Homemade gingerbread house.

The Christmas season has arrived and with it comes a never ending list of craft and food ideas. Toddler permitting, I’m hoping to be able to make a few festive treats to show here.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a stay at home mum, so in order to fit with the one salary budget, there will be a lot of homemade gifts in my household this year. So, watch this space! For now though, I’m going to combine both food, craft and my most popular post to date my homemade cardboard dolls house, with a…

Homemade gingerbread house…

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First things first, the recipe I use isn’t exactly gingerbread, but tastes just as (if not more) christmassy. Spiced black pepper bread house just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!

For the dough you will need:

  • 600g plain flour (plus more for dusting)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tsps baking powder
  • 2 tsps ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2.5 tsps freshly ground black pepper
  • 200g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g dark brown sugar
  • 2 larges eggs beaten with 4 tablespoons of runny honey

In a food processor, combine your flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. With the motor on medium speed, slowly add the butter and sugar. Then very slowly add the egg mixture. Do not use all the mixture up if you find the dough comes together before it’s been used up.

Split your dough into four balls, flatten a little into disks, cover in cling film and store in the fridge until needed. The most important thing about a gingerbread house is to draw out your design first and create template of your walls. A simple design is best as a gingerbread houses detail and wow factor come from the decoration.

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Cut out your templates. Lightly flour your surface and rolling pin. This is important so you dough does not stick to the surface. Roll out your first disk till in it around 2mm deep. Place your chosen area over the dough and cut around the shape. I use a pizza roller cutter but any sharp knife will do. You can decide here where you’d like to cut out your windows and doors, or you can ice them on later. Continue until you have two of every template and transfer onto a lined baking tray. Depending what size your house is, you may have to do these in batches, so I recommend not to start rolling out all your parts at once.

Place in a preheated oven of 160c (fan assisted) for 10 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. This should only take 10 minutes. Once you have all your pieces baked and cooled its ready to start icing together.

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Find a very sturdy base to mount your house. I’m using a spare tile we had lying a round. You can buy good large cake bases though from most cookery shops.

For the icing you will need:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 500g sifted icing sugar (powdered sugar for all my US readers)

Place the egg whites into a large mixing bowl and slowly add the sugar stirring every so often. The mixture should get quite stiff but don’t add all the sugar if you think it’s going to be too still to pipe. Once all mixed and your happy with the mixture, fill a piping bag or gun with your icing. For the wall gluing I would use a nozzle the same thickness as you wall. If you have more icing than will fit in your piping bag/gun, put the rest into a small airtight container or cover with clingfilm. Lay your four walls out on your base to show how big your footprint will be and pipe the outline. Take your first piece of wall and again pipe along the bottom edge and two sides and stand in place. I found that my icing was thick and secure enough to hold this in place but if yours isn’t find something like a small box or some glasses to hold it upright. Repeat this for each wall until you have the outside shell of your house. Leave to dry for at least an hour.

Once dry pipe another thick line around the four top edges of your shell. Take your first piece of roof and secure in place. Pipe icing down the central line of the roof and then secure the second piece in place. Secure with books or boxes or even a little masking tape if you have to and leave to dry completely again. You may also wish to add a chimney once this is dry. For this, follow the same rules as before.

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Now the fun bit. Collect all the sweets, sprinkles and cake decorating pieces you want and use the remaining icing as a glue and painting tool. I think all gingerbread houses look great no matter how messy or neat they are. Its definitely fun to do with your kids or some friends instead of cupcake decorating parties. The more sweets and icing you use the tastier it will be when you eventually come to eat it! I’ve been a bit more of a fancy pants because I wanted to test my icing skills as I’ve not got the most steady hands. I also baked some window frames with leftover dough, painted them with a bit of watered down icing and carefully stuck them with icing inside the house frame. I think I did well considering it’s only my second attempt at building one.

Happy house making!

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Also, if you have dough leftover why not get some star, snowflake or any shaped cookie cutter and make some Christmas tree decorations. Just roll out the dough as before, cut your shape and make a hole in the top to put string through before baking and then ice and decorate when cooled. The combination of the spiced smell and the aroma of a real Christmas tree is just wonderful.

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Homemade Cardboard Dolls House

As well as all the many joys of becoming a fulltime mum, there is the inevitable purse tightening following the loss of one salary to the household!  We have been doing fairly well so far with it all.  Thankfully, there are a lot of free things to do around London.

