Tuesday, 31 January 2012


There's a very good reason why film makers shout 'Lights' before anything else, photography is all about lighting. Without the right light you will struggle to take a good photograph... So today's blog post is all about lighting.

How we control the available light and add additional light when needed is basis for all photography. There are numerous controls and methods for controlling light available to today's photographer.

On the iPhone the settings that help us control light are preset into the phone, you can choose one of these presets by tapping the white 'focus square' that appears on your screen in camera mode. Not only does this focus the camera it also helps you use the available light. There's little you can do with the iPhone presets, but you can use one of their apps to improve the photo after it was taken.

The Canon 400D is another matter all together. This not only has 'set presets' (the portrait, sport, landscape modes on your dials). It also comes with manual modes where YOU control the camera settings. These are the settings we'll discuss in detail while actually taking photos in next weeks blog!

When you look through the view finder of the Canon (when it's on Mums!!) there's a little dial along the bottom in the black frame. This is called a light meter. A light meter is your link to understanding how your camera sees light.

This device takes into account all of the settings on your camera - the ones that are preset in the auto modes and preset on the iPhone – and tells you about if there's enough light to take your photograph. The first step to understanding photography lighting is to understand this tool for measuring light.

Your mission, should you choose to take it, is to keep the dial of the light meter on 0.

If the dial looks like this then your photograph will be under-exposed, that is too dark or grey looking.

If the dial looks like this then your photograph will be over-exposed, that is too light or very white looking.

OK what you can do to correct the above problems...

Cute sleeping pose is often
under lit...obviously!
Under exposure – You need more light!

Outside – Make sure the sun is behind you or just over one of your shoulders (so that your child isn't squinting at the sun). Position yourselves somewhere where there is more available light.

If it's dusk / night then you should turn on some lights or move light closer to your child...or your child closer to some light!. I hate to suggest this but you can use your camera flash (eeek horrible horrible horrible) but this will cause your child to be slightly over exposed and the background all shadows... this is because your built in camera flash is not very good. Use it as an absolute LAST resort.

Inside – There's never enough light inside really, unless you are in a studio. Many shots of your little ones in the setting of your own living room will probably turn out dark unless you've turned on a few lights. Make sure you have the window to your back, that a light is on – careful of where your shadow stands.

Over exposure – Try all the opposites to under exposure. I find creating a sun visor with my hand over the lens of my camera / iPhone helps with over exposure outside (I'm not sure why?!).
Andrex Puppy?!
Light off the white window sill,
the loo  seat &
because she is stood next to
the window creates too
much light.

Inside, turn those lights off – find a setting where the flash doesn't automatically pop up and over expose your child... Make sure your subject isn't sat under a light or under a window where the light will be at it's strongest.


When you see professional photographers on the TV or at school fayres they have people holding up big white squares. These are called reflectors and can be made at home (cardboard covered with colours.

These can be used to reflect more light or a different tone of light onto your child.

GOLD - creates warm tones
WHITE - neutral colour effect
BLUE - creates cool tones
SILVE - neutral tones - brighter than white

These could be used to create more light without over exposing - you slightly aim your camera into the reflector while keeping your subject in the frame. Thus the harsh light is 'reflected' onto your subject rather than over exposing them.

I find as a busy Mum with a working husband, people holding reflective pieces of cardboard usually aren't around to hold while my toddler is doing something cute. Also the introduction of these people would completely change the cute thing she was doing that I was trying to capture in the first place.

So if you want reflectors then set the scene yourself. A sofa, a chair and a white sheet can create a white corner for you to set up as a reflective background. Give your child some objects to play with (a cheap pair of  adult sunglasses for instance) and you have your very own 'studio' with reflective white light!

Now keen photographers will notice that I'm nearing the end of the blog without covering white balance. This is because I am going to cover this when we're playing with our photographs in Photoshop, Snapseed and other applications. Everyone else, don't worry about it - your camera will do the work for you.

Friday, 27 January 2012

My first simple make

I have a ton of buttons, fabrics, zips, threads and nick knacks that I have collected and been given over the past 15 (if not more) years. I keep everything like this in case one day I find the perfect thing to make them into. I am not a hoarder in every sense. I edit and chuck everything else in my life, except clothes of course. You never know when I might be able to squeeze into those tiny size 10 jeans again!! So apart from Sam and Ida’s toys, gardening books I’ve either inherited, found, been given or bought, clothes and haberdashery things, I’m not really a hoarder.
No really!!

