Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Smells Like...

I realised that I needed a deodorant that did more than just sit on the skin, smelling of flowers, that I could use immediately after roller derby training. And, of course, I HAD to try to make it myself.  I may well concede defeat in the future, but for now, I’m going to road test  the hell out of this…

There are a lot of recipes online, and many of them seemed to use witch-hazel as the base, with essential oils added for antibacterial properties and fragrance.

I based my recipe on this tutorial but left out the Aloe Vera, because I’m one of those people who gets a mild allergic reaction from using the plant topically.

That's bicarbonate of soda on the spoon...

The bottle I planned to decant the deodorant in was quite small, so I halved the ingredients; I also messed around with the essential and fragrance oils until I felt as though I had the right combination of scents balanced with the right amount of bacteria fighting elements…

So, I used:

1/4 cup of Witch Hazel
1/8 Tsp Bicarbonate of Soda (a natural stench killer!)
5 Drops of Tea Tree essential oil
5 Drops of Clove essential oil
10 Drops of Cold Pressed Lemon essential oil
15 Drops of Musk fragrance oil

There is actually some Witch Hazel in the bottom of the beaker!

This mix creates a unisex (or even slightly masculine) scent, but definitely not a feminine one, which is fine by me - I sweat a hell of a lot during training, so I wanted something with a ‘robust’ fragrance.

However even though I halved the initial ingredients, I still ended up with LOADS of this; so I had to fill a few more bottles than expected.  I’ll keep the cutsie ones, and give the less girly looking bottles to Mr Ponchos…

You can find the girly bottles here

So far it has served me well during a workout - I hope it keeps doing its job after training 

Monday, 18 May 2015

My Mate...

I haven’t written anything about food for a while (and when I do it’s usually cake), so I thought I’d write a short post about my houmous experiment.

I was basically looking for a way to use ‘store cupboard staples’ (canned chickpeas, fresh garlic etc) to avoid having to buy tahini for this one purpose.

The first time, I used chickpeas, a couple of cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of dried chilli peppers and a tablespoon of olive oil. All the ingredients were thrown into the Nutribullet and pulsed for about 20 seconds (using the Extractor blade in one of the small cups).

It was okay (very garlicky!) but it seemed to be missing a ‘middle note’ in the flavour.


For those of you who don’t know the product, Marmite is spreadable nutritional yeast, packed full of flavour and vitamin B12. As well as being a great spread for toast and sandwiches, it also makes an awesome substitute for stock cubes, when cooking.

I added a teaspoon of Marmite, mixed with a little bit of hot water to make it a bit more runny, to my basic recipe and, boy, did that work!

It’s homemade houmous all the way, now!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Pattern That Nearly Broke My Spirit...

Before I start, let me just say that I LOVE the way this project turned out - it looks exactly how I pictured it, and it’s super cosy.  But the road from A to B was plagued with one rather large obstacle: namely the commercial pattern. McCall's M6656. (Is it any wonder that it's now out of print...?)

It’s true that some of the blame does lie with me, as I don’t use store bought patterns very often, but I have found that almost anything labelled with the word ‘easy’ (or its many variants) is going to be the polar opposite in practice.

I’ve made, and attempted to make, a fair few pieces of outerwear over the past few years. Some were successful
Ikea made this possible
My sister, BTW


 - others less so.

What the hell was I thinking????

But the one that should have been the most difficult (the vogue overcoat I made for my husband, pictured above) went together surprisingly easily.  The longest parts of the process were the cutting out of the pattern itself and hand sewing in the lining.

In stark contrast, the ‘easy’ McCalls’ pattern seemed to be written in a language I was not privy to, and the illustrations only led to further befuddlement. Hint to publishers, if the language is unclear, a slightly ambiguous technical drawing is not going to help!  There was I thinking that adding welt pockets was going to cause me consternation - turns out, that was one of the easier aspects; probably because I knew what I was doing before I did it.

Not many tailoring techniques were called upon (no pad stitching, collar setting, or even shoulder pads) but this project STILL managed to take me about TWELVE DAYS to complete.  I suspect that a vast amount of that time was spent looking from the pattern to the project, in bewilderment, until I finally figured out what I was supposed to be doing.

Once I got the outer shell sorted (back, sides and front), it became very obvious that I couldn’t follow the instructions for finishing. Again, they just seemed vague and (to me anyway) didn’t fully address all the raw edges, or the fact that there was very little to hold the garment in position when worn.  I had always planned to make a lining, as I rarely leave jackets unlined, but, to me, this pattern made it obvious that a lining was going to be needed whether I planned to add one or not!.  That itself wasn’t much of a problem, as I had managed to figure out most of the instructions by then, but I am still confused at how to finish the project without adding a lining!

