For the bored, locked-down and lonely

Activity: Make homemade ink with household stuff

make your own ink! an image of how it looks

Did you know you can make traditional-style black ink with stuff you’ve probably got in your kitchen?

It’s so satisfying spending time to make something this useful and basic. Bear in mind: this activity requires four days of waiting time between the prep phase and the finishing steps.

You will need
  • 2x empty glass jars (or similar containers)
  • Vinegar, enough to fill one of the jars (I’ve used white vinegar, but normal malt vinegar will work too)
  • Some water, to fill the other jar
  • A steel scouring sponge (the sort you might use for washing up)
  • 6x teabags (anything with black tea, not herbal ones)
  • A saucepan
  • A stove (or similar heat source)
  • A paintbrush or dip-pen (or other tool for writing/drawing with ink)
  • A small jar for the finished ink
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Activity: Making greetings cards with washi tape and recycled materials

Washi tape! The japanese rippable pretty sellotapey kind of stuff! Washi tape has a lot of uses, but I personally like to use it to make fancy, impressive looking cards with very little artistic skill involved. You can use it to make borders, segments, cute mini banners and as an alternative to plastic sticky/scotch tape to jazz up your envelopes and present wrapping. You can also make lots of shapes with strips of tape. How could you create a tree, a landscape or a pile of presents with washi tape? Below are some ideas, but the possibilities are endless! Happy taping.

First of all, you’ll need a blank card as the base. You can buy blank greetings cards for customisation at craft shops, stationery stores and online – or just buy a pack of cardstock and cut out cards in whichever size and shape you like! Scoring a line along the center with the point of a pair of scissors makes the fold especially neat and crisp.

Washi tape is also available from all kinds of craft stores, stationery shops and online, and comes in every colour and pattern imaginable. If the pattern is particularly striking, it could be the focal point of a card:

washi tape birthday card with a pinecone pattern

Combine washi tape with used wrapping paper or gift ribbon to make fun and colourful recycled designs, like this mini bunting:

congratulations card using mini bunting made with scraps of wrapping paper

You could add drawn details with coloured pencil or pen, gel pen and other kinds of artists media to make a motif that exactly fits the occasion:

a birthday card where the washi tape forms the shape of a candle on a cake, with a hand-drawn flame

Washi tape looks fabulous as a border for gift cards – it gives a really ‘premium’ appearance to the cards. You can add a matching border to the envelope for an extra special look! And of course greetings cards are a great opportunity to try out some fun calligraphy basics:

a birthday card with presents and a striped border

You don’t just have to recycle festive stuff like giftwrap and ribbon for your greetings cards:

  • Lots of cardboard packaging, such as milk cartons, has a metallic interior, so you can cut it into shapes like stars and trophies for shiny decorations.
  • Use cut-out motifs from old postcards or dried flowers from our previous tutorials to create a vintage aesthetic for your cards. Stick them onto the card with glue or with retro washi tape!
  • Cut appealing images out of old greetings cards – christmas trees, birthday cakes, party hats… – to make the most of them by giving them a second life on a new card.
  • Cut out photos of people doing cheesy poses in catalogues and magazine ads – then make speech bubbles and get them saying goofy things to make comedy cards!
  • Fold old newspaper into fans, flowers or origami cranes and stick them onto the card for a cool pop art look
  • Pierce holes in the card with a knitting needle or a compass and then thread wool, decorative thread or string through the holes to make a geometric shape with textural interest – for example, with just five holes roughly equidistant from eachother you can string a star shape together. You can secure the ends of the thread with washi tape.
  • Lightly apply glue stick to the card and then dust old eyeshadow onto the gluey parts to add a pearlescent sheen and a swoop of colour to your designs

Activity: Make a Corona-themed pomander to keep things fresh

Sweep away the stink that was 2020 by making your very own Pomander Coronaball!

January is the best time of year for oranges (except not this year for one particular orange who will soon be leaving the White House and will hopefully be ‘donning’ his favourite colour in a Federal prison).

What better way to put 2020 behind us by celebrating the New Year with making a delightfully smelling pomander ball.

A pomander is easy to make. It’s also an activity from which we can squeeze many useful metaphors to help us visualise and articulate how we feel about what we have experienced this past year.

