Magic and making at Alnwick Castle

We’ve had some time away in Northumberland as part of our Easter holidays and we decided to make our second visit to Alnwick Castle.

It’s been four years since our last trip but the children could still remember all the fun they had that day which is pretty impressive when you are 10 and 7 years old.

Alnwick is a beautiful castle right in the heart of Alnwick and it’s well worth a trip. Parking was really easy and just a couple of minutes walk down to the gates. You can buy discounted tickets online in advance but we left it too late so first stop was the ticket office. Our family ticket for 4 cost £45 and you can get it validated so you can return for free within a year (although I never managed to find the place you have to go to do that)

In case you didn’t know, Alnwick isn’t just a beautiful castle, bathed at this time of year in a sea of daffodils, it was also used as a location in the filming of Harry Potter. There is a real sense of the familiar if you are a fan, and plenty of reference to a Harry and Hogwarts in the activities and the gift shop. You don’t need to be a Potter fan to enjoy the place though – there is plenty more to see and do.

We started our day looking at the amazing birds of prey ( flying displays run all day) then went along to the free Archery sessions. With a cold wind blowing and quite a few people waiting we decided not to queue so went on to explore into the towers of the castle where various exhibits are displayed.Through into the main section we could join in on broomstick training sessions and watch a show featuring Harry, Dumbledore and some magic. They were both good fun and I would highly recommend the broomstick training if only for the photo opportunities at the end – grab your camera or phone and snap your family members flying on their broomstick – if you time it right you’ll get an awesome photo!

Into the courtyard there is an area for dressing up and trying out the stocks. They also offer free craft activities. The kids remembered making homemade soap on our previous visit, today it was magic wands.

In the courtyard you can also collect a ticket to visit the Dragons Quest which was a really good walkthrough exhibition full of lots of really good special effects and a tricky mirrored maze which nearly caused us a few bumped heads

We finished our trip inside the castle visiting the state rooms. There were lots of tours and guides all around to speak to. We chose to go round ourselves but we chatted to a really friendly and knowledgeable guide. It amazed us all to see signs of normal life among all the state and history and to learn that the family do use some of those rooms for real. It was lovely to see real family photos alongside famous art works and some pictures of Royals who have stopped by for a visit.

The castle is a great place to visit and the activities made it a great family school holiday trip. We only visited the castle but Alnwick also has beautiful gardens and the fantastic treehouse restaurant which could extend your visit even further.

If you haven’t been I would highly recommend a visit. I’m off to practice on my broomstick….

Blog Round-up: Easy Easter Crafts for kids from teeny to tweeny

The Easter holidays are in full swing and the Easter weekend is fast approaching. Although the weather outside is surprisingly nice for a school holiday its always good to have activities ready to entertain the kids when boredom creeps in. I came across a photo recently of the Easter bonnets we decorated when the kids were at nursery (it’s the photo at the top of this post) and that got me thinking about Easter crafts again.

As a dedicated Pinterest addict I constantly find and pin great craft ideas so I thought I should share some of my findings with a round-up of a few blog posts I’ve come across for kids of all ages.

For little ones…

These two ideas from How Wee Learn and Becky from Crafting Chicks (on the fun365 website) are similar in approach – both need some contact paper (also known as sticky back plastic where I come from!) and some tissue paper. In one of these variations you stick the tissue paper onto the adhesive paper, add the other layer on top to make a sandwich, then cut it out in the shape of an egg. In the other you use one layer of the adhesive contact paper and let the kids layer up tissue paper to make a textured egg. Either would be a great mess-free craft for little hands without too much expense and the finished products will brighten up a sunny window.

For keeping them occupied…

These easy cardboard lacing Easter bunnies are a great idea – use up cardboard and bits of wool, string or thread you have lying around and you can keep small hands and minds occupied, building dexterity and giving you a few minutes to catch up on life! The reason I like these is that kids can make them as neat or as messy, as simple or as complicated as they want and you can undo and re-use them – they would be great when you are stuck in traffic on an Easter getaway. Once you have completed them they will easily hang around the house for Easter.

Cardboard lacing cottontails from Our Kid Things

https://ourkidthings.com/cardboard-lacing-cotton-tails/

For Easter Fun…

These super cute and funny bunny nose masks from Kids Craft Room (originally from funforlittleones.com) would be fun to make and great if you are having family and lots of kids over for Easter. You can make this activity a bit longer (and messier) by painting the sticks or just use coloured craft sticks for a super fast bunny nose. Now all you need is a list of high energy bunny activities for the kids to burn off their chocolate eggs hopping around the garden!

