Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Quick, easy and festive birdseed cakes

Do you fancy feeding the birds AND doing something fun with a small child?

This is a quick fly-by to share this brilliant and easy recipe for birdseed cakes. I followed this lady's instructions and it worked perfectly and made a gazillion of them.

All you need is bird seed, flour, water and syrup - and something like a cookie cutter to mould them in.  You can make any shape but as it's December I have made mine festive.

Now I just have to find a cat-proof place to hang them!  Hope the birds like them... 










(NB: the recipe suggests corn syrup but if you are in the UK it's easier to use golden syrup and works just as well.)


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Toddler's Own Christmas Tree

A little while ago I was inspired by this link on Pinterest for a toddler-friendly Christmas tree that little ones can decorate and un-decorate at will, so I decided to have a go.  (Essentially it's just a giant fuzzy felt tree - how hard could it be?)

I decide to make a stiff one with a cardboard skeleton, so that I could hang it on a panelled door, so I started by cutting out a tree shape from the side of a large cardboard box...



Next I went on the lookout for green felt.  After a bit of googling I discovered that there is such a thing as sticky-back felt - hooray!  You can get it at various places but I eventually ordered mine online from here and also a mixed bundle of coloured felt squares and some spotty felt from ebay.

Once the felt arrived it was just a case of sticking it on and cutting out bauble and present shapes.  I glued the presents around the base with a glue gun but the baubles and the star are all designed for maximum toddler fiddling.

I think the microbe likes it...






(The only trouble I'm having now is getting it to stay on the door using white-tac - it keeps popping off, so I'm thinking hanging it on a picture hook instead.)


Saturday, 6 October 2012

Book Release - ta-daaa!

Hooray!  After an almost craft-free year of toddler-rearing, I am excited to announce some actual crafty news.

Readers with a very good memory might remember me mentioning that I took on a small job with Dorling Kindersley last year to author the soapmaking chapter of their new all-round Craft Book.

Fast-forward by 12 months... and ta-daaa!  The book has just been released in time for Christmas 2012.


As you can see, they have gone for the same 'vintage-style' cover design as the partner book entitled Dressmaking.

It was such a lovely surprise when my copy landed with a heavy thunk from the postman last week.  Now that I've had time to take a good look through it, I'd say it's looking like an ideal book for multi-crafters and anyone who likes to try their hand at different things.  The crafts include a very wide range of pursuits, including furniture-painting, wirework, sillk and glass-painting, metal-clay moulding, patchwork and lots more.

Each chapter starts with a clear step-by-step how-to guide on the craft in question, followed by a series of specific projects to make at home.


Does anyone fancy a sneak preview of my soapmaking chapter?  Here are snapshots of a few of the pages...





In case anyone out there is inspired enough to want to buy the book...

  • UK readers can buy it from Amazon here 
  • US readers can buy it under this slightly different name:  Craft (Dk Crafts)
Enjoy!


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

And now for something completely different

Well hello there!  I've been living in a crafty vacuum since Microboy was born, but I might have developed a very slight Pottery Cafe habit of late.  Today I picked up these two bowls that I painted last week.



No idea what I will do with them.  Apparently they are 'baby bowls' but - really?   Who on earth gives ceramic bowls to babies?  I suppose they might make a brief but appealing sight as they go frisbeeing past my head.  Personally I think they are more realistic as cereal bowls.  Not that I need any new bowls at all.  Oh well.  I might find a use for them somewhere.

In more exciting news, this week I received the sample layouts for my soapmaking chapter in the new craft book.  The photography looks really nice.  I'm still not sure when the book will come into the shops, but I'll be sure to post an update when it does.

Friday, 21 October 2011

News! And what I have been up to...

Yeep!  It's been ages since I updated.  But in fact I have been ludicrously busy on the craft front and I have two things to mention...

