Crafts Outdoors

Advent Wreath

A few years ago I signed up for a course at a local church on making an advent wreath. It was brilliant. We started from scratch with a bale of straw from which to pull handfuls that we steadily twisted and bound (with wire) into a ring about 30 cms in diameter. The next step is to cover the ring with greenery, using ivy, yew, holly etc as long as it is evergreen and fairly pliable. The idea is to lie the stems in the same direction to give a tidy look.

This process is quite time consuming as the stems have to be secured by sticking the ends into the straw ring and binding them down with wire. The ring must be totally covered so when it sits flat no straw shows.

After 4 weeks or more the greenery can become rather dry and dull but regular spraying with water helps to keep it refreshed. When the festive season is over the advent wreath has to be dismembered and the reusable ring, decorations and wires put away for next year.

So that is where I started this year.

In the photo above you can see the straw ring, spare wire, red ribbons and 4 new white candles. The strong wires in the base of each candle are from the original candles that came with the wreath making course. I use the wires most years, pulling them out of the old candles, heating the ends over the gas cooker and forcing them into the new candles. Sometimes this has been tricky to do, depending on the nature of the candle wax, so in 2019 I bought a set of spiked candle holders that I used instead, as can be seen in the final photo in this blog.

I chose a fairly dry day to cut greenery from the garden – we have far too much holly and ivy!

The evergreen below was bought as a tiny plant over 30 years ago. We keep it well chopped and it is excellent as the first layer on the straw ring. Each short stem curves easily over the ring. After two or three circuits, tied down with wire, the ring is covered.

Below the greenery is piled up on the floor.

Unfortunately I was so carried away with covering the ring with evergreens that I forgot to take any photos.

The course leader all those years ago was very keen that we should divide the ring into four – 4 advent candles and between them red ribbons. Last year I tied the ribbons below each candle and added decorations between.

I decided this year to put a Christmas Day candle in the middle so, for the first time there are five candles. Thinking about it, the central candle should be taller than the four advent candles so I may stand its holder on a small block of wood.

This photo below is the 2019 advent wreath with all candles burning. So that means I took the photo on the fourth Sunday in Advent.

The candles are different heights because the one that is lit first (on Advent Sunday) is lit again on each of the successive Sundays. The same applies to each candle in turn and the tallest is the candle that was lit for the first time on the fourth Sunday in Advent.

Crafts Leisure

Birthday Flowers

Patrick decided to buy some flowers 2 days before my birthday. He visited our local greengrocers then an excellent interflora shop about a mile away. Shop 1 had a poor selection that were mainly orange and yellow and shop 2 was shut despite a large notice saying they were open! So back he came and decided to have another look at shop 1. And bingo, they had new stock that had just come in. So he bought masses of beautiful flowers that he then put into a flower can of his grandmother’s.

Here are the flowers after I had taken the freesias out of their cellophane.

My plan was to cut the bottom of all the stems then to arrange the flowers in vases the following day. The next three pictures show this in progress.

And here is a better view of all the flowers waiting for me to arrange them. They are wonderful all together like this.

Many of the flowers were surprisingly tall so I chose large vases.

The first round of flower arranging was only semi-successful. Patrick had bought some gladioli, slightly against his better judgement so I arranged them with garden foliage to disguise the ‘spikes’.

After 5 days the gladioli were amazing as you can see below.

In all but one of the other vases, the stems appeared leggy rather than elegantly tall as you can see in the photos. I therefore decided to use foliage from the garden with them as well to fill out the arrangements.

This photo below is of the arrangement that seemed OK first time round. The freesias were beautifully scented and went well with the purple alstroemerias.  But it turned out to be the vase that dropped petals first.

The next 6 pictures are pairs, before and after foliage.







These flowers turned out to be a great success lasting for over a week despite high temperatures, often over 33C outside.

Crafts Outdoors

Making Elderflower Cordial

The elder trees and bushes have been a wonderful mass of white flowers for about a month and I have made several batches of elderflower cordial which have gone into the freezer.

These photos were taken when I made the latest batch.

This is the most productive elder bush that we have access to, behind the shed on our allotment. A wild rose is intertwined so it looks extremely pretty despite ‘allotment views’ of compost bins, corrugated iron, brambles etc!

