Tag Archives: diy

How to Sew a Box Cushion

Circular bolster cushions look attractive on most types of furniture and make a good visual contrast against the more usual rectangular cushions. This shape of cushion works particularly well with striped, check and tartan cloth, especially when a contrasting tassel, ribbon how or pompom is used as a trim.

A box cushion adds comfort and style to a sofa. This cushion has been made by tie dyeing individual patches of contrasting fabric then sewing them together. A box cushion adds comfort and style to a sofa. This cushion has been made by tie dyeing individual patches of contrasting fabric then sewing them together.


  1. Cut out the fabric then cut the hack gussetin half lengthways and place together with the right sides facing. Pin and stitch the seam 12 min/1/2 in from the raw edges, leaving an opening for the zip (zipper).Press the scam open.
  2. Pin and tack (baste) the zip in position along the opening, as shown, allowing the fabric to meet centrally over the zip teeth. Stitch the zip in place using a zip foot on the machine.
  3. With the right sides facing, join the four gusset pieces together along the short ends, taking a 12 min/1/2 in seam allowance and leaving 12 mm/1/2 in unstitched at each end of the seams. Press the seams open.
  4. With the right sides facing, pin and stitch the top edge of one gusset section to one edge of the top cover piece, taking a12 mm/1/2 in seam allowance. At the gusset seam, leave the needle in the fabric, raise the machine foot and pivot the fabric so the next section of gusset aligns with the next side of the top cover piece. Continue pinning and stitching each section around the top in this way. Open the zip, then repeat the procedure to attach the bottom cover piece to the remaining side of the gusset. Trim away the surplus cloth at the corners and then turn the cover right side out.


  • Cut out the fabric then pin and stitch the length of the bolster cover with a French seam. Turn right side out and press. Turn under is double 12 mm/t/’ in hem at each end of the tube. Pin and tack (baste) the hem in place using a contrasting thread.
  • Stitch along the hems, keeping the stitching close to the inner folds. Remove the tacking (basting) stitches and press thoroughly.
  • Using double thread run a row of gathering stitches along each end of the tube, close to the outer fold of the hem, leaving a long thread end. Insert the holster pad in the tube, then tighten the gathering threads to close the cover. Secure the thread ends, then cover the small hole left at each end by attaching a furnishing tassel, ribbon how or a button.


There are a great variety of tassels available in shops to be attached to the corners of cushions or on the ends of a bolster. The colors, shapes, sizes and designs are infinitesimal, but if you want something a bit more tailor made, create your own.

Cut out two pieces of cardboard to the length of your finished tassel and 10 cm/ 4 in wide. Place them together. Put .30 cm /12 in of your yarn to one side and then wind as much of the rest around the card from top to bottom until there is sufficient for the type of tassel you are making. The more you wind on, the fuller will be the result.

Stitch along the hems, keeping the stitching close to the inner folds. Remove the tacking (basting) stitches and press thoroughly. Thread the set aside yam through a needle and then pass the needle through the top of the wound yarn and tie at the top. Repeat several times so that you are left with a strong loop at the top of the tassel, it will be attached later to the item you are dressing up. Holding the yarn firmly in one hand, cut through the yarn at the bottom between the two pieces of cardboard then release the cardboard and then bind the tassel as near as possible to the top to ensure that the head remains firm. To neaten, comb out the yarn using your fingertips and then give the whole tassel a good trim.


A French seam encloses the raw edges of fabric and prevents them from fraying. It is worked in two stages: first stitch with the wrong sides facing (top). Trim the raw edges close to the first row of stitching then stitch with the right sides facing (above).


Box cushion: Measure the length and width of the top of the pad and then add 12 mm/1/2 in all around for seam allowances, two pieces of fabric this size are needed, one for the top and one for the bottom of the cover. The gusset is made from four pieces of fabric joined together. Measure the depth and width of the pad and add12 mm/1/2 in all around for seam allowances. Cut out three pieces of fabric to this size. Add an extra 2.5 cm/1 in to the depth of the fourth piece for the zip (zipper) seam in the gusset.

Bolster cushion: Measure the bolster from the centre point of one end, along its length and around to the centre point of the opposite end, adding a total of 5 cm/2 in for hem allowances. To calculate the width, measure the circumference of the pad and add an extra 2.5 cm/1 in for seam allowances. Cut one large piece to fit these dimensions.

How to Use a Paintbrush

The paintbrush is the most versatile and widely used tool for applying paint. Choose the brush size to match the surface that you are painting. For example, for painting glazing bars (muntins) on windows or narrow moldings on a door, use a slim brush or perhaps a cutting-in (sash) brush if you are painting up to an unpainted surface, such as glass, where a near edge is needed. For expansive, flat areas, select larger brush for good coverage. Get rid of any loose bristles in a new brush by flicking it vigorously across the palm of your hand before using it. Wash previously used brushes that have been stored unwrapped to remove any dust or other debris from the bristles, and leave them to dry out before using them to apply a solvent based paint.

