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A craft post – the bench project

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017 was to make time for more creative stuff. I decided I will do one project a month, ideally small enough to do over a weekend. So for January, kicking off in grand style… I upholstered a bench.

I will tell anyone who will listen that I re-upholstered the headboard on my bed a couple of years ago. It justified the expense of the chunky craft stapler I bought, but it has been languishing in my drawer for a while, so here we go…

You will need:

  • your bench top
  • foam block(s)
  • fabric to cover the top
  • a big ol’ stapler

You may possibly need:

  • A second pair of hands
  • cushion pads
  • fabric or craft glue
  • your vacuum cleaner
  • ribbon or other trim (bench style dependent)
  • A method of making your new upholstery flame-retardant
  • Your tunes and snacks of choice

I have had this bench in my lounge since my parents dropped it off when I moved in to my current flat. I think my dad put it together from the old legs of a table or bench, and a random shelf, or cut off of ply. As you can see, the colours are totally different between top and legs. It sits under the living room window, so someone (totally not me) can sit and look out the window and watch (judge) passersby. It usually has cushions on it, which is fine, but I wanted a more permanent solution. As this is an existing bench, all I had to do was undo the screws my dad had used to put it together (he did it in a super handy way which meant very little faff – thanks past-dad!) but I have no clue about your potential benches (potenches?) so in however way it works, stage one is to have the top bit of the bench separate from the legs. Then measure the length and width of it, so you know how much padding/foam block to buy.

I bought a 4” thick foam block from a high street craft shop, in its standard size. I even put it on the floor and sat on it to see how much it would compact when sat on. Thankfully it was a quiet day and no one challenged me about it! The block I found was quite dense already so it didn’t sink too much. I also bought a couple of cushion pads to help give the top some shape and make the direct bum-to-bench feeling a little cosier. See what feels right for you!

I had to cut the foam to the dimensions of my bench top, which was easy enough with big scissors and a serrated knife. As you can see, it left my block a little rough on the edges but I’m OK with that. If you want the cut side to match the factory cut, the internet suggests either a foam cutting saw, or an electric carving knife. I also bevelled the edges to give a smoother line for the fabric to go over, rather than all the corners, especially given the density of the foam. No one wants lumpy corners! You will likely end up with foam bits all over the floor, so be careful if you have small kids or pets. This is why vacuum cleaner is in the materials list.


Now for the fun bit. This is where you may need a second pair of hands to just keep stuff steady. I didn’t have that option, so I had to take out some staples and adjust as I went. I put the cushion pads on top of the foam, giving them a fab of fabric glue underneath for luck, though how it will fix to the foam I have no clue. Even if it only stuck temporarily, it ain’t going anywhere now it’s contained in a fabric prison! Then I stapled along one long edge, on the underneath side. I stapled far enough in from the edge to give me good stretching room. My top tip is to start with the centre and work outwards evenly. This helps to stop the fabric all shifting one way so that you don’t end up with too much at one end and not enough left to cover the other.

NOTE: My bench already had screw holes, so I made sure not to staple over them! If you’re making your bench for the first time, it’s up to you if you cut holes for drilling, or just fix through the fabric as well.

I used my fabric on the bias, which means at an angle to the edge. Depending on what fabric you’re using, this may be a good idea to help you get the top really tight. Using the bias of most traditionally woven cottons will give you the stretch that you just don’t get if you follow the grain lines. Depends on your fabric/pattern though! Mine is peacock feathers so I think it looks good at an angle. If you’ve got stripes or something really straight and regular, it might look weird at 45 degrees. You do you!

So, one long edge is stapled. Sure would have been good to have a second person help me for this bit! Ah well. I rocked the top over, pulling the fabric tight over the top, smoothing out the cushion pads and foam into a vaguely dome shape (and for bonus points, symmetrical!). Because the fabric is on the bias – and this is the downside – it was a little harder to stop wrinkles and bunching in the fabric. Just keep adjusting until it’s even on both sides and not totally pulled to one side. Staple the other long side!

