Category Archives: Craft

Gorgeous greenery: a quick and easy display for your door this Christmas

Make a scented bunch of greenery for your door

Wreaths aren’t the only way to decorate your front door this Christmas. How about trying a gathered, rustic bunch of greenery this year? They’re great if you’re short on time and money – it’s possible to make one in ten minutes for less than ten pounds. It’ll look and smell amazing.

All you need is a branch of spruce (trimmings from your Christmas tree are great), long strands of eucalyptus, ivy, rosemary and a few delicate twigs or seed heads – plus some string, ribbon and simple wired decorations. I bought my greenery from the local market, then gathered the ivy and twiggy bits from my garden. I got my decorations very cheaply in Wilkinson’s.

Start with your pieces of pine, then gradually lay your twigs and eucalyptus over the top. I used one large branch of spruce, but you could use lots of smaller pieces depending on what you have.

Make a gathered bunch of greenery

Once you’ve arranged your main pieces of greenery, add a sprig of rosemary and some ivy…

Make a scented bunch of greenery for your door

Tie the whole bunch together securely with some twine, making a loop at the back for hanging.

Make a scented bunch of greenery for your door

Add a few simple decorations (if these are on wires, wrap them round the string or greenery) and complete by tying everything together with a ribbon.

Make a scented bunch of greenery for your door

I chose a simple cream ribbon…

Make a scented bunch of greenery for your door

But red velvet also looks amazing!

Make a scented bunch of greenery for your door

I think I love these kind of gathered displays more than wreaths. The variations are endless – you could add berries and holly, or perhaps sparkly twigs and baubles. What do you think? 

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Making a spring posy

Spring Posy for May Day

I was delighted when I realised that this weekend is the May Day bank holiday. My first thoughts were for that extra day at home. But, after that, I started thinking about what else May Day makes me think of: dancing round maypoles, posies of spring flowers, dainty May Queens…

I’ve never danced round a maypole or been a May Queen (although I rather wish I had). Instead, I’m going to take the easier route and follow the ancient tradition of gathering fresh flowers and greenery. For centuries people have made garlands, posies and nose-gays for May Day to celebrate the joyful arrival of spring and early summer.

In the early seventeenth century John Stow wrote that on May Day every man, ‘would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers.’

We don’t have many meadows or green woods in the Fens. Instead, I’m going to gather flowers from my small garden. The spirit of the day is about stepping outside and gathering what you can find. I haven’t done much gardening yet this year, but even in my weedy garden it’s possible to find some flashes of spring colour.

This week, I made an early posy. Everything I gathered are things that pop up in my garden every year. I haven’t planted any of them – they’re either self-seeded or they’ve been there for years.

Here’s what went into my posy:

Spring flowers

Grape Hyacinths. I always remember picking these as a child. I’ve got lots of these bulbs in my garden and more appear every year. They’re almost over now, but there’s still a few left.

Grape Hyacinth

Forget-me-nots. These perennial wildflowers flowers self seed all over my shady garden and they’re a joy every year. The tiny flowers are on surprisingly long stems, so they’re great for flower arranging.


Bluebells. These bluebells pop up in my garden every year too. I think they’re Spanish bluebells, which are more upright than native English ones. I’m not complaining though as they’re really pretty.


Pulmonaria (or common Lungwort). Another perennial plant which comes up in my garden every year. It has lovely specked leaves and delicate flowers. It looks slightly weedy, but don’t pull it up as it’s really pretty!


So, what does May Day make you think of? If you don’t fancy making a posy, then how about trying the tradition of bathing your face in the May Day dew? Supposedly very good for the complexion… 


Simple no-sew lavender bags

Simple no sew lavender bags

My favourite kind of crafts are simple ones. Minimal preparation and skill are good. No mess is even better.

I got the idea for these no-sew lavender bags from my son’s school. They’re definitely simple. They’re also really useful – lavender not only smells lovely, it protects your clothes from moths too.

Simple no sew lavender bags

Here’s what you need to do… 

Cut out some circles of fabric. I drew round a small plate with a diameter of 16cm for mine. Use pinking shears if you have them as this will stop the fabric fraying, but don’t worry if you can’t.

