Category Archives: Product Reviews

Back to School: Labelling School Clothes

Back to School

In the UK, we’re coming up to half way through the holidays, so in a little over three weeks it’s back to school again. Some people may have already bought and labelled the school uniform, but if you haven’t, now is a good time to think about getting it all sorted.

We’re about to enter our fourth year of full-time schooling, and second year with two children, so it’s all fairly routine here now. But three years ago, faced with a variety of labelling options that didn’t really suit, I was faced with a dilemma:

How to Label the School Uniform?

Labelling clothes is essential when many children are dressed identically. Jumpers and cardigans will get strewn randomly in classrooms whenever it’s vaguely warm, and entire uniforms will get put in the wrong gym bag on regular occasions. Labelling is a must, but what do you use?

1. Sew-in labels: The traditional option. Pros: Woven labels are long-lasting and don’t come out in the wash. Cons: Time consuming to sew on dozens of labels, and to unpick them to transfer. Also may fray so can’t be reused.

2. Iron-on labels. Pros: Quick to iron in. Cons: Involves ironing (I never iron!) Labels can wash out after even one wash, labels can only be used once.

3. Fabric stickers. Pros: Quick. Cons: Not reusable, will probably wash out at some point, may be difficult to remove when you want to pass uniform on.

4. Pen: The cheap option. Pros: Quick and very cheap. Cons: Looks horrible, pen may bleed, might wash out or is impossible to remove other than scribbling over.

5. Easy Tags. Pros: Quick, reusable, last for years, don’t come out in the wash, attach to clothes, bags, towels, labels, even canvas shoes. Cons: Initial cost higher than other options.

Easy Tags from Easy 2 Name

We’ve been using Easy Tags for three years now. A year ago I saw that there was a new applicator available so got that to review and recorded our first vlog, which I didn’t actually publish at the time oops. It’s full of ‘um’s, ‘you know’s and ‘sort of’s and is utterly embarrassing (to me!)

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-DzHu2gCGk”]

With another year’s experience, I still love them, and here are some highlights:

I LOVE the crocodile system. The bulkier looking tag that I was initially concerned about has been no trouble at all. It’s possible to get the tags behind woven neck labels so the tags don’t touch skin, and my daughters have never noticed the tags were there. It’s so quick and easy.

The names are still clear on all the tags, even the ones that have been in constant use and washed at least weekly for the last three years.

In three years, we’ve lost ONE tag in the washing machine. And by ‘lost’, I mean, ‘pulled out of label’ as it was in the machine and we used it again without any problem. The only reason it came out is because I attached it too near the edge of the label so it tore – but not until several months of use and washes.

The used tags still look like new.

25 tags is enough for a year’s worth of uniform, e.g.:
5 polo shirts
5 winter dresses or trousers
5 summer dresses or shorts
3 sweaters / jumpers / cardigans
1 jogging trousers for PE
1 shorts for PE
1 polo top for PE
1 PE sweatshirt
1 coat
1 pair waterproof trousers
1 other item (or 6 other items as you don’t need winter and summer dresses/trousers at the same time, but you’ll need extra backs for this)

A starter kit with 25 tags, 25 backs, and a crocodile applicator costs £25.95, with replacement backs costing £4.95 for 25.

Disclosure: One crocodile applicator, 25 labels and backs received for review. We purchased our own dolphin applicator, dolphin tags and backs, plus additional crocodile tags and backs.

Loom Bands

What Are Loom Bands?

Loom Bands are my current addiction special interest. I know they’re the ‘in’ thing at the moment so on principle I ought to have no interest, but I was bitten by the bug before my children were 😉

What they actually are, are small elastic bands in a variety of colours that you can loop (weave) together into bracelets, charms, or even bags or dresses.

I had a think, and here is why they are perfect for my personality:

1. Sorting – the packs usually come in mixed colours, and I find it therapeutic to organise small things into colours and types.

2. Organising – after sorting, there’s the planning where to keep everything and putting things in a nice order.

3. Repetition – simple designs are easy to pick up and repetitive movement is very therapeutic. I like fishtail variations for this.

4. Research – there is lots to learn and discover, not just about the bands and looms that are available but more interestingly about all the complex designs you can do. YouTube is full of interesting things taught in different ways so it’s possible to find one that suits your learning type.

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So right now I am in geeky heaven collecting and organising, and occasionally also making. I should point out that both Mighty Girl and Danger Girl also make them, but usually get bored so I finish their designs off!

Where To Start?