Now is the time to do a little trimming of excess, so that the ends aren’t too bulky. Be careful though – it’s better to have to keep trimming little by little, than hack too much off at once and then have gaps. To do the ends, I tucked a little around the corner and pulled the end over before stapling. Not a proper parcel or hospital corner, but enough to get a little pleating at the ends, because I like that effect. If you want your ends smoother or more like envelopes, tuck in like you would a birthday parcel before pulling the end over, to hide that excess. Trim out some bulk if you need to.

Put your bench top roughly on top of the legs and step back. Is it as symmetrical as you want it? Have you got one baggy corner? I had a baggy corner, so I did a bit of emergency stapling. There’s always one baggy corner…

Once you’re happy, fix the top to the base/legs/box (whatever!). I was lucky – I just had to screw it back in. I bow to your own judgement on wood glues, different types of screw/nail or however else your project is going.

OPTIONAL EXTRA: I decided to glue a complementary coloured ribbon along the upright edge of the bench board, just to add a finish and cover up any little wrinkles along the edge. I didn’t have the patience or skill to do this with those big stud nail things, but that’s another option that looks really good.

Now sit back, admire your bench with a brew and something tasty. Then vacuum again. I vacuumed, sat down to write this up, and immediately noticed a piece of foam I’d missed.

SIDE NOTE ABOUT FIRE SAFETY: Depending on the fabric you’re using, you may wish to treat it with a flame resistant/retardant spray. It may not be fabric originally designed for furniture, but now you’ve made it into a furnishing! Just be aware if you’re making this bench as a gift or for sale – there are laws about this stuff, people!

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Saturday Scrapes (Bonus post!) – WARNING, contains pics of blood

Dear readers, it may surprise you to learn that at times I can be stunningly useless at being a person. My epic tale begins at 5:20am on a Saturday.

Yes. On a Saturday, my brain likes to wake me an hour earlier than I would normally get up for work, refreshed and ready to go. Well, screw you, brain! I rolled over and resisted the urge to leap out of bed until my alarm went off at six.

Alright, I was still getting up earlier than I would for work, but that’s what you do when you’re having an ADVENTURE. The adventure prep was simple: shower, breakfast, dishes, check contents of bag, flail in a panic, make sure there’s no breakfast all over my face, DEPART.

I did all those things, readers, and also had time to stick a load of washing on and watch half of Britain’s Biggest Hoarders. So far, so high-functioning. The trouble is, I get massively paranoid about missing trains. I am happy to turn up to the station half an hour before my train is due to leave and sit on a cold, uncomfortable metal perch and wait. And still feel, even though I’m at the station and I can see the clock and it is telling me the time is still way before the departure time, that somehow I will fail to get on the train. I think it has to do with my need for a Plan (moreso, the need for said plan to actually unfold as planned).

Neatly dovetailed into this transport paranoia is a sudden inability to estimate how long it will take to get anywhere. I live a ten to fifteen minute walk from the station (time dependent on footwear, luggage, weather). I set out twenty five minutes before I the train time in the sunshine and flat shoes and carrying only a handbag. I didn’t even have a coat, hoping to minimise wind resistance. I was running late, actually; I’d planned to be out the door five to ten minutes earlier. I know how ridiculous this is, even as I’m writing it, but yes, I felt that I needed a good half an hour to do a ten minute journey.

This is because I needed to pick up my ticket from the machine and I am always terrified that there’ll be a huge queue, or some moron who is picking up tickets in advance for a journey he isn’t making for another week, and I’ll be hopping nervously in line behind them, watching the clock turn and turn and turn and get easily within eight minutes of the departure time. Just thinking about cutting it that close makes me feel anxious.

