Sometimes, it just won’t do…

Well, spot the sometimes-blogger who completely lost her blogging mojo… I don’t know why , I just felt that I didn’t have anything interesting to say. Or, for that matter, do… But having just annoyed myself intensely, please forgive me if I give myself an online talking-to!

So I decided to make a rag rug for our eldest son and his lovely partner, who are about to move into their own first-bought home. I know that they will be choosing their furniture & decor carefully, and of course it’s hard to gauge what might “fit” until you can see how their plans are working out – and if they’re anything like us, things don’t so much go according to the masterplan as just fall into place. They’ll do… I thought I’d just go along with something completely practical, which can be used anywhere – a bathmat, a door mat, a sleeping mat for their adorable dachshund, a boot-liner for the car. There was already a warp on the loom; I’d intended to make a mat for the back seat of my van, but kind of lost my way over winter with that as well. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the warp was made from leftover bits of an old sheet that had been cut into strips for a completely different project, several years ago.

I should have known that a cut warp was never going to be as satisfactory as a torn warp for a twined-weave project; it hadn’t been cut completely straight on the “grain”, so the warp was constantly “shedding” threads, which stick up in the finished weaving. And enough came away as I went along that I became slightly anxious that it wouldn’t be as strong in the middle as it needs to be, to take the ferocious tension. Luckily – it sufficed.

A very tangly warp…

The weft strips were a few bits of my husband’s old, torn jeans, an old, frayed turquoise seersucker tablecloth and two-and-a-half reclaimed duvet covers from the recycling warehouse. Total expenditure, £2; 50p each for the 4 bought items, with half of one duvet cover and a few strips left over.

So they picked up the keys today. And I really wanted there to be a parcel for them on the doorstep, so I carried on “over, under, twist!”-ing ’til late at night on Tuesday. I was aware I’d made a bit of an error at one point, but thought, it’s never going to be completely symmetrical, it’s in the nature of the beast to be a little bit chaotic – it’s a rag-rug, it’ll do. So I carried on.

I came down on Wednesday morning, took one look, and oh my goodness – NO!!! It would NOT do. The error shrieked and glared at me; I knew I’d have to undo half of what I’d done the evening before and put it right. If it was anywhere in my sight, the wrongness would just leap out at me, even though I’m no perfectionist. So I spent a merry couple of hours twisting backwards.

No, no, no, no, no! 4+ rows of turquoise where 3 would be enough…7 rows+ to unpick, half-done when pictured.

The moral of this story being – STOP when you’re tired, and start making mistakes! I have known this for many years – go off & do something else, sleep on it, come back to your project when you’re refreshed and not before! But once again, I carried on long past the point where I should have stopped… Despite the setback, I still got it finished and posted in time, and it arrived today – the day they picked up the keys for their own first lovely home. Phew…

About to go off to make itself useful…

Just asking – has anyone else out there struggled to get going with projects lately? In the unforgettable words of a dear friend – are you feeling, like I was, somewhat oomph-lacking?

The Great Shirt Project strikes again…

For several years now, I’ve been working on a one-woman challenge: to find as many uses for old shirts as I can! Every quilter knows there’s a whole lot of good, still-useful fabric in a decent gent’s shirt, often in lovely colours and nicely understated patterns, and so many of them just get chucked away when something frays, or a button falls off, or the owner gets larger or just goes off that colour. I’ve been paying 50p for superb quality cotton or linen shirts down at the recycler’s warehouse-shop, chopping them up and using the fabric in little quilts, and weaving the side-seams into bags and rugs, and making hanging “pockets”, needle books, mending kits and laptop covers, to name just a few of the ideas that have occurred to me. A few of the resulting items have even been sold.

Yesterday I experimented with some cuffs; I’ve been steadily selling lavender hearts made from the embroidered bits of old stained table linen, but they are delightfully feminine when all’s said & done. I wanted to make something that a guy would be happy to hang in his wardrobe to make his clothes smell fresh & deter moths, too. So now I’ve invented the Lavender Cuff! Time will tell whether anyone will ever actually buy one, but it’s got to be worth a try…

Lavender-stuffed cuffs!

