Category Archives: Do it Yourself

Flower Arranging

Flowers are infinitely versatile. Available in every tint and hue, with masses of blowsy petals or elegantly simple forms, curiously textured or sweetly scented, the possibilities for creating memorable displays appear endless. For centuries, people have decorated their homes with greenery and flowers, both to celebrate nature and to soften the hard edges of what was often a hostile environment.

Fresh-cut flowers and foliage will always be the cheapest and quickest face lift a room can have. Whether you place a few daisies in a jam jar or fill a crystal vase with show-stopping blooms such as lilies or parrot tulips, flowers take center stage in any decor.

Flowers look great when dried, too. Dried flowers are rich in form and texture and can be made into striking table set pieces, contemporary arrangements or just simply gathered into a bunch.

In fact, preserving summer flowers is a delightful occupation, requiring neither special equipment nor expertise. A visit to a florist supplier’s warehouse for inspiration is recommended, and many specialty suppliers are happy to sell to the public. At these places you will find sensibly sized reels of florist’s wire, florist’s scissors to cur through wire as well as stems, packs of dried fruit slices, tiny terracotta pots, and florist’s tape in every conceivable color. As soon as you have a collection of dried flowers – using one or perhaps several of the methods described here – you can go ahead and create handsome centerpieces, swag or two for a mantelpiece, and some wreaths for walls and doors. Your home will never before have looked so colorful.

Grass Alternatives

If you like a green lawn, but don’t enjoy the regular grass cutting, why not try a grass substitute? None of those suggested here will stand up to the hard wear of a children’s play area like grass, but just for occasional foot traffic and as a feature that is for admiration only. Here are some practical alternatives that don’t need regular mowing.

Some common alternatives

Thyme: Thyme is aromatic when crushed, and makes a good grass substitute, but don’t use the culinary thyme (Thymus vulgaris), which is too tall. Choose a carpeter like T. pseudolanuginosus or T. serpyllum.

Chamomile: is highly aromatic. Chamomile (Chamaemetum nobile, syn. Anthemis nobilis) also looks good. Look for the variety Treneague, which is compact and does not normally flower.

Clover: If clover is a problem in your lawn, it may make a good grass substitute. Once established it will keep green for most of the year, and will tolerate dry soils. It tolerates walking on and can look quite attractive in summer, and is probably greener than grass in dry weather. You’ll only have to mow a couple of times a year, after the flowers appear, to keep it looking smart. White clover (Trifalium repens) is a good one to use for lawns, though you will need to mail order the seeds from a company that sells wild or agricultural seeds.

Cutting costs

Pot grown plants from a garden center can be expensive if you need a great number. You can cut the cost by buying just some plants and using these for cuttings. Grow them for a year before planting in the garden. Some thymes are easily raised from seed, but start them off in seed trays then grow in pots.

  1. Always lay paving on a firm base and excavate the area to a depth that allows for a hard core, mortar, and paving. Firm the ground, then add 5-10 cm/2-4 in of hard core for foot traffic, about 15 cm/6 in if vehicles will use it.
  2. Compact the ground thoroughly. Bed the slabs on five blobs of mortar, using five parts of sharp sand to one part cement.
  3. Alternatively, you can lay the slabs with a solid bed of mortar, although this will make it more difficult to adjust them.
  4. Start at a known straight edge, and then position each slab in turn. The best way is to lower the slab down from one side, then slide it if adjustments are necessary.
  5. Tap the slab level with a mallet or the handle of a club hammer, using a long spirit level that spans adjoining slabs. If a large area of paving is being laid, it may be necessary to lay it on a slight slope to drain rainwater, in which case you must allow for this.
  6. Unless the slabs are designed to be butt joined, use spacers to ensure a gap of consistent width. You can make these from scraps of wood. A few days after the slabs have been laid, point with mortar.


You must prepare the ground thoroughly and eliminate as many weeds as possible otherwise weeding will become a tiresome chore if left unchecked. Time spent now will be time saved later.