Paint rollers are generally used to apply water based (latex) paints to large, flat areas such as walls and ceilings. Choose a sleeve with a short pile for painting plaster, a medium pile for painting embossed or textured wall coverings, or a long pile for sculpted surfaces such as those created with textured finishes (texture paints).Rollers can also be used to apply solvent based (oil) paint to flat surfaces such as flush doors, but tend to leave a distinctive ‘orange-peel’ texture rather than the smooth finish left by a brush.

There are some drawbacks with paint rollers: they cannot paint right up to internal comers or wall/ ceiling angles, so these need to be painted first with a brush or pad. They can also splash if ‘driven’ too fast, and the sleeves take a good deal of time and effort to clean thoroughly, especially if they have been used for a long period and there is dried paint in the pile.

Paint pads tend to apply less paint per coat than either a brush or a roller, so an additional coat may be needed in some circumstances, but they make it easy to apply paint smoothly and evenly with no risk of brush marks.


  1. Tie a length of string or wire across the mouth of the paint kettle. To load the brush, dip it into the paint, but only to about one third of the bristle depth. An overloaded brush will cause drips, and paint will run down the handle. Use the stung or wire to scrape excess paint from the bristles.
  2. Apply the paint to the wood in long, sweeping strokes, along the grain, until the brush begins to run dry. Load up the brush with more paint and apply it to the next area. Blend the paint using short, light strokes, again along the grain direction, so that no join is visible.
  3. Repeat this process while working your way across the whole area to be painted, always blending the edges of adjacent areas together using light brushstrokes.
  4. At edges and external corners, let the brush run off the edge to avoid a build up of paint on the corner. Repeat the process for the opposite edge.


  1. Wipe the lid to remove any dust, then prise it off with a wide lever such as the back via table knife to avoid damage to the lip. Decant the paint into a paint kettle or small bucket. This will be easier to kindle than a full container.
  2. Remove any paint skin from partly used containers. Strain the paint into the paint kettle through a piece of old stocking or tights (panty hose), or a piece of muslin (cheesecloth), to filter.


  1. Pour some paint (previously strained if from an old can) into the roller tray until the paint level just laps tip to the sloping section. Slide a sleeve on to the roller.
  2. Brush a band of paint about 5 cm/ 2 in wide into internal corners and wall/ceiling angles, around doors and windows, and above skirting (baseboards).
  3. Load the roller sleeve with paint by running it down the sloping section of the paint, then roll it tip and down the slope to remove the excess.
  4. Start applying the paint in a series of overlapping diagonal strokes to ensure complete coverage of the surface. Continue until the sleeve runs dry.
  5. Re-load the sleeve and tackle the nest section in the same way. Finish off by blending the areas together, working parallel 1’0 corners and edges.


  1. Pour sonic paint into the special applicator tray and load the pad by running it backwards and forwards over the ridged trading roller.
  2. On walls, apply the paint in a series of overlapping parallel bands. Use a small pad or a special edging pad (see step 4) to paint right up to corners or angles.
  3. Use smaller pads for painting narrow areas such as moldings on doors or ginning bars (muntins) on windows, brushing out the paint along the direction of the grain.
  4. Special edging pads are designed for painting right up to internal angles, and leave small wheels which guide the pad along the adjacent surface as you work.
  5. Some larger pads can be fitted to an extension pole to make it easier to paint ceilings and high walls. Make sure than the pad is attached securely.


Aerosol paints and varnishes are ideal for hard to decorate surfaces such as wicker work. Always follow the maker’s instructions when using them.

Illness and Child Care

Abdominal pain

This can be caused by indigestion, colic or wind, and antacids or charcoal tablets will help to relieve the symptoms quickly. Anyone suffering from abdominal pain accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting or fever should be seen by a doctor.

Bad breath

Bad breath may simply be the result of smoking or eating spicy foods, but can also be caused by gum disease. Cleaning teeth regularly and using dental floss will ensure the health of gums and, with the use of antiseptic mouth washes, the problem should disappear. If gums are not the problem, there may be a digestive disorder and you should seek the advice of a doctor.


In the first few days a slight fever may occur, which can be treated with paracetamol. Try to prevent a child from scratching the spots, as this may lead to infection. A daily bath or shower will prevent the spots from becoming infected, and calamine lotion applied afterwards will help to reduce and relieve the itching.


Resting as much as possible and taking plenty of fluids will help to clear up a cold quickly. Aspirin or paracetamol will help to reduce the discomfort and lower fever, and medicines containing decongestants will ease congestion.