The joy of loom banding is that it can be as cheap a hobby as you like, so it is perfect for pocket money. Packs of 300 bands, 12 clips, and a hook are available almost everywhere at the moment, and only cost £1. Have a look in any independent stores you might have locally, I use Lewis Baker in Abingdon.

With a single pack, you can make approx 6 single fishtail bracelets (40-50 bands each depending on wrist size) or 12 single chain bracelets. All of these can be made using just fingers.

It’s also possible to do slightly more complex designs with a couple of forks sticky taped together, but if you want to go further, it might be time to get a loom.

Which Loom To Buy?

The cheapest loom you can get is a fixed type, which you’ll be able to do a range of bracelet and charm designs on but there are some limitations. They’re usually shorter than moveable looms, but they’re also cheaper. You can get fixed loom band looms for under £2.

Moveable looms are best if you really get into the hobby and want to do more designs. Moveable means you can configure the pegs into square or diagonal versions, and the gaps between base plates allow certain designs somewhere to grow. You can get moveable loom band looms for under £6.

I personally prefer the moveable looms with the bigger base plates, like the original Rainbow Loom brand design. An authentic Rainbow Loom costs around £20 but you can get cheaper imports (hopefully at Craft Merrily soon, as I prefer to support them.) The bigger base plates make the loom more stable.

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Bands and Clips and Charms, Oh My!

There are a huge variety of loom band designs to choose from: solid, stripy, glitter, glow-in-the-dark, scented, colour changing… A lot of the colour packs can seem quite pink-centric, but that’s not always the case and a whole rainbow of opaque and jelly bands await. For Minecraft fans, the camo packs are perfect.

I don’t get the point of loom band charms you can add onto bracelets, but my five year old loves them, so what do I know?! But I do love that you can get loom band clips in bright colours as well as clear.

Before you know it, a couple of packs here and a couple of packs there make a lovely collection of colours to choose from…

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What To Make?

YouTube is full of design tutorials, just search for Rainbow Loom or Loom Bands. Some other search terms that might be useful to add are: fishtail, double fishtail, hexafish, starburst, ladder, dragon scale, triple single, pencil charm, penguin charm, charms.

I’m currently making bracelets to support the National Autistic Society’s #beloomingamazing campaign, and think charity colours (or school, or club colours) bands would be a great fundraiser.

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I’ve linked through to Craft Merrily’s Loom Bands because their service is impeccable and I’ve never been disappointed. I wasn’t asked to write this post, nor was I compensated in any way.

A Perfect Father’s Day Gift Idea

With Father’s Day just around the corner – it’s on the earliest date it can be this year, so it feels extra early – it’s time to think of Father’s Day Gifts. We jumped at the opportunity to review chocolate. Not just chocolate but Thorntons chocolate. Mmmm… I might even let Mr Chaos have some!

Thorntons Super Dad Hamper

Fathers often get a raw deal when it comes to being spoilt, there still seems to be a view that men should buy women presents rather than the other way round. I used to be anti-fathers, as mine wasn’t around much when I was growing up, but losing him to cancer so suddenly makes you realise that there is such a thing as too late, and I’m grateful that my daughters have their lovely dad.

Gendered marketing for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Gifts doesn’t work for us at all. Mr Chaos is not interested in football, any more than I’m interested in flowers. We’re people, not stereotypes. The best gift may be a handmade card from the children (and a lie-in) but a little spoiling never goes amiss, and a whole hamper of chocolates means something suitable for almost any palate (apparently there are some rare people who don’t like chocolate – how about fudge or toffee instead?)

Thorntons Assorted Special Toffee

Thornton’s have a great range of Father’s Day Gifts to suit every budget. There are a variety of hampers from £14.99, with a range sure to suit anyone – my chocoholic self is drooling at the half price Chocolate Essentials hamper, that looks like it could feed an army!

There are personalised gifts from £1.50, perfect to give from a small child – I love the look of the alphabet truffles. There’s even alcohol and cards – it’s really a one stop shop for Father’s Day gifts. I know my father-in-law will love any of the fudge selection.

Thorntons is not just for Father’s Day. I fondly remember my mum buying me 21 Viennese Truffles for my 21st birthday (they’re still my favourites) and I bought an enormous hamper of chocolates as a goodbye gift for the excellent staff when my daughters left their daycare nursery (they were very much appreciated, and the owner commented on how quickly they all disappeared!)

Thorntons chocolate have been a special treat for my whole life and I can wholeheartedly recommend the quality and service I’ve always received.

