Category: Frugal Christmas


This one is all about picking your wool well, much like the shawl I made last year.

Personally, I like chunky things like Sirdar Big Softie, but this formula will work for any wool. A word to the wise though – pick something washable and tactile.

Basically, knit 10 stitches of stocking stitch for about an inch. Measure how wide the swatch is in cms. Measure your head and divide the head measurement by that of the swatch. That’s how many x10 stitches you’ll need (so by example, if my head was 54cm and my swatch was 4cm wide, I would get a number of 13.5 – 135 stitches). Then, you make the number of stitches divisible by 6. I usually go for a lower number than the original (so in the example, I would pick 132 to cast on). 

Then, you knit about an inch in rib stitch (if you want a rolled brim, just begin in stocking stitch). Continue in stocking stitch until you have a length of knitting from your eyebrow to your crown.

Begin to decrease on a knit side – (knit 4 k2tog) all the way along the row. P the next row. (Knit 3 k2tog) . P the next row. (Knit 2 2tog) until end. P next row. k1 k2tog to end. P next row. K2tog all the way along and pass thread through remaining stitches to finish. Sew up the seam by grafting.

To this you can add long strips of knitting to make rabbit ears, short triangles for  cats, crochet some flowers and stitch them on, add some buttons, line it with fleece or extra squish… the possibilities are endless. Personally, I prefer a good fat wool and some needles to match, but whatever floats your boat, really.

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Wondering  where I’ve been?

Well, my house is up for sale, for a start. We’re moving to Scotland in an effort to be closer to family and to live the proverbial Good Life. So aside from tidying like a mad-woman, I’ve been crafting my little socks off, making exciting things like these crocheted butterflies which will become bunting…

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and which I’ve traded for a Christmas gift. I’ve also been busy making hats, baby sweaters, cowls, mittens… you name it, I’m knitting it.

Because that’s a wonderful thing about social media. I’m always quick to bad-mouth facebook and the like, but it can be a wonderful way to connect with like-minded people. And with all manner of craft-swap groups out there, it’s easy to find people  willing to trade the amazing things they make for the amazing things you make.

And if you’re not crafty, there are  still some great ways to acquire gifts without parting with money.

Freecycle seems like a really stingy way to go, but if you have young children, then they’re not going to care whether a toy kitchen is pre-loved or not. They’re just going to be thrilled that they’ve got a toy kitchen.  In a similar vein, you can always arrange swap parties with friends. Everyone brings unwanted toys/clothes etc. and puts them in a pile and then you leave with things you think your child will enjoy more. The group of women I’ve been doing this with have made a childrens clothes library from what’s left at the end. Bundled into age, the clothes are ready for whichever member sprogs next to use free of charge. If you don’t have the space to create such a thing, you could always donate any surplus to a local women’s refuge or charity shop.

Finally, you could try your hand at earning money through online surveys. Valued Opinions has always paid off for me, and I’m really getting into Global Test Market. Also, if you’re with Vodafone’s PayG plans, you can collect your FreeBee points and spend them on shopping vouchers. There’re both Sainsbury’s and Amazon available so you could even put them towards your family feast, or give the Amazon ones as a gift in itself.

And now, for some shameless pictures of some of the things I’ve been making. Remember… I’m open to swaps.

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What if I were to tell you that you could give a lovely gift of homemade vinegar by doing doing little more than slurping half a bottle of wine. You’d call my a filthy rotten liar, no doubt, and give be the flogging I deserve.

Except I wouldn’t be lying.

Go and drink have a bottle of wine. Go on. Right now. I won’t tell. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to the remaining half bottle, pop the cork back in and leave it alone until Christmas*. Stick it in a fancy bottle, wrap some ribbon or something around the neck and bask in the impressed ‘ooo’s and ‘aaa’s of your recipient.

Then go drink another half bottle and  make some for yourself.

*In all seriousness, the process takes around three months, so get quaffing now for the holiday season.