As promised last week, I am going to organise myself and start making something with them. Well they aren’t going to turn into beautiful things by themselves are they! I have in mind to make a mobile for Sam’s room- while he is still young enough to appreciate it. I have a charity shop apron that Ida wore for most of her first year as a dress that I want to grade up to a size that fits. AND Sarah and I have decided that I MUST learn to block print! So to all my textile friends that I used to share halls with at University…your help is needed. HELP!!

So, being a Fashion Degree student, this shouldn’t be hard. Well, as I am sure you have heard I have a small disability. I BREAK all machines!! In multiples.
Therefore for my “first” make project I have kept it simple and made a little bag for my Ida to fill up with bits she finds and like’s organising. You can make your own and turn it into a gift bag, a shopping bag, a party bag or a little one’s “stuff” bag as I have.

Follow my simple instructions to make a similar one.

You will need : a sewing machine, sewing thread, fabrics, paper to make the paper pattern, pins, and iron and ironing board and decorations to make your bag pretty.

  1.  Find/Buy old fabrics and embroidery threads and set up your sewing machine with the coloured thread you have chosen to use.
  2.  Use the pattern below to cut out the bag body (1) and strap (2).  It's best to pin the paper pattern to the fabric then cut it out. I’ve used plain calico for the body and floral fabric for the strap. You can be as inventive as you like.  
  3. Make the main part of the bag by French seaming* the sides together. Don’t forget pressing* is the key to good french seams*! These french seams* have a 1.5 cm seam allowance*. To french seam* simply put wrong sides together, stitch vertically down each side, 0.9 cm from the raw edge. Trim away the raw edge leaving 0.3 - 0.4mm. Open out seam and press flat. Turn inside out then press shut with right sides together making sure you have crisp edge where the seam is. Stitch 0.6 cm from the edge all the way down each side again. Then press.  Turn correct way round so the seam is inside the bag and press again. See illustration below
  4.  Do exactly the same with the strap making a long tube with an opening each end. Press flat. 
  5.  Press the top of the bag up 2cm on the wrong side* of the bag to make a hem*. Then press up 0.5 cm to make the neat hem* finish. Before you sew into place, pin the strap into place. I have cheated and only have one strap. Pin the strap to the wrong side of the bag on one side and then loop over to the back of the bag and pin on the opposite side.
  6. Sew the top hem* of the bag including the straps into the stitching.
  7. Decorate the bag in whichever way you decide. And most importantly play and have fun while making this!

  • The Pattern.

*Translation of strange terminology I have used. 

  • French Seam. See image. A french seam is a tidy finished seam.

  • Hem- the edge. In sewing we finish a garment by pressing up the fabric and turning over to create a finished edge. 

  • Seam allowance- This refers to the area between the stitching line and the raw cut edge of the fabric.  

  • Wrong side/Right side- Most fabrics have wrong sides and right side. The wrong side is the side of the fabric you don't want to see. The Right side is the side you do want to see. See above image on Seam allowance. 

  • Press, to iron

Have fun making!

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Happy Birthday MRS DAVIES!!!

Today is Sarah’s birthday, so this blog is dedicated to Mrs Davies herself. Apologies to those wanting a unik inspired blog today. We are too busy celebrating!

As the song goes…in usual stylie

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to Scary Sarah
Happy Birthday to you

Sarah and I have a lot in common; we like similar things and have similar tastes. But one thing we don’t agree on is radio stations.  Sarah is a radio 2 listener and I am a 6-radio listener. So I thought it would be better to be safe then sorry. Therefore I have also added a few more versions of the birthday song so that she should at least like one version….got to keep the birthday girl happy!
So here are a few more Mrs. Davies. I hope you like one??

And good old Stevie Wonder. This is because when i sang Happy Birthday in a Stevie Wonder style this morning to Sarah she didn't know that Stevie sang Happy Birthday!!!

This one I know you'll adore, Miss Marilyn Monroe.

Happy Birthday Love
Have a lovely day
We send you a kiss
Sssshhhhh, I won’t tell anyone your 36!!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

How to take better photographs of your child - Composition and Focus

For those of you who missed the first part of my "How to take better photographs of your child"; the first part is here

Today I'm going to tackle the problem of composition! The art of seeing the photo before you take it.

Move yourself and subject
if possible to remove objects
from the background!
Composition - 
What are you photographing? Yes yes your child, but where is your child? In the front room? In the bathroom? In front of a pile of ironing?! A lovely photograph of a child can sometimes be overshadowed by objects in the background (that bright pink outfit from Aunty Rita's birthday), so a little thought about what professionals call 'composition' can go along way.

