Blog Archive

A Handmade Christmas

A very happy Christmas to you all!

I love the whole Christmas season and this delicious bit between Christmas and New Year, when life doesn't seem quite normal, (I'm fortunate to have the whole time off). The days run into each other, filled with lazy afternoons, catching up with friends, eating leftovers, long walks with Daisy Dog and watching the odd film.  

I've also been crocheting and playing with yarn, as the rush of making Christmas gifts only ended on 23rd December and it all got a bit busy making sure everything was finished and wrapped on time (I made boxes to put small items in).

I photographed lots of things I made, but sadly not everything.  I kept forgetting towards the end!  I find making several gifts from the same pattern makes things speedier as the pattern obviously flows quicker the more times you make it.  By the time I was on shawl number 12 though I was ready for a change!

Anyway, here are a few of the things I made:

Twelve 'Your Mileage May Vary' shawls, from The Crochet Project.  What a great pattern this is! I'd highly recommend it, as it's so versatile and looks great in different yarns.  I also varied the size of some of them, and that was so easy to do.

Drops Baby Merino, 4ply
Sirdar 4 ply cotton

Rowan Panama
I made 2 or 3 in each  of the above, plus a couple in a very soft 'Sublime' DK cotton (in the 'forgot to photograph' category) That came out a lot bigger, of course, but was destined for a friend in Canada, who apparently has worn it every day this week, indoors, as the temperature is -45 degrees Celsius, taking into account the wind chill.

I made this hat, for the other half of the Canadian couple.  This was in a chunky, super warm, merino/alpaca blend:

Sirdar leaflet 9207

I made a lot of bookmarks too!  These are all in Scheepjes Bon Bon (now known as Sugar Rush), on a 2mm hook.  I stiffened them with Aleene's fabric stiffener afterwards, (but not the tassels).

These were adapted from Leisure Arts leaflet 2594.  The original had ribbon threaded through, instead of a tassel, but I do like a tassel on a bookmark!

My MIL lives in a nursing home, and is partially sighted, so I made her a large corsage in bright colours, to wear on her cardigan:

I made a little keyring from the fabulous Attic24 pattern from this year's Yarndale programme.  I made mine in Scheepjes Bon Bon, instead of DK, and is so teeny-tiny cute!

I  made Daisy Dog a ladybird fleece coat, to keep her warm and snugly 

She was glad of it today, when we had a long walk on the beach.  It was freezing!

And, of course, there were yet more shirts for DD...  I only photographed (partially) this white one.  The other was a red and cream Liberty Lawn.

There was also all the soap I made too, which was boxed up in handmade boxes.  Boxes are fun to make, and I use the 'Aleene's Boxmaker', which I bought when I lived in Canada, many years ago, but there is something that looks similar on Amazon UK.  All you need is some heavy cardstock, and some double sided tape, and that's it!  I buy organza ribbon bulk to tie around the boxes.

I have derived so much pleasure from making gifts for those I love, and I hope they have enjoyed receiving them.  Next year I may just start a little earlier though...

Donna x 

A very peaceful Christmas

Christmas Eve has arrived.  The fire is on and I am sitting here listening to Carols from Kings College Cambridge.  Darling Daughter is home (hurrah!) and is singing along to We Three Kings.  POH is having a little rest at the other end of the sofa.  Daisy Dog is asleep in her basket and Mango Cat is sleeping on one bed or another.  This is probably my favourite part of Christmas.  The dark, sacred evening is here, and all is still and quiet in our village.  Peace, perfect peace.

We've had a lovely day today.  As is our tradition, we went for lunch to the wonderful Inn at Whitewell, deep in the heart of the Ribble Valley, and had lunch sat by the fire. It was wonderful.  We played one of the games provided and had a really lovely couple of hours.  

Then it was time for church.  I like the tea time service as I am not good at staying up late. We sang carols and watched the children in the congregation dress the crib.  

This is also a very poignant time of year for us, as my late husband died on Christmas Day a few years ago.  Christmas was, on that day, changed for ever, and we celebrate in a much more reflective and low key way, but still embracing the true meaning of Christmas.  My late husband is buried at the church I attend, so I take some flowers and look at the book of remembrance.  Tomorrow we light a candle in his memory and know that he will always be with us.  POH takes part in all of this with us, (he too is widowed).  Both of the anniversaries are shared experiences and I am very grateful for that.

