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Fabric Finds!

14 May

My dressmaking is coming on at a pace, and I seem to be getting through yards of fabric fairly quickly. In the past few weeks, I’ve discovered three very different fabric outlets: one epitomises the height of traditional, classic and timeless British design in the heart of London, one is an online treasure trove based in the Lake District, and one is rather more up my street (geographically and price-wise)!

Liberty London London Olympics 2012: Top Ten Must Visit London Shops

After a recent union conference in London, a friend of mine took me on an outing to the one, the only, Liberty of London.  I could barely contain my excitement! There, right in the middle of bustling London, a street away from Piccadilly Circus, stands a gorgeous, 4 storey, Tudor-style building, and within it contains gorgeous fashions, homewares and, of course, fabrics. A little known fact is that the building itself was constructed out of the timbers from the HMS Impregnable and the HMS Hindustan in 1924.


The entire building was a work of art – I think I spent more time looking at the architecture than I did browsing the fabrics! One of my favourite features was this little chap, eating a banana on the fourth floor.


It was, quite literally, fabric heaven – cabinet after cabinet of Liberty-printed cottons, linens, georgette. The entire department was full of wide-eyed women (and some men) running their fingertips longingly along rows of  Tana Lawn prints and sighing at the sight of button and ribbon displays. Prices started at around £22 per metre, which was slightly outside of my budget for an impulse purchase, so I used the visit to browse for inspiration, rather than to buy. Somehow, I tore myself away from the dressmaking fabrics to venture up to the fifth floor, where they keep the home furnishing fabrics.


There was one fabric in particular that caught my eye – exotic, floral and fabulous, I had to have it! Impulse buying mode kicked in with some intensity. I checked the label and it said “Liberty of London 19.50” on the tag. Excitedly, I thought I could probably stretch to buying two metres of the gorgeous stuff, seeing as I would, after all, need a souvenir of my visit! My mind began rushing with ideas for beautiful items I could construct from the fresh, bright material.


The helpful assistant took the bolt over to a scientific looking machine, and started rolling out the fabric to cut. Just before she did so, I checked “This is £19.50 a metre, right?” She looked at the label and regrettably informed me that 19.50 referred to the number of metres left on the roll, not the price per metre. She went to check the price in the master file, as my heart sank. All my future, imagined cushion covers, wall hangings and coin purses began to recede in my mind. The assistant returned with the eyewatering figure of £79.50 per metre. Per. Metre. I politely explained that I would have a think about buying it and come back later, before making a panicked dash for the exit with my credit card in tact. Oh well, there’s always next time – and there definitely will be a next time, I’m sure!

Upon returning from London, I called Mum to tell her of my adventures. Whilst I had been away, she had found a great sale on one of the fabric websites – Just Sew Penrith. They have some lovely prints and a good variety of fabric types. I consoled myself after my Liberty disappointment by treating myself to a few metres of a pretty blue floral stretch cotton which was on sale at £4.50pm,and a striking geometric poplin, which I think might look great for this pattern. What do you think?

Any confessed fabric addict would know that just two new materials weren’t going to be enough to satisfy my dressmaking habit! And so it happened that I was back in my hometown at the same time as Mummymau was visiting last month. This called for a trip to Abakhan – our very own North West fabric paradise.


I think Abakhan have quite a few sites across the North West, but in my opinion, the Preston store is head and shoulders above the rest. I always make time for a visit to this store whenever I am back, as there is no equivalent here in Yorkshire. When you walk through the doors, you never know what you might find – but it is a rare day when you leave the store empty handed. There’s always something to tempt.

The store is, essentially, a big warehouse, with all varieties of dressmaking and home furnishing fabrics downstairs, and yarns and habadashery upstairs. Many of the baskets hold fabrics which you buy by the weight, not the length.


Mum spotted a wonderful, glittering array of African waxed prints, which she thought could look good as bold Summer sundresses or kaftan-style tops. I spotted some fabulous offcuts in a basket marked ‘Dress Prints – £18.99 per kg’ – I am guessing that they are both made of artifical fibres, although the green stripe was a piece around 3m long and it had a good drape; the diamonds piece was around 1.5 m long and was light, airy and prone to creasing. I already had a plan in mind for the green (which you will read about soon) and thought that the diamond print could make a great lightweight blouse for the warmer months.

I asked the cashier to check the weight before I committed to buy them – combined, they came to around £10. Bargainous!