But the thing that I really, really wanted to make was a hat. It struck me some time ago that the stiffened bits of a formal shirt, i.e. the collars and cuffs, would be ideal for making a hat, if I could just get them joined together somehow. But before I had my big Pfaff machine serviced, all my attempts came to nothing; I broke a number of needles and wrecked several collars trying. It could always have been done by hand, but that might have taken rather a long time, so it didn’t happen.

Anyway, I tried again yesterday, and to my delight & surprise, I succeeded. The machine ran perfectly, I squared the collars & cuffs off to make even joins, and found an elegantly simple pattern to try (pattern & instructions here) and – it worked! I am now the proud possessor of a shirt-collar-and-cuff hat… This one’s a bit big; I made the bigger size because lots of hats feel too tight for me, so there’s another, slightly smaller, version in the making, but I’m actually really rather proud of it and will certainly wear it!

Collar-and-cuff hat!

Fast forward…

… to July, and any day now I’ll be a Grandma! A little quilt has duly been produced:

A little quilt for a little chap…

I even got to use some of my tie-dyed fabric on the back. All the fabric is reclaimed, rightly or wrongly.

Stars for a little star…

They have a night-sky theme going on in the nursery so the shapes & colours were chosen to fit in with that; they look darker in the pictures than they actually are, thanks to the seemingly never-ending gloom in June. It’s not meant to be an heirloom but a totally practical, wash & wear everyday item. There are a few touches that I hope will please the little man; some chenilled seams to intrigue little fingers, and it’s bound with satin ribbon, remembering how much his father loved labels and other smooth textiles as a baby & small child. That and some of the thread – I ran out! – are the only things bought new.

In the meantime, our house has filled up with stuff again; we had a massive last-minute panic to empty my mother’s bungalow. It had sold previously, but the chain collapsed at the last minute and the sale fell through. The estate agents marketing it asked us to leave her stuff there, as it’s easier to sell a home that looks lived in. But as the Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday tottered towards its end, we suddenly got a really good offer for it, provided the sale could go through within a week. Legally it was entirely possible; the new buyer didn’t need a mortgage and the paperwork was all ready to roll, but it was still full of a lifetime’s possessions; you can’t fit that much into her room at the care home, lovely though it is! So some of those possessions have ended up here with us; some will be sold, a few bits used (proper glass lemon squeezies! Oh yes!) but others I will have to make space for until various offspring have homes of their own to house them in. And yes, the lawyers pulled it off and the sale went through a day early.

The weird weather has left me with another space problem; things that should have come out by now over at the allotment are still in the ground, only just starting to go over. So I have several sets of plants ready to go into the ground, but no ground to put them in! And my “first early” potatoes & my maincrops are clearly all going to be ready at the same time. Needless to say, the weeds have galloped away; one minute they were tiny, hardly worth hoeing off, then it rained for weeks and now they are thigh-high. Some serious work called for over there! But some actual potential crops are thriving; I planted Greek Gigantes beans for the first time, and despite the deluge they seem very happy & are racing up their wigwam.

I’m sure there was something serious I wanted to witter on about, but I’ve entirely forgotten what it was, thanks to finding most of a treasure at the recycling warehouse earlier this week. A 1979 Rappard Wee Peggy spinning wheel, originally from New Zealand, but alas, she’s missing her flyer, whorl & bobbins. So that will be a Quest for me over the next few months; I either need to track some “orphan” parts down, or find something that can substitute for them. Without them, sadly she’s just expensive firewood; with them, she’s a beautiful and genuinely useful tool.

Most of a Rappard Wee Peggy…

So now I’m wondering how to gently tell the house clearance people that sometimes, bizarre-looking bits of wood & metal with odd protrusions, often stashed in baskets of brittle, age-old, moth-eaten fluff, are actually vital parts of something. And remembering the lady who found one merrily chucking parts of a loom into a skip, because he couldn’t work out how this “bookcase” fitted together…


How strange! I feel as if a beloved friend has just left us… the time had come to replace my Mac Mini. We’d had it for over 10 years and it had served us well; it’s been replaced with an updated version as that’s what does the things I need from a personal computer the best & fits the space available. It had become slower & slower over the last few months, and every now & then the fan would kick in audibly as it struggled; I suspect it had got very dusty inside. I opted to go for the trade-in option, as that means that anything that’s still usable inside the box will get re-used, and the bits that aren’t will be recycled rather than just sitting in a cupboard until I got round to chucking it out.