The herbalists’ traditional standby is an infusion of equal amounts of peppermint (Memiku piperita),elderilower (Sumbucus nigra) and yarrow (Achillea millefolium). Taken hot just before going to bed, this will induce a sweat, and if the cold is caught early enough, may stop it altogether.

Cold sores

After the initial infection, the virus that causes cold sores lies dormant in nerve cells until, under the right conditions, it re-activates and causes the familiar blistering. The blisters are highly contagious, so avoid touching them as the virus can easily be transferred. Cold-sore creams are available from chemists (drugstores). They should be applied when the symptoms of prickling start, but before blisters appear.


Lack of dietary fiber and exercise, and an insufficient fluid intake can cause constipation. Eat plenty of foods containing bran, whole meal (wholegrain) bread, vegetables, pulses and fruits. If the problem persists, it would be advisable to see a doctor.


The main launches of alternative medicine are: acupuncture, the ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles into the body to restore the balance of vital energy, which can be used for a wide range of conditions, including headaches, sprains and even strokes. The others are osteopathy and chiropractic, which involve the manipulation of bones and joints; and homeopathy, which takes into account the patient as a whole rather than just the physical symptom and treats them accordingly. You may wish to try some of the homeopathic remedies, available at many chemists (drugstores) and health food shops, for nesting simple complaints at home, but for a full diagnosis of a serious complaint, it is essential to see a qualified homeopathic doctor.

If you do try alternative medicine for treating more serious conditions, let both your orthodox doctor and the alternative practitioner know about each other. Tell each of them what the other has prescribed and about any medicines or treatments you are already having. Make sure you see a fully qualified practitioner before embarking on any new treatment.


Convulsions usually affect small children and are often the result of a high fever. These are known as febrile convulsions, and will only last for a few minutes at a time. Reduce the child’s temperature by sponging with tepid water. Once the convulsion has passed, paracetamol elixir will help to reduce the fever. Always call a doctor even when the convulsion has stopped.


Numerous cough remedies are available, depending on the type of cough, ask your pharmacist for advice. Whichever treatment you use, if a cough does not improve within a few days, seek professional help, especially for children. Breathing in steamy air can help to loosen phlegm, and inhaling a few drops of eucalyptus oil in a bowl of hot water can have a cleansing effect.

This is an area where herbs are of special benefit; if in doubt get qualified treatment. Choose from one or a mixture of the following, taken as warm infusions. Coltsfoot (Tictsilagofatfara), one of the best cough remedies, particularly for irritating, spasmodic coughs, will soothe, loosen mucus and reduce the spasm. llyssop(1-1,tssopus officinalis) is a calming and relaxing expectorant for a cough that is associated with restlessness and irritation. For a harsh, dry and painful cough always include marshmallow (Althea ojicinalis) in a mixture, to ease the soreness. Thyme (Thymus valgaris) is powerfully antiseptic and relieves a dry cough linked with a respiratory infection. As an expectorate, white horehound (Manubiunt valgare) frees up thick, sticky mucus.

Aromatherapy oils used in a steam inhalation can help a cough do its job mote effectively; they can be chosen to soothe the lining of the air passages, fight infection if needed, and loosen mucus to make it easier to be removed. Soothing oils include benzoin and lavender; thyme and eucalyptus are antiseptic; and frankincense or marjoram increase expectoration. Choose a blend that you like the smell of. Essential oils have an ancient link with water and have been used since classical times.


Loose, frequent bowel movements can happen as a short term reaction to infection, inflammation or food poisoning, and as such are quite a positive, cleansing action. A common experience is holiday diarrhea, and this is usually a response to exposure to unfamiliar bacteria.

As a herbal treatment if mild food poisoning or infection has upset the bowels, try eating garlic as a natural gut disinfectant. Agrimony (Aggiimontacapawria), astringent and healing to the inflamed and swollen membrane lining the gut, is helpful in mild gastro-enteritis. Chamomile, (Chamomillarecutiut), one of the first herbs for many digestive disorders, is calming and anti-inflammatory, and so reduces the impact of tension on the digestive tract. Meadowsweet (Filipenduio ulmaria) will help to settle an acidic stomach. Ribwort (Amigo lanceolaut) has excellent toning, soothing and healing properties for use in diarrhea from many causes where there is inflammation. Thyme (Thymuscalgaris) will fight infections and improve digestion generally, settling churning, loose bowels and killing harmful bacteria.

Massage of the abdomen with antiseptic and relaxing oils like chamomile, lavender and neroli can ease diarrhea caused by minor upsets and also by anxiety and nervousness. Eucalyptus can be used in the same way if an infection is definitely suspected as the cause. Add fennel or ginger if there are griping pains with the diarrhea. For all these oils, dilute to 3 per cent in a base oil.