First of all, I am a lil bit excited to announce that I've been doing some handmade soap projects for another craft book that is due to come out soon.  I'll post more details once I know the release date, but for now I can say that it is going to be along the lines of a big book of mixed crafts (not dissimilar to Complete Craft)

I have to confess that there have been times in the last couple of months when I've cursed my own hubris for taking on this piece of work alongside a tiny baby.  Having to stop constantly to feed, change or entertain a baby means that things that would normally take me a day to accomplish have taken weeks... and some days have been spent in a sort of  fug of baby and soap, trying not to get bits of soap into the baby or bits of baby into the soap.  BUT - the copy is now written and last week I attended a two-day photo shoot where all of the step-by-steps were shot for the projects.  Hooray!

In other news, I am pleased to introduce Microboy's latest hat!  I knitted this months ago, but it is only now that it fits and I am entirely delighted with it.





Full details of pattern, yarn and so on are on Ravelry, here.

And now that I am done with the soap, I really must try to post here more often...


Monday, 5 September 2011

Tassel head strikes again

So... when I said that an Englishman can never have too many hats, I wasn't kidding.  This is just a fly-by to show off Microboy's latest, using the same free pattern that I published last week.  I thought he could do with some hot colours this time... and I love the fact that I can have such a thought, and a few hours later the hat is finished.  Instant gratification!  (The sharp-eyed amongst you might spot that his hat matches the cardie that was made for him by my talented knitty friend Maxine).

Anyway you might think of this as a sort of insurance policy for when he becomes a horrible teenager...  lets just say I am building up quite a library of photos. ;-)





(Full details and pattern link here on Ravelry).




Wednesday, 24 August 2011

New free pattern - Baby Tassels Hat

I've been meaning to publish the pattern for this simple little baby hat for ages.  Well, today is the day that I've finally got round to it!


This hat was the very first thing that I made for my little Microboy while he was still resident in my belly.  It was an improvised project to use up some leftover aran weight yarn and to exercise my yen for tassels.  But  the resulting hat turned out so cute that I decided to write up the pattern in case anybody else fancies having a go.


I used Amy Butler Belle Organic yarn, but you could use any aran/worsted weight yarn in a baby friendly fibre.  The pattern can be downloaded as a PDF file here.  (I've also added a permanent link on the right hand column of my blog)



Monday, 15 August 2011

Knitting for Microboy

The other day I woke up in a state of certainty about one thing...  this baby needs more hats!

This was fuelled largely by the tragedy of Microboy outgrowing his owl hat (boo hoo!) but also by the realisation that my new lifestyle as full time milkmaid does not leave a lot of room for large-scale hobbying.   Thus, in order to get my frustrated creativity out of my system, I predict an influx of teeny-tiny knitwear.

Anyway this little hat was knocked up in a couple of hours in front on the TV.

Iz cute, no?



I made it from Sirdar DK Crofter yarn, using a free pattern found on Ravelry, (As always, full details of the pattern and yarn, etc. are on Ravelry, here.)


Friday, 1 July 2011

9-month craft project

Well - I thought I would pop in and show off my latest FO...
 
This one took 9 months to make and is now 11 days old.  He's called James, and he is keen to model some of his knitwear, so here goes...

Minutes after being born



Three days old, in his owl hat



Five days old, in his jiffy bag

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Jiffy bag for a baby

A little while ago I blogged about my love for French knitting patterns...  

This holds especially true when it comes to patterns for children and babies.  I tend to find that French childrenswear combines an element of fun with a great sense of style.  It avoids being overly twee without going to the other extreme of trying to look like miniature adult wear and often takes the form of simple blocky shapes, adorned with pom poms, stripes or tassels, in colour palettes that veer between chic neutrals and quirky brights...   or to put to another way, you don't see many French babies clad in peach acrylic matinee jackets.  
   
Anyway... now that my own little alien is 4 days days overdue, I am pleased to announce that I have finished my small homage to French babywear in the nick of time.  Behold the baby sleep sack...  (or, if you like, the glorified jiffy bag!)


This is made using a pattern called Confortable, which originated in a French magazine and has since been translated into English by a brilliant lady on Ravelry, here.