  1. Prepare the ground thoroughly by digging over the area and leveling it at least a month before planting. This will allow the soil to settle and weed seedlings to germinate. Then dig our any deep-rooted perennial weeds that appear. Hoe out seedlings and a rake level again.
  2. Water all the plants in their pots first, and then set them out about 20 cm/8 in apart, in staggered rows as shown (a little closer for quicker cover, a little further apart for economy but slower cover).
  3. Knock a plant from its pot and carefully tease out a few of the roots if they are running tightly around the edge of the pot.

Housekeeping Tips

With an average of 2 out of every 3 women working outside the home, research shows that, despite the advent of the ‘new man’, most housework is still done by women. How you tackle the household chores will depend a great deal on your lifestyle. If you have children, keeping the house in order can sometimes seem an impossible task, so perhaps now is the time to become organized and make sure that everyone helps to get the chores done.
Begin by organizing a rota, so that everyone knows what they are expected to do, and make sure that they stick to it by putting up a star every time a job is completed. Try using incentives to get the jobs done rather than punishment if they are not – extra pocket money or a treat means that everyone ends up happy. Encourage young children to tidy up their toys and pull their quilts down to air the beds in the morning, or ask them to help you make your bed so that they learn how it is done properly at the same time. Laying the table and wiping down low cupboard doors are also easy tasks for them to do. Older children can help with dusting, cleaning or washing up. Do not differentiate between boys’ and girls’ jobs, as everyone needs to know how to clean, tidy and wash up.
Keep the mop and cleaning materials together so that no one will have an excuse to say that they could not find the right things. A plastic bucket with dusters, rags and polish is useful – check it regularly and replace contents as containers become empty.
Ask the family to fill in a ‘Weekly Planner’ or to tell you what they are doing, where and when. Keep the planner pinned to the wall where you can see it easily – you will find it invaluable when you need to check that children are safe or whether you will be free to take them to and collect them from an after-school activity. Keep a note of the telephone numbers of their friends to check that children are safe if they do not get home on time.
A year planner takes up wall space, but is useful for jotting down important dates for the family such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. A wipeable planner is useful where dates are regularly changed.
When you sit down together in the evening, ask the members of the family whether there are any items of shopping that need to be bought the following day, or appointments for the dentist or doctor to be made. Put letters to be posted near the door so that they will not be forgotten when you leave the house.


Keep a general file with receipts for goods that are under guarantee, and instruction manuals for all electrical appliances in case you need to refer to them.
Keep another file containing all important documents such as birth certificates, driving licences, passports, insurance documents and even your Will in a safe place so that you can find it quickly if necessary.
Keep a working list of jobs that need doing and cross them out as soon as you have dealt with them.
Prevent panics in the morning when clothes cannot be found or homework has not been finished by checking the night before. Even if there is a good programme on the television, the ironing can still be done, shoes polished and clothes mended while it is on. An extra washbasin or shower installed in a bedroom can also help to relieve the morning rush and inevitable queues for the bathroom.
Keep a small notebook and pencil with you at all times so that a job you have overlooked, or a telephone call you must remember to make, is noted down and not forgotten again. If you wake in the night and remember a string of things that you have forgotten to do during the day, a piece of paper and a pencil next to the bed will get them written down for the morning.
Put telephone messages or reminders in one place where everyone is likely to look. Papers with a tacky strip on one side are ideal for sticking on doors at eye-level where they will not be overlooked, or next to the item that needs dealing with.

How to Make Curtains

Lined curtains are suitable for most windows, but you may prefer unlined ones for the kitchen and bathroom, as these are easier to launder. To make unlined curtains, simply omit the lining steps shown below and turn and stitch a narrow double hem along the side edges before attaching the heading tape

