And the winner is…..!

December 16th, 2013

Thank you sooooo much to everyone who took part – it was actually quite overwhelming to see how many of you took part, and you all gave such good tips!  I did actually think that I had made life really hard for myself and should have just done something where I could randomly pick numbers out of a hat.  But no.

What I have done, though (cos it was too hard!) is pick my favourite, and then as runner up prizes picked 5 more, who I will be sending a pin cushion out to.  I will also be compiling all the tips together in groups by craft or type so that we can all benefit from them, so watch this space!

As runners up I have picked:

Lee, who wrote:

When laying out a paper pattern – use sewing weights and not pins for a smoother, faster and better cut. You can make some sewing weights (lots of tutorials out there) or use what I do (learned from my great grandmother) use butter knives (the old flatware that is heavy- I have some I use just for sewing! you can find in second hand stores) It works great!

I can definitely vouch for this, and it is far less painful than catching your hand on a pin when cutting out!

Jodi R, who wrote:

I am a perfectionist and I tend to avoid doing things I don’t think I can do a good enough job of. My advice is that you only get better with practice and we all have to start somewhere.
If you don’t start because you don’t think you are good enough you will never find out how good you really could be with practice.
My other advice is to sew with friends often, it is a great way to bond & you will be amazed what you will learn when you just create with other creative people. Not just about creating but about every aspect of life.

I love this, and think it’s fantastic advice, and something that I used to tell all my students, which leads on to

Maureen Hayes, who wrote:

My tip applies to any type of craft, or in fact life in general, it is DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH EVERYONE ELSE! You are unique and wonderful and should be proud and happy with what you make, not always saying it isn’t as good as so and so’s. I know this is hard to do, especially in a Pinterest world that leads us to believe that everything should look perfect all the time, but trust me, if you can do it, you will be much happier and progress much further in whatever you try to do

Just…. yep.  Nothing more to add to that.

Mokki, who wrote:

My tip whatever the project maybe is to keep inspiration around you. A piece of your main statement fabric/paper/embellishment etc., some pictures or small items that inspire or a book with useful pictures/techniques. It helps when something goes wrong or when you’re just running out of steam.
Also break every task into small steps and take your time so you can see your progress and not be daunted by a ‘big’ task; this also helps when you’re running out of steam!

Great advice for projects of all sizes and whatever craft you’re into

Deb, who wrote:

My favourite sewing tip ever is the hidden knot trick when you start stitching by hand. Fold your thread over double then thread both cut ends through the eye of the needle. Push needle through your fabric and then back down very close to first spot. Then pull the needle and thread through the loop at the back of the fabric and you have secured your thread without making an obvious knot!

Great little trick – I love sewing tricks like this!

And the winner is……. (drumroll please!)

Holly, who wrote:

For sewing I always stress to iron WAY more then you think you need too. Cutting carefully and ironing lots will make anything you sew nearly perfect! and for Crochet, to get perfect tension on your hook make sure the loop of yarn can easily slide up and down the shaft of your hook. If it can you will always get even stitches 

These are both really good tips that I used to use with all my students.  The more time you take over each bit of something, and taking care makes for such a better end result, and makes you more confident in your abilities for your next project.

Well done everyone!

I’ll be dropping you all an email now to get your postal addresses so I can ship your prizes.  Thank you once again to everyone who took part, I wish I had a prize for each of you.  I’ll be putting the tip list up soon, and later this week will be sharing some last minute vintage Christmas illustrations you can include in your gifts or crafting, so please pop back again soon.

Pre-shop opening giveaway!

December 9th, 2013

I’ve been beavering away in the background taking pictures of pretty things to stock my little shop up with, but that seems to be taking forever, cropping and re-sizing pictures, amending the colours on some, which quite frankly bores me (wish it didn’t, I would have had lots more blog posts then!) so in the meantime, and spurred on by a post I saw on Sew Mama Sew, I thought I would host a little give away for you and take part in Giveaway Day 2013!



give away

I’m giving away a small sewing basket, pin cushion and needle case pictured above (as well as some other pretty things I will put in as an extra surprise for the winner).

  • The basket is a vintage one I up-cycled and has a padded lid, perfect for poking pins into, and contains a tape measure, needles, pins and a pair of scissors.  It’s made from tiny gingham and has a vintage pink crochet doily appliqued to the top, closing with a duffel coat toggle.
  • The pin cushion is a pretty berry printed poplin, topped with felt leaves and a crochet Irish rose.
  • The needle case is a felt strawberry, hand beaded on both sides and has 2 wool felt leaves for you to store all your needles safely.