Having taken advice from others, I made this a few inches longer and wider than the pattern recommends, in the hope that it will fit for longer.  (For now I've delayed blocking it, until I see how well it fits little master   newborn, when he arrives - but I reckon I could probably grow it a fair bit, if need be).  


Anyway I would happily recommend both the pattern and the yarn.  I used Rowan All Seasons Cotton in a silver grey colour.  It has a nice sproingy twist to it that gives it some loft and makes the knitted fabric feel soft and comfortable.  Hopefully boy will agree...


Full details of the pattern, yarn and needle size can be found on Ravelry, here

EDIT:  Since I wrote this post, baby has been born and he fits into the sack with room to spare... pic here:  http://susiefhandmade.blogspot.com/2011/07/9-month-craft-project.html


EDIT:  I have had a lot of requests to share the English translation of this pattern, so I have put it online here:  http://www.scribd.com/doc/95417916/Confortable-English-Translation  (I assume this is ok, given that the  original pattern is available online for free)

Monday, 6 June 2011

Look back in angora

Dear Knitters, this is the story of a near death experience... I could well have entitled it "blockers beware!"  However I am pleased to say that it has a happy ending...
Some may recall me blogging overexcitedly back in January about this crazily luxurious Absolu Angora yarn that I had ordered from France...

Well - after a minor dither about what to use it for, I eventually cast on for the Cedar Leaf Shawlette by Alana Dakos.  Left to my own devices, I would never have thought of  this pattern, but I got the idea from someone else on Ravelry and it turned out to be very well matched indeed.  Two balls of the Absolu is *just* enough to complete the project, with the main part of the shawl taking one ball and the lace border using up almost all of the second.  

The knitting proved to be rather a delicious sensory experience.  Although the yarn did shed a little during knitting, it was not as bad as you'd normally expect from angora - (e.g. it didn't shed as much as the Sublime Angora Merino blend that I've used in the past, or waft constantly up my nose).  On the whole it is simply very very soft and as light as air as it slips through your fingers.
I finally bound off the edging a few days ago and spent an hour or so wafting around the house draped in it, pre-blocking, before declaring it to be the softest, finest and most beautiful thing I'd ever made...  and then I almost ruined everything with an act of crazy hubris.  
Here is the cautionary tale.  Because I fancied blocking the lace edging, I decided to risk putting the shawl through the handwash cycle on my washing machine.  I've used this cycle many times before on fine yarns, including cashmere, wool and angora blends - effectively it simulates the act of hand washing and has never let me down before.  In this case I even double-bagged the shawl inside a pair of lingerie bags for safety.  And then I tried to ignore the niggly voice in my head questioning whether I really wanted to press the 'start' switch...
Suffice to say, when it came out of the machine - it felt like a moment of tragedy.  I was convinced that I had felted the item to oblivion.  The main symptom was that it appeared to have shrunk, and the stitches in the main body of the scarf had melded together into a more tight fabric than before.  As for the lace edging... lets just say that it didn't look as lacey as I remembered it.  The only glimmer of hope was that the shawl seemed to have retained its softness and mobility, and hadn't become stiffened or thick.  So I went into damage limitation mode and blocked it as vigorously as I dared, stretching it as far as possible and trying to open out the lace edging again.  
After a night on the boards, I am pleased (or make that delighted) to say that it seems to have survived by the skin of its teeth.  It is a pheonix risen from the ashes!  Yes - it has shrunk a little bit and is probably now more of a scarf than a shawl.  However it still flops and drapes as softly as before - and, best of all, the lace edging is still lace!   
As a finished scarf, it remains extremely soft to wear - as light as air and not remotely itchy.  In fact I have even discovered a small bonus from the shrinkage...  thanks to the closer melding of the stitches, the scarf no longer sheds and can be worn over my black clothing!   
So here are a few pics...





More pictures and full project details can be seen on Ravelry, here
If you'd like a moral to the story - then my suggestion to anyone using this yarn is that you might want to refrain from washing it at all - either prior to blocking or afterwards.  I suspect a light spritz with cool water would be sufficient for blocking, and then perhaps resort to dry clean only.   (Unless you want to felt it, of course... in which case, um, I don't think you'll have to try very hard!)