  1. Place the lining on the fabric that you have chosen for the curtain (drape) with the right sides together and the lower raw edges aligning. Mark the centre point of the curtain on both the fabric and the lining, using a dressmaker’s pencil.
  2. With the right sides of the fabric and lining still facing, pin them together along the side edges, taking care that the lower edges of both the fabric and lining are still aligned. At the top, the lining should be 4 cm/11/2 in shorter than the fabric.
  3. Mark the finished length of the curtain and the sewing line for the hem on the lining with a dressmaker’s pencil, taking into account the 15 cm/6 in hem allowance. Stitch along the side edges 12 mm/1/2 in from the raw edge, stitching from the top of the lining to about 10 cm/ 4 in from the hem sewing line.
  4. Turn to the right side. Press the side edges, making sure that the fabric pulls over to the wrong side by about 2.5 cm/1 in. Matching the marked points at the top of both fabric and lining, fold 4 cm/11/2 in of fabric over on to the wrong side and press.
  5. Tucking under the raw edges, pin the heading tape in position just below the top of the fabric. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, machine stitch the tape to the curtain, taking care to stitch each long side in the same direction to avoid puckering.
  6. Fold over a double 7.5 cm/3 in hem along the lower edge of the fabric and press in place. If you are using heavy-weight fabric, fold the corners over to form a mitre and then carefully trim away the surplus cloth. Tack (baste) along the hem.
  7. Turn up and pin a double hem along the lower edge of the lining so that the hem edge will hang about 20 mm/3/4 in above the finished fabric hem. Trim away any surplus lining and then tack along the hem to hold it in place.
  8. Pulling from the centre of the heading tape, pull up the cords until the curtain is the correct width. Knot the cords loosely at the centre of the curtain. Hang the curtain for a few days to allow the fabric to settle, then slip stitch both the cloth and lining hems. Finally, slip stitch the lining to the fabric down the remainder of the side.


To calculate the length, measure downwards from the track or pole to the required curtain length, then add on 4 cm/11/2 in to accommodate the heading tape and 15 cm/6 in for the buttons.

To calculate the width of fabric, multiply the width of the curtain (drapery) track or pole by the amount of fullness needed for the chosen heading tape (usually between 11/2 and 21/2 times the width of the window), and allow 3.5 cm/1.5 in for each side hens. Divide the curtain width required by the width of the fabric, rounding up as necessary. Allow 3 cm/1 1/4 in for each join that is needed.


Floor-length curtains can add the illusion of height to square windows. Accentuate the effect by holding the curtains back at windowsill level, using a pair of tiebacks.

With a narrow window, extend the curtain (drapery) track or pole at each side so that, when open, the curtains do not obscure the window.
To calculate the total amount of fabric, multiply the length by the number of widths required.

If you are making lined rather than unlined curtains, you will need almost the same amount of lining as curtain fabric, with just 5 cm/2 in less in the width and 4 cm/11/2 in less in the length.

How to Decorate Glass Ornaments

Etching and painting glass are the two most straightforward ways of embellishing glass. Once armed with these techniques you can create the most striking of finishes ranging from fantastically colourful glass vases to handsome panes of glass to install in interior and exterior doors. However, before embarking on these decorative ventures, you will need some specific materials and equipment. The results, however, make this effort worthwhile.


  • Contour paste: creates raised lines on glass, giving the look of leaded windows. Acts as a barrier for paints.
  • Cotton rags: needed for drying glass.
  • Etching paste: an acid paste that eats into glass to leave a matt ‘frosted’ finish. Use for decorating clear and pale coloured glass.
  • Eye goggles: vital for eye protection.
  • Fid: used for pressing down self-adhesive lead.
  • The pretty stained-glass effect on this vase is created with glass paints and the stick-on lead is added afterwards.
  • The etched-glass panels add a light touch to what is otherwise quite a plain door.
  • Glass paints: translucent and give a vibrant colours. Be aware that these paints are not washable.
  • Masking tape: ideal for making straight lines for etching and painting.
  • Paintbrushes: a selection of sizes are essential for applying different paints and etching paste.
  • Rubber gloves: vital to protect your hands from etching paste.
  • Ruler: essential for measuring.
  • Scissors: small and large ones are useful for many cutting tasks.
  • Self-adhesive lead: this is easy to use and looks like real lead to given an authentic stained glass window effect when combined with coloured glass or glass paints.
  • Self-adhesive vinyl: useful for masking-off large areas when painting and etching glass.
  • Sponges: natural or foam, cut into pieces, these are ideal for applying Paint over a large area of glass.
  • White spirit (paint thinner): used as a solvent to clean off most paints.

Etching Glass

  1. Self-adhesive vinyl makes a good mask when etching. Cut out shapes from self-adhesive vinyl. Decide where you want to position them on the glass, remove the backing paper and stick down.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, paint the etching paste evenly over the vase with a paintbrush. Make sure you do not spread it too thinly or you will find the effect quite faint. Leave to dry for 3 minutes.
  3. Still wearing the rubber gloves, wash the paste off under a running tap. Then wipe off any residue and rinse. Peel off the shapes, wash again. Dry the glass with a clean cotton rag.