In our garden the elder is more of a tree as there are so many shrubs and trees that anything that can grow into a tall plant to reach the light does so. Therefore picking the flowers in the garden (for the first batch of cordial) involved a step ladder.

Here is a close up – each cluster of blossoms was between 10 and 15 cms across.

They went into the trug to take home.

And after inspection for unwanted beetles etc I put the flower heads in a bowl and started adding other ingredients, starting with the rind of an orange in this case. The recipe I use is 25 flower heads, rind and later juice of 3 lemons and 1 orange, plus water and sugar. This batch suffered from shopping delays – we had a 10 day gap between ‘click and collect’s which was no problem – but by the time I came to make this batch we only had oranges and ‘easy peelers’ in the fruit bowl (and the flowers can’t hang about until new lemons arrive). This of course is all to do with not popping out to the shops when we need something, to minimise risk of catching the virus.

Using the zester.

Fruit waiting to be used.

!.5 litres of boiling water go in on top of flower heads and zest+easy peeler skins (too difficult to scrape zest off them). The flowers immediately start to look wilted and discoloured. This is the last of the pretty photos!

After steeping overnight in the bowl covered in cling film the contents are unattractively dark and soggy!

The next stages are to strain the liquid through sterilised muslin into a saucepan and add the juice of the fruit plus sugar. The recipe suggests a lot of sugar to make a nice sweet syrup. But we like it less sweet so I only added 250 grams.

The strained liquid has to simmer for a short time – it came to the boil as this picture shows, before I turned it down.

I decanted the cordial into a clean jug and poured it into freezer boxes. It does not keep for any length of time even in the fridge so I freeze it and thaw as required.

Labelled and ready for freezing. I noticed when I put these in the freezer, that I’d added a time limit ‘use within a week after opening’ on earlier batches.

The proof of all this is what it tastes like – normally a good refreshing drink that can be improved by adding fizzy rather than still/tap water and of course far cheaper than commercial versions of elderflower cordial or ‘sparkling elderflower’ that we can buy in the supermarket, but not so long lasting.


Painting the attic

We have a large cupboard in a gable at the front of the house, accessible through the loft conversion bedroom. Originally we thought it would be a ‘walk in cupboard’ but the reality turned out to be a ‘crouch in cupboard’. As soon as it came into existence, in 2004, shelves were built and Patrick started using it as an archive storage space. That was the theory. In addition to his substantial volume of papers, it became a bit of dumping ground for anything that needed hiding away. The speed with which the cupboard filled up meant that painting never happened – we got used to the bare plaster and unpainted wood round the door.

First we had to dig out all the boxes that held things we could ‘move on’. This started a while ago, long before the corona lockdown, and several tea sets, unwanted glasses, old suitcases etc went to charity shops. There were also quantities of notes, exercise books, drawings and school projects that Will and Jim checked through, and toys and magazines too, most of which Jim was happy to take away. Although this sounds as though the bulk of the contents of the cupboard had found new homes by March that was far from the case. It was still choc-a-bloc!

This lockdown spring Patrick decided it was a good idea to catch up with painting it. But that meant moving everything out. There is so much that he had to work in stages, clearing a third of the cupboard at a time, stacking everything in the adjoining attic bedroom, painting then moving the first lot back and clearing the next lot – and so on.  

This photo is of some of the non-archive stuff that was stored there – it looks like a 1990s car boot sale. We tend to hoard – note the cot and fireguard in the distance that have been around since 1981 (and are still in good, or maybe ‘reasonable’, condition). Most people would definitely have moved them on by now.

And here is a view from inside the cupboard, showing unpainted woodwork.

The sharp angles in the cupboard would be a contortionist’s delight – but not such fun for Patrick. He has found painting the sloping walls in such a confined space a far cry from his preferred place of work which is in front of the computer in our bedroom. His muscles are still complaining – maybe aggravated by digging and weeding our bone dry allotment on a weekly basis.

And at the end of each day there have been brushes to wash and dry. At least this one is a decent size and covers plenty of wall space with each stroke and good quality so the hairs don’t slip out as the paint goes on the wall.

These photos show how Patrick gets to the next bit of bare wall.

On the way into painting position…..

Moving closer…

Ready to paint..

A slightly more comfortable position

And these are the clothes that went in the wash. If you know what Patrick normally wears you’d be justified in thinking he wore his ordinary everyday clothes for painting. The guernsey had its day as ‘best’ then ‘everyday’ and now ‘gardening’, ditto the trousers.

