Archive for the ‘Using what you already have’ Category

A silver lining?

March 3, 2019

I’ve been somewhat subdued this winter for health reasons (full story here should you wish to know more) and not actually able to do the things I’d planned, as my hands, not to mention my poor brain, just wouldn’t – couldn’t – work properly, thanks to peripheral neuropathy. So I was rather glad to have the time to get to grips with yet another simple form of weaving whilst demolishing a large pile of old bedding that had gone beyond reasonable use or otherwise become surplus to requirements.

For a long time I’ve been intrigued by twined weaves, and also by rag rugs; my great-aunt Bet had a wonderful collection of “slip-mats” of one sort or another, so-called because if you jumped on them at just the right angle, you could slip & slide all the way down her highly-polished hallway floor! I loved the textures, the patterns & the colours, and I’m sure some of them were twined, some hooked and some prodded, though no-one now can remember where she got them or indeed, whether she’d made them herself.

Anyway, this was my first effort, woven on a Libbylula twining loom, following instructions found on YouTube, entirely from old bedding torn into 2″ strips, including the warp:

Firsttwinedrug

It’s just done with very simple blocks of colour, working from alternate ends inwards. Joins are very random, occurring wherever the previous colour ran out or I just decided to change colours. I’m not sure about the “fringe” but it’s staying put for now.

And for my next trick, I decided to experiment with colour & pattern a bit. But I wasn’t the only one enjoying the simple, manageable rhythms of over, under, twist…

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Poppy “helped” every inch of the way! And here she is, staking her claim to the finished article:

Poppysrug

It won’t stay in the living room; it’s not the right colours and to be honest, I went overboard with the patterning a bit! But it’s shown me how it works, and what’s pleasing to the eye, and what isn’t, or just doesn’t show up on that scale.

As the pile of our own deceased bedding diminished, I found that one of our local charity shops was very happy to dispose of donated bedding, which they don’t sell, for a better price than the ragman would give them. So I now have an even bigger pile of bedding to rip into strips, but it’s in “better” colours for my purposes. I’m also planning to experiment with 3-D weaving & weaving without a frame, which are also possible with this technique; most willow baskets are woven this way. Not to mention trying out alternative materials; English Bullrushes, packing tape & baler twine spring to mind.

So a period of less-than-perfect health and enforced “leisure” have opened new horizons for me. Every cloud has a silver lining, eh?

Finally gone crackers…

December 26, 2018

I’ve been intending to make my own crackers since about September. As I have done for many years, without ever actually getting around to it; somehow I’ve always ended up buying them instead, then getting cross with myself on a number of different levels. In no way are crackers actually necessary, so why I should I find myself stressing about them? They really are spectacularly wasteful items, in terms of money spent and resources used to very little effect. Because I like them, that’s why! And the festive photos just wouldn’t be the same without the silly hats…

If you don’t want crackers that look cheap & flimsy, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on something that’s just going to be torn apart & thrown away. The gifts inside are usually simply left on or under the table, no matter how genuinely useful or sturdy. Some of the hats always tear whilst being unfolded and never make it onto heads. The jokes are usually spectacularly unfunny, with the odd exception, and half the snaps – just don’t.

Anyway, for one reason or another, as we raced up towards the Big Day, crackers had totally failed to appear in our household. On Christmas Eve I braved a last-minute dash to our local, rather upmarket, supermarket, to acquire the last-minute necessities like cream & salad, and swung past the “seasonal” aisle, thinking I might just invest in a box of crackers after all. But somehow all the more-reasonably-priced lines had just vanished and all that was left was an entire wall of top-of-the-range £20 boxes of crackers. Beautifully presented in lavish gold-wrapped boxes with huge glittery bows, but – £20 for a box of crackers? Just – no! However, other shoppers were sighing and muttering, “I suppose I’ll have to…” The cynic in me couldn’t help wondering whether any remaining cheaper boxes had been whipped off the shelves, an impression that was strengthened by the smug little grin on the manager’s face as he stood by the stock-room door watching the boxes being hurled into trolleys. That may be completely unjust, though!