  1. Glass paints should be used with white spirit (paint thinner). Use masking tape for large areas to define the edges. Pour a small drop of paint on to a tile or saucer, take a small piece of sponge and dab it into the paint and then on to the glass.
  2. Take a small paintbrush and paint freestyle on to the glass. Clean your brush immediately you have finished with one colour so that it does not go hard.

How to Organize Space

Finding suitable storage space around the house for all the personal and household belongings every family accumulates can be quire a challenge. One difficulty is making a sensible compromise between tidiness and accessibility; it is no good having a place for everything if that means spending hours each day laboriously taking things out and putting them back again.

The solution is to tailor make storage to suit its purpose. Some things need a temporary resting place where they remain readily accessible. Others need long-term storage, perhaps being retrieved and used only occasionally. And there is the third storage category, that of display, simply to show things off.

In a typical home, possessions are stored in one of three main ways: on shelves, in cupboards (closets) or in drawers. These may be combined in a variety of storage or display units, and the amount of each type of space that is required will vary from house to house. For example, the avid book worm will have miles of shelves lining the walls, while the clothes horse will need more wardrobe space.

The storage that is needed can be provided in one of two ways. One is to buy or make pieces of free-standing furniture that match the required storage function. The other is to use raw materials such as wood and manufactured boards plus the appropriate hardware to create built in storage space, arrays of shelving, cupboards in alcoves and so on. The former is the best solution for those who value furniture more than function, since the pieces can be moved from one house to another. However, built-in storage is generally more effective for providing the most space for the least money, since the house walls can often be used as part of the structure.

How to Plan a Buffet Party

Planning a buffet can be a practical and fun answer to home entertaining when more than 8 people are invited to dine in your home.  A buffet can, of course, be just as impressive as a sit-down menu, if you give some thought both to the presentation and display of the food.  A buffet table also provides the perfect excuse for impressive settings, perhaps with swags of flowers or greenery, as well as a visually stunning decorative centerpiece.  The food should be decorative, and ease of access should always be a consideration when guests are serving themselves.

Depending on the size and shape of your room, you could either place the buffet against a wall so that guests move along in front of the table and serve themselves, or situate it in the middle of a room  (with space all around) so that guests freely move around the table. Whichever system you use, threshold should be an obvious starting point for serving, indicated by a pile of plates.

If you decide to set the buffet against a wall, the decorative centerpiece should be at the rear of the table and positioned centrally. If guests walk all around the table, place the decoration in the center for maximum effect.

Make sure that all the dishes are easy to reach and that there are serving spoons nearby.  If there is a ham or are other foods to be carved, set it in a position to one side of the table so that guests do not obstruct access to other dishes while they carve.  It should be someones task to check the availability of foods, topping up dishes and tidying the buffet occasionally.

Streamers and brightly coloured napkin sand tableware enliven an informal buffet table.

Set napkins and cutlery (flatware) separately on a side table. Large paper napkins are usually used for informal buffets. If you use disposable plates, they should be sturdy and of good quality, as thin plates sag miserably and make eating difficult. Buffet-style plates are now available. These often include a holder for a wine glass.  Alternatively, keep a large number of good-quality, large plastic plates, which are ideal for entertaining in large numbers.  They are easier to rinse, stack, and wash than china plates, and are ideal for outdoor parties as well as for informal buffets.

Be sure to site the buffet in a cool, well-ventilated place, away from radiators, and cover the table with a protective cloth before adding decorative linen as there are always spills when guests serve themselves.

China adds style to a buffet table, but plastic plates make a good alternative.

The buffet should be set with savoury food for the main part of the meal.  If you are serving a starter (appetizer), you can bring it to the buffet at the beginning of the meal, and assist the guests with it.

Serve deserts and cheese from the buffet once you have removed the main dishes. If, at a large gathering, you set out the desserts and cheese before clearing the main course, prepare a side table for them.

Always make sensible arrangements for receiving the used dishes and cutlery (flatware) when preparing a buffet.  At a large gathering some guests may not feel inclined to bring their dishes out to the kitchen, so it is a good idea to set up a trolley (cart) where these maybe kept out of the way.