So I did the Mac-to-Mac transfer, which wasn’t as horrendous or time-consuming as I thought it might be, though there were one or two little blips. But Apple Support were great & smoothed it all out for me, and the New Mac Mini was up & running easily a couple of days ago. Yesterday I managed to track down all the bits of data that had wandered off to other folders, so today was “Wipe Mac-Mini-1” day. I followed the instructions on the Apple website to prepare it for returning to Apple, but as it came to clicking the “Erase Disk” option I felt a real pang of sorrow!

It’s very strange; I know I’ll feel the same when my beloved Mazda Bongo finally trundles off to the great scrapheap in the sky. Or if my 1909 Jones Medium treadled sewing machine jammed irreparably, something having broken inside. My head knows perfectly well that they’re just machines; they don’t have personalities, they’re not my “friends” no matter how useful they are, but somehow my heart “knows” otherwise. And I suspect that that’s one reason why I feel I have to do what I do; I see perfectly good old tools, furniture or books sitting in a skip or at an auction and somehow they seem to be begging, “rescue me!” But that does rather lead to an excessively cluttered home, despite my efforts to re-home stuff profitably.

I suppose the answer is, stay away from skips, scrapheaps and auctions. But please tell me I’m not alone, and that other people out there do sometimes feel the same, and that some of the good old stuff that’s tossed away in our wasteful society will also be rescued – just not always by me…

My beloved “rescued-via-Ebay-for-£2.50” Jones Medium treadle, still very much in use!

Why wouldn’t you…?


It was crumpled up inside a plastic bin-liner at the market on Saturday, but something about it caught my eye… on closer inspection, it was part of a quilt. And looking closer still, probably part of a painstakingly hand-made quilt; the only machine-stitches I’ve been able to find were those joining the backing piece. It cost me part of £3, along with a number of other items.

At some point, someone has hacked a fair bit of it off, hopefully to do something intelligent with; I think it was probably king-size to start with and is now about 4′ x 6′; the pattern has been interrupted both lengthways and widthways. They’d left one edge with the original binding, zig-zagged roughly down another, but left the last two raw. An interrupted project, from an unwanted gift, maybe? At first I thought it was probably one of the lovely Marks & Spencers’ Indian-made quilts, but when I realised that the piecing was all hand-stitched as well as the quilting,  I decided that hand-made was more likely.


Anyway, to cut a long story short, I knew I’d have some suitable plain fabric to make a quick American-style binding with, in a not-unsympathetic colour. So I bought it, and told the stallholder (whose wife knows her quilts & exactly what they might earn them) what I was planning to do with it. As I walked away I couldn’t help overhearing,  sotto-voce, “But why would you…?”

Why wouldn’t I?! If I were making a quilt (well, I usually am!) it wouldn’t be my first choice of colours or styles. Far too much like hard work! But the colours fit into my draughty little living room like a hand into a glove. Binding’s not hard, and doesn’t take long; it was done by Sunday evening, sitting outside in the sunshine, fitted around other everyday tasks. And I absolutely respect the work and the skill that’s gone into this one, even if it’s just a remnant of what it once was.

I love being surrounded by, and using, lovely things that have been made with skill, care and love, which have often survived the tests of time. And I love “rescuing” things that others consider beyond consideration. Sometimes I use them in “upcycling” projects, sometimes I sell them on, but sometimes they just make themselves at home here…

Rescued from an old, stained linen petticoat…


A very quick update…

I’m kind of busy just now… Sadly I’ve decided to close down the stall at Molly’s Den, and re-open one at Toad Hall here in Wimborne instead. I got into this lark as a maker/recycler, rather than a dealer, but seem to be quite good at sourcing resources that other people want to use, too. Gradually I’ve stopped making things and was spending all my time hunting up things to sell, and it wasn’t making me very happy. Not to mention the fact that it was making my home very cluttered, which wasn’t making my family very happy.

