Category: How-tos

Aug 29

Upcycled spoon plant labels

 

Spoon garden labels

Upcycled spoon plant labels

 

In my continuing quest to find functional, affordable and aesthetically pleasing plant labels, I’ve been playing with old spoons.

A lick of blackboard paint and a fine white poster pen did the trick. Now I’m looking forward to planting these, handle first, on my allotment.

And planting the garlic which I bought at Hampton Court. I’ve got ‘Garlic’ on the convex side of the spoon’s bowl and the variety on the concave side.

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Garlic label

 

 

 

 

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Jul 08

Crystallised rose petals

 

Everything’s coming up roses just now, so let me show you something magical to try with roses from your garden. Yes, more thrifty edible flowers! I’ll get back to textiles again soon, honestly, but you have to make hay when the sun shines.

I worked on Claire Kelsey‘s ice cream book Melt last year (more of that to come in another post) ensuring that all the recipes were put through their paces. My task was to assign them to a happy band of volunteer testers and collate feedback. Some recipes were harder to place than others, perhaps because they seemed time-consuming and/or fiddly, required expensive/hard-to-find ingredients, or the testers just didn’t fancy them.

In the time-consuming/fiddly group was a recipe for Raspberry and Rose Pavlova which involved making a meringue nest, and crystallising some rose petals. Time-pressed testers spotted a time-sink and declined, so I tried it myself. We were well into autumn, but I still had some late-blooming roses in the garden. I found a couple with good fragrance. If you’re trying this at home, just be wary of using roses which have been sprayed with anything noxious, or are growing close to a main road.

Garden roses

The process really wasn’t so hard, or that time-consuming. All I had to do was detach the petals from the roses…

Red and white rose petals

…dip them in lightly beaten egg white, then into caster sugar, then lay them on an oven tray lined with baking parchment…

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…and bake them in a very low oven for less than an hour before allowing them to cool completely.

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It was really surprising to see those bright orangey-red petals turn a deep rose in the oven — not what I expected at all.  Mine tasted of rose too and the final frozen pavlova won over my family completely. Crystallised roses will keep for about 3 months too if you pop them in an airtight tin, separating the layers with greaseproof paper or baking parchment. You can use them to decorate cakes, desserts and confectionary, or (might I humbly suggest) nibble them decadently during a long soak in the bath. Because you’re worth it.

I tested a handful of recipes but this frozen pavlova was definitely the crowd-pleaser of the bunch. It didn’t hang around long.

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We all agreed that it would make the perfect summer wedding dessert; the final dish, topped with crystallized rose petals and ice-frosted raspberries was quite spectacular to look at: as if Titania herself had sprinkled it with fairy dust. And, best of all, it was heavenly to eat.

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Melt by Claire Kelsey is published by Simon & Schuster, RRP £18. It may also be available in your local supermarket.

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Jul 05

Borage

 

The sprigs of borage in wine are of known virtue to revive the hypochondriac and cheer the hard student. – John Evelyn, Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, 1699

 

Warming to my emerging ‘thrifty edible flowers’ theme, borage (Borago officinalis) is just a small garnish after those bagfuls of havested elderflowers, but it punches above its weight in the list of summer essentials. Wimbledon would be lost without it as no self-respecting Pimm’s No. 1 Cup is complete without a borage flower or two.

I didn’t realise until this week that the entire borage plant is edible, with leaves and flowers tasting faintly of cucumber. Mediterranean in origin, it has been plopped in wine from antiquity as a remedy for mood disorders: for the nervously exhausted, the melancholic, and those simply requiring an energy boost. Crusaders added it in their stirrup cups to aid the action of their Dutch courage. But it was probably brought here by the Romans as our word originates from the Celtic borrach (meaning ‘courage’).

The Welsh name Llawenlys means ‘herb of gladness’. I‘m all for Welsh flower names and for more gladness, wherever it can be found. And, in my continuing gladness quest, I have attained a new allotment. The waiting list was long, but well worth hanging on. I’m discovering a lot of things growing there without very much help from me; besides some rather antagonising perennial weeds, there is the delightful borage.

