Tagged: Make do and mend

Sep 19

Insta-bag handle


This is an update on Scrap of the Week #32. That scrap was a little offcut of brown upholstery leather and I wanted to create an insta-bag (instant-bag) handle, rather like the fabulous Hiromi’s. Here’s how I got on.



Insta-bag handle


Cutting out

I first marked up my strip (measuring 24 cms x 2 cms) with ruler and my pen-of-choice, the Pilot Frixion*: a really great tool for crafters which I first heard about via Julie‘s embroidery and knitting blog, Button Button. The pen, which you should be able to find quite easily in your local stationery shop, is marketed as erasable and just happens to work brilliantly for marking up non-washable surfaces such as leather as it will simply rub away afterwards.  Wonderfully, Julie discovered that it also seems to disappear with the slightest application of heat – a light iron removes it just like magic – so it’s extremely useful for embroidery purposes. Do try it, but please test it first on a teeny scrap of your precious antique textiles before scribbling with gusto! [NB Please see addendum below]

Having marked up my strip, I cut it out with a good sharp pair of craft scissors – no need for blade cutters or fancy cutting tools.



Cutting out


Constructing the strap

I grabbed 4 old curtain rings (I didn’t have any nice enough D-rings) and some linen twine. The curtain rings worked well as a D-ring substitute, though it makes the handle look slightly like a horses’s bit (which, personally, I don’t mind). Being strong enough to hold up curtains, they’re also guaranteed to be strong enough to hold your groceries without buckling. Which is reassuring.

Now, the metal riveting on Hiromi’s original had foxed me. I didn’t want to invest in more hardware but to use up what I already had. And I couldn’t bring myself to use clashing rings and rivets, so I thought I’d play with some thread instead. When stitching leather, it’s important not to use cotton as the leather will rot it. Linen is perfect, however. I rootled through my vintage threads and found some likely candidates, including a reel of heavy gauge Barbour twine.

Turning over my handle ends about 2.5 cms, and with the two rings tucked in place, it was time to punch a couple of holes in my strap with a small leather punch (a useful piece of kit which I use routinely to construct my hanging tags, by the way).



Making the stitching holes


I eyeballed my measurements, but you might like to mark up first to get the positioning just right.



Leather punch


To sew it, I folded my ends over my curtain rings.



Attaching the rings


Then I threaded my rather bulky linen thread through a tapestry needle and passed it out through one of the holes from inside the folded end. I left a few inches of unknotted thread  behind, enough to tie a good strong knot later. I worked the thread through the holes several times before bringing the thread out where I’d begun, tying a knot (reef, not granny) to secure it and snipping the ends so that nothing showed on the outside of the strap. Incidentally, you can buy little cards of bookbinder’s linen thread for about £1.50, or reels of fine linen thread from about £1.60.





And that was it.

I’ve modelled it (badly, and in artificial light too) with a classic old hanky/neckerchief, just to show you how well it will hold a piece of relatively light cotton fabric. I intend to make a Liberty square for this one from the fabric shown, but I rather like the rustic Little-Red-Riding-Hood look, perfect for toting cookies to Grandma’s. I’ll show you my preferred methods for hemming a Liberty lawn square (for use as a hanky, scarf or insta-bag) another time soon. 



Finished insta-bag strap in use


*A note on the Pilot Frixion. Thanks so much to Mimi Kirchner for sending me this review of the pen’s performance at low temperatures subsequent to ironing. In summary, be careful if you’re thinking of using this pen for art purposes and don’t intend to wash your finished creation: the markings may reappear!  21/9/13


Jul 02



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.



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.




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.


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.


Refreshing elderflower sorbet


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


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!


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.



Apr 15

Strictly Come Darning!


If you’ve been wanting to learn the basics of darning in a tidy and structured way, come along to my new class: Strictly Come Darning!

You’ll try your hand at stockinet darning, Swiss darning, and linen darning. This will be mostly a hand-work class, but we’ll take a look at how you’d go about darning by machine too.

Swiss darning

Swiss darning


The first scheduled Strictly Come Darning! class will be at Jumble Jelly, 10 Silver Street, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1JY on Friday 3rd May, 10am to 1pm. To book your place, phone the shop on 01225 866033.


NB If I handed you a flyer yesterday (attached to a reel of vintage tacking cotton) at Bath Artisan Market, the date printed there was incorrect: please note that this class is on the 3rd May and not the 4th, as stated. Thank you! Do feast your eyes on this delicious write-up of yesterday’s Make-Do-and-Mend-themed Bath Artisan Market c/o Captured by Lucy.




Mar 11

Scrap of the week #29


After a relative dearth of scraps, here’s a whole slew to make up for it. I hope you can handle  all the excitement!


Rail fence quilt top

This exuberant patchwork quilt-top was made by my Pennsylvanian grandmother. It’s a simple machine-pieced single quilt top which was not completed.

