Wednesday, 28 December 2011
handmade decorations has made our home all the merrier. This handmade centrepiece was the finishing touch to our Christmas table decoration.
Peel Pantaloons a yearly Christmas tradition.
Spicy Green Tomato Chutney and some of my handmade elderflower and white grape jelly.
The Weaver :)
I sincerely hope you've also had a wonderful December so far and wish you the very best for a happy and joyous New Years celebration!
Thursday, 22 December 2011
Christmas dinner is only days away and while the food and drinks are nearly sorted, I've been a bit lax on my Christmas decorations so far this year. This is due to both preparing for my Christmas market stall as well as to some naughty overgrown kittens who insist on tearing down anything dangly! Needless to say, the squirt bottle hasn't been gathering any dust but still our Christmas tree ornaments have all slowly migrated to the top of the tree.
Though I've been catching up by decorating the dining area in fairy lights and small Christmas ornaments, I wanted to decorate the table with a festive yet green holiday centrepiece. Green meaning lush and verdant but also green in the sense that it was something that wasn't manufactured in China or shipped here from Sweden. And wanting to keep in the spirit of making it myself and on a budget I set out to construct it using what I already had in the garden.
Nearly everyone has a bit of green that they can scavenge for this project - whether it's pine cones from the park or holly from the hedge. There's really no need to buy any of the 'organic' bits unless you live in the heart of the city. Just walk around your available green spaces with a basket and some secateurs and snip bits of this and bits of that, keeping in mind the proportions of colour and texture that you're trying to achieve in your final piece. And if you don't already have a bit of wire (preferably green) around the house, you can head down to your local florist and ask to buy some off of them. I paid 5p per 12" piece of the thin wire and for the coil of thicker wire about £3.
Christmas Wreath Centrepiece
4-5 bundles of greenery: holly, pine, cyprus, ivy, box, etc.
7-10 thin yet flexible sticks about 18" long - willow or hazel work really well
Florist wire - a thin gauge wire is required but a second thicker gauge wire for the frame is also great. Cut about ten 3"-pieces of wire, five of each gauge if possible.
Wire cutters - though scissors will cut the very thin wire
Secateurs - to cut and trim branches
A thick and tall candle - to place in the centre of the wreath
Two curious cats - optional
First you'll need to bend your 18" long sticks around in a circle to make the wreath's frame. Stagger them about three inches apart though so the ends aren't all aligned in one place. If you don't stagger the sticks then you might be left with a frame with one side that's a bit chunkier than the other. Using the 3" pieces of the larger gauge wire, begin securing the sticks together until you have a symmetrical circle. Once you're satisfied with the shape, take your secateurs and trim off any stick ends that are jutting out. Keep the secateurs close to the frame and cut at an angle.
Now make a small bouquet of your green material leaving the longer pieces in the back and keeping the finer and more colourful bits in the front. You'll have enough greenery in your bouquet when the circumference of it is similar in size to the circumference of your frame. With a piece of the thinner gauge wire, tightly secure this bouquet onto the wooden frame.
You'll need to repeat this bouquet-making and securing step all around the frame until it's fully fleshed out and you're happy with the final design. Try to tuck the ends of your bouquets under the last one placed on the frame in order to keep the wreath's width even. The last step is merely going over the wreath and incorporating additional bits of greenery into places that look a bit thin or that need some colour. Use more of the florist wire to attach these pieces but try to disguise it with your greenery as much as possible.
And there you have it: a lovely and easy-to-make centrepiece for Christmas dinner. Once all the materials were gathered it literally took me about five minutes to make so I plan on making another one tomorrow as well as scaling up for a larger one as a wreath for the door. In all I'll have paid about £5 for my materials and have three gorgeous decorations to greet our guests with on Christmas day.
Happy crafting :)
Monday, 19 December 2011
The craziness and excitement of preparing for my first Christmas Market is over - and to a resounding success! My last week of designing, printing and attaching labels and packaging, ordering materials, sewing ornaments and table-cloths and general running around like a maniac is over. You really can't underestimate the amount of work you have to put into a small business - especially if you plan to do and make everything yourself.
But it all paid off in the end and despite the bitter cold and low levels of foot traffic I did really well. I went into this first venture with modest expectations but couldn't help but hope for some decent sales. My hopes came true and I was able to sell twice as much as I originally thought possible. It's really encouraging since I also decided to rent a stand at a new Christmas market on the less-popular end of the Douglas shopping strip. Considering this, I really think I'll do even better at some of the larger and more established events.