All of these have been handmade by me, and I hope will bring many hours of sewing pleasure to the winner.   I always think that no matter how experienced a crafter you are, you deserve to have nice tools to use when working.

Want to enter?  All you have to do is comment on this post and tell me your favourite crafting tip – can be sewing, knitting, crochet – whatever floats your boat really.  The winner will be picked by having the most useful tip for people to use.  I’ll do a round up of all the tips so we can all benefit from them too.

Stuff to note:

I will ship internationally, so this give away is open to everyone, wherever you are.

The giveaway is open until 5pm PST on 13th December (if you’re in the UK that means 1am on 14th!) after which a winner will be picked, and the announcement will be made on the blog, with the winner being emailed by Sunday 15th.


Thank you for taking part, and I look forward to hearing all your tips! xoxo


P.S. Have a look at some of the other amazing giveaways posted on Sew Mama Sew too!


Christmas gifts inspiration

November 20th, 2013

Yes, I know, I dropped the C-bomb.  Sorry, but if you are a seasoned crafter like me, or just fancy giving your loved ones gifts that are less commercial and more thoughtful, then you need to get cracking now.  Hand made gifts are lovely to make – I try and make at least a few for people.  I used to make more but they sometimes meet with mixed reactions from the recipients, so now carefully select those I make for!

Crafting takes more time than people usually allow themselves; to reduce the stress levels and actually enjoy crafting it’s best to start early.  This is advice that I haven’t always followed myself, and one year after having the bright idea of making a knitted cable blanket for a friend was desperately trying to dry/ block the blanket in time to wrap it and give her it.  Stress like that no one needs and stops you enjoying the process.

Christmas card

Sometimes inspiration comes from the people themselves throughout the year, and you may have already got cracking on your gifts (well done you!); other times you may think that you want to make something, aren’t sure what, or have an idea in your head but not know how to make your reality match your vision.  I thought I would share with you some amazing resources that have tons and tons of patterns and tutorials, and inspiration by the bucketload – all for free!

First up is Sew Mama Sew.  The site has changed a bit recently but is a fantastic resource for the crafter.  Each year it’s had a month long daily post with themed tutorials – for grandparents, for children, geeks.  You name it, there’s something there for everyone.  One of my favourites is the Dachshund pencil case

Dachshund pencil case

Dachshund pencil case

- how cute is this?  The handmade holiday posts are in addition to some amazing sewing tutorials all year round.  A nice touch for the posts this year are the extras at the end of the blog post where they post a couple of recipes for gifts too.  This Salty Caramel Sauce sounds amazing and may only get made for myself!  And you have links to printables too.  What more could you want? If you’ve not been on there yet, please go give them a visit.

Next up on the link love is The Purl Bee, by the New York store Purl Soho.  They have some seriously stylish tutorials and patterns on there, and if you’re worried about your gifts being a bit too handmade looking then this site is for you – very stylish, beautiful materials and elegant simple patterns.  It’s hard to pick a favourite pattern to show you, as they have patterns and tutorials for knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery, weaving (which makes me really want to try weaving again) and general craft.

Their beautiful felt wreath: 

Felt Flower Wreath by The Purl Bee

Felt Flower Wreath by The Purl Bee

and the Every Day Tote bag -

Every Day Tote bag by The Purl Bee

Every Day Tote bag by The Purl Bee

how nice would this be maybe with something else inside like a scarf, a matching make up bag or kindle/tablet cover?  These could easily be made from the leftover bits of fabric.

There’s lots of elegant and stylish ideas there to keep any crafter inspired for hours.

Now, one of my favourite site is Tip Nut, and although unfortunately  it’s not being updated as often as it used to be it still is an amazing resource for pretty much everything.  I’ve been following this site for years and it’s a great collection of household hints (yes, I have reached the age where I can actually admit this!), recipes and lots and lots of crafting inspiration, with a round up of some amazing tutorials and patterns all arranged really nicely by theme or type.

tip nut picture

There’s sections to cover a wide range of crafts, and more ideas than you can shake a stick at.  My favourite bits are the holiday ornaments that were featured a few years ago, but since the site isn’t being updated you can’t find them, although I do have some vintage holiday ornaments to share with you that I originally got from here.