As I  said earlier, DD arrived home earlier in the week and it is such a joy to have her home with us.  We went to Ilkley on Friday and had lunch at my favourite tea rooms in Yorkshire - Betty's.   As well as exquisite food and wonderful tea, which they blend themselves, I just love their window displays...

I had a lovely surprise when I got home as DD has somehow, secretly, bought me a little box of fondant fancies, as I had said how pretty they were.  

Being a nice person ;) I shared them. They were as gorgeous as they looked!

It's time to go and make our Christmas Eve buffet tea/supper.  I've just realised how wrapped up (no pun intended) in Christmas traditions we are, but we like it like that, and I wouldn't want it any other way :)

Whatever you are doing this Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I hope you have a wonderful time.  From our house to yours, a very, very happy and peaceful Christmas.

Donna x 

Making Soap

The last few weeks have seen all things creative going on here.  I've tried to make as many Christmas presents as possible, and have been sewing, crocheting, and most recently, making soap!

Soap making can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be, and I prefer to keep things simple by using a 'Melt and Pour' soap base, which I buy, along with all my other ingredients, from the very excellent and competitively priced Just a Soap.

To make a basic soap you will need:

Soap base
Essential Oils or soap fragrance
Moisturising additives, such as oils or butters (optional)

Soap moulds can be purchased, or you can use a variety of household items, such as silicone cake moulds, tupperware containers, or so on.  I have built up quite a collection over the years and have some that make individual bars, like these...

...or some where you pour a whole trayful and then cut into bars...

NOTE:  I must apologise for the poor quality of my photos today, but my kitchen worktop is fairly dark, and my kitchen is quite literally the centre of the house and pretty much 'landlocked' so I have twinkling LED lights on, making a complete hash of my photographs!

Anyway, back to the soap making!

You can buy all sorts of soap bases, but I buy one that is SLS Free, as SLS can be an irritant to so many people (including me!)  The soap bases come in 1kg or 11kg tubs.

You can find loads of helpful information on the Just a Soap website, but here is what I do:

Firstly, I cut as much soap as I need into small pieces with a sharp knife.  I'm using 1.5kg today.

I place them into a large Pyrex measuring jug and then use a microwave to melt the soap, stopping every couple of minutes to give it a good stir.  Be careful not to boil or overheat it, as it will continue to melt any last pieces after you have taken it out.  If you don't have a microwave you can do this over a large saucepan of hot water on the hob.

When the soap has melted, you can start adding things!  I like to make super moisturising soaps so I add Shea Butter, Cocoa Butter and Mango butter.  For my 1.5kg of soap I added 20g of each.  I also added 1 tablespoon of apricot kernel oil.  Give it all a good stir until it has melted and blended.

Then, add some colouring.  I am making lavender soap so added some violet colouring.

Keep stirring until it's fully mixed in and is the colour you would like.

Before you add any essential oils or soap fragrance, make sure the soap isn't too hot, otherwise it will affect the scent.  However, don't leave it so long that its starts to set!  The best thing to do is stir, stir and stir some more.

I then added 6 teaspoons of pure lavender essential oil.

Now you need to work quite quickly.  Pour the soap into your moulds. To get rid of the bubbles on the top you can give it a quick spritz of isopropanol alcohol (again, available from Just a Soap).  This step isn't essential, but if you are going to make soap quite frequently it is worth considering, as your finished soap goes from this... this...

It's like magic!!

Leave to set for several hours and then turn out.  The large slabs need to be cut into bars, of course. 

Your finished soap will look and smell delicious!

I made a batch of lemon soap too :)  

Once you have made your bars of soap, wrap them in cellophane or plastic to stop them 'sweating'.

Making soap is lots of fun, and, by doing a bit of research, you can add ingredients that may help to soothe various skin conditions.  Wrap them up nicely and you have some wonderful, thoughtful gifts that will be greatly appreciated by anyone you give them too.

As the saying goes, "it's good, clean fun"!


It's finished!! The Blooming Big Blanket

Yay!!!  After 14 months (but not continuously), the Blooming Big Blanket is now finished and on the bed!

I've talked about the blanket before, but just as a recap, the seed for the idea was sown at Yarndale 2016, when Lucy, of Attic24, let me use her blanket planning pegs to come up with the colour palette to match our Laura Ashley wallpaper and fabric.

We selected Grape, Pale Rose, Grey and Silver from the Stylecraft Special DK range.  My lovely son ordered me a huge bagful of these colours for my birthday, from the fabulous online shop, Wool Warehouse.

