Creative hobbies - leather working - Lynn Clark - Inksugarspice

Using analogue, creative hobbies for mental wellbeing – and a HUGE list of hobby ideas

From previous posts in here or comments on my Instagram or Twitter feed you may have come across me owning up (occasionally and discretely) to having been diagnosed with both anxiety and panic disorder. I am also, in general, an advocate for looking after positive mental health and I am a trained mental health first aider.

Key to managing my own stresses are all my hands-on, lo-fi, non digital hobbies. I don’t use any medication for my anxiety (I have tried in the past: it just doesn’t suit me) and apart from the occasional blip, I handle my situation by having these tools to turn to when I need both distraction and mindfulness – and supportive people (this is crucial but I won’t address this here).

Looking after your good mental health with activities isn’t confined to those who have an issue! If you consider that you have great mental health these activities will still bring you benefits.

It’s been well documented that creative outlets are great for good mental health and can even help with much more severe conditions (I’ve tried to find a few reputable sources and I’ve listed these at the bottom of the article). It doesn’t take, or need, a PhD research paper to be able to work this out yourself though.

It’s the full engagement that really helps I think: what has (for the past few years) been described as mindfulness. When I was younger I’d describe it as ‘me getting happily lost’ in what I was doing. The same level of immersion also works with many non-creative activities (even clearing out a cupboard, labelling or vacuuming the car can be engrossing) but I find that creative hobbies provide another positive layer as well as the mindfulness.

However – and it’s a big however – a skill level for being creative is immaterial. You do NOT need to have any kind of ‘gift’ to engage in a creative hobby to benefit from it.

A creative hobby isn’t necessarily art or craft related. Cheese making, gardening, playing a musical instrument, sport and fitness, being a model railway enthusiast or going fishing are all examples. I’ve written a big list of ideas of creative and immersive hobbies below.

Your creativity is just for you, less you choose to share. You don’t need to inform anyone about your hobby nor does anyone need to see you doing it or your end result (unless you want them to). That said, engaging friends or family (your children for instance) in the same activity may help you start something new if you are better in a group environment.

Although this will vary for you, I’ve found my own benefits of engaging in a creative project might be (not all apply, depending on the type of activity):

  • Mindfulness/that sense of being lost in something
  • Peace and tranquillity
  • That total immersion and concentration on one thing
  • An abatement/lessening of symptoms of anxiety or panic
  • That it is a period of time where other external factors are forgotten for a while
  • A sense of completion/achievement/progression
  • A sense that I have made something tangible and lasting
  • The chance to learn and grow
  • The chance to try something new
  • The ability and time to fail and make mistakes (and therefore learn from those mistakes) without anyone needing to criticise you
  • Pride in a job well done, or at least in the learning of something new and overcoming obstacles in its completion
  • Achieving the milestones I’ve set for myself – however small (eg the first time you’ve run continuously for 10 mins, finishing a new hiking route, producing a loaf with an unusual flour, using a new tool etc)
  • An excuse to obtain, make and use nice materials and tools (where finances allow)
  • The tactile nature of physical hobbies – feeling different materials, especially natural ones is a positive experience
  • Getting outdoors
  • Getting away from the digital world for a while
  • Re-engaging with old traditions and skills

I aim to increase the craft and art posts in my website (as well as continuing with the recipes and food-based information) to provide little easy projects. Whatever you try, it doesn’t matter if you are brilliant or dreadful at a thing or anywhere in between. All that matters is the process: the act of creatively completing something. And if you find you don’t enjoy one activity, there will most certainly be something out there that will suit you.

Hands on bread making - here I'm plaiting a boule - Lynn Clark - inksugarspice

My BIG list of ideas for creative hobbies for immersion / mindfulness / to get happily get lost in

(I’ve created three areas that relate to the subject matter of this website: crafts, food and lifestyle, but find what works for you!)

Note: updated March 2020 following the Covid-19 pandemic. All hobbies in BLUE can be done indoors or in your garden/on your balcony (such as birdwatching). Also remember that here in the UK at present you can exercise outside (running, walking, cycling) once a day at the moment if you adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Get supplies online.