For bigger fingers

Im not sure how much help little ones would need to make these sweet Easter chicks (perhaps that depends on how much of a perfectionist the parent is) but for slightly older children making these circles and folding them neatly would be a good skill to practice and give them a quiet time activity. All that is needed are matching circles of paper or card, folded and glued to form the body. Add beaks and tails and draw on the eyes and you have some simple but really effective Easter decorations.

Chick Easter Decoration from Red Ted Art https://www.redtedart.com/easy-paper-chick-craft/

For tweens and teens…

There are lots of simple craft ideas for little kids but as my daughter is getting bigger (she is now in double digits) I know those don’t inspire her any more, so im starting to look out for ideas that will keep her crafting into her teenage years. This blog round-up post
20+ Cool Easter Crafts for Tweens to Make by Kitchen Counter Chronicles has lots of ideas, two of my favourites are the Easter bunny pom poms from Ikat Bag and the Easter bunny T-shirt from Cutesy Crafts but go and check out the post to see lots more ideas and to get the links to the original tutorials.

That’s all for now but you can check out all the kids craft blogs in find on my Pinterest board I add to it all the time so if you are on Pinterest follow my board to stay up to date with my finds.

Happy Easter everyone!

A happy handmade Mother’s Day

Today was Mother’s Day and my family have excelled themselves. My breakfast in bed (croissants – might regret that when I get back in bed tonight) was accompanied by lots of cards and gifts from my kids.

There were all kinds of handmade items they had made in school and at their Guides and Beavers groups.

At this point I realised there were some lovely aromas drifting up from the kitchen. On investigation I discovered they had been busy baking – chocolate brownies and peanut butter cookies (gluten free of course).

How awesome is that!!

We had an afternoon out at the beautiful Holmes Place in Clitheroe, home of Bowland Brewery. I love this place, especially when Crafty Vintage are in town and I get to spend time looking at all the beautiful handmade products on offer.

We finished our day off with a walk in the woods and home in time for brownies and Formula 1.

A great day – thank you to my lovely family!

The slinky stole my morning

I love it when my kids can entertain themselves with a toy I remember playing with as a child. Life has moved on, technology has well and truly arrived, but they can still pass a happy hour having slinky races down the stairs.

There is something satisfying and reminiscent of my past about the sound of that little metal spiral ‘walking’ its way downstairs but as a child I never knew how much my mother dreaded hearing the phrase “its tangled”.

So after a few successful runs the cry came up – slinky was truly and completely tangled. Ive untangled many a necklace chain in my time so I was confident at first, but 20 minutes in I had to admit it was worse than when I started. Nearly an hour later it was finally free to race again but by then, inevitably interest had waned and the slinkies were heading back in their boxes.

With the state of the weather (by lunchtime we had managed rain, sleet, hail, sun and snow) it was an indoor day so time to find an activity to entertain us all.

As it was World Book Day earlier in the week I thought we could make some bookmarks. I drew out some simple shapes (rectangle, circle, heart, pencil and feather) and used them as templates to cut out pieces in white card.

Then it was over to the kids, we got the water colour paints out and they decorated their shapes.

Once they had finished we left them to dry and then added some more details – firstly some more colour and writing with pens and then on some we punched holes in the card and added tassels, elastic and pipe cleaners threaded with beads.

Now its time to spend our World Book Day vouchers on some new books to make good use of our new bookmarks.

Rock and Sew

One of the prompts from the #Marchmeetthemaker Instagram challenge I’m taking part in was your favourite make.

I used a photo from my most recent custom order – a tiny 10cm high Paul Stanley doll who had gone to join his equally tiny Jon Bon Jovi friend.

Sometimes people ask me to make variations of my existing makes – a different colour hair, adding a name to the front of a doll’s outfit and I really enjoy being able to give people the opportunity to have things just the way they want them – how good would it be if high street shops could change the colour of that otherwise perfect outfit.

However what I really love is when someone gets in touch and asks me to make something completely new. When I first get an enquiry I find myself immediately coming up with ideas, then I have to try and get them down on paper. Sometimes just drawing out the concept can help me see how it would work (or not) in reality.

sketches

From the sketches I can narrow down what I’m going to do and develop paper patterns for the doll. Then its time to get sewing! There are times that my plans don’t quite work out, these dolls are much smaller than my usual makes so working with the denim and leather I used for their clothes became a lot harder than it would in a larger size, but that’s all part of the challenge.

Once they are made then its time to show the pictures to the customer, and that’s when my nerves kick in. My dolls are not exact images of a person or character – after all I’m creating a felt doll not a photograph – so they are my interpretation. When I come to send off the photos I always worry that the customer might have a different interpretation. Its always good to hear that they are pleased with what I have done.

Ive made so many custom orders in the past and haven’t taken any decent photographs before I post them off so I always make sure they have their photo shoot before they are packaged up.

So what would you ask for if you were ordering a custom doll of your own?

