Tagged: Christmas gifts

Dec 04

Gifts for stitchers


Spanish lace pins from Merchant & Mills


I’ve been collecting stocking-filler ideas to delight the enthusiastic stitcher in your life. What you choose will depend on the nature of the recipient’s stitching and crafting interests, the size of their stocking, plus the depth of your pocket. But I hope there’s something in here for everyone.

I won’t apologise for piling in with suggestions for buying new things (though not everything on this list is) because a) I always find these lists interesting when other people put them together, and b) I would argue that good sewing tools are a worthwhile investment and will make any creative efforts more effective – which can’t be a bad thing.



Under £5


  • Superior needles, such as these presented in a John James needle pebblehandy little ergonomic cases with needles geared for particular craft purposes and made by one of the best needle manufacturers in the world, established way back in 1840. They sell at a very reasonable £1.39 a pop too. Or you could break the bank, relatively, with these Merchant & Mills betweens that are packaged quaintly in a little stoppered bottle at £4 and are ideal for quilters.



Merchant & Mills betweens


Upcycled crockery buttons by SisterZart on Etsy


  • I reckon that a vintage darning mushroom, preferably showing the needle-scratched patina of years of previous repairs, will slip happily into the toe (or heel) of any stitcher’s Christmas stocking – though I may be biased. I have several to choose from for an unbeatably modest £5 each, so please get in touch with me if you’re interested and I’ll send you details of what’s available. I also have some choice, collectable specimen for a little more.


Darning mushrooms


  • Or how about these pretty Laine St. Pierre darning yarns by Sajou? Just £2.75 per card here from Loop, and such a wide and sumptuous colour choice makes moth-holes almost a pleasure to repair. Or they can simply be used for embroidery projects. 

Laine St Pierre from Loop


  • Beeswax is an effective traditional thread conditioner meriting a place in any sewing box, and it’s especially good to have some in a pretty shape like this, though you should be able to find a no-frills, inexpensive bar of the stuff in your local hardware shop which will do the job just as well. For more details on how it’s used, read my old blog post (‘Waxing Lyrical’) over here.
  • Special pins. High quality pins, such as these extra-long glass-headed ones, should do down a treat (glass-headed ones are so much nicer to use and don’t melt when the iron accidentally touches them), or go for just about anything from the Merchant & Mills selection, though be warned that all but the black safety pins come in above the £5 mark. If your stitcher works with light, fine fabrics, some fine brass pins (which won’t mark the fabric) would be an excellent choice too.
  • Unusual stuffing materials, such as natural wool noil (there’s a UK supplier here) or ground walnut shells – with which to stuff pincushions etc – would make a thoughtful gift for someone who likes making those small items, or might want to make a pincushion for their own use. OK, so they are sotto voce gifts which might not elicit actual squeals of delight, but they’ll definitely be appreciated further down the road. Both of these fillings make excellent conditioners for needles and pins, gently cleaning, sharpening, and oiling them to keep them functioning optimally. If you want ground walnut shells, I can provide you with a packet for just £2.50 – please get in touch.
  • And finally, pretty Liberty lawn bias binding always comes in very handy for dressmakers etc. The one below is currently selling at £2.60 per metre.

Liberty bias binding from sewingbox.co.uk


Under £10


English Stamp Company


  • Medical forceps. Yes, this might seem like quite an odd one, but these medical/laboratory implements can be really handy for makers. This little pair of moschito forceps will hold something tight – rather like an extra hand – while you use your original two to sew.
  • Merchant & Mills‘ long and slender black entomology pins (£6) make a real statement (and work well for those fine fabrics too), as do their short, fiery, red-headed Spanish lace  pins (£8) shown at the top of this article, all the way from the oldest pin factory in Spain.
  • if you’re buying for someone who works on fiendishly small stuff, or whose eyes are going (like mine), these rather sinister steampunk magnifiers would make an unusual gift, and they’re currently selling at less than half price.

Above £10 (and all the way up to ouch…)


  • Ernest Wright scissorsthese stork embroidery ones are like stitcher’s catnip and will probably win you undying gratitude, if there is sufficient delivery time before Christmas (and be warned that leads on these can be long). But such is Ernest Wright’s exalted reputation that a promissory note might just do the trick (but make it decent pen and ink, for goodness’ sake!).  At £27.50, the price is admittedly ouchy, but these are fantastic implements by the last traditional scissor cutlers in Britain (based in Sheffield, of course) and should genuinely last a lifetime – they can be repaired and sharpened later down the road. I’d be absolutely thrilled with any of the Ernest Wright range, and am confident that any other stitcher would too. Ernest Wright will also give you old pair of scissors a complete overhaul for just £10. The scissors obviously have to be of a sufficient quality to begin with to make the expense and effort of a revamp worthwhile. I have been collecting together my shabby antique and vintage pairs for future renovation. Note that pinking shears are beyond their scope.