Other places to try are: How about Orange – a lovely and super stylish site by a really talented graphic designer that has tutorials, printables, how -tos, and round ups from around the web as well as showing the designer’s own amazing fabric and makes.

Martha Stewart has to be mentioned in any round up of crafting tutorials, and this lady should need no introduction!  Warning – you could spend hours on there!  Her wedding site is amazing too.

The talented  Elsie and Emma of A Beautiful Mess also have so many resources for people to utilise, from making personalised calendars using Instagram pictures, to making coffee or cocktail syrups (what a lovely gift to make some of these up, and package them with some vintage glasses or a nice bottle of the person’s favourite tipple?  You could even print out some cocktail recipes and include some snacks if you wanted to really go for it!).  More cocktail syrups can be found here.

And last, but not least you can always follow some of my tutorials for stocking fillers:  a pillowcase shopping bag, a strawberry shopping bag, a folding shopping bag, or a knitted neck warmer.

Failing this, if you don’t find something on Pinterest, the Etsy blog, or Ravelry then I don’t know where you can!

My own tips for crafting for gifts is to allow as much time as you can so that you can enjoy the process of making and not making yourself really stressed out.  Once you’ve seen something that you would like to make for someone, think to yourself:

  • do I know how to actually do this, and if I don’t, can I realistically learn.  There’s no point in wanting to make someone a fancy bag when you can’t yet sew, and wouldn’t know where to start.
  • Do I have the equipment needed for this, or can I access it?  As with above, let’s be realistic; if you haven’t got access to a sewing machine for making something that requires one then you’re not making life easier for yourself!
  • Make a list of materials needed.  All of them.  If you have some of the things needed already great, but check what you do have as (trust me) there’s nothing more annoying when you think you have something to find you don’t, or don’t have enough!
  • Make a budget – handmade does not mean cheaper, and often to buy nice materials it can work out quite expensive, but if you have a budget it enables you to think creatively  - can you recycle fabric or yarn from something else, or can you source materials cheaply?
  • Allow time, and read the instructions carefully.  Don’t skip stages if you can’t be bothered to do them as it often affects the end result.
  • Have refreshments on hand (although wine and sewing machines don’t often mix well!) and some nice music to help the time pass.  Remember, this is fun!

I hope that this has inspired you to have a go at crafting, or to promote ideas – do share any other ideas you have with us.  And it’s all worth it when you know you’ve made someone really happy with a handmade gift x


The McCurdy flock

November 7th, 2013

I’ve wanted hens for years – not entirely sure just how many years, but many, many!  Last year, during some bad winds our lovely Laburnum tree fell over and had to be removed.  I was gutted, I loved that tree.  However from that loss I realised that it opened up a space at the end of the garden that had previously only had the compost heap in it.  Perfect size for a chicken coop, in fact.

David really wasn’t bothered about chickens (at least ones that he wouldn’t be eating any time soon), but wouldn’t stand in my way if I got them.  In fact David is interested in keeping owls – there’s plenty of rescue owls now thanks to parents buying owls for their children following the success of Harry Potter, and then realising that they’re a bit more of an involved pet than a hamster… but that’s another story).

Last year I cleared away a lot of the remains of the compost heap, and then left the ground over the winter to break down.  For my birthday people gave me money that I used to buy a coop and run, and Vicky bought me chicken bits and bobs too, including a fantastic book that I now refer to as the chicken bible. David was roped into building the coop , which led him to make the statement that we are never, ever buying flat packed furniture again…


The McCurdy flock residence

Although I do think he did a rather good job on it, don’t you think?

Over the May bank holiday Vicky took me to choose some hens, and fill the lovely coop with ladies.

Here they are:

The girls

The girls

This was taken on their first day with us, at 17 weeks old – they’ve definitely grown since then!  From left to right we have Barbara – a Blue Belle, Jerry – a Black Tail (which the guy who sold me them kept saying were the chickens Waitrose use for their eggs), and Margot – she’s a Maran and lays darker brown eggs.  Yes, I pretty much had to name them after The Good Life, but actually their names definitely suit them.  Barbara has a reputation for being the cheeky, naughty one but who everyone loves.  Jerry is a sweet thing (and secretly my favourite) and is a bit of an easy going soul, and Margot is definitely the bossy, blousy one with the fancy clothes.


