Tagged: “waste not want not”

Oct 08

Nasturtiums and pauper’s capers



Looks like it’s going to get colder, so this is my last chance to praise the humble nasturtium before the first frosts do away with it.

Nasturtiums on wicker support

Nasturtiums on wicker support


The leaves are already turning yellow on the rampant nasturtiums of my allotment, a sure sign that they’re on their way out. So, a last hoorah for the lovable nasturtium!

Jolly and easy to grow (thriving on poor soil and neglect), nasturtiums were the first flowers that many of us were encouraged to grow as children. I only learned this year that they’re a native of North America, brought to Europe about the time that potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco made landfall. The name comes from Latin: literally ‘twisted nose’ as that’s what the peppery taste was supposed to do to your face.

We’ve been enjoying peppery nasturtium leaves and bright flowers in salads all summer. And I’ve been dying to try a recipe for mock-capers made from the seeds held up in triple-clusters on those succulent, crunchy stalks. To that end, I’ve been collecting the nice plump green ones. If you don’t have many nasturtiums, you can gather seed in batches, storing it in a bag in the salad drawer until you’ve amassed enough to fill a jar.


Yellow nasturtium

Yellow nasturtium


Pauper’s Capers 

So, this really couldn’t be simpler.

You will need:

a cup of nasturtium seeds. Just the green ones. Avoid any already turning brown; save those to plant next year instead.

a cup of white wine vinegar

5 black peppercorns (approximately)


First, collect your nasturtium seeds


How to:

Wash any dirt or beasties off your seeds and dry them off with paper towel.

Place them in a jar: a preserving jar is great, but any jar will do.

Heat the white wine vinegar with the peppercorns in a small lidded pan. Once hot, pour the vinegar over the nasturtium seeds.

Seal the jar and, once cooled, place in the fridge. Leave for 3 long months, or until Christmas – whichever happens to be the  soonest.


Pauper’s capers. Left: freshly pickled, and right: a month on.


My verdict: they were tested a little prematurely after just a month. Interestingly peppery with that vinegar kick, and still quite crunchy. Not bad, though not really capers. But who cares? It’s more thrifty garden food to add to the winter store cupboard. Farewell, nasturtiums, till next year!


End of the nasturtiums

Nasturtiums: all parts are edible, even the seeds! What’s not to love?




Oct 01

Jacqmar calling




The distinctive Jacqmar mark


When this vibrant blouse was brought to the M Shed’s World War 2 day last Saturday, it created a frisson of excitement. Apparently upcycled from a Jacqmar propaganda scarf by the owner’s mother (a primary school teacher in London during the war), the blouse is an eye-popping reminder for us too young to have experienced the war IRL that it wasn’t lived in black-and-white.



Economic cutting


The 1942 line drawing by Jacqmar’s company designer Arnold Lever contains a selection of  topical references. Here’s much more about it and them c/o Meg Andrews, a specialist in antique costume and textiles.



Back view


The blouse is threadbare here and there, but still very bright and beautiful. It’s noticeable that the green binding is much finer and more flexible than the run-of-the-mill stiff stuff on offer to us nowadays. And it’s still doing the job, though a little worn here and there. The red buttons are not original to the WW2 item.



Binding finish


I’m a little puzzled by this piece. Jacqmar propaganda scarves were expensive items when new, so turning one into a blouse would have been a very bold project, in more ways than one. Admittedly, in this form it would have been wearable for a young teacher during her working day, whereas a head-scarf would not. But have I made a false assumption that this was made from a headscarf? It looked to me as if the pieces could just come (if carefully cut) from the square yard of fabric provided by a scarf. But did Jacqmar produce garments too? Or was the fabric ever sold by the metre? My hunch is that this was a homemade item; look at the stitching visible beyond the binding – not a professional finish. And the fact that contrast binding was used, not self, would indicate a paucity of fabric which as being negotiated with the greatest care, so the upcycled scarf theory still holds water. 



The odd hole here and there…


I bet this made a real impact on pupils when the young teacher wore it. Do you know of someone who made items from bright scarves during the war? Maybe you’ve inherited a Jacqmar propaganda scarf? Or another item of clothing made by Jacqmar? Perhaps you recognise the vintage blouse pattern this was cut from? If you have any insight at all to offer, I’d be delighted if you’d share it with me below. And if you happen to be in Bristol and have a story about World War 2, or an artefact you’d be willing to loan for an exhibition next year, do get in touch with the M Shed. Thanks.

PS Since writing this post I’ve discovered that famed scarf producer Jacqmar did indeed turn out fabrics. In fact, they were doing this before they began to make scarves: the scarves being, ironically, a thrifty way to use up precious silk scraps. There’s a nice story about Arnold Lever’s patriotic fabric over here, used to create a VE party dress.



Sep 10




Micro-patching is my current obsession. I’ve made up the term – at least, I think I have. It could already be some kind of hack in the world of software engineering (is it?) but here it succinctly describes using the teeniest textile scraps, usually of Liberty Tana lawn, to cover holes and other faults in a garment etc. Sometimes I apply them as reinforcements: around pocket edges, for example (see my purple granny cardi below). And sometimes I apply them just for the heck of it. To be honest, I need very little excuse to use Liberty fabric, so sometimes I don’t wait for a repair.

This week, my patch of choice has been circular, and my mission has been to cover genuine holes. Moth holes, to be precise.




If you have a similar woollen garment to repair, be sure to treat it first for moths; I hand-wash with an appropriate wool wash, air-dry flat thoroughly, then freeze for a week or two inside a zip-lock plastic bag. That usually shows the little blighters what for.