In the photo to the left - If I had asked Granny and Baby to turn 10 degrees to the right, I could have avoided having the edge of the framed photo in the background. This solid right angled frame currently draws the eye away from the subjects.

Tip 1 - Try looking at different angles to take the photo from, step to the right and left, crouch down or lift the camera high for a shot that 'cleans' up the background.

See the bucket in the
background? If I'd left
this photo in colour
it's ALL you'd see
Tip 2 - Taken a lovely shot but the bright (orange Halloween bucket) object in the background is distracting? Turn your shot black and white to remove the distracting colour

Rule of thirds or Noughts&Crosses
So you're background is as clear as it's going to be (I'll discuss ways of blurring out your background in a later post), your child is looking all cute and adorable... you press the shutter button and you have your photograph but it's still not right?

DangerBaby takes up
the right of this grid
and you hardly notice the
mess in the background!
This may be because your child is a small person in the corner of your photograph. Imagine a noughts and crosses grid... now think of this grid being drawn on your photo. Where's your child? Bottom right corner? Bottom centre corner? So you have 8 grid places where your child doesn't appear? Seems like a waste of space?! You can improve this by cropping your photo using one of the many photo applications available but you lose some of the detail of the photo (it'll look slightly fuzzy).

On your iPhone you have an 'Options' button (top centre) when you first power up the camera - click it and choose Grid ON and click done. This provides you the noughts and crosses gird, it'll help guide you in framing your shot.

Canon don't provide this kind of grid in their software, you could buy an eyepiece with the grid on it and attach it to your camera... but I don't think you'll need it for long. Just take lots of practice photos!

Now that you have this grid, try to fill at least 3 of the noughts and crosses squares with your subject, they don't always have to be in the centre, some shots where the subject is to the right or left can be just as lovely.

Kids move - take several
shots to try and capture
one not so blurry
Kids move, mine is frequently called the blonde blur as many people who have tried to photograph her just have a blonde blur in the background. It's something that comes with the territory when photographing kids. This is where the Canon 400D is streets ahead of the iPhone.

Both cameras come with an autofocus, on the iPhone you can concentrate the camera settings on your subject by gently pressing the white square showing the camera what you are trying to take a photo of, on the Canon in full automode you half press the shutter button and it sets itself up for the shot - including auto focus.

However, when actually taking the photo - the speed and lens of the Canon will provide a superior shot. With the iPhone it takes milliseconds (which is YEARS in camera time) to take the photo and you are more likely to have the blur.

Tip 3 - Take three photos not one. Pick the least blurred!

BEWARE - AutoFocus is not always your friend. On the Canon in full AutoMode it will try to focus on the objects nearest the camera.

BEWARE - Most digital cameras have a 'Sports' mode, while this makes the speed of taking the photo quicker - you lose light and unless you our outside in bright daylight your photo will be darker!

Camera focused on the tree
so DangerBaby is slightly
out of focus

Next week I'll tackle the BIG issue - Lighting, then we'll try actually taking some photos!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Useful tips for busy Mums

Oompa Grampa sent me these useful tips, and since we're spring cleaning here at u-ni-k I thought I'd share these with you.

Store bed sets in one of their pillow cases - never hunt for matching sets again! 
(I am so doing this from now on)

Use an old wet wipe dispenser to store plastic bags - saves on space and helps you to reuse them!

Baby powder helps remove sand off skin. Pack some in your beach bag 
(no really it does we've done this for years)

A velcro strip on the wall helps store teddies

With two pieces of wire, you could store gift wrap rolls on the ceiling of a cupboard instead of them
rolling about on the floor making a mess.
(not so good if you're short like me)

Use a stocking over the end of a hoover to find lost small objects (earings, earing backs etc)

A shoe box lid can become a muffin tray with cross cuts

How to fold a fitted sheet (yes yes yes I will so be doing this!)

Magnetic strip on the back of a bathroom cabinet door can store all sorts of hair pieces (bobby pins)

Use the hotel shower cap to store shoes in when coming home after a holiday. 
Saves your clothes becoming dirty with their dirty soles.

With a little blu tack (or a small magnet), 
plastic cups and a muffin case become perfect crafty storage

Bread tags make perfect cable ties
(do you see these ties anymore?)

Cook muffins in ice cream cones - fun and yummy! 
Easier for kids to eat as well

Make your own pop corn with corn kernels and a paper bag

A tension bar under the sink provides a perfect storage solution for spray bottles.