Barbara and Margot, fluffy garden destroyers

They have such different personalities and they make me laugh so much at their antics (like when I feed them natural yoghurt which they love).  Although when they free range, they make me laugh and stress at the same time.  I can’t let them free range all day as I’m at work full time and don’t want to leave them in danger, so I have a large extension on the run for them that they can come and go as they please in but is secure.  I let them free range when I am in the garden and can stay with them.  However, they are completely disrespectful when it comes to gardens and they have already pretty much trashed mine!  Naively I didn’t realise how much grass they would dig up, having seen lots of Country Living style pictures of fluffy hens on bright green grass.  They’ll have a nibble at the grass, but are more interested in what’s underneath it in terms of bugs and worms so have scraped up large areas of grass, dug plants up, even knocked down little willow fences I had put in around my flower beds.    So I only let them do it to the point where I can’t take the damage any more, then entice them back to the run with mealworms or other treats.

The bonus of different sized eggs.  Barbara, Margot, Jerry

The bonus of different sized eggs. Barbara, Margot, Jerry

Everyone who hears about the chooks asks about their eggs – I always used to buy free range organic eggs so I was used to a nice, creamy egg, and my ladies’ eggs have been well complimented by the people I have given them to.  The first egg was laid by I think Barbara, and soon after Margot joined in.  Jerry’s eggs are still smaller than the others, but I don’t mind – it still feels like a real gift to check the nest boxes and find a warm, freshly laid egg – even though it’s happened for centuries and people take eggs for granted, it’s an almost humbling experience to have a 3 fluffy little creatures at the bottom of the garden who I get a huge amount of enjoyment from and who give me eggs every day.

So, 5 months in, a lot of very early mornings (especially in the summer months as they wake up at dawn), some stress over whether they are safe, are well and happy and a lot of eggs and garden damage I don’t regret a thing.  Even when escapee Barbara had me chasing her round the garden at 6 am, or when she landed in the pond…  My friend Mary used to say that the chickens she kept enabled her to cope with daily life, and they’ve certainly  been a tonic for me.  Chicken therapy – love it!


What’s new, pussycat?

October 30th, 2013

As per usual I fall off the blogging waggon despite my best intentions (and a lot of IT issues) but he’s to having another go!

There’s been a few changes round here since the last time I blogged.  I’m no longer teaching craft evening classes – a combination of time and energy mainly, and restrictions on how many people need to be enrolled to make a course viable have made it harder to teach.  This is combined with the college needing me to update my teaching qualification, which kind of made the decision for me.  I do miss it, and have done a couple of private crochet workshops since then, which made me realise how much I missed it, and want to organise more of these in the new year.

Private crochet workshop at The Pretty Dandy Flea

Private crochet workshop at The Pretty Dandy Flea

I’ve been trying to take more photographs, and have been on 2 day courses in how to use my digital SLR camera, with Line and Light (who I would highly recommend), as well as playing a bit more with the vintage cameras I have from my parents.  I’m far from being an expert, but I am certainly a lot more confident at knowing what the camera does!

Stereo camera - my dad's pride and joy

Stereo camera – my dad’s pride and joy

We have new (fluffy) additions to the family in the shape of 3 lovely, cheeky chickens.  More about them another time (and there will be another time this time as I’ve already got the post written and ready to publish!)


And last, but certainly not the least, we’ve started a new branch of the Women’s Institute in Sherwood.  There used to be a branch in Sherwood years ago but it closed, I think because it’s members were ageing and there weren’t many new members coming along.  I spoke to Linda, our WI adviser about setting one up last November.  There were lots of people interested in going to the WI, but who wanted something that they could ideally walk to, particularly important if you have children or other commitments that restrict the time you are available.  Once our County WI had approved it, we had 3 meetings arranged to see if there was enough  interest in the group to make it viable, and on the first, very manic night in January we had 60 people there!

First meeting

The room I had booked at the United Reformed Church had a capacity of 50 – plenty,we assumed.  We ended up borrowing extra chairs and pretty much shoe-horning them in.  I knew it was busy as I was making teas for everyone, when my lovely neighbour popped her head in to the kitchen and told me people were queueing out of the door!  It was quite overwhelming that so many people wanted to find out more.  We have so far 42 members, and have had a lot of visitors too.  I was honoured to be elected as President and I’m immensely proud of being part of a diverse, lively and fun group that’s grown so quickly.  I have a fantastic committee along with me too, and although we are “talking shop” even our committee meetings are fun and go on for probably far too long!