Upstairs I spotted bags of assorted buttons for £1 and a variety of findings and notions which I couldn’t leave behind. As Mum and I were walking towards the queue to pay, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye –


Nothing was written on the label, but I was 99% sure that this was the classic Liberty print, Wiltshire Berry. There was no producer name on the selvedge, but the fabric was good quality, 60″ wide and a light, lawn weight – perhaps it was a second? Sometimes I have spotted Alexander Henry and Michael Miller prints in there, priced incorrectly as just a few pounds per metre, so it could be possible. I checked the price: £4.99 a metre. There was no doubt we would be taking the lot! There were 5.3 metres left on the roll, so the cashier said she would charge us for 5. I don’t know if it is a Liberty second or not, but I don’t especially care – it will make the most beautiful shirt-waisted dress, in my opinion! Both Mum and I loved the print, so we have decided to share. What a sight we will be in our matching garments!


In total, we returned home with nearly 18 metres of fabric, 300g of buttons, Gutermann thread and other assorted habadashery for just under £80. Not bad for a morning’s work….wait a minute, what time is it? How on earth did we spend 3 hours in there?! Time flies when you’re having fun I guess!


Slinky Satin Dress – Vogue 8241

2 May

After my success with the silk shift dress, I couldn’t wait to get started on this one: a gorgeous, classy, slinky evening dress, made from Very Easy Vogue pattern 8241. I had bought that fabulous plum coloured crepe-backed satin at Walton’s, so I got to work soon after finishing the last project.


The fabric was lovely to work with, although it was a little bit slippy when you were stitching. The pattern specified using crepe-backed satin, but also required a lining fabric, so I used a navy lining which I had lying about in the craft room. Both sides of the plum material were so lovely – the satin side was gloriously shiny, whilst the crepe side was matte and textured. I decided to make the bodice out of the shiny side, and the skirt out of the matte side, so that the finished garment didn’t look too glitzy.

As with most dress patterns, I began with the bodice, which consisted of one front panel and two back panels of both the satin and the lining. My first obstacle came when the pattern asked me to understitch all of the seams of the bodice. However, I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and I think I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself!


I wasn’t happy with the pattern, as the order I had sewn the pieces together obstructed my understitching – I ended up having to unpick some of the side seams to understitch the split at the back.


I even remembered to snip the curved seams and everything! Go me! This was all going so well! Once the understitching was complete, I basted the bottom seams together and was able to try the bodice on for the first time. Uh-oh – there was a problem. The bodice badly gaped on either side of the bust (excuse the red jogging pants).


I checked a few online tutorials, which mostly said I would need to put darts in the bustline to reduce the gape. I messed around with pins for a bit and couldn’t get the darts even at all. Also, I was disappointed that I would have to use darts, as I felt it altered the entire appearance of the dress! Thankfully, I was spending the weekend with Mummymau, who said she would take a look at it.


Mum (as ever) knew what to do straight away, so we (she) decided that it made sense to unpick the basting and simply take in the sides beneath the arm holes. Fortunately, this meant I didn’t have to unpick any of my glorious understitching – what a relief! Once I had stitched a wedge under the armhole, I was able to move the lining back into place and re-baste the bodice. From here it should be plain sailing…right?


I stitched together the skirt and lining, and attached them to the bodice as per the instructions. Then I had to create a tunnel of material around the middle and thread elastic into it, in order to give the dress shape. What a disaster. The garment looked like a bag. I checked out some of the advice on Sewing Pattern Review and discovered I was not the only one – there was too much bulk around the middle of the dress, which meant the finished result was not flattering. I  decided to remove the elastic, trim away the excess material around the middle, and simply attach flat elastic around the waist instead. The dress now was a little better, but still baggy and horrible. It’s so frustrating to put so much work in and not be happy with the outcome! The waistband had too much fabric flopping over it, so I thought it might look better if I stitched the skirt to the bodice at a higher point, so that there was less material draping around the midriff. I don’t even have any pictures to show how rubbish it looked, you will just have to take my word for it!

I unpicked the waist and the elastic, and raised the waistline up by around 4 cm – I was much happier with it already, although it still needed some work! The fabric had just enough ‘give’ to drape nicely without looking like I’d hidden my lunch in a pocket…. However, the dress was still rather ‘sack-like’ and not something I could see myself ever wearing. I felt pretty deflated – it’s really annoying to put a lot of effort in and get poor results; and even more annoying to not know how to rectify them. However, after a good night’s sleep, I decided to give the dress another shot – after all, I want to learn dressmaking skills and improve the success rate of my sewn garments. I’m not a quitter!