Soft Furnishing Hot Tips

Embellishing Soft Furnishings

Trimmings can completely change the look and personality of soft furnishings such as simple table cloths, napkins and fine muslin curtains. They need not be expensive and many can be created using everyday things from around the home. Search cabinets and drawers for balls of string and lengths of twine; make use of shells and pebbles; take a fresh look at a skein of raffia: it could look marvellous tied into a tassel to hold a napkin. Where possible, use natural materials, such as cotton, linen, silk and hessian (burlap); they have a wonderful tactile quality and look good in any situation.

The simplicity of the plain muslin cheesecloth curtain and bamboo poles has been complemented by the natural tassel. The effect is understated yet very eye-catching. Have fun with a classic white linen tablecloth by adding seashells, pretty stones and sticks, tied with natural string, to its edges.

The corners and edges of throws and cushions (pillows) are good places for embellishments, especially when the covering fabric is plain. These details maintain and enhance the style of the cushions, particularly if they are made from natural materials in a range of neutral colours. Make detailed decorations with traditional sewing and embroidery techniques, too, but interpret them in contemporary materials. The result is fully in keeping with today’s fashion for interior-design schemes based on natural materials.

Ribbons and Tassels

Ribbons come in a wonderful variety of colours, textures and widths. By tying a simple loop or how, you can give a new contrasting or complementary accent to soft furnishings. Soft, floppy, translucent organza ribbons create a frothy cloud when gathered in folds and bows, but look simple and elegant hung against the light of a window, where they lend an element of privacy and shield the eye from an unwelcome view without blocking the light at all. Rich silken and velvety ribbons, or rough linen and burlap, have completely different qualities.

Tassels, too, are flourishes: they bring a jaunty, nonchalant air to whatever they embellish. They come in a wide variety of materials and colours. The simplest can be homemade from household materials such as string, which is perfectly in keeping with decorated old terracotta pots. Made from natural materials, they bring a touch of style to design schemes based on neutral colours and natural fabrics; in rich colours and silken threads they can be opulent or restrained, depending on how they are combined. Rich red combined with a natural linen table napkin is a sunburst of bright colour that brightens but doesn’t disrupt the neutral scheme. A traditional white tassel combined with a brick-red throw quilted in a simple, modem style is a graphic and modern interpretation of a classic upholstery trimming.

Instant Embellishments

You can use just about any material that catches your eye for trimmings. Although notions and interiors shops were always the traditional suppliers of trimmings such as tassels and ribbons.

Look beyond the expected sources for rich pickings. From garden centers to boating supply stores, the only rule in using materials for trimmings is to collect what appeals to you and let your imagination take over.

Sesame Seed Bread


107g11/2 tsp active dry yeast

300ml/1/2 pint/11/4 cups lukewarm water

200g/7 oz1 13/4cups plain (all-purpose) flour

200g/7oz/1-3/4 cups whole-wheat flour

10m1/2 tsp salt

70g/21/2 oz/5 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Milk, for glazing

30ml/2 tbsp sesame seeds, for sprinkling

1 Combine the yeast and 75 m1/5 tbsp of the water and then leave to dissolve. Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast and water.

4 Grease a 23cm/9 in cake tin (pan). Punch down the dough and knead in the sesame seeds. Divide the dough into 16 halls and place in the tin. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap)and leave in a warm place until risen above the rim of the tin.

5 Preheat a 220°C/425°F/Gas 7 oven. Brush the loaf with milk and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake for 15minutes. Lower the heat to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5 and bake until the bottom sounds hollow when rapped, about 30minutes more.

Cool on a wire rack.