Causes of diarrhea vary, some foods have a laxative effect naturally, for instance prunes or figs, so over indulgence will give temporary diarrhea. Stress and anxiety often increase peristalsis and hurry bowel contents through. Repeated diarrhea may indicate more complex digestive problems and should be treated professionally. Prolonged diarrhea, especially in young children, can be quite serious as it causes dehydration; ensure adequate fluid intake and seek professional advice.

A simple yet dramatically effective rehydration drink can be made by dissolving 5 ml/1 tsp salt and 15 ml/ 1 tbsp sugar in 600 m1/I pt/21/2 cups of boiled water. Keep in the refrigerator in a screw-topped bottle and give small amounts frequently, use for a short time only.


This can be the result of a heavy cold, or of an infection of the inner or outer ear causing pain and deafness. Aspirin or paracetamol will help the pain. See a doctor if fluid builds up behind the ear causing it to rupture and the fluid to seep out.

Hot compresses over the ear are the most effective home herbal treatment; chamomile (Chamontitla recutita) maybe used as an infusion for this purpose. Taking garlic internally will help to reduce any catarrh and fight infection. If on professional examination the eardrum is not perforated, then crush some garlic into 5 m1/1 tsp of olive oil; this is warmed to blood temperature and a few drops gently inserted into the ear for a local antibiotic.

Two very good essential oils to draw the inflammation outwards as hot compresses are chamomile and lavender; or try a combination of both. The pungency of garlic and other bulbs and fruits, speeds up the metabolism and acts as an antiseptic.

Ear ache in children

Ear aches, especially in children, need to be treated quickly as an infection within the middle ear can be both painful and damaging. Speedy home help can be very useful to avoid these problems, but get medical help if the ear ache worsens or persists.

Eye infections

Conjunctivitis is a common eye infection that results in sticky eyelids and sore, bloodshot eyes. Make up a dilute solution of 1 part bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to 20 parts of boiled and then cooled water, and use cotton-wool (absorbent cotton) swabs to gently ease the sticky ‘glue’ from the eyelids. Always use a fresh swab on each eye.

Food poisoning

The sufferer should have plenty of rest and only be given fluids for 24 hours. With an adult, call a doctor if the condition does not improve within this period. Food poisoning can be more serious with children and the elderly, so they should be watched carefully. Call a doctor straight away if a baby or young child is suffering from sickness and diarrhea.

Hay fever

Hay fever symptoms can be similar to those of a common cold. Antihistamine medicines can be prescribed by your doctor, and air purifiers in the house can help to reduce airborne irritants.


A doctor should be seen for long-lasting, acute and recurring headaches, as they could be caused by another ailment. However, a rest in a quiet, and possibly darkened, room, a cold compress on the forehead and an analgesic will be sufficient to deal with most headaches.


This can be caused by eating too large a meal or rich and spicy foods, or by eating in a hurry or just before going to bed. For immediate relief take antacids. Alternatively, 2.5 ml/1/2 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) dissolved in a glass of water will relieve indigestion.

Herbal teas may well sort out indigestion. Choose from the following. Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) relieves the effects of over-eating, and being in a stressed state. Lemon balm settles a churning stomach due to nervous indigestion, whether related to meals or not. Meadowsweet is good for acid indigestion, especially if accompanied by some looseness in the bowels. Peppermint (Meruha piperita) is good for indigestion coupled with flatulence and bloated abdomen, or even nausea. Also think of taking slippery elm (Minus fiduct) if indigestion pains are persistent, either 5 ml/1 tsp of the powder thoroughly blended in a cupful of water, or the pure tablets, with one or more meals, to soothe the stomach.
A warm compress of some essential oils, including chamomile or lavender, may give some relief. For mild indigestion, try gently massaging a 2 per cent dilution of either of these into the abdomen.


The symptoms of influenza often include fever, aching muscles, nausea, headaches, a cough, a sore throat and a running nose. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent a secondary infection from causing additional problems. Otherwise, rest in bed, plenty of fluids and an analgesic: taken every 4 hours should help.

Note: the first symptoms of meningitis can be similar to those of influenza. If the symptoms shown are accompanied by vomiting, a stiff and sore neck and joints, a skin rash, bruising or some patchiness of the skin and an aversion to bright lights, call a doctor at once.


Irregular working hours, depression, stress or being in an unfamiliar room can lead to sleeplessness. A doctor can prescribe drugs to help, but try to restrict their use as it is easy to become dependent on them.

A milky drink before going to bed can be relaxing, avoid alcohol and stimulants, such as coffee and tea, as these will all only exacerbate the problem. A walk during the day in fresh air and a warm bath before going to bed may also help.


All children should be immunized against measles, but can suffer from the disease before then if they come into contact with an infected person. A blocked nose, fever and conjunctivitis are the first symptoms, followed a few days later by a red, blotchy rash spreading from the head down wards. Call your doctor to see whether the child should be examined. Otherwise, give plenty of fluids and paracetamol elixir to reduce the fever.


