Thursday, 31 December 2009

A proper homemade Christmas!

I was given this gift for Christmas by my brother-in-law and I think it's the nicest present I received. He made it himself from an old fallen willow tree in their garden.

He commutes to London everyday - a 3 hour round trip on the train with a car trip to the station and a long walk or tube hop at the other end. He also has a pretty pressured job. The fact that he took the trouble to hole up in his shed with his tools and varnish to make this for me makes it a very special present indeed.

I asked on our facebook page who had been given handmade gifts and there was quite a response - although it seems more people made them than received them. Those who were lucky enough to be recipients of some homemade largesse certainly seemed to appreciate it. Here are some of the ideas:

  • A little Christmas bag with sweets and a tiny bottle of wine and home made mince pies. Brilliant!
  • Home made mince pies, gingerbread men and bath stuff. Lovely!
  • Vodka infused with Indian spices & bottled beautifully.
  • 2 jars of chutney...well done sis!
  • My stepdaughter bought a plain T-shirt for me and hand painted a beautiful kingfisher on it! Lovely.
  • My teenage son and daughter made myself and their dad promise books. One promise a month e.g our son promised that he would help his dad on the allotment in june and our daughter promised to cook all the meals for us (each weekend) through feb. So I'm a very lucky mum as I now have 24 different promises from my kids.
  • My friend Fiona knits ipod covers and I received one in a lovely mixed blue cotton.
  • My sister knitted me a lovely necklace, I crocheted her a scarf.
  • I got THE NEATEST pillow and stitch markers from friends.
  • Received fab earrings and made bath bombs, sachets and lavender pillows.
I used to be a bit embarassed about giving homemade gifts - would people think me a cheapskate? Being on the receiving end made me look at it very differently.

Why Kirstie missed the point with her Homemade Christmas

Some insights into the psychology of gift giving

Clare Flynn

Thursday, 17 December 2009

A first crack at making salt dough decorations

Until this year I hadn't even heard of salt dough decorations  but, inspired by my Make it and Mend it colleague Hilary, I decided to have a try at making some. What a satisfying way to spend a morning it was too - and it got me right into the Christmas spirit.

Hilary's step by step instructions are on our website here

My efforts were not as finessed as Hilary's but I am quite proud of them. I decided to stick with 2 basic colours - a deep rose and a cobalt blue - as I have lights on my tree in those colours - and it made a change from my usual shop-bought uniform gold decorations. I've kept some of these on the tree but the new salt dough ones now stand out, looking vibrant and more energetic.

As I didn't have any cookie cutters to hand, I used a glass jar to make circles and the base of a plastic lemon squeezer to make a star indentation, then did the rest free-style, deciding to abandon any attempts at perfect literal shapes. I used acrylic paint and added some bits of mirror glass and some coloured glass beads. I made some small indentations - sometimes in a heart shape, sometimes random and filled these in with gold paint.

Hilary warned in her article about making the hole for the ribbon big enough. I used a metal skewer and wiggled it about a bit to make the hole larger but I had to use a sewing needle to feed the thread through a couple of them as the holes were too small after baking - there's no give in them at all once they are baked hard.

I finished off my decorations with some lacquer spray and a light sprinkling of glitter. I think they look fabulous - and the best thing is that every one is different. Definitely worth having a go. Stick the radio on and get stuck in - there's still plenty of time!

Kirstie's not very Homemade Christmas

I have to admit to being fascinated by Kirstie Allsopp’s latest TV offering. I found myself multitasking: watching with awe at the amount of money she spends, Twittering about how much money she spends and all whilst knitting a hat with horns…(don’t ask).

I love the way the programme, "Kirstie's Homemade Christmas" was shot, the locations and all the inspiration for homemade gifts, decorations,wrapping etc, but I get deeply frustrated by the amount of money she spends and the fact that she always gets the professionals in to do it for her.   As one person on Twitter put it, ‘Kirsty’s Homemade Christmas is for non-crafters’.  Which is a shame because experienced crafters know how to adapt the ideas and make them within a realistic budget, but inexperienced crafters may think they have to spend extortionate amounts of money (£75 a metre for one piece of fabric!) and that they have to have a professional to teach them how to make something. This is simply not the case! Kirstie could put people off having a go for themselves because they think it's out of range of their finances and skills.

As the shows progressed, there were times I thought I was watching “Let’s go Christmas shopping with Kirstie” rather than a Homemade Christmas. Especially when she went to a market – not her local market, but Covent Garden, just to buy mince pies.

That said, I think it was better than her first series (Kirstie's Homemade Home), but how about a programme that uses recycled and upcycled materials and keeps within a realistic price range?

I understand it's meant to be a inspirational Christmas, but in truth it's more of an aspirational Christmas. Many people are struggling this year and can’t afford such luxuries – so come on Channel 4, how about making it more accessible to us mere mortals. Showing us aspirational is fine, but showing us how to do it within a normal budget is better. £30 a meter to guild a pear is not within most people’s budgets…getting top professionals to teach you the techniques and provide you with freebies is definitely not within my budget. (And the last time I ventured into VV Rouleaux for some braid, the owner didn't spring out and give me a master-class in making fabulous gift trimmings - instead I had to jump up and down to grab the attention of the Sloaney sales assistant who had her nose in a novel and didn't want to be inconvenienced by selling me some of their extremely expensive trimming.)

It's great that Kirstie is getting the message about making things ourselves and some of the ideas are truly fantastic, but please a little perspective on costs next time.

>> Check out some of Hilary's own budget ideas for a home made Christmas on our website

If you want to see Hilary's horned hat (which she knitted for her teenage son) >>there's a photo on our Facebook pagebut you might prefer something a bit less extreme - so try our pattern for knitting >> Cheryl Cole's big fat pompom hat 

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Bottling some winter sunshine

I've just enjoyed a week's holiday in glorious sunshine in Morocco so have been feeling the blues since I got back and all it seems to do is rain.

The other day I made some preserved lemons - thanks for the recipe to Alice Barnsdale who lives in Fez. It is so easy and really feels like you're bottling sunshine. For those of you who haven't tried preserved lemons, they are an essential ingredient of many Morrocan dishes - especially tagines and couscous. I have the Moro Cookbook (highly recommended - stick it on your Christmas list!) and have been frustrated by how many recipes need preserved lemons and had never got round to hunting them down (although I think Waitrose sells them).

