toolsDon’t mock me for this apparent bout of middle class twee craft fancy, but I have a surfeit of dried Chinese lantern seed cases (as you do), some bright coloured floristry wire, scissors, a blank area of wall and, arguably, too much free time.

Unlike my last project, bringing new life into an old writing box, I am not suffering post-flu delirium so I am optimistic there will be no cat food, glue or incompetence incidents.  You may, however, be reading this and wondering why I am poised to create something so seemingly meaningless and underwhelming.

The ultimate reason is because I am contemplating a mortgage.  I can appreciate that appears to lack logic but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about space and whether location or internal home environment is more important to me and I’m finding it hard to not think “Location, Location, Location” and Phil and Kirstie’s cheery faces overwhelming my head space and rational thought.

As I’ve always lived in rented accommodation as an adult and, bar one bedroom many houses ago that I painted a questionable yellow, I have never decorated or done more than hang things on walls.  I am trying to establish my enthusiasm for “making pretty”, whether I have the motivation and interest to make something of nothing (upcycling to those of a hipster ilk, making do and mending to those of a more genuine vintage) and to determine the extent to which decorating and personalising could override misery at living in a grotty area, which appears to be an inevitability with the small mortgage I can just about realistically hope to raise.

Yes, there’s a lot hanging on the success of this string of Chinese lanterns, possibly more than they can, or indeed should, bear.lounge wall before


wall after

A mere 50 minutes later and a small part of our living room is now less white (I am increasingly realising the Scandi white and blonde look is not for me) and I have broken a potential cycle of craft havoc.

All of the Chinese lanterns were still attached to their individual stalks and to at least a bit of the main stalk.  Turns out the main stalk (the “branch” for these purposes) is hollow so a mix of thick and thin bits of branch meant some could be joined to form one interlocking branch, albeit with a bit of mildly impatient shoving.  I then wound some bright turquoise floristry wire all along the interlocking branch, balanced perilously on bits of furniture with hitherto unconfirmed suitability as standing platforms, hammered slightly and then screwed those screw hook things into three parts of the ceiling and, hey presto, not without a few droppages, some very tense leaning moments and the discovery of interlocking weak points (hurrah for the wire which kept them together and created a charming break-in-the-branch effect when some joins broke); a cheap, easy and colourful feature for a boring wall.

Whether this counts as decorating genius or the start of a “making pretty” series is questionable, but believe it or not it all felt rather satisfying and I have a new train of thought as to how bright I could live with my walls being painted.  Yes, yes, I know this is not worthy of a chapter in a Kirstie Allsopp home improvement book, but it’s not as naff as I feared and no one has yet recoiled in horror.  And can I point out, I am not a Kirstie Allsopp fan where chintzy craft projects are concerned, but I do appreciate her enthusiasm for making our living space more personalised.



closed beforeThere is an element of “Oh, is that it?” to this refurbishment project, but bear with me, it’s the finishedfirst time I’ve progressed from thinking about bringing an object out of obscurity (ie languishing unloved and in a state of disrepair in a hard to reach cupboard) to actually doing something about it and then actually using it.  There are also some valuable lessons to be learned, most in a messy way with varying degrees of de-messing success.

before half openI had an unusable, scruffy, small writing box that I had often thought could look rather open beforespectacular, on which basis it has remained in my possession.  What I have failed to accept is that I am good at thinking about things and envisioning how they could look but utterly useless at following through.  I blame this mindset, in part, for my hoarding tendencies.

In an attempt to use only things I have, and here being a hoarder and collector of things that “might be useful” has worked in my favour, I’ve only gone and DONE it.  Shock.  Yes, I have *ahem* transformed an unused writing box into a *ahem* work of art that is now in full use.  To be fair, it looks shit and doesn’t hold up at all under close, or even distant, inspection, but I have been writing a letter on its new functional and handsome writing area and it’s angled so well it is now a perfect lap writing zone.

I declare this project a practical success but an aesthetic and robust failure.  Fortunately, I learned so much in the process, I have some handy tips to pass on, though admittedly they’re quite niche and include cat food, glue and ruler incidents, and, honestly, some other mishaps that I couldn’t quite bring myself to share.

A very useful guide to making a grotty, unusable, old writing box into a vision of hardware tape and flock wallpaper with full usability but limited aesthetic appeal

  1. tools and kitAssemble amateur DiY kit and any materials that could be used to provide a pretty cover and practical writing surface. (screwdriver, sandpaper, large writing mat, scissors, blade knife, glue, a damp cloth, electrical/hardware tape, wallpaper or fancy paper, pen, pencil, ruler, polystyrene-type packaging, cardboard, dustpan and brush)
  2. Remove the most offensive areas of box with rips, pulls and high velocity sandpapering.
  3. Find replacement materials for above offensive areas.
  4. Measure and cut out necessary covers and surfaces to make an object of beauty and a joy in use
  5. Affix new covers and surfaces.
  6. Smugly write first letter from highly practical and newly covetable writing box.