As some of you may know, I’ve managed to get a toy kitchen for Bub from freecycle. For pans, we’re using cup measures that I picked up from a charity shop for 99p  – they fit the toy hobs exactly. I’ll take a picture one of these days to show you. For the rest of the kitchen gear, I’ve been buying one mini-item per week from Wilkinson’s. It’s not as anti-consumer as I’d like, but at 75p a go for real kitchen equipment that I can add to the cupboards when Bub is finished with it, it’s not so bad. So far, we have a tiny wooden rolling-pin, a tiny balloon whisk and a tiny sieve (which fits the pans perfectly).

Which leaves food and crockery I suppose. I’ll get on to crockery before too long – I have a few ideas there – but for now, let’s do eatables.

You might remember that I made some bow pasta not too long ago (bow pasta which is annoyingly not to scale!). Whilst I plan to do more with felt, I decided that salt dough was another possibility – mostly because I’d just made Bub some salt dough to play with. Here’s what I came up with:

So, when instructions say, “bake on a low heat”, you’re best off doing that, lest your fake cookie dough end up brown and puffy. I will be doing this again, without whacking the oven up to 200 because I’m impatient.

A little more prep involved in this one – in order to be sure the dough bakes all the way through, you need to make a base of tin foil, then cover it in a thin layer of dough, shaping it until it looks like a bread loaf. You don’t need to top it with seeds, but I think it looks more realistic for it.

 

Men are intolerably hard to buy for, and unless you fancy knitting jumpers (which will inevitably turn out wrong) making them gifts can be even harder. Last year, I managed to find a wooden box for Dad to keep his collection of antique maps in, painted it the same colour as his study and lined it with silk. This time, I decided to do something for his paperwork/stationary/general gubbins.

A cheap paper storage box…

A very old, very tatty well-travelled map…

A combination of the above, and some PVA.

All finished.

Ready for wrapping.

Points to consider:

  • Use a decorative paper personal to the recipient. For my dad, I used maps of places we’ve lived, been on holiday etc.
  • Other ideas are: sheet music, sports pages from newspapers, a favourite book (I’m not advocating that you destroy their first edition, but getting a cheap paperback version from a charity shop might be an idea), dress patterns, recipes etc. The list is endless.
  • You can fill the box with other gifts as a really personal hamper.

Rather than faff with sachets of powder which inevitably spill it all over the kitchen side, I thought I’d make these real hot chocolate stirrers to dress up mugs for friends and family.

You need:

  • Some decent chocolate
  • Some lolly sticks/spoons
  • an ice-cube tray
  • any dressing you want. i.e. mini marshmallows or butterscotch chips.

All you need to do is melt your chocolate and fill the ice cube tray. I used dark choc for flavour, topped with white chocolate for sweetness. Once you’ve done that, sink your lolly stick/spoon into the cubes, sprinkle with any extras and leave to set. Don’t be tempted to put this in the fridge, as you’re risking sugar bloom which never looks good.

Ready for the fridge. I know I told you not to put yours in there, and this is how I know you shouldn’t! Sugar bloom is bad. Except in this case when it’s good because it means I need to keep and use all of the sticks.

Nom nom nom!

All finished – sugar bloom carefully hidden for the picture.

Dunk it in your milk. Vanilla soya milk makes outstanding hot chocolate, if you’re interested.

Melty melty…

Vanished!

Points to consider:

  • Does your recipient tend to add sugar to regular hot chocolate? If so, milk and white chocolate, marshmallows and butterscotch are probably a good idea.
  • Does your recipient like fancy chocs? You could add orange, rum or peppermint essence and give a ‘variety’ pack
  • These could be made using shaped moulds for children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, this is about the single, easiest tutorial ever. In short: take kirby grip, slip shaft-button on. Wear.

Raw items

Combine the items (Horadric Cubes make this easier).

Sell your newly crafted item to passing merchants for gold. Spend less time playing games.

Points to consider:

  • If your button shaft is baggy – and I am fully aware that somehow, that sounded like a euphamism – you can stop the button from moving aroound too much by fixing the under side with a little glue. Please don’t be as impatient as I am though, and try to wear straight after applying the adhesive.
  • If anyone wants to see, I can show you a way of turning these guys into a cute skull-and-cross-bones card. I just didn’t think it was so Christmassy…
  • This makes an ideal gift for any relatives living far away as the grips don’t cost more than a normal letter to post. Card and gift in one – score.