March Meet the Maker

So this year I’ve decided to join the #marchmeetthemaker Instagram challenge created by Joanne Hawker which involves a new Instagram post each day so people can get to know a bit more about the story behind the maker and connect with lots of amazing new creatives along the way. I remember following the whole thing last year but didn’t feel brave enough or organised enough to commit to joining in, so this year I’m taking the next step.

The list of prompts for the whole month is on the http://www.marchmeetthemaker.com website, so anyone joining in can plan ahead – there are some I can instantly think of the answer to but some might need some more planning so I’m going to need to get organised.

Day 1, already on my Instagram feed was favourite to make. I shared my most recent custom order – they are my absolute favourites and I love making unusual requests for people. Today, day 2, is all about how I started. I actually ‘started’ as a child, growing up in a creative home with a mother who was very talented and active in her sewing and making (she makes great cakes too!) so I was always surrounded by the interest, inspiration and materials to get creative.

As you grow up and do sensible stuff like getting a job, a house, some children the creative things often fade away – there isn’t time for that sort of stuff any more. However when my daughter was small I was inspired to make her a simple little felt doll. After I made it I thought of all the ways I wanted to make it better, so I made a second one and then a third and from there the idea of turning this into a regular activity, and then selling what I make started.

My first official PepperPot doll was the one I now use as my profile picture on social media – she sits on my bookcase and watches over me as I work. I have made replicas of her for other people but the original little lady will always stay with me. So here she is, and her picture will be going out today as my second #marchmeetthemaker post.

So why not come and join in – you can just follow along if you like. You can go to Instagram and find #marchmeetthemaker to see posts from creatives all over the world making all kinds of things, or visit the official website to find out more.

And please follow along with my posts too – I’m on Instagram at www.instagram.com/pepperpotcrafts but I’m also posting my updates on my twitter feed at www.twitter.com/pepperpotcrafts

Lavender love in a half-empty nest

Its been a big week in our house, in fact the build-up to this week rivalled the pre-Christmas anticipation. My increasingly not-so-little girl has grown into a getting-bigger-by-the-day 10 year old, and this week she has gone away. All week. Without us.

She has gone with her classmates for a week long residential at an outdoor activity centre for 5 whole days of outdoor adventures and challenges, all taking place it turns out in pretty much sub-zero temperatures.

She was utterly excited to be going and couldn’t wait to go kayaking, rock climbing, caving and all the rest of it. We have had daily updates from the teacher with loads of pictures and it seems they are all having an amazing time. However I couldn’t help wondering if, as she got into bed on that first night away, she might miss home at least a little bit.

So before she went I made her a little gift and I managed to sneak it into her suitcase as she was leaving, along with a card from us and a handmade card from her little brother.

Sometimes she finds it hard to get to sleep and I worried that lying in a strange bed surrounded by giggly friends that might be even more difficult so in the rare moments she wasn’t looking I made her a quick lavender heart pillow to keep in her bed. It was really quick and easy to make and you can rustle one up yourself if you have a few simple items.

I started by making my own paper patterns. I wanted it to be heart-shaped so I folded paper in half and drew one side of a heart then cut it out so it would be symmetrical. I also drew and cut out a simple ‘L’ to add her initial to the front of the heart.

pattern pieces

I used felt to make the pillow – two pieces of red felt for the heart itself and a small piece of purple (her favourite colour) for the letter. Make sure the pieces for the heart are larger than the pattern piece – approximately 1 inch bigger all the way round than the pattern itself. I started by cutting the letter shape out of the felt and then stitched it with a simple running stitch onto the middle of one of the pieces of red felt. I used my sewing machine but it could be done just as easily by hand.

Once the letter was attached I pinned the heart pattern to the top piece of red felt (making sure the letter would sit in the correct place on the heart when finished) and then pinned the two felt pieces together. Again I used my sewing machine to stitch the two pieces together, using the pattern piece as a guide for my sewing.

Once I had sewn almost the whole heart together I stopped and filled the middle of the heart with a mixture of toy stuffing and lavender, stuffing it through the un-sewn gap until it was full enough. Once I had enough filling in I continued sewing until the gap was closed.

unfinished heart

I then trimmed all the way around the heart, leaving a border of around 1cm of felt as evenly as possible. Then I worked all the way around the edge cutting into the felt with small embroidery scissors to make a fringed effect around the edge.

And that was it – a little handmade piece of home to help her get some well-earned sleep each night.

Shopping & selling at handmade events

It’s been a busy few weeks lately at PepperPot and I’ve been really enjoying branching out into making a new range of dolls. I’ve also been spending my weekends at handmade markets. A few weeks ago I visited Crafty Vintage at Bowland Brewery in Clitheroe. I love Crafty Vintage events – always in brilliant venues with amazing handmade and vintage products and delicious food. I haven’t been to Bowland Brewery before but I will be going back in the future – it’s a stunning venue for a restaurant and we were able to get a table afterwards for some fab burgers. 