So, I’m on the way, and even though I do know that I will have plenty of time and that every time I have the same panic and still get to the station with ten to fifteen minutes to spare, I panicked. What does the body do in panic? Fight or flight reponse, readers, I hope you know where this is going.

I started to run. I was intending to Scout’s Pace for a bit, just to get a bit closer to my planned timeline (I was hoping to catch up to the parallel universe me who had set out on time). However, my graceful feline lope was cut off in its prime as I tripped and flew forwards. There was nothing to trip on. I’m just that feckless. So I flung my hands out and hadouken’ed the pavement. I actually slid, such was my momentum.

Well, that was embarrassing, I thought, pretending that I was not at all injured, and that tripping was somehow part of the plan. I got up, and immediately saw that I had a golf ball sized hole in the right knee of my jeans. Oh, and my palms were grazed and bleeding from where the heels of my hands had hit the ground first. But mainly I was annoyed at ripping my best jeans. Y’see, I was on my way to an ADVENTURE, by which I should explain I mean I was going to have lunch with my lovely friend. An epic quest, I’m sure you’ll agree.

So I dusted myself off and carried on running. Not only did I still have a train to catch, but now I’d delayed myself further by being so stupid as to fall down! I got into town and checked the time. I was two minutes from the station with fifteen minutes to spare. I allowed myself to use a cash machine and checked my hands. There was blood welling up in the main scrapes but I wasn’t dripping all over the place. Tell you what, though, they stung like hell.

Right Hand

Second hand down


Left Hand

First hand down (I’m an alt hand to leg runner)

In the station, to my horror, there were two foreign tourists using the ticket machine. One of them was consulting a piece of A4 paper. Oh, no, I thought, they’ve got a massive itinerary. I’ll never make it! (there were still twelve and a half whole minutes to spare at this point). Luckily they were already printing tickets and they were done within a minute of my starting a queue behind them. Now came the tricky part. I needed to reach into the pocket of my jeans to get my phone so I could see the reference number for the ticket, without brushing the harsh denim against my stinging, weeping palms.

Somehow, readers, I survived. I got my ticket and made it to the train. I found my seat and set about wondering how I was going to clean my wounds. I knew the conductor would be along fairly soon, and I wasn’t about to faint or bleed out, so I just found some tissue from my handbag and did a little recon swabbing. Only then did I think to check my knee. Obviously I knew my jeans had taken the brunt, but I assumed my knee was probably skinned or a little bit grazed. It didn’t hurt at all. I looked down. There was a stiff, dry patch of blood on my jeans. Not a spot or two, but a noticeable spread. Ah. I could see through the rip that my leg was a bit red.

Oooh, what's lurking under here?

What’s lurking beneath? – The brownish patch on my jeans is the blood stain

Upon rolling up my jeans leg, I was greeted with slightly more than a graze. A wet papertowel would not soothe this savage beast. To be fair, it looked a lot worse than it was. The actual gouge is about the size of a thumbnail (I was going to say ‘was’, but I’m not Wolverine!) but the area of blood was a lot wider, where it had seeped out during my run. The centre was the colour of jam in a doughnut; thick, crimson and gently oozing. The dried and drying bloodstain around the edge was a delicate pink. I did what any sane person would do. I took pictures of my injuries on my phone, already thinking about writing this post.

Mmm, jammy.

Mmm, jammy.

Then I found more tissue and did the old spit-and-scrub to try and clean the edges as best I could. A lovely lady passenger asked if I was alright and I recounted my fall in the style of an Anglo-Saxon saga poem, just to make it sound a bit less embarrassing. The best part was, it still wasn’t even nine in the morning. I kept my jeans rolled up and kept dabbing.

The train moved off and after the usual announcements, the conductor came through. I asked if there was a first aid kit I could use, or even just a couple of wet wipes and a plaster, or something. The conductor asked if I had fallen in the station and I said no. With hindsight I could have lied and maybe got a bit more urgency from the rail staff, but a. that didn’t occur to me, b. even if it had, I’m far too honest about this sort of thing and c. I wasn’t really that injured.