Arts and crafts

  • Crochet
  • Sewing
  • Knitting
  • Embroidery
  • Leatherworking
  • Basketry
  • Weaving
  • Spinning wool
  • Tufted rug making
  • Macrame
  • Papier mâché
  • Decoupage
  • Upcycling old furniture/restoration/upholstery
  • Watercolour / gouache
  • Acrylic or oil painting
  • Clay sculpture
  • Pot throwing
  • Lino printing
  • Wood whittling
  • Carving – wood, clay, shop etc
  • Carpentry
  • Model making
  • Origami
  • Illustration
  • Felting
  • Pastel or chalk drawing
  • Calligraphy
  • Quilting
  • Stop motion filming
  • Block printing (fabric or paper)
  • Blacksmithing (you’ll need a course and access to a forge but it is possible!)
  • Silversmithing / metal jewellery making
  • Qulling/paper sculpture
  • Enamelling and resin jewellery making
  • Bead work
  • Miniature model painting
  • Tie dying
  • Making paper
  • Paper marbling (oil paint on water – like on book fly leaves)
  • Pyrography
  • Engraving

Food

  • Bread making
  • Sourdough bread making
  • Pasta
  • Flower sugarcraft / modelling
  • Character sugar craft / modelling
  • Hand painting cakes
  • Preserve making
  • Cheese making
  • Brewing
  • Wine making
  • Fermenting
  • Decorating iced biscuits

Lifestyle

  • Rambling
  • Foraging
  • Wild flower bombing
  • Bird watching
  • Flower identification
  • Flower pressing
  • Gardening
  • Vegetable growing
  • Herb growing
  • Photography
  • Soap making
  • Running/jogging
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai Chi
  • Juggling
  • Keepy-uppy / hackysack football skills
  • Dancing lessons / sessions
  • Flower arranging
  • Singing – along or a group (choir / rock choir)
  • Bonsai
  • Creative writing
  • Blog writing
  • Poetry
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Astronomy
  • Model planes/boats/cars
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Scrapbooking and journalling
  • Fishing
  • Geo caching (including setting up geo caches for others)
  • Geneaology / family tree tracing
  • Collecting
  • Bee keeping

Psychology papers and academic articles

Psychology Today (online) article “Recent Art Therapy Research: Measuring Mood, Pain and BrainPsychology” written by Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC, REAT. Looks at two studies:

  • Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment (Shella, 2017) focuses on the role of art therapy in possible improvement of mood and reduction of pain perception in patients hospitalized for medical conditions;
  • Cortical Activity Changes after Art Making and Rote Motor Movement as Measured by EEG: A Preliminary Study (King et al, 2017) uses a common neurological instrument to compare cortical activity after art making with rote motor movements.

Frontiers in Psychology (online) paper “Creative Arts Interventions to Address Depression in Older Adults: A Systematic Review of Outcomes, Processes, and Mechanisms” by Kim Dunphy,  Felicity A. Baker, Ella Dumaresq, Katrina Carroll-Haskins,  Jasmin Eickholt,  Maya Ercole, Girija Kaimal, Kirsten Meyer, Nisha Sajnani, Opher Y. Shamir and Thomas Wosch (see article for author details).

The Health Benefits of Knitting – by Knit for Peace (findings by Harvard Medical School)

Other resources of interest

TED talks ideas website on “Why grown-ups love [sic] coloring books tooExcert: Just what is the adult coloring book craze all about, anyhow? Anyone who has appreciated a meditative mental drift while knitting or mowing a lawn knows that there is something calming about engaging in a familiar, low-impact activity that requires minimal thought and bestows a clear sense of progress.

Hobbycraft blog on ‘How to practice mindfulness through craft‘ written by Sandra Owen, a Creative Teacher and Grief Recovery Method Specialist.

