Draughts/checkers board DIY

Strategy games have become a big thing in our household, over the past few months. My youngest child, in particular, is a real lover of all things strategic.

Though my mum managed to find the mancala board my brother and I played with as children*, I couldn’t find a draughts/checkers set amongst things we already had.

Because of the pledge to buy nothing new, we started out by drawing a grid on paper and using random items from around the house as counters. This worked for a while, but when it became clear that the interest in patterns and strategy wasn’t going away, I wanted to make something a little more permanent and portable.

I don’t have any woodworking skills worth noting, but I can sew and knit, so the obvious solution was to create something using fabric/yarn.

I settled on fabric in the end, because it was quicker to run these squares through my sewing machine than it was to knit alternative shapes. It was also a really good way to use up some of my fabric scraps, rather than beginning a new ball of yarn. Of course, if you already have a checked blanket, you can forego this whole ‘step’ and just go find some counters.

I didn’t really measure anything out for this little patchwork rug – I just sort of made it up as I went along.

I started by finding a scrap of paper that was the width I want for each square. I folded at a 45 degree angle by bringing the left edge in line with the top edge.

I then cut this into a square along the bottom/right edge to create a template so that all of my squares were the same size.

After that, it was simply a case of sewing all of the squares together. I did the top by hand because it meant that I could chat to my parents while I worked and, as a result, the job got done quicker than if I’d waited to use the machine!

After I’d done that, I backed the top with a piece of an old sheet. All in all, this took a few hours of work and cost nothing. I used old buttons for counters.

Making this was actually quite interesting in a lot of ways. For a start, it made me think about the time spend in acquisition of things. For example, if one buys something from a physical store, it takes time to go there, select the item in question, pay for it and come home. Ordering things online takes even longer. If we can make-do with things we have in our possession already, we not only save ourselves money and precious resources, we also save time. And really, who doesn’t want a few more hours in the day?

I keep coming back to this – the concept of convenience sells, but surely it’s more convenient to use objects already in our homes than it is to source, fund and house new things? That saying about the plastic spoon springs to mind…

This little blanket has also made me think really hard about the things I give as ‘new baby’ gifts. In future, I’ll be making little checked quilts – 8×8 squares – with a large border. These can then go from being a cot blanket, to a play mat, to a draughts board – a gift that grows with the recipient. If I were really thinking ahead, I could make 32 small, easy, square bean-bags in the two opposing colours – I could fill them with different textured/scented fillings as sensory baby toys, but also stitch ‘p’ for ‘pawn’ or ‘q’ for ‘queen’ on one side so that when they’re no longer useful as said sensory toys, they could be used as draught counters when the blank side is showing, and chess counters when the letters are visible. On the back of the quilt, one could also sew different coloured, larger squares down the centre for a throwing game – bean bags in the furthest square get 10 points, those in the middle get 5 and those in the closest get 1 point, for example.

Cot blanket, play mat, sensory toys, bag toss, draughts, and chess – six uses for one gift.

This is the way we need to think about all the things we give – not just the initial moment of receipt, but also of how objects can be useful as time progresses. It’s certainly a lesson I’ll be taking with me, following this quick little project.

Have you ever tried making toys for children? I would love to hear what you’ve made. Contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*If you fancy trying out mancala, you don’t need a board. Anything you have to hand is totally fine. There’s archaeological evidence of it having been played with dips in sand and rounded pebbles – you can absolutely use bowls and Lego blocks, circles on paper and some dried beans, or glass beads and jam jars. The important part is the rules.

Back to School backpack

As I said in a previous post about school uniform, we really don’t need to buy brand new paraphernalia for our children at the start of every school year. I’m a great believer in using what’s at hand and ‘making do’.

That said, my youngest starts school this year. There is no pre-existing backpack, or pencil case, or gym bag. And looking at the things we used for nursery, I don’t feel like there’s a way we can repurpose them on this occasion. So, as I’m not going to buy anything new – as per my birthday pledge – I thought I would share the making process as I attempt a backpack.