This is a viral infection of the parotid glands, which are situated just in front of and below the ear. Discomfort and fever can be reduced by giving either paracetamol or aspirin, or paracetamol elixir to young children. The virus is usually infectious for up to 6 days before the swelling appears, and for 10 days after the onset of the swelling. Adult men can suffer from swollen testes and should visit a doctor.

Nausea and vomiting

The remedy of first choice is probably ginger (Zingher officinalis); either take frequent sips of a weak tea, or 10 drops of tincture in a little water, or chew a small piece of fresh ginger. Another possibility, say, for travel sickness, is to chew a little crystallized ginger, or drink flat ginger ale. Other potentially useful herbs to settle the stomach are chaitunnile (Chamomilla recurita), croon balm (Melissa officinalis) and peppermint (Mentha piperita); try weakish herb teas. All these herbs aid digestion and so can help to sort out the causes of nausea as well as the symptoms themselves.
Causes of nausea or vomiting can usually be linked to specific things, eating too much rich food, or drinking too much alcohol, anxiety or travel are common triggers. Continual feelings of nausea indicate greater disturbance; again this may be obvious as in 1110Minp, sickness of pregnancy. Where the cause is not obvious, and if symptoms are not quickly cleared up with self help, get medical advice as soon as possible. Children in particular can easily become dehydrated.

Occupational hazards

Many occupations involve excessive use of the voice, e.g. teaching, and sore throats are common place. The regular use of herbal gargles can ease this discomfort, and help you prevent loss of voice or an actual infection. Keep the throat moist by drinking liquids.


At one time or another, most children and some adults suffer from parasites.
Fleas: are usually passed on to their host by cats, birds or other pets, or in infected bedding, carpets or upholstery. Treat animals with a veterinary insecticide. Where flea bites have occurred on your skin, use an antiseptic wash to prevent infection. Spray throughout the house with a flea killer and vacuum thoroughly.

Head lice: these are tiny brown insects with 6 legs. They feed on blood and lay eggs (known as nits) which are attached to the base of the hair shaft. They are usually found behind the ears and cause irritation. If head lice are detected, the whole family should be treated with insecticidal shampoo.

Tapeworm: eggs can be seen in feces. Consult your doctor, who will prescribe a suitable medicine.

Threadworms: live in the lower bowel and lay eggs around the anus, causing itchiness. The eggs are minute, but occasionally a fine, thread-like worm may be seen around the anus or on bedding. A doctor will prescribe a suitable medicine to eradicate them.

Ticks: these live in long grass and will latch on to humans and animals to suck blood. Remove with tweezers, using a rocking motion to release them then wipe the area with an antiseptic.

Sore throats

With increased airborne pollution, smoky, dry atmospheres in air-conditioned buildings and so on, sore throats are more and more common. The irritation can range from an annoying tickle to a rasping soreness, and may be linked to other infections. Where the throat inflammation, or pharyngitis, also extends down to the larynx, the voice may be affected.

If possible, use the following herbs as tinctures for gargling; if unavailable then use cooled infusions: agrimony (Agrimorda eupatoria), sage (Salviaofficinalis) and thyme (Thymus vulgaris) are all astringent, toning up the membranes, the latter two also being quite antiseptic. For a more powerful effect try using a tincture of myrrh (Cutraniphura mulmol), together with one or more of the others. If making infusions, add two liquorice sticks to give a more soothing effect, or else use marshmallow (Althea officinalis) leaf in equal amounts with the other herb(s).

With essential oils such as benzoin or thyme, use steam inhalations. One drop only of essential oil of lemon on2.5 ml(1/2, us!) of honey acts as a local antiseptic, as well as being soothing.

Ideas on How to Set Up Contract for Home Improvement

It is likely that you will want to have some professional help for many home improvement projects. The experts can help you solve design problems, make sure you satisfy the requirements of the building regulations and stop you falling foul of your local government planning committee. They can also organize and manage large scale projects in a way that no home owner with a frill-rime jog could hope to do. Which experts you call in and what you get them to do for you depends on the project concerned.

You are most likely to call on the services of an architect or a building surveyor if you are building a home extension, converting a loft (attic) or carrying out major internal alterations to your house. Apart from that, many jobs around the home, such as replacing tiles on the roof, can be done safely and thoroughly by the home owner. If major repairs or renovation work is needed however, it is always worth obtaining a quote train a contractor before starting the project yourself.

While waiting for government approval, get renders(bids) for the work from contractors, prepare contracts, devise work schedules and supervise work on site. Architects and surveyors will usually charge a percentage of the project cost as their fee.