Anyway making your own is a 5 minute job. Here's how:

Put 2 tablespoons of coarse salt in the bottom of a large sterilised jar. Get about seven or eight fresh lemons and slice them not quite in half, lengthways, leaving the halves still attached at the bottom. Make another slice at right angles to the first - again leaving the quarters attached at the base. Pull the sides apart gently (keeping them still attached at the bases) and cover the insides generously with salt. Rub more salt on the outsides and then squash them down inside a large sterilised jar. Cram in as many as you can fit, letting the juice flow. Top up with a bit more lemon juice to ensure the fruit is covered and a couple more tablespoons of salt. Seal the lid tightly. Turn upside down after a couple of days to get the juices flowing. Leave the lemons for a month or two then they are ready to use. Once opened store in the fridge - they'll last up to six months. When you come to use them rinse the salt off and you're ready to go. 'Easy peasy lemon squeezy!' (first time I've used that expression in a relevant context!).

You can add ingredients to spice it up a bit - for example coriander seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, bayleaf, chilli - but I decided to go for the unadorned purity of the lemons!

Clare F

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Recycle Now Christmas Competition

We just got this email from Paul at Recycle Now:
"I'm emailing on behalf of Recycle Now, England's national recycling campaign, to let you know about the competition we've just launched as it may be of interest to you and your readers/users.
The Recycle Now campaign is trying to make people aware of the waste
created at Christmas and remind them that most of it can be recycled.

We've built a stunning one-off 6ft Christmas tree sculpture made from recycled cardboard  and are giving it away in a competition >> Enter here. 

We made the tree in three days using over 200 pieces of rejected cardboard stuck together with water based glue so it can still be recycled. >> See video on making the tree

We also commissioned the artist Michelle Reader to upcycle common household waste like aluminium cans, carrier bags and plastic bottles into beautiful Christmas tree decorations. >> Have a look

We've also illustrated some surprising facts about the amount of waste created at Christmas >> Festive Facts.

We hope you like what you see and will encourage people to enter the competition."
Paul Gill of recycle Now

Council orders grandmother to dig up beloved garden to store unsightly wheelie bins

This headline appeared in one of the papers this weekend. Admittedly it was the Daily Mail and so there's always the temptation to take it with a pinch of salt, but it seems that this story is true….or at least according to various news agencies. 
Why didn’t I believe it at first? Because at no point in this story does it make sense!  If it does to you, can you please explain it to me?
I'm all in favour of sensible recycling, but Harlow Council have brought in two large wheelie bins and a collecting box to collect recycling.  Unfortunately for Sandra St John, she has nowhere to store them. At first the council suggested that she keep them out the back and manhandle them through her house on collections days. When she pointed out the impracticality of this, they told her she must pave over her lovingly tended front garden to make room for the two big bins.   Understandably Joan was upset: she's tended the roses and lavenders in her garden for 22 years and was attached to her garden.
A lot of local flooding is being blamed on people paving over their front gardens so that they can park.  This large scale paving of front gardens is apparently displacing the water and causing all sorts of flooding issues as well as destroying wildlife in urban areas. Last year the RHS flower show championed designs for front gardens that allowed for off road parking, whilst still remaining environmentally friendly. 
Moreover, as of October 2008, there are regulations in place to stop people randomly paving over their front gardens and you now have to apply for planning permission. Yet here we have a local council actually advocating this!
What I also don’t understand is why, when Sandra is quite content with the recycling baskets she currently has and feels no need for any more, is the council foisting these giant wheelie bins on her…and god only knows how much the production of these monsters bins puts on our environment.  
Why can’t we just go back to weekly collections and recycling rates might even rise, as already proven by Gedling Borough Council in Nottinghamshire who when, they finally did a U-turn on weekly collections found that their recycling rates rose dramatically.
Even more to the point, why aren’t the government and the local councils encouraging us to reuse things rather than send them to recycling. We really don’t need any more encouragement to throw things away. How about supporting the MIAMI take on life and go back to the old skills. What alternative use can you find for those old curtains, those empty jars, that bubble wrap, all that compost material for your garden?
Come on guys, lets get a little perspective on this whole recycling lark  and think before your throw….because, as we keep saying,
life’s too good to throw away.

Friday, 27 November 2009

If you want to get ahead get a hat! ... like Cheryl's

It seems these days Cheryl Cole can do no wrong and sets the fashion wherever she goes and whatever she wears. Last week was no exception when she braved the elements wearing a bobble hat.
Yes, you heard it right, the bobble hat, that bane of our childhood, when our mothers forced us to wear them, have now become big business and all thanks to Mrs Cole.
Expect to see bobble hats all over the shops and everyone wearing them. Knitwear is back in fashion and it’s time for you to get out there and grab yourself a hat.
Cheryl’s hat comes from Aubin and Wills and costs a mere £50! - but don’t worry if that seems a bit steep, because we've got really simple instructions for making your own Cheryl look-alike hat for a fraction of the price.
Why not make loads of them? - they'll make great Christmas gifts for all your friends

For more knitting inspiration:

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Tips and workshops from Christmas past

Want to pick up tips about ‘make do and mend’ Christmases? London’s Geffrye’s Museum, dedicated to the quintessential style of English middle-class living rooms from the 1600s, has a special Christmases Past exhibition focused on making everything yourself.

Get down there (all links below) between 24th November and 3rd of January to see how we used to decorate our houses for Christmas how we used to celebrate. The special Christmas past exhibition complements the museum’s ongoing Eco Home exhibition.

As well as exhibits, the Geffrye is putting on a series of workshops and events so you can learn how to make festive swags and garlands (12th December) and how you can make all manner of decorations by upcycling old fabrics (5th December).

What a great way to spend a pre-Christmas Saturday.

>> Get more information about  visiting The Geffrye Museum

Thursday, 19 November 2009

STOP PRESS: Christmas pudding shortage fears!

It seems the shops are in for a bumper year for sales of Christmas puddings because of our interest in the good old days and our craving for comfort food ... or at least they would have been if there were enough shop-bought puds to go round.

According to the Mirror newspaper, the UK’s biggest producer, Matthew Walker, is stepping up its production to try to meet this increased demand. But the worry is that it won’t be enough and people will have to go without... or (concept coming up) make their own!