Huff Post article (2014) on ‘How baking could help stressed Brits access mindfulness and relieve anxiety’

University of East Anglia: How singing your heart out could make you happier Researchers examined the benefits of singing among people with mental health conditions including anxiety and depression. They found that people who took part in a community singing group maintained or improved their mental health. And that the combination of singing and socialising was an essential part of recovery because it promoted an ongoing feeling of belonging and wellbeing.

Mental Health First Aid England

I’ve been trained as a Mental Health First Aider – please follow the link below if you’d like to know more about this, to train yourself or encourage your workplace to investigate supporting this.

Find out more about Mental Health First Aid England

No Panic – registered UK charity which helps people (or those they care for) suffering from panic attacks

I’d love to know what works for you… especially if you have any additions for the three lists above under arts/crafts, food and lifestyle headings that I could include or additional online resources.

Hugs 💚

Make your own bread bag - Ink Sugar Spice website

Make your own bread bag – an upcycle project

Storing your beautifully crafted homemade (or local bakery) bread in a linen or cotton bag is a great way to protect and prolong it.

Bread will keep fresher for longer kept in a bag, as it’s protected from the light, cocooned away from strong smells and drying atmosphere and the woven fabric allows the bread to breathe.

Wood, metal or plastic bins are fine if your bread is eaten exceptionally quickly and you are fastidious with cleaning. Bread has a high moisture content and is prone to mould gathering, so a sealed environment like a traditional bread bin (whatever material) is a petri dish environment as the moisture cannot escape.

A linen or cotton bread bag allows the moisture from the bread to wick away more and therefore reduces the chances of mould growing. And you can just throw it in the washing machine easily (just remember to tip out the crumbs first…).

There are plenty of bread bags to buy – typically, they’re at least £8 and often much more each. I’d be willing to bet you already have the items at home to make your own for zero money and just a little effort.

Most of us will have bought or been given more tote bags than we can handle. They’re often given out like sweeties at food & drink events or exhibitions and if you have student-age children they seem to be given them at an alarming rate. Here’s how to quickly, cheaply and usefully convert a canvas tote into a bread bag!

Ideally, use a sewing machine for neat and speedy stitching, but as this is such a little project you can sew by hand if you don’t have a machine.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes

  • If you don’t have a stitch ripper, you can make do with some small sharp scissors or a craft bread, but I’d highly recommend you get one. They’re so cheap and are useful in a lot of ways!
Stitch ripper
  • If you only have thin cord/yarn at home and don’t want to buy more, you can do a three (or more) strand plait to thicken it so it can be a suitable drawstring. Just remember the FINAL length of this plaited drawstring needs to be 3 x the width of the bag so you’ll need to start with yarn that is much longer
  • If you have thick cord or rope, first thread a thin piece of string using a bodkin/safety pin and then tie this to the thick piece to drag it through

Assumptions – so you don’t get bored of me repeating myself, I am going to make the following assumptions of working process while making this bag:

  • that you firmly secure the start and end of each piece of stitching. If you’re hand sewing this means a good knot at the beginning and oversewing and/or knotting-off at the end. If you’re using a sewing machine this means backstitching by reversing over the last few stitches a couple of times to secure the thread (both at the start and the end of the stitch line)
  • that you snip off and tidy up all loose ends of threads as you go along (not only should you do this to make the bag neater, it reduces the chances of them catching or getting in the way as you work)
  • that you tidy up and remove all the little leftover bits of thread from the original stitching after using the stitch ripper
  • that you’re careful when using a stitch ripper/scissors/craft knife, especially so if you’re supervising a child doing this project

Equipment

  • One new (or washed and ironed) canvas tote bag
  • Cord, thin rope or cotton ribbon for the drawstring (whatever you have to spare, or wish to buy new). This needs to be 3 times the width of the tote bag, for example my tote is 37cm / 14.5″ so my cord is 130cm / 43″ (See notes above but if you have a thick rope, also use a thin piece of yarn as a guidepiece first)
  • Stitch ripper or set of small sewing scissors or craft knife
  • Thread in the colour of the tote (or use a contrast colour)
  • Sewing machine or hand needles
  • Dressmaking pins (if you feel you need them: they’re not essential here)
  • Dressmaking scissors or a good pair of snips
  • You may also need something to help you thread the cord/ribbon through: a bodkin, a large safety pin or something like a long skewer or knitting needle
  • An iron and ironing board