I thought it might look a little better if I took the bodice in all the way down the sides. I separated the top and bottom of the dress, and took the bodice in by about 1.5cm on each side, checking I could still get in and out of it first by tacking it with pins. This made a small improvement, so I decided to take the skirt in too. I also experimented with looser and tighter elastic, to see if either of them were more flattering.

 I also tried testing out whether a higher or lower hem line would make a difference. No, I still didn’t like the result. Looking at the pictures below now, I guess it’s not that bad, but you will have to believe me when I say it looked dreadful. Slinky and classy it wasn’t. The fabric was still really bulky and didn’t move well, it looked like an oversized bridesmaids outfit.


The poor dress, which by this point had been constructed and then deconstructed FOUR times, was beginning to get on my nerves. From the pictures above, I hope you can see that the fabric is utterly lovely and my stitching is pretty neat. However, the finished result got a big thumbs down from me. It had not turned out to be the slinky, classy evening dress I had hoped for.

Undeterred, I actually decided to unpick the dress one more time, to see if it was salvageable. But that will have to wait until next time!  Until then, if any of you can comfort me with tales of unsuccessful dressmaking projects, I’d very much appreciate it.


Sewing Pattern Extravaganza

28 Mar

….Otherwise known as: 16 patterns are better than one!

I’m sure we all have recollections of going shopping for just one, small thing, and coming back from town with a maxed out credit card and 8 pairs of shoes. Or is that just me? Continue reading

Scarves are like buses…

22 Mar

You limp on without one for ages, and then two come along at once!


I had so much fun making my new snood a few weeks ago, that within a few days I’d started on a second one. I had two more balls of my Kingcraig merino and cashmere left, so I decided to try making a smarter, more understated item which I could wear for work.  


It’s another Erika Knight stitch, unsurprisingly – it’s called fantail stitch and it crocheted up really quickly. The whole item was completed in just two days!


To give the snood a feature, I used some beautiful, pearlised cotton viscose by Drops Design every 16 lines. I’ve got quite a lot of this left over from the crochet snowflakes project, and I am totally in love with all of the colours. This was a simple, effective way of bringing out the detail of the stitch. Hopefully, the occasional shimmery row of shells gives the finished piece a bit of a ‘luxe’ look. 

So now I’ve got not one, but two snoods that I can wear. Lucky me – two lovely, warm and completely different crocheted accessories from one batch of wool!DSC_0026 (2)

Autumn Foraging with Mummymau

3 Oct

Sometimes, all you need is a beautiful, English Autumn day, and some quality time with your Mum.


I was able to spend a delightful and well-deserved weekend down in Odiham with my Mum and her husband, David in the first week of September, during which we partook of a little foraging. Confession time – I’ve never foraged before! As an absolute novice, Mum kept an eye on me throughout the afternoon, to ensure I wasn’t going to poison anybody.


The Hampshire countryside is bursting with delicious berries, nuts and fruits, ripe for the taking.

In the space of a few hours, we were able to collect:


IMG_10580 (3)

We found that little clusters of hazelnuts tended to be huddled beneath the leaves, hidden from view. I’ve read on a number of sites that it’s best to leave the nuts until they are ripe. However, the squirrels tend to be closer to the action, and snaffle all the good ones long before the foragers get a chance. We picked the nuts in their husks, and left them to dry out in a cool, dark place. After a day or so, the nuts began easily falling out of their leafy husks, and slowly began to darken in colour.


We began with nearly 1kg of nuts in husks, and after de-husking them, we were left with nearer 400g. After that, we removed any nuts which had visible holes or damage to their shells, and then left the rest to mature in a cool, dark place once again. From reading other sites, I’m guessing this will take 4-6 weeks., so I’ll give you an update then!

Blackberries! IMAG0723

The hedgerows were utterly awash with delicious blackberries. There were so many to choose from that we were able to be discerning with our selection. We did our best to only pick the berries which were just ripening. These were easy to spot, as blackberries are bright red before ripening, so the black berries nearest to these were the most recently ripe ones.


We collected a whole bunch, most of which are being stored in my freezer right now whilst I decide what to do with them. A few made their way into my mum’s signature apple crumble that evening, which was made with apples from the lovely old apple tree in her garden, and a hint of orange zest. Delish!