There are so many reasons why it makes sense to craft your own items (if you have the ability to do so) and I would definitely encourage you to read many of the amazing works out there about why we should reject high-street fashion/supermarket retail if we can afford to – both Lauren Bravo’s book and Lucy Siegle‘s spring instantly to mind. Plastic fabrics, dyes, and awful work environments are just a handful of issues inherent in cheap, imported goods.* Second hand is a great middle ground if you can’t afford something ethically produced and eBay is full of high quality satchels which are no longer seeing any love.

However, as I’ve got a large fabric stash (mostly inherited) and the skills to make a basic bag, this seems like the most cost-effective, eco-friendly way for me to do this.

So, without further soap-boxing…

Step One – Select your fabric. 

I’ve touched before on the advantages of natural fibres, but I’d like to add here that you’re looking for something hard-wearing and duarble. School bags see a lot of punishment from day-to-day. Denim is an obvious choice, and most houses have an old pair of jeans or two which aren’t getting worn. If you’re going to use old clothes, selecting those with as few seams as possible gives you a lot of options as you’ll have larger areas of ‘uninterrupted’ cloth.

Step Two – Decide on your size.

In our case, school provides a book-bag, so this satchel will largely be used for a gym kit, water bottle and snack, so it doesn’t need to be huge. I think a good rule, is to think about the largest thing that will need carrying and then make your design just that little bit larger – around 2 inches on each side is usually a good shout.

Step 3 – Decide how you’re going to carry the bag

In some cases, a drawstring bag will be enough, especially for a gym kit. In which case, don’t make life more complicated than it needs to be and check out this tutorial. It does instruct you to overlock/serge the sides, but you can get around this by sewing a ‘French seam’ instead – tutorial here. For anything else, I would have said to just zig-zag over the raw fabric, or use some pinking shears, but for something that children are going to toss around at school every day, I really think that the seams need to be fray-proof for longevity. I didn’t actually do anything special for the outer layer of this particular bag, though, as it’s a plastic cloth which doesn’t fray. It was my table cloth for years so saw a lot of usage – I know how it’s going to stand up to punishment! – so I didn’t make more work for myself.

Step… I’m just going to start uploading pictures now. Wish me luck. 

To start with, I cut my fabric… I chose an old, plastic-coated tablecloth for this bag. Because longevity. And children. And I had it already.

I cut the same size of lining fabric too. This lining came from an old bed sheet – you can see it behind the garish periodic table above.

I folded the outer layer in half and sewed along the side and bottom.

Then I folded the bag in such a way that I could sew across the corners to make the base square. It’s difficult to explain it  but I hope the pictures help…

I did the same to the lining (check out those French seams!) and it might be a little clearer here…

I then inserted a zip into the top of the bag. The zip I had in my stash wasn’t quite long enough, so I added some denim scraps to either end…

I’m not sure if you can really see it in the picture above, but after I’d added the zip, I added a little strap with a popper on. If my child chooses not to fasten the strap, the bag has about another 5-6 inches of space. Not necessary just now, but hopefully this will last a while and might become relevant later…

This was actually pretty difficult to do because I’d already put the zip in, but it was possible and that’s the main thing!

I just hand stitched this big metal popper into place. It’s not glamorous as far as closures go, but it does the job.

Then I had a break for about 2 weeks while I figured out what to do with the straps. I wanted a backpack, but I’d already added the zip which made adding straps… less than ideal. I also didn’t really have the various buckles and clips to make the straps adjustable which isn’t really ‘future-proof’.

So I decided to be a bit… creative with the straps. I measured from my child’s waist to shoulder, multiplied this by two, then measured from shoulder to shoulder, and added these numbers together. I then doubled that number. This gave me the length of continuous fabric I needed for… whatever you’d call the contraption I’m rigging up.

I then sewed a second length of this strap fabric and stitched it across the back of the bag, with little gaps for the length of strap to pass through. Because I’d already sewn the zip in place, this process redefined my personal idea of hell.

For the sake of my sanity, I decided to hand-sew the rest of the bag…

Hand stitching is one of those things we’re conditioned to think of as too slow to be practical, but actually, for small and fiddly objects (like this bag!) it’s probably faster than trying to find a machine-friendly alternative. I used backstitch to make the straps really secure and always sew with a thimble – this really helps when you’re sewing heavy fabric like the plastic table-cloth. Also worth noting and contrary to what I used to think, using a thinner needle tends to be easier than a thick one on thick fabrics.