And why not? Especially now you know it’s Stir-up Sunday this weekend (that’s 22nd November). This is the day when the family is meant to gather round the kitchen table to take their all-important turn at stirring the Christmas pudding ingredients. My mother always swore that this would bring all us stirrers good luck for the next year.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never made one before. They’re not difficult to make and there are loads of really good recipes about. In fact if you’ve got a family favourite, please let us see it. In the meantime, we’ve posted a really fab flour and sugar-free version on the website (tastes just as traditional - trust us). Follow the link below.

>> Christmas pudding recipe

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hot comfort food

The recession’s being blamed again, this time for our growing indulgence in comfort eating! And while foods like baked beans top our list of comfort tastes Simon Cowell chomps his way through Angel Delight as his way of combating stress!

But Simon’s not the only one returning to his childhood taste buds. According to reports, treats like Crispy Pancakes are making a big come back and Black Forest Gateau is firmly back on the menu.

So what’s going on? From all these reports it would seem that it’s not just a little comfort eating we’re indulging in but, real retro-style comfort food.

Comfort food fulfils certain criteria for us - usually sweet, stodgy or tastes and textures linked to our childhood in some way. Foods like boiled eggs and soldiers, ice cream or cakes. Food that has the ability to transport us back to a time when we felt secure and had no worries other than arguing with our parents over bedtime.

In times of stress, such as a recession where we’re worried about money etc, we want to escape and find a little corner of the world that’s safe. During WW2 cinemas experienced a huge boom as people flocked to them to watch elaborate musicals that let them escape for a couple of hours and fun with a happy ending.

It’s not just escapism that lures us back to comfort food. Food we eat can have an effect on our brains and encourage a release of the feel good endorphins: it can directly affect how we feel.

Neuropsychologists based at the University of Sussex studied the ‘nurturing emotions’ which some foods set off. They looked at ingredients consumers’ reactions to the smell, taste and colour of the dish (this was done by strapping electrodes to their heads!).

They then created a comfort index of food based on temperature, texture and ability to recreate a childhood feel. They found that the five dishes with the highest scores were beans on toast, followed by sausage and mash, tomato soup, chicken and mushroom pie and then macaroni cheese…. I would ask where the chocolate, ice-cream and Angel Delight was, but as this research was funded by Heinz, I won’t!

Suffice to say, comfort foods can be good for us, but only in moderation. So don’t spend your whole time justifying eating comfort food or you will only end up feeling uncomfortable!

Feel like indulging your comfort cravings? Go on, you know you want to...

>> Try our left over potato cakes
>> Mars Bar cookies
>> Very dangerous chocolate mug cake
Bubble and Squeak

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Rehabilitating hobbies

Now that the days are drawing in and everything looks so gloomy, it's a good time to think about taking up a hobby.

We've had a bit of a rant before about how boozing seems to have become the hobby of choice for so many people and that the concept of hobbies has become corny and nerdish, which is a great pity.  >> Has drinking replaced hobbies?

So Make it and Mend it is going on the campaign trail for the rehabilitation of hobbies! Or maybe it's not so much hobbies themselves that need rehabilitating, rather the word hobby? It's been the subject of too many curled lips and rolled eyes - let's make it cool again!

Why do we need hobbies? When you have a hobby, you never need to be bored. As well as the pleasure of the activity itself, the sense of achievement that making things can give you is both lasting and self-affirming.

It was Laurence Stern in The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy who first coined the term hobby - or hobby horse. His usage was not exactly positive though - being something the idle rich indulged in to the point of boring the pants off other people! Hobbies as we know them really took off in the years following the second world war - and it seems to have been the cynical go-getting 1980s that marginalised them.

There's  lots of evidence that having hobbies helps reduce stress. This is particularly important for those whose work can be all consuming. Doing something completely different helps takes the mind off your worries and can provide a bit of space and calm. Hobbies can improve self-esteem - as well as self-efficacy: the belief in your own ability to achieve a certain goal.

Hobbies can give people the opportunity to have more personal control over something when this is denied to them in everyday life or work and so it can be very self-affirming.

Hobbies can also be opportunities to fulfill our otherwise thwarted personal aspirations - hence the popularity of amateur dramatics, Karaoke and talent contests for wannabe "slebs".

So this is a call to action! Let's celebrate hobbies and make them sexy again!

Please let me know what hobbies you have and how long you've been doing them. Have you rediscovered a childhood passion? Taken up a long cherished dream? Is it related to your work or completely different? Do you do it alone or with others?

Either post a comment here or drop me an email to

Monday, 19 October 2009

It's National Baking Week - so I had a go

I was amazed at the lip-smacking descriptions of the cakes baked by members of our Facebook page and so was inspired to have a go at baking myself.

I haven't creamed any butter or beaten any eggs since I was a girl - being single it always seemed to much of an indulgence and then if I have people to tea it's easy to nip out and buy a cake, so it's never seemed worthwhile going to the trouble to make one.

Remembering that I'd had a Damascene conversion on the jam-making front after a lot of scepticism, I decided to see if baking could work it's magic too. I got the food mixer out of the cupboard and set to work, while listening to the X Factor on Saturday night. A couple of people in the Facebook thread mentioned lemon drizzle cake - and I happened to have plenty of lemons. There's something so sensual about the word drizzle that had me licking my lips before I'd even broken the eggs!

Readers I loved it! It was so easy. It was so satisfying. The kitchen smelled heavenly. The sponge rose beautifully. The lemon drizzled oozily. And it tasted absolutely scrumptious.

The only problems - I forgot to take a photograph - the one here is not mine (thanks to pudontour on Flickr - I picked it as it looks the most like mine). And I scoffed the lot - so I don't think I dare risk doing this again until I have people round to share it or I'll be turning into a sweet-toothed Tellytubby. So... if anyone fancies coming for tea next Sunday afternoon?

Clare Flynn

>> I used this recipe from Woman's Hour
>> Confessions of a reluctant jam-maker
>> Our Facebook Page
>> National Baking Week

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blog action day - hang your washing out!

It's Blog Action Day for climate change and we're getting behind it at Make it and Mend it. Check out the main website for our piece on Climate Change and your Kitchen.