Sloes! IMAG0728

Now, I’ll be honest with you, we couldn’t be sure when we saw these what they were – we took copious pictures and took them home to research online. We came to the final conclusion that they were sloes. The leaves were oval, with a serrated edge; the berries themselves were black, with a purple-blue bloom, and they were just larger than blueberries. The flesh of sloes is very sharp-flavoured, and really they shouldn’t be picked until after the first frost of the season. However, if you pick them before this date, you can recreate the effect by putting them in the freezer overnight.

The obvious use for sloes is, of course, sloe gin. I used Sipsmith’s advice on making sloe gin, so I didn’t add sugar at the outset. I will add sugar syrup to taste at the end of the process. I pricked the washed, defrosted sloes and added them to two sterilised bottles, before topping up with gin. I have to admit that I scrimped a little on the choice of gin, and just chose one that was on offer, but I guess I’ll only discover the results of the experiment in a few months time when it’s ready. I’ll keep you posted.

… we even found Hops!


I’ve never seen hops before, and I was amazed by their delicate beauty. Across the hedgerow, we spotted fine, curling vines of these dainty green lanterns. We didn’t have any use for them so we left them to grow.

IMG_1074It was a thoroughly excellent day :)

Four water-themed artworks for my hall

30 Aug

I’m in the process of making an Aquatic Tetraptych – try saying that after a few shandies!

When I moved into my flat nearly 18 months ago, I decided that each room should have a specific theme. I grew up by the sea (well, to be specific, I grew up near the beach – Sandgrounders will understand), so right from the start, I wanted to have a coastal feel to my new, landlocked, Yorkshire home.

The hall has become my homage to the sea, and has been adorned in a variety of different perspectives on the theme. I have photos of numerous favourite seaside locations, from Brighton, to Formby Point, to Havana. I have also chosen a gorgeous painting of surfers and bathers diving into the foam, as well as a vintage tea tray which was originally decorated with crushed abalone shells.

There is a long, bare wall still to decorate, which stretches from the front door to my bedroom. There is ample room for 4 A4 frames, so I thought it might be an idea to create 4 different works of art, each in a different creative discipline, having natural water phenomena as the theme. I started on the first two last year, and have been calling the proposed work ‘a triptych, but with 4’ for the last few months. Thank you Wikipedia for teaching me a new word! Actually, I’m glad I only just learned the correct term now, as I think it would have put me off the project if I’d known it sooner. “How about creating an aquatic tetraptych for your hall?”  Heck, I can barely spell it!

Anyway, my first project was inspired by numerous examples of wonderfully creative paint-chip art, all of which were introduced to me by Pinterest. As soon as I saw the versatility of the free paint tester cards, available at my local diy store, I knew I’d be having a go at creating something for myself! Cue regular visits to B&Q, collecting as many paint cards as possible each time without drawing suspicion, until I had every imaginable colour. The staff on the paints counter thought they had a stalker. 

I chopped up the cards, removing all the text from the chips, leaving as much of the colour as possible. Then came the fun bit: trying out different patterns until I found one I was happy with. I liked the idea of having a graduated change from light, sky colours to deeper, sea colours. I finally hit on the image of a wave just breaking, showing the darker underside as it crashes back into the ocean. Then all I had to do was pritt stick the lot onto a sheet of A4 and get it framed up! It couldn’t have been easier.


The second panel of my tetraptych came about after my Mum mentioned a fantastic ribbon weaving artist by the name of Sally Shore. I have tinkered with ribbons (here and here) in the past, but only in the most basic of ways – Sally Shore’s work totally boggled my mind with its intricacies and geometric designs. In particular, her tri-axial work is simply staggering – this being my absolute favourite. Sally is really one of those artists that makes total mastery of a discipline look simple. 

In my half-baked, amateurish way, I thought I’d take a shot as some tri-axial ribbon weaving to depict a sea storm. I had an off-cut of carpet underlay which became invaluable for pinning the ribbons to as I experimented with patterns and tension. I would highly recommend finding a strong, pinnable surface if you are going to try out some ribbon patterns for yourself!