To make the tiny round patches, I’ve applied scraps of the lightest iron-on interfacing to my lawn scraps first, just to ensure that my patches are stable. This is my preference and isn’t absolutely essential as lawn is such a closely woven fabric that it won’t fray much (if at all) nor stretch out of shape, though it will get softer and collapse with wash and wear. So, I use interfacing to make them just a little more robust and shape-holding. Then I’ve cut out circles, using whatever round thing happened to be close to hand for a template: cotton-reels, buttons, money, thimbles, etc.

I had a lot of holes to cover, so arranging the patches was my next task. I tried not to draw attention to certain areas by using fabrics which toned with my flamey orange Brora cashmere tank top – a charity shop buy, incidentally, and cheap as chips because of its parlous moth-holed state. Other areas could carry more of a punchy contrast. You might feel a bit like a tattoo artist doing this, trying to figure where best to position a patch to enhance the wearer’s physique. Or not. If you have a really awkward hole (right over a sensitive part of the bosom, for example) you need to think very carefully about your repair. This might not be the right place for a micro-patch.


Positioning patches


Once pinned into position, it’s a question of  tacking (even if you never usually baste or tack, I’d advise not skipping this stage for this type of work – it doesn’t take long and you can try on your garment more easily to decide if you’re happy with the result). Then it’s time for stitching over the patch by hand, getting decorative as the mood takes: spirals, concentric circles, radiating lines etc. I rather like a plain, simple back-stitch a few millimetres from the edge of the patch. Blanket stitch will cover the edges, if raw edges bug you, but it yields a slightly raised effect – fine, if that’s what you want. You could free-machine embroider, if you prefer; a few overlapping freehand circles would look really good. But this is hard (OK, impossible) to do on restricted areas such as sleeves etc.


Back-stitched micro-patch


How small can you go with these micro-patches? Well, if you’re just covering a mark or soiled area, you can go very itsy-bitsy as there’s no repair to effect; so as long as you can secure it well to the background fabric, you can go wild with your teenies. If you’re covering a hole, however, I’d ensure there’s at least a half-inch margin of sound fabric all around the edge of the repair. Now, if you stitch well over your patch, it should hold up well. To be extra secure, you could even try sandwiching it, with one patch on the outside, another of the same size on the inside; this could be done without any interfacing for a softer, more yielding repair. And then you’re spared seeing the raw edges of your repair on the wrong side of the garment. 



Radiating lines of split stitch


I get a real buzz from using up even the smallest jewel-like scraps of Liberty fabric. Do you? Seems almost criminal to throw them away. If you have a go, please show me how you get on. There’s a place to share your repairs, by the way, over here at The Big Mend group pool. Jump on in! The water’s lovely. 

I also love the satisfaction of working old-school tradition patching techniques which leave strong, finished edges; I will be teaching these (plus creative ways to repair jeans) in my half-day patching class, Patch-ologyPlease visit my classes page for details: forthcoming dates are Wednesday 18th September, Monday 7th October, and Friday 8th November. But I like to play it dangerously with my lawn, risking raw edges (which aren’t going to fray a whole lot anyway) and going smaller and smaller and smaller. Edgy stuff!


Send reinforcements!




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.


Garlic label






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 10

Bath Artisan Market


This month’s Bath Artisan Market at Green Park Station on Sunday 14th April has a Make Do & Mend theme, and the Big Mend will be there all day with a pop-up mending workshop.

If you’re in Bath and happen to have something needing a new button attached, a seam fixed, or maybe a hole darned, come on down! We’ll show you how. And it’s FREE! More about the Big Mend mending socials over here.

This Sunday’s market also brings you the Big Bath Clothes Swap, screenprinting for the kids (c/o Happy Inkers), and plenty of local gourmet food. Now we just need the Great British spring weather to co-operate! If you aren’t coming by public transport, by bike or on foot, there’s free parking for an hour and a half in the Sainsbury’s and Homebase car parks.

Bath Artisan Market Make Do and Mend Day


If you’re on Twitter, follow Bath Artisan Market for latest news and updates. This market happens every second Sunday of the month. Hope to see you this Sunday!

PS I’d welcome some willing volunteers to help with the stall. If you can spare half an hour on Sunday, do get in touch. No previous darning experience necessary!



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



Feb 04

Scrap of the week #28


Here’s a little pile of corduroy scraps, waiting for their moment in the spotlight.


Corduroy scraps


When my lovely neighbour took a tumble down her stairs (thanks to that pesky balance problem) and landed with her legs tangled up in the banister rail, she thankfully suffered nothing worse than a set of spectacular bruises. And her corduroy trousers were ripped across one knee.

My neighbour is a total sweetheart, so I happily took in a pile of mending from her (Warning: anyone else, please don’t ask!). Most of it I repaired inconspicuously, even invisibly, but when it came to the trousers I thought I’d give her a talking point; she’d already told me that she considered them rag, so anything I could do would be happily received.

Time to look through my scrap pile. That kingfisher blue jumped out at me screaming “STITCH ME!”. A little subtle overcasting and the repair was done.


Kingfisher patch


Yes, maybe it’s a little… obvious. Even a tad toddler.

Question: if you were the other side of seventy, would you be happy to wear such a conspicuous repair? I’d love to know. I’ll report back on how my neighbour is getting on – whether she is wearing her little flash of kingfisher blue beyond the confines of the house.




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.



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