Making Wigwams

For no reason other than the promise of sunshine later in the week, I decided to make a children’s wigwam to replace the one that disintegrated last summer after twenty-five years of sporadic use and a strong wind. Normally, I’d just nip out to the fabric shop to buy the requisite three and a half metres of fabric, but of course these are not normal times. A little improvisation was needed.

Luckily, I found an old dustsheet covering up the shelving that’s used for Christmas tree stands out in the barn. It was rather grubby with a few paint spills but it was perfectly suitable for making a wigwam once it was washed, dried and ironed (while ignoring the pile of clothes in need of similar care and attention).

Following some notes that I’d scribbled down from a borrowed book by Jean Greenhowe together with a host of diagrams on Pinterest, I laid out the dustsheet and cut it into triangles. The door triangle was cut in two halves, sewn together at the top and left open below for an opening and then all six triangles were sewn together, making a channel on the inside for a cane to be inserted. The bottom of the wigwam was hemmed, the top sewn across to stop the canes pushing out and tabs sewn on by each seam so the wigwam can be secured by tent pegs.

Once finished, the wigwam was rather plain, which is to be expected if you use a dustsheet instead of some exciting patterned fabric, so I enlisted help from a three-year old to decorate it with foam block and screen prints, though his enthusiasm wore off before mine. I was glad to have had the forethought to trace around the children’s hands to make foam printing blocks instead of inking their hands to make handprints but rather regretted sewing the wigwam together before we printed as it was rather cumbersome to manoeuvre.

I was in a hurry to erect the wigwam in the garden as the sun was shining but alas, the only canes I could find were of several different lengths and mud caked from when they were pulled out from vegetable garden last autumn. Undeterred, I decided they were good enough for the job and up the wigwam went. To be truthful, it was rather lopsided but the three-year old took out a tablecloth from his alien pack (aka a rucksack) and we spread it on the ground in the wigwam and lay there discussing grass, Australia, space and life until he had to go inside for his tea.

childrens wigwam in room

I’ve since taken the canes out, washed them and sawed into similar lengths which is much better. Now all we need are some warm sunny days to enjoy the wigwam in the garden, though it works well inside too.

Once we’re out of lockdown I must remember to buy some replacement canes for the runner beans and find something to cover the shelving in the barn..

instructions for making wigwam

These were my notes, which might be helpful if you want to make your own children’s wigwam. Or indeed one for yourself, which seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I cut out the triangles with the centre seam of the dust sheet in the centre of each triangle so it was at the same height when they were sewn together.

You may find this article about printing with foam shapes helpful if you’d like to try a simple printmaking technique.

September Days

No matter how many decades it is since I was at school (and it’s several) September is always a prominent marker in the year. It makes me think of sharp pencils and new shoes; reading suggestions and equipment lists; scratched hands picking shiny blackberries and apples eaten straight from the tree.

September collage of new shoes, sloes, blackberrries and rosehips

This September, the Barley Barn has been cleared after the overnight Gong Bath ready for the new term of printmaking classes, which start this week. In preparation, there’s been a flurry of creative activity including some experiments for using up rubbish imperfect prints, hence the collage above.

In September, the farming year starts a new cycle as the fields have lime, farmyard manure or biosolids spread on them filling the air with dust or a range of smells. Curiously, the biosolids (the more attractive name for sewage sludge) have a not unpleasant smell with a slight whiff of washing powder.  Before the new crop is sown and while the ground is dry, the chance is taken to trim some of the hedges and clear any ditches that have become overgrown or been dammed by children during the summer holidays.

This September, a trailer was discovered dumped or hidden in a remote spinney. The discarded number plates and other detritus suggest it was probably a holding place for stolen machinery.  Meanwhile, field boundaries are checked and any bordering a road without a thick hedge are trenched or bunded against unwelcome intruders, which seems positively mediaeval but is actually very effective.

rosehiips in September

In September, the hedgerows around the farm are filled with the colour of spiky sweet chestnut cases, orange rosehips, red haws and the beautiful dusky blue skin of the sloes that belies the astringent flesh beneath. Branches dumped in a jug with some bolted salad crops from the garden make an unfussy grouping, which is about my limit for flower arranging.

sloes in September

This September, the sloes are plentiful but the plum trees in the garden have been disappointing. The wasps ate more greengages than we did and many of the damsons went from hard as bullets to wrinkled almost overnight.