We've also been lending a bit of support to our US friends at Project Laundry List, who are campaigning to encourage Americans to hang their clothes on the lines instead of always using the dryer.

Our highlighting of their efforts has piqued a lot of interest from our UK readers and Facebook fans, many of whom have expressed amazement about the fact that 50 million US homes are actually banned from using dryers and line-drying is seen as a potential dampener on property values (yes - didn't you know - all those sub-prime mortgages and greedy bankers had nothing to do with it - it was the few brave citizens who dared to hang their sheets outside!).

To stop all us Brits from feeling too smug, I thought we'd share a few facts about tumble-drying over here in these fair isles. It may not be banned by law and the practice of hanging your smalls out is not generally viewed as scandalous, but an awful lot of us are still very attached to our dryers.
  • We spend £1.1million a day on electricity for tumble drying. That's equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to run 2650 (dryer-free!) homes for a whole year.
  • Dryers use about 60% more electricity than washing machines.
  • The average tumble drying family could save themselves £70 a year if they switched to line drying.
  • The average dryer is responsible for emissions of 310kgs of CO2: avoiding this is roughly equivalent to draught-proofing the average UK house.
If you're feeling coy about hanging your undies on the line, then hang these on a rack or airer indoors and save the washing line for sheets, towels and pillow cases.

And don't use the lousy British weather as an excuse. We got by perfectly well before dryers were around! You can always dry indoors on bad days, or don't do a wash if you know it's going to rain - or you can even buy covered washing lines to protect the clothes from the elements.

Even if you can't give the dryer up completely, please do give line drying a try on a dry day (it doesn't have to be sunny!). You'll love the smell of air dried clothes - there's nothing like it.

I've never owned a dryer myself - apart from a brief flirtation with a combi washer-dryer that was so useless I never bothered to use the dryer function. I do have a confession to make though! 25 years ago I worked on the UK launch of dryer fabric conditioning sheets. I spent my days beavering away trying to come up with ways to swell the tiny numbers of dryer owners here in Britain. It sometimes seemed an impossible task - if only it had proved to be!

Clare F

>> Read our original post in support of Project Laundry List
>> Check out the debate on our Facebook Page
>> Project Laundry List

Versaline Washing Line
Eco friendly washing lines for inside and out. save money and help reduce CO2

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Tell us about your tins! - well, how you cook with them

It doesn’t matter what sort of culinary whizz you may be in the kitchen you still need a few cans in the back of the cupboard for emergencies and mid-week dinner staples. However, my confidence did fail me when I was confronted with this picture in a recent copy of the UK Times.

What you’re looking at is a ‘Mock crown roast’ from a 1949 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It was sent in by a Times reader as their contribution to the World’s Worst Recipe Competition.

The central ingredient is four tins of luncheon meat, smeared with marmalade and then roasted in the oven; served here with tinned potatoes, tinned asparagus and tinned pineapple decorated with strawberries.

>> Read the full article here

Even this concoction couldn’t put me off tins for good. So to rectify the canned goods good / bad balance I want your recipes that include something in a can as part of the ingredients.

'Chilli con carne made with tinned kidney beans' you say – ‘Who has time to soak and boil them these days?’ But I think that’s a bit too obvious. The more inventive the better and, unlike the Mock crown roast, it has to be something totally delicious.

Send your recipes to

We’ll publish the best of them and may even offer a prize for the winner. Would a tin of luncheon meat do?

Anne Caborne. Make it and Mend it

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Have you entered our knitting photo comp yet?

We're giving away 5 copies of Debbie Bliss' fab new knitting book Tips for Knitters - plus an exclusive free download of a section of the book and 25% discount off the price of the book. Check it out here

Here are some of the entries we've had so far - first of the 5 winners will be announced this weekend. So get those photos in - the competition ends on 31st October 2009.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Stain-busting guide to the rescue in the ‘nick’ of time

OurMake it and Mend it Stain Guide (a free e-book, written by the Guardian's Stephanie Zia, for everyone who joins our main website) was the source of a solution to what could have been a very tricky problem... in a young offenders’ prison.

One of our subscribers was working at the prison, running a workshop with a number of the young inmates, all expected to maintain best behaviour in order to keep the privilege of attending these workshops.

Part of the session involved using pastel crayons. All was calm and fine until ‘the problem’ was noticed. One young man had used his bright red pastel crayon in a less constructive fashion and inscribed an unrepeatable piece of graffiti onto the face of one of the blue hessian-covered chairs in the meeting room.

In prison terms, this is a punishable offence. Keen not see the boy’s previous good behaviour go to waste our subscriber quickly ran a mental checklist through the Stephanie Zia Easy No-nonsense Stain Guide she’d just downloaded and read.

With nothing to hand (prisons only allow you minimal belongings when you work on the inside), our heroine knew the only way to keep this young teenager out of more trouble was to find a way of getting him to solve the problem himself. She had it! She needed washing-up liquid to remove the offending words and in the absence of that, hand-wash from the ladies' toilets.

Back with a plastic cup full of the stuff, the lad set to work, literally with his bare hands, scrubbing offence off the surface of the chair until, after 15 minutes, it was completely gone! Apparently our boy was brimming with pride at his achievement and relieved he would not be going on report.

And one of the most satisfying things, apart from us all learning how to clean pastel crayon off hessian, was that the Stain Guide let someone learn what are the consequences of thoughtless graffiti : someone has to find a way of cleaning it off.
>> Get our Free Stain Guide now

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Autumnal blues?

A couple of days ago I walked along a sunlit River Thames, light dappling through the trees and onto the water, geese and herons paddling on the edges and rowers cutting through the still clear water. Now the sky is grey, the wind is howling, it's forecast to rain and I'm shivering my socks off indoors and switching on the heating.

Yes folks, after our Indian Summer, Autumn is well and truly here! Meanwhile our friends Downunder are hitting the beaches - and the trouble with Facebook is you get to hear all about it and see the photographs.

Looking out of the window into the gloom of the garden, the plants are also looking rather down in the dumps, with frazzled leaves and dying flowerheads. Apart from the dash of colour from the pink sedum, it's all starting to look a bit depressing and rather sorry for itself.