How to Dress a Bed

If your budget were unlimited, you could change your bed linen to suit your mood, the way we change our clothes. What a luxury to slide between luxurious silk sheets one night and crisp white cotton the next, followed by country florals, fleecy tartans, faded stripes and fresh, bright ginghams on each succeeding day. However, practicality rules, and generally we dress our beds to match the room decor and can sometimes end up with the same designs for years on end.
Layering many different prints and textures is a style of bed dressing that is popular and it is both sophisticated and relaxed. The different fabrics can be combined successfully despite, or perhaps because of, their diversity. Frilled prairie prints can be teamed with cotton lace. Cosy tartans and faded patchworks create an attractive and comfortable style.
Use bed linen to set a mood or create an atmosphere. If you want the room to look light and airy, go for white cotton sheets, pillow cases and duvet covers. Dress up the look with hand-crocheted lace borders and cushion covers, mixing old and new together. Or, for a touch of country freshness, add a gingham or floral bedcover or a patchwork quilt, or for something more Victorian, use a satin eiderdown. A mixture of plain sheets, duvet cover and pillow cases in different colours creates a modernist style that looks stunning with a black-framed bed.
You can also choose from the huge array of imported textiles now on the market. Layer and drape hot-coloured silks, batiks, ikats and hand-blocked prints to re-create the atmosphere of another continent. Cover pillows with silk scarves and drape saris from a four-poster, then dye your sheets strong earthy yellows, red and browns for a rich layered look.
It is important to consider the feel of fabrics as well as the look. There is nothing to compare with the luxury of Egyptian cotton sheeting, especially after years of laundering, so never say no to hand-me-down pure cottons —even though they need ironing, unlike mixed poly-cotton sheets.
Woollen blankets are wonderfully warm, but very itchy against the skin, so turn back a wide border of top sheet to cover the blanket.
Velvet bed throws feel very luxurious and can be made from old velvet curtains. Edge and join panels with a rich-coloured velvet braid for a medieval look.
If you have a four-poster bed, drape it with anything from chintz curtains to strings of heads, or perhaps floaty layers of net and muslin. But, you don’t need a four-poster to have drapes, and there are all sorts of ways in which fabric can be gathered or hung to give a variety of different effects.
This stylish Japanese-inspired bed uses wooden pallets for the bed base and a cream decorator’s dustsheet for the cotton bedcover wooden box that is wall-mounted the bed, with the fabric hung from the inside in two sections, to drape on either side of the bed. The effect can be solid and grand, or light and romantic, depending on the fabrics used. Alternatively, fit a simple semi-circular shelf to the wall the bed from which to drape a length of muslin. A staple gun is the ideal tool for this type of draping because it allows you to pleat the fabric as you attach it to the shelf. Another advantage is that it is very quick — you can drape a bed in this way in just an hour or two.
A mosquito net is a ready-made bed drape that simply needs a ceiling hook for installation. For a fun look, evoke the African savannah by adding a few potted palms and fake animal-print rugs, or create an air of mystery with a deep colour on the walls to highlight the light drifts of net.
The most important thing to remember when draping a bed is that you will always need more fabric than you imagine. The success of the draped effect relies upon a generous amount of fabric to spill out on to the floor around the bed to add to the sense of luxurious splendour.

Basic tools

The three most invaluable tools for dressing beds are a cordless (hand-held) electric drill; a glue gun and a staple gun. Staples are used for most upholstery work these days and a medium-sized staple gun is ideal for drapes, pleats and upholstery. A cordless drill allows you the freedom of dashing up and down ladders and drilling in awkward places where there is no plug socket available. If you have never used a glue gun before, you will be delighted — they can be used for gluing almost any two surfaces together and provide an instant bond that makes life a lot easier.


Beds without headboards create a very utilitarian and temporary impression. A headboard can make the simplest of beds into an item of furniture with definite style, and the possibilities really are endless.
Revamp existing headboards to give a totally different character using paint, rope, upholstery, drapes or fabric wraps. An old padded headboard, for instance, may be very comfortable but quite unpleasant to look at. All you need is a length of fabric and a staple gun to give it a completely new appearance, such as the padded headboard made from chintz curtains; leopard-skin-printed velvet; a rich chocolate-brocaded stain; a woven Mexican striped blanket or a black and white hounds-tooth check all have strong designs to give instant attitude to a padded headboard.
You may prefer something a little more subtle. Rub down a new turned-pine bedhead with sandpaper, and then paint it with two coats of matt paint. The first should be a bright colour and the second a lot darker. When the paint has dried, rub it back with fine-grade sandpaper or wire (steel) wool to reveal flashes of the brighter colour beneath. Paint initials or a marriage date along the top rail to transform a mass-produced bed into a family heirloom.