Luckily, for once I was well ahead (by my standards!) with present-buying & wrapping and had the evening earmarked for doing something relaxing. Yes, you’ve guessed it – cracker-making! And whilst they were far from the delightfully-artistic hand-made dainties I’d had visions of making back in September, they did the job and looked OK, and used mostly resources that had no other particular reason for existing – little bits of left-over stuff from many years of present-wrapping. Everyone was mightily relieved not to have to find room for yet another tape measure or bottle-opener, as I’d filled them with “posh” chocs instead, and the wrapping-paper hats were still being worn in the evening. At some point I’ll do a “how-to” page for quick-&-dirty crackers, should anyone else find themselves overcome with horror at the thought of paying ridiculous sums of money for such instantly-disposable items.

And in other news, I’ve decided to appropriate another Scandinavian tradition; Christmas breakfast will henceforth be cinnamon buns, now and for ever after! I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas, or whatever festival you are celebrating at this time of the turning of the year. And I wish you all a happy, peaceful, creative and above all healthy 2019…

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Harmless fun…

December 2, 2018

I’m still running a little below my full operating speed, though pretty well all things considered. I’m very happy to have been told that all of the problem has been safely removed, but not quite so happy to find out that a little “mopping-up” treatment is advisable, just to be on the safe side. However, the safe side is where I’d infinitely prefer to be, in this instance! So I shall be mostly at-home for the next few months; oooh, this is my chance to use up some of my enormous and wonderfully-varied crafting stash…

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Origami stars…

It seems that handmade is enjoying something of a resurgence; those of my friends who sell their lovely wares have been astonished & utterly delighted to have been mobbed at the various craft fairs & shows this year. People have finally realised that something unique and special is worth paying proper money for. I’m not disparaging the efforts of those who slave away in third-world sweatshops, many of whom are highly skilled and deserve much, much more than the pittance they’re getting under our “globalised” economy, but please do support your local craftspeople too, who can’t afford to match the prices of giant corporations but are usually offering something vastly superior, as they’re driven by the need to create something wonderful, rather than the need to produce identikit items at the lowest possible cost in order to cream off vast sums of money.

I’m happy enough reclaiming, recycling, & selling on resources for other crafters & artists to use; I can & have sold things I’ve created, sometimes even on commission, but I find that that seems to place a demand on me that suppresses my creativity. So now I tend to make for myself, my family and my friends only.

So… it’s going to be a handmade Christmas, chez nous. Again! And although we’re wading through a small tide of handmade origami stars already (instructions here) this is the effort that’s made me smile the most so far:

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… a doorway decoration made from the crocheted edging of an old, stained tablecloth, two broken necklaces, two pairs of earrings and some random reclaimed beads & bead-lacing from my stash. The “junk jewellery” came mostly from a jumble sale yesterday; 20p per item (or pair of) items. The tablecloth came in a £10 job-lot of old linen, some of which was saleable as is, and some even usable (6 high-quality, pristine linen & Egyptian cotton pillowcases) but much of which has seen better days. I like to think that the ladies (well, probably) who sat & painstakingly crocheted these lovely edgings so many years ago would much rather see them loved and used, even in pieces, than sat in drawers or worse still, landfill. Full credit to my darling elder daughter for this lovely idea!

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Off now to assess my considerable resources and come up with some other off-the-wall ideas!

A little bit of self-discipline…

September 22, 2018
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Making the most of the season!

…wouldn’t go amiss! Those of you who frequent the Old-Style MSE forum may have noticed that I’ve gone way over on my grocery budget this month, and I’m actually at a bit of a loss to explain it. That probably means it’s a combination of factors, starting with me not paying proper attention to what I’m buying/growing & cooking. There’s also definitely an element that basic foodstuffs have been steadily creeping upwards in price, downwards in quantity and in some cases vanishing altogether from the easily-available supermarket shelves.

Anyway, one of the best tools I have for keeping costs under control is the meal-plan. I used to plan the week’s meals on a Friday morning, when I did the main grocery shop at our local market, but things have changed; some stalls have gone altogether, and some no longer trade on a Friday but others only then, so most weekends I’ll need to pay more than one visit to the market. And of course I work a number of weekends, through the warmer months. So it’s all got a bit chaotic and I need to impose some self-discipline after we had a number of large bills to pay this summer, mostly on the motor & moggy maintenance front.

