Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Left-over soup

After the Christmas chicken (yes, I jumped off the turkey train this year) I decided to make a soup from the left-overs. That meant putting the brussels, potatoes, parsnips, chipolatas, chicken and a couple of large bones in a pot with some water and a bit of stock cube. I just heated the whole lot up for about 20 minutes, took out the bones, and whizzed the soup up with the hand-held blender. It was so tasty and comforting and after all that cooking effort from the day before - so easy! Why do we always make recipes seem so complicated?

Friday, 25 December 2009


Happy Christmas to everyone. Wishing you a very merry Make Do Christmas, and may 2010 mend hearts, minds and purse strings! x

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Christmas craft day

Today I am joining the fashion friends down the road for a Christmas Craft day. The idea is to make Christmas garlands and scented teacup candles. The pressure is on - as I've been told the wreath-making is serious floristry - something I'm not sure I fancy! However, I'm willing to give it a go (aided I hope by a glass or two of mulled wine). This is the sort of thing I'm meant to create - if I get anywhere close I'll be happy! First, a trip to Deptford market to see if there are any suitable flowers, and then a run up to the local park to forage for berries and glossy green leaves. Given the snow, it should feel very Christmassy - and extremely cold.

Well - just so as you know - I loved making my wreath! I had no idea flower arranging would be so absorbing - another new activity to take on board for 2010! The one one on the blue door is my first attempt - very natural, and made pretty much entirely of greenery from the local heath. Oh - I did include a few berries from someone's holly bush - naughty of me really - but I got my come uppance when the owner of said bush walked past and saw me merrily chopping away with my secateurs (in my defence it was on the communal side of the driveway!) Fortunately, with a Christmas tree tucked beneath his arm, and glowing with the festive spirit, I was permitted to go home with a few srprigs in my basket. That and a few chillies gave my wreath a welcome hit of red.

Ennio Marcheto

My run up to Christmas started last night with a trip to see this incredible mime artist at the Royal Festival Hall in London with my fashion friends Robert and Paula. I purposely hadn't read up on Ennio Marcheto, as I'd been warned not to spoil the surprise of his performance. I'm glad I followed that advice, as I was totally blown away by this crazy mix of dress-up doll, pantomime, paper magic, mime and mimicry. Imagine a middle-aged man dressed in an array of 2D paper costumes, that with a flip of the hand transform into something else, and then something else again. The lightening changes enable Ennio to morph into a string of characters some of whom are abruptly juxtaposed - allowing him to poke blatant fun at certain personalities. Someone said he's like a "living cartoon" - a perfect description. I also loved the simplicity of the idea: a man, some music, and his paper ensembles. It's comedy stripped down to its underclothes - Ennio's!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Guardian Article

I've just written a piece for Guardian on-line about my Make Do And Mend trip - with some simple ideas for quick and easy stocking-fillers. I have to say, I'm quite surprised by the harsh response of some readers. Ok, none of the present ideas involve "craft" in the true sense of the word, but for those who don't have skills learned over time, these sorts of basic projects can fit the bill. They can also reel-in beginners and get them interested. Believe it or not, tie purses, chains with little charms on, and sparkly headbands are all available in the shops starting at about £20! So obviously - there are people out there that appreciate these types of gift - and if you're short of money and need a few bits and pieces, I think they fit the bill. I'm all for intricate skills in the right place. As a professional milliner who's worked with some of the best(Stephen Jones, Marc Jacobs) and trained over many years, I could easily dazzle people with my technical ability - but I'm not proud and I'm not for showing-off unecessarily either. What's wrong with something simple and fun from time to time? I suspect craft snobbery! Show a little Christmas spirit you bloggers!

Newsnight final

See my last film in the series on this link - just click here to get an overview of the whole trip.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Father Tom - the Make Do Monk

My father was a monk - so I have some inkling of what the lifestyle might involve...but still I wasn't prepared for how it might really feel. During my Make Do And Mend tour around Britain for BBC Newsnight - I spent a weekend with Father Tom Cullinan - ex Ampleforth - and a real make-do-and-mender. Get a look at life with a modern-day monk on this link - just click.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

How do you tie your turban?

Some vintage beauties - and my attempt at a Make Do And Mend version....any ideas? Answers on an e-postcard please!

Out of season fairgrounds

There's something peculiarly sad about out-of-season fairgrounds. Be it Coney Island or the British seaside. The garish colours on gloomy days are instilled with memories of tinny roundabout music, children's laughter and ice-cream cones. There's a haunted quality about the still mechanisms and abandoned fun. You wish summer hadn't faded away, and your childhood hadn't been left behind long ago.