You can see from the pictures below that the straps can move between the two holes and the function of the bag can change from backpack to shoulder bag.

The shoulder strap will make is easy for me to carry when I inevitably get dumped with the bag after school, but the backpack position is perfect for small people…

All that remained was to fit the lining. Again, I chose to do this by hand for speed and ease. Sewing around the zip is just vastly easier this way.

Once I’d done that, all that was left was to turn the whole thing inside out and try it on the enthusiastic recipient…

I’m not going to lie – this does look… homemade. Our school is tiny and rural, and the children are sweet. They do pick on one another every so often but in such a small community, there are few places to hide so I’m not overly worried about my child being bullied for not having something ‘bought’. I do think, though, that this is something which you might want to consider if your children attend a bigger school or is a little older and part of a brand-conscious crowd.

There are ways to ensure that the bag looks as good as possible – all of them easy, some of them free.
– Measure everything carefully
– Press your seams as you go along
– Use the sharpest scissors you have access to
– Use a new sewing-machine needle for each project
– Use as high quality fabric as you can
– Make sure to sew in all loose threads (I think this makes the biggest difference).

I didn’t actually buy anything for this project – most of it came from my mother-in-law’s substantial stash – so it was really cheap. You could technically make it without the strap to fasten the top down, so you don’t necessarily even need the popper.

Have you tried making school supplies before? How did you get on?

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*There are, of course, arguments that we should continue to buy from these lower-priced places in order to prevent job-losses in overseas factories. I can absolutely see the reasoning behind this, and if this is where your moral compass is pointing you, then ‘you do you’ – crack on. If you do want change, though, you need to let the retail outlet you’re purchasing from know – drop them a Tweet, ask about how the garment workers are treated, and then don’t act as though the clothes you’ve bought are disposable. If enough brands are held accountable for the ethics of their products, then we might begin to see a change.

Depending on the point in time you’re reading this from, something like Lost Stock might be a good compromise. In short, due to the Covid pandemic, many UK retailers cancelled their orders leaving

School uniform and the environment

As a return to actual, physical school grows ever closer, I decided to take a look at the uniform my children will wear.

Going forward – possibly two of the words I use most on here – I won’t be buying the branded school stuff. This makes me slightly sad, because I love our little, wonderful school and I’m proud of it, and I know my children are too. But the sweatshirts and t-shirts are largely polyester, and as white cotton shirts are a viable alternative, I think I’d be wrong not to make the switch.

Meanwhile, I’ll be using my newly-purchased ‘Guppy Friend’ bag in an effort to reduce the damage done by the microfibres of the current uniform – at least until these garments wear out. Like the stingy economic parent that I am, I set aside the clothes my eldest wore to school and saved them for my youngest. This week, I took them out to check the state of them before going back…

… I’ve got to say, those t-shirts really don’t look good.

On the one hand, I know that within five minutes, whatever I put either child in will be covered in… something. On the other hand, I know that so many other children will be returning to school with lovely, brand new clothes so I don’t want my two to feel left out.

So, I thought I would attack the half-decade-old stains with some soap that was recommended in one of the lectures of the Sustainable(ish) online festival. Said soap came from a website called Chateau Du Savon and arrived plastic free in the post – bonus!

For obvious reasons, I’m not going post pictures of the school uniforms online, but suffice to say – they’re messy. For illustrative purposes, however, I did manage to find an item of clothing in a comparibly dreadful state….

This is a white shirt that my husband wore whilst chain-sawing an entire tree into small enough pieces to burn in our stove.

Let’s all have a good look at that shoulder… Take note.

So, it’s a challenge. Almost as much of a challenge as my eldest’s hideous old t-shirts…

As I said, this white shirt is masquerading as a school uniform, so from this point on, I’ll be referring to it as such.

I started by soaking the polo shirts in cool water. This actually removed a fair amount of grot. I then rubbed the bar of soap directly onto the areas which were most stained – namely the inside of the necks, and the point on the front of the shirt where the stomach meets the table.

After I’d done that, the water looked like the picture above.