Here’s an delightfully unflattering picture of me signing the official constitution and rules making us a WI:

signing the constitution

In fact the amount of pictures taken that night is the only thing that’s really taken me out of my comfort zone as I much, much prefer being the other side of the lens!

We made it into the local paper too -

Sherwood WI celebrations in the Nottingham Post

It’s been a busy year so far, and I’ve met and made friends with some amazing people.   Work has sometimes(often) got in the way, especially when it comes to having a holiday – the only time I have been away this year so far was in late May/ early June we had a lovely week with everyone over in Northern Ireland, and I’ve been ready for another break for months, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.  Next year I intend to change that and get out more!

Thanks for stopping by – will be back again soon x

Super simple neck warmer pattern

January 15th, 2013

With the weather turning a lot colder recently I’ve been making full use of the vast range of scarves, wraps and woolly things I’ve  amassed over the years.   Although I have a lot of things like scarves to keep me warm I love making more – it enables me to try out different stitches and use up odd bits of yarn from the stash, and is great when I want to relax and do something that isn’t that complicated and gives quite quick results.

I thought I would share this pattern with you, which is one I adapted from a kit that was sold in a little yarn shop in Ballymoney, and is really easy to work up regardless of what weight of yarn you have to hand.  It’s ideal for this weather as sometimes you don’t want to take all your woolly layers off when you go somewhere, and just want something small to keep you warm.  Worked in Double Knit weight yarn it would also be a nice addition for spring or autumn.

For this neck warmer I used some leftover Cygnet Chunky yarn that I had leftover from another project.  I’ve also made this using a fluffy Double Knit weight yarn too, to match a hat I had made.  I rummaged in my button tin to use up one of the odd buttons I have – this would be perfect if you have only 1 of a beautiful button and want something show it off.

This is a super simple seeded rib stitch pattern, and if you know how to knit and purl, you will be fine with this.

The original pattern asks you to work the button placket (which you can’t see that well under the button) in the same pattern you’ve been knitting in, but I think it is much easier to switch to garter stitch, especially if you aren’t that confident at knitting.

Download the pattern for the  Ribbed-Neck-warmer to print off.  I’ve also added it to Ravelry too!

Please let me know what you think to the pattern and share any pictures you have if you make it.  It’s the first knitting pattern I have adapted and shared for people to use – I hope that you like it!


China Girl

January 3rd, 2013

I’m a sucker for pretty bits of pottery, I really am.  Crockery mainly, but I’ll not rule out other bits and bobs as they pass by.  My excuse is always that it is generally useful and pretty and therefore more justifiable a purchase … although that’s never normally stopped me if there’s something that takes my fancy!  Leading up to Christmas and just after I managed to get yet more bits to add to my collection (and I need them like I need a hole in the head…) – 2 Johnstone Bros platters – a large Grey Dawn one and a smaller Rose Dawn, and some lovely Palissy dinner plates, side plates and 2 covered serving bowls from the 50′s.  So I needed to have a bit of a rearrange.  

When I originally repainted this dresser I wanted to store some of my baking equipment in the cupboards underneath, but that’s now had to move to a separate box next to the dresser to fit it all in!

As you can see I have a fair few bits and bobs in there….

On the shelves of the dresser is a lovely set with bluebirds on it that I bought from an antiques shop in Sheffield when we were visiting our lovely friend Lydia – I didn’t need it at all but couldn’t leave it behind.  I also have the Meakin jug I found on a car boot in a box of things that were all 20p.  It looked like it had just been dug out of someone’s garden and has a hefty chunk out of the rim, but despite all that I love it and its cheeky Parisian scene.

I haven’t taken a picture of what my crockery cupboard in the kitchen looks like as that’s rather embarrassing due to the amount of stuff I have in there…. I do have quite a bit of utility china and we use the Woods Ware Beryl dinner and side plates and soup bowls all the time, but I also have a tea set of the Iris (Blue) and a couple of bits of Jasmine (Yellow) that are in regular use as well as odd bits mainly of Meakin or Colclough.

As well as the dresser I also have a stash in the living room, thanks to last year my friend Hannah giving me a lovely china cabinet that we managed to shoehorn in next to David’s bookcase and the chimney breast, and that’s filled with all sorts of stuff that I have collected or that came from my mam’s china cabinet years ago.

Excuse the rubbish light – dark living room and winter = not conducive to taking pictures!