Over the past year I’ve been able to attend a few free baby groups in my borough of Haringey, where Isla has played with lots of babies and I’ve made some truly amazing friends.  Recently as she has gotten more inquisitive we’ve had a trip to The V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green.  This houses the largest collection of childhood toys and objects ranging from 16th Century to things we use today.  My favourite collection being its wonderful dolls houses.

I’ve always had a love for dolls houses and perhaps that’s what led me to study architecture.  I never had my own traditional dolls house.  I did have a few Barbie and Sindy interpretations but the one I remember the most fondly is the classic wooden Edwardian one that sat in the window of my great Auntie Joan’s house.  I don’t think we were actually allowed to play with it but I always looked forward to visiting my Auntie Joan if only to be able to admire it.

One of the hardest things for me being on a budget is not being able to spoil Isla with all the toys and clothing out in the shops.  Thankfully we do have extremely generous family and friends so she is far from short of either!  Even still I like the feeling of giving her something from me. So taking inspiration from our recent trip but still keeping frugal, I decided to make her a…

Homemade Cardboard Dolls House.

Completed Dolls House

Most of my architectural training has gone out the window in this exercise.  This will be for a 14 month old toddler, so she won’t notice if there are no staircases, windows or if the sofa is as big as all the kitchen units put together!

Through bulk buying a lot of nappies and wipes we always seem to have a large pile of cardboard boxes lying around the house, most of which are too small for re using as storage.  Two boxes that used to contain packets of wipes were perfect for my first try at a dolls house.

I first cut off two of the long edge flaps from one box and one from the other.  I then glued the two boxes together giving the basic two floors of my house.

Boxes

I then painted the entire outside, the side walls and top floor ceiling of the boxes and one of the previously cut off long flaps, with white paint.  Where I cut the flaps off, left the corrugated inside exposed which was difficult to paint, so for a better finish I glued some white paper over the joining point of the two boxes.  This left me with a clean white ground floor ceiling and 1st level floor.

Next I took the extra and now painted flap to make a pitch at the top of the boxes.  What was handy here is that they had already got cut outs which will make handles for easy transportation.

Painted boxes

For simplicity the house is made up of four rooms.  Living Room, Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom.  This made the dolls house split into equal quarters.  I then needed to cut two internal walls.  For extra support when gluing these I made sure to have two extra flaps to secure to the back wall and floor.  Because the back walls and floors of the boxes are not completely flat due to the box makeup I made the walls and flooring as panels to give a smooth finish.

Wall and Floor Panels

I happened to have some left over carpet perfect for the bedroom and living room and then I printed out some floor patterns found here.  Where you will find a fantastic selection of wallpaper patterns.  You could also choose to use wrapping paper, where the smaller the pattern the more realistic the wallpaper.  I however managed to find some fantastic origami papers that were perfect from Tiger shop, which can be found here.

Gorgeous selection of papers

I then measured and cut panels for the four back walls and two floors and then covered them with the patterned papers making sure to go over the edges of the floor plates for neatness.  I also covered the partition walls with white paper like I did the central join.

Covered walls and floors

Now for the fiddly bits…the furniture! 

I started by making the sofa.  The little figures that were going to “live” in the house are in permanent standing position so the sofa needed to be big to allow them to recline.

I made the sofa with the below cardboard net and then covered with some soft blue fabric that I had in a bag of scraps left over from my sensory play mat.  I also had a bit of sponge wadding that I covered by hand sewing for a cushioned back and seat.  Probably not necessary but I got a bit carried away!

Sofa net and completed

Next I made the lamp shades.  Using thin white card, I covered with some more of the patterned papers and then cut to size and glued into tubes.  For the ceiling pendants I glued an X shape to the top and threaded through the centre.  I then used a big needle to make a whole through the ceilings in the two rooms and then pulled through the thread with the shades attached and secured at the other side with glue.

Boxes with threaded pendants

I also used some of the leftover pieces to make a small lamp made the same way but with a smaller plain white tube for the stand.

I then made two small white tables.  The top was made from a simple 3cmx3cmx1cm open bottomed cuboid. For the legs I cut 4 3cmx2cm rectangles which I then folded down the middle and cut from the top corners to the bottom centre line to create a pointed leg.  These were then glued to the inside corners of the top.  For the living room table I glued on the lamp I had made and for the bedroom a simple folded card with a clock drawn on.

Side tables and bed

The bed was made with another cuboid covered in scrap material and then with a covered card headboard.

The kitchen units were made using two simple cuboids stuck together in an L shape with an L shape cardboard worktop on top.  I kept the finish simple by keeping the brown cardboard look and adding details with a black marker.  The finishing touches then included a covered card splashback which holds the entire kitchen together and a small extractor hood.