Our bed is 5 feet wide, and I wanted a good foot overhang on each side, so the blanket is just over 7 feet, or 420 stitches wide!  

I used Lucy's Neat Ripple Pattern, and decided on a 12 row stripe of Grape, 6 rows of Pale Rose, 2 rows of Grey and 1 row of Silver.

Throughout last winter I ripped and rippled, and rippled some more.  I then needed to take a break from it, so made a couple of cardigans for myself, and a few other things.  I also found, as the weather got warmer, it was not as easy to work on, as by this point it was soooo warm and heavy!  As the weather cooled down I found a second wind and really went for it!  

I then had to decide on the edging, and chose to do Lucy's edging from her interlocking ripple blanket. I loved doing this edging, as it seemed to tie all the ripples together and I felt the end was in touching distance.

The last thread was finally snipped and it was hauled upstairs and draped lovingly over the bed.  It's been very difficult to photograph, as it's so huge, and the light levels have been so low, but today it was cold and sunny so I tried my best to get some decent pictures.  

During the day we keep it folded up at the end of the bed, mainly so the cat doesn't lie on it and snag it with her claws:

But at night we pull it up the bed and snuggle down for a Blissful Night's Sleep under its yarny loveliness...

I am so very pleased with it, and it was worth every stitch.  Speaking of every stitch, I worked out a few statistics!

  • Excluding the edging, there are 180 rows, giving a total number of ripple stitches of 75,600!

  • It used approximately 30 balls of Special DK, which equates to roughly 6 miles of yarn!

Thank you, Lucy, for your patterns, and to everyone at Copper's Creative for your encouragement.  This was certainly the biggest ever project I have undertaken, but I'm so glad I did. :)

Donna x 

Setting in a sleeve smoothly

One of my friends, who reads my blog, asked me about setting in sleeves on a shirt, or a dress, where the sleeve needs to lie flat, and not gathered at the shoulder seam.  It can seem quite daunting when you see how much bigger the sleeve is compared to the armhole on the body - just how do I get rid of all that extra fabric?  I thought it might be worth writing down my way of doing it.

Firstly, make sure to transfer all the pattern markings to the body and sleeve of your garment.  You will be glad you did this!

Next, set your machine to the longest stitch and make three (not two, as most commercial patterns say!) lines of ease stitching from notch to notch.  I do two inside the seam line and one outside, at about 3/4 of an inch.  That way they don't get caught in the actual seam stitching.  Leave long tails on these rows of stitches, and don't back tack.

Then, pull up the stitches as much as you can without making gathers on the sleeve head.  As you do this, ease the fabric along the stitches with your thumbnail or fingernail, and  you will be surprised at how much you can pull the threads up.  You are aiming to end up with a rounded sleeve head, not a gathered up or bunched one.

With the sleeve right side out, insert it into the body of the shirt, right sides together.  Make sure you put the correct sleeve in each armhole!  This is easy to check by making sure the notches match (remember the double notch is the back of the garment).

Start by matching and pinning the underarm sleeve.  When you do this, make sure you don't twist the sleeve seam, by following it down to the cuff or hem and checking you pin it at the armhole so it is lying the same way.  This will make pressing it neatly later on a whole lot easier.

Then, pin the top of the sleeve to the shoulder seam.  Incidentally, instead of a dot, I cut a notch on the sleeve head, as I find it easier to locate.  Next, pin the notches, and dots, if your pattern has them.

Now what you need to do is distribute and smooth all the fullness until the two pieces fit together perfectly.  You may need to pull up the threads a tiny bit more, or even let the fabric out a little bit.  Take your time doing this, as it is so important to make sure you have no gathers or tucks under the seam line.  Remember, you are adding fullness and roundness to the sleeve head, but no gathers!

Once you are satisfied, pin the two pieces together securely.  Don't skimp on the pins - a pin every every inch to inch and a half is ideal.  Because of the curved shape of the sleeve, it is all too easy for the two pieces to pull away from each other as you sew.

Convert your machine to free arm if you can but do not push the free arm into the sleeve, otherwise you will distort it.  Instead, ease the armhole over the very edge of the free arm, so that is is mostly on top of the machine, using your hands to coax it around the machine as you sew.  Take your time sewing, easing the fabric around and making sure the two layers are smooth, and not bunching up, as you go.