So I rinsed and scrubbed a second time and got this…

Still mucky. So I filled the sink one more time, scrubbed lots, and then tossed everything into the Guppy Friend bag.

The result was actually incredible. Honestly, I wish I’d done it sooner, and it gives me hope for when I do switch to white cotton shirts – perhaps they won’t end up as destroyed as I’d feared.

And that shoulder is all clean again!

Not that you can really see from this picture, but the cuffs also came out particularly well. No-more worn-on grime.

I wish I could show you the transformation that took place on the uniforms themselves – there was only one shirt which really didn’t scrub up to the point where I could pass it off as new.

It begs the question – why do we buy new uniform every single year? Obviously if our children grow, we need to replace items, but there seems to be a mass purchasing before the start of every autumn term where back-to-school=new uniform. This really isn’t necessary. If we take care of our clothes, they will last so much longer. This involves washing cool, line-drying, and keeping them in a good state of repair. All of these things will save you money. All of these things will reduce your impact on the environment.

I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy specialist stain-removal soap, or laundry bleach, or Napisan – even using concentrated amounts of regular soap will help – but if you do make this small, environmentally sound investment, you’re likely to see big rewards.

I plan to cover the repair of a chewed sweater cuff in the coming weeks, so if you have a child that likes to eat their jumpers, it’s worth coming back!

Do you have any top tips for keeping children’s clothes free of stains? Are you a fan of the back-to-school, everything-new-for-a-new-term ‘tradition’, or are you happy to reuse things until your child outgrows them? Comment below, or on Twitter.

Elderflower Cordial

One of my absolute favourite things to make from the garden is elderflower cordial.

It’s so easy to make, and though you need to leave it to steep overnight, it’s actually incredibly quick in terms of weeks. You don’t technically need anything other than store cupboard ingredients – sugar and water, and the zest of some lemons. It does benefit from some citric acid, though.

Firstly, collect a bowl of flower sprays. Pack the bowl quite tightly and let it stand for a few hours – this gives any bugs time to escape.

Once you’ve done that, break the larger stalks off and decant the flower heads into a large pan. Add the peel of some lemons – I used 4 this time, ‘zested’ using a vegetable peeler.

I tried to add the zest of some limes in too, but they were a bit old and gnarly so there’s just that solitary green scrap there…

I covered all of the ingredients in my pot with boiling water, put the lid on, and let it steep for 24 hours – a bit like a giant pot of fresh elderflower tea.

Coming back to it the next day, I put a fine metal sieve – lined with a clean cotton tea towel – over a bowl and strained yesterday’s concoction.

I was just going to pour the whole lot over, but in the end, I decided to use a slotted spoon to remove the larger sprays of elderflower.

After that, I strained what was left. This made it much easier to clean the tea-towel afterwards.

Now for the important part of the instructions – measure the volume of fluid you have left. You need to add grams of sugar equivalent to the number of mililiters in order to make the cordial. So, for example – I measured 1.6l fluid, and added 1.6kg of sugar.

I really like to use Silver Spoon sugar – we used to live near the factory in Suffolk – because it’s grown in the UK so has fewer food miles than alternatives, but as ever, that’s a personal preference.

If you’re adding citric acid to the mix – and I added around a tbsp for this quantity – then stir it through the sugar here.

Once you’ve worked out how much sugar you’ll need, add both sugar and fluid to a large pan, then heat until the sugar dissolves. Meanwhile, sterilise your bottles.*

All that’s left to do at this point is to decant the finished cordial into the bottles.

Whilst – in theory – this should last well at room temperature, I like to store it in the fridge. With most things – to my shame – I’ll just skim any mould off the top, but that isn’t possible in  a bottle like this so I tend to err on the side of caution.

Dilute to taste – I like a roughly 1:5 ratio with tap water, but you can add sparkling water instead for a bit of fizz.

Have you tried making your own cordials? I’d love to hear what kinds you’ve made! Tell me about it here, or on Twitter.