Use this simple technique to add a touch of romance
to your loved ones boiled eggs.

Place your cookie dough on the underside of a baking tray to make 
biscuit cups - serve ice cream in them.
(I'm never going to be thin)

Old guttering makes perfect planting for vegetables in any garden.
Wall space is all you need!

Egg boxes - perfect for storing christmas decorations

Walnuts - perfect for restoring wood (helps rings, scratches, and other marks)

Just for Anna & Ida.... remove crayon marks with WD40. 
It works with walls / brickwork as well as TVs

Thank you Oompa - we'll be putting these to good use!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Happy New Year!

It's the Chinese New Year today, 'Xin Nian Kuai Le' - Happy New Year!

Welcome to the year of the dragon.

Now as a first time Mum I'm a dragon, in fact all first time Mum's are dragons... just see their reaction when harm befalls their child! They fly [off the handle], roar and breathe fire... (joke!).

As a lady born under the sign of the Dragon (a fire dragon at that!), I've always loved dragons. So today I'm going to celebrate dragons in all their glory.

The Hobbit meets Smaug
The first dragon I came across was Smaug in The Hobbit. Now Smaug was not the best example of the noble breed of dragons. His greed for treasure dominated his character, his pride and vanity his downfall.  A red fire breathing dragon with a jewel encrusted underside (with of course one bare patch). A mighty dragon indeed, and so beautifully drawn!

Dungeons & Dragons cartoon
Most dragons were cattle eating, terrible villains throughout most of my childhood reading, but their illustrations were always the best in the book. Rising magically in the background, wings glistening in the light.

Then came the TV programme Dungeons & Dragons, where a group of children were whisked off to a magical land, given magical weapons and little help to find their way home. Of course, the villain was able to call upon a mighty dragon to provide the mortal peril! Thankfully the dragon never seemed to harm the children, or they him (for long).

This was the first time I had stumbled across the multi headed version of a dragon. I wonder if this trait came from the stories of the ancient Chinese 9 dragons?

The Legend of the Dragon Kings
Chinese dragons were always fascinating to me and I was thrilled to find a cartoon series (with subtitles) all about dragons. Well Four Dragon Kings, that walked the world as men but could turn into dragons?! Since this was on very late (I could watch it after my shift working in a pub so er 1.30am ish) I didn't always read all the subtitles so my memory of the story is hazy at best!.

However, here were dragons as I knew they were - proud, noble creatures! Able to show their strength and power to defend themselves or others who needed protection.

Dragon Riders of Pern
I then started to read the Anne McCaffrey books, where the magical creatures were telepathic with their riders. Such beautiful illustrations on the covers of these books.

Now that I'm older and actually can sit through a movie, I've noticed that Dragons have started to appear in films as well as books - Harry Potter has several dragons, Eragorn (yes I read the books first), How to Train Your Dragon, and Dragonheart to name a few. It's not just Pete and his Dragon anymore!
Movies aren't the only place you find dragons these days... they are on our TV screen on a Saturday - Merlin!

And with each story dragon's have become more noble and magical with the telling of their tale. Still fierce wild creatures but with an ancient wisdom to steer us humans on a course that allows us to fulfil our destiny!

Of course those of you that read my tweets and blogs know that there's another dragon in my life. One that is proudly displayed at our front door, on the mantle piece over our fire, and even on the wall over looking my laptop here.... (for those of you that guess it's a photo of my Mother in Law... Shame on you!). I have several of these dragons in my home:

The Red Dragon of Wales (Y Ddraig Goch)
Well being a Fire breathing dragon myself, I was destined to marry a Welshman. Who else carries a dragon on their national flag? 

u-ni-k gifts will soon be giving you the opportunity to own one of our dragons, in our original artwork  on sale, new for 2012 [watch this space].

Friday, 20 January 2012

My make do and mend plans

Sarah and I have given ourselves the task of learning something new to brighten up our already busy lives. A used brain is a happy brain after all! And Sarah and I aren’t the type to sit on our bottoms for too long!  As if starting a new business with a new family wasn’t enough we are now starting a new hobby.
Sarah is learning how to make magic with her Camera, capturing special moments that are so easily lost. And luckily she’s taking us along with her telling us in simple stages how to shoot and snap in only a few easy steps.