It isn’t fancy: a thrown-together-fast strip pattern called ‘rail fence’. Each little strip measures about three inches by one.

To make rail fence, three strips are joined to make one square block. The blocks are then arranged (one vertical, one horizontal, etc) and joined into strips, the strips then joined to build up the entire quilt top. Simple, but lively. It seems to me that the  placing and piecing haven’t been sweated over too much: this is a hap quilt, the pieces falling pretty much where they will. The lines of stitching are a little rough-and-ready too. But Nana had plenty of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and didn’t have time to spare on perfectionism.


Rail fence patchwork

The workmanship and provenance may not be grand, but these scraps are like little jewels to me. I know that some of them came from humble feedsacks. Others were cut from plain fabrics bought by the yard. I’m sure Nana would have kept precious scraps a long while. She grew up on a farm, one of fourteen children, and resources were scarce. I think she’d have been conservative, therefore, so maybe some of these fabrics date to way back whenever. She worked in a shirt factory for a while (in the 1910s, I think) so I wonder if any of these could be shirt offcuts.

My mother used to tell me that some of these prints featured in her childhood clothes from the late 1920s and 1930s. Other scraps are a little later. I don’t know exactly when Nana made it; it could possibly date any time up to the late ’70s. I’m not sure precisely when she stopped sewing; she had bad arthritis in her hands and I think she’d stopped for a while before she died in the 1980s.


Rail fence close-up

A few people have suggested I complete this quilt. But I’m reluctant to. I feel that the WIP tells its own special story and has its own value; I’m reluctant to meddle with this time-capsule. But I’d love to ask you: if it were your grandmother’s handiwork, what would you do? Finish? Or leave it as is? And why? Have you finished off your own grandmother’s (or your mother’s) quilt? Did you feel you owed that to her? All valid points! Please do take just a moment to share your thoughts. I love to hear them. Thank you!




Mar 04

Come to a Craft-Tea Party!



If you’re pushed for a Mother’s Day/Mothering Sunday* gift and live in Bath, I can help.

The Craft-Tea Party happens in Green Park Station this Saturday 9th March, 2-5pm. It’s organised by Oxfam Bath and timed to celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March).

Craft-Tea Party poster


I’m running a series of mini-workshops at 2pm, 2.45pm, 3.30pm and 4.15pm (half an hour each) to make a gorgeous flower brooch from upcycled felt. The £5 fee will go entirely to Oxfam as I’m donating my time and materials.

Here’s the felt we’ll be using. It’s lovely thick stuff, culled from endless sweaters, cardigans and scarves gleaned in numberless charity shops then boiled in my washing machine and steam pressed. Yes, a complete labour of love!

Felted garments

Part of the Scrapiana upcycled felt library


And here are samples of some of the loopy brooches we’ll be making. They can be loosely sprawling, dense and tight, single colour, variegated, buttoned or not buttoned, but each holds a charm.

Loopy corsages

Loopy flower brooches


Best of all, these loopy flowers are surprisingly simple and fast to make. They just need a little careful cutting (I have various sizes of scissors for big and little hands) and require a little hand-sewing, though I minimise this for those who find needle-and-thread stressful. I made these (and some other felt flowers) with the Bath WI last week and we had a really fun, highly productive evening. Here’s a write-up from fellow craft blogger and WI member Sue. I’m so glad to have pepped up her week and brought a smile to her face – that means such a lot.

Anyway, £5 isn’t much of an outlay to hit two birds with one stone, donating to the brilliant Oxfam cause and making something for your lovely ma. Better still, bring your mum along and keep her busy close by with some tea and cake (served on vintage crockery, of course) while you make her a surprise. You’ll have to tell her not to peek, but the sumptuous cakes on offer should provide sufficient distraction.  So, here’s how you book a space, to avoid disappointment. Hope to see you there!


PS If you don’t have a mum (and so many of us don’t), do please come make a flower for yourself, or for a lovely female relative or friend whose nurturing spirit you appreciate.


*which, in the UK, falls on 10th March 2013 this year



Jan 07

The Big Mend in Bradford-on-Avon


Mrs. Sew-and-Sew darns

I’m delighted to announce that 2013 brings with it a new monthly incarnation of the Big Mend, now in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.

The Bradford-on-Avon mending social meets the first Tuesday of the month at Jumble Jelly in Silver Street. First meeting: Tuesday 8th January. Drop in any time from 10am till noon. As is usual for the Big Mend sessions, there’s no charge to attend – just grab your mending and turn up. The Big Mend is really about sharing skills, finding new ways to repair clothing, and having a good old natter. Mending materials will be available to purchase, if needed, but there’s no obligation to buy anything at all.

If you’re closer to Bath, our original mending social still meets at the Museum of Bath at Work in Camden Works, Julian Road, on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm. Next meet-up: 30th January.