Thorntons Premium Collection

And in case you think it’s just me (and my daughters) who are interested in the chocolate, Mr Chaos’ eyes almost popped out of his head when he saw the hamper and we told him it was all his – but he can share… 😉

Father’s Day in the UK is on Sunday 15th June 2014 – just over a week to go!

Disclosure: We were sent the Super Dad Hamper for review

Review: Edtoy Magnamobiles

Edtoy Magnamobiles from Play Merrily Toys

Last year, when choosing some of our favourite things from Play Merrily, I mentioned how I loved the look of the Edtoy range so when the chance to review two of the vehicles came up, I asked very, very nicely if we could be chosen! We were sent two of the Magnamobiles to play with: an SUV and a racing car.

Play

Edtoy Magnamobiles SUV and Racing Car in pieces
Edtoy Magnamobiles are wooden vehicles made from about nine pieces that cleverly click together due to rotating magnets. The pieces will therefore always connect, and never repel each other.

Because of the strength of the magnets, they can be played with just like any other cars and vehicles – although if they have a severe crash, they might need to be rebuilt!

They can also be taken apart and played with as a construction toy. There is plenty of play value with these toys covering imaginative, creative and construction play. The cars are easy to manipulate for small hands and manipulation of the pieces will improve fine motor skills.

This video shows how the pieces click together to build the racing car:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSuZHn0DUpE]

MG (6) and DG (4) both loved this addition to their car box, and cars became the central focus of their imaginative play for several days after the Magnamobiles arrived. Creating new cars from the pieces was a huge hit. The only reason I don’t have any pictures of them playing is because they’re at school all day and the light is terrible in the evening so the pictures are rubbish!

Here’s some playing with the pieces to construct new vehicles – I’m nowhere near as creative as my children are I’m afraid! Note that the wheeled piece can be either side up to make different creations:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99yT0Jm_Di4]

Practicalities

The first thing I want to point out about these cars, which has very little to do with the cars themselves, is that the boxes are very easy to open and unpack. You know the scene: it’s Christmas (or Birthday) morning, the shiny wrapping paper has been torn off, the boxes have been played with, and now your little one wants to play with what’s inside! The box is opened, and… two hours later you’ve at last finished untwisting wire tags, snipping through plastic ties, tearing apart cardboard packaging that appears to be glued to the toy. With the Edtoy Magnamobiles, you open the box, lift out the contents and hey presto there’s a toy to play with. This really is a huge selling point for me!

These vehicles are exceptionally good quality. They’re made from chunky pieces of wood that are easy for small hands to grasp and manipulate. Although the packaging says they are suitable for age 3+, this is probably due to the magnets. With supervision, I think children from around 18 months will get lots out of these and interest in them should hold for many years.

The magnets are strong enough to withstand the cars getting battered. I made two videos testing the magnets, which you can view on YouTube. Showing magnet strength can be found here, and magnet rotation can be seen here. The click when the magnets come together is very satisfying, and you might notice in the videos above that I love twisting the pieces to hear the magnets click!

The number of pieces quoted on the outside of the box is puzzling. The vehicles include two plastic pieces that connect the wheels together, and these seem to be included in the count. But even so, that makes ten total pieces for the SUV rather than nine. I’m not sure what the plastic connectors are for, as they restrict wheel movement and look more like packaging.

There are some limitations to how you can fit the pieces together due to magnet configuration. As you can see in the picture below, they are either single or in pairs and you can only connect them if the configurations match. However, this also adds to creative skills needed for young children to put them together, which can only be a good thing.

Edtoy magnets

Price

Edtoy Magnamobiles with other cars for scale

The image above shows the two Magnamobiles next to an Imaginext Motorised Batmobile (RRP approx £26) and a Wow Toys Dynamite Daisy (RRP approx £11) plus a standard Corgi-style car for scale. Compared to the plastic vehicles, the price of £17.95 (correct November 2013) is in the same range. Given the added play value of being able to mix-n-match to create your own vehicle, this makes the range very attractively priced.

Summary
A great toy with varied playability. The limitation in connecting pieces due to magnet configuration is a little frustrating, but the durability and play value more than make up for it. A single vehicle contains lots of play value and creativity in itself, having more than one just increases the fun. MG (6) and DG (4) have played with them daily since they arrived and think they are “brilliant” and “fun”. In MG’s phrasing, they are one thousand fun! There are lots of other vehicles to choose from, including a fire engine, buldozer, helicoptor and ambulance. Recommended for children from 18 months to 8 years, and their parents.

Disclosure: We were sent two Edtoy Magnamobiles by Play Merrily Toys in exchange for an honest review.