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

knitted menagerie - Part 2

Some of you may be relieved that I'm not going on about soap and candles today... it's time for a return to knitting!  

This is just a quickie to share Part 2 of my Knitted Menagerie...  or, in other words, three more random knitted creatures that I have been making for the baby that is due next week.  I blogged the first three animals here (Frog, Owl and Bunny)  and now it is time to introduce Pig, Bear and Caterpillar.


These have mainly been a way to keep my mind and fingers busy in the last couple of weeks, on days when my body has been too achey and inflated to move.


The caterpillar and the bear are adapted from a range of excellent little patterns that I found on Ravelry, by  Sarah Gasson, aka Knitables.   She has designed a whole range of small animal patterns which are very nicely priced and easy to follow.  I made a few adaptations of my own, the main change being to knit everything in the round, and to convert the bear from a finger puppet into a stuffed toy - (e.g. I improvised his lower body and gave him arms and legs adapted from a lion pattern by the same designer).


As with the first three animals, the pig was adapted from this book of knitted egg cosies by Susie Johns.  Again I had to improvise the lower body and legs, and also dressed him in a t-shirt, as is my whim.
  
When I started this gang of six critters, I was planning to turn them into a dangly cot mobile.  But I'm now wondering if they may be a little on the large size for a mobile and might actually be nicer as hands-on toys to be played with.  

In fact, a couple of friends have already begun to think up adventure stories for Frog and Owl...  (and I suspect I might add to the menagerie over time, especially now that I've discovered Sarah Gasson's patterns).   
As ever, full project details (yarns, needle sizes, etc) can be found on ravelry, here

Monday, 30 May 2011

Soy candles... another delve into handmade aromatics

I don't know what happened to the time, but I meant to blog this little project for soy candles weeks ago...


Like a lot of crafty people, I dabbled with candlemaking as a child, but somehow it never really captivated me as a craft.  I think the crux of the problem was that I always tended to use those kits involving smelly, flakey paraffin wax that had to be mixed with stearin and then set within unforgiving plastic moulds using lurid artificial colours and fragrances.
 
It was only recently that I became inspired to give it another go... largely thanks to this post on the iMake blog, which sold me on the idea of beautiful container candles made with soy wax... a vast improvement on paraffin wax.  The urge was helped along further by my revival of interest in soapmaking...  (lets face it - once I'd got all of my essential oils out of hibernation, scented candles became something of an inevitability.)
 
So here are my candles - and I have to say I am very pleased with them!


I made a batch of these one Sunday afternoon with a friend and we chose the scent combinations together, as a result of the blending experiments that I discussed here.  We decided to scent half of them with a very pleasing combination of Sweet Orange, Ylang Ylang and Cinnamon essential oils and the rest with a fresh, foresty combination of Lavender, Peppermint and Rosemary.  The orange-based ones are real crowd-pleasers and do wonders to generate a feel-good scent into the room, whereas the foresty ones have a cleansing, freshening property and would be ideal to burn around the house after a good spring clean.

Overall this project was very quick and easy indeed and barely needs any explanation.  So the rest of this post is a series of comments on the ingredients and equipment used - along with some personal thoughts about scenting, in case anyone out there fancies giving it a go.
 
In terms of equipment, you don't really need a great deal of stuff.   First you need some kind of containers - and a great place to find these is charity shops.  I managed to find some ideal bits and bobs of glassware, which suited me just fine.
 
And of course you need some wax.  I ordered some lovely organic soy wax from The Soap Kitchen and found it much easier to work with than paraffin wax.  It is much softer and less brittle in texture and it melted very easily in a glass jug over warm water.  It also washed easily out of the jug, simply using washing up liquid and hot water.  (I suspect, for anyone who finds soy wax to be too soft, that it could be tempered by mixing in a few beeswax pellets to add hardness.)