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* There are all sorts of ways to do this. Some people like to use boiling water, others use the oven and microwave, but personally I like to use Milton cold-water steriliser or the non-branded equivalent. If I’ve got the oven on anyway, or if I’d planned on boiling the kettle, then I’m happy to do these things but you need such a small amount of the liquid steriliser and you’re not burning through power to heat things by using it, so it’s my favourite method. As with the sugar, though – it’s all just personal preference.

DIY Cosmetics

I’ve posted before about making soap but in truth, there are very few bathroom products that I don’t make myself. From the cotton cloths I use on my face, to a really simple bath soak (epsom salts + dried lavender = all there is to it), I like knowing what’s in the things I put on my skin.

This works for me for a number of reasons. Primarily, because I’m really not much of a wearer of make-up, which I think this next sentence will demonstrate…

The tiny little tub in the picture (filled there with my DIY attempt) was the Beauty Naturals powder I bought for my wedding in 2008. It ran out last week…

And I know – you’re not supposed to use make-up past a certain age, but honestly… it was only a little past its use-by date, then only a little past that, then it was so old I couldn’t see the date stamp, and then the tub was basically an antique…

I’ve seen loads of tutorials online about how to make your own face powder from kitchen staples. These are invariably mixed from cocoa powder and some sort of white starch – in my case, I used tapioca starch because my refillery had given me a free bag.  It was past its best-before date…

I’m sensing a pattern…

Most of the ‘recipes’ I looked at dealt with powder for pale skin, but I did manage to find this tutorial on YouTube, which gives a suggested ratio for darker complexions. In all honesty though, I think this is just a case of messing around with the ingredients until you find something you like.

In terms of cost, this is just about the cheapest thing you’re going to find anywhere. You may already have the items you need in your store cupboard and at around £8 for 4g of finishing powder, I would venture that you can buy the ingredients for less, and have enough of them to make powder aplenty for years to come.

Being totally honest, I wouldn’t say this powder is a perfect substitute. It lacks a degree of warmth and the colour I mixed has a slightly grey quality to it when sat in the pot. I think that next time I dry some beetroot peel for stock, I’ll add the tiniest pinch of the resulting powder to try and add more of a ‘blush’. That said, it’s perfectly servicable as it is, so I’ll probably forget for another … ahem … 12 years.

Eep.

Other bathroom cabinet staples which I’ve made include:

Moisturiser: This is really simple. Simply melt around 0.5cm of a block of beeswax (or around 2-3g) with a heaped tablespoon of coconut oil, a teaspoon of olive oil and a tsp of glycerine (available in the baking section at most supermarkets, or online).

Lipbalm: I make this in ‘bulk’, filling up old Vaseline tins, or old liquorice pastile tins. Really, though – any small, portable container will work.

This I make by melting half a bar of beeswax, and the same weight of coconut oil together. Sometimes, if I have any for making my knitting more water-resistant, I add a teaspoon of lanolin. You can buy this in metal tubs online – I bought mine from a seller called ‘Elijah Blue’ but i can’t find links to their shop anymore – or in the baby section at the supermarket labelled as Lansinoh Lanolin cream. It’s expensive, but a little goes a long way and it’s a great alternative to the likes of Savlon cream or Germoline.

If you’re trying to avoid animal products, simply substituting the beeswax for extra coconut oil is absolutely an option but do keep in mind that the melting point for your products might be a little lower. This being the case, you may want to consider using a screw-top jar – tiny hotel jam jars are ideal, as are old contact lens cases – as you’re less likely to suffer leaks this way, if your balm does melt into liquid.

Obviously, this means that the lip balm basically becomes pure coconut oil. There’s nothing wrong with that – and it’s definitely an affordable way to do it – but if you wanted to add some other, slightly solid oils there’s no reason you couldn’t do that. I’ve heard good things about cocoa butter.

Dry Shampoo: When I go camping, I tend to use a lot of dry shampoo. I had been using Batiste spray and then the bottled Lush equivalent, but when I read the ingredients on the Lush bottle, I thought I’d have a go myself. The main components are – again – some kind of starch. I add cocoa powder to mine as my hair is really dark, but as above, adjust the ratios according to your own requirements.

In terms of things that I use and I’ve tried making, that’s about it at the present time. If I’m still writing this in another 12 years, I’ll tell you how I got on with DIY eyeshadow (I’ve heard good things about turmeric and cocoa powder), but as I said to begin with, I’m not really much of a make-up wearer.