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Borage gladdening the allotment

 

Borage naturalised in Britain long, long ago and can quite easily be found gladdening waysides and waste places. Almost a weed, it self-seeds readily, and one of my allotment neighbours said I might find it cropping up on its own. Lo and behold, some oval-pointed prickly leaves appeared a few weeks ago, quickly followed by a stem bearing reddish tassely clusters. From downy buds, the most beautiful pure blue flowers emerged. They are star-shaped, giving rise to another name for borage, starflower. Dickens, famed for his showmanship and theatricality, favoured borage punch, and I can imagine how those vivid blue flowers might have bowled him over. His high energy levels and productivity were legendary, so perhaps borage beverages should be required drinking at all literary parties.

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A cluster of borage

 

Often prescribed by herbalists to relieve stress and anxiety, borage is also reputed to cleanse the kidneys. Modern research indicates that it may also work on the adrenal gland, which would explain that association with enhanced courage. It is high in calcium, potassium and mineral salts. Its other major benefit is that it’s an abundant source of GLA (gamma-linoleic acid), useful to treat PMT, menopausal symptoms, eczema etc But watch out, because it does contain some toxins, though in very small amounts; you’d have to eat an awful lot to do you any harm.

What to do with it:

  • Freeze flowers in ice cubes to plop prettily into your Pimm’s. You might want to remove the purply-black stamens from the petals first by giving them a gentle pull. I don’t bother.
  • Use leaves in salads
  • Use flowers in salads (looks stunning with scarlet nasturtiums) or to decorate desserts
  • Crystallize flowers for cake decorations
  • Chop leaves finely and eat in a sandwich with cream cheese 
  • Use leaves as an alternative to salt (rich in mineral salts) for those on a salt-free diet
  • Use it as a good plant companion: it’s reputed to be beneficial near strawberries, legumes and brassicas, and will do very nicely under roses. Sow it at intervals throughout the summer.
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Red currants and borage flower

 

And finally, there’s Claret Cup, another traditional way to float your borage on alcohol, though the idea of it doesn’t really float my boat. What do you think? Here’s an authentic recipe which appeared in a Victorian magazine:

1 large teaspoonful of white sugar dissolved in boiling water, 1 glass of sherry, 1/2 glass maraschino, a thin rind of lemon and a strip of cucumber rind, 1 large bottle of claret. Let all stand for an hour. Carry to the picnic, packed in ice, and laying a sprig of borage in the cup, add seltzer water when serving. The borage should not be allowed to remain in the cup, but it will impart an aroma that nothing else can. On this account the pretty blue flowers can be had of every gardener during the picnic season, and it is grown under glass all the year round for the express purpose of flavouring claret cup.

If you want something a little lighter (maybe with fizz) there are some more appealing borage drinks over here.

I’ve donated some of my allotment borage seedlings to the new Bath WI edible garden which is currently being planted in the beautiful Bath Botanical Gardens in Royal Victoria Park. If you’re local to Bath, do go along and feast your eyes.

 

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Jul 03

Elderflower cordial

 

Making your own elderflower cordial might seem an unnecessary faff when commercial varieties are so widely available. But it’s really not the same animal. Homemade looks completely different, for a start; it’s a translucent gold.  And the taste is different too: much fresher and citrusy than the shop can offer.  Then there’s the lemon-tinged aroma that fills your kitchen.

There are various ways to go about it, but all involve hot water, sugar, lemon and (of course) elderflowers. Some add other citrus fruits (orange, for example) and some boost the keeping qualities up to a year with additives such as citric acid or tartaric acid. I’ve experimented with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) which I happened to have in the cupboard; it certainly helped keep the mixture bright gold instead of the oxidised brown I’ve disappointingly achieved without it. Without the added acid, your cordial will only keep for a few weeks in the fridge. Another option is to freeze it in plastic tubs for later use.

I’ll assume you’ve already harvested your elderflowers. If not, take a look at yesterday’s blog post.