Place about a dessert spoon of dried lavender on each circle, then bring the fabric together in a bunch and secure with some ribbon. You can leave the ends of your ribbon long and tie them into a hanging loop if you like.

Simple no sew lavender bags

And that’s it. A little lavender bag for your wardrobe or drawers in five minutes.

I bought a huge bag of lavender from Norfolk Lavender, and all fabrics were scraps from other projects. You could re-use old fabric, or even use the feet off an old pair of tights (although, naturally, this won’t look so pretty!).

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My first adventures with a sewing machine

Sewing Machine, making a cushion cover

I’ve bought a sewing machine. This is a momentous occasion for me as they have previously scared me rigid. The world of sewing is quite mysterious to the uninitiated: fiddly machinery, baffling bobbins and the truly terrifying prospect of threading the needle. But I’m determined to try new things this year, and mastering sewing is top of my list.

What machine did I buy?

After reading this excellent advice on the Tilly & the Buttons blog, I decided to order a Janome machine – the J3-18. I bought mine for £149 from Amazon, although prices will vary. It’s a fairly simple machine and the instruction manual is clear. I was able to thread the machine without any problems. I’m always a bit lazy about reading instructions, but this is one occasion when it really pays to do what you’re told. It actually wasn’t as complicated as I’d imagined either.

My first attempt at sewing 

Lavender bags

Once I’d threaded the machine I spent a bit of time trying out the different stitches on an old bit of fabric. The stitches aren’t anything fancy, but I think that’s probably a good thing for a beginner.

When I’d got the hang of things, I had a look at my new sewing book – Learn to Sew with Lauren. Lauren Guthrie was on the first series of the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee, and her book is a great starting point for a beginner.

I decided to practise having a go at seams and hems using her instructions, which were really easy to follow and well illustrated. After a bit of practice, I tried out my new skills by making a few lavender bags. These weren’t in the book, but I wanted to have a go at some simple sewing. I made it up as I went along.

My first proper project

Handmade cushion cover

The first project in Lauren’s book is a simple envelope-style cushion cover (no zips involved!). The instructions are very simple – everything from cutting out the fabric to sewing it together. As long as you follow them, you can’t go far wrong.

I’m delighted with my cushion – it all feels pretty neat and well-finished, considering I’m still a bit of a wonky seamstress. The crucial thing is that it didn’t feel too difficult, and in under two hours I’d made something I felt really proud of.

Moving on

Handmade tote bag

I wanted to try something different next, so I moved on to a simple tote bag from Lauren’s book. Although the instructions in the book are really clear, I still had to use every ounce of my concentration on it. Every time I became distracted I made an annoying mistake and out came the unpicking tool.

I suppose every stitch unpicked is a lesson learnt. It’s not perfect, but it actually works and I’ve filled it with heavy shopping a few times now without it disintegrating – which feels like a bit of triumph.

Things I’ve learnt so far…

Don’t rush things. This is my main problem and the source of much unpicking. My bag would’ve been much neater if I hadn’t been desperate to finish it in one sitting. I need to learn that although machine sewing is fast and efficient, it also requires patience and the ability to pace yourself.

Time passes very quickly when you’re sewing. Which is the main reason for my rushing. It’s a very focused, absorbing activity and the hours fly by.

Fabric is expensive. Most of the nice stuff seems to cost about £12 a metre. Once you add on thread and anything else you need it does add up a bit. Clearly, it’s possible to buy much cheaper fabric, but lots of the little independent shops round here lean more towards the fancy end of the market. Next time I go to Ikea I’m definitely going to invest in some of their cheap and cheerful offerings.

Don’t be daunted. No one’s expecting you to run before you can walk. I still have no idea about the mysterious world of zips, darts and buttonholes, but I’m trying not to let it put me off. Even if I never do any of these things, I can still make cushions and bags forevermore!

What I’d like to make next

Next on my list is to make another tote bag, this time a bit neater and using some more exciting (expensive) fabric. I would also love to make a summer skirt with an elasticated waist (no zips!).

Can you sew? What do you recommend I try next?