Rather than start indulging my SAD syndrome (Seasonal Affective Disorder) - or as the Italians call it "cambio della stagione" I'm going to console myself by planning the garden for next year. Now is a good time for taking stock of what worked and what didn't. For thinking about next year's display and for ringing the changes by introducing some plants for the winter.

If you're going to be growing vegetables - and if you haven't tried then give it a go - it's so rewarding - there's a fantastic offer from the lovely people at GrowVeg - a 30 day free trial of their really useful software for planning your vegetable planting. It enables you to make a scale drawing of your vegetable plot or allotment and populate it with the vegetables you want to grow. It even shows you how much space each plant needs, which plants go together and how to rotate crops.
>> Take a free trial

Online Garden Planning Tool

Friday, 18 September 2009

Amazing, inspiring, recycled houses

You must take a look at this photo collection from the New York Times featuring the houses made by Texas builder, Dan Phillips. His firm, Phoenix Commotion, builds low income housing from entirely recycled materials. Dan builds the homes on donated plots using 80% salvaged materials, including wine bottle corks, old sidings, cattle bones, and shards of glass, mostly saved from refuse or found abandoned at the roadside.

Dan requires the future owner of each home to help with its construction. We love this idea, as not only will they have a huge emotional stake in their home, but helping to create it boosts an individual's sense of pride, purpose, self-esteem and self-efficacy. This can be particularly important for people struggling financially. Dan Phillips says:
"I think mobile homes are a blight on the planet. Attractive, affordable housing is possible and I'm out to prove it."
Please take a look as it is a great source of ideas and inspiration.
>> New York Times photo slideshow

Clare F

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Lakeland adds product demos

Little by little, lovely Lakeland seems to be improving how it markets itself online. It has at last added video to its website and now has a number of product demonstrations available. >> Here's the video section

As so many of their products are one-offs (and some even a bit bizarre - see my post of a few months ago >> Lakeland - Love it or hate it?) it makes eminent and overdue sense to exploit the medium of video. I just watched one for their Flame Grill and was tempted to order one on the spot. I think it was the sight of the bacon and eggs cooking - you don't get that in the catalogue!

While some of the Lakeland products seem indulgences more appropriate to the slightly barmy Innovations Catalogue, the bulk of their stuff is absolutely cracking - they seem to have the perfect tool for every job.

>> For much more making and mending ideas and inspiration, visit our main website

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Help innocent help old people

In the UK, 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 are malnourished. If you'd like to help, smoothie maker innocent is joining forces with with supermarket group Sainsbury’s to raise over £250,000 to support charities Age Concern and Help the Aged with healthy eating and healthy living projects during the winter.

They want as many people as possible to knit 'bottle hats'. For every behatted smoothie sold, innocent and Sainsbury’s will give 35p to Age Concern and Help the Aged. The monies raised will then be used to fund projects and advice centres offering information on healthy eating as well as cooking clubs and get-togethers where older people can sit down and enjoy a meal and company.

>> For knitting tips, patterns and pictures go to

And when you’re done knitting, just send finished hats to:

The innocent Big Knit, Fruit Towers, 1 The Goldhawk Estate, Brackenbury Road, London W6 0BA, including your name, address and number of hats you've knitted.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Has drinking replaced hobbies?

I was talking to a friend who's living in Manila and he was telling me that the drinking culture there is even more dramatic than in the UK. Incredibly cheap "drink as much as you can before 9pm" offers abound and all everyone seems to do is hit the bars and drink themselves silly.

I'd just been telling him about what we're trying to do with Make it and Mend it and how our intent is not just to help people combat recession and live more thriftily, but to share and encourage the more positive psychological aspects of making stuff and mending it (see our blog post below on the difference between making and mending and making do and mending )

He then pointed out that the growth in drinking over recent years has been accompanied by a decline in hobbies. It's almost as though drinking has become the new hobby for millions of people (and I'm not ruling myself out !). That hadn't occurred to me before, but I think he has a point.

Once upon a time everyone had hobbies and it was a normal thing to ask "What are your hobbies?", when you met someone rather than "What do you do?". Then it became a bit of a no-no as an expression, conjuring up visions of saddos with no mates bent over an Airfix kit and a stamp collection - or dashing off to Girl Guides to earn a badge in brass rubbing.

But why did we get so cynical about hobbies? Were they swept aside in Thatcher's Britain with the 80's emphasis on career and money? Indeed the received wisdom used to be not to put too much on the interest section of your CV in case a prospective employer might wonder whether you were reluctant to offer less than your whole soul to their company. On the other hand, going out and getting bladdered after a long day's cutting and thrusting on the corporate battlefield was seen as suitably macho, especially in the City.

At the other end of the economic scale, the growing underclass and disaffected leave school with nothing much more than an endless capacity for boredom and no means of sating it except through a bottle or even a needle.

The recent increase in the uptake of crafts such as knitting and the burgeoning passion for vegetable growing have been heralded as reactions to recession. That may be true but maybe they are also signs of a reawakening of interest in hobbies for their own sake and hopefully an erosion of the cynicism about them and about clubs and societies. The Scouts and Brownies are supposed to be on the up, as is the Women's Institute. I've never been one for joining things myself - but I certainly don't feel cynical and sneery about those who do - even though I'm ashamed to say I once used to be!

Maybe if more of us had hobbies we wouldn't all feel we had to drink so much? If our kids did too it might set them on a path to a more interesting and fulfilling life. What do you think?

Clare F

Friday, 28 August 2009

Make do and Mend

Well this week things have really taken off on the thrifty living front.

We had The Observer this weekend with an extract from the fabulously useful Mend It! 400 Easy Repairs by Sian Berry.

Then this morning, BBC Radio 4's Today programme featured the soon-to-be-published modern version of Make Do and Mend from John Lewis and asked listeners to share their own ideas for thrifty living. Here at Make it and Mend it Towers we've risen to the challenge and have been busy on Twitter, tweeting our own tips and suggestions in response. Here's one of our tweets:

r4today RT @makeitandmendit: clean dark wood floors with water that five tea bags have been soaked in. Polishes beautifully and darkens scuff marks

It seems every time we open a magazine, a newspaper or turn on the TV
or the radio there's something about living more frugally and thriftily. It definitely seems we've reached a tipping point in the public consciousness.