Handmade doesn’t really “work” at Molly’s Den, except for upcycled furniture, which I don’t have the space to do. So I’m going back to somewhere where it does, cutting down what I sell to what I sell best, i.e. vintage & reclaimed sewing & crafting supplies, and going back to having some fun playing with all the lovely fabrics and trimmings that I find. I’ll be spending part of the summer haunting the local car boots, offloading any stock I can’t shift in a massive sale before closing the stall at Molly’s at the end of May. So that’s my “news”- there’ll be a return to normal posting very shortly!

Rainy days…

It was quite tempting, this morning, to pull the wool over my my eyes and stay in bed… I have a lovely cosy wool duvet, which has proved to be a sound investment as it’s lasting really well and seems to keep me at the perfect temperature, winter or summer; no mean feat, with a lady of a Certain Age. Anyway, the wind was howling through the holly tree and the rain was hammering against the window panes; not exactly conducive to leaping out of bed with a happy smile and a willing heart.

But rainy days, like the clouds that spawn them, have silver linings. It’s a chance to catch up with some cooking – a batch of hob-nobs, some chicken stock & soup, and an aubergine bake all got done this morning – a little light housework (though it’s far too dark & grim for spring cleaning) and one or two projects that have been sitting on the back-burner for a while.

A number of vintage dressmaking patterns have been checked over before being offered for sale, and my neighbour’s handcranked sewing machine has been sorted out – I hope!

And this sturdy but curious little suitcase had been tripping people up in the conservatory for months. I’m not sure what it originally held – a musical instrument, maybe? – but it had a dark red plush lining, part of which had been ripped out. But I couldn’t help thinking that it would benefit from being introduced to some of the leftover sofa fabric… Result!

And here’s my “find” of the week: a set of 5 pristine vintage aluminium pans, most likely from the late 1940s. They came in with a vast collection of old knitting patterns, dating from the 1930s through to the 1970s; it seems from the few letters, etc. amongst them that the lady who collected them got married some time in the 1940s, and these look very much like a wedding present that had been stashed away and never used. They do have all their lids, and were separated by brown paper bags from Bourne & Hollingsworth of Oxford Street, W1.

Off now to sort out the best part of 1,000 vintage knitting patterns!

The last laugh…

My fellow traders were pretty good, all in all, not to laugh out loud at me last Friday. A really superb rose-covered 4-piece suite came into the dump, fabulous quality & beautifully made, but alas, huge! Too big for the ex-owners’ new home, or in fact most of the housing stock around here. I pleaded with the manager to give it a day on sale, because someone would have had an excellent bargain there – they can’t charge more than £10 for anything, and this lot would have cost thousands when it was new. Really, really comfortable, too; the back cushions & scatter cushions are all feather-stuffed and it still had all its fire labels and was in very good condition.

But no-one had claimed it by the time I went back, just before closing, so before it went into the skip I “skinned” it. Cue a number of raised eyebrows & knowing smiles from the other traders hanging around in hope of someone throwing out Rolex watches, Wedgwood china or a Hepplewhite chair – which does sometimes happen, around here – but they were very good and didn’t laugh out loud. It was quite easy to strip the covers off as they were all zipped to be removable for cleaning.

There’s a LOT of beautiful fabric in a good suite… Not yardage, but lots of useful sized pieces that people won’t hesitate to pay a pound or two for each; you’d get a good, big, sturdy, long-lasting scatter-cushion or tote bag out of a couple of pieces. I’ll make a reasonable sum selling the larger pieces when I’ve washed & ironed them, and will have the smaller bits to make small bags, needle books, whacky lace-trimmed cushions & lavender sachets for sale. Two of the big back cushions and the scatter cushions have been “claimed” by a fellow-trader,  and I myself have plans for the other three!