When you have finished, inspect the stitching line carefully. Make sure you haven't caught the fabric up where you shouldn't have, and ensure you have no gathers. If you do, carefully unpick a few stitches, smooth them out with your nail or a pin, and sew again.

Next you need to finish the seam.  I use an overlocker, but you can zigzag stitch if you haven't got an overlocker.  If you zigzag, carefully trim the seam allowance a little first.  Obviously you won't need to do this if you use an overlocker, but you will need to be super, super careful not to cut the sleeve head with the knife as you sew.  It is all too easy to do so (don't ask me how I know this...)  Take your time, sew slowly, using  your fingers to 'feel' the fabric as you go, making sure it is lying flat, and looking carefully as you go.

Then, the pressing!!  Press the seam allowance first, towards the sleeve, and then press the body, right up to the seam line.  The sleeve head should look curved and rounded, but not puckered.

You've done it!

The more you do, the easier it becomes, but trust me, as someone who regularly makes shirts, it will never be quick!  Take your time and you will be pleased with your sleeves.

Here is the finished shirt I made.  You may recognise the pattern as my favourite Vogue pattern, but can you spot the 'deliberate' mistake???  

Yes, the buttonholes are on the wrong side for a female shirt!  This is the first time I have ever made this mistake and I was sooooo cross and upset with myself!  However, I have been reassured by my daughter (the eventual wearer of the shirt) that she really couldn't care less which side they are on, plus my friends at Cooper's Creative assure me that this whole different side for men and women thing isn't as important now, and that some manufacturers use the same side for both.  That made me feel a whole lot better :)

I hope you will find some of this useful.  There is something quite satisfying about sleeve setting in - and I hope if you have never tried a smooth sleeve insert that you will be inspired to give it a go.

Donna x 


I awoke this morning with a jumble of ideas in my head of what I wanted to do today.  So, so many possibilities.  On the list was replanting the rest of the patio pots for winter, but as it rained most of the day (and as much as I enjoy gardening, I am definitely a fair weather gardener) POH said he would do those, therefore I could devote the day to indoorsy things. 

I decided to make a traditional Sunday lunch.  Although we have a 'special' meal pretty much every Sunday, I don't always do a roast.  Today I decided to treat my two favourite men to roast beef, Yorkshire Pudding, and all the trimmings.

Oh, those are the rest of the pickled onions we bottled yesterday.  We have approximately 20 large jars, but oh, we do love them!!

As I was in the kitchen all morning, I also decided to make a chocolate roulade for tea.  I whipped the eggs and sugar...

...folded in the flour and cocoa powder, and baked it for 10 minutes.  I tipped it onto a piece of sugared baking paper...

...placed another sheet on top and then rolled it up fairly firmly, like, well, a Swiss roll!  I then left it to cool.  Later on I'll fill it with chocolate ganache and whipped cream.

I also made a steamed jam pudding for lunch dessert.  I didn't take a photo of that though!

Lunch was scrummy.  I didn't have the beef, as I'm vegetarian, so I has stuffed mushrooms instead.  POH obligingly took a photo of his lunch though:

Pudding was eventful.  I carefully cut a delicious, jammy slice for POH, and as I was transferring it to a bowl, I dropped the whole thing in my lap.  There was jam everywhere!  Over the table, the placemats, but mainly me.  We scrapped the pudding off my skirt, and after a quick change we had our pudding.

After the washing up was done POH went back outside to clean up the last of the leaves and I went up to my sewing room to set in the sleeves on the shirt I am making.

By now it was getting dark, so POH came in, I stoked up the fire and we settled down to warm our toes, and I got my crochet out.

I am very excited to tell you about the Blooming Big Blanket, as all the rows are done, the ends sewn in, and I am now doing the edging!  I am using one of Lucy's (Attic 24) edging patterns.  It's this one.  I'm on round 2 of 4 already!  Lucy's blanket edgings are great, and she explains them so well, like she does all of her patterns.  Thanks, Lucy!

At 7.15 pm (precise, because we wanted to watch the Strictly Results Show) we had our tea.  Whenever we have our tea in front of the fire we lay up the little table I inherited from my Mum, adorning it with a pretty cloth.  We had a selection of sandwiches and the chocolate roulade, all accompanied by lashings of Yorkshire tea. Mmmmmm... it was very good.

We are now settled in for the evening, catching up with Howard's End, thoroughly enjoying the fire, the pets' company and the wonderful contentment of a day well spent.

Donna x