As for the rest of the bits - the main thing you need is some wick, which can be got from any online candlemaking supplier.  For container candles, the only advice I'd offer is to choose your containers first and then purchase wicks that are of an appropriate gauge (or thickness) for the diameter of your containers.  Personally, I went for a very easy option and bought ready-made lengths of stiffened wick, attached to little metal holders at the bottom.  I used a tiny blob of special wax glue to attach the wick holder to the bottom of the container (but if that all sounds a bit much, there are plenty of online tutorials for sealing your wick into the bottom of the container simply by bending the end and using a bit of melted wax).

An optional extra which I found very useful was a pair of skewers held together at both ends with rubber bands, which you can lay along the rim of the container and use to trap your wick so that it is held perfectly stiff and upright when you come to pour in the wax.   You can see the general idea here, as my candles were setting...


Finally.... depending on your whim, you might want to add some scent and colour.  If adding essential oils, you want to do this as late as possible, after the wax has melted but not if it is piping hot.  Let it cool as much as possible without re-setting and then bung in your essential oils and get it quickly mixed just before pouring.  (This is mainly to prevent the precious scents from evaporating in a mass of aromatic steam).
   
My personal preference was to keep the colour natural, but to scent the candles thoroughly with essential oils.  When I say 'thoroughly', lets just say that I am no stranger to spending crazy money on the sort of beautiful container candles made by brands like Diptyque...  so I was looking to emulate this sort of high-quality product for a lot less money.  And this is where I bothered to do some research, reading advice from the sort of candlemakers who cater for the upper end of the market.

My main problem with a lot of candle tutorials out there (and the same goes for soapmaking books) is that they so often fail to recommend enough essential oil.  They also rarely offer any useful advice about the volatility and fleeting nature of different essential oils - or tips on ways to combat this.  As a result, beginners are deluded into thinking that a few drops of sweet orange essential oil will be enough to scent 200g of wax or soap.... and then end up disappointed when their product doesn't smell of anything.  This can be quite disheartening and is a wasteful learning process to go through...  (I seem to recall it took me a good year of trial and error back in the late 1990s to work out exactly how much essential oil is really needed to create a long-lasting scent in a kilo of handmade soap).

So, for scented candles, I am going to offer my 2ps worth.  Others may beg to differ, so take this as my personal opinion...

If you want your candle to smell like a top-end designer candle when you burn it, then be prepared to put in approx 10% of essential oil (e.g. 20ml of essential oil into a 200g candle).  Of course, this is a very basic rule of thumb and will vary depending upon your choice of essential oils (some are far more potent than others).  So my real advice is to read up a little and find out which essential oils have better staying power than others and which ones can act as 'scent anchors' for the more fleeting oils, by combining them.  Often the scents that people are immediately attracted to (such as the citrus oils) tend to be the top notes.  Sadly these are also the most fleeting - but you can still use them to achieve a sophisticated and long-lasting scent if you take the time to plan a combination that has the right balance of top notes, middle notes and base notes.

For anyone wanting to get into this, I'd strongly recommend that you spend an idle afternoon playing around with scent blends using the chopstick method that I described here before starting on your candle projects.

As an example - in the case of my orange candle, above - the vast majority of the scent blend is made up of my top note: sweet orange essential oil.  The middle-note of ylang ylang adds depth and sophistication to the orange, without overpowering it.  Finally a very small % of cinnamon leaf acts as a base note, to 'anchor' the orange scent for longevity.  A couple of months on, these candles smell as strong and orangey as the day they were made, and the cinnamon remains a very subtle undertone that is barely-there.

Well...  I appear to have rambled on for far longer than I intended , so I shall stop right there.  If anyone has bothered to read this far - I hope at least that you found something useful...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Home spa treatments - a simple tutorial using soap offcuts

As a break from knitting, I'm using this post to share a recipe and tutorial for a really nice home spa scrub/bath soak that I've been playing with, which is very easy to make at home and is a great way to pamper yourself.


