Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Handmade Gifts for Guys

Having done numerous internet searches in the run up to birthdays and Christmas, I know I am not alone in finding it difficult to make gifts for the men in my life. Somehow it's easier to think of things to make for female friends and family, possibly because handbags, jewelry and scented candles can be given as many times as you like, as long as you pick a different design. Lots of lists for "gifts for men" are full of cliched, ugly, unhelpful ideas that would probably bore or insult a lot of the guys I know. This is a list of gifts that I have made and given that have been well received. Some of the suggestions may seem a little odd, but as with giving any gift, the best gifts are personal and thoughtful. If the friend is a little odd then the best gift will be too!

Food is a welcome gift for everyone, man or woman!

Homemade food gifts are lovely, and there's lots of ideas. Chocolate bark is an easy, no bake idea and there are loads of recipes around. I tried Martha Stewart's S'mores bark recipe last Christmas and lots of people asked for more. The trick with making chocolate bark is to use good quality chocolate - you could go even further and find out your loved one's favourite chocolate brand to make sure the gift appeals to their taste!

For bakers in the family, why not give them all the ingredients for their favourite biscuit or cookie in a jar? Kids Chaos has the instructions for some delicious cookies, the ingredients of which look great when layered in a jar!

For those not inclined to cook, shop bought food thoughtfully selected can make a food hamper, especially when put in a home decorated box or basket. My dad loves Christmas Pudding, and so I sought out a tiny, single portion pudding, so he didn't have to share it! Good quality coffee, a posh brand of tea bags, a favourite sweet treat, or even a guilty pleasure (do they have a strange fondness for pot noodles and ketchup?) can make a gift funny and personal.

Remember to take into account any allergies or intolerances others have. Food gifts, especially of treats, given to people with allergies and intolerences are often doubly appreciated!

Hobby Gifts
Taking an interest in someone's hobby is a sure way to make a thoughtful gift. You can personalise gifts with applique or embroidery.

Sport: Small draw string bags for golf tees and balls.  The same could be true for other sports. A tennis racket cover with a pocket for balls for example.
Team Themed Gift: Sports fans love things that feature the colours or logos of their favourite team. I used the free patchwork bear pattern from McCall's to make this Wigan Athletic bear for my brother, and this idea could easily be adapted to suit any sports team.

Cooking: Try an apron, oven gloves, potholders or a personalised tea towel.
Outdoors: Crochet or knit a warm hat, gloves or scarf for those who love to be outdoors. Fingerless gloves or wristers are great for those who like to do work with their fingers, such as gardeners, as it will keep their hands warm without impeding their ability to work with their hands. Fingerless gloves are also great for anyone who loves to write or type. This simple crochet tutorial is easy to follow along with and is adaptable to different striped patterns and sizes; make in your loved one's favourite colours.

One male friend of mine is an avid cosplayer, and I made him a sewing kit for Christmas, so he can repair any damage to costumes when he's away from home. This might not be a typical "masculine" present, but showing I understood his hobby was a great way to show I took an interest in his life.

Sewing a Gift: It's all in the fabric!
It's not just women who appreciate a homemade apron, quilt or cushion. Choosing a fabric thoughtfully makes all the difference.
My husband loves tartan fabrics, so I included lots of tartan squares when I made him this quilt.

My brother plays the guitar, so I took to ebay to find a guitar patterned fabric to make him a cushion.

Sometimes it can be expensive or difficult to get a fabric patterned with a particular theme, but you can usually find fat quarters on ebay for a couple of pounds. It's also worth keeping an eye out for special fabric when in the local fabric shop. If you can't get enough fabric to make a whole item, why not use a fat quarter to make a pocket or add some applique? Use a plain fabric in a matching or contrasting colour for the rest of the gift, and this can look very effective.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Craft Organisation

I live in a small one bedroomed flat with my husband. I hate throwing things away, especially if it has craft potential, and so the amount of stuff in our flat can get a little overwhelming!

Storage space is at a premium, and I had completely run out of cupboards, draws and shelves. The solution? Make use of doors!

This door hanging storage was very easy to make. I used some orange canvas fabric I already had to make the backing on which to hang the pockets (I'd bought it very cheaply several years ago because it was stained). The bottom pocket is made from the back of a pair of jeans (left over from my patchwork quilt and cushion). This allowed me to use the pockets of the jeans as extra storage for small things. I used velcro to keep the largest pocket closed.The other pockets are made from cotton fabric I had knocking about, and I used cutoffs of patterned fabric to add extra details to the white pockets.

I riveted the top corners, and used old shoelaces threaded through the rivets to attach it to the door.

I'm using this to store my card making supplies and colouring books. The large bottom pocket has my colouring books and pens, the front jeans pocket has my colouring pencils. The other pockets contain card making supplied; paper stock, blank cards and envelopes, finished cards, and old birthday cards for butchering.

This has freed up storage space elsewhere in the house, and has definitely helped to clear my desk! It also used up some of my fabric supplies in the process!

What are your top tips for storage when space is at a premium?

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

100 Days Until Christmas - Low Cost Christmas

It's 100 days until Christmas today! Christian's Against Poverty, a UK Charity that offers free debt help, are starting their debt free Christmas campaign today. I know Christmas starts earlier every year, and that the shops try to force seasonal spending on us for longer and longer periods. But thinking and planning ahead can save you a lot of money and stress, and today is a great time to start.

  1. Start Saving for Christmas - NOW

    With 100 days to go, if you get paid monthly you should have 3 pay days between now and Christmas. Set aside a little each month, and next year maybe start even earlier. Most big supermarkets offer schemes to save money if you shop with them every week in the run up to Christmas, so this could help, but switching to a more expensive supermarket to get this deal might actually cost you money, so be careful not to get dragged into spending more money on groceries than you normally would just to qualify.