Now I need ten minutes alone with a “dead” leather sofa & some sharp scissors… I’ll need quantities of leather, to make bases for the cushions as they become “floor” cushions. But the thing is, I will have more than tripled my money in the space of a few days, in exchange for a little bit of work with scissors, washing machine & iron. I may not get hundreds from spotting, nabbing & selling on one piece, but it all adds up, and I’ll have the pleasure of seeing my Boscombe Vintage Market customers’ faces light up as they spot the roses, feel the quality and realise the pieces are eminently affordable. And I even have some pieces to play with, myself, so I get the last laugh!

Fabulous fabric – with a rather sweet little “helping hand!”

A whole New Year!

Welcome to 2016! Wishing you all a very happy one…

There’ll be more making, more baking…

My main resolution for this year is – to write more. A lot more; my life seems to have frayed at the edges or possibly unravelled to the point where I hardly ever get the time, or have the space, to make anything worthwhile any more, but I don’t need a lot of space or time to spin some words together. It doesn’t matter if I’m 26 miles away from my sewing machine or spinning wheel, as I was yesterday; as long as I have a pen & some paper, or better still my iPad, I can write something. Even if it’s something that no-one else will ever read; that almost doesn’t matter. Even if it’s just a few words scribbled on the back of a receipt…

I’d like to try to write something here at least once a week. I’d very much like to get paid for writing again, but I had to let those threads drop a few years back, and am not in a position to commit to imminent deadlines at the moment. And I’m not able to do research or develop any new expertise at anything just now, and real life continues to confound my ability to keep up with the plot, so my long-held ambition to write a novel (oh, and get it published) doesn’t stand much of a chance either.

I’ve managed to keep most of my preserves & ferments going over the last year, mainly by persuading my darling daughters to take up the reins whenever I’ve been snatched away by fate. They are developing their own techniques & preferences now and I’m loving the results; ginger beer, kombucha, kefir and kimchi. But I didn’t get nearly enough foraging in, or a chance to learn more about the unnoticed gifts that we’re surrounded with. I’m still rescuing and refurbishing stuff and making a few bob selling on what we ourselves can’t use, but many more people have leapt onto that bandwagon and it’s getting harder and harder to turn an honest penny. Not to mention that I now have nowhere to store stock, or work on it…

So I’ve given away a lot of excess stock, to something that’s a very good cause; three van-loads so far, and more to follow. I live in hope of finding the conservatory floor again one day, and the shelves in the porch; then I’d be able to store sensible amounts of wood when it’s available for free, as it very often is!

Things need to change! But maybe I can’t impose that change from on top, and it needs to happen from the bottom up, so I will start building the future with words, just a few at a time!

“We thought we’d take the kids camping…”

Our home-made canvas windbreak

Just about 11 years ago, I took it into my head to take 7 young people and their surf- & body-boards for a few days’ surfing & camping in North Devon. We had a big, sturdy tunnel tent & a big, sturdy car, and they were a manageable crew, with 4 of them plenty old, experienced & sensible enough to trot off & ride the waves together by themselves. But… that was the week of the Boscastle flood. There was some very good surf, and some very lively weather. At the campsite we love to go to, North Morte Farm, the wind can whip up the valley from Rockham Bay and blast poorly-pitched tents clear down even when it seems quite calm in Woolacombe; it had happened to us once before, at 5am in a thunderstorm. So we were hunkered down tightly beside the hedge, with storm guys attached from the word go, and the wind that got up late that night blasted straight over the top  of us.

Other people weren’t so lucky. The night resounded to yells of, “How dare you subject our children to this?” and, “That’s the last straw! I’m seeing a lawyer as soon as we get home!” There were entire brand-new tents & sleeping bags in the bin area the next morning, and wreckage littered the camping field, which had virtually emptied out, although it hadn’t actually rained very much and the sun was rising on a new, calm & glorious day.