Supposing you've made some gorgeous handmade soap and, after trimming the bars, you're left with a pile of beautiful-smelling offcuts...  (In my case, these are the sliced-off strips from a batch of my favourite handmade soap that I made about 6 weeks ago, scented with lavender, ylang ylang and patchouli and embedded with calendula petals)


...or perhaps someone has given you a bar of lovely soap, but you have very sensitive skin and you're just not 100% sure about using it on your face or body.  This recipe solves either of these problems, by combining the finely grated soap with oatmeal, creating a very mild skincare product that can be customised to your skin type and used in a variety of different ways.  

Mixed with honey, the mixture can become a deep cleansing and antibacterial facial scrub.  Alternatively, encased in muslin, it can become a very mild skin-softening bath sachet, which doubles up as a face & body wash.   

For the sake of brevity I won't attempt to elaborate on the skin softening properties of oatmeal or the antibacterial properties of honey, but if you're curious about these ingredients I'd suggest googling it, as there is a wealth of info available online.  I shall simply talk through the steps to make the treatments...
 


What you need...

Soap offcuts of your choice
Oatmeal (plain and simple, with no additives)
A fine cheese grater
Storage jars (little ones make ideal gifts)  

Optional items...
Clear honey (for use as a facial scrub)
Small pieces of muslin and ribbon (for use as bath sachets/body wash)
Essential oils (e.g. if you wish to bolster the aroma or properties)




Method


Step 1 - Using a food processor, grind your oatmeal down to a fine grain.  The most economical option is to buy regular rolled oats from the supermarket and blitz them in the processor until they reach a texture similar to wholemeal flour.  (Alternatively you can sometimes find oatmeal in finely ground form - e.g it is often sold as 'Colloidal Oatmeal' in  health food shops).  




Step 2 - Grate your soap cuttings until you have a a pile of fine gratings, at whatever quantity you choose.




Step 3 - now simply blend the grated soap with the oatmeal.   Depending on your skin type you can use a proportion that suits you.  A ratio of 40% soap to 60% oatmeal is pretty good for most skin types.  But if you're after a very mild product, try lowering the soap:oatmeal ratio to 30:70  ...or for a more cleansing product, up it to 50:50.   (If in doubt, you could always test out small amounts as a handwash, to find out what works for you.)

At this stage, you may also choose to add some extra drops of essential oil to the mixture... e.g. if you're using unscented soap, or a very low ratio of soap:oatmeal.  Given that this is a skincare product, I'd strongly suggest that you avoid artificial fragrances and go for pure essential oils that are known to have beneficial properties for your skin type.
 
Combine and shake the mixture thoroughly, until you can see that it is perfectly combined, then decant into a jar for storage.  At this stage, the mixture is ready for use as a honey facial scrub (see instructions below) or  could even be scattered loosely into a bath, if desired, to scent and soften the water.



Step 4 (optional) - If you'd like to package the mixture up as bath sachets or body scrubs...  cut out a circle of muslin, approx 7" in diameter, and place a pile of the mixture in the middle.  (If you're a true perfectionist you could go so far as to hem the muslin or use pinking shears to avoid fraying).  Tie up the muslin tightly with string or ribbon, until you have a securely filled sachet - and voila!




Using the treatments...

To use the powder as a honey facial scrub...  
Wet your face with warm water.  Now take about a teaspoon of the powder into the palm of your hand and drizzle on just enough runny honey to form a thick paste.  Massage the paste into your face, allowing it to exfoliate the skin gently.  As long as the oatmeal has been ground thoroughly it will not feel harsh or 'scrubby', but very gentle.  If desired, leave the paste on a for a few minutes as a mask (e.g. while soaking in the bath) and then rinse off thoroughly when ready.

To use as a bath sachet...   
The next time you take a bath, try dangling the sachet under the taps while the water runs through it, or alternatively drop the sachet into the bath and swish it around for a while.  You should notice the soap and oatmeal infusing through the muslin, scenting and softening the bath water without creating any sludgey mess to clean up afterwards.

To use as a face & body wash... 
While you're in the bath or shower you can use the sachet as an all-over face and body wash, simply by soaking it in the water and then rubbing it against your skin.  This creates a gentle lather through the muslin, with the softening properties of oatmeal, and you'll get several uses out of each sachet before it needs refilling.

Enjoy!