Method

What we’re aiming to in stages here is to:

  • carefully remove the handles, and discard these
  • transform the top hem into one long pocket, with an opening on only one side of the bag
  • re-sew the seam on one side of the bag so it means the hem ‘pocket’ spans the whole of the top of the bag
  • keep the other side of the bag open, so a ‘drawstring’ can be used to close and tie the bag
  • feed a drawstring through the top hem
  • tidy up and iron the bag so it’s nice and smart for its first use

The first thing to do is unpick the stitches where the handles are attached to the bag – this is almost always sewn as a ‘cross in a box’, as below:

Typical cross shaped stitching to secure the handle

This image shows one handle with this stitching unpicked, and one left to complete. Make sure you unpick all four handles:

Left side has the handle stitchin removed, right side still to do

Normally on these tote bags there are two hem stitching lines, they are there to a) help hold the handles in and b) to create a neat finish to the bag. You need to unpick both these stitching lines around where the four handles were sewn in – around 3 cm on either side of each handle. However, if you think this is easier, unpick the whole hemline all across the top of the bag (we will be sewing this all up later)

Now you’ve unpicked the handles and (part of or all of) the two hems, discard the handles

No more handles!

Unpick both side seams part way. You don’t need to unpick the whole side – 5 – 10 cm of unpicking is sufficient. One side will be re-sewn and one side will form the opening for the drawstring

There is likely to be a lot of original stitching closing the bag sides together – straight stitching and overlocking

On one side, the plan is to sew the bag together so that the top hem creates this pocket for the drawstring. Before you unpicked the side, you will have noticed that the bag was sewn up in a way that the drawstring couldn’t have been threaded all the way across the bag. You need to sew up one side seam so it’s as if the bag is one piece of fabric, not two and fold and sew the hem back over….

Unfold the hems on both sides of the unpicked seam and keep these unfolded

Position the two sides of the bag together, using the original creases as a guide. One side hem is folded over and one ‘opened out’ on top of the first (see photo below ). Make sure the sides are aligned to ensure the bag is sewn straight and that it’s sides don’t doesn’t bulge or go askew

Open out the top hem and lay one side of the nag neatly on top of the other for stitching

Pin the hems down to stop them moving and then sew this up, as close to the edge of the bag as possible. The end result should look as it does in this photo, one line of stitching part way down the bag:

The sewn-up side seam (note that I’ve sewn down a little way so it is secure past the point where the stitching was kept, so no gaps in the side)

The top hem now needs folding over in the same way as the rest of the hem. Fold this over using the original creases and sew along the top and bottom seams, matching in with the existing sewing line, so your new stitches are perfectly matched in

The inside of the bag showing where we’ve sewn up one side seam and sewn back in the top and bottom heam stitching

This side is complete

On the other side seam, we need to fold over each side and secure them without sewing them together

Unfold the top hem on this side seam too

Fold over the side seams on both sides, pin in place (if you need to) and sew along each seam to close them

Fold over (using the original crease) and sew up the two side seams

Fold over the hems (using the original crease), pin in place if you need to and sew the top and bottom hemlines. You MUST make sure that you do not sew the end edge of the hem: this needs to be kept open so you can insert the drawstring. In the image below I’ve inserted a dowel rod, just to illustrate the point that this should be kept open

Both ends to the hem should now be open

The last bit of sewing to do is to make sure that you’ve sewn the top and bottom hemlines back up all along the top hem. Just check in case you missed any that you’d unpicked earlier around the handles

Check the bag over and de-fluff any bits of loose thread from unpicking and snip off any ends of yarn from your sewing

Iron your bag now (you won’t be able to iron the hem once you’ve got the drawstring in). Use a high steam setting (or spritz with water first if you don’t have a steam iron). The steam heat will make taught the weave of the fabric, which will help hide any of those original sewing holes (from where you had unpicked earlier around the handles). Of course, it will also make your new bread bag look very neat

