Planning ahead

September is when I generally start thinking about admit that I’m thinking about Christmas! Sorry, I said the C – word. Some people can wait until December 1st to even consider it, but for me (and I’m sure many other crafty types), late September is the ideal time to start working on those handmade gifts and planning others. 

I usually try to make a bag of homemade food items for friends and family to add to their (often) shop bought gift. This year I hope to make many more presents than usual, alongside the usual food ‘hamper’ – wish me luck! 

  I’ve started with a couple of jams and jellies that have Christmas spice flavours, such as an apple jelly with cinnamon and cloves and a plum and mulled wine jam. The former has worked well and looks great in the little jars, but the jam hasn’t set properly and I think I may have burned it a little. ? I’ll have to try again I think. I’d like to find another recipe for something similar with Christmas flavours to make a trio of little jars to give. I’ve also started a gin flavoured with blackberries and apple. That was very simple to put together in a jar and needs to be left for about 4 weeks to infuse the flavours before bottling.

I’ve recently taught myself the basics of knitting and have a tutorial for a basic fingerless glove that I have tried so that’s probably going to be a gift for a sister in law or two (or three)! I learnt to crochet a couple of years ago, although never really made it past making blankets or other very simple projects. There are some great ideas out there on the Internet for crocheted gifts so I’ll probably look at those again. 

 I think I’ll be getting my little sewing machine out before Christmas too!

Cards are something else on the handmade Christmas to-do list. I started making my own greetings cards a few years ago and for a couple of years made all birthday, anniversary, Christmas and other celebration cards. For the last year or so, I’ve found it far too time consuming to make all of my own Christmas cards and have just made a few for immediate family members. These days I seem to really struggle for inspiration and motivation to make cards and have used a lot of shop bought birthday cards this year. But I will make the effort this year to make as many Christmas cards as I can; a few more elaborate cards for immediate family and I think I’ll try to come up with a fairly simple design that’s easy for me to replicate over and over for more distant family and friends.

I think my biggest challenge this year is going to be actually finishing all the projects that I start. I have a terrible habit of getting distracted by a new project halfway through the last, and ending up with five half finished things!  

Do you have any ideas for handmade gifts? What would you like to receive as a handmade present?

Elderflower cordial

elderflowersOne of life’s greatest pleasures (for me) is to be able to forage free plants and berries and turn them into something delicious! At this time of year, hedgerows are filled with delightfully scented Elderflower. Earlier this week, on a lovely sunny afternoon, I took a walk round what is technically ‘wasteland’ just at the end of our road – it is actually a haven for wildlife and plants. Every year, this piece of land (which was once part of an RAF base during the Second World War) provides us with as many blackberries as we can cope with, apples, Rowan berries and more. Right on the edge of this, I spotted a rather large elder tree heavy with buds and flowers. Ashley and I have made elderflower champagne in previous years, some successful batches and some not so great…and one bottle that found it’s way to our mechanic by way of thanks for some work he did, and ended up blowing the cupboard (in which it was being stored) door off!! (A box of chocolates was then needed as an apology to his wife who was left with the sticky clean up!) Something that I really wanted to try this year was elderflower cordial. I found a recipe here and it looked simple enough so I got started!

I started off by stripping the flowers from the stalks. A little bit of a tedious task but sat in the sunshine with the radio on, it wasn’t too bad! I was actually using half the amount stated in the recipe as I wanted to see what it was like before making big batches. Once that was done, it was just a matter of leaving it to steep overnight with the lemon zest. I didn’t have a lime so I just omitted it, hoping it wouldn’t affect the flavour too much!

The following day, I finished the recipe off by straining the liquid off, heating it and adding lemon juice and sugar. The mixture is then simmered and bottled – really quite simple! Whilst bottling, I tried to pass it through some muslin cloth to strain out the lemon ‘bits’ that were floating in it – only for aesthetic reasons really – but it was taking a REALLY long time to drip through so I abandoned that. After taking a few photographs, I poured myself a little and diluted it with water. Yummy! I can honestly say that making this was a pleasure and what a treat to be able to sample it immediately! Ashley enjoyed a glass as soon as he was home from work and I think he’s a fan too! Since then, I’ve been enjoying it diluted with diet lemonade and it is utterly delicious! It can be used for making other treats too, such as jellies and I’ve spotted a recipe for a jam that uses it – I can’t wait to try that one!elderflower cordial

Home made shampoo update

I used my homemade castile soap shampoo for the first time this morning. Read about making it here. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a good start! My hair does feel clean, although a little greasy at the roots. homemade shampoo resultsMaybe given my hair type I don’t need as much of the coconut oil (if any) but I’ll keep using this batch for now. I have read about people using apple cider vinegar to rinse their hair afterwards but it seems a bit counter-productive to put something like that on after using something nicely scented and moisturising. I usually only wash my hair every other day so I’d be interested in seeing whether or not I feel it needs washing tomorrow. My hair smells good, there is a slight scent of the essential oils I used (Rosemary and Lavender) but it’s very subtle. So far, I’m quite pleased and can’t wait to try more uses for this fabulous stuff!