Finally, although it’s not china per se but I also have a display of my pretty pressed glass cake stands in the porch – I have far too many of these but, like pretty china I cannot resist a bargain and have collected them for years (way back when it used to be really easy and cheap to find bits and bobs before it became fashionable).

At least I use these, as well as the plates – I don’t drink tea or coffee so the tea sets only get cracked out every blue moon, although most people agree that they look too pretty to not have on display!

Writing this has made me realise I also have a whole stash of things on display in the kitchen that I also haven’t photographed – the blue and white Devon ware with place names on that I started collecting years ago and blogged about here, and a collection of milk jugs on a mug rack….  I’m beginning to think I have a problem!

Do you have any pretty bits of china that you couldn’t resist bringing home with you? I can’t be the only one with a “thing” for this sort of thing….!

Clean and green

November 7th, 2012

When I was 12, I was certain that one day I would go off to the Amazon to save the rainforest, or stop a whaling ship, or something. Needless to say I clearly was wrong in the predictions I had about my life.  My current job is managing a network of advice centres on behalf of the Citizens Advice Bureau, and is as stressful as it sounds, the amount of eczema on my hands being testament to that.  I don’t teach as much as I used to, either because the classes aren’t running due to lack of numbers, or mainly because I don’t seem to have the time or energy to do 2 or 3 classes per week on top of working full time.  Over time I have realised that I need to simplify my life, slow down a little bit and take care not just of those I love, but myself and my home and my bit of the environment.  I’m de-cluttering (hell, I sooo need to keep doing that!) and organising, trying to regain my love of cooking, enjoying the simple things like crocheting blankets to welcome new additions to the world, and have less stress both in my head and on my body, whilst trading a little more lightly on the planet.

One of the things I realised , and has been a good thing to come out of having itchy, sore,  unsightly (and frequently quite painful) eczema on my hands is the amount of chemicals that we use in our homes that affect us and the environment.  After cleaning the bathroom recently with a spray made by a well known UK manufacturer, I could barely breathe, my sinuses were so sore at the amount of perfume and chemicals that were in it.  The state of my hands was appalling too, even though most of the time when I am cleaning I use gloves. Cleaning the kitchen was the same.   Something had to change; I don’t remember my family using that many products when I was a child, our home was always scrupulously clean  but wasn’t filled with harsh chemicals.  I remember my mother knowing all sorts of things to use to remove stains, washing dishes with soda rather than washing up liquid, cleaning windows with vinegar and newspaper way before it became “fashionable” to do it the old fashioned way.  So I started to think about making my own cleaning products.  I know that out there are a hundred and one ways you can use the most random of things to clean (like banana skins to polish shoes), but in all honesty I don’t have either the time or the head space to be that green.   I do, however want to be able to use products like I have been doing efficiently but know what goes into them, and not suffer any ill effects afterwards.  So I did a bit of research.

The main ingredients that everyone seems to recommend are:

  • Bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • Borax
  • Vinegar (distilled white, not malt!)
  • Lemons
  • Castile soap (which is made from olive oil)
  • Essential oils

All of which I can get locally, don’t cost much (apart from the essential oils, but I already have a few of those) and will enable me to make lots and lots of cleaning products really quite cheaply.  I also decided to get myself some new bottles that could be re-used (I ordered mine from here as they were the cheapest I found in the UK with no minimum order) although as bottles become free (I’m not going to throw away what I have, that wouldn’t be very green, although I don’t have much to use up) I will start to clean them and use them too.

I found lots of recipes online from lots of different sites, so I thought I would collect the ones I have been trying here as a printable PDF of Thrifty and green cleaning recipes for you – as I try out new recipes I will add to them and update them.

The ones I really like are the shower spray (I usually use Method cleaners, which is great, environmentally friendly but not cheap) – my washing up liquid was orange scented, so to add to it I added a couple of drops of orange Essential Oil too, and my shower after doing a quick wipe round sparkled and smelled great.  I also love the linen spray – I used it to freshen up the curtains in our dining room and it smells lovely.  I think next time I will try orange flower water (get it at your supermarkets in the baking section) and some orange essential oil to mix it up a bit, or maybe rosewater and patchouli…..? And the Lemon and lime clean everything spray.  I have also tried the Bergamot laundry booster which smells gorgeous and is much, much cheaper than buying the usual oxygen releasing cleaners (and better for your skin too), and have put this in a cleaned up tub of the previous sort.