Put a simple overhand knot in one end of your drawstring. [However, if you’re using a very thin material you may want to do a few knots or thread it through a large bead or similar)

Thread the other end all the way through the hem ‘pocket’

If you are finding this tricky and have a heavy drawstring, such as a cord, use a thin piece first. Thread this through using a bodkin or safety pin, then tie it to the rope and drag that through

A thinner material, such as a ribbon, should go through easily using a bodkin or pin a large safety pin as a guide. The larger size of the bodkin/pin means that you can push it through the hem

The bag, finished with the drawstring threaded through

Tie off the other end of your drawstring in the same manner as before – your bread bag is done

A close up of the finished open end, with drawstring

You may now need to go make a lovely loaf to make the most of your new bread bag. Why not try some of the bread recipes within Ink Sugar Spice:

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Using a flower press 🌸

Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Pressing plants, leaves, herbs and flowers is an ancient tradition across almost every culture to preserve their beauty for keepsakes, crafts and gifts.

There are two most often used methods of pressing to preserve plants: between the pages of an old heavy book (I once bought a second hand copy of Alice in Wonderland and found a pansy in the leaves – which was very sweet), but the most convenient and useful is a proper flower press.

You can actually also iron plants (carefully!) although I only employ this technique for a quick ‘set’ to start off with rather than for full drying myself. There are also some ways use a microwave (I’ve no intention to try this, so I can’t comment on whether it is effective). I like that flower pressing takes thought, time and patience. The rush of doing it in minutes detracts from its inherent gentle nature and seems an anathema to me. However, if you needed dried flowers as part of a business, such as hand making paper, I understand the speedy results appeal.

I’ve given you some ideas here on how to get the most out of a traditional style flower press, but most of these suggestions are relevant to using the weighted book method too.

This article includes helpful hints and tips on:

  • Blotting material choices
  • Preparing the plants
  • Placing plants in the press
  • When is it ready?
  • Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (craft and project suggestions)

To make your own proper flower press very easily and cheaply, please see my post on Making a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Blotting material choices

You’ll need to press your flowers and plants between two sheets of a type of paper to help wick away any moisture and dry them out. There are a number of options, some of which need to be chosen carefully dependent on which plants you are pressing:

  • Blotting paper – this is ideal and not as hard to get hold as you’d think online or in stationery stores. The advantage of proper blotting paper is that it usually comes in larger sheets so you can cut the perfect size out for your press. It’s also quite thick and can normally be used multiple times before it needs replacement. I’ve also successfully dried used blotting paper out in the sun and continued to extend its useful life
  • Kitchen tissue paper – while this does the job of drying plants out well and has the advantage of being cheap and easy to obtain, it normally comes with an imprinted pattern on. This is fine for more robust leaves or waxy petals, but will leave the pattern on delicate plants. Also go for a plain white kitchen tissue if you do use it – and colour might transfer to the plant. Best to experiment on something not so important first. Alternatively, this can be used in conjunction with a thinner paper (such as tissue paper) as a wadding layer for thicker plants
  • Acid free tissue paper – a great option, but it’s not always easy to find the acid free version though. Use a number of sheets to provide a thick layer (one or two layers won’t work). Needs replacing in the press more often than other materials
  • Toilet tissue – don’t use the imprinted kind (see the note about kitchen paper). Useful as an emergency find! Bear in mind not to put the perforation line over a plant – it’s best used for smaller items that are covered entirely by the size of one sheet. As per kitchen tissue, use plain white
  • Printer paper – most printing paper is quite smooth and doesn’t work that well. Can be used at a pinch but may not dry out the plant that well and may need frequent changing
  • Newsprint, magazine paper etc – to be avoided. The print technique for newspapers does not set the ink with heat and it’s very transferable (how many times have you read a newspaper and got the ink on your fingers?). Magazine printing is heat set but the paper is glossy and flimsy and basically useless. Avoid
  • Watercolour paper and handmade paper – the flat type works brilliantly but this is difficult to come by (most papers of these type are textured). A rather expensive paper just for pressing flowers!
  • Hand tissues – these can work OK, but stick to white and un-embossed ones
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Laying out on a blotting paper layer within the press – notice that many items can go into each layer, but try not to let them touch and don’t go over the confines of the paper (here are fennel fronds and cornflower petals)
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Preparing the plants