Soon it will be time to eat crumbles and pies, socks and sweaters will be pulled on reluctantly and doors that have stood open all day during summer will be closed as the days cool. But for now, we’re enjoying the late summer days of September.

Making Paste Papers

Over at Slamseys Journal, the Creative Summer Challenge is in full swing. The aim of the challenge is to have fun, perhaps involving children over the school holidays or just making some time for yourself as you let go of any insecurities you might have about your artistic talent and focus on enjoying the process.

This year, the Challenge is to make a regular habit of being creative with a suggestion every weekday for things you might do. Day Two of the challenge was Making a Mark, a wonderfully liberating exercise in adding a wash of colour to paper and then flicking, dribbling and blowing paint and ink. An activity that involves absolutely no skill but a degree of messiness and haphazard results. Right up my street.

In a serendipitous twist, on the day of that post, I was at a collage workshop with Mark Hearld, which involved a great deal of mark making with paste paint to use in our collages. In fact, that was probably the bit I enjoyed most about the day as my dexterity with scissors leaves much to be desired.

I first tried Paste Painting as a youngster (it’s in the book Fun with Art by Martin & Cherille Mayhew) and later used it on MDF to make ploughed fields as part of a farmyard set for my children. One summer holiday we spent a very happy afternoon puddling about with paste paint and I remember one of the children doing a wonderful bowl of spaghetti picture. Since then, it’s another of those techniques that I’ve tried and dismissed. Until now! I have a new found enthusiasm and have been making a pile of decorated papers.

Paste papers were originally used by bookbinders as end papers and for covers. The paste paint is made from a mixture of flour and water, which is then brushed or spread onto paper and marks made with fingers, scrapers, combs and any number of other items to form a pattern. I used dry copy paper, brown paper and (plain) newsprint for my first experimentation but heavier paper may need to be dampened first.

At the workshop, the paste was made with strong flour but as we have someone in the family with coeliac disease (a bit of a downer for a family that grows wheat!) who may give paste painting a go, I used cornflour and it worked just as well. In fact, I think the cornflour gives a slight sheen to the paper. The recipe is at the bottom of the page.

When you’re ready to use your paste, put a couple of tablespoons into a small bowl or plastic pot and mix in some acrylic paint or artist’s ink. It’s a bit trial and error for amounts but I started with a small squirt of acrylic paint and added more paste or colour as needed.

Paste paper made with cardboard comb

Use a wide brush (I used a cheap set of decorator’s brushes) to brush the paste paint onto your paper generously, going both crossways and lengthways. Then take your marking tool of choice and drag it across the paper to make a mark. You can leave it as it is or repeat with another colour. on top. The pattern above was made with two card combs. One was cut with wide teeth and the other cut with pinking shears.


paste paper made with rubber tipped brush

These marks were made with a rubber tipped paint brush (brown paper).


paste paper in dark blue

Brush on the colour, fold the paper in half and prod with your fingertips. Additional marks were made with a broad tipped cotton bud.


Dark blue patterned paste paper

A light blue coat was covered with a darker blue and the dark blue lifted off with scrunched up newspaper.


Paste paper in dark blue

This time the paste paint was dabbed onto the paper with a piece of scrunched up newspaper. It would make a great background to a collage. Stormy sky? Crashing waves?

Making these papers is so easy and by the end of a session you’ll have a heap of wonderfully textured and patterned paper. Let’s be honest, it’s only a small step up from finger painting.

Leave the papers to dry but don’t stack them one on top of another because they’ll stick together. If you use thin paper, it may curl up at the edges as it dries. This doesn’t matter if you’re using it for collage as it will flatten when you spread PVA glue onto it, but you could press it under something heavy or iron it.