The main storage space – double depth shelves.

And the half-painted adjoining wall with shelves already re-stacked.

The last stretch – and the most inaccessible! The builders clearly realised this as they included a removable side panel that opens into another small space under a velux window that is set in the slope of the front roof.

And after the ‘stuff’ was put back.

Patrick (still dressed in painting gear and raising a J cloth to his brow!) sitting in front of the computer – looking forward to returning to normal after his two weeks of work in the attic!

Brilliant by-products were

1. A map showing what’s where in the cupboard;

2. ‘Re-homing’ of many of the items – so fewer of them to store;

3. A catalogue of all Patrick’s papers; 

And of course

4. Painted walls.

But hopefully never again.


Knitting from ‘Knitting from the North’ that my sister gave me for Christmas a few years ago.

As well as making things that keep me/us/the teapot warm, these were my first attempts at knitting both in the round on circular and 4 or 5 needles, and with two colours to make a pattern. Another plus – a chance to use up lots of wool that I inherited from Patrick’s mother.

This hat is Patrick’s. It is a bit small (ie too short) and tends to look like a kippah especially as he wears it with the brim turned up as in the picture in the book. I decided against the bobble!

The wrist warmers below are a great success – they make a huge difference especially on a cold day when wearing shortish gloves, a coat with loose sleeves and a jumper that doesn’t come right down to my hands. They were quick and easy to knit.

These fingerless mitts are brilliant over other gloves and also good when it is cold but I need to have my fingers free. There are proper thumb holes which meant I had to learn something else – how to knit a ‘hole’ with edging within the main body of the knitting. The pattern is meant to be in red but I ran out so changed to brown – barely noticeable unless you look closely.

This is another hat pattern. I decided to turn it into a teacosy, which was reasonably successful as it fits snugly, but this time it is too long! One side is black and white and the other is white and black. I needed to make the teacosy slightly smaller than the original hat pattern by reducing the number of stiches. Then I had to jiggle with the pattern so I lost stitches without it being too noticeable!

This scarf was a good way to use up most of some fairly lurid pinkish wool. Teaming it with navy worked (a fashionable combination of colours in the 1960s!!). This is a very fiddly pattern (the author says ‘one of the more complicated patterns in this book’) – but by the fifth and last cycle of 72 rows I’d just about got the hang of it.

The blue wool ran out first, before the final cycle of 72 rows was complete but that hasn’t made the scarf unmanageably short luckily.   Sadly there’s still quite a lot of the lurid pink left over to use up on something else… After putting a twist in it, I followed the instructions at the start of the book to graft the cast on stiches to the final row.

 During knitting the scarf curled on itself as you can see above, but once the two  ends were grafted together I pressed it with a steam iron under a tea-towel and it smoothed out nicely.

And in a different light the pink looks less lurid!


Mending an old arm chair

We inherited a ‘three piece suite’ from Edna’s house in 2010. The sofa is a lovely comfortable huge Parker Knoll with strange knobs on the end of the tall back that hold cords with tassels. These join up with arm extensions that have never been used in the 45 years that I have known the sofa, and live dropped behind the back! There’s a whole story to the sofa, but not for now.

The two arms chairs are not Parker Knoll. They are relatively small, not quite matching, comfortable chairs. Their covers had been a pleasant soft mint green that toned well with the sofa cover, but they wore out. So Edna, with a lot of help from Patrick in the early 2000s, had the chairs re-covered by Plumbs in a brighter green colour, in my view a bit too bright! Once we had the chairs in our quite small sitting room it was clear that they should be recovered if only to avoid a ‘gosh, too green’ feeling whenever we went in there. So Patrick and I chose some fabric and I made loose covers. The spare fabric went into cushion covers, so our sitting room now looks as though the three piece suite is well co-ordinated, amazingly. That is, until we look more closely at various defects of both the sofa cover plus its ‘springing’ and the same with the chairs. The new covers on the chairs are light in colour so they show dirt and wear particularly in the chair that Patrick always sits on. I used the final spare fabric from the loose covers to make arm and back ‘antimacassars’ – pretty effective, especially as I discovered that the fabric is washable without shrinking. Less easy to solve was the collapse of the left side (as you sit on it) of the seat on the chair that Patrick regularly used.

Which is what this account is meant to be all about…….