These don’t take long to make (I spent about half an hour making lotions and potions, and quite enjoyed it) so it’s no excuse to say that you don’t have the time to do it and buying products is quicker and cheaper!  I got my bicarb from the pound shop, the vinegar was super cheap in Wilcos, or local supermarkets/ shops.  We’re lucky in Nottingham to have a stall on the indoor market called Aladdin’s cave that stocks all the dry goods, including Borax, alongside all sorts of hardware, crockery, roasting dishes, and random bits like you find in Lakeland, only much, much cheaper.  The whole stall smells of moth balls and carbolic soap though, so if you don’t like the smell, I wouldn’t visit!  If you want to find Castille soap most health food shops sell it, or you can find it online.  Once you have things bought, you’ll be able to make lots of these cleaning products for a long time, so its much more economical in the long run.

As with everything there are some warnings as these ingredients, although common household items, are still chemicals.  Borax (or as is usual to get in the UK, Borax substitute) can irritate your skin, so wear gloves.  Essential oils are strong, and some are not recommended for use if you are pregnant, so be wary when you’re using them. Strong acids like in the lemon and lime cleaner whilst will kill germs and smells will also damage marble, if you have any.  And remember to label your bottles!

On the whole, I now feel that I can clean without burning my sinuses, it will damage the environment less and cost less, so my home and self are going to be much better off for it. So whilst I am not saving the Amazonian rain forest, I do feel that I can do my little bit to minimise my impact on the environment, keeping both my 12 year old and 36 year old selves happy.

Have you tried making your own cleaning products at all?  If you have any recipes or tips drop me a line or add a comment to share!

Pimp my ride

October 19th, 2012

Or in other words, a new shopping trolley bag.  Doesn’t sound that exciting does it?  Well this is something I have been meaning to do for the last few years and been going on about “I’m going to do that next week/ when I have some time/ right now if I could summon the energy”, but finally I put my money where my mouth is.

I got this shopping trolley second hand at a local market for £4 about 6 years ago, and I think in terms of cost per use it paid for itself within a couple of months.

(I love how Stella decided she wanted to be in the picture!)

I know shopping trolleys aren’t cool or sexy, but when you don’t drive and want to do a big shop/ carry heavy things this has been brilliant and at times an absolute life-saver.  Its also proved useful helping me lug things round for my classes; when I used to teach a printing course my trusty HP printer would be lobbed in it along with a ton of chemicals and rolls of paper, and off to work I would go.  But it was looking sad.  It never looked amazing but had progressively gone downhill over the last year or so.  It didn’t help when Stella decided she would have a go at nesting in it for a while.  Then the sides decided to rip…

Finally last weekend I decided I had had enough and set about making a new bag identical to the old one.  I’d actually bought the oilcloth and vinyl almost 2 years ago, but clearly had never got round to doing anything about it.

The bag itself was super simple, and the construction was quite easy to figure out too, even though I decided to line it (I think if I need to wash the bag by hand that would be fine).  It also gives a bit of strength to the vinyl used for the main body of the bag (an eBay bargain) as it was quite soft, and doesn’t have a woven backing, unlike the Mexican oilcloth used for the pocket front and flap (that, as ever is from the amazing Viva La Frida).  I lined it with a remnant of creamy/beige cotton curtain lining that I picked up locally for a couple of pounds.  The only tricky part of all of this was wrestling it on the machine when I attached the lining to the bag sandwiching inside the drawstring, and that was only because of the sheer weight of slippery stuff I was putting through the machine.  I used normal polyester thread (I did debate over using some heavier-weight thread but didn’t have it in the colour I wanted to made do) and a thick sewing needle (leather point) and that was fine to go through it all.

The bag attaches to the frame with straps round the back, and a strip of Velcro holding it in place at the top, and closes with a drawstring and toggle, with more Velcro on the pocket and flap.

David’s opinion on it is that it is far, far too bright, and he wants me to make a more subdued one for him to use when he helps with the shopping, and I have some of the same polka dot vinyl only this time grey with white dots that I can use (I would like some colour in too so I think some mustard yellow trim would look lovely as a highlight….. although that seems to deviate from the “subdued” request somewhat).

Anyhoo, I love it, and am really pleased with it and can’t wait to go shopping with it (any excuse eh?) and even have dreams of making matching  bags for life, although I need more re-usable bags like I need a hole in the head.

If anyone is interested in making one of their own I am happy to share it as a tutorial, just get in touch and I will take pictures whilst I make the David-style one!