Inspiration peering through a window

I didn't realise until my recent trip to St Leonards and Hastings that Deborah Bowness, the wallpaper designer, is based there. I passed a non-descript looking building on the wet and windy seafront and happened to look in the window. I immediately felt my spirits lift as I saw what was inside. I'd unwittingly stumbled on Deborah's studio. She wasn't there, so the lights weren't on. But inside were objects currently inspiring her work, sections of her wallpaper, and simple but stimulating collections of objects. Thanks to Deborah for reminding me that the spark can strike at any moment and add a sparkle to the gloom. Here are some of the things I glimpsed through the glass that murky day. Beauty in the shadows.

More Hastings


Where to go when Melancholy takes hold? Hastings pier on a wild wet November afternoon.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fabulous forties flowers

It's so windy outside. My heart was in my mouth as the little cat who comes to see me nearly blew off my balcony. I'm calming myself with a craft project which I'd like to share with you. It's so simple - yet - you've got it - so effective!! These flowers make a wonderful corsage, or a trim for a hat. You’ll just need fabric, a needle and thread, a little bit of felt and a brooch back. Cut yourself two circular templates. Mine were 11cm and 9cm across. For a basic flower, cut out three fabric circles in each size. Fold each circle in half and do a running stitch along the curved edge (the stitch goes through two layers of fabric). Pull up and secure. You’ve made a petal! Now do the same with the other circles. Sew the three large petals onto a little circle of felt. Then arrange the three smaller petals on top - placing each in a gap. Sew these down, You can then put a button or bead in the middle. Sew on a brooch back, or make seveal and stick onto a fascinator base. Experiment with different fabrics - they’ll each give a different effect. I’ve used two separate layers of fabric for each petal in this picture, an old T-shirt and some net. V stylish!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hat Workshop

If anyone fancies joining me to make a little hat - then I'm doing a workshop at The Fashion and Textile Museum in London this Saturday(21st Nov). We're going to make little headpieces, and I'll also chat about Make Do And Mend headwear - ie: how you can block a little hat from stuff you find at home! It should be fun, and it would be lovely to meet you.

As for inspiration - take a look at this little beauty that I spied in Brick Lane on Sunday. Not cheap - it's a genuine 40's hat - but isn't it simply stunning? I think it was probably made by someone at home. You see what you can achieve with some practice? I'm definitely going to use this as inspiration for my next collection.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sewing again

Of course, returning home doesn't mean I've stopped making my way around Britain....now my eye is attuned to Make Do possibilities, I'm seeing them everywhere! At the weekend, I was back where I started - in Greenwich Market, and I spotted Karin purchasing this dressmakers dummy. What a bargain! She managed to get it for £16 - bartering down from £30. Karin said that she used to sew - and like many other people is taking it up again. What's she's really interested in doing is getting all those fabulous vintage finds to fit properly. You know what it's like - they dont' QUITE look right - even though the fabric and essential style is what we're after. Karin hopes this will enable her to get over that particular problem. Good luck Karin!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

It's the perfect season for mushrooming

Autumn - season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - the perfect time to go foraging for mushrooms. Look at this stunning specimen...known I believe as the "Greater Darner". The cup boasts a diameter of 15cm and the rather woody flesh has a wide variety of uses. Myself - I'm planning to use it to block a hat! Unearthed in a Greenwich junk shop today for £3(what a bargain!) - it reminded me of my time spent learning basic mending skills with Sybil in Bury St Edmunds. This find I will really treasure.

Yes I have...

....caught the knitting bug that is! Thanks to Marieke and her fantastically simple pattern, which I posted in an earlier blog entry, I have now made my own fab woolly hat - not only completed it - but finished it in the space of two days! I really am pleasantly surprised, as my experience of knitting in the past has been like one of those relationships that drags on even though it should end - you really want to finish it, but you just can't. This was a very different experience though. Using number 9 needles and two balls of wool at once really means this hat grows quickly, and it's much more interesting than making a scarf. It was rather big, but a little elastic around the bottom means it fits much better, and I topped it off with a little fur pom-pom from an old belt. I am a convert. I would never have taken up knitting if it wasn't for my Make Your Way Around Britain trip - the people I met were really inspiring. And yes, the kick I get out of saying "I made it myself" is immense. Total cost £8.98 including needles. By the way, is there any other wool I can substitute for the mohair that the pattern uses? It looks lovely, but is just a little itchy. I don't really know the "rules" about substituting one wool for another. Any advice would be much appreciated.