Move the non-collapsing chair (give it time – sooner or later it will follow its friend and need repairing I’m sure) to the place where P normally sits. I washed the collapsing chair’s ‘antimacassars’ and put them on this chair.

Move the collapsing chair into the conservatory and put the ‘farmhouse/windsor’ chair in its place – which looked very nice and gave a more spacious feel to the room. It’s surprising how much space upholstered chairs take up. There’s another story attached to this ‘farmhouse/windsor’, also for another day.

Take the cover off the chair (and cast casually to one side judging by this picture!)

Dig out the upholstery ‘kit’, ie whatever happens to be in that drawer of odds and ends upstairs. Luckily there was enough that was useful, webbing and twine in particular as well as a twist of spare tacks.

Turn the chair upside down and remove tacks from three sides of the hessian that covers the base to reveal the webbing. You can see that the springs are pressing through the webbing and several of the strips have detached from the chair frame. Needless to say the whole exercise was very dusty. It might have been an idea to have a go at the underside of the chair with hoover tools before starting, but I didn’t think of that.

Sort out the webbing. I didn’t have enough webbing to replace it all and anyway it was clear that there had been a previous repair as there were 2 layers of webbing, older and slightly less old (on ‘top’ as the chair is upside down). The existing webbing that had ripped from the chair frame, or that was working loose, needed extra lengths joined to it to give a solid piece that could be re-tacked to the frame. This is what I’ve started doing in the picture below. I also decided to use the twine to run a line along each piece of repaired webbing from side to side / front to back to add a bit of strength. I tried to fix it securely at either end but the fabric of the chair (as opposed to the wooden frame) was not very substantial so we shall see how it all works.

Complete webbing repairs. The photos below, show the webbing repairs underway. The twine is clearly visible along each repaired piece and the bulging effect of the springs is seriously less than it was. The two layers of previous webbing creates a fairly solid base once the strips are all tightened up and tacked down. It was rather bulky along the edges where the new webbing was added but they neatly folded away, as in the bottom photo.

The repairs all disappeared once the old hessian was tacked back in position – see below.

Check the effect of webbing repairs. Before tacking back the hessian I turned the chair over just in case there were still problems. Superficially it looked fine (top photo below). But when I felt it the sagging left side was still as bad as ever (bottom photo). Without totally reupholstering the chair there was nothing ‘professional’ I could do to improve the springs/horsehair/padding in order to even out the seat……

Fix the problem somehow. We have a surplus of blankets – another feature of inheriting things from households that were mainly functioning in the pre-duvet days ie from the 1940s. So the ‘sagging seat cure’ is now a large blanket, folded unevenly so most of it could be shoved into the space where proper padding no longer existed.

Cover up all that lies underneath. Loose covers are multi dimensional, most noticeable when ironing them. There’s a huge volume to tuck in, but at the same time this gives plenty of scope for tweaking and twitching so in the end it looks fairly smooth and tidy. Once the cover was tucked in the seat felt approximately right.

Adding the seat cushion made a difference.

Now the chair is back in place it’s clear that the tightened webbing has made a huge difference compared with its pair, the non-collapsed chair. Sitting on the repaired chair is like sitting on a very firm bed – there’s far less give than we expected and you’re higher than on both the other chair and the sofa. But it will no doubt loosen up as the no-longer-collapsed chair is used more and more!

Now there is an urgency, that wasn’t there before, to inspect the under-side of the non-collapsed chair and also the sofa.


Making Face Masks

At the time of making these masks there was no government directive that we should all wear face masks in public to contribute our bit to the anti-coronavirus effort. However it seemed a good plan to be prepared. Also it was fun to get out my old machine (a 21st present in 1968) and start sewing.

The first thing to do was to find some patterns and instructions on the web. There was plenty to choose from, and they all had at least two layers of fabric. The most basic style that I considered was fabric cut off the bottom of a T shirt in such a way that the mask was a double layer with tie strings. Other versions had pleats so the mask fitted properly round the nose, mouth and chin and could either be hooked over the ears or tied behind the neck and over the back of the head. My preferred pattern includes a pocket into which can be inserted an extra layer or two, possibly including something that is not woven.

Home-made face masks are not a way to stop the wearer catching anything. What they do is to slow down the transmission of germs from the wearer to other people.