I used wide strips of satin ribbon in a variety of shades of grey and blue, which were pinned onto interfacing vertically, to give the impression of sheet rain. I then had a go at weaving through some whites and turquoises at a SW-NE angle to suggest strong winds, whilst overlapping them with sea greens and metallic ribbons on a SE-NW angle to depict the waves chopping about. I ironed my finished pattern onto some strong interfacing and framed it for my hall. I am not oblivious to the fact that there are mistakes-a-plenty on this artwork – some of the ribbons refused to lie flat, and depending on how many layers they were woven between, some do not have much of a fix to the interfacing, which has meant they have puckered or slipped slightly. 



Despite all of this, I love to see this framed on my wall as I walk into the flat after a long day. The metallics sparkle under the spotlights, and it reminds me of the sea, which was the intention when I started out.

So, I have two more panels to make, which are not yet planned. I have rough ideas to make one out of crochet and one out of embroidery, but that’s about as far as my plans go right now! However, now that I have posted about the first half of the project, hopefully I will be spurred on to get it finished. After all, now that the upholstery project is almost complete, I don’t have much of an excuse!


Sharpie Shenanigans

24 May

My Mum and I had the opportunity for a little crafternooning this month, and after watching this video, we decided we would have a go at fabric painting using Sharpie pens and rubbing alcohol (surgical spirit in the UK). The video recommends using natural fibres, so we took a trip down to Fabricland in Basingstoke and picked ourselves up some remnants of cotton (each less than £1!) and a metre each of lovely linen.


From the video, we learned that the fabric needs to be placed onto a non-porous surface to allow the ink to move around freely, so anything shiny or glossy is fine. Mum has just had her lovely, new, monochrome kitchen fitted, and despite being most encouraging of my wayward craftiness, she had no desire to see her gorgeous, smooth worktops transformed into a rainbow of smeared ink. Therefore, our TOP TIP#1 is to tape bin bags/garbage sacks onto your chosen worktops, to prevent colourful ‘accidents’.

As we had no experience whatsoever of this technique, we thought it would be worth testing out some patterns beforehand. We also, fairly early on, latched on to the fact that the colours of the lids of the pens rarely bore any resemblance to the colour of the ink on fabric, and even less so to the colours after diluting with alcohol. Therefore, our TOP TIP#2 is to label the pens and create a swatch chart.

Mum and I tested out a number of different drawing styles, experimenting with how long to leave the pen nib on the fabric, mixing colours, and applying the surgical spirit in varying quantities. We also tried spraying the spirit onto the fabric, as well as using a paint brush to daub spirit onto particular areas where we wanted the colour to spread further.

After finishing our fabric testing, we were ready to get started on the real fabrics. We had done most of our testing on cotton, but for the real thing, planned to use the linens.

Mum’s project was to create new cushions for the sofa in the kitchen. She sketched out a variety of cherry bakewells, cake stands and tea pots in contracting pinks and greens, and also experimented with creating a check fabric made of blurred lines of ink, which looked really effective! Mum lightly sprayed them so that the main outline of the image was still visible. The one drawback of using the linen was that the fabric weave was much looser than that of the cotton. Therefore, even when you wanted the colours to run, they resisted. The image remained much more intact on the linen after spraying with alcohol than we had expected!


I really wanted to see the inks blur, so after understanding better about the linens, I decided to stick with the cottons. My plan was to make an envelope-shaped evening purse. The Sharpie-painted material is to become the outside of the purse, and I will attach padding and a lining to the inside.

So that I could clearly see where the pattern was going to appear on the finished purse, I cut the material and firmly ironed it into its final shape, so that I could paint accurately. I very lightly sprayed the pattern with alcohol, and voila! this came out just as I had hoped, so I can’t wait to make the purse now! I will keep you posted.

Buoyed by the success of the purse material, I decided to try and make some fabric to create a bag which would match one of my favourite party dresses. The dress is multicoloured, so I picked out some of the shades and tried to make a repeat pattern. My first few attempts of this were so disastrous that I refuse to give you photographic evidence. However, I eventually completed something I was quite happy with, and hopefully I’ll have enough material to produce a small evening bag.


Once the fabrics had been sprayed with alcohol and had dried sufficiently, we finally soaked the painted materials in a cold salt water solution. Our TOP TIP #3 is to make sure you soak each painted item separately, and change the water before soaking the next piece of material, as the colours are not fast at this point, and you risk inadvertently staining your newly produced material. After soaking, I could still smell the alcohol on the fabric, but I let it dry completely before soaking again – the second rinse seemed to succeed in removing the last of the alcohol!

Our fabrics are now ready to make into new items and I can’t wait. We will let you know how we get on!