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Quick crafts: a Valentine in a matchbox

A valentine in a matchbox

A Valentine in a matchbox. It’s novel, fun and super-simple. I made these with my boys in mind, but you could send them to anyone who deserves a little love!

You will need: 

an empty matchbox, big or small

pretty wrapping paper, preferably covered in glittery hearts

scissors, PVA glue and a ruler

sweets, little trinkets…whatever takes your fancy

Valentines in a box

Remove any cardboard dividers from the inside of your matchbox. Measure the outer box and cut a piece of paper large enough to wrap around the outside – make it big enough for a little overlap. Glue down carefully, smoothing the paper as you go. Glue another piece of paper inside the bottom of the inner box, or line with a little tissue paper.

Valentine in a box

Once your box is dry, fill with sweets, chocolates, little trinkets – or perhaps a poem or letter. I bought these adorable little brass keys from the card-making section of Wilkinson’s. They look perfect on the matchboxes – a bit of whimsical fun to fire the imagination!

For more Valentine-inspired crafts take a peek at my Pinterest board…

Follow Marmalade Pie’s board Valentines Day crafts on Pinterest.

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Three simple ideas for homemade Christmas cards

Three ideas for simple homemade christmas cards

I spend a lot of time coming up with craft projects for children, but these ones are for the grown-ups. Take a few moments out from the madness and do a little simple crafting. I promise you they’re really easy, and very satisfying.

All of the designs use a simple pack of plain brown cards and envelopes. I bought mine from Wilkinson’s, but you could buy something similar from any craft shop.

Snowy Christmas Tree

Snowy fir tree Christmas card

Draw a tree-shaped triangle on your card in pencil to use as a guide. Use two slightly different shades of dark green (I used tubes of watercolour paints which create bright, vivid colours, but you could use children’s ready-mixed paint) and gradually build up your trees using lots of feathery brushstrokes, moving across the tree in rows. Alternate your two greens to create a bit of texture.  Add a trunk, then allow to dry before applying your white paint. Dab the white paint on to the tree with feathery motions – keep your brush quite dry and it will look more snowy. These are so quick and easy to make, I had a whole forest in no time!

Snowy Christmas tree card

Paper bauble card

Paper bauble Christmas card

Anyone remember making one of these at primary school? It really couldn’t be simpler. Draw around something round (I used an espresso cup)  on some pretty paper, adding on a little square bauble-like bit on top. Cut out carefully and glue to your card. Using a thick needle, make two small holes right though the card at the top of the bauble. Thread through a little sparkly thread and tie in a bow. Another great variation on this theme is to ask a small person to make some glittery, paint-splattered paper for you to carefully cut out into a bauble or stocking shape.

Sparkly fabric star

sparkly fabric star christmas card idea

This one is another one which reminds me of primary school days. Cut out a simple fabric star and secure it to your card using a little glue (this is really just to hold it in place while you sew it onto the card). Using gold thread and a thick needle, sew round the outline of your star with a simple running stitch. Tie a knot at the beginning and end to secure your stitches. You’ll have to push quite hard to get it through the cardboard, but it’s a really satisfying thing to do. Glue on a few extra sequins. You can cover up your stitches on the reverse side (inside the card) with some extra cardboard or brown paper, but I think it looks rather nice as it is.

Three ideas for homemade Christmas cards

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Getting ready for Christmas: indoor bulbs and chilli jam

10/365 paperwhites

Photo courtesy of Emily Dunham

I like to leave most of my Christmas preparations until December. There are, however, some things that need to be done in advance. Things that need a little time to grow, or mature. This crafty, slow-living, approach to Christmas appeals to me much more than rushing to buy and wrap all of my presents before the end of November.

Now is the time to plant indoor bulbs which will (hopefully) be ready for Christmas. My mother always has a wonderful display of Paperwhites and this year, I’m having a go at planting my own. I have chosen Paperwhites (a variety of Narcissi) because they are quite quick to grow and don’t require time in the dark.

Planting indoor bulbs

Choose a deep pot and fill with compost (you could use specially prepared bulb compost, but I just used some multi-purpose compost I had left over). Plant your bulbs just below the surface so only their very tips are peeping out of the soil.