Have you tried any of the above? Do you have any suggestions as to what I should try next? I would love to hear your comments – either below, or on Twitter.

Nettle Soup

Nettle soup is one of those ‘literary’ dishes. It sounds like something lifted straight from Beatrix Potter, or something that Merry Men would ‘sustain’ themselves on whilst hiding out in the forest. I think that’s why I loved it, to begin with – because I could pretend to be romantic and windswept and Tess-of-the-D’Urbervilles-y frugal.

Except that now, it’s just a thing that I eat, because we have nettles and I’m too lazy to go shopping.

To make a hearty bowl of nettle soup you need: 
– some nettles (obviously). I find around two big, fat handfuls works. Try to take the leafs from the top of the plant. You want the small tender ones.
– some kind of oniony taste (slightly-sprouting back-of-the-cupboard onions are fine, as are spring onions, leeks, garlic, and chives)
– some stock (I use a chicken OXO cube or some veg stock I made)
– possibly some diary – I like stinky cheese rinds, but these aren’t essential

I fry off the oniony-component in a little oil. As I’m doing that, I put a seive over a bowl, pop the nettles in the seive, and then pour boiling water over them to rid them of all stingy parts and any muck from outside. Once that’s done, I add the nettles to the onions. (I let the water in the bowl cool – it’s going on my house plants.) To the soup-pan, I add my stock and enough water to cover the nettles. When these have cooked through and gone tender, I blend them and add any dairy leftovers – a teaspoon of soured cream, some creme fraiche about to turn, some grated stilton rinds…

If I want something thicker, I like to add potato to the mix. Leftover mash is ideal, but tiny cubes cook quickly and really help to thicken things.

The taste is earthy – a bit like spinach – and wholesome. And if you grow your own chives and otherwise use up your leftovers as you make it, nettle soup can be one of those oh-so-rare free meals.

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you think. As ever, you can get in touch here or on Twitter.

Dandelion Cake

We have an abundance of dandelions in our garden. I love that they bring some much-needed colour after winter bleaches the Scottish landscape, and that they feed the bees which seem to happily inhabit our garden… but they really do take over huge swathes of ground.

I play a game of chicken with them every year – how long dare I let them flower? Too long and they release clouds of seed across the ground, but no long enough and my polinators go hungry.

And I really don’t like just (compost) binning them. The dandelion is a versatile food source – roots and leafs and flower are all edible. What a waste of food to simply pull it up and throw it away.

Lots of people make salads, dandelion wine, vegan ‘honey’*,  root ‘coffee’, or Greek radikia, from various parts of the plant, but I wanted something quick and child-friendly so I settled on a 2-egg Victoria sponge with petals in it, baked in a loaf tin.

Some notes: I don’t actually use a recipe when I’m making Victoria sponge. I weigh my eggs, add the same weight of self-raising flour, the same again of sugar, then half that weight of vegetable oil and half of milk. I use the veg oil/milk combination  because it’s cheaper than the equivalent quantity of butter, and because I don’t need to buy an extra ingredient i.e. margarine. If you go down this route, vegetable oil and sunflower oil work beautifully. Extra virgin rapeseed oil is awesome for nutty cakes like carrot, or coffee and walnut, but not so much for fluffy sweet things. Whatever you do, don’t use olive oil or sesame oil – trust me. Just don’t.

In case you’re not an egg-weighing person, I roughly used 120g sf flour, 120g sugar, 60mls milk, 60mls oil and 2 eggs for this cake – plus the 2 eggs and the dandelion petals.

To get your petals, all you need to do is pick some flowers – or have small, helping hands do that for you – and chop the green bits off.

It doesn’t matter if you leave a few stray greens in – it’s all edible – but too many will leave a bitter taste.

In total, you need around a cup of dandelion petals, but you can add more or less depending on your personal preference. I’m not a precise cook so I would absolutely encourage experimentation.

Bake the cake for around 40 minutes at 160C, or until a skewer comes out clean. Once you’ve done that, leave it to cool and slice when ready. If you can bring yourself to, though, I would recommend leaving it for 24 hours for the flavours to mature a little. You’ll get more of the sweet, honey undertones that way. The texture is also much more stable, and therefore willing to carry more butter. Just saying.