If you are planning a loft (attic) conversion, a conservatory, replacement windows, or a kitchen or bathroom refit, you can call in firms who specialize in each of these areas. Since each may offer a complete package, from computer aided design to completion, they may be very tempting to employ. However, this area is very much one of ‘buyer beware’. If you decide to use this route, try to find a firm that either comes with a personal recommendation or is prepared to put you in touch with several satisfied customers. Read the contract offered by the firm in detail, querying any unclear terms and, above all, do not part with any money in advance.

Calling in professional help with your home improvements raises a few questions, since you are effectively handing over the work to a third party. You need to keep control over the job to ensure you get the results you want. If you need contractors to carry out the work for you, decide first of all whether you want a main contractor to run the entire project and bring in his or her own specialist subcontractors, rooters, plasterers, plumbers, electricians and so on, for individual parts of the job.

The alternative is to employ those sub-contractors yourself for the parts of the job that are beyond your abilities. As always, the best way of finding contractors and subcontractors is by personal recommendation. If you are employing an architect on your project, he or she may be able to recommend firms in your area.

Other ways of finding contractors include local newspaper advertisements, telephone directories and trade associations, which will send lists of their members working in your area. One last method involves looking round your area for houses where projects similar to yours are being carried out. Knock at the door and ask the owner how the work is going; people cannot resist discussing things if they are going well.

What a home improvement project will cost is of prime importance to every householder. If you are doing the job yourself, make contact with all the relevant local trade suppliers builders and other specialist merchants, plus second hand outlets such as salvage yards, and explain to them what you are doing and what your requirements are. Some projects will be easier to price than others, but suppliers will generally be eager to help you estimate costs if there is an order in it for them.

Don’t forget about hire (rental) shops for the equipment not included in your do-it-yourself toolkit. It is also worth hiring (or even better, buying) heavy duty versions of your existing power tools, which are likely to be burnt out by the sort of use they will get on a major improvement project. If you are employing an architect, he or she will be responsible for obtaining costs for the job. If you are putting the entire job in the hands of builders, they will be responsible for pricing the job and for buying all the materials.

Never employ any contractors on a home-improvement project without a contract, however simple. This will give both parties a clear description of what the job involves and who is responsible for what. Above all, it will give each party the protection of the law if the other breaks its terms. A simple job probably needs no more than a letter of agreement. This should include a description of the work to be done, the price, the agreed starting and finishing dates and details of how payments will be made. On more complex jobs, a contractor’s derailed quotation plus your signature will constitute a valid contract. A builder will save you the trouble of hiring specialist equipment unlikely to be found in many a home owner’s toolkit.

How to Prepare to Paint a House

Remove areas of flaking paint using a scraper or filling knife (putty knife),and then either touch in the bare area with more paint or fill it flush with the surrounding paint film by using fine filler (spackle). Sand this smooth when it has hardened then use a clean cloth moistened with white spirit (paint thinner) to remove dust from recessed moldings and other awkward comets.

If knots are showing through on painted woodwork, sand back to bare wood and apply knotting (shellac) to the knot, then prime and undercoat to bring the new paint film level with the surrounding paintwork and sand between coats. Resinous knots may produce stains which can only be prevented by drying out the knots with a blowtorch.

Stripping Paint

Every time a surface is re-painted, a little more thickness is added to the paint layer. This does not matter much on wall or ceiling surfaces, but on woodwork (and, to a lesser extent, on metalwork) this build-up of successive layers of paint can eventually lead to the clogging of derail on moldings.

More importantly, moving parts such as doors and windows start to bind and catch against their frames. If this happens, it is time to strip back to bare wood and build up a new paint system. There are two methods of removing paint from wood and metal surfaces. The first is using heat, traditionally from a blowtorch but nowadays more often from an electric heat gun. The second is to use a chemical paint remover, which contains either dimethylene chloride or caustic soda. Heat works well on wood (although it can scorch the surface), but is less successful on metal because the material conducts heat away as it is applied. Chemicals work well on all surfaces, but need handling with care; always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter.


  1. Spray the air stream from the heat gun over the surface to soften the paint film. Scrape it off with a flat scraper as it bubbles up, and sit the hot scrapings in an old metal container
  2. Use a shave hook (triangular scraper) instead of a flat scraper to remove the paint from moldings. Take care not to scorch the wood if you intend to varnish it afterwards.
  3. Remove any remnant of paint using wire wool soaked in white spirit and paint working along the grain. Use a hand vacuum cleaner to remove any remaining loose particles paint.
  4. Sand the wood to remove any raised fibers, and then wipe it over with a cloth moistened with white spirit. Seal the resin in any exposed knots by brushing on liquid knotting (similar) and leave to dry.
  5. Apply a coat of wood primer or other recommended primer/undercoat to the stripped wood surface. This will provide optimum adhesion for the subsequent top coats, ensuring a really great finish.