Though the event went along smoothly, I did learn quit a bit about both manning a stand and getting to know my target market. Firstly, it's ideal to have two people at the stand - if you're planning on being there for more than three hours you'll need someone to chat to as well as to man the fort while you nip away to find a loo. While my lovely husband was there to help me out this time, I did incur some sales damage when I left him alone behind the stand. Nothing scares away little old ladies than a big guy in all black with a dark beanie. How bizarre it must have been for them to see such a character behind a feminine display of handmade soaps! We laughed about it when I came back but I think I need to partner up with another lady for future events ;)
I also found that my target market turned out to be much more defined than I thought it would be. My intent is to create handmade soap with high quality natural ingredients for a feminine and low-cost luxurious experience attractive to women of all ages, especially those in their 30-60s. But from my first sales event I'd have to say that women on the lower end of that spectrum either cruised right on by or stopped to admire and have a smell but usually left empty handed. However most of them had small children with them though so I'm imagining that either management of the brood or economic circumstance impacted sales at this end. It's women with more personal time and disposable income who I need to focus on.
While I made mainly large bars of soap, I did also make two other smaller sizes which I priced lower than the larger ones. The idea was to make some variations in size that would appeal to women not wanting to spend as much or who wanted to try a variety of soaps without investing in larger bars. My biggest surprise of the day was to find that the smaller soaps were in no way more popular. Why this is, I can only guess... But it does make my life easier in knowing that I don't have to make and package as many smaller soaps in the future!
The last lesson I learned was to simply focus on one type of product rather than try to branch out too much with other items. In addition to my soaps I also had plush handmade Christmas decorations and catnip toys made out of the same festive material. I sold two of the ornaments and none of the cat toys - in fact, I don't think anyone even cast a glance over to the basket of little catnip filled bags. Oh well...my friend's cats are going to have a merry Christmas at least!
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Busy busy bee...that's been me for the last week. For the first time ever I'll be manning an event stand to sell my own goods. Even though it's just a small table and only for a single afternoon, there's plenty to prepare. Aside from making and labeling handmade soaps I've also been trudging through the joy of sorting out cosmetic safety assessments, insurance, accounting templates and all sorts of tedious yet necessary tasks. I've also had two Christmas events to coordinate over the weekend, including our annual allotment Christmas party as well as an island-wide allotment lunch and panto. It's been a blast though and we've had a great time catching up with friends :)
The event I'll be at this weekend is called the Christmas Emporium which is a new Christmas market currently open on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons running up to the 25th. Situated on Castle Street, it's been drawing crowds of shoppers with festive music, a carousel, mulled wine and small producers hawking their wares from outdoor stands. I've booked myself half a table (about 1.5m/5ft wide) and will be selling not only handmade soaps but also some hand-sewn Christmas crafts.
I've made a variety of soaps over the last five weeks or so including Lavender, Sunshine (Calendula, Citronella & Melissa Balm), Kitchen (Woad, Rosemary & Tea Tree), Spicy Provence (Madder and Alkanet Root with Geranium and Lavender), Honey & Almond, and Christmas (Madder root, Cinnamon, nutmeg, fir & Balsam). You should just smell the aroma coming from the kitchen...mmmmmm :)
So if you're on the Isle of Man, please stop by for a chat this Sunday the 18th. My stall will be alongside Grand Designs near the carousel and I'll be there from 12-4pm. If you're far far away but are interested in buying some of my products, I'm opening an Etsy shop and eventually my own website in the next few months.
In the meantime, I wish you all the very best for your own holiday parties, feasting and crafting. This is certainly one of the best times of the year!
Thursday, 8 December 2011
Tuesday, 6 December 2011
I've just received a Liebster Award from Dani at Eco-Footprint South Africa. Dani writes about homesteading in an arid climate, using green energy such as solar ovens and making low-impact and cost effective products at home. We've been following each other's blogs for about six months now and though I haven't told her yet I'm hoping to visit her the next time I'm in South Africa. Cheeky me ;)
A Liebster Award is given out by bloggers to other blogs that they enjoy reading. It's a great way to help readers find relevant links to new information and people as well as just being a bit of fun. As mentioned in a past post, it can be difficult to find quality material out on the blogosphere so little events like this can definitely make a difference.
The rules of the award are simple: once you receive it you must pass it on to five other blogs that you enjoy and also give a mention to the person who awarded you in the first place. For me it's difficult to choose just five but here are some of the many on my favourite blogs list.
In no particular order...
Potager Y @ Japan
Vegetable gardening in Japan... Lrong grows about 40 to 50 types of vegetables, and about 20 types of fruits in his potager-garden. It's interesting to see him growing such a mix of both western and Asian produce as well as have a peek into his unique gardening experience.
I originally found Luz.e.H's blog Wee Waldorf on Pinterest but by that time she'd stopped blogging on that site and started up another blog called Star Haus. Like me she enjoys making beauty products, home crafts, great food and spending time with her family.
Green Bean Chronicles
Self-described as urban homesteader, green mom, avid knitter, and one bad mother clucker. Her writing style is quite entertaining and as a Virgo I love her use of tidy lists ;)
Path to Self-Suficiency
Heiko and his wife live in Italy where they try to grow and forage for as much of their own food as possible. I've finally learned what Coltsfoot looks like thanks to his recent wild-food quiz :)
A blog I've recently come across and one whose subject matter is very close to my heart: modern home-making. The blogger Emily Matchar is also in the process of writing a book on the phenomena of modern, educated women reviving “lost” domestic arts.