What you will need:

An orange

Whole cloves – lots of them

A toothpick

A thimble

A ribbon in a colour of your choice

Cloves have been used throughout history for many different purposes. The active ingredient in cloves is eugenol, a natural pain reliever; rubbing clove oil on your gums can temporarily ease toothache pain until you can get to a dentist. Cloves were also used in ancient cultures to preserve the dead, not only because they absorbed moisture, but because they masked the stench of decay with a scent that was fragrant and sweet smelling. 

By sticking cloves into an orange, you can prevent its decay but also create an air freshener called a ‘pomander’ which will help to remove those unpleasant odours as we clean out our closets from the detritus of the past.

The word ‘pomander’ comes from the French pomme d’ambre, i.e., apple of amber, a perforated ball, often made from silver or gold, containing fragrant substances such as ambergris (hence the name), musk, or other pungent and pleasant smelling spices. During the Middle ages, the pomander was worn or carried as a protection against infection in times of pestilence.

Method:

Prevent sore fingers by first using a toothpick to poke tiny holes into the orange. Feel free to let your imagination go in the stabbing process, but be careful not to place holes too close to one another or your orange will not hold its shape.

stab orange with toothpick

Use the thimble to press the cloves through the skin. Start at the stem and insert rows of cloves as close together as possible until the fruit is completely covered. At this stage, your pomander should look just like a molecular model of the Sars CoV-2 or better known as the novel coronavirus.

press cloves into the holes

Once you have finished inserting the cloves, let the orange stand in a dry place for two weeks. The fruit won’t rot because you’ve slowed down the decaying process.

If you want the pomander to hang in a closet, tie a ribbon around it and make a loop as a novel reminder of the year just past!

tie ribbon around the orange

Thanks to Caroline Nicholson for this great tutorial 🙂

Activity: Make delicious teas

Since we’re all spending a lot of time with our kettles these days, we deserve to enjoy the full spectrum of wonderful hot beverages the world has to offer. Here are some ideas for tea blends you can make as a single cup or mix in large batches (following the same proportions) to have a stash of warming ‘artisanal’ brews for whenever the need arises. A jar of homemade tea mixture is also a great gift!

Refreshing floral tea

For people who think tea can’t be refreshing – this tea will prove otherwise. The flower petals give a really uplifting fragrance to the cup. Combine 1 tablespoon (2 parts) Chinese black tea with 1 scant teaspoon (just under 1 part) dried flower petals – such as rose, cornflower or lavender – and pour freshly boiled water over. Add milk if you like!

illustration for floral tea

Fragrant jasmine blend

This simple tea blend has the perfumy crispness of Earl Grey but is a little less conventional. Combine 1 tablespoon (2 parts) black tea with 1 teaspoon (1 part) jasmine tea and pour freshly boiled water over. A splash of milk works here too!

illustration for jasmine blend

Toasty redbush brew

This is such a warming, nutty cup of comfort. And since it’s caffeine-free it makes a perfect evening bevvy. Mix 1 tablespoon (2 parts) redbush tea with a teabag of ginger tea or a teaspoon (1 part) of looseleaf ginger tea in an infuser – for a large batch, it is best to use looseleaf redbush and looseleaf ginger tea so you can mix up a whole jar. Brew with a slice of lemon and a trickle of honey to taste.

illustration for redbush brew

Spicy chai

NOTE: This recipe is hard to make in smaller quantities than this, so these quantities make enough for about 5 servings.

Whip up a blend of 5 tablespoons black tea, 1 teaspoon of cloves, 1 crumbled cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 teaspoon of cardamom pods and half a teaspoon of peppercorns. You’ll need one tablespoon of this mixture per cup. You can either pour boiling water over the mixture or simmer it in a pan of water to infuse (the second method is more traditional!). Add milk and sugar to taste.

illustration for chai tea

Happy belly tea

Feeling a bit overstuffed? Got stomachache? Queasy? This tea is soothing to the guts but also tastes darn delicious. Combine 1 tablespoon (2 parts) fennel seeds to 1 teaspoon (1 part) cardamom pods (gently bashed with a pestle and mortar) or a handful of fresh mint leaves. Infuse with boiling water and add honey to taste.

illustration for belly tea

Tangy citrus tea

This tea goes great with pan-asian food and tastes super fresh! Rather than mixing up a dry batch, you can pack tablespoons of the mixture into the indentations of an ice cube tray and freeze it – then just pour boiling water over one block of tea blend whenever you like!