Planting indoor bulbs

Put your bulbs in a sheltered, but cold place (mine are in the children’s playhouse), out of direct sunlight. Once your green shoots have grown to 6-8 inches, bring them inside the house. This should take about 2 weeks. Once indoors, they should flower within about 3 weeks.  I’m hoping they’ll be ready in time for Christmas, or maybe even a little earlier.

If you want to approach this subject in a bit more detail, Sarah Raven has a detailed guide to planting indoor bulbs here.

Dithering about indoor bulbs always reminds me of one of my favourite books, The Diary of Provincial Lady…. 

November 7th.—Plant the indoor bulbs. Just as I am in the middle of them, Lady Boxe calls. I say, untruthfully, how nice to see her, and beg her to sit down while I just finish the bulbs. Lady B. makes determined attempt to sit down in armchair where I have already placed two bulb-bowls and the bag of charcoal, is headed off just in time, and takes the sofa…

…Finish the bulbs and put them in the cellar. Feel that after all cellar is probably draughty, change my mind, and take them all up to the attic.

November 8th.— …Preparations for Bournemouth rather marred by discovering that Robert, in bringing down the suit-cases from the attic, has broken three of the bulb-bowls. Says he understood that I had put them in the cellar, and so wasn’t expecting them.

November 13th.— …Take a look at bulb-bowls on returning suit-case to attic, and am inclined to think it looks as though the cat had been up here. If so, this will be the last straw. Shall tell Lady Boxe that I sent all my bulbs to a sick friend in a nursing-home

As usual, I’m being a bit slap-dash and hoping for the best. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my bulbs as the weeks go on.

Planting indoor bulbs

Now back to the kitchen….

A few weeks ago I made some sloe gin. It’s happily mulling away under our stairs, getting more and more ruby-like as the weeks go on. There’s still time to make some now if you’re quick.

Or, better still, how about trying to make some Christmas preserves? I’ll be making some seasonal chutney at some point, but first I’ve been making some chilli jam – which ideally needs to be left for about a month before opening.

Chilli jam is perfect with cold meats, cheese or even as a little dipping sauce. It makes a great gift.

Chilli Jam

I really like this recipe from Nigella. However, be warned, that in my experience ten minutes of boiling is not enough. Use a jam thermometer to make sure you actually reach jam setting point,  then boil it for ten minutes.  It takes a lot longer to get to jam temperature than you might think (as I’m learning through bitter experience!). Anyway, I still really like this recipe – although beware that it will fill your house with clouds of noxious, peppery fumes!

What are you getting ready for Christmas? Are you super-organised, or a last minute kind of person?

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Shelf improvement: from cutlery tray to trinket display

Cutlery tray shelf DIY

I’ve always wanted somewhere to display my teeny-tiny treasures – the things that always look lost on a big shelf or mantelpiece. Here’s a really easy craft project to create some little shelves for them. It’s cheap, quick and very effective.

You’ll need:

  • a wooden cutlery tray – I bought my bamboo one from HomeSense for about £6.99
  • a small tester-size tin of chalk paint – I used Rustoleum Chalky Finish paint in Antique white
  • some pretty paper – mine is from Cambridge Imprint
  • a small paintbrush
  • PVA glue

How to make a cutlery tray shelf DIY

1: Dust your tray and make sure it’s clean and ready for paint. The beauty of chalk paint is that you don’t need to worry about preparing your wood with sanding or priming.

2. Apply your first coat of chalk paint. Allow to dry overnight if possible before applying your next coat. I applied three coats which gave a good, even finish – however you may need more or less depending on your paint choice.

3. Once you’re happy with your paint coverage, decide how you’d like to decorate your shelves. You may prefer to leave them plain or, like me, add a little decorative paper behind some of your shelves. Measure the areas you’d like to cover with paper with a tape measure.

How to make a cutlery tray shelf DIY

4. Carefully cut out pieces of paper to fill your chosen areas. This is a little fiddly, but not impossible. I am pretty slapdash and managed this with just a ruler, some scissors and a pencil – no fancy cutting tools required! You may need to make a few adjustments to make them the right size.

5. Apply a thin, even, layer of glue to the area you want to apply your paper. Carefully ease your paper into place and smooth down gently, but firmly.