Friday, 2 December 2011
A couple of weekends ago I went to a beekeeping sale at a private residence with the aim of picking up some inexpensive equipment and maybe even a complete hive. Forcing my husband out of bed on a Saturday morning, I had it timed so that we arrived exactly at 10am - when the sale was scheduled to begin. Unfortunately, everyone who was interested in scooping up a deal arrived about half an hour earlier than us and claimed everything of interest. What a disappointment! But the seller took pity on me and send me home with a small tub of beeswax as a consolation gift. Though melted down from its original state, it had yet to be fully cleaned and rendered. It presented an excellent opportunity to get some practice in for next year when I hope to be processing my own beeswax.
Now if you recall from an earlier post on the Isle of Man Beekeeper's Honey Show, you'll remember that I mentioned a lovely gentleman beekeeper named Mr. Mills. He was definitely the dominant force at the event and won awards from everything from his artwork to frames full of honey and bowls of pure filtered beeswax. It turns out he decided to come to the beekeeping sale as well and in friendly conversation gave me some valuable advice on how to clean the beeswax.
But before I get to that, you're probably wondering what rendering beeswax is all about. Beeswax is a waxy substance that honey bees secrete from glands on their body and use to mould into a structure called comb. It's in this comb that they lay their eggs, nurture their young and store their food - pollen, nectar and honey. They also use it, often in conjunction with propolis, to fill any gaps or holes in their hive which might allow drafts or invaders in. In an average hive harvest, a beekeeper may be able to collect between three to eight pounds of beeswax which can be melted down and used to create new hive foundation or household products such as furniture polish and beauty creams. However, beeswax in its raw state is full of impurities such as dirt, bee parts and waste from the bees' everyday living. Though bee hives are generally kept very clean, there is a certain accumulation of material very much in the same way as dust or occasional grime can be found in a relatively clean home.
Rendering beeswax is usually a two-step process: water-filtering and then screen filtering. Though I have yet to do the first step myself, theoretically this is what you do: place your beeswax in a vat of simmering water for about thirty minutes - this melts the wax and helps separate it from the impurities. After thirty minutes you gently tip the water out of the pot, passing it through a couple of layers of muslin to catch any stray bits of wax and of course the 'gunk'. Hopefully at this stage your pot will be filled with golden beeswax which you can either leave in the pot or pour into other containers, depending on your method for step two. I think that the beeswax I was given had gone through this stage and was simply ready to be filtered a second time. It had been poured into a plastic tub and while the wax hardened, all the remaining dust, dirt and grime sank to the bottom. So while the top of the beeswax looked clean, the bottom was a filthy layer of material which needed to be removed.
Now Mr.Mills told me his secret to creating his beautiful cakes of beeswax was to heat the wax and pass it through lint - fuzzy side up. I assumed he was speaking of dryer lint when he told me this but thought to do a bit of internet research first just to make sure. It turns out that many beekeepers use surgical lint when rendering their beeswax. Thank goodness I looked it up! Seeing as I didn't have any in the house I thought back to what else Mr. Mills told me and I recall him also mentioning using tights as a filter. Visions of him covertly rummaging through Mrs. Mills lingerie drawer came to mind. It turned out that I had some I no longer used as well as a coincidentally matching single sock whose mate had disappeared some time ago. In my hunt I also found a paint mask that I thought might work as a filter for wax as well. My idea was that I'd use all three at the same time.
My next step was finding an old tin can, cleaning it and taking the bottom off so that it had both an open and bottom end. Using an old can opener I then punctured two holes at the top of the can through which I could pass a bit of string (tights) through as a handle. Leaving the top open, I placed the mask over the bottom then pulled the foot part of my tights up and over the can then put the sock on over the tights. With the broken-up beeswax placed inside the can, my homemade filter was ready to go.
Beeswax will burn and/or turn dark brown if it's heated to temperatures over 75°C (167°F) so the idea was to dangle the can over a silicone baking mould in the oven at 70°C and allow the wax to filter and drip through as it melts. Unfortunately my triple filtration system was a bit too much since after five hours in the oven nothing had even begun to come through - despite the delicious honey aroma wafting through the house. Conscious of the energy I was wasting by leaving the oven on for so long I decided to remove a couple of layers. Taking the mask and sock off and scraping the wax back into the can I then placed it back in the oven with only the tights as a filter. Three hours later and the beeswax had melted and passed through leaving only a bit of wax and dark material behind. The melted golden liquid inside the silicone mould was still transparent at that point but after spending the night inside the oven it solidified into a gorgeous golden slab.
Now today it's on to the fun part - what to make with it? :)