All of this is great, but there's a much more positive side to making and mending. You may start off down this path because you're short of a bob or two but most people find they actually like it! It's not so much about sacrifice, compromise or "making do" but more about the sense of achievement and self-efficacy that comes from making your own stuff rather than flashing a credit card.

When the recession eventually ends, you may have more cash in your pocket and security in your job, but we're sure once you've tried your hand at making and mending you'll find it becomes pretty addictive!
Clare Flynn

Monday, 24 August 2009

Stuffed courgette flowers

I am such an advocate of growing courgettes (zucchini).

As well as providing a plentiful crop over several months, the plants with their huge leaves and big yellow flowers also look fine in a flower border.

I have been enjoying griddling the courgettes and serving themwith some lemon juice - or layering them with a bit of chopped mint and some ricotta cheese and lemon juice. Then I came across a recipe using similar ingredients for stuffed courgette flowers.

I used to love having these when I lived in Italy but had never tried to make them before. I gave it a try this weekend and really loved them. You simply open the flowers out, checking for any unwanted insects, then stuff them with some ricotta mixed with grated Parmesan and chopped mint leaves. The easiest way is to role the mixture into a little tube shape then push it into the open flower and twist closed afterwards.

The batter couldn't be easier - just mix self-raising flower with fizzy water and dip the flowers into the batter - it should be the consistency of single cream.

Get your oil very hot and then drop the flowers in gently and fry till golden

Absolutely delicious.

>> Share your recipes for home grown produce on the Make it and Mend it Forum

Clare Flynn

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

London Shop’s Sale Based on Summer Temperatures

London Shop’s Sale Based on Summer Temperatures: "


London’s Social Suicide boutique on Ganton Street is offering sale prices on apparel based on how hot it is from day to day in London. They have a sign posted in the shop which displays the temperature, and savings. Obviously the time to visit is at the peak of a heat wave, but the promotion is a distinctive take on retail sales that are happening everywhere.


[via it's nice that]

[photos via it's nice that, black knave]

By Dave Pinter | © PSFK, 2009. |
Article Link |
Comments | More stories in: Environmental, Retail and , ,
Stumble Upon Toolbar


Monday, 17 August 2009

Make your own rain

Just wanted to share this little video with you all

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Cheap days out with the kids

1. Go to the woods
Your local woods, especially those run by the Forestry Commission, can play host to a great day out. Try Alice Holt Forest - there's so much to do! You can walk, cycle, play or just have a picnic in these lovely woods. Experience life in the trees with Go Ape, take a relaxing break in the café and finish your visit with a quiet stroll in one of the more remote parts of the Forest.
If you don’t mind spending some money there is theatre in Alice Holt Forest as well. Chapterhouse Theatre Company will be there on Friday 14th August with an open-air production of the classic favourite, Cinderella. You're welcome to have a picnic in the performance area before the show. Kids are invited to come in fancy dress and the show starts at 5.30pm.
For more details
Check out what your local forests are putting on by visiting

2. Go to the theatre

Kids Week - Children aged 5-16 years old can see over 28 dazzling shows for free, as long as they are accompanied by an adult paying full price.
As well as all the amazing shows on offer, Kids Week are sorting out a whole raft of free linked activities and workshops. Children can peek backstage, learn to dance, sing with the cast and enjoy exclusive post show Q & As
Hurry - booking for Kids Week is open for performances 14-28 August
For more details go to

3. Go to a local park

Heaton Park in Manchester, a council-run park with a great Animal Centre, two dedicated children’s play areas that provide a range of activities for children aged from 3 years up to 14 years is a good example. There’s loads to do here, including tram rides, pitch and putt and rowing boats.

4. Go to the beach

The British weather is pretty miserable for some of us this summer, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the beach. Just accept it's going to be wet and grab some waterproofs and a picnic and head on down to your nearest beach for some fun and games.
When preparing a wet weather picnic, think about taking some warm food. Sausages and baked beans can be kept warm in wide mouth flasks and homemade soup with chunky bread always go down well. And of course don’t forget the trusty flask of hot chocolate.

5. Go to Covent Garden

‘The Kids Are Alright’ – two weeks of top entertainment and special offers for children of all ages, set in the historic surroundings of Covent Garden’s Piazza, runs from Monday 10th – Sunday 23rd August.
The Piazza becomes a kids’ playground, complete with sandpit, ball pit, face painters, balloon modellers, as well as juggling and plate-spinning workshops from Covent Garden’s very own street performers.
Meanwhile, budding chefs can get messily creative with icing and silver balls as they get stuck into cupcake decorating classes and chocolate making tutorials on food market days (Thursday 13th and Thursday 20th August).
For more details go to

6. Visit a museum

Most museums run a free entry scheme and can be a great day out. Have a look and see what your local museum has to offer.
For a fantastic free day out in York visit the award winning
North Yorkshire National Railway Museum, home to some of the world’s railway legends including Mallard, the world’s fastest steam locomotive, the iconic Japanese Bullet Train and the Chinese locomotive, one of the largest steam engines ever built in Britain and You can even learn how to control signals.
With daily demonstrations, loads of interactive exhibits, a special event programme and FREE museum admission, enjoy action-packed fun for the whole family.
For more details go to

7. Go stargazing

targazing makes a great trip out with the children and you'll be amazed how patient they can be. My own children used to spend hours waiting patiently to see a shooting star and August is the month to see shooting stars. During the Perseid showers in mid August you can usually guarantee to see comets and shooting stars and if you're lucky enough to live right up north you might get even a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.
It's a fun night out and you could incorporate it into a nighttime barbecue with stories and campfire songs. Just make sure you dress warmly and take a blanket.
>>How to make a homemade barbecue for your campfire

8. Find out how television works at the BBC

The BBC run tours all over the country – what does your local television centre offer?
The CBBC Interactive Tour lets you have a go behind the scenes! You can visit the Blue Peter Garden, a dressing room, take a peek into some of the studios at Television Centre and then have your photo taken by the Prank Patrol Car. If you are ready to be challenged by the bravest warrior of them all, take part in the
Raven game and then become 'Diddy Dick and Dom'!
The CBBC Interactive Tour is aimed at children aged from 7 to 12 years old and lasts one and a half to two hours. All children must be accompanied by an adult.
For more details go to

9. Go foraging for your dinner

Unleash your hidden hunter. Get out into the countryside or parks and riverbanks and go looking for your dinner. Children love picking blackberries and will spend hours searching for tasty morsels. All along the lanes and towpaths you can find an abundant supply of wild garlic, blackberries, sloes and other delicious goodies.