Have you tried castile soap shampoo? How did you find it? Please leave your comments and suggestions below.

Thanks for reading, have a great day!




11th June Update…

homemade shampoo 2

The day after…

Definitely an ‘up-do’ day! In this photo, I haven’t actually brushed my hair yet, just quickly put it in a loose bun.

I think it might be a little more greasy than normal the day after washing, but not much more. I’ve heard that your scalp can over produce on the oil front when using harsh shampoos as you keep stripping away the natural oils so more is produced to keep replenishing it. So there is a chance that my hair will become less greasy over time (that’s the theory from the ‘no-poo’ believers anyway).  I really think that I’ll be using this shampoo for a while at least. I’d like to give it a month or so before deciding if it is or isn’t for me.

Green cleaning

Ashley and I have long tried to limit the use of chemical filled cleaners in our home. They are expensive, each one is supposed to be better than anything else (and they tend not to fulfil that promise) and most of us are becoming more and more aware of the detrimental effects that they are having on us and our environment. I have so far managed quite well in choosing chemical free cleaning solutions for the home – you’ve seen my love of bicarbonate of soda! This along with lavender and home made citrus oil based sprays clean my house from top to bottom. I do sometimes get seduced by marketing and end up with a bottle of Flash under the kitchen sink, but this usually gets offered out to friends or family or sits there for a year or two before being binned. I use Ecover products for washing up and the dishwasher and some ‘eco balls’ that were a birthday present a while back for laundry. I’ll get to these in another post but I don’t think that these are long term products for me – Ecover products are a bit on the pricey side and the eco balls need quite a hot wash to be really effective. I have tried soap nuts and I would like to try them again with a bit more knowledge.

My thoughts turned more recently to personal cleaning products; shampoo, body wash, hand soap etc. I have had a bottle of ‘Dr Bronners Organic Liquid Castile Soap’ under the sink for quite a while now. I forget what I originally bought it for (probably something I saw on Pintrest!) but it’s nearly all gone. I had seen that people use this stuff for all sorts of things so I thought I’d give it a go. I love, love, love all things lavender scented and it has antibacterial properties (very useful around the home and bathroom!) so I bought a ltr of the lavender fragrance Dr BrDr Bronners Castile soap for making shampooonners (there are other makes out there) and couldn’t wait to get started!

I found a simple ‘recipe’ for a shampoo here at Premeditated Leftovers. It requires very little and I had everything I needed for it. I used slightly less of the coconut oil than suggested as my hair tends to be on the greasy side anyway. The measurements are in cups (as with most american recipes) and at Christmas when I was making many Pintrest inspired gifts, found this quite frustrating trying to get accurate measurements. My (sometimes!) wonderful husband gave me these sweet measuring cupslittle measuring cups as a Christmas present. I think they were from Lakeland and I use them all the time now. Anyway, the ‘recipe’ was incredibly easy and in no time I had a jar of ‘shampoo’! I was going to put the liquid into a plastic bottle but have read that the essential oils can degrade the bottle, leaching chemicals into your chemical free product, so I have left it in the glass jar for now. I’ll do some more reading on that one. The shampoo mixture smells great and I’m looking forward to using it – I’ll update on how it worked later.




Whilst I had the soap and essential oils out, I thought I’d make a super simple handwash for the kitchen. Just a little of the castile soap (the old, unscented one I had under the sink) in a bottle topped up with water and a few drops of tea tree essential oil added. foaming hand wash We bought one of these foaming dispensers a while back (about £12 from Lakeland I think – I’m honestly not promoting Lakeland or anything!) and it’s very good. We had bought cheap foaming dispensers for making our own handwash in the past, but they broke really quickly. This one works reliably and foams up well, I only wish that the base was more stable – it wobbles about a bit when you press the top down and if it hasn’t got proper suction on the bottom it slides about. It has a little line on the back where you’re supposed to fill up to with normal handwash and another to fill up to with water. I only filled up halfway to the handwash line with the castile soap as it is quite concentrated and so you don’t need as much.

Now to find out more ‘recipes’ for other uses! I’ll keep you updated!

Thanks for reading!