  1. Fill splits and dents in wood using filler (spackle) on surfaces that are already painted, and tinted wood stopper (patched) on new or stripped wood that you intend to finish with a coat of varnish.
  2. Use the corner of a filling knife (putty knife), or a finger, to work the filler into recesses and other awkward to reach places. Smooth the excess filler before it dries and hardens.
  3. When the filler or wood stopper has hardened completely, use a piece of fine grade sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block to sand down the repair until it is flush with the rest of the wood.


  1. Wear rubber gloves and old clothing. Decant the liquid into a polythene (polyethylene) container or an old can, then brush it on to the surface to be stripped. Leave it until the paint bubbles.
  2. Use a flat scraper or shave hook (triangular scraper) as appropriate to remove die softened paint. Deposit the scrapings safely in an old container.
  3. Neutralize the stripper by washing down the surface with water or white spirit (paint thinner), as recommended by the manufacturer and leave it to dry.


  1. Paste remover is especially good for removing paint from intricate moldings because it dries very slowly. Apply the paste liberally to the surface
  2. Give the paste plenty of time to work, removing paint from intricate moldings especially on thick paint layers, then scrape because it dries very slowly. Apply the paste it off. Wash down the surface with plenty of liberally to the surface.


Add caustic soda to water until no more will dissolve. Thicken to a paste with oatmeal and use as for proprietary paste remover. Be particularly careful when using this corrosive solution. If it splashes on the skin, rinse at once with plenty of cold water.

How to Prune Trees

How to Prune TreesWhether it is to improve the shape of a plant, to make it produce more flowers or fruit, or to correct some damage, pruning is an important part of the procedure for maintaining the health of many plants. On some plants, pruning is an annual procedure, carried out to keep the plant to a suitable size or to encourage it to produce larger flowers, more fruit or better colored stems. On others, it is an operation carried out occasionally, perhaps as a result of damage, to prevent the open wound becoming infected and harming the plant. As a matter of routine, every plant should be checked regularly for signs of the “three D’s”, disease, damage and death.

If a diseased branch is caught early, and pruned back to uninfected wood, there is less chance of the problem infecting the rest of the plant. Areas of damage expose the tissue underneath the bark, and are ideal sites for fungal spores and diseases to enter the plant. Dead branches can also act as hosts to fungi and diseases, some of which can easily travel into the living tissue and damage it. Any suspect shoots should be pruned back to clean, healthy tissue as soon as possible, using clean equipment.

Types of Pruning

The main types of pruning are:

  • Formative pruning, when the plant is young, to encourage the early development of a strong frame work of branches.
  • Containment pruning, where, as the plant ages, it is regularly pruned in order to keep its size and shape within the constraints of the garden.
  • Remedial pruning, when the “three D’s” rule is put into operation, to maintain the health of the plant. Remedial pruning is also used to eliminate any crossing or congested branches and, on variegated shrubs, to remove any shoots which have reverted to plain green (variegated shoots are weaker than green ones, as they contain slightly less chlorophyll, so that if the green ones are left in place, the whole plant will revert).


Timing the pruning operation correctly is critical to the performance of the plant; if you prune at the wrong time, you may cut off all the flower buds for the season. Not all plants can be pruned for the year in early spring; in fact, the best time to prune many, especially flowering shrubs, is right after they have flowered, so that they have the maximum time to develop their buds for the following season.


One way of gaining confidence when pruning your climbers is to learn how to make the correct cuts. Always use sharp secateurs (pruners) or a sharp saw if you are cutting larger branches. Pruning cuts should always be clean; try not to bruise or tear the wood by using worn or blunt secateurs.

Cuts to remove main stems or thick stems branching off the main stems should be made close to their origin, making certain that there is no “snag” or stump left. On the other hand the break should not be so tight that it cuts into the parent wood. Thinner stems should be cut back to a bud, leaf joint or the previous junction. Make the cut just above a bud. This bud should usually be an outward-facing one, so that future growth is away from rather than towards the centre of the plant. The cut should be angled slightly away from the bud. If the leaves are in pairs on the stem, one opposite the other, make the cut straight across, rather than sloping. The position should be the same, just above an outward facing bud.


Some plants, such as shrubs of borderline hardiness, may be damaged but not killed by a cold winter. In spring cut out cold damaged shoots. Remove the affected tip only. This will greatly improve the appearance and new growth will soon hide the gaps.


If you buy plants sold specifically for hedging they are likely to be young plants with probably a straight single stem. These keep the cost down, but formative pruning is particularly important to ensure that they make bushy plants later on.

New shoots will be produced if you cut back the main (leading) shoot to about 15 cm/6 in after planting. Trim these back by about half in early or midsummer. If you buy bushy hedging plants, shorten the height of these plants by one-third. Do not remove the main (leading) shoot of a conifer, large leaved evergreens such as aucubaor laurel, beech or hornbeam. Trim that off only when the hedge is approaching the desired height. If you like, shorten other shoots on these plants by between one-quarter and one-third, to stimulate instead bushy outward growth.