MummyMau makes Soup

2 Apr
My wonderful mother sent me a soup recipe to try. It was delish, so I decided to share it with you!
Personally, I’ve been looking for a good tomato soup recipe for ages, as most of the ones I have seen need a few kilos of ripe tomatoes, which can be pretty expensive. This one uses chopped tomatoes, and can be made in really small batches, which is ideal when you live on your own.
Elaine’s Odiham Kitchen Tomato Soup 
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 Carrot, 1 Onion and 1 Stick of celery, all chopped
1 Clove of garlic
Butter (olive oil can also be used)
Boiling water
Teaspoon of sugar
Basil leaves
Optional:  Cream/milk/fromage frais/mascarpone  for consistency and taste after blending
Step 1: Melt a knob of butter into pan to melt on low heat, and then add the carrot, onion garlic and celery to the pan. Let the veggies gently sweat for 20 minutes to release the natural sugars.
Step 2: After 20 mins, all you have to do is add the chopped tomatoes including the juice, the sugar, and enough boiling water to just cover the vegetables and stir.
Step 3: Simmer until the carrots feel soft when pierced with a fork (mine were almost at this stage already)
Step 4: Liquidise and check for seasoning, add a handful of basil leaves and optional cream/milk/fromage frais or mascarpone (a spoonful should be enough, the more you add the richer it will taste)
Et voila! luxurious, comforting tomato and basil soup at your service! Mum also told me that this particular soup improves greatly if left for 24 hours in the fridge before eating – I made it the night before my friend was expected to visit, which took all of the hassle out of cooking for guests. The review was a big ‘thumbs up’ and second helpings!

Mothering Sunday Cards

6 Mar


As my UK friends will know, we are approaching Mothers’ Day, which is the special Sunday where we say, “Mum, you are the best!” in as many lovely ways as we can think of.

My family are scattered extensively across the British Isles, so unfortunately I don’t get chance to see them all in one go. Therefore, I am off to visit my Mum this Sunday, which I am looking forward to, and I should hopefully see my Nana (she’s a Mum too!) the following weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve made some Mothers’ Day cards, which I thought I would share with you in case you are also making cards this week!DSCN1514

I’ve looked high and low for some instructions for crochet hearts that I could actually follow, as every time I’ve tried, the results have looked rather more like a biological heart than a stylised one! Finally, I was lucky enough to discover the wonderful Cornflower Blue Studio blog, which has a very easy-to-follow instruction for the hearts. Thanks to Rachel at Cornflower!

For all you traditionalists out there, yes, my Nana is going to have kittens that I wrote ‘Happy Mothers’ Day’ on the card, rather than ‘Happy Mothering Sunday’. I only remembered after I’d written it – eek! I made amends by writing ‘Mothering Sunday’ on the inside though, so hopefully that will balance out.

Homemade lip balms

24 Feb

Carlymau's Blog - home made lip balms

Over the last few years I’ve tried to get into the habit of making at least some, if not all, of the Christmas presents. Obviously this is easier for some friends and relatives than others, and it can be pretty time consuming if you choose the wrong thing to make.

A few years ago, I decided to make hats and scarves for everyone – never again! It took absolutely ages, and those people who had one of the last-made items had to contend with missed stitches and mismatched wool as I fought against that pesky 25th December deadline and dwindling yarn supplies. I’ve realised that if you’re going to make a lot of gifts, anything you can make in batches has gotta be a time-saver.

Last year, I made chutneys and painted plates, and then bought some cheese to make a little cheeseboard. Making chutney was lots of fun, the only problem I really came up against was how to get a  load of jam jars cheaply. I didn’t have time to save up enough jars from the kitchen, and buying new preserving jars was super expensive. I ended up buying 15 jars of  jam from the supermarket and tipping all the contents out into tupperware to be used later, as strangely it was the cheapest way – for at least 3 months afterwards, I was having jam with everything…”ooh, roast beef dinner, would you like some cherry jam with that?”, “why don’t we make ice cream sundaes with peach conserve topping!”, “you think this pasta sauce could handle a few spoons of marmalade?” etc. It was a trying time. This book came in handy.

So, I wasn’t going to fall for that trick again. Ever since, I’ve compulsively hoarded glass jars, ready for the next crafting spree.