Friday, 6 November 2009


OK- you'll probably have gathered from my month's adventures that I live on a pretty tight budget. Make do and mend is nothing new for me, although I have ideas way beyond my purse. But I want to tell you about two tips for living the high life on a low income in the capital. Today I really wanted to go to a spa. Having been on the road for 4 weeks, I felt I could do with a bit of relaxation and pampering. But of course, the bank account couldn't take it. So instead, I went to one of my favourite London haunts - Ironmonger row baths near Old Street tube. The baths were built as a public washroom - and now they house a Turkish bath, a laundry and a swimming pool. I've tried the pool before, and it's fine - big with lots of lanes. But today my destination was the Turkish baths. For £13 you get to spend as long as you like trailing between the steam room, cold plunge pool and three rooms of varying shades of hot. You can hire a towel for an extra £5 (refundable on return) which means you don't have to traipse around town afterwards with something dank and damp in your bag. It's a bit rough and ready down there - there's no piped music, glasses of champagne or fluffy gowns, but I like it. There's a real camaraderie and on ladies-only days you don't even have to bother with your swimming costume. After relaxing in the water and heat treatments you can lounge around on a variety of odd looking beds, so I was able to get on with my knitting! I also treated myself to a salt scrub - which at £12 was busting my budget a bit - but compared to a spa - it was really good value. A sort of massage plus exfoliation...no booking just ask on arrival and you're fitted in. After all that doing nothing I was feeling a bit peckish and headed to the Japan Centre near Piccadilly Circus. It's really the best value and best tasting sushi in London. BUT - imagine how thrilled I was to find that just before closing(at 9pm) they knock a whopping amount off everything. I bought my six California rolls for 65p instead of £2.60!!! All the rest of the fresh sushi was similarly reduced. So my advice is get down there after a film or a drink and stock up. It tastes all the better for being such a bargain! I'll race you.....!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Have I caught the knitting bug?

Having spent a month Making My Way Around Britain - I'm really eager to learn new things. SOOO...this afternoon I went out and bought some mohair wool and some large knitting needles. Now, I did try knitting at the beginning of my travels, and I'm proud to report that I've done about 30 rows. Ok - to you it may be nothing - but to me - it's a reasonable start! However, I felt frustrated that I wasn't making anything particular - so after an on-line search, I found a great knitted hat (of course!) at this excellent site - treats and treasures. I recommend it - lovely SIMPLE knitting ideas - but a whole lot more besides. I've included Marieke's picture here, in her lovely design. I agree with what she's saying too - cosiness, warm baths, hot choc and childrens' books...perfect for Autumn and so comforting. The essence of home.

22 October 2006

Lately I am very much into cozy warm things like children’s books, hot chocolate, warm baths… and chunky knitwear.

It's true!

In spite of being half Scottish, and spending lots of time up North, I always thought it was a myth. But I was wrong!

Edinburgh Skies

Edinburgh was recently voted the UK's most popular city AGAIN by The Guardian - and you can see why. It's small enough to be able to walk everywhere, the coffee shop culture is alive and well, it's traditional but its student population ensures that the quirky and creative retain a healthy influence, and it's near to beautiful countryside. It also has stunning skies. Whilst staying at The Claremont Hotel(where regular readers will remember I managed to barter a room for a hat!) the owner Alexander took me up onto the roof (five stories high) to see the incredible view. It was a 360 degree vista. Inching up on the ladder was a little scary - but well worth it. The Edinburgh-based writer Ian Rankin says that Scotland's capital is both intensely private and very public. I know what he means. Perhaps that partnership of private and public is also the basis of a healthy relationship and a balanced life.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Newsnight latest

Take a look at my latest piece for BBC Newnsight - just click here - I'm coming to the end of this trip and I need to know what you think? Is Make Do And Mend just a trend?

Friday, 30 October 2009

A room for a hat

I once read a book all about job opportunities for women in the 1930's and 40's. At that time of course, millinery was a great profession for a woman to get into, and could lead to secure work both at home and even abroad if the young lady concerned was ambitious enough. In this manual it said that a milliner would never have to worry if she couldn't pay her rent, as she could always make a hat for her landlady instead. I've often wanted to try out the theory, so whilst in Edinburgh I asked if I could pay for my B+B with a hat. The owner of the Claremont Hotel agreed! The hat is for his wife - and apparantly she was delighted!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Monastic make do...