 Ingredients:

  • 25 elderflower heads
  • 4 lemons 
  • 1- 1.5 kgs sugar
  • a heaped tspn ascorbic acid (or alternative)
  • 1.5-2 litres freshly boiled water

 

Method: 

Gently shake the flowers, holding them by the stalks, to remove any bugs. No need to wash them.

Pare the rind from the lemons (you can do this with a potato peeler).

Place this in a large bowl with the elderflowers.

Cut the lemons in half, squeeze out the juice and set the juice aside in the fridge, covered. Throw the lemon shells in with the elderflowers.

Add the ascorbic acid.

Pour on enough hot water to cover the flowers completely, cover with cling-film and leave the mixture to cool. This will take several hours. You can leave it  to steep overnight or for up to 48 hours.

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Soaking elderflowers

Strain through a muslin-lined sieve (though, in this case, I used an old linen napkin), compressing the elderflower debris with a saucer topped with a weight (a tin of beans will do nicely) to squeeze out all the liquid. Leave to drain for half an hour or so.

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Straining out elderflowers

Measure the resulting liquid and place it in a large saucepan. For every 500 ml, add 350g sugar and 50 ml of lemon juice (50 ml is roughly one lemon’s worth).

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Strained golden liquid

 

Heat gently till the sugar dissolves. Then turn up the heat till the mixture barely simmers. Remove from heat.

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Stirring till the sugar dissolves

 

Sticklers may re-strain their mixture at this point to remove any debris. But mere mortals can simply allow the mixture to cool before pouring into spanking clean bottles with the aid of a funnel. Corks in and you’re done.

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Elderflower cordial, bottled

Yield: about 5 bottles.

To drink: dilute to taste or with at least 5 parts water. Ice and sparkling water make it particularly refreshing.

And there are so many other ways you can use elderflower cordial: diluted with hot water to treat a cold; a glug added to any dessert containing gooseberries. But don’t get me started on the gooseberries!

 

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Jul 02

Elderflowers

 

In the tops of the branches and twigs, there springeth sweet and crisped umbels, swelling with white sweet-smelling flowers (in June before St John’s Eve)…

– Dr Martin Blochwich, The Anatomy of Elder, 1670

 

Compared with most other thrifty activities, making things from elderflowers is the tops. From gathering the abundant, creamy-white, sweet-scented flower heads (preferably in mid-summer sunshine) to consuming the fruits of your labour, you don’t feel like you’re slumming it one bit. And all that’s needed to get started is a large bag of sugar, some lemons, a couple of old shopping bags and a brief walk. It couldn’t be simpler.

 

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Elderflower head

 

You can usually expect to find these frothy flower heads in your nearest hedgerow for a few short weeks between late May and early June in the UK. The end of the elderflower season, St John’s Eve (mentioned in the seventeenth century quotation above), falls on 23rd June. But our harsh spring set back this year’s blossoms; they have been spectacularly late, delayed by 3 or 4 weeks in our neck of the woods. Happily, there’s still time to nip out to your local park,  wasteland or country lane and find an elder tree more than ready to share it’s bounty. Just add sugar, lemon and hot water and you’re all set to preserve the essence of summer for later enjoyment.

 

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My 18-year-old son took a bike ride along our local canal at the weekend and brought back two shopping bags brimming with elderflowers. Luxuriating in post-A-level leisure, he proposed to make some elderflower sorbet and cordial (he really loves the sorbet – see recipe below) but it rapidly became a case of mum doing the making while the young people found better things to do.  So this seemed like a golden opportunity to share an extended elderflower how-to with you.

 

Identifying and gathering your blossoms

Elder (Sambucus nigra) is more of a wayside shrub than a woodland tree. When happy on loamy soil (it doesn’t like sand) in sun or partial shade it can grow to twenty feet. But don’t worry: most elders are not as majestic as this so harvesting should be easy. A few tips:

Look out for the distinctive flat umbels of flowers; don’t get confused by other plants with parasols of white florets such as herbaceous perennials Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) or cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).