Combine 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh ginger, 2 chopped lime slices and 1 inch of chopped lemongrass in an infuser (or one ice cube tray compartment). Infuse in boiling water and add honey to taste!

illustration for citrus tea

Fruity iced tea

Maybe you’ve drank enough hot beverages for an entire lifetime and are ready for something different. Make a carafe of this tasty fruity iced tea and keep it in the fridge for an ‘artisanal’ alternative to sodas and other sugary bottled drinks.

Brew up 2 tablespoons of rosehip tea, a handful of fresh orange slices and a generous drizzle of honey in hot water. Allow the infusion to cool and then strain out the solids and pop it in the fridge – it will keep for a couple of days.

illustration for iced tea

Activity: Upcycle old cards and create collage art

Now the festive season is coming to a close, you might have a little stack of pretty Christmas cards lying around which are ripe for upcycling. Perhaps you also have a postcard collection but you’re not sure what to do with it. Or maybe you have lots of old magazines which are destined for the recycling bin. 

Why not get your creative juices flowing AND make good use of these things by getting collage-y? Combining these pictures with words cut out of old books or magazines, you can have fun making new stories and maybe even be inspired by the weird and wonderful juxtapositions you create. This activity has a lot in common with ‘cut up poetry’, popularized by writers like William Burroughs who would cut up newspapers and magazines and mix the words and sentences to bring to light new ideas and combinations of images. This method was also used by David Bowie to create some of his more peculiar and surprising lyrics. Many surrealist poets would cut up old newspapers and books and re-combine the words to reveal new stories – and now you can too. 

The coolest thing about this activity is that you never know until the end what you’re going to end up with. Let the words and pictures speak to you, and you never know what might emerge! Depending on the content, the end results can be sent as postcards to your nearest and dearest, be used as bookmarks, or be stuck on your wall or fridge and enjoyed as the works of art that they are. 

For this activity you will need:

  • A few old books, newspapers or magazines which are coming to the ends of their careers as reading material. These can be absolutely anything: tabloids, broadsheets, tatty novels, picturebooks, airport fiction, nature guides, old self-help guides, even instruction manuals…basically anything which has a bit of text!
  • A few postcards, pictures, or photos. You can get stacks of old postcards in bulk on ebay and they’re often available at charity shops. But you can also just repurpose the pictures on old birthday or Christmas cards, or use the pictures in magazines or newspapers.
  • Scissors (smaller scissors or nail scissors rather than big kitchen scissors work best here)
  • Glue (I find liquid glue like PVA or UHU glue work especially well but you can use pritt-stick in a pinch)

Method:

  1. Spend a bit of time looking at the postcards and images you have in front of you. Maybe imagine the situations and feelings they evoke. This will help guide you when you start thinking about the text you might combine them with.

2. Start looking through your books, magazines, and newspapers, and cut out any phrases, words, sentences, or bits of dialogue that jump out at you. Don’t worry too much about how they might all fit together at this stage. It’s often easiest to start moving things around and making the combinations once everything is cut out! I use nail scissors to more easily get between narrow lines. 

Note: please don’t be too precious about cutting up books which will probably never be read again. Some people have a kind of squeamishness around cutting up books, but I promise, most of them will bring more pleasure from being upcycled by you than sitting on a shelf gathering dust!

3. Now you have all your words and phrases cut out, start seeing how they combine! Sift through your pictures and words, playing around with combining them, creating stories from the words you’ve cut out. Try mixing snippets from the different texts to create surprising juxtapositions or combinations of tone – for instance, a bit of dialogue from a Victorian novel with a snippet from an article in Cosmo, or a bit of description from a bird identification guide with a piece of action from a detective novel.

Maybe one of your postcards will suggest a particular interpretation of the text you’ve cut out. Maybe just the simple juxtaposition of that picture and a phrase you’ve cut out tells enough of a story. Play with it!

4. When you’re happy with a few of your picture/word combos, glue down the words to your pictures. I find UHU glue or PVA glue works better than pritt stick which can be difficult when working with little strips of delicate paper.

5. Enjoy your upcycled art! Share it with a friend, or hang it on your wall – these babies can be charming, poignant, funny, surprising, and can even be a great starting point for more writing or storytelling.