Ernest Wright stork embroidery scissors


  • A bespoke rubber maker’s stamp at £24 from the English Stamp Company in Dorset (along with a stamp pad plus some really nice labels) would make a very welcome gift indeed. The English Stamp Co is a family business which has been making high-quality bespoke rubber stamps from its Dorset base since 1992.

English Stamp Company’s bespoke stamps



Silk threads from the Silk Mill



Silver pig pincushion from the Silk Mill


  • Or this Wallace Sewell mending kit from Ray Stitch.
  • Softtouch spring-loaded pinking shears. If your giftee likes making things that require an awful lot of cutting out (bunting, for example) then they should really appreciate these by Fiskars at about £22 – they’re extremely helpful for avoiding painful blisters and RSI, and they work equally well if you’re left-handed.
  • For something really unusual and purely decorative, Becca of Alterknitive makes gorgeous little maker’s sterling silver charm bracelets to order – just look at the crochet-hook closure, and the wee darning mushroom! If you want to spoil someone rotten, email Becca (beccaATalterknitiveDOTcoDOTuk) for further details.


Charms sold separately and include tiny darning mushroom

Individually crafted sterling silver maker’s charm bracelet from Alterknitive


So, that’s the end of my sewing eye-candy. I have not received any payment at all (in money or in kind) to mention any of these products – I place them in front of you out of honest admiration. In the end, you can’t beat the straightforward pleasure of using really good sewing tools, and listed above are some of the very best. If you have further suggestions to add to this list, I’d be delighted if you’d leave a comment. And may you, and the stitcher that you love, have a very merry and joyful Christmas and a highly creative 2016!





Oct 27

Apple windfall chutney

Late October is when I start to crave the warmth of the kitchen: spices, applesauce, cinnamon, hotwater bottles, endless cups of Lapsang Souchong…

Happily, I’ve been given a couple of bags of windfall cooking apples. And, when life hands you windfalls, what better to make than chutney? Even more happily, yesterday I realised (when autumn-cleaning my kitchen cupboard: a task long overdue) that I had all the necessary ingredients.

I followed a slightly haphazard recipe from Feast Days by Jennifer Paterson, one half of the 1990s Two Fat Ladies TV cook combo (remember them from the pre-Jamie Oliver era?) and food writer for the Spectator. The recipe, actually called ‘Patricius’s Pickle’ (on page 69, if you’re inspired to investigate) was a little light on particulars, not really giving an idea of how long to cook or quite how to know when it was done, but I occasionally find an absence of detail in cookbooks strangely liberating.

And chutney does seem to be a fairly forgiving concoction, embracing all sorts of fruit, vegetable and spice combinations, depending on your particular glut, the contents of your store cupboard, and the limits of your personal taste. The key seems to be not to stint on sugar and vinegar, the essential preserving elements; that said, you could freeze a low-vinegar, low-sugar chutney, so long as you remember to remove it from the cold a day or so before it’s to be consumed in order to mature the flavours.

I rejigged Jennifer’s ingredients a little, and here’s what went into mine:

Chutney before cooking

Ingredients compiled and chopped in the preserving pan


  • 3lbs cooking apples, peeled cored and chopped. The original recipe didn’t specify if this was the weight before or after peeling etc. I went heavy on the apples and opted for 3lbs finished weight.
  • 1lb 6 ozs onions which was less than the original recipe (which called for 2lbs) but this was all I had, and mine were mostly red, which has no advantage but looking pretty in the “before” pictures, so use whatever you like.
  • 1 quart cider vinegar instead of the white malt variety called for by the original recipe. Again, it’s just what I happened to have in the cupboard.
  • 1 lb raisins
  • 7 ozs haphazard mix of forgotten, back-of-cupboard dried fruit, including sultanas and bing cherries, but the recipe called for 1 lb of dates.
  • 1 lb soft brown sugar
  • 1 tspn cayenne pepper
  • 1 dessertspoon of rock salt
  • remaining spices tied in a muslin bag… 1/4 oz each peppercorns, cinnamon (I took this to be sticks of cinnamon, broken up), whole cloves.

In it all went.

Chopped chutney ingredients

Chopped apple, onion, plus dried fruit


And quite a lot of  frequent stirring (so it didn’t burn), and an hour or so later, out it came thus…

Apple chutney & cheddar cheese

A marriage made in heaven


I’ve tasted it (someone had to!) and am happy to declare that it is stonkingly good on cheddar.

A note on when to stop cooking it: Jennifer’s advice is not to let it become too dry as it will dry out further in the jar. She also advises letting it cool completely before potting up. I gather that you can also bottle it when piping hot, but avoid doing so when somewhere in the middle (warm is bad). Mine went hot into rather utilitarian jars (scrupulously clean, of course) which Little Scraplet helpfully slapped my hastily scribbled labels onto.

Apple chutney

Roughly labeled


But, nicely presented, these would make lovely Christmas gifts. Who could resist?

Apple chutney & cheddar cheese

Perfect partners

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