If in doubt, sniff the flowers: a heady muscat aroma confirms that you’ve found the right one.

Pick on a dry day.  Rain will knock off some of the scent-bearing yellow pollen.

Select flower heads carefully, ensuring that most of the florets are open; those on the outside of the head open first. Pass over those with any florets turning brown.

Snap off or cut the entire umbel. And if you don’t mind consuming a few tiny insects, you can munch elderflowers as soon as you’ve picked them; their instant edibility gave rise to the country name ‘slices of bread’.  

To gather for later, pop them into a plastic bag (an old plastic shopping bag is ideal) bearing in mind that you’ll need 25 flower heads or so for a batch of cordial, and only 5 will be enough to make a tub of sorbet.

 

How so use your elderflowers

The lovely aroma of elderflowers is so strong that just popping the blossoms into hot water or hot syrup and leaving it to cool will infuse the liquid with their delicate scent.

Process your flowers as soon as you can, though they’ll be OK in a bag (tied at the top) for a day or so.

First, grab each flower head by the stalk and gently shake it to dislodge any insects. Don’t wash the flowers as you’ll lose the pollen which carries the scent.

To drylay the umbels flat on baking trays in a low oven. Or on a wire rack covered in a clean tea towel in a dry shady place. The time it’ll take for them to dry depends on factors such as local humidity, but we’re talking days to weeks. Once completely dry, store in a Kilner-style jar. They make a tea that’s celebrated for its cold-fighting properties.

To steep in hot water: if you have little time and want to start getting them processed as quickly as possibly for eventual use in cordials and sorbets, count/weigh out the amount of elderflowers you need (some recipes quote numbers of elderflower heads, others go by weight, but don’t get bogged down in too much precision) and place in a large bowl. Add some parings of lemon rind and just-boiled water to cover.  Cover bowl with cling-film and set aside to cool completely: this will take several hours or overnight. Strain and refrigerate (covered) until ready to use. This method tends to yield a slightly brownish liquid; it tastes fine, but if you’re picky about your presentation, choose the hot syrup method (below) or add some citric acid or ascorbic acid to your elderflower mixture. You could freeze it at this stage, but otherwise make it into something else (which will likely involved adding sugar as a preservative) within a few days.

To steep in hot syrup: if you have a more time, make up a simple syrup with water and sugar (see method below for sorbet for suggested quantities) and pour it over your flower heads while it’s still hot. This is better than the boiled water method as it gives a much cleaner, more golden.

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Elderflower-infused syrup

 

Elderflower sorbet

I love this delicious water ice. It makes a perfect palate cleanser or light dessert. It’s the first thing I feel the urge to make when elderflowers appear, and if you can dissuade the family from guzzling it straight away (which is unlikely) it keeps really well for months. Nothing beats pulling elderflower sorbet from your freezer when the days shorten and a nip is in the air; it’s the cheapest way to experience intoxicating summer in a chillier season without the help of a budget airline.

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Refreshing elderflower sorbet

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint (600ml) water
  • 8 0z (200g) granulated sugar
  • 3 lemons
  • 5 heads elderflower

Method:

Place elderflowers and the pared lemon rinds in a fairly large bowl.

Heat the sugar and water gently in a pan, stirring while the sugar dissolves. Then boil for 5 minutes to make a syrup. Pour this over the elderflower/lemon rind mixture. Cover with cling-film and leave to infuse for several hours or overnight.

Strain mixture, preferably through a muslin-lined sieve.

Add lemon juice to taste.

Pour into an ice-cream maker* and churn for half an hour. You may still have a slightly watery mix. Don’t worry. Just pour it into a plastic container and pop it in the freezer. Remove from the freezer 2o minutes before you want to serve it. Et voila!

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Um, just another spoonful?

This should be enough to serve up to 6 people (or two very greedy ones).

 

Tomorrow: please join me for elderflower cordial!