I've just emerged after spending the weekend with Father Tom - who lives near Liverpool. Tom, an ex-Ampleforth monk and now also an ordained priest, set up with a few other like-minded types here some thirty years ago. They built their own house, and established a community. Nowadays Tom is the last-remaining monk, although local people are welcomed and there are many regular visitors and residents. The house is heated by wood from the nearby forest, food is home-grown, there's no car, fridge, telephone or tv. I thought I'd love this frugal experience, but I didn't really. Tom's intentions are laudible - he does voluntary work for CAFOD and is committed to tackling climate change and world poverty. But his detachment from every day life made it hard for me to engage properly. It struck me that the sense of fun was missing! I spent one evening trying to darn one of Tom's jumpers - there's no denying he's chosen to live a frugal life - the jumper was falling to pieces and fixing it felt like a chore. But Tom's type of frugality didn't chime with mine. I realised that when I have to be frugal and there's no freedom about it, I don't enjoy it. It's one thing choosing to make do and mend - quite another to be forced to because of circumstances.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Acupuncture room - yes you did read right!

Robert in Leeds is a professional acupuncturist(as well as a wonderful artist) - but setting up a suitable room is expensive. So Robert decided to do the work himself. He made and installed this sink unit, created the light fittings, crafted a peaceful fountain and used an old wardrobe door for a mirror. It's calm, comfortable and cost virtually nothing. His creative energy is part of what makes his treatments so special.

Jo's hat-or bonnets in Bradford

Jo in Bradford got in touch with Newsnight, offering me B+B in return for helping her make a hat. I arrived to see Jo struggling with a bath full of polystyrene beads destined for a large bean-bag she'd made! It turns out that Jo is something of an expert seamstress having made two wedding dresses for friends(one without a pattern - brave). She makes many of her own clothes and has every sewing gadget under the sun! Jo wanted a hat to go with a new outfit she's currently working on. After showing her my samples and having a chat, we abandoned our original idea and decided to try turning an old pull-on hat Jo had bought from the high street into a really striking number fit for a proper party. After twisting it around a bit and attaching it to a headband I was able to stiffen it with watered down PVA, then I stitched and steamed it into shape. Jo cut strips from fabric to match the dress she's making and then used it to create a trim following a vintage pleating technique I purloined from a 40's headpiece. The result I think is stunning - very 50's. Make Do And Mend couture - a new hat for nothing. B+B was fantastic too!

Friday, 23 October 2009

AA - Ultimate make do and menders

Well - it had to happen at some point, and fortunately it was whilst staying with friends. The Micra had a hissy fit and decided not to start. Incredibly the AA arrived within 20 minutes - that never seems to happen when you're in a real hurry or stuck in the middle of nowhere! Anyway, the lovely Phil did a wonderful job and got the car going again - a spark plug problem apparently. Note to self: must learn to make do and mend car just like hat.

Make Do and Mend bike flag

Need a flag for your bike but don't have one? (or don't want to spend the money on one from the shops). Simply take a piece of plastic bunting, cut from a strip and an old wire coat hanger. Open out the coat hanger out so it's straight, but make a little loop at one end to enable you to attach it to your bike. Take the bunting piece (mine had a channel down one side, but if yours doesn't - you might have to sew two together and make a little channel down the side) and thread the coat hanger through it. You'll need to sew up the end of the channel to stop the wire going straight through. Secure the other end of the bunting piece by winding cotton around the end and glueing it with a dab of UHU to the wire. We secured the flag to the bike by using the attachment you'd normally use to hold a light on - £1. Not bad eh? And the children will be spotted by traffic.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Felting frustration

PLEASE can anyone help?! I've been trying to felt charity shop jumpers - but they just won't shrink! I'm staying with friends in Leeds who've kindly lent me their washing machine for the purpose - but in spite of tumbling at the hottest temperature and spinning extremely fast - they refuse to do it! We tried the striped merino one - no luck! As you can see, my friend's now wearing it - it's perfect. Grrr! Then it was the extra-large blue lambswool one - surely this one would do it? Nope. If anything - it emerged from the wash even larger! I remember in the past putting my favourite wool top in the machine by mistake. It was ruined and fit for a five year old. Now I actually want the sweaters to go all thick and solid - it's just not happening. FAILED! Is there anything that will work?