This year, I decided to make lip balms. Can they be made in advance? Check. Can they be made in batches? Check. Do I have the right supplies? No, but I know where I can get them! Most importantly, do I have the right jars? Check!! I travel quite a bit for work, so I’m often eating a hotel breakfast. I had to revert to my excessive jam-consuming days of the previous year, to collect sufficient mini jam jars. Ok, so all the hotel staff thought I was a nut, but hey! I even manage to rope in a few colleagues to join me in the jamjar heist. I have since discovered that Morrisons sell individual mini preseves in their jams and baking products aisle, if anyone else is thinking of getting some.  But this definitely isn’t as much fun.

I checked out lots of tutorials online about making lip balms, but all the recipes differ and really you’re only going to find a mix that you like if you have a bit of a tinker with it. The key ingredients you need are:

DSCN1019Butter – This is the moisturising bit of the lip balm. There are lots of different butters, the main ones being shea butter and cocoa butter. You can get both of these as ‘refined’ or ‘unrefined’. Apparently unrefined has more of the goodness in it, but you should buy refined if you are making lip balms of a certain fragrance and don’t want it overpowered by the aroma of the butter. I’ve got both refined and unrefined cocoa butter, as sometimes you want something that smells super-chocolatey!

Carlymau's blog - homemade lip balmsOil – This is also a moisturising bit of the lip balm, and again there is a huge selection of oils that you can use. I bought some Sweet Almond oil, some Apricot oil and some coconut oil (which is a solid), but you can also use stuff from the kitchen – if you look on the side of any bought lip balm, you’ll see they contain everything from sunflower to canola to soybean oil. I had some walnut oil and sesame oil in the kitchen which could also be thrown into the mix, if desired. Obviously, this is mainly the liquid element of the lip balm, so if your finished product is too hard, melt it down again and add some more; if it’s too soft, add more of the butter and beeswax elements.


DSCN1020Beeswax – This locks all the moisture into your balm and gives it shine. A lot of the recipes I have seen use as much as one part beeswax to one part butter, whereas some don’t seem to use it at all. Personally, I’ve not put a lot of beeswax into the ones I’ve made, as in my opinion it makes them too hard (I might be wrong here).


Carlymau's blog - homemade lipbalmsEssential oils – As you can see from the picture, I got a little click-happy on Ebay and ended up buying a stack of them.   These create your flavour. I’m no aromatherapist, so I’m not really knowledgeable about what they all do, which flavours go together and how much to use of each etc. Most recipes suggest using one or two drops (depending on the batch size, of course) of two or three oils, and everyone out there will have their personal favourites. If you want to test flavours out beforehand, you will need to get yourself a little bowl or cup and put a bit of cold-pressed oil in it (e.g. olive oil) before dropping the oils in to test the combination. Oils smell differently once they’re in their carrier oil, so this is a more accurate way of testing than simply sniffing the top of the bottle or putting a drop on a sheet of kitchen roll. It’s also worth checking out the properties of the oil that you are buying before using it – for example, some are not recommended for pregnant women. These are powerful products and should be used carefully!

Colour – if you want, you can buy cosmetic grade powder to colour your lip balm, or you can do what I did and drop a centimetre or two of lipstick into the melting mix, which also does the trick and can be much cheaper.

I bought most of my ingredients from Fresh Skin UK, who are based in Nottingham. They’ve got an Ebay store here too.

Carlymau's blog - Mother Daughter Craft DayThis was a mother and daughter craft day!

This is a really simple craft. All you have to do is measure out the ingredients and melt them down in a bain marie. Pour them into what ever container you are planning to use, and let them set. That’s it!

The two I ended up making as Christmas presents were Spiced Oranges for the girls and Man Balm for the boys (boys get chapped lips too!).

Spiced Oranges lip balm

30g refined cocoa butter

30g shea butter

2 tsp coconut oil

1 tsp apricot oil

1 tsp beeswax

4 drops of sweet orange essential oil

4 drops of vanilla essence

2 drops of ginger esssential oil

2 drops of juniperberry essential oil

* this one is really lovely if you use unrefined cocoa butter too – the flavour is more like a Terry’s White Chocolate Orange (yum!)

Man Balm

50g refined cocoa butter

20g shea butter

3 tsp sweet almond oil

1/2 tsp beeswax

4 drops of ginger essential oil

4 drops of cypress essential oil

This was such a quick and easy craft that I don’t think I will ever go back to shop-bought lip balms. Since making these, I’ve been experimenting with tinted ones too.

If anyone out there has had success with their own concoctions, I’d be interested to know about it!

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