How to Make Paste Paint

Textured paint made with flour and water


1 part flour or cornflour
6.5 parts water


1. Measure the flour into a saucepan and slowly stir in the water.

2. Heat it gently, stirring all the time, until the mixture comes to the boil. Simmer for about a minute, still stirring and you should have a thick sauce-like mixture.

3. Pour it into a bowl and cover with a circle of baking parchment or a tight fitting lid and leave to cool. Pop it in the fridge if you’re leaving it overnight.

4. When you’re ready to use it, give the mixture a good stir to get rid of any lumps or whizz it with a stick blender if it’s very lumpy. It should be the consistency of mayonnaise, so you may need to add a little water.

5. If you don’t use it all in one go, store it in the fridge and use within a few days before it goes mouldy.

Give it a go!

Read more about the 2019 Summer Creative Challenge.

Finding a Creative Buzz

One of the difficulties with creative activities, whether it’s printmaking or painting, knitting or sewing, calligraphy or writing blogs, is coming up with great ideas and completing a project. The initial ideas need to be exciting enough to spark the project and compelling enough to see it through to a finished piece.

Sometimes we can’t come up with an idea that’s inspirational enough or we give up because we start to question the worth of our project. Katherine explained her lack of recent blog posts: ” … It’s not that I haven’t thought about it – or been without topics to write about. It’s more that I have questioned the whole raison d’être of personal blogs …. the internet seems so crowded … who am I to add to the general digital busyness ….”

But just recently, I’ve found a new creative buzz for generating ideas. Ruth has devised some new printmaking courses that Beth (with assorted offspring) and I trialled for her. One of the first things we had to do was fill our concertina sketchbooks with washes, spatters, doodles and dribbles of ink. Quite honestly, I could happily have spent all day just doing that.

sketch of hens, pig ark, flowers and farm machinery

Next, we were sent to four places on the farm where we had to to make quick sketches. Guess what? Places are far more interesting than you might first think when you look properly!

farm track and field viewed through a circle

Or look differently. Usually, I miss things because I’m walking at a brisk pace and even when I’m looking through the camera lens, I don’t see the obvious. Thankfully, the task was as much about looking as sketching. Try it for yourself.

For another course, we had to think about lines and use our sketchbooks for mind maps, sketches and thoughts. Have you ever stopped to work out how many sorts of lines there are? Railway lines, roads, threads, music scores, ley lines, skylines, family lineage, poetry, storylines … so many lines. Everywhere.

Our sketchbooks filled with colour and energy as we spent time developing various themes, sometimes going off at a complete tangent in our enthusiasm and we explored different ways of recording what we’d seen and the objects that we’d picked up. By the end, our books were bursting with collages, prints, sketches and notes that have a multitude of possibilities for all sorts of creative projects and my head is still positively buzzing with creativity.

So much buzz, that I managed to complete this post!


O to be in England

O to be in England

Now that April’s there,


Robert Browning

I’ve been sorting through a pile of books and came across two poetry books, each with a poem for every day. I have a fancy to use these books as a prompt for doing something creative each day, though I know it won’t be every day and I’ll probably lose enthusiasm after a while. Or when I get to a difficult poem.


‘Home-thoughts, from Abroad’ by Robert Browning is the poem for today, which seems absolutely right on such a beautiful April day. Late April into May is surely one of the best times of year to be out in the English countryside and the fields here look green and fresh, despite the lack of rain (total so far across the whole farm for April = 1 thimbleful). If you plan to visit England, this is the time to come.


There’s colour all over the farm. Weeds, blossom and wildflowers make a colourful contribution to the table.


That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Walk across the fields and birdsong fills the air. Rifling through a heap of paper discarded from printing sessions I thought it might be fun to make some collages in my sketchbook, inspired by the poem and my walk today. Turns out that it’s way more difficult than it looks.


How about you? Enjoying England? Wishing you were here? Or enjoying being somewhere else?