*If you don’t have an ice cream maker, pop this into a plastic container the freezer and beat every half-hour or so, drawing the edges into the middle. Once the whole lot is frozen solid, process in a food processor or beat till light and soft. Turn into a new container and re-freeze.

 

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Dec 04

Keep-it-simple Christmas decorations

 

 

A local magazine asked me to put together the following brief article about making your own Christmas decorations. And I mean brief: the word count was 250-300 words (the briefest of briefs) so there was no space to explain or give instructions. But  it offers a few thrifty ideas to pursue, so I thought I’d post it here on the blog. If you’d like instructions – or even a film from me – explaining how to make any of these, just leave me a comment or email and I’ll be happy to demonstrate; I’ve been meaning to dust off the camera for a while now.

 

Place-marker cotton reels

Place-marker cotton reels

 

OK, so here’s the article…

 

Think laterally this year and make your own beautifully thrifty Christmas decorations.

1. Use what you have in the cupboard.  Jazz up sewing materials; coax a paper-clip into a circle with some jewellery pliers and position in a cotton reel to make a jauntily festive place-marker. Or thread buttons onto looped wire for a napkin ring, finished with a scrap-fabric bow. Turn functional kitchen items decorative; upend a jam jar to create a voguish snow globe*, and hang cookie cutters as tree bling.

Jam-jar snow globe

Kitchen bling

 

2. Display kitchen ingredients. Pull dried cinnamon sticks and star anise out of the spice cupboard to look and smell the part. String fresh red chili peppers this Christmas and they’ll slowly dry for your cooking throughout 2013.

3. Gather natural objects. Bring in pinecones and garden greenery.

4. Recycle broken paperbacks. Cut page lengths into 2.5cms /1”-wide strips. A pair of children’s scalloped craft scissors gives a fancier edge. Glue or staple strips into loops to form a paper chain.

Book paper chains

Old book paper chains

 

5. Turn newspapers into hearts. Old wrapping paper, greetings cards and catalogues also work for heart garlands. Consider investing in a specialist cutter (like a giant hole punch) if you’re making lots; good but slower results come from drawing round a template, such as a heart-shaped cookie cutter, and cutting out with scissors. Machine-stitch hearts together vertically or horizontally, with gaps close or wide to suit. Red thread sets it off nicely.

Upcycled garlands

Before: a newspaper, a sweater, a scarf, a map

 

6. Upcycle old clothes. Transform a precious wool garment accidentally felted in the wash into another pretty garland. Cut out graded circles (3 slightly different sizes look good). Arrange rounds pleasingly before stitching together on a sewing machine. Strengthen with a second line of stitching before decking the halls.

 

Scrap paper and felt garlands

Deck the halls with… junk!

 

I’m selling packs of 100 pre-cut book-page links in my Etsy store. I am also happy to supply you with finished chain, if you prefer. You can  see some of the finished paper-chain currently decking the halls of Topping Books, Bath, where you might also be interested in a lovely event this Thursday 6th December with Scandinavian Christmas author Trine Hahnemann, 6-9pm.  I’ll be there, sniffing the lingonberry gin fizz! Hope to see you.

 

* snow globe remarkably similar to this one spotted in Anthropologie, Chelsea for c, £22 pounds. Dear Reader, make your own!

 

 

 

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Jul 29

1954 Singer 99k hand-crank

 

Take a look at this sewing machine bought by a friend in a local charity shop.

Singer 99k sewing-machine case

Singer 99k in Cheney case

It’s a 1954 Singer 99k hand-crank with the most wonderful faux-croc case made by suitcase manufacturer Cheney.

Cheney clasp on Singer 99k case

Cheney clasp

Its delighted new owner was a little crestfallen when the machine refused to form stitches; the needle moved up and down OK and everything appeared to function, but her test fabric revealed only a disappointing line of holes and some straggling threads.

There are several reasons why this might happen. The thread quality might be poor, or the needle might be blunt (or of poor quality), or unsuited to the thread/fabric. I began by removing an obvious problem: a thread jam around the bobbin case. Then I gave the machine a really good brush to remove any unhelpful lint build-up and gave it an oiling with good quality dedicated sewing-machine oil, took out the needle (and found it had been inserted incorrectly), wound some Sylko onto a bobbin and tested it on a scrap of calico.