The handmade stalls at Crafty Vintage were brilliant as ever. I didn’t manage to get photos of everything on show there, but here is a selection from sellers including jewellery from HandmadebyEmma, home fragrance from TheThomasColes, homewares from TillyandSage &  Lottie&Bea and sparkly baubles (my photo doesn’t do them justice!) from 7lemons and loads more beside. 

You can find out more about Crafty Vintage events at www.craftyvintage.com.

I was going to write this blog when I came home from Clitheroe, but I was busy making products for my next handmade market the week after. I really enjoyed being part of the first St Anne’s handmade market by MWLevents. I’ve never visited Lytham St Anne’s before, the venue was right by the promenade so I got to have a little walk along the sea front (thank you to all the lovely beach hut residents who let me interrupt their day to talk about the market!) 

MWLevents runs handmade markets in venues around the North West and like Crafty Vintage they are full of talented sellers. I managed to get a few pictures of the day in between talking to customers including wood art from TheCraftyChap, delicious chocolates from Lloyd’sChocolatier, handmade soaps from Ma’sBars, typewriter arts from OiDoris, gifts from MoominDesigns, pictures from MWLDesigns and JRHayesDraws – the list goes on…

 

And of course I had my own stall too 😊


It was interesting to meet visitors to the market – so many people were so impressed by what was on offer and  the standard of all the products. Crafty Vintage is well established and many of its visitors are regulars who know what a fab event they will be going to. St Anne’s handmade market brought something new to the area and I think people were surprised by what they found. There are more markets coming there later in the year – you can find details of all MWLevents markets at www.twitter.com/MWLevents 
One thing both proved is that handmade is best – so go and find the next market near you, it’s so much better to shop local and buy things made with love that aren’t just mass produced. 

Just a Card

The #justacard campaign aims to support small businesses and makers by showing people how even a small purchase – just a card for example – can help independent, creative businesses survive. The name comes from a simple statement by a gallery:

“If everyone who’d complimented our beautiful gallery had bought just a card we’d still be open.”

You can follow the campaign on twitter using #justacard – if you want to see how many talented people there are out there then follow the posts on Thursdays from 8pm for #justacard hour.

You can find out more about the campaign on the blog at https://www.justacard.org/

The team behind the campaign also release shopping guides to highlight some of the beautiful handmade products available to buy and i was really proud to have one of my felt and bead brooches appear in the latest spring gift guide as part of the green theme

gift

Crafty Kids and April Showers – fun Easter crafts

Easter is fast approaching, and so are the holidays. I’m looking forward to some time off and hopefully some beautiful spring weather but most holidays come with some rainy days and my kids love getting creative, so here are some ideas for some crafty Easter fun…

I looked back at my old blog and found a post about the Easter bonnets we made when they were really little. Lots of craft shops sell plain bonnets and decorating them can be fun (as can wearing them round the supermarket).

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We’ve been trying out some more crafts lately that are perfect for Easter. Pom Pom animals are great – you can buy Pom Pom makers in various sizes or make your own out of cardboard. Add on a face and some feet, put two together to make a head and body, put lots together and make a caterpillar – it depends how adventurous you are! You can make eyes, mouths, ears, feet – whatever your creature needs – and glue them on. Use buttons, beads, or cut shapes from felt or even paper – here are some we made earlier….


Pom poms are simple to make but they can take a lot of time, and kids don’t always have the will to finish them, so for a really quick option wind wool around your fingers instead – tie in the middle and cut the ends to make simple Pom poms – this little guy took us a few minutes to make.  532A35D6-2325-4B69-9E00-B70A9A3A54C2
You can’t mention Easter without chocolate, so why not make some chocolate treat bags – cut felt shapes and sew, or even glue together and add the eggs. You could do egg shaped bags, or bags with bunny ears. These carrot treat bags with a little felt bunny are in my Etsy store right now


Easter is all about spring too, so there are lots of fun flower crafts you can do together. My daughter comes up with the most amazing craft ideas by herself – she used some jumbo pipe cleaners and tissue paper to make me some flowers on Valentine’s Day, and recently drew some flowers, cut them out and stuck them to twine to make a flower headband.


If you want to make flowers then try cutting simple shapes from felt, add some beads or buttons and stitch on some embellishments. Use strong glue to attach them to florists wire, or even paper straws and put them in a vase, or add a brooch back for a pretty flower pin for your coat or bag.  These are some I made…


If you want to make ones like these you can buy a craft kit in my Etsy store.

Happy Easter crafting!