So I’m going to try to post my weekly meal-plans up here, along with my usual ramblings, and stick to them! Most of the time now I’m just feeding four adults; two omnivores and two pescatarians. The girls will often cook a “main” dish for themselves, though they’ll usually share our vegetables & any carbs, but I try to make sure there are resources available for them to make things with. “HG” stands for home-grown, “HM” stands for home-made, and I’m only planning to list the “mains” – puddings are mostly yogurt or fresh fruit, lunches are HM soup or salad, or poached eggs on toast (though our chickens are currently in the moult, so we’re getting one egg a day out of 10 birds) and breakfasts might be pancakes with fruit, porridge with HM apple butter or crab-apple jelly, or toast made with “good” bread – I’m working on a new & hopefully more palatable sourdough starter right now, thanks to Sharon of Learn Sourdough.

This week’s plan:

  • Saturday: lamb or sweet potato tagine (using leftover lamb) with bulgur wheat, HG beans, carrots & courgette.
  • Sunday: roast chicken/roasted veg with roast potatoes, broccoli and HG carrots
  • Monday: Macaroni & cauliflower cheese & baked beans – beans possibly HM., lots of HG tomatoes to use up!
  • Tuesday: Baked potatoes, sausages, eggs (if any!) & stir-fried HG veg
  • Wednesday: chicken curry/lentil dahl with rice – frozen veg? Depends…
  • Thursday: Sausage/bean casserole with any potatoes I can lay my hands on, HG or otherwise, hopefully HG beans & carrots.
  • Friday – fish dish of some kind, depending on what the market fishmonger’s got at a good price, and whether the boats have been out. Trout sounds good!

I’m hoping to do some more preserving, if the weather plays ball and I can get out for some more blackberries & crab apples. Looks to me like a few more jars of jelly/apple butter would come in handy to get us right through to next summer, but then I’ll move onto chutney. So – will I be able to keep to my self-imposed budget in October? Watch this space…

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Home-grown beans, courgette and two colours of carrot!

Baffled again…

January 4, 2018
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Sweet old Christmas card

…not for the first time! I was intrigued to see all the posts on social media over the festive season about how a real Christmas tree is so much better for the environment than a fake tree. Well, of course it’s better that people should be encouraging the growing of trees rather than spinning copies up out of aldulterated oil & extruded metal that could certainly be put to better use. But most of the posts I read seemed to imply that a fake tree would only have been used once; i.e. you should have been buying a new fake tree every year… oh dear, I’m on the wrong planet again!

I’ve been getting quite cross with myself; surely it would be horribly patronising of me to think that real people actually do do just that? That they’ll spend serious amounts of money buying a fake tree & decorations in this year’s colourways that are just going to end up at the Tip as soon as it re-opens after the festive break? Of course, there will be those with good reasons for getting rid of a tree; they don’t last forever, they do get scruffy & fall apart eventually. People move or change their homes around and need a tree of a different size or shape. Some won’t have anywhere to keep stuff until next year, or their old decorations hold sad or bitter memories for them. But equally, there will be people out there next autumn who are wondering how they can afford to decorate; perhaps they could be given away rather than dumped? Which might restore the environmental balance a little?

And – things can be re-used in different ways, putting a new slant on old memories. I was amused & intrigued to find a number of our old floral candle-rings, once used as table decorations, now looking glorious in a starring role on this year’s tree. (We have two cats, one relatively young and very playful; the few surviving old glass decorations stayed safely in their boxes this Christmas!) Decorations do somehow hold memories; I often “rescue” vintage ones and you can almost feel the weight of stories accumulated over the years. Sometimes bittersweet, but mostly gentle and goodhearted. Somewhere I have some festive printed crepe paper that my grandfather treasured from his childhood, which was always wrapped around the bucket we had our tree in; he was born in 1883, and grew up, as did my father, then I myself in a close & happy, if sometimes far-flung, family. That piece of paper holds memories of well over a hundred festive Christmasses, though hardly any of them would have involved much money!