My knee was really starting to hurt. I guess it’s true that you don’t always feel pain if you don’t notice you’re injured. I mean, losing a limb or something I think you wouldn’t be able to ignore, but a graze like mine that I hadn’t even thought about, that’s fairly standard. As the journey went on and I bumped my elbow on the window, I discovered that was grazed, too. Just a scrape. I got a wet wipe and a big plaster from the conductor and steeled myself to lift the thick lump of wrinkled skin on my knee to check for trapped grit etc. That part was actually pretty painless. I was expecting the agony of having an amputation stump cauterised, but on that score I was disappointed.

More passengers got on and expressed concern, and their own shame at not having wet wipes or plasters to give me. Faith in humanity (and British self-deprecation) restored. With my knee safely protected from prying eyes and jeans fluff, I settled in for the rest of my journey.

Now, I had been planning (if you saw my Tweet) to work on a WIP on the train. This story (Murder Express) is currently in hand-written form. Not only was I now jammed in on the train next to a nice old man (who didn’t have any tissue to offer me and he was very apologetic about it) with two still open wounds – I felt like I’d bothered the conductor enough and really it was my knee that was the problem – but holding a pen and writing while scuffing my palms on the paper did not appeal.

So I listened to Under Milk Wood instead.

I texted my lovely friend and asked him to bring medical supplies to the station, explaining my idiocy. I felt like I had ruined the whole day. Gone were all attempts at looking like I’d made an effort and like a real person. I stepped off the train feeling like a schoolchild who’d fallen in the playground. We fixed up my hands and went in search of better dressing for my knee, eventually settling for some of those massive square pads with sticky edges.

It was a nice day, once I’d been triaged. The sun was shining and we had coffee, then lunch, then spent half an hour in the SciFi-Fantasy section (they aren’t the same thing, dammit!) at Waterstone’s loudly discussing, recommending, denouncing and holding forth about various books and series until we thought we’d better either buy something or leave. So we bought, and we decided to go sit in the sun and read for a bit. Maybe get ice cream.

A lazy afternoon followed, with tea and cake, and then beer, and dinner, and then I got back on the train.

I then had another mini-adventure. I know! What more could happen in one day?! This one was a battle of wits. A nice man opposite me saw me poking my knee and changing the dressing (yes, in public on the train) and inquired after my injury. He, unfortunately for me, was speaking Doric, the Scots dialect of the North-East. We had a lovely conversation, I think, as I tried my best to understand what the hell he was saying. I caught one or two words per sentence and filled in what I could based on his facial expression and most likely question/response. Before things could go beyond polite passenger chit chat, he got off. If he’d started discussing the philosophy of Descartes or something, I’d have been in trouble.

I made it home without further incident, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know. My knee dried out nicely overnight and is now mostly brown and scabby. My palms are still stinging, because I can’t stop using my hands, but they’re scabbing up, too. Do you think I can get a day off, tomorrow? (We don’t get the end of May Bank Hol). I am hideously injured, after all.

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Friday Confessions

I had a post all lined up but instead I thought I’d confess something: I have a bad relationship with failure.

Not so uncommon. I mean, who likes to fail? My problem is the way I deal with failure or even potential failure. It isn’t that I bury my head in the sand; I know if I’m messing up and how, and generally what I might do to fix it, but I hate asking for help.

I don’t like being seen to fail. I think it all goes back to my school days, back when TV was in black and white and dinosaurs roamed the Earth (as I tell the kids I work with). I was an awkward, lumpy teenager with crooked teeth and a bizarre sense of humour. I wasn’t necessarily bullied or disliked (except by the one bully who was nasty to everyone indiscriminately) but I was teased a bit and it was no secret that most of my year group thought I was a massive weirdo. And probably a lesbian.