I was reminded of this when we hauled the big tunnel tent out of the garage. It’s past its best now, and we no longer need a tent that big & could do with the storage space back. But it’s still strong & sturdy enough to last at least another season, so I popped it onto our local Recycling group, hoping that it would so someone else a good turn, but being totally honest about the fact it’s far from new & will probably need a little TLC – re-proofing the seams, at least, and stronger pegs than the original ones I’m letting go with it. Needless to say, as it’s just as the kids break up for the summer holidays, I was inundated with replies. Once I’d discarded the “Yes! Me!” and “I’ll take it off your hands!” ones, I was left with a number of, “I’m going to a festival for the first time & need a tent!” and “Me & the Missus fancy taking the kids up to Scotland on Saturday to try out camping…” replies. And one dear lady who said she would love to give it some TLC & a new lease of life with her family; needless to say, that’s who I’ve offered it to.

Camping’s an art form, not just a cheap holiday…. it’s very easy to get it wrong & end up with everyone cross, tired & miserable, and if you’re really unlucky, ill with sunstroke or exposure. It’s something you need to research & prepare for, if you’re not experienced, just like you’d prepare for a holiday in a different country by finding out at least how to say “please” and “thank you” in the local language, taking some relevant currency, checking whether you need visas and so on. Don’t just assume it’s a cheap holiday & anyone can do it…

I grew up with people pitching & striking marquees & other tents in our big vicarage garden, going off to Guide & Ranger Guide camp at regular intervals, then belonging to the local District Service Unit supervising & maintaining Scout & Guide camps, as well as spending a fair amount of time camping & hiking in the wilds of Wales & Scotland. I’m no expert & I don’t pretend to know it all, but I do know that there’s a wonderful balance between having everything you actually need to be safe & comfortable, and the freedom of having very little stuff to look after. How to achieve that requires some thought; what you need as an unattached teenager walking the Pennine Way or a young couple going to their first music festival is completely different to what you need as a family of 7 looking for an inexpensive seaside holiday. A huge, heavy tent that fills a small car boot, that’s too big for most campsite pitches & really needs two or more adults to put up isn’t ideal for a festival; what you need for that are small, lightweight tents that perhaps open into a gazebo if you’re going with friends. That way you have some privacy when you really need to crash, but a covered communal area for socialising and a little light catering. (This also works for a family with older children who need some space of their own.)

And whilst a serious tent of that sort is well-able to stand up to the vagaries of the Scottish weather, it isn’t ideal to take your kids so very far from home to camp for the first time. What if someone’s ill, or suddenly discovers they can’t stand sleeping outside, or using communal loos & showers? What if the weather hasn’t read the forecast & isn’t playing ball? What if you discover that your “3-season” sleeping bags aren’t actually very warm & you don’t have enough extra blankets or clothing? What if your excited kids don’t listen to you telling them not to play out in the rain & get wet, because there’s no tumble dryer in a field? Best for your first few forays to be close to home, so that you can dart home & fetch bits if necessary, or even give up & retreat in disarray in the middle of the night. Better still, try it out in your own garden for a few nights before setting off – that way, it doesn’t feel so strange & unsettling to small children, and it gives you a chance to work out what you really need to take.

I’m not saying don’t go to Scotland – it’s a fabulous, beautiful country with lovely people – just don’t make it your first-ever family camping trip if you live on the South Coast! And I’m not saying, don’t go camping, either; I love camping & think it’s almost a necessary thing to do in summer. The idea of summer gatherings, festivals & camps is as old as history itself & fulfils some kind of nomadic instinct in me, even though I now have to sleep in the car or on a camp bed. I’m just saying, be prepared! Do a bit of homework, thinking & practice, and it will go much more smoothly & be a much nicer experience for all concerned. It shouldn’t be a hair-shirt experience; always take extra blankets, and if you love your morning coffee, do take a cafetiere, but an all-singing, all-dancing espresso machine is probably a bit OTT…

Have to say, in my not-so humble opinion, people who take everything including the kitchen sink are also getting it wrong. They’ll spend all day looking for the things they really need under everything else, or having to clean things they’re not likely to need that have somehow got muddy. (Everything will get muddy, even if it isn’t raining.) Not to mention worrying about the weight on your axles on pot-holed country roads or the amount of fuel you’re getting through. If your tent’s bigger than you need, you risk having to pay extra for a bigger pitch. And if you even take the TV with you – well, what’s the point of going camping? Tablets & mobile phones are a mixed blessing; there’s often little or no mobile signal at the nicest campsites.