And in the meantime, I’ve come up with a different interpretation of the word “Epiphany” – the realisation that I will still be picking Christmas tree needles out of myself and our soft furnishings in July… Happy New Year to you all, and may the recycling/remaking/reusing/making-new-from-old Force be with you!

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A rescued vintage Santa…

Re-used, renewed…

December 6, 2017

My lovely mother is over 90 years old. She’s had a rough time of it for the last couple of years, since my dear stepfather drifted gently away. The first Christmas after he died, we had to “spring” her from hospital into a nursing home, possibly before she was really ready to come home but considerably after the hospital started trying to discharge her. The second, last year, she’d not long been out of hospital again, and had no heart for celebration; we did her a jolly little Christmas tree for her flat, but she didn’t want us to use the old family decorations, some of which are probably older than I am. “Too many memories,” she said wistfully. So I made some small-scale decorations from various odds & sods I had hanging around, and it did raise a little smile.

So this year, I took her our old fake tree, complete with the decorations we used last year.  Once again, she’s not that long out of hospital (the main reason I’ve been so quiet) & currently has a live-in carer helping her rehabilitation. But this year, once I’d festooned it with last year’s decorations, she said, “It’s hardly got anything on it! Be a darling & fetch the box from the top of the wardrobe…”

So the old decorations came out again. I had to be careful not to overload it, but I think she’d quite have liked to use every decoration & length of tinsel in the box. I caught her beaming at the tree when she thought I wasn’t looking, and she was rather chuffed when we spotted a helper at window of the nursing home opposite pointing the tree out to a resident. She may not be as well as she’d like to be, and still has a long hard road ahead  to regain her relative independence, but something somewhere inside is healing all the same.

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The Gumtree shed…

October 11, 2017

When we got our allotment, it didn’t take long to realise that a shed would be an enormous asset. The site is just under a mile away from home; close enough to walk up there, but not to run home to escape a shower. And that’s quite a way to carry tools; if we didn’t want to drive up there all the time, we needed somewhere to store them. In true Permaculture style, it would fulfill other functions, too; where we planned to put it, it could act as a partial windbreak, as we are in the southwestern corner of the site, where the wind whistles in over the river meadows, partially screened by a blackthorn hedge, but partly exposed. The roof would be a raised surface for capturing rainwater to store in our (wombled) water-butts, too.

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New allotment with an “open aspect”…

The maximum size we’re allowed on site is 8′ x 6′, on a slab base; no concrete, no decking. But we didn’t really want to give up that much growing-space, as our plot is an odd shape; triangular, with the hypotenuse facing south-west into the prevailing wind. We don’t have any power tools to store, just secondhand manual tools, so security wasn’t much of an issue. So an 6′ x 4′ wooden shed would be plenty big enough.

But a new shed would cost at least a hundred pounds, which kind of negates the money-saving aspect of allotmenteering, even if it’s a one-off investment. So I started looking round on Gumtree, allowing myself a budget of around £30, thinking there’d almost certainly be money to be spent getting whatever I found up to scratch. But most were far too big, and I kept missing the smaller ones that were offered. Except one, which was offered FREE as “might suit someone for firewood!” Half of one long side was missing, replaced temporarily by the door, but I went to see it anyway as it was only a few hundred yards away. Not great, but surely, salvageable… The lovely young couple giving it away had decided to replace it with something intact and also bigger.

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The Head Gardener surveys a pile of potential shed…

So we hauled it across town, the end bits, the door & parts of the framework inside my van, and the sides lashed to the roof-rack of the Head Gardener’s estate car. It sat for a week or so in a heap, beside where it was going to be put back together again, whilst HG laid & levelled the slabs. Then we spent a merry afternoon puzzling out what should go where, and screwing it all together; it had previously just been nailed. Some bits are a little rotten & have been replaced, and the roofing felt needed replacing altogether, and our allotment just isn’t quite the same shape as the ground it sat on before so the roof just wouldn’t quite sit properly, but hey! we have a shed, all screwed together firmly, and it hardly cost us anything!

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Oooh look, a shed!