Bathroom and Kitchen

Finally the bathroom is made up of a bath tub which was an old piece of plastic packaging from some safety catches we had bought.  To keep the shiny affect I only painted the inside with a few coats of white paint.  The toilet was made with a small box with a piece of long thin card bent over the front and back to create a curved edge which I then topped with a flat piece of card in with the shape it created.  The sink is made of a simple box with and upturned cuboid on top, all backed with a tinfoil mirror.  The shower curtain is then a blue straw with a piece of rubber fabric threaded through.

For the exterior, I cut a large piece of cardboard to cover the front of the house which I painted white.  I then cut four 9cm x 9cm window holes to the centre of each room.  For the details I added window frames, a front door and some more of the patterned paper for blinds.

I then decided to cut some of the flaps I had left on the boxes on one side and used the other to glue as hinges to the front panel.  Finally I painted the roof green to match a pretty ribbon that I found to tie the front of the house closed.

The great thing about putting all the wall finishes and flooring onto panels and keeping all the furniture loose is that you can change everything as you like in the future.  It meant that from here in there was no more gluing, just putting the pieces together.

Et Voilà!

Finished dolls house!

Isla playing with the dolls house.

Baby Sensory Play Mat.

A few years ago I was given a sewing machine for Christmas by my lovely mother in law.  By now I had expected to be making all my own clothes with a beautifully decorated home full of my handmade curtains, blinds and throw cushions.

Well it’s been three years and I did manage to make some curtains for our living room (which still need to be hemmed) and a few cushions to match, but the sewing machine has been looking a bit sad in the spare room collecting dust!

That was until recently when I brought it back to life for a labour of love.

I recognised a gap in the market for toys for the visually impaired when I was looking for a gift for Lennie, one of my gorgeous baby friends.  So I took it upon myself to make my very own:

Baby Sensory Play Mat…

I started to make this a few months back, but you can imagine having a very inquisitive one year old, its taken some time.  But yesterday I finally finished it and here is the result!

Finished Result

I started out by sketching a few ideas for noisy toys and came up with an animal themed play mat.  Given my skills in computers, I drew this all up on CAD to give me a printable and scaleable image…

Initial CAD image.

From my computer image I was able to print templates for all my animals and pieces.

The main body of the mat itself was made by sewing together two large panels of soft blue washable (always helpful with toddlers) fleece.  Before sewing together I also machine sewed the grass fabric along the bottom of the panel that would be the front.   I then machine sewed three sides of the fleece together leaving an opening at the bottom for the same size square of wadding.  I then secured it all shut by folding in the ends and doing a double machine stitch along the bottom.

Most of the characters have a small Velcro baking so they can be removed and played with as individual toys.

The birds and squirrel were constructed by hand sewing together two identical cut pieces of fabric using the templates.  Before sewing they were each stuffed with washable wadding and a toy squeaker. The detailing included some buttoned eyes, feathers and some furry pipe wired, all bought from a craft shop.

Squeaking Feathery Birds

Squeaky Furry Squirrel

The caterpillar was made using two pairs of brightly coloured tights sewn around some bunched up wadding with crinkly plastic inside each ball (its been eating a lot of crunchy leaves), apart from the head which contained a rattle ball.  Again this was given some matching button eyes.

Crinkly Rattling Caterpillar

The Sun is made by two pieces of yellow felt with a circular piece of wadding with ribbons attached, inside. On the outside I hand stitched some clear pvc to make it feel nice and shiny.

Shiny Sun.

The rest of the pieces are not removable.

The flowers were made using the type of method found here. However the largest flower had a rattle in the centre instead of a button.  I also suggested to my friend that she spray the flowers from time to time with her own perfume that the baby might recognise.  I then stitched the bottom run of the flowers securely to the mat using my sewing machine, allowing most of the flower to be loose for rattling and pulling.

Fabric Flowers

The clouds were the easiest part as these were made from car shining pads which I sewed directly by hand to the mat.

Fluffy clouds

The tree was made by again hand stitching two pieces of fabric together with wadding inside.  This time the front piece of fabric was smaller for a nice layering effect. The bark of the tree was made using a rolled up brown toweling fabric which at the ends I cut into branch shapes and hand sewed onto my green fabric.  I then very securely sewed bells for apples onto the tree.  Be very sure you make these extra secure as these are perfect size for a baby to choke on.  I had my little girl road test it a few times to make sure!

Jingling Apple Tree

To finish I made a small handle with a button close so that the mat was easily folded away and moved around where needed.

Folded Mat

And there you have it.  Ready to be played with!