  • Take the most perfect flowers and leaves you can find
  • Flowers, leaves and plants that are naturally flattish or are delicate work best of all
  • For bigger blooms or large flower heads consider picking off all the petals and pressing these flat, rather than the whole flower head
  • Large, thick items can be sliced and dried – such as half a flower head, or a slice out of a rose or poppy head (such things make an interesting scientific-botanical style dried specimen)
  • Pick flowers and plants ideally when they are dry (without dew or rain on) but still plump and glossy and not starting to fade or go limp from water loss
  • If you can’t avoid picking when wet, dab off what you can gently and hang them up or stand upside down on tissue (see below) for an hour or two till bone dry
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Ensure flowers, plants, herbs and petals are thoroughly dry before they go into the press (drying wallflowers, clematis flowers, violas, fennel and cornflowers)
  • Don’t put any plants in a press (or book) which are at all damp (note that you won’t be able to avoid any wetness from the end of cut stems completely)
  • Give the specimen a good look-over – imagine how do you want it to appear when dry. Pick off any leaves that will stop it from pressing flat or buds, smaller leaves etc that you don’t want or that are damaged. Often you can arrange the petals or leaves a little to make the finished specimen look its best
  • Thick flower heads and thick waxy leaves don’t press that well and may take a very long time to dry. This means they are susceptible to going brown at the edges or encouraging the growth of mould. That said, do experiment with specimens that aren’t precious (in case you have to discard them) to find what works (I’ve had some good successes with whole rose heads for example)
  • While not necessary as a step when using a press, you can give the flowers a ‘head start’ into the position you want by giving them a quick iron! Place them between two sheets of your blotting material and put the iron on its lowest setting. Press down for a few seconds, let go for a few moments to cool, then repeat two or three times. This is particularly helpful when you want to put a thicker flower in a press (I used this technique with the roses mentioned above) or want a stem or leaf stalk to dry in a particular position
  • Some flowers and leaves fade after pressing, while a few seem to become more intensified in colour (pansies and violas are great for this). The best thing is to experiment and jot down your own notes about what works for you
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Placing plants in the press

  • Try and press as quickly after picking as you can (bearing in mind any drying off you need to do) to capture the plant at that moment
  • If pressing multiple items in one leaf of your press (for example you might be able to fit a number of leaves or pansy heads in one leaf) make sure they don’t touch each other
  • Make sure no part of a plant hangs outside the blotting paper/press
  • Prepare each ‘leaf’ of your press like a sandwich: you should have the cardboard inner, then a sheet of blotting material, then the plant(s), then another sheet of blotting material, then the next cardboard inner (which is then used as the base for the next flower sandwich)
  • Put all your weight on the press while tightening the wingnuts/screws to ensure it’s as tight as possible
  • Place your filled and clamped flower press somewhere dry
  • Check periodically during the drying period that the press hasn’t loosened. Tighten the screws up accordingly
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

When is it ready?

  • Thinner specimens may only need up to a couple of weeks, for example gysopfila, viola, borage flowers, calendula petals, dill or fennel, coriander leaves, nasturtium petals or similar
  • Larger or thicker items may take up to a month (especially any plants that are designed to hold on to water in a dryer climate). For these, peek at them after two weeks to check they’re not browning or going mouldy and that the blotting paper doesn’t need changing. Discard anything – including the blotting material it is in – that is going brown or shows mould and start again
  • Change the blotting paper only if it appears damp or very discoloured from the plant. I have seen other instructions that say replace often, but I’ve found it’s not necessary to worry too much about changing this. After all, if you were pressing using a book, you’d just leave it in there. Only change if you think the drying process would benefit from new blotting material
  • The plants will be ready when they look and feel ‘crisp’. But be gentle! They’re now very brittle and stems, leaves and petals can snap or tear and destroy those precious weeks of waiting
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Ideas for using pressed plants and flowers (crafts and projects)