It just so happened that a friend had recently had her conservatory roof replaced with something more permanent. It occurred to me that a piece of ex-roof triple-wall polycarb might just plug the gap in the wall and make a rather good window; Head Gardener moved the remaining slats down to the lower half, I cut the polycarb to the right length and lo and behold! it just slotted over the slats perfectly. Screwed into position gently, the windward side that looks towards the water-meadows actually lets the light in now.

The structure was probably never the sturdiest, and strong winds might have been an issue, exposed on the edge of the site. But HG had a stroke of pure genius; why not use some of the pallets that I’d wombled to make composters to brace the shed, inside the structure, instead? So there are three strong & heavy pallets resting on the floor slabs, screwed to the wall supports & each other, and acting as shelf supports & tool racks.

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A pallet serving as a brace and a tool-rack

There’s a triangular shelf made from pallet-wood at the end for all the things you might need a work-surface for, like potting, or making a cup of tea, and two shelves running across the end over that for all those little pots & tins of stuff we seem to need. Like biscuits…

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Pallet-wood shelves, and conservatory-roof window!

There’s a shelf at the bottom of the window; whilst it doesn’t let full daylight in, I think there’s enough light to start the odd window-box propagator-tray of seedlings in there. There are hooks and nails to hang small things like trowels, string, netting and dibbers, and I’ve even cobbled together a somewhat flimsy welly rack from an old curtain pole and a spare bit of wood. It’s not “finished” yet, in that we have yet to trim the roof felt, put up the “bug box” and add the guttering; in fact I’ve yet to source some of that. And it’s far from luxurious, and there are no gingham curtains or bunting (yet!) but we haven’t found a single drip of rain inside, and it’s stood up to winds that have brought branches down elsewhere in town. So, so far, so good!

 

 

 

Full of (very tough) beans!

October 7, 2017

So, it turns out that if you wander off on holiday for the best part of 3 weeks in September, your runner beans get very, very stringy & tough. The plants are still flowering, and the bees are still dancing round them, so I’m not ripping them up just yet, but I think they were basically under the impression that they’d done their job – loads of rock-hard stringy pods full to bursting of plump pink beans!

I had a “Bag For Life” full of them. I asked one or two experienced gardeners what I could do with them, but they shrugged; once you’ve saved your seed for next year (if you want to bother) all you can do is chuck them on the compost heap, apparently. But I was convinced there must be something I could do… so I brought them home and Googled like mad.

A couple of chutney recipes came up. I’m not a huge fan of chutney, but the household does contain one, so I made a big batch. Which used up nearly a quarter of the bag, and a whole evening; those pods really were very tough and razor sharp.

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Three-quarters of a bag of stringy beans!

This morning I woke up with a little revelation running through my mind; the pods might be beyond all sensible use, but the beans themselves might not be… So I spent a merry hour this morning shelling the beans, which was not as hard as I’d expected. If you pull the “strings” off, you’ll see that one of the resulting grooves in the side of the pod is deeper than the other. Sometimes you can split it open just with your fingernails; if not, run a sharp knife down that side & you can pull the pod open and remove the beans. No worse than shelling peas, or broad beans.

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I ended up with 2 pints of beans:

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I popped these into the slow cooker, along with 4 cloves of garlic, chopped up with two medium onions, half a large sweet potato, a quince, about a quarter of a very large courgette/zucchini, and a pint of vegetable stock. Two teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout, one of salt, a sprinkle of freshly-ground black pepper and a heaped spoonful of coriander leaf/cilantro seemed about right for seasoning.

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After two hours on “High” I turned it down to “Low” for the rest of the day. On tasting it, I added some tomato passata, a dash of Worcester Sauce and some more salt; just before serving a sprinkled a little more veggie stock on it, too, as there still seemed to be a little something missing.

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I also mashed it a little, which seemed to absorb some of the stock, but left many of the beans intact. I have to report that it went down very well, with at least one “customer” coming back for seconds. I’m hoping there’ll be enough left to freeze some.

The pods have indeed gone into the compost heap, but not all of the beans made it into the casserole. Although I already have some seed saved for next year, and have bought (on offer!) another pack of the same seeds I used this year, it seemed unfair not to save a few more, after all the plants’ hard work!

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So hopefully we’ll be off to a flying start next year, and I’m not worried about producing too many now I know there’s something different I can do with them.