6. Allow to dry and then find a new home for your little shelves!

They’d look great attached to the wall, but I love mine sitting on our playroom mantelpiece. This little set of shelves would also look great in a children’s bedroom filled with Lego mini figures.

Cutlery tray shelf DIY

What would you fill your shelves with? Mine contains a combination of seaside finds, little ornaments from holidays and my childhood – plus a few things the boys chose.

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What to do with all those Autumn leaves…

Autumn leaves

Who can resist collecting a few Autumn leaves? Our pockets have been full of them lately. Each one is so different, always more beautiful and intricate than the last. But, how to decide what to do with them?

Look at Pinterest, of course!

I’ve been pinning away madly lately, and have seen various simple ways to display leaves – most memorable are the simple strings of leaves. Here’s my version, which couldn’t be simpler. Some of my lovely Twool twine and a selection of my finest leaves secured with some tiny wooden pegs. These leaves have been drying out under some heavy books for a few weeks, so are nice and flat.

Autumn leaf garland, or string

I love it! Now the leaves outside are fading into mulch, it’s great to have a sweet reminder of their former glory.

Autumn leaves on a string

Another idea I keep coming across on Pinterest is for making leaf animals. I’ve never done this before and really fancied having a go. Here’s my attempt. Can you guess what it is?

Squirrel leaf art

Yes, that’s right, it’s a three-legged squirrel! It was quite a puzzle sitting and working out which leaves looked like what.

A simpler idea is a little butterfly – made by using a leaf to print the wings, and then using a little finger to print the body. It needs some glitter though, doesn’t it?

Butterfly leaf


Do visit my Autumn Pinterest board if you’d like some more inspiration:

Follow Marmalade Pie’s board Autumn Living on Pinterest.

What are your favourite ways to display your Autumn treasures?

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Things to make in Autumn: Sloe Gin

Sloe Gin

One of my favourite things about autumn is foraging for berries and fruit. By the beginning of October the blackberries have mostly disappeared. There’s an old tradition that it’s deeply ill-advised to eat blackberries beyond Michaelmas (29th September) – something to do with the Devil putting his foot on them, or some such. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to eat them anyway, after they’ve been hanging around for so long.

So, what can you pick next? Look carefully in the hedgerows and you’ll spot them… Sloes.


Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn. Traditionally, you should wait until the first frosts to pick them, but mid-October is a perfect time.

You don’t need to go too deep into the countryside to find them. I found mine in a wooded area close to the railway lines on the edge of our town. Look in the same places you picked blackberries – only look a little higher up. Sloes are trickier to pick than blackberries – you need long arms to reach them (you can use a stick to pull down the branches) and make sure you’re wearing thick trousers as you’ll inevitably end up standing in a patch of nettles!

Autumn woodland walk

It took me about half an hour to pick half a kilo. I had to stop as my arms were aching and I wish I’d had some else to help me as there were masses and masses left.

Once you’ve got your sloes home, wash them thoroughly and pick out any bits of twig, stalk or leaf.


People always used to prick their sloes all over before using them for gin, but these days it’s much easier to put them in the freezer (for a few hours, or overnight). Freezing, in the same way as piercing them, helps to break down their skin a little – which helps to make lovely gin.

Frozen sloes

There are lots and lots of recipes out there for sloe gin – but basically it comes down to sloes, gin and granulated sugar. Defrost your sloes and weigh them.  Place them in a large kilner jar and sprinkle over your sugar (I used one third of the weight of the sloes, which will make quite a sweet gin).

Sloe Gin

Then top up your jar with about a litre of gin.

Sloe Gin

Seal up and shake thoroughly. It should be a bit fuller than this. I’m going to need to top mine up a bit as I’d forgotten we’d used up some of gin for a few G&Ts – whoops!

Place in a cool, dark place and shake daily until all the sugar has dissolved (about 2-3 days). Now leave it alone. Some people say you have to leave Sloe Gin for a year, but we always find that it’s very drinkable after two or three months.  Once you’re ready, strain it and bottle up.

Straining and bottling sloe gin

If you make this now you’ll have something very drinkable in time for Christmas!