I on the other hand am going to take you all along with me on the good ship make do and mend. I have just (last April!!) moved into my house. It is still a complete tip and lots of things still needing to find permanent homes. SamSam is sleeping in a travel cot in our bedroom till we finish Ida’s new bedroom and her current room can become his. So it’ll be all change. And as usual there will be lots of things that we “I” need to make this house a home. Sam doesn’t have a mobile and I can’t find one I like so I am going to make him one. 
I have a huge pile of baby clothes that are too tatty to pass on but are too new to throw away. So I’ll be making lots of pretties to make my house comfortable and homey with those.

For those of you who know me I am not particularly a practical person so it will be very very simple. I am more likely to take a machine apart (with lots of stressful tutting and probably a lot of swearing) to understand what I am doing rather than calmly making something. I recently managed to break 4 sewing machines and 1 over locker in one sitting!! God knows how I managed to finish a 6-outfit catwalk collection for Graduate London Fashion Week I’ll never know!

So as a magpie who doesn’t like to get rid of anything incase I may need it one day, I’ll be making lots of new things from old loved things.  That way I still get to see all my battered treasured beauties.

So for the coming weeks watch out for my weekly blog about making do and mending.
And don't worry, I won't sing that annoying mouse song again!!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Spring Cleaning with a difference

I, like most Mummies, adore my children.
I am not the overly maternal type despite having two children in very quick succession. Little babies scare me a little. I have always been fine with my own babies but other peoples I worry that I am doing something wrong!
I always wanted to have children. I have always had a lovely relationship with my parents and felt I wanted to share the love a little and have a brood of people that I could call friends when I am old and wrinkly! I love the way my Mum and Dad bought me up to have my own mind and opinions. Not always perhaps the correct timings in the way or things I have said and perhaps I am a little too stubborn for my own good. But being bought up and respected by my Mum and Dad is a gift they gave me that I feel very lucky to have experienced. And most certainly a gift I wish to pass onto my children. You learn from your mistakes after all!

So, what has this got to do with Spring Cleaning. Well as a Mum of 2 under 2 I don't have time to edit and de-clutter at the moment. I am pretty much run ragged. I am introducing my son Sam to food and this is proving a lengthy process. Luckily Ida finds it highly hysterical despite  breakfast, lunch and tea taking longer then normal. More patience, more cleaning up and luckily more fun! My day seams to be consumed with dressing, changing and feeding my children.
So to brighten up our day we are spring cleaning away the cobwebs and LAUGHING our way into a positive spring mind. Laughter makes you lighter, it makes you glow and it makes you bounce with joy. Both Sam and Ida seam to be having a very positive effect on our household.

So I've forgotten about my dusty corners, spider webs, piles of paper and cluttered house. And instead I am concentrating on LAUGHING a lot!

Ida, The naughty and Sam Sam

As my sister said at the weekend after babysitting the naughties....laughing with Ida is like laughing with a very old friend. We laugh till we cry. We laugh till we can't remember what we are laughing about. And then we laugh some more! I feel very privileged to have such a lovely relationship with both my children. And it makes me even happier that my children are already becoming my friends.

So, go and have a try! LAUGH. It'll make you feel 100% happier and a hell of a lot lighter. And it will certainly let you forget about the piles of mess you have to deal with at some point! And I certainly can't be consumed with worrying about mess when I live with Miss Whirlwind herself! I love her to bits but gosh does she know how to create chaos!!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Lily loves...

We are spring cleaning in unik HQ.
We are editing and making room for new stock. Tomorrow Sarah and I will be making final decisions and doing the part of our job we both love- ordering more lovelies.
So we are making space for new gorgeous things.

We will be ordering new wooden toys to fill the big gaps from the pieces sold over Christmas.
We are introducing a new "nursery" section on the website so we have been searching for new baby and new mummy products that are beautiful and fit the unik ethos.
We have new makers to add to the website and existing makers who have finished their exclusive products just for us. The Helen Beard porcelain Breakfast sets are being fired this week and will be in HQ next week, fingers crossed.

With the gorgeous comment by Mrs Lily Cooper (nee Allen) last week about the arrival of her new baby daughter, Ethel's, new "blankie" we have asked David of Shuktara to make lots of new lovely blankets for Spring and Summer babies to cherish and dribble over.

The website is nearly ready, we are finding space at unik HQ for all the new gorgeous products. We can't wait!

Until our new treasures are ready to see, we are spring cleaning with a little sale.  Click here to see all the lovely things that are looking to find new homes. They won't be on sale for very much longer so take advantage of our good nature's quick before the sale ends!

Happy Shopping!
Happy Spring Cleaning!