To add to the fun you can always go home and make your own jam with your ill gotten gains.

NB. Two words of warning - go to your local library and borrow a book on foraging so that you know that what you're eating is safe. And avoid foraging for mushrooms unless you really know what you are doing! For some top tips on foraging try

>>For some top tips for jam making
>>How to make strawberry jam

10. Visit the Bank of England

We all know what the banks have been up to lately, but do your children? Do they know where money comes from? The Bank of England Museum tells the story of the Bank from its foundation in 1694 to its modern role of keeping inflation low, issuing banknotes and working to keep the financial system stable. Interactive displays with graphics and video help explain these many and varied roles.
Did you know that
Kenneth Grahame, the author of Wind in the Willows, worked at the Bank of England for thirty years? He became Secretary in 1898 and remained in that position until 1908. Little known details of the famous author’s Bank career can be found in one of the Museum displays. During August the museum are running MASKerade where children are encouraged to step into the roles of Ratty, Mole, Badger or Toad and colour their own mask of one of the well-known characters from ‘The Wind in the Willows’
MASKerade runs between 20 July - 28 August - 10.30am - 4.00pm

For more ideas for free days out try visiting these sites


Friday, 7 August 2009

Recycing News Flash!

Recycle now are giving away free and discounted compost bins in certain areas. I tried getting one for myself and it came out at £10 which is still cheap, but some areas are completely free. It's dead simple to order and there's no credit card registration etc. just sign up!

Apparently there's also a free or discounted caddy per household included in your order. The caddy is for organic kitchen waste and it's an easy way to carry your waste to your compost bin. It includes a carry handle and close fitting lid

Sounds like a great offer, so visit the site now and enter your postcode to find out if you qualify.


>>For more great ideas on recycling

>>A new lexicon for recycling

Making rosehip syrup for the first time

I posted a wartime recipe for rosehip syrup on the MIAMI website and as I am the proud owner of a large rambling rose that every year is laden with hips, I decided I had to follow my own advice and give making rosehip syrup a go.

This time last year, my Friend Clare O'Brien stood in my garden and said "What fantastic rosehips - you must make some rosehip syrup!". I looked at her scornfully and replied "If Shirley Conran said life's too short to stuff a mushroom, then it's certainly too short for making rosehip syrup!" And here I am a year later eating my words.

Putting aside childhood memories of being given rosehip syrup on a spoon (it was always much nicer than syrup of figs, cod liver oil or liquid paraffin (vomit!) which were the other occasional remedies that tortured my childhood days) I decided to have a go today. I've been told it's great added to a glass of chilled white wine, like a Kir, as a refreshing cordial or poured onto some ice cream - that has to make it worth a try.

I spent the best part of half an hour up a stepladder, getting the hips down from the rose tree. I trimmed each hip, removing the hairy beards. I later realised I didn't need to do this as the whole mixture gets strained several times during the cooking process. It was nonetheless strangely satisfying. I was accompanied by a rather nice selection of classical piano music as I worked.

My kitchen now smells absolutely gorgeous - the strained liquid is bubbling away in the background as I write this.

My top tips for other would-be rose-hippers
  1. I didn't wholly rely on the wartime recipe but flipped between this and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's from the Guardian - which was very similar. I followed the wartime quantities but allowed the boiled mixture to stand for HFW's recommended half hour rather than the 10 minutes suggested by the old Ministry of Food
  2. I couldn't manage to get any muslin or jelly bags locally - but I found a pair of tights was more than adequate to the task! TOP TIP!
  3. Last but not least - please learn from me! I am almost done and have just realised I have no small bottles to decant the syrup into. Large ones are not a good idea as the mixture only lasts a short time once opened. Doh!
Clare Flynn

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Take a leaf out of this superhero’s book!

You may have noticed already, but we love guerrilla gardeners and this one is no exception.

Covered in green foliage and resembling something from a Sci Fi movie, the self-styled Human Shrub, first emerged earlier this year when he protested againstColchester council’s plan to turf over the rose beds as a means of saving money. His protests were successful and the council reversed its decision to tear out and grass over one in five roadside flowerbeds in Colchester.

Since then the Human Shrub spends his free time replacing weeds with flowers to transform dormant plant containers, but don’t worry this doesn’t affect his family life as Colchester’s very own superhero doesn’t work alone, he brings his wife to work as well.

The husband and wife duo struck again this weekend when they organised a party of volunteer gardeners to descend on a scruffy patch of land to spruce up it up by weeding and planting donated shrubs and flowers.

Brilliant stuff!

>> Fancy helping the Human Shrub? To find out more join him on Facebook

Tell us about your own guerilla gardening plans on the Make it and Mend it Forum

Sunday, 2 August 2009

More grounds for drinking coffee!

As long as you don't over-indulge on the caffeine, there are some good reasons here for drinking a bit of coffee, as we have some top tips for using up your coffee grounds.

Use it to fertilise your plants
Coffee is full of nutrients and especially benefits plants that like acid soil: roses, evergreens, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and witch hazel. Otherwise if you want to add nutrients for other plants, just add the grounds to your compost heap.

Clean the fireplace
The old trick of sprinkling water on ashes works even better with coffee as you have the additional benefit of a pleasant smell. Just shake your wet grounds over the ashes in the grate before you sweep it out. It will be easier to gather the ash and the dust won't spread all round the room and give you a coughing fit!

Deodorise the fridge or freezer
Whilst most of us know that bicarbonate of soda is great for absorbing smells, if you get a really bad smell then some drastic additional action is needed to mask the smell as well as absorb it. Workmen finishing off a job at my house, switched my fridge freezer off by mistake when I was away and I came home to the worst stench imaginable. A couple of bowls of coffee grounds finally did the trick for me - and drinking the coffee to produce the grounds helped calm my temper!

Make an anti-cellulte body scrub
Anne Caborn's wonderful body scrub made from coffee grounds can help you tackle that cellulite. You can use her easy recipe before you jump in the shower.
>> Find this and other great home-made pampering tips in her piece on our website.

>> See also Weird and Wonderful Ways to Nourish your Garden - this was based on suggestions from our Twitter community.