  • The best time to prune shrubs is as soon as possible after the flowers have faded. Shorten the growth from the last summer by half. It will be paler and suppler than older wood.
  • Avoid cutting into dark, older wood as new shoots are seldom produced from this.
  • From a distance the difference after pruning will not be obvious but it should be neater and more compact. The real benefit will be cumulative. Remember to start pruning while the plant is still young.


  1. Simply cut back all the previous summer’s growth to within about 5 cm/ 2 in of last year’s stem. Do not worry if this seems drastic. The plant will soon produce vigorous new shoots and replace the ones you are cutting out.
  2. Cut back to just above a bud. Keep to outward facing buds as much as possible to give a bushier effect. Most of the shoots should be cut back to within about 5 cm/2 in of the base of last year’s growth, but if the bush is very old, cut out one or two stems close to ground level. This will prevent stems rubbing against each other, and improve air circulation.
  3. This is what a plant that has been cutback to a low framework of old stems looks like. Try to keep the height after pruning about 90 cm /.3 ft or less.

How to Make Curtain Valences

The pelmet (valance) was originally used as a means of keeping curtains and drapes free from dust, and is now very popular simply as a decorative feature. Tie-backs are both attractive practical, holding hack curtains to let in the maximum light.

A fabric covered pelmet is quick and simple to make with a special PVC (vinyl) material that is self-adhesive on one side and lined with velour on the other. The adhesive is covered with hacking paper, which is printed with ready-to-cut pelmet patterns to suit most styles of decoration. Attach the finished pelmet to a batten (furring strip), with the returns secured to the wall above the curtain (drapery) track with angle irons. The batten should he5 cm/2 in longer than the curtain track at each side of the window.

Plain shaped tie-backs are easily made with the help of buckram shapes coated with iron-on adhesive. The buckram is available in kit form, pre-cut in several sizes to suit the curtain width. Attach the tie-backs to the wall with rings and hooks. Experiment with the position of the hooks, before fixing, to assess the most pleasing effect. A fabric-covered pelmet (valance) provides the perfect finishing touch to this window treatment and echoes the shape of the wallpaper border. Pelmet styles can he plain or fancy, scalloped or stepped. Choose a style to suit your chosen fabric and the general decor of the room. Position tie-backs about two-thirds of the way down a short curtain for maximum effect, but do experiment with the positioning before making the final fixing.


  1. Measure the batten (furring strip) and the returns. Cut out the PVC (vinyl) pelmet material to this length, taking care to centre the chosen pattern. Cut out the shaped edge of the pelmet material along the correct line for the required shape. Cut out a piece of fabric about 3 cm/ 11/4 inch larger than the pelmet material.
  2. Lift the backing paper at the centre of the pelmet material, cut across it and peel back a small amount on either side. Match the centre of the fabric with the center of the pelmet material, and press the fabric on to the exposed adhesive. Keep the fabric taut, peel away the hacking and smooth the fabric on to the adhesive.
  3. Turn the pelmet material so that the velour backing is facing upwards. Using a sharp pair of scissors carefully cut away the surplus fabric around the edge of the pelmet material.
  4. For a neat finish, glue a length of braid around the edge of the pelmet using a suitable craft adhesive. Attach strips of touch-and-close fastener to the barren with staples or tacks. Use the hooked part only, as the velour hacking of the pelmet material acts as the looped part of the fastener. Press the pelmet in position on the batten.


  1. To make the hack of the tie-back, pin the buckram shape on to the fabric and cutout around the edge of the shape. Lay this on the wrong side of the fabric to make the front, and, using a dressmaker’s pencil, mark a line on the fabric 12 cm /1/2 in all around the outside of the buckram shape. Cut out the larger front piece.
  2. With the wrong sides together, sandwich the buckram between the front and hack pieces. Press with a hot, dry iron to fuse all the layers together, raking care nor to scorch the fabric.
  3. Snip into the edge of the surplus fabric all around the tie-hack. This will help the fabric to lie neatly without puckering when you turn it over to the wrong side.
  4. Fold the surplus fabric over to the wrong side of the tie-hack and turn under the raw snipped edge. Use matching sewing thread to stitch the folded edge neatly in place, taking care that the stitches do not go through to the right side. Stitch a brass ring on to each end of tine tie-back.


It is easy to vary the look of plain tie-backs by adding narrow frills or by binding the edges with bias strips of contrasting fabric. A strip of wide, ornate ribbon or braid makes an unusual tie-back, simply apply iron-on interfacing on the wrong side to stiffen the ribbon and cover the back with a strip of lining fabric in a toning color. Turn under the raw edges, and slip stitch together around the edge.