A single-parent friend of mine has taken her family camping every summer by bicycle; they load their wombled tents, sleeping bags, kettle & a small suitcase-style gas cooker into a tag-along trailer, take their clothes in backpacks and set off along the country roads; it’s about 10 miles down to the Purbecks, which feel quite different to this part of Dorset, and there’s a cycle-way for most of it. They always have a whale of a time and can’t wait for next year’s expedition when they get back, and the kids are late teens now & still keen not to miss out. So it can be done for very little expenditure, and it can be great fun, with a little thought and initiative applied beforehand. Just don’t rush into it, buy (or otherwise acquire) loads of expensive (and probably unnecessary) gear or go too far from base for your first few expeditions. Learn how to put your tent up properly and where to pitch it. Find out what you do and what you don’t really need to take. Then – have a great holiday!

Things to make sure you take:

  • Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mats (airbeds have a habit of going down halfway through the night) or camp beds, and extra blankets – wool ones are best. You’ll need insulation underneath you, as well as on top.
  • Clothing – layers work best! – and footwear – decent flip-flops/sandals & something sturdier for serious walking/colder days. Only take space-hogging wellies if the forecast is truly awful, and make sure people take them off regularly or you’ll all get athlete’s foot. Make sure everyone has at least one really warm jumper, and leggings to wear under pyjamas if it’s cold at night. Warm socks are a blessing on cold nights.
  • Cooking gear – e.g. a suitcase burner & spare cartridges, kettle, mugs (enamel or china – plastic mugs are Not Nice with hot drinks) cutlery, pans (a frying pan plus a small saucepan or wok work for us) plates, bowl, brush & detergent for washing up. A tin-opener & bottle-opener (for the beer, cider & wine) are essential, and a gas fridge (remember the regulator!) or a good coolbox on a shorter trip, will make life a lot more civilised. You can eat out or a take-away every lunchtime and/or evening meal if that makes it more like a “proper” holiday, but it’ll dent your budget mightily. And a few tins & packets, plus oatcakes/biscuits, eggs, fresh fruit & tea-bags to fill gaps, at the very least, even if the campsite has a cafe and a shop. They’re not likely to be as cheap as a supermarket.
  • Torches, lanterns & spare batteries; torches for those midnight trips to the loo and lanterns to light your way around the tent & especially the guy ropes. IKEA’s little solar lanterns or fairy lights work very well, or a tea-light lantern if your kids are old enough to be trusted around a naked flame.
  • First aid kit, sun-cream, paracetamol, sting-ointment, allergy relief & enough of any regular medication needed. Also specs, if needed. Soap/gel, toothbrushes, toothpaste… and towels, plenty of towels…
  • Rain jackets/ponchos. Especially if they’ve just declared a drought….
  • Something to do in quieter moments or on the beach – your knitting, a good book, a small selection of games (a pack of cards is pretty versatile!) for rainy moments, a frisbee etc.
  • A windbreak – useful to mark your space out, give a bit of privacy and to cook behind, and also on the beach… I’ve just made one from old poles & some cheap Ebay’d canvas, and it took about an hour. There was even enough fabric left over for matching bunting!
  • a couple of good insulated flasks, preferably unbreakable; one to keep your hot water in when you’ve boiled the kettle (for more tea, washing, washing-up water) and one for cold water, to keep it cool. Mine were purchased for pennies at that indefatigable local emporium, the Tip.
  • a bucket, with a lid. Works well as a bin, but has another use too in the middle of the night when it’s raining…

You really  don’t need a lot else, whatever the camping shop’s trying to sell you… have a good trip!

Our current set-up, camping for 6 days, working at a festival

Please – add your tips as comments below! Every little helps someone who hasn’t done this before…

Edited to add an update: in the end, the nice lady had a sudden bereavement & couldn’t follow through to collect the tunnel tent. And no. 2 son suddenly spotted it in the hallway, where it had been waiting for her, and pronounced it perfect for his Tough Mudder team. Luckily one of the other team members had space in his garage for it, and it’s stood up to another British summer of torrential rain, gales & loads of lovely mud!