently, I thought how this act of spreading my hands also talked to me about knitting. How from such humble beginnings you can go in so many directions. Just take a stroll around Ravelry and you can see the creative possibilities are endless!
Yesterday I signed up for an exciting local project. We're going to yearn bomb the town centre to liven it up a bit next winter. I looked at a lot of pictures of what other people are doing and picked up some wool and it got me really excited about all the possible things we can do with wool. Hopefully I'll share some pictures of where this project takes us later in the year. For now, here are some pictures of where my 'wool journey' has taken me recently*...
Old Hand Lace Shawl
Blue Shawl
Old Hand Lace Blue Waves
Beautiful Blue Waves
Malabrigo rasta azules
Close up on that lovely Malabrigo Wool
Nora's Bolero - Malabrigo Worsted
Maya's Bolero
Nora's Bolero the back
From the back
And here are the works in progress*...
De Rerum Natura Artichaut en cumulus
Lotta's artichaut
For Me - A Cardigan

Wool really does offer us so many possibilities just as words do if we give ourselves permission to live in a world of possibility. What a wonderful idea to practice with our children to, to try and say yes to their imaginations, their flights of fancy and crazy ideas as often as we possibly can. It may not always be easy but I can guarantee we'll have some fun adventures.

Here is Emily Dickinson's poem in full to inspire us all...
I dwell in Possibility
by Emily Dickinson
I dwell in Possibility -
A fairer House than Prose -
More numerous of Windows -
Superior - for Doors -
Of Chambers as the Cedars -
Impregnable of eye - 
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels oF the Sky - 
Of Visitors - the fairest - 
For Occupation - This - 
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise -
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
*For those who want to know what the patterns are, from the top... I think the first one is called Old Hand Lace Master but as Ravelry wont work today I can't give you a link. It's knitted in Malabrigo Rasta colour Azules. The shrug for Maya is Nora's Bolero by Pickles a Norwegian company whose patterns I love. It's an easy knit. I used Malagbrigo Lace in Pearl and Fyberspates Cumulus in Silver. The latter's mix of silk and apaga gives the bolero a beautiful drape and a lovely shimmery feel to it that the photos aren't quite capturing. Cumulus is also the wool I'm using for Lotta's little wrap bolero - yes they're both getting boleros but not quite the same style view the age gap. It's the Artichaut pattern by de rerum natura a company whose environmentally friendly and humane wools are a delight to use. It's one of theirs I'm using for my cardigan which I'll tell you more about soon.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Book Making with Kids

Simple Book
Maya and the finished product

I began making books about eight years ago when Maya was very small. I bought this book and launched myself into it with Japanese papers, cardboard and embroidery thread. I made quite a few books for the children over the years; accordion books, cloth books and also note books with lots of fun and different pages. 

Notebook 2014
Notebook for Maya
Tags, coloured paper and different sizes make for fun
Inside - lots of fun papers
One of many pages covered with her amazing drawings
Maya makes it her own with her original illustrations!

Last week Maya and I decided to do some book making together. She has made a lot of her own books already, with sellotape and glue and varying success. She would imitate what she saw me doing or how books seemed to be made and she learned a lot this way. This time we decided to spend our one on one time together looking at book making more carefully. I would share some of my knowledge and we would also work together with the delightful The Book Book, aimed at children, it's all about writing stories and making books. It's a wonderful book, a real treasure and worth hunting for a copy (I found it here in the UK).

One of Maya's very simple solo books
We had a lovely time together. There is something very special about sharing a passion with your child. Helping them learn to do something you love and watching them run with it is rewarding. Maya made a beautiful notebook with a variety of different papers and an amazing cover all of her own design. 

Maya's paper strip technique book jacket
The amazing cover

And in our second session, she decided to make a rabbit shaped book inspired by the example in The Book Book.

Rabbit shaped book
Rabbit, rabbit!
Retro print rabbit book cover
Another amazing cover

Here is a little guide based on how we went about making these books. There are lots of other ways to bind a book. I myself often stitch my books together as this is a long lasting binding which is flexible and often a work of art in itself. But for kids, this method is simple and satisfying.

How to Make a Simple Notebook 

Please read through all the instructions before beginning as some steps may alter your choices earlier on in the process. Also I would advise having a dummy run by yourself before trying it with kids so that you have understood the process first.


You will need to gather some supplies: paper, scissors, glue, sellotape, a ruler and if possible, a craft/utility knife and a cutting board. These last two are not essential but you sometimes get a cleaner result with a knife and kids enjoy the responsibility of using one. Additional tools which can be fun are a bone folder (a tool for pressing your folds more effectively), clips for holding your work together and a book press - we just use heavier books ourselves. Things like stamps, felt tip pens, paints and crayons can be useful for creating nice effects on your papers.

Before getting stuck in, we usually spend a few minutes discussing what kind of book we want to make - a notebook, storybook, shaped book. This helps get our ideas flowing. It's the perfect time to flick through any books you might have or maybe take a stroll round the internet. Or just get stuck in it really depends on how you and your child work best, some need a model, others don't. The following tutorial will be for making a fairly simple notebook.  