And there you have it. A tasty way to reduce the spread of weeds in your garden.

Have you tried eating dandelions? What are you favourite recipes? I would love to try them out! Contact me here, or on Twitter.

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*Which I’m sure my 90+ yr old friend said was what most people would have used during WW2 if honey wasn’t available, though I could be wrong.

Recovering my ironing board…

Some of you might have seen my recent post about beeswax wraps, and that I wrecked my ironing board cover while making them.

I’ve made covers for this baby ironing board before, but they’ve all been more than a little rubbish until now. I just couldn’t quite figure out how I should add the elastic/string to the main fabric. Then my friend posted a really clever method of doing so, and I’ve been waiting to try it ever since.

But I’m lazy, and the other cover was… mostly fine?

Maybe not.

Anyway – after I clarted everything in wax, I decided that now was the time to fix things. I grabbed an offcut of cotton from the kids’ curtains and set to work….

First off, I chose cotton because I know it’s not going to melt, and because I know I can machine wash it, if I get grease on it from making cheese toasties.

… Irons can do many things…

Anyway, first of all, I took the string out of the channel and set it to one side. Then I ripped off the horrible, amalgamated Franken-channel, formed from the deceased ironing board covers that came before it…

Which left me with a shape I could cut around.

After I’d done that, I went stash-raiding for some bias binding. This I found amongst my mother-in-laws things, in the ideal shade of turqoise.

And all I did after that, was open the binding out, fold it in half, and sew it around the edge of the old curtain, using the machine.

If you’ve got a more recent machine than mine – and being quite honest, as my machine is from 1895, chances are  you will have a more recent one – you should probably do a zig-zag stitch around the raw edge. Or use an overlocker if you have one. If you’re using an overlocker, you could do as Amelia suggests, over at Sewing Machinations, and overlock the wadding to the cover, but again – I’m lazy. And I didn’t.

After I’d finished, I tied the original string to a safety pin and passed it through the new bias binding channel.

An important point to note, at this stage. As soon as you have both ends of the string in your hands, tie a knot at the very tip. Then, as you try and even out the distribution of the string through the channel, you won’t lose one end and have to rethread the entire thing. After you’ve placed the cover on the board and tightened the string, then you can untie it and retie it in a tight bow. This will save you a lot of work if it gets lost.

All that’s left to do then is to put the cover on the board. As you can see, my ironing board is a tiny, table-top one – largely used for ironing sewing projects and toasted sandwiches (because who has space for a dedicated sandwich toaster?!) – but the principal is the same no matter what size of ironing board you have.

I really hope you’ve found this useful – I’d love to see your before/after pictures if you’ve had a go, either here or on Twitter.

Beeswax wraps

A little while ago, my friend and I had a go at making beeswax wraps and – quite honestly – it was a total disaster that resulted in a lot of wasted wax and a huge amount of mess.

Having then bought some wraps from a lovely lady at a craft stall just before Christmas, I discovered that instead of using the internet’s favourite ‘brush the melted wax on with a pastry brush’ method, that I could have just sprinkled some grated wax on some cloth and ironed it between two sheets of baking paper.

Well, now I’ve had a go at that and I can absolutely say – it’s so much easier and it actually works!

First, I grabbed some scraps of cotton, some pinking shears and some beeswax blocks, then I trimmed the scraps into regular shapes.

After I’d done that, I had a good pile of lovely squares.

Next step, was to grate the wax. I just used my regular cheese grater, but I think going forward – if the charity shops reopen any time soon – I’ll get one specifically for wax. It just makes cleaning it perfectly far less important.

I would like to state at this point that each of those nubs of wax made one wrap. So, if you want to do more than around 3, you’ll need several bars of the beeswax that you find at hardware stores. I buy this because it’s package free – unlike the stuff you get off eBay. But if you’re making these during lockdown, and you decide to order beeswax online, I would absolutely opt for the pre-made pellets, rather than grating a block.

Anyway, this is one of those nubs, grated…

And this is that grate nub spread out onto the cloth it’s about to cover.