(If only it had all gone that smoothly)

Some issues you may encounter

  1. Old screws and nails are often rusted and embedded into wood.  You might want to consider not even bothering to try to remove them.  Time wasted trying: c17 minutes.  Expletives uttered: c93.  Progress made: 0 hinges removed.
  2. Cutting paper, etc, to fit around hinges is a challenge far greater than you might at first expect.  Accept the hinge area will look amateur, accept there will be expletives and some tearing and embrace the concept of loving imperfections for their unique character.  This latter skill is one you may need a sense of humour about and is also a recurring theme.
  3. odd shaped template for corner coveringCorners are not your friends.  Accept early on, particularly if you have a hinge issue so can’t remove lids, etc, each corner will look shoddy.  But I reiterate, love your imperfections and all will be fine.  Largely.
  4. When craft projects are rarely undertaken, be alert to glue problems.  Pritt Stick goes hard and leaves lumps that add to the texture of any paper you use it to stick on.  This is not always a desirable effect.  UHU do a lovely glue in a tube with a spongey top.  When using for the first time, note there is a seal that needs to be removed from under the screw-on sponge top. I would have saved myself a good few minutes of futile and vigorous squeezing had I been alert to this.  Beware once you realise there is a (I now realise very useful) seal and are about to remove it, the excitement of seeing non-lumpy, ready-to-flow glue will be so exciting as to prompt an involuntary hand-squeeze.  At this point, you are given a crash course, possibly a learning curve too steep, that: (1) runny glue gets everywhere [buy a new Pritt Stick?] (2) glue feels horrible on your hands (3) you have to wipe glue off all surfaces of your blank canvas project with a damp cloth IMMEDIATELY (4) likewise the floor (5) likewise the glue bottle (6) likewise your clothing.  Who knew craft could wreak such havoc with one easy squeeze?
  5. Committed to sticker removalIf you start picking at undamaged stickers, you then create a need for them to be stickers offremoved.  The odds are high this will be a more tedious and time-consuming job than you imagined possible.  Carefully weigh out the pros and cons before commencing any fiddling or picking.  The likelihood is that leaving alone will be the best option and it will save your voice box the necessity to express dissatisfaction about your progress and soggy, gluey paper sticks to everything it comes into contact with and ruins your scrubbing cloth.  That said, after c22 minutes of painstaking rubbing with the (now partially concrete) damp cloth and only one rub-too-deep, seeing the stickers removed and the new surface as good as smooth was mildly satisfying, though not remotely worth the effort.
  6. pesky cornersMake a template using paper or card you are not intending to use on your final project.  Working out the shape of a corner piece surely shouldn’t have been as complicated as it was for me.  Be alert to your capabilities and potential failings and work around them.
  7. When measuring for, say, your writing mat, made from a material you only have a limited amount of, ensure you are fully conversant with a ruler.  Don’t underestimate how easy it is to see half over 11 as half under 11.  It turns out there is no remedying a 1cm shortfall in your writing mat.
  8. Create a spacious work area with surfaces that won’t be damaged by errant glue, where there is good lighting (there is a chance 6 above may not have been an issue had I adhered to this), where you are not kneeling and sitting at an unnatural angle.  Crafting is quite dangerous and all these precautions will ensure minimal mess and happier knees and back.  For me, lying on a carpeted floor in the foetal position sorted my back out, though this mildly drastic measure added a good 40 minutes to my overall project time, an annoyance and discomfort that could have been avoided.
  9. Pets.  Now this is a bit tricksy.  [no animals were injured or altered, I hasten to add, but there were some issues, some of which – nay, all of which – could have been avoided]  I think a project like this is best undertaken at a table rather than the floor, irrespective of whether or not pets are in the vicinity.  A table covered with newspaper and/or plastic, or at least something to protect the work surface, is probably ideal.  Pets, in my case a cat, are generally inquisitive.  Cats like dabbing, patting, pouncing and investigating.  My work area was disorganised, lots of glue on the floor, things stuck to glue, ripped pieces of sticky tape and sticky soggy paper; cat and craft carnage/fun depending on the perspective.  Also, cat food bowls are commonly found on the floor.  When leaning back to survey your work and rest your knackered back, assuming you ignore all advice to not work on the floor, be careful to look behind you when placing your hand to support yourself.  The fallout is quite distressing and retch-inducing if you do not adhere to this advice.
  10. completed pesky cornersIf not completing your project is not an option but you are on the cusp of despair, black electrical tape is like a soothing mug of tea, though on a scale of restorative drinks, for me it was more like a joyous inhalation of Balkan 176 proof vodka (there are 13 health warnings on the bottle and it is advised that drinking it neat will render you hospitalised, hence sniffing not gulping).complete half open

Time to complete: in the region of five painful, challenging and tortuous hours.

Money spent: £0

Likelihood of mockery or excessively polite feedback: just hand me back the Balkan 176 for another numbing inhalation.

Estimated life expectancy: three letters.

Functionality: you may be surprised, but it’s a joy to use and not as small as it looks.  The writing mat is quite soft so my first letter is more braille than handwriting, but it’s very comfortable atop my lap and to write on.  I can also keep pens, ink (very useful, apparently), stamps, envelopes, writing paper and the letter I’m replying to within its capacious insides.  It doesn’t close any more though as the mats and corners are quite pudgy, but who needs a closing writing box anyway?

Remember to embrace imperfection, love your unique, bespoke refurbished project and understand that small, blurred photographs are more forgiving than large, sharp images.

et cetera