If you have any other ideas for using your old grounds please let us know.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

My home-grown lunch

OK, for the experienced veg grower I’m guessing, the following story may not have that much resonance. I say guess, because this is the first year I’ve grown things to eat in my garden and so I don’t know if I’ll feel this way every time I pick my lunch!

That’s exactly what I did yesterday – I picked my lunch of carrot, yellow courgettes, lettuce and beetroot. Well, if I’m totally honest, I added some asparagus that was on offer this weekend at Waitrose and added a dollop of shop bought mayonnaise. But the main event, as you can see from the picture, was my very own first crop of delicious vegetables.

The sense of satisfaction was immense. I mean anyone can buy salad and probably enjoy it. But a day later, I can still taste my lunch. Yes! The flavours were fantastic. I can’t remember the last time tasted such a carroty carrot and I simply grated the raw beetroot into a beautiful deep magenta little mound of the most intensely flavoured sweet beetroot I can remember tasting.

And these little golden courgettes I’m growing are almost creamy they’re so dense and un-seeded – absolutely no need for salting. It’s probably fair to point out that I’ve been cropping my Lollo Rosso lettuce for a couple of weeks now (leaf by large crinkly leaf) and mixed with finely chopped lovage, and lightly dressed with olive oil and cider vinegar they make a splendid salad to go with just about anything but especially pasta.

You see them here straight from the ground, but 15 minutes later and with the addition of steamed asparagus and mayonnaise mixed with a little ready basil from one of those squeezy tubes, the whole effect was sublime. Really.

Tell me, if you are a seasoned veg grower, do you grow immune to that extra sense of ‘I did it myself’ that must add at least another 100% to the taste factor? Do you?

Or do you keep it? I was reminded to ask this question listening to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on Desert Island Discs this morning, because to me, he seems perpetually enthused by food (and animals) that he’s grown himself.

Anyway I hope so, because I’m already planning what I’ll grow next year having put my toe in the water with courgettes, tomatoes (not yet ripe, so watch this space), pumpkins (watch for a separate posting on this subject), carrots, beetroot, potatoes (maincrop: Maris Piper), butternut squash, strawberries (Elan – so sweet!) and lots of herbs. I’m thinking broad beans, cauliflower, celeriac already. Any other ideas and suggestions?

In the meantime, if you’re looking to get started, July is definitely not too late. I’ve learned that now’s a great time to plant new potatoes for Christmas and Pak Choi for cropping in August. I’m sure there must be more. Let us know your tips for sowing now.

>> How to grow veg in mid-summer

>> How to grow your own vegetables

(Clare O'B)

Friday, 24 July 2009

Could you eat chocolate every day for a whole year?

Could you eat chocolate everyday for a whole year? If you think you can then you need to be contacting researchers at the University of East Anglia who are trying to find out whether chocolate can cut the risk of heart disease.

The university are looking for 40 menopausal women aged under 75 and have type two diabetes. All the women will have to eat two bars of chocolate a day. Half the group will have "super-strength chocolate specially formulated by Belgian chocolatiers" and the others will have to eat regular chocolate as a placebo. All participants will have to be willing to undergo several tests to measure how healthy their hearts are.

Study coordinator Peter Curtis said: "A successful outcome could be the first step in developing new ways to improve the lives of people at increased risk of heart disease."

>> For more about volunteering contact The University

>> To find out why chocolate is good for us

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Roses for grown ups

When I was a little girl, I used to collect enormous quantities of rose petals – very often from the large and healthy rose collection in our front garden (Mum and Dad must have been really impressed by my enterprise) – and then mash them into water-filled jam jars.

As every little girl knows, this is how you make perfume.

My Mum even put up with me dabbing brown slimy liquid behind her ears, telling me just how lovely my latest concoction smelled. I guess I was just too young to appreciate that extracting the true essence of rose from petals was the job of a specialist and that I simply didn’t have the tools or know-how for the job.

Thankfully these days you can buy herb and floral essences direct from specialists and by-pass the whole messy business of scent extracting and instead concentrate on making products that will nourish your skin, protect you from over-dependence on commercial chemicals and save you a serious amount of money.

Making your own skincare and cosmetic products is a bit like having a go at cooking great food – by following simple recipes, you can make stuff that’s literally good enough to eat.

We love trying new things at and from the simplest oil & salt rubs (fantastic hand and foot therapy to rub in a few drops of olive oil with some good quality sea salt) to more complex blends of oils and creams, you can create products that will give even the top brands a very long run for their money.

And speaking of money, if you check out our DIY beauty products article on our main website and pick up some astonishing facts and figures about what our collective devotion to cosmetic products costs us in terms of chemical exposure and hard cash – the figures are quite frightening.

Did you know it's possible to apply up to 175 different chemicals to your skin every day if you rely on commercial products?

We’ve recommended some really interesting books and sources for ingredients and even thrown in a few recipes to get you started.

Come on – let’s start making skincare and pampering products that we can trust. And if you’re interested in knowing how to make real rose perfume, here’s a recipe I just found on eHow

Let us know how you get on.
(Clare O'B)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Cash in the Attic (and Twitter too)

Just read about the soon to be opened Townhouse Hotel in Maastricht Holland.

The people running this certainly have a creative approach (and a canny knack for publicity). As well as offering inhouse communications via Twitter, they have actually furnished the hotel make it and mend it style.

How so?

They put out a request to their neighbours and fellow townsfolk to sell them antique furniture and nick-nacks to furnish the new hotel. They wanted chairs, tables, ceramics, art, and all mannner of 'stuff' including boardgames. The underlying concept for the place is "style, sex and soup" (stijl, sexen, soupe) meaning design, attraction and authenticity.

As a result, they now have a hotel kitted out nostalgically in interesting antiques and curios at a fraction of the price and effort it would have taken otherwise, as well as pre-publicising the hotel into the bargain.

As for the townsfolk, they've got their old unwanted gear off their hands, knowing that it will get years of good use, enjoyed by the guests - and they'll have made a bit of cash into the bargain. Pretty damn good, eh?

>> The hotel website - they're taking bookings
>> The hotel Twitter page - they post frequent videos and photos from their Flickr stream of exciting things such as the installation of the broadband cables and the wiring of the ceilings!