  2. Set a Budget - STICK TO IT

    This can be hard, but decide how much you can afford to spend before you start planning what you buy. It can help if you write down what's most important to you about Christmas Celebrations. What would it not be Christmas without, and what is something you could maybe go without this year? Could you forgo the tree in favour of home made decorations? Or does no one in your house really like sprouts and turkey, and the family's favourite mexican food would be far more welcome? These ideas may sound odd, but Christmas isn't about doing everything everybody else does. Decide what's important to your family, and prioritise spending money on that, and don't spend money on the things that don't matter as much to you.

  3. Food

    Christmas is often a time of over indulgence when it comes to food, and I for one can see why! I love turkey, mulled wine, mince pies and pigs in blankets. I love socialising with friends over my favourite seasonal food. However, if you plan to go the whole hog with food, plan in advance how you will use the leftovers. Using leftovers in tasty meals will save money on normal grocery bills, and mean you can afford your seasonal favourites. Planning it before hand will also prevent you buying too much food that will just go to waste.
  4. Hand-make Gifts

    Crafters, take a deep breath, there's still 100 days to go! If you're going to make lots of hand made gifts you need to start early, as this is far more time consuming that just ordering from amazon. It can also be cheaper, and people are often very touched by homemade gifts. However, don't fall into the trap that handmade is always cheaper; we live in a world of mass production, and some things are far cheaper to buy. Other things, toys for example, are sometimes safer when bought, as they'll have been through stringent safety checks. Remember thoughtful is always more welcomed and remembered than big or expensive.

    I'll post some more blog posts in the coming weeks about giving thoughtful gifts.

    What are your top tips for a stress free, low cost Christmas?

Monday, 7 September 2015

Rainbow Trout Recipes

I've recently joined Tesco Orchard, a scheme run by Tesco that lets you try products for free in exchange for reviews and opinions. I got my first voucher in the post this week for fresh fish. I was delighted, as I've been trying to get more Vitamin D into my diet to help the MS, and I knew fish could help.

After a quick google search the fishmonger was able to recommend rainbow trout as a fish high in Vitamin D, so I decided to use the voucher to try it out!

With the help of my husband we cooked two delicious fish dishes.

Having not cooked much fresh fish before we cheated and went for a pre-made sauce! We settled on a Schwartz Sweet Chilli, Lime and Coriander sauce, and it was scrummy.

We rubbed the trout with olive oil, salt and pepper, before wrapping in tin foil and baking at 200C for 25 minutes. We served this with the sauce, boiled potatoes and green beans.

We had two fillets left, and so the next night we used the rest of the sauce to make a vegetable and noodle stir fry, including pepper, mushroom, and home grown spring onions (see my youtube video on how to grow your own spring onions). This was a great tasting way to use up the left over fish, and the flavours went wonderfully together! I didn't feel confident putting the fish in the stir fry, as there were a few small bones in the fish that I felt would have been a bit more difficult to detect if served in that way.

I enjoyed both these dishes tremendously and I really want to eat fish more often. Do you have any favourite fish recipes to share? I'd love to read them!

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Recycled Patchwork Quilt

Excuse the messy bedroom!
After several long months, I've finally finished this beautiful patchwork throw. It's taken me about a year and a half, although I must admit there were several months where I hid it in a cupboard and tried to forget I'd ever started on this doomed endeavor.

I'm pleased with how pretty this quilt looks, it really brightens up the room, but the achievement I'm most proud of is that this project is made from 100% recycled material (if we discount the cotton thread used to sew things together ;) )

I decided to try this out when I had lots of old pairs of jeans, full of holes, sitting in my fabric box. The throw is made of alternating denim patches. It is 20x20 patches, which means that overall these are 400 squares! So 200 of these are denim. It took 4 pairs of jeans, a denim jacket and a denim skirt to make enough patches. I deliberately cut some patches from pockets, or over seams, so that the details remained, and you could tell a little bit about the former life of the fabric.

The darker area shows where there used to be a pocket
The seam from the leg of a jean adds a cute detail

Where two seams meet, an interesting bit of detail

This is probably my favourite denim patch!

The coloured patches are made from any scraps of fabric I could find. There are old curtains and cushion covers, table cloths and tea towels. There are cut offs from old cosplay costumes, and scraps left from homemade Christmas gifts. There's bits of at least 2 old shirts in there. I tried not to cut up anything that would be otherwise useful, and so a lot of the time it took to make this quilt was waiting for the right patches to turn up.

The backing for the quilt is an old flat sheet, bought second hand on eBay. The seller was selling a plain flat sheet and 3 floral pillowcases in a matching colour. The pillow cases didn't get put to waste; I used one to create the floral binding to edge the quilt. The two other pillow cases might be turned into craft projects, or might just adorn our bed...I've not quite decided yet!

This is more of a throw than a quilt, as I didn't use any batting. The throw is incredibly heavy already, as the denim is such a heavy fabric, and quilting through just the denim and the sheet was difficult enough, without adding an extra layer to battle through with my machine. I'm not sure I could actually lift and carry the thing if it had another layer! If you did want to make a smaller throw than this, an old blanket could replace the batting, but it really is quite warm and heavy without it!

I'm always needing denim projects, as I love to wear jeans, so I've always got a pair or two in need of recycling. This project dealt with that issue for quite a while! But I've just put a hole in another pair of jeans...what will I do with them now?!

Edit: I made a matching patchwork cushion, you can do the same by following along with my video here