For the foodie in your family, you might want to try your hand at making chilli oil. Usually costing as much as £3.19 for a scant 250ml bottle, the homemade alternative is not only cheaper, but you also have a greater degree of control over how hot the oil is!

I used olive oil from Aldi – pretty good stuff, and voted amongst the best available by Which magazine – but even at Waitrose, you can pick up olive oil that costs £3.19 per litre – essentially giving you four bottles of chilli oil for the price of one.

I used the BBC food recipe, which called for dried chillies, however since I have my own chilli plant I was reluctant to pay extra. I ended up drying fresh ones myself – I just chopped a few very finely and placed them in a ramakin dish while the oven cooled one evening. I also dried a few whole ones on a baking tray at the same time to decorate the bottles. If you don’t fancy drying your own, you can usually buy some from Asian supermarkets fairly cheaply.

As for the bottles, mine actually came from German beer (Flensburger). On the continent, it’s fairly standard practise to return glass bottles to the brewery for refilling. On purchase of the beer, you pay something which the Danes call ‘Pant’, on top of the cost of the drink. You then get this back if you return the bottles. It’s such a small amount though, that often we keep them to use for schnapps, sloe gin and in this case, chilli oil. You can find similar things on ebay, in Lakelands and often at local markets.

This isn’t the cheapest of my homemade gifts, but when coupled with some fruit jam, a few chutneys and some homemade soap, it’ll look a million dollars in a food hamper.

Points to consider:

  • Carefully plan who you’re making this for and do so at an appropriate time. The longer you leave the chillies in the oil, the hotter it becomes. If your chosen recipient isn’t into vindaloo, I’d recommend making it in November/December. I did mine in June…
  • The bottles can be dressed up with luggage tags, raffia and dried chillies to make them look really special.

This is actually the best chilli jam in the world. I mean, I’ve made some in the past which is good, but this stuff is totally outstanding.

Delicious chilli jam. I could eat this on a spoon, but it’s amazing on tempura things and basically, anything in a batter.

So, without further ado, here is Misti’s recipe:

8 pointed red peppers
A chunk of root ginger as long as your middle finger and twice as fat, peeled and chopped roughly
8 good sized garlic cloves, peeled
12 medium hot red chillies deseeded and roughly chopped
660g golden caster sugar
250ml red wine vinegar
1 400g tin of whole peeled tomatoes (I find cherry tomatoes work best here but any whole tomatoes in their own juice will do)

  • Half the peppers and remove the seeds. Place the peppers on a grill tray, skin side up and grill under a high heat until the skin starts to blacken and crack.  As soon as they are cool enough to touch, peel off the blackest parts of the skin and discard.
  • Chop the peppers roughly and put them in the bowl of a food processor with the garlic, ginger and chillies. Blend until finely minced.
  • Scrape into a large, heavy bottomed pan with the sugar, vinegar and tinned tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for an hour and 10 mins, or until it reaches a jammy consistency. Pot in sterilized jars while still hot.

This was really fun and quick to make – as are most things which involve my glue gun! Whilst I had an MDF board as my base, I would recommend an art canvas instead – not only because it would be easier to hang, but also because it would be less likely to bonk anyone hard on the noggin if the cat tried to walk on it.

You need:

  • A base – MDF or a canvas
  • A covering fabric
  • Ribbon
  • Button trim

You will need…

Wrap your board like you would a gift.

Glue your ribbons in place with buttons at the points they cross.

Aaaand, that’s it. Easy.

Of course, you could make it look super-pro and go for very organised, regular lines… This one is a picture from http://www.milliesmarket.co.uk and looks awesome.

Basically, you need to wrap your base in the fabric as if you’re wrapping a gift. Then, on the reverse, mark even intervals to show you where to attach the ribbons. I would illustrate with a photograph but I was too excited to stop gluing. Once you’ve done that, you need to glue the ribbons in place however you fancy doing them. In each place they cross, glue a groovy button. Score.