Would you be interested in setting up a mending social in your area? If so, please contact eirlysATscrapianaDOTcom for further details.




Aug 09

The latch ladder mender


The Latch Ladder Mender

The Latch Ladder Mender


Here’s a little vintage gizmo I used for the first time at last month’s the Big Mend in Bath. Someone brought a fine-mesh knitted cardigan with a popped seam and a little ladder, so we used this old stocking-repair device to remedy the latter.

It’s a cute little tool – basically a tiny version of rug-making latch-hook – and works well, though using it requires youthfully sharp eyesight and is a little fiddly (opening and closing the latch), but not so hard. I’m sure that, as the packet firmly indicates, practice would make perfect. A small crochet hook would have done the job almost as well.

Ladder mender

Teeny weeny latch hook


See how tiny it is?

Quaintly, the instructions (printed on the brown paper envelope) advise to stretch your stocking repair over an egg-cup. In case you can’t see the pictures, here’s what the packet says:




1. Stretch ladder across eggcup or hand.

2. Insert hook behind end of ladder to catch up last loop.

3. Work needle up and down and pick up dropped stitches.

4. Fasten off last stitch with silk and tie inside stocking.


Got any tips for repairing ladders in knitted garments? Or for mending modern stockings or tights? Have you ever seen one of these old ladder repairers? Or something similar? Do share!




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.


Jun 22

June mending


It was delightful that so many people turned up to May’s meeting of the Big Mend, especially considering that the weather was so sultry. This month’s session is Wednesday June 27th at the Museum of Bath at Work and (rain or shine) we’ll be making the most of the long midsummer evening light, kicking off at the slightly later time of 7.30 and wrapping up at 9.30pm. All welcome! Just drop in any time with your mending bag.

There will definitely be jeans patching this time (there’s a wonderful example of this over on Tom of Holland’s blog which I’d highly recommend perusing), and I’ve been experimenting with woven yarn patches (see below) as an applied alternative to darning knitted garments. I’ll bring those along for a bit of show-and-tell. But feel free to bring anything at all textile-related that you want to repair (popped seams, burst buttons, droopy hems) and we’ll help you to fix it. Some basic tools and materials are on hand but try to bring what you know you’ll need  (patch fabric or toning thread, for example).

Woven patch test

woven patch looking for an elbow


More details about the Big Mend over here. There’s now a Flickr group you can join and post images of your mending triumphs or disasters and find images to inspire. Do take a look.

Serious menders will probably already be aware that the UK’s first mending research symposium convenes towards the end of the month in the Lake District; Mend*rs kicks off with a call to arms, a first National Mending Day on Friday 29th June. Count me in! Alas, it looks like I won’t be able to make it to the physical conference but will certainly be mending with the assembled gathering in spirit next Friday. A big thank you to Tom for telling me about the event.






Apr 11

The big mend

You’ll have noticed that I’m a bit of a fan of mending – in theory, if not always in practice. Like everyone else, I seem to have an ever-growing pile of things with holes or without buttons, waiting to be rescued from the clothing version of limbo.

Well, I’m thrilled to announce a new project happening very close to home which will help to redress that problem. It’s called the Big Mend and it aims to get Bath (or the small corner of it in which I live) mending its ways. Imagine a great big sociable gaggle of people sewing on buttons, darning, nibbling snacks and gossiping. That should be it. There will be sewing tools on hand to use, free of charge, and other helpful items to purchase, should you wish. Or you are welcome to bring along your own bits and pieces. If your problem is carving out the time and space, hopefully we can give you that. If your problem is trepidation or insufficient skills, we aim to be able to help you with that too; if there isn’t someone there who will know how to fix your beloved vintage dress, we will know where to look to find out.

Our first meeting of the Big Mend will be on Wednesday 24th April at Crockadoodledo, Larkhall from 7-9pm. You’re very welcome to drop in any time you like (though it would be advisable not to arrive at quarter to 9 if you have a long hem to repair). Entry is free.

Huge thanks are due to Caroline Harris, local author on matters thrifty (amongst many other talents) who encouraged me to pursue this idea. Curiously enough, she provided the  inspirational spark for the project when she wrote an article for Bath Life back in May 2009.

Caroline 's Bath Life article


In her article, Caroline rued the parlous state of her three pairs of jeans, and wished for what she called a ‘mending amnesty… an occasion where you can bring along all that forlorn forgotten sewing and do it in company, with a chat and a drink’. I read that and thought: That’s me! I can do that! And here it is, three years later, after a few false starts;  I  actually conjured up the artwork way back then (see it propped against this antique sewing machine?) but have managed to sit on it ever since. I just hope that Caroline’s favourite jeans are still salvageable.

The Big Mend takes place on the last Wednesday of the month from 7-9pm. May’s event (30th May) takes place at the Museum of Bath at Work in Julian Road. Entry is free, so just turn up!


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