Anyway, rant over!  This is how I turned an old army blanket into a cute little jacket…

Against the ‘dry-clean only’ instructions, I machine dyed the blanket to give it a warmer colour.  I discovered, while the fabric was hanging out to dry, that putting it through the machine causes it to shed like ‘Billy-O’, so I wouldn’t recommend doing the same.  It’s definitely going to be dry-cleaning from here on in…

As I planned to wear this just as I would any other jacket, I knew I would need to add pockets.  Because I wasn’t entirely sure how long the finished item would be, I followed the interesting trend of placing the pockets quite high up.  This was to ensure that I wouldn’t be trying to hem through a welt at the final stages.  In addition, I do use heat packs (like the ones I made for the snood) when I’m watching Ice Hockey, so placing the pockets where I planned would keep the heat close to my core.

I added the marks to the pattern and used a different contrasting thread to create the tailor’s tacks.  I was fairly confident that the pocket bags wouldn’t show, but I wanted to use a fabric in a compatible colour, just in case.

The orange thread marks one end of the pocket

I trusted my instincts when it came to purchasing the faux fur trim, and took a punt on some long haired ‘camel frost’ from CRS Fur Fabrics.  I don’t think I could have asked for a better match for colour, or a better feel, for comfort.

I knew from the get-go that I would need to create a thick lining for the jacket, as I was planning to wear it in a refrigerated arena, so I didn’t interline the the back or side front pieces, as I would usually.  The sleeve pattern, however, creates a very slender fit, and I knew that I would not be able to add the fake sheepskin and still be able to get my arms in: so the sleeves were interlined, then lined with the same satin type fabric.

The sleeve cuff is simply supposed to be more of the main fabric, but I thought it would be interesting to add a trim.  My initial thought was to have the long pile fur trim on the outside of the cuff, but soon realised that doing so could lead to me looking like I was wearing Ugg boots on the bottom of my arms! So I turned the trim to the inside, so that there was still an obvious link to the collar and facing without going all ‘cave woman’…  The thick cuff, however, proved to be too much for both my sewing machine and my overlocker, so they had to be hand sewed closed, using ladder stitch.

I made a departure from my usual method when adding the lining, and actually machine sewed along the raw edge of the facing along the sides and back; hand sewing only the very bottom edge.  I hung the jacket on the body form before pinning the hem, so that I could be sure that I wasn’t causing the fabric to fall incorrectly.

A little bit more ladder stitching (and some decent pressing), a couple of buttons and the project was finally compete.

Even though the pattern gave me such a headache, I do think I would like to make another one: maybe in a Stuart Tartan. Once you know what you're doing, it's easy ;-)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Season's Greetings!

Unexpected guest heading to the family table? Need a gift fast, but would prefer to make rather than buy? Well, here a some last minute DIY gifts that will be warmly received without taking up too much of your time.

Scented candles

I made the ones in the pictures from soy wax, but the same effect can be achieved by using a combination of beeswax and coconut oil (which is what I used when I first dabbled in candle making.) As the finished item is not going to be used on the skin, you can use ordinary beeswax from your local hardware store and coconut oil from the supermarket. 

I used a combination of two parts beeswax to one part coconut oil, with approximately 3ml of fragrance oil to produce a decent sized teacup candle. Both beeswax and soy wax burn without creating smoke, which makes them ideal gifts! For more information, check out this excellent tutorial from Claire K

Hot Pocket Snood

If you have some scrap fabric and a couple of hours spare, check out my latest 'Instructable' to make this 'hidden compartment' snood. I guarantee it will be well appreciated if you live in a cold climate!

Bath Teas (again!)

If you're totally up against the clock with no time to sew, or wait for a candle to set, then these easy bath teas are the answer. You may remember my post from the last festive season about using Martha Stewart's techniques to create simple toiletries; well, this is a return to one of those projects, but an easier version. 

All you need for this gift is a jar, some scraps of cotton and some herbal tea. You literally cut some squares of cotton, put two or three teaspoons of herbal tea in the centre and tie them up! I used a combination of chamomile, lavender, sage and lemon verbena (equal parts of each) which should help to promote relaxation. 

I had some decal paper lying around from a previous project, so I used that to add a bit of decoration, but all you really need to do is tie a ribbon around it. Voila!

Good Yule everyone!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Move Over, Prada...

I first published this on Instructables at the beginning of the year.  It didn’t win any prizes, but I still think the project is a winner ;-)

This is possibly the easiest jacket you’ll ever make.  Possibly… It does include some pattern drafting, but there’s no collar or sleeve setting (Woo!)