Book binding: sticking signatures together
Maya working with her signatures

Step One - Making Signatures

Take a piece of A4 paper. Fold it in half lengthwise and then again across the width. This divides the paper in four. Depending on whether you want a portrait or landscape shaped book cut the paper in half down one of the lines. You can use scissors or the craft knife, the latter gives a cleaner result if done well especially if using thicker papers or card. Maya's book is portrait shaped. You now have two little books (like cards) which in book making are known as signatures. Repeat this process to create as many pages as you would like to have in your book. If you want to use papers that are not A4 see the note lower down about size.

Step Two - Sticking your signatures together
To make a stronger book without sewing, we decided to glue our signatures together. Take two signatures and stick them together with glue. In the picture below Maya is sticking a yellow signature to a white one. She progressed one signature at a time, sticking each new one and deciding as she went on if she wanted to add more.

When your book has the number of pages you want, you can move on to the next step. Remember that your first page and last page must be blank as they will be used later to attach your pages to your book cover.

Sticking a yello signature to a white one
Sticking signatures together

Step Three - Making your book cover

A book binding needs to protect what's inside, so it needs to be more rigid and a bit bigger that the pages its covering. We made ours from cardboard about 3mm thick. We save the backs of old notebooks, packaging etc and keep it for this kind of project. 

First you need to measure your signatures. If you used different sized pieces of paper (see note below about size) then measure the biggest. In The Book Book Pietromarchi reccommends making your book cover 2cm higher and 2cm wider than the size of your pages. You need to cut out two pieces of card. If your signatures are 15cm high and 10cm wide you will need to cut out two pieces of cardboard which are 17cm high and 12cm wide. This is where the craft knife and cutting board is really useful but I have done this with scissors before.

Now for the books spine. First measure the thickness of your pile of signatures - all your pages. Pietromarchi suggests adding 10cm to this measurement. You then cut out a piece of cardboard which is the hight of your front and back cover and the width of your piles thickness plus 10cm. In the case of Maya's notebook 10cm was way too much as her pile of papers was only a few cm thick. Instead I added roughly two cm to the thickness of her pile.

Book making inside the covers
The inside covers

Step Four - Assembling your book cover

We decided to decorate the book cover before gluing the three parts together. It's probably possible to do it another way or use attractive cardboard in the first place but I always do it this way round. I like to have a contrasting spine and covers. If you want to have a unified cover then you would probably be best sticking the three pieces together first and then decorating the ensemble. Maya decorated the front and back pieces with strips of paper (origami, wrapping, tissue, old magazines...) and the spine with Japanese sellotape. She covered the front and back covers with sticky back plastic to make them more resistant and then glued a piece of decorated card to the inside.

The spine piece you cut out earlier needs to be folded to form a spine and two flaps based on your measurements, for the book pictured this was about 1.5cm for the middle and 1cm either side. We measured and drew lines to know where to fold. We then scored the lines gently with the craft knife (you could use a compass or scissors) before folding to make the folds more supple and precise. 

The next step is to attach the spine to the covers. We used glue and consolidated with clear sellotape as we weren't satisfied with the hold from the glue. This also had the advantage of giving the spine the same aspect as the front and back cover which had been covered with sticky back plastic.

Once your cover is assembled manipulate it a bit to make sure it holds together and has enough flexibility to open and close.

Book binding: opening and shutting
Checking it works

Step Five -  Putting everything together

The final step is to glue your signatures, into your book cover. You use the front sheet and the end sheet to do this. Cover them with glue and place inside the cover at an equal distance from the top bottom and sides. 

Once my book is made I like to press it under a pile of heavy books for a while to let the glue set and also prevent it popping open. I also check that the pages turn and the book can be opened properly.

Notes about paper and sizing

Any kind of papers work for book making and you can use different weights and shapes and sizes within one book. However, for a first project I would suggest using a fairly stiff paper and sticking to the same size signatures while you learn the technique. 

If you do want to use different size papers, for example perhaps you want to use some pieces that aren't as big as A4 you can create a signature by attaching two pieces of paper together rather than folding. To do this there are two methods. In the case of the book Maya made, we used sellotape to attach pieces of paper together. On other projects I have used a more traditional book making process which consists of making a mini spine if you like or overlap for the two papers. It should be made from a paper of similar weight or a strong light paper like traditional origami paper. The overlay needs to be the same height as your papers and about 2cm wide. Score it down the middle (lengthways) and fold. Each paper should then be glued to one side of the overlay. 

Bookmaking: using stamps
Using stamps adds interest to your pages

Another way to make your signatures interesting is to print on them yourself using stamps. Maya used animal print stamps and a footprint stamp on one of her books for example. You could also do some of your own illustrations. In this accordion book I've just started for example, I've used an old chocolate wrapper to create a sea on one page and then some printed gift wrap for a fish. Later I hand drew a whale with black ink on white paper and cut it out to stick onto the blue background. The most important thing is to have fun!

Creating scenes in your book