Lo and behold, she worked.

Singer 99k, stitching again

Forming stitches

Just a little tension adjustment here and there and she was up and running again and ready to be used exhaustively by an 11-year-old eager to hone her sewing skills. Nice.

Singer 99k hand-crank

Up and running again

If you have a vintage hand-driven Singer sewing machine in need of some TLC, I’d recommend visiting Sid & Elsie’s helpful blog. These cast iron machines were certainly built to last and it may be surprisingly easy to get yours running again. You don’t need many tools: just a couple of screwdrivers and a small brush (the hammer there on the table is a red herring, by the way – if you find yourself wanting to resort to using a hammer, please take your sewing machine to a professional!).

It’s important to have a manual for your machine (to find out how it’s supposed to be threaded, for instance, and where to oil it), so if you don’t have one to hand, plug the machine’s serial number into the Singer website to find out your machine’s name/model/date of manufacture and seek out the appropriate manual on the internet. The last time I looked, you could even find some available for nothing.

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Mar 08

Mother’s Day chrysanthemums

Here’s a quick-and-easy make for Mother’s Day: a chrysanthemum-style floral embellishment crafted from a couple of felted lambswool scarves.

Fringed felt flower

Upcycled felt chrysanthemum

Credit where it’s due, the original idea for this came from the mistress of wool remakery herself, Betz White. I’ve added a twist with my choice of fringed centre and the particular suggestion that you use a felted lambswool scarf for the job.

Here I must wave the flag vigorously for the felted lambswool scarf. In its raw and unfelted state this is the classic woven gent’s scarf with fringed edge, as sold in almost every trad menswear outlet in the Western world. When stuck in a hot wash (accidentally or by design) their weave forms a dense and really stable felt which is a joy for the upcycler to work. Even better, it’s still possible to pick these up in the bargain bin at the charity shop or thrift store (I snapped one up this week for just £1), but if grandpa or dad should accidentally wreck the one he got for Christmas, all is not lost! Catch it before he chucks it because this stuff is well worth rescuing.

I’ve used two scarves for this project because I wanted contrast colour (like Betz’s original design), but you’d be able to make this (and several more chrysanths besides) from just the one scarf, if that’s all you can get hold of. The other great thing about scarves is that they’re the perfect width for this project. Of course, you can use a felted sweater instead, or regular store-bought felt. All that matters is that it won’t fray.

Two scarves

Lambswool scarves

Once you’ve found your raw materials (and they’ve been boil-washed, dried and pressed – if they need it) this comes together very fast, so you still have plenty of time to whip up one (or more) for UK Mother’s Day next weekend. They make beautiful bold brooches or hat embellishments.

Ok, here we go.

This project uses the existing fringing on the original scarf. The purple scarf had a short little fringe which didn’t look especially interesting, but bear with it.

Short fringe, felted

Short fringe

If your scarf has a longer fringe, cut it back to about half an inch (just over a centimetre) using a rotary cutter, if you have one.

Then cut 1  1/2  inches (4 cms) from the fringed edge. Set this to one side.

Cutting off the scarf fringe

Now cut another piece, 3″ (8cms) wide this time.

Cut here

And cut a 3″ piece from your contrast scarf. See how scrummy and dense that felt is?

Felt edge

Felt edge

Now fold your strips and pin the two long sides together.

Pinning

Pinning

Sew those long sides together about a quarter of an inch (just under a centimetre) from the edge.

Sewing

Sewing

Yes, that’s Josephine doing the sewing! You may recognise her from an earlier post.

Sewn

Now take a pair of large dressmaking scissors (they need to be strong and sharp) and snip every quarter inch or so all the way along your folded edge, being really careful not to accidentally cut through the line of stitching.