So heres what you’ll need to make this ‘Ponket’ (yeah - I did just make that up…):

About two and a half metres of top fabric (something pliable but weighty like wool)
A fleece blanket large enough for a single bed
About two metres of lining fabric
matching/contrasting thread
Sewing machine
Hand sewing needles

This simple pattern starts with one large square piece of paper. Mine measured 28 1/2" square, which would make it roughly a small to medium in size. An easy way to determine the optimum length would be to stretch out your arm and measure from the centre of your chest to the middle of the back of your hand, or your wrist. 

You will then fold the square in half along the diagonal, to create a triangle - this will form the pattern for the back of the jacket. 

Now make a mark approximately three inches down from the point of the triangle.  In order to create a natural neckline we will need to create a gentle curve along the point that we just marked.  I use a pattern master because my freehand drawing skills are a tad weak…

For the two front pieces you will need to lay another large pice of paper on top of the original pattern piece. Trace around the original pattern, and then add between three and five inches, depending upon how much of an overlap you want at the centre (I personally used three). Add a notch mark at the point where the original pattern ended - you’ll use this as a guideline later on…

There's a teensy bit more tracing to do in order create the facing, then the pattern drafting is done! What you need to do is draw an angled line from the top edge of the front pattern piece piece to the bottom. Place another piece of paper on top of the pattern and trace along the angled line and the front and top edges. Make a notch mark on the facing, at the top of the pattern where the blue line (the edge of the original pattern piece) starts.

And there are your three pattern pieces. Time to start cutting the fabric!

Place the back pattern piece on the fold of the top fabric and cut out. 

Now cut out two of the front pieces, making sure to place a notch where indicated. 

Repeat the process with the fleece blanket/fabric, but the notches are not necessary for this step.

We need to make the top fabric and blanket into one workable piece, so lay the blanket pieces on top of the wrong sides of the corresponding fabric pieces, and stitch together.

Press the seams open.

Now cut two of the facing pieces from the either the top fabric, or contrasting fabric: I only used the contrasting fabric because my main fabric was a remnant that would only go so far... I also made a schoolboy error in my project that I didn't notice until much later on, so I'm putting the info in here - please don't skip this step! Stay stitch the facing along the raw edge (the part that will sit inside the Ponket) to prevent future fraying nightmares. Trying to add the stitching after the facings are attached is a pain in the #%€#...

Before you attach the facing there is one more piece of fabric to cut but this won't require a pattern...

Measure the distance between the sides seams of your ponket and add about two inches 'playing room'. We're going to take a decent sized piece of your top, or contrast, fabric (enough to fit the measurement you just took) in order to make some bias binding. 

If you can see the selvedge of the fabric (that’s the fuzzy bit on the edge), all you'll need to do is create an angle at 45 degrees to that edge and you will have found the natural bias. If, however, there is no visible selvedge you can tug the fabric to find the bias: if there is no 'give' then that's the warp, if there is some 'give' that's the weft and if there is a helluva lot of give, that's the bias :-)

You'll need to make the piece about three inches wide to make it easier to handle. Cut the piece out and fold it in half lengthways to find the centre, then carefully fold each side towards the centre. Pin the folds in place and press thoroughly. 

Pin the binding into place at the back of the neck and attach with a ladder stitch. 

It's now time to attach the facings. Place the facing right side to the right side of the jacket matching the notch. Pin into place and sew. Repeat with the second facing. Clip comers and turn facings right side out.  Poke out the edges with a chopstick or point turner.

For a cleaner finish top stitch along the outer edge. 

Fold the hem under. Pin into place, press and sew.

It's now time to work on the lining. We're going to cut the lining with the same pattern pieces that we used for the body of the jacket. 

Cut and sew the pieces in the same way that the outer jacket was put together.

Lay the lining on top of the inside of the jacket. You'll notice that you have a bit more seam allowance than you need for the front so you can go ahead and trim that down to something more reasonable, as long as you leave yourself enough to work with. (an inch is usually safe…)

(This is the part where you'll start to hate me.... Sorry...)

Now we are going to hand sew (yep - hand sew!) the lining to the jacket using the wonderful ladder stitch once again. I know this can be time consuming, but it also means there will be absolutely no turning (yay!)

Once the lining is in we can work on the buttonholes. This is also how we create the sleeve ‘illusion’…

Place the jacket on the person you are making it for (or on yourself, or on a body form) and mark where you want the front button (or buttons) to go. Then get your model to hold their arm out to one side and mark the spot where the wrist button should be.

Back to the sewing machine!

Choose your buttonhole setting and go for it! The front buttonhole is as standard.  For the ’sleeves’ it might be more aesthetically pleasing to have the buttonholes sitting vertically to help enhance the illusion of a long sleeve seam. 

Cut open the buttonholes, and use tailor's chalk or a dressmaker's pencil to mark where the buttons should sit. Remember that the ‘sleeve’ buttons go on the inside, and the layer of fleece means that you don’t have to sew through the top fabric at all :-)

Ta da!

Who needs Prada, eh?