Ich bin ein Berliner

August 24th, 2012

Nope, I am not a doughnut, and actually JFK didn’t say he was either.  But I have just returned from a lovely short break in Berlin.  Hubby was over in Poland playing with his “wee men” as he does every year, so as it was near our wedding anniversary (yesterday, 4 years – how time flies!) we thought it would be a good idea to spend a few days together afterwards in Berlin.  We seem to have picked the hottest time of the year, and there was a bit of a heatwave going on when I arrived (35 degrees is far too hot for me!) but it was still lovely.  So in the spirit of a show and tell, here’s some pictures from our trip.

We stayed at the DDR design Hotel, Ostel (DDR in case you were wondering stands for the Deutsche Democratic Republic, or the East German side to us) – it’s in a block of buildings and is totally refitted to be in keeping with cold-war era design.  Down to the fact there was no lift, TV or air conditioning.  But we didn’t realise it would be as hot as it was.  Or that we would be given a room on the top (6th) floor….

The room itself, like the rest of the hotel was really cool in its design – lots of mad wallpaper and original lights.

Our room

Instead of having a TV we had an original radio, although the only station we could tune into was one that seemed to only play English songs, and cheesy ones at that.  Cue lots of Phil Collins, Abba and Chris De Burgh.

I have to say despite there being no lift and you then being stupidly hot when you got upstairs, I loved it – it had a really friendly atmosphere and was incredibly cheap too.

Berlin was lovely; I had been before, and this time the only thing that spoiled it slightly was the sheer volume of building works that were tearing things up and making a noise and mess.  Saying that, in comparison to the UK, even the building works seem a lot more civilised and efficient.

The Berliner Dom was so pretty, and I love this picture with the Alexanderplatz tower behind it.  There was a cafe downstairs we visited to have a bit of a rest in that had the most gorgeous chocolate and cherry cake I think I’ve every eaten.  No pictures of that.  It didn’t stay on the plate long enough!

Museum island was pretty, although we left it a bit too late to have a proper look round the museums so we just sat outside in the fresh air and took in the scenery.

No matter where you are in Berlin you can’t escape the heavy involvement of the City in world history, although this period fascinates both David and myself, so it was actually something we had a look round rather than trying to ignore.  We walked through the Brandenburg gate and had a look at the Reichstag – look closely enough and you can see the repaired bullet holes.  As it was growing darker we walked round the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe (above) – an maze  of huge concrete blocks of different sizes and heights, and with the floor undulating you can be waist height at one minute then the next the blocks are towering over your heads.  For me the most clear symbol of the situation was seeing flights of steps leading down to the underground museum at one point completely blocked by a slab of concrete.

We also walked round the Topography of Terrors which is built on land that was one of the main offices of the Third Reich (we know how to party don’t we?!) which still freaks me out – it’s beautifully done and is just quite factual about the atrocities that were committed.  The picture that spoke most to me was SS officers on a day off wearing party hats, whilst you were reading about the individuals and what they had done/ ordered.  Completely surreal.  We had also looked round the museum at Checkpoint Charlie which was fascinating, especially when it gets to more recent times where there are names I recognised from watching the news with my parents.  I wasn’t entirely pleased to see that the first shop you get to when you are on the American side is a McDonalds….we did nickname it McCheckpoint Charlie after that.

It really is a lovely city though, very friendly and relaxed (not like London!) – the trains were on time and efficient and with the help of the map we were easily able to find our way round, despite the fact neither of spoke any German (I only did a year of German at school because it meant I then didn’t have to take part in the bloodbath that was hockey, and I found strangely that didn’t have much call to tell people my name and that I have red hair.  Or find my way to the library).

On our final night there we found a little restaurant near Alexanderplatz that was so sweet, playing lots of very jolly 1920′s and 30′s music, and that served currywurst.  It wasn’t an expensive meal, and the place was tiny but I can’t explain how happy being there made me.

I told David I wanted to open up a European style bakery and cafe and became quite carried away with ideas for it (although we all know it won’t happen!).  I did, however come home with a mahoosive bottle of curry ketchup so I can try to recreate the meal we had….

Next year we don’t know if the wee men competition will take place in Poland again, or whether it will be in Germany, but either way we’ll be having a mini break attached to it again.  I’m hoping it will be in Germany again as I want to visit somewhere with forests and lakes and pretty cabins.  And where I can get a dirndl skirt too.  Though I somehow doubt I would be able to get David into some lederhosen! xoxo



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