I looked for suitable fabric stored in a drawer of ‘oddments’. It had to be a fairly tight weave, safe in a hot wash and ironable at the highest temperature. There were many different materials, from sheeting and curtain offcuts to denim and an old shirt.

I put all the fabrics in a hot wash, dried them outside and ironed them. To shape each mask over the nose it is necessary to insert a short plastic coated wire, and plant ties are perfect for this. I also needed elastic (or rubber bands) to loop over the ears, and/or tapes to tie behind the head. I found enough elastic and rubber bands for the 20 or so masks that I made first and made tapes by machining long strips of fabric. I ordered a number of items online, including thread and elastic, so I could carry on making masks as the weeks go by.  There has to be a disposable side to this. If masks are contaminated washing and ironing is fine but there will be times when it is better to bin them.

Here is the old sewing machine, threaded in white cotton.

I used two patterns.  The first one had two outer layers and two layers of lining. I used cotton fabric for both the outer layers and the lining (although in the instructions it suggested the lining should be a non-woven material).

The other pattern was a single piece of fabric, folded in half and sewn in a way that allowed the space between the two layers to be used as a pocket. Here are three denim masks at different stages of construction using that pattern.

Here is one of these masks photographed in a different light hence the colour change!

To the back of the photo below is a pile of ironed and folded fabric waiting to be used.

Ironing seams, pleats etc after each stage of sewing is a good idea. Here the seams for the lined version are pressed ready to insert the nose wire.

Lay wire on the lining, along seam, fold over and stitch in place.

Then it was time to pleat the mask.

And press the pleats flat.

Sewing down the edges of the pleats is done with either a long piece of tape/fabric that extends to form ties that go behind the head, or a short piece of fabric that provides a casing along each side of the mask for elastic.

If you look very carefully at the back left of the photo, the most distant curtain matches the blue grid mask!


Easter Decorations – mainly eggs

These lovely eggs all started as regular hen’s eggs. They had a friend who was a goose egg. All these eggs were first blown and rinsed, then, for most of them, a thread or wire attached to hang them up.  The goose egg was decorated as Humpty Dumpty wearing a school cap! Sadly he has broken beyond repair.

The eggs below have been decorated over the years by members of the family. In the early days the painting was fairly basic as you’d expect when done by a 3 or 4 year old. As time went by the decorations became more complicated or individual. Year by year the numbers increased, the new eggs outpacing the breakages. This year there were two that broke and no new ones, but there are still plenty to hang on a banch.

This is the 2020 bare branch. It is lilac that is just coming out – it has been an early spring and a fairly late Easter so forsythia is over so this was the best option amongst the shrubs in the garden.

The branch is decorated by hanging the eggs on the branches. The ones on threads sway gently if there is a breeze.

This papier maché egg has painted daffodils on the top half and trains from Thomas the Tank Engine on the lower half. As you can see Toby the tram engine (7) is there and also Gordon (4) on the top photo with Henry (3) below, and Edward (2) on the bottom photo. Thomas is between Gordon and Edward, just in view on both pictures, but not his number (1)! This egg was made in about 1984, with help from a three year old, and astonishingly it has lasted all this time.

And below is what happens to the small eggs waiting on the table……. The skilled part is putting the two halves together without eggs spilling everywhere, tying the ribbon round and standing the egg vertically – a bit of a balancing act.


Easter decorations – start with blowing eggs

You will need a bowl and an egg.

Then find a substantial pin – a safety pin works well. Stab it into the pointed end of the egg and wiggle round to make a small hole. If possible, push it into the egg far enough to perforate the yolk. Then do the same at the round end and make a bigger hole. The right hand picture shows that this can cause a leak from the smaller hole – no problem – just wipe away the raw egg.

The next stage is to blow the egg. Blow through the small hole so the yolk and egg white come out of the larger hole. Sometimes it takes quite a lot of force to blow out the contents – but be careful as the shell can break.

Keep the egg contents for cooking, then the empty egg is ready to be rinsed, inside and out.

Then the fun stage – decorating. Use anything from paint, ink, felt tips etc to colour the egg, create a pattern or design. Be careful – it’s easy to break the shell!

To suspend the egg from a branch you will need to fix a wire or thread to it. There are several methods.

Probably the easiest is to take a simple wire plant tie and twist a ‘knot’ at one end. Then push the wire into the egg through the large hole and out through the small hole at the top (stopped by the ‘knot’).