I wasn’t that sporty (though I did play on the school netball team for four years) and I wasn’t a class clown. I wasn’t really rich and I hadn’t really been anywhere interesting or exciting. I couldn’t show off or be noticed for any of those things. Luckily, I was pretty intelligent. For every class I was in that was separated by ability – most things apart from technology, RE, art… – I was in the top section. Not always the best in the set (I hated maths but natural ability kept my head above water) but usually in the top 5. English and French were my favourite subjects.

It should be no surprise that I was considered a bit of a swot. Expectations were high. I chose to take Drama as an exam course and one boy in my class directly asked me if I shouldn’t be doing business studies or something instead. Most were taking it as a doss subject or were the pets of the Drama teacher (last year accused of indecent contact with pupils, incidentally) but for me it was a companion to English and to Textiles, the technology subject I had chosen for my certificate course. Textiles was basically sewing. “Home Ec” or “Domestic Science” was sort of split by then into Food Technology (Cooking and Nutrition – many calorie tables later…) and Textiles Technology (Sewing and ironing). I enjoyed the acting in my weird, lumpy way, but I did like designing costumes for the school production and helping to make them.

It wasn’t that I didn’t place any value on “non-academic” subjects like the school version of Art and Music. I deeply admire people with artistic talent and am insanely jealous of them. I was mediocre at both Art and Music, and the one thing I really wish I could do is draw. I’m quite good at visualising and at making a model or product based on my thought-design, but I can’t draw. I can’t make the picture in my head come out onto paper as it should be.

Anyway, rambling again… Right. Failure. As I went through school and sixth form, the pressure I put on myself to perform well intensified. Being a swot was my Thing. It was what I did. If I wasn’t the geeky one with good grades, who was I? So I became increasingly anxious when there was something I wasn’t good at or couldn’t do. Like the coursework section of my A Level courses. I totally understand the need for coursework. Some people flip out in exams and completely crash even if they knew the answers before they walked in the door. Coursework lets people show they do know what they’re doing without the pressure of a PASS/FAIL in TWO HOURS situation. Trouble is, I need the pressure. Give me two months to do something and I can guarantee it’ll be done, but done in the week – or days – before the deadline.

The Geology department were not that strict on checking our coursework progress. They reminded us of deadlines and occasionally supervised us in the lab when we were recording data but they left us to it for the most part. I slacked off. The Psychology department (yeah, I took diverse A Levels) took a step-by-step approach and gave us structured deadlines for each section of our coursework. That was good; there was a bit of pressure and the teachers had a better idea of who was keeping up and who needed help. I kept up.

My Geology coursework was two days late. My Psychology coursework was bang on time.

Interestingly, I came out with a B in both subjects. The difference being, I suspect, that in Psychology I was generally good overall and In Geology I aced the exam and that pulled my mark up.

I knew, KNEW, I was struggling with the Geology coursework. I knew I was behind and letting a mountain of data analysis and hours upon hours of spreadsheet work build up. Every day it haunted me. Did I ask for help? Nope. Did I confess my awful crime? Nope. Did I, in fact, lie and say it was done when it wasn’t? Oh, yes.

In my head (and I know it’s wrong but this is how my brain works) I had developed a very black and white policy on success. Success and swottiness were the ultimate goals. Failure was weakness. Failure meant people laughing and judging. If I admitted I needed help, my whole persona and identity would come crashing down. If there was one thing I truly hated, it was being laughed at. I think that says more about the way I judge others, really. Sorry. I do admire the ability to be comfortable advertising your crapness. I am someone who is Good At Things. Admitting that I wasn’t good at something academic was to reveal that my whole self was a lie. People would tear me apart. Teachers would scorn me. Worse, people would mutter “But this is really easy! How can she not do/understand/solve this?” and I would be ASHAMED. A shame completely out of proportion to the problem.

So I let it snowball until there was no helping me regardless because it was too late and suffered the consequences.