Snipping petals

You end up with something interestingly flexible. Try twirling it up a moment, just for the heck of it; it got me day-dreaming about spiral staircases and DNA, but I digress…

Making a felt chrysanthemum

Now roll up that first piece you cut, the piece with the felted fringed edge. It suddenly looks more interesting, doesn’t it? Roll the contrast piece around that, and now the other piece (which matches the the centre) around that. You may need to insert a few carefully-angled retaining pins as you go. Now you have something that looks a little like a chrysanthemum. Hold it together with a pin while you eyeball it; your final section may look too long and unbalance your flower, so trim some away if necessary.

Felt chrysanthemum

The back will look something like this.

Felt flower - underside

You can apply a generous quantity of fabric glue to that back and wait for it to dry. Or just sew back and forth through the base of the flower (in one side and out the other, back and forth) with sturdy thread (buttonhole is good) and a long darning-style needle. The next job is to apply a circle of felt backing and a brooch back (not shown, but if you’re stuck, ask and I’ll do a follow-up post Saturday on that). Betz added leaves to hers too.

I attached this flower to a ribbon in order to dress up a slightly down-in-the-mouth cloche hat.

Two old scarves and an old hat

Hat makeover

Much better! Hello spring!

Millinery makeover

And Happy Mother’s Day!

Felt flower

 

 

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Jun 12

Rose Vinegar

 

Life may be too short to stuff a mushroom, as Shirley Conran once famously observed, but I hope it’s long enough to make rose vinegar.

When I say ‘make’, it’s just a question of soaking scented rose petals in white wine vinegar for a couple of weeks. You don’t really have to do anything. Time and a little window sunlight do the job for you. And the result is jewel-coloured and frankly a little magical; remember those perfume potions you tried to make from rose petals and tap water when you were a kid? They never worked. Well, this one does. It can be used to make exotic salad dressings or to sour cream or milk for baking purposes; I’ve used it to sour cream for a devil’s food cake chocolate frosting which was out of this world.

Of course, the devil is in the detail and first you have to track down your scented rose. Do please ask your neighbour first if they mind before you lop any blooms from across the hedge. If you want to buy a commercially produced rose to make this, do check whether your rose is suitable for culinary purposes (i.e. that it hasn’t been sprayed with anything deadly to man and beast). Tip: it’s best to use a dark rose. Apparently the darker the rose, as a rule of thumb, the stronger the scent. You certainly won’t get that lovely ruby colour without it. This rose grows in my garden and has the most wonderful velvety texture and scent. I have no idea what its name is, but I wait for it to blossom each May with real anticipation.

Sweet-smelling rose

A luxuriously scented red rose from my garden

 

If you’re lucky enough to have access to garden roses, pick your newly opened rose in the morning, after the dew has been evaporated by any sunlight that you’re fortunate enough to have (I live in England so this is a sore point); that’s when your rose has the strongest scent. If you’re really picky, give your rose a wash, but you may wash away a good deal of the scent too. My policy is simply to remove any obvious wildlife, and I haven’t found any nasties in my rose vinegar yet.

Now locate a clean bottle or wide-mouthed jar. Remove the petals from your rose and place them in the jar. One rose is enough for a standard bottle of white wine vinegar.

Making rose vinegar

Place the petals in a clean bottle or jar

 

Add enough white wine vinegar to cover the petals, or fill to top.

Dill seedlings and rose vinegar

Leave on a sunny windowsill for about 2 weeks

 

Pop in a cork and leave bottle/jar on a sunny windowsill for about 2 weeks.

Rose vinegar, a day later

This is what you get after just one day – colour/flavour will intensify further

 

Strain through a sieve and/or muslin and re-bottle (in a spankingly clean receptacle). Cork, label, enjoy or give away to a grateful friend/bemused adversary. This is one of those projects which is both thrifty and luxurious (I love that!). If you try it, tell me what you think of it, or what you make from it. If you’re baffled that anyone should do such a thing, please have a go. I promise that, in the depths of winter, you’ll uncork that bottle, sniff it and remember those warm summer days with real pleasure.

 

Red rose

Velvety red rose

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