And for my next trick: finding something tasty to do with several giant, and I do mean giant, chemical-free pumpkins…

Knit your own tree, part II…

December 24, 2016

Just a little festive tale, hopefully to amuse you all… every year, my kids always express a nostalgic longing for a “real” Christmas tree. And every year, being not only the skinflintiest of skinflints, but also someone who doesn’t like to feel responsible for encouraging the aimless slaughter of innocent trees, I say, of course we can have one, provided it doesn’t cost more than about £10 less than any “real” tree actually available in our neighbourhood…

I went to pick up Dear Son no.3 from his university city on Tuesday. I needed some lightbulbs and one or two other small things, and by this point in the festive season I’m always very short of time, so I decided to leave half an hour early & pop into a well-known Scandinavian emporium en route, rather than make a separate trip down to our nearest city, which would have taken over an hour.

For the last few years, they’ve done an offer of “buy a tree for £25, receive a £20 voucher” to spend in the New Year. Which makes the tree very reasonable; basically £5, provided you can get back there in January/February & spend the voucher on things you actually need. And indeed I will be going back there, and there are things  – like lightbulbs – which they do very well, and it does no harm to have a few extra in stock. But being so close to Christmas, I assumed they would have sold out of their very-reasonable trees long ago.

But whilst I was hurtling round the store, a voice announced over the tannoy that the offer had become rather better, as they’d been left with a fair number of trees & it was getting rather late to sell them. The trees were now just £5, but buyers would still get the £20 voucher. Which means, in effect, that they were (potentially) paying us £15 to take them away!

That, of course, was easily inside the arbitrary limit that I’d set. So a beautiful little Nordmann fir came home with me (little because our living room is little; they had bigger ones but I don’t have a bigger room!) and has been decorated with 1001 precious little memories, and is gracing a corner of our lives for the next 12 days.

We do have a very nice “fake” tree, from the same source, also bought for much less than the original price. But it will still be in the loft to be used next year, if I can’t track down a tree for free (or very little) that isn’t otherwise going to be used. But I doubt that I will ever again effectively be paid to take one away…

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Wishing you all a merry, lighthearted & peaceful Christmas – or Yule, or Hanukkah, or Midwinter festival.

Why wouldn’t you…?

August 8, 2016

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It was crumpled up inside a plastic bin-liner at the market on Saturday, but something about it caught my eye… on closer inspection, it was part of a quilt. And looking closer still, probably part of a painstakingly hand-made quilt; the only machine-stitches I’ve been able to find were those joining the backing piece. It cost me part of £3, along with a number of other items.

At some point, someone has hacked a fair bit of it off, hopefully to do something intelligent with; I think it was probably king-size to start with and is now about 4′ x 6′; the pattern has been interrupted both lengthways and widthways. They’d left one edge with the original binding, zig-zagged roughly down another, but left the last two raw. An interrupted project, from an unwanted gift, maybe? At first I thought it was probably one of the lovely Marks & Spencers’ Indian-made quilts, but when I realised that the piecing was all hand-stitched as well as the quilting,  I decided that hand-made was more likely.

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Anyway, to cut a long story short, I knew I’d have some suitable plain fabric to make a quick American-style binding with, in a not-unsympathetic colour. So I bought it, and told the stallholder (whose wife knows her quilts & exactly what they might earn them) what I was planning to do with it. As I walked away I couldn’t help overhearing,  sotto-voce, “But why would you…?”

Why wouldn’t I?! If I were making a quilt (well, I usually am!) it wouldn’t be my first choice of colours or styles. Far too much like hard work! But the colours fit into my draughty little living room like a hand into a glove. Binding’s not hard, and doesn’t take long; it was done by Sunday evening, sitting outside in the sunshine, fitted around other everyday tasks. And I absolutely respect the work and the skill that’s gone into this one, even if it’s just a remnant of what it once was.

I love being surrounded by, and using, lovely things that have been made with skill, care and love, which have often survived the tests of time. And I love “rescuing” things that others consider beyond consideration. Sometimes I use them in “upcycling” projects, sometimes I sell them on, but sometimes they just make themselves at home here…

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Rescued from an old, stained linen petticoat…