To this day I find it very difficult to ask for help. I would rather suffer quietly and worry and cry and get angry with myself for being stupid than to simply ask someone. Of course everyone has difficulty with something. It’s OK to need help. I know that. I am better than I used to be. But I still can’t shake the feeling that if I say “Sorry, can you just go over that again?” or “I don’t know the answer” or “I’m struggling with this, actually” that people will think I’m incompetent. I have been trusted with a task and I have betrayed that trust by being unable to complete it independently.

The best bit about this of course is that I work with children. I have to show them that it’s OK to need help sometimes. So I sort of allow myself to fail on purpose for educational purposes… yeah… that’s that I’m doing… *shifty eyes*

Have a good weekend being successful! Or not! That’s fine, too! (I’m already judging you…)

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The beginning

A beginning is a scary place to be. All that blank space ahead to fill in with something. You want it to be something profound, something meaningful… At school it was always important to write the first page of a new exercise book in the neatest handwriting possible, for appearance’s sake.

I have started many stories and rambling things that almost become complete. I am not someone who converts their tries very often, unless there’s a specific deadline to meet or people are relying on me. I have successfully completed NaNoWriMo four years running, in that I got to fifty thousand words, but the actual narratives remain unfinished on my laptop. Sometimes I go back and tinker, add a thousand words here and there, move things around… and then they sit for a while. And then November rocks around again and I have a new idea and off I go with a blank document again.

I have good intentions. I have excellent intentions, in fact, and they are leading me down a road to somewhere quite hot and full of sinners. I am determined – with all of you as my witnesses – that I will complete something (and hopefully many somethings) and do something with it and put it out there in the world.

I love writing. I love stories. I have read thousands from different genres, different cultures, in different languages, and I love the feel of them. There’s something about a good story that feeds the soul, even if it’s tried and tested and you know what’s coming around every corner and even if you have to stop reading for a while because it got too intense, or too sad, or too disturbing; it’s all good for your insides.

If I didn’t read for pleasure, I think I would actually go insane. I do not understand why people don’t like reading. I know it can take time to find a genre or an author or a trope that interests you, but the important thing is to keep opening new books and reading first pages until you get there. Each hardback is like the lid of a treasure chest. I love it.

Somewhere along the line, I started writing my own things. I remember sitting at our old Acorn computer in the box room at my parents’ house bashing away at the grotty beige keyboard writing a story. I wrote a story about Little Grey Rabbit where everyone cheered a lot. Yup. Fanfiction. Aged eight. I was ahead of my time, dear Internet. As I moved up through into secondary school English quickly became my favourite subject. Re-imagine the shipwreck at the beginning of Twelfth Night from the point of view of Antonio? You got it. Write a story to explain the rock cycle for Geography? No problem. Character POV diaries from our exam texts, updated fairytales, or ‘what happened next’; it made no odds to me. I sharpened my claws on 8mm feint ruled paper.

The Internet made it to our house. Dial up, ye gods. A whole new world opened up to me. I started roleplaying in chatrooms, telling my origin story to virtual taverns filled with mysterious travellers and rafters packed with dark elves. I started writing fanfiction again – consciously this time – and I think it’s probably still there on livejournal somewhere… I wrote original stuff, too, and pretty much all of it was high fantasy. I was heavily influenced by David Gemmell at the time.

By the time I went to university and got dragged into NaNoWriMo by an enthusiastic and competitive flatmate, I’d written a fair whack of stuff. All of it unfinished, a lot of it lost or password protected on the family computer which was pretty much the same thing since I used a different password for every document and couldn’t remember them all. Or the password to the master list of passwords, more annoyingly.

I want to go beyond beginnings. I want to make it to the very end and even further. I want to get to the end of a draft and then go back and edit and polish and tweak and prod the thing until I hate it and then fall in love with it again and publish it. That’s the dream, kids. A dream that began with a grotty beige keyboard and a child repeatedly misspelling ‘hooray’ as ‘horray’.

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