And now, for the ironing. I put one sheet of greaseproof paper under the fabric and one on top, then brought out Old Faithful.

This is my Nan’s Rowenta iron. It was made in West Germany, which should give you some idea as to its longevity. Unfortunately, the temperature dial no longer works, so now I use it to iron toasted sandwiches and various craft projects. My ‘fancy’ iron – a sale buy from John Lewis costing a whole £10 – ends up staying clean this way…

Anyway, after you’ve run the iron over once, you’ll notice some parts of the cloth aren’t saturated – like the edges here. They’re a much paler colour to the rest. All you do is sprinkle a bit more wax on and repeat the ironing process.

And then you’re done – two lovely beeswax wraps, from scrap cloth and some package-free wax, ready to replace freezer bags and clingfilm. As these are for my mum, I made some packaging for her…

I just got some brown paper that had been used for padding in an online order, and cut it down. Then I drew on it with the kids’ felt pens.

As you can see – hopefully – from my scrappy handwriting, these wraps are really easy to care for. And if you’re a heavy cling-film user, they could end up saving you lots of plastic over the course of those 6 months.

I feel that I should add at this point that I wrecked my ironing board cover whilst doing this. I didn’t mean to, but actually, it was a good thing because it was dropping to bits anyway. It gave me the impetus to replace the manky, ancient thing I made when I was learning to sew. This could have absolutely been avoided, however, by making the fabric significantly smaller than the baking paper. As I wanted to ‘use up’ some baking paper that we’d used for bread, however, I cut my fabric to the same size and so spilled wax onto the ironing board. And the iron. It’s all a big mess…

Click ‘follow’ for ‘how to recover your ironing board’! 😉

Have you tried making beeswax wraps? Which method did you use?

I’d love to hear about your experiences – why not get in touch in the comments section, or on Twitter?

Broccoli soup

As I said in a previous post, this was written before the COVID19 outbreak but it seems even more pogniant now…
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One of the best things we can do to reduce our environmental impact is to be careful with the food we eat. One of the most wasted items of food – that I see, in any case – is the broccoli stem.

I’m not really sure why this is, to be honest. I mean, sure – if you boil it with the florettes, it ends up stringy, but there are loads of different ways to cook it.

Rather than throw it out, I collect mine in the freezer. When I have 4-5 stalks chopped up and in a bag, I buy a brand new florette and make broccoli soup. Admittedly, you can absolutely make it without the whole, new broccoli head, but it can look a little bit pale and anaemic.

Anyway, here’s what I usually do.

Ingredients:
3-4 broccoli stalks
1 whole head of broccoli
1 onion
1 stock cube (I use OXO chicken/beef as it’s plastic & palm oil free, but if you want vegetable stock, you can make your own too)
Water
A dairy product – optional (this is ideal for using up the ends of soured cream, for example, or cheese rinds).

Method:

  • Chop your onions and fry them off in a little oil. I tend to use the oil from sun-dried tomatoes for frying things off in as it adds a little flavour and uses up something you’d otherwise throw out.
  • After your onions have softened a little, add the chopped, frozen stalks to your pan, along with your stock and enough water to cover. (Some astute readers might note the asparagus ends and celery in the frozen veg below – I just tend to freeze odd scraps that are about to go off, so I can use them in soup . This lot ended up in with the broccoli.)
  • After these have softened a little, add your fresh broccoli.
  • When it’s soft enough, use the stick blender to mush the lot. Or, if your family likes to actually chew their food (unlike my youngest), blend until there are chunks of your preferred size in there. Afterwards, add any dairy that you’re going to add.
  • Serve, and enjoy.

In the interests of total disclosure, my kids like this more than my husband and I do. I feel like there’s a depth of flavour that’s lacking (which may or may not be improved by the use of ham stock…). That said, in terms of affordability and uses of food waste, this is definitely a winner. And it doesn’t taste bad. Not by any stretch of the imagination – it’s a warming, hearty soup. I’m just used to being thoroughly spoiled with what I get to eat. I married a wonderful cook.

Do you make use of your broccoli stems? I would love to hear what you do! As ever, contact me here, or on Twitter.