  • Birthday and other cards
  • Wedding invites and place cards
  • Bookmarks
  • Gift tags
  • Decorating journals
  • Pressed into wax candles or soaps
  • Arranged in glass frames
  • Laminated
  • Edible plants that have been pressed can be stored and used for cake, bread and other food decorations or ingredients. A few words of caution: please be careful and consult a recognised list of edible plants. Also, bear in mind only some parts of a flower might be edible – for instance tulip petals can be edible, but other parts of a tulip are toxic. Also, even though a plant or flower is edible it may just be a dusty, dry old piece of paper to eat after pressing and only worth using as a decoration!
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Don’t forget to visit my post on making your own flower press!

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/
Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Make a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Welcome to an article that will help you make your own flower press from two old cork-backed placemats ~ although you can use these instructions with any boards/ply that is cut to size.

Dried, pressed flowers and herbs can be used in a variety of crafts, and as this is such an easy make, why not create your own pretty flower press?

It’s a simple make but one that will last you forever.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes

I’ve also given additional instructions for preparing the boards for painting, should you wish to customise your press once complete (as I have done in some of the images). However, by using a placemat with an existing image, it will still look good.

You will need a sturdy surface on which to make the press, as you need to both drill and hammer. A solid or portable workbench with clamps is ideal. However, you can still make this at home if you have a strong working surface that will survive being pummelled with a hammer. Better if you have some scrap wood over which you can drill holes without damaging any surface.

Please do go on to read the hints and tips on this accompanying article on how to use a press and dry pressing plants.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Equipment and materials

  • Two cork-backed placemats, typically 29 cm x 21.5 cm (or two 4 – 8mm depth boards, cut to a similar size)
  • Cardboard or an old cardboard box – enough to cut out six pieces of card using one of your placemats as a template
  • 4 carriage bolts (M6) and wing nuts – 6mm thread x 65mm bolt length is ideal (and what I have used)
  • 8 washers to fit the carriage bolts (and wide enough to cover the drilled hole, as this will depend on the drill bit size used)
carriage bolts, wing nuts and washers needed for the flower press
The four carriage bolts, four wingnuts and eight washers necessary for the flower press
  • Cutting mat or other surface protector
  • Sharp craft blade
  • Straight edge
  • Pen/pencil
  • Centrepunch (or a large nail) and hammer
  • Half moon cutter (if you have one – this is not essential but will give you the same results as my example)
  • Drill and 8 or 9mm wood drill bit
  • Sanding block or medium sand paper (about 120 grit)
  • Clamps, if possible (though I did test that you can handhold the placemats as you are drilling, as they are simple and quick to drill through)
  • Scrap piece of wood (to use as drill guard)

Additional equipment if painting the boards:

  • White primer aerosol paint
  • Paints or permanent markers of your choice
  • Matt clear aerosol varnish

Additional materials for use

  • Blotting paper or alternative – please see the guide on Using a flower press for a run down of materials and suggestions

Method

  • First of all, cut out the six cardboard inners, using one of the placemats as a template. Draw an outline round the placemat onto the cardboard and cut out with your craft knife. Now use this first one as a template for all the others: draw round it, cut out and repeat until you have six pieces
  • Next, mark where the drill points will be on each placemat: at each corner measure in 2 cm in from both edges and make a mark with your pen or pencil (you can cut a 2 cm x 2 cm square of card and use this as a guide if you wish)
marking the drill holes for the flower press
Marking the drill holes for each corner
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on a robust surface, such as a concrete floor, over a table leg (protecting the table first) or a workbech. Place the centrepunch (or the large nail) on one of your corner marks and hit the centrepunch with the hammer. This will make a guide indentation for your drill, to stop the drill from slipping. Repeat until all eight marks have been punched (four at each corner of both placemats)
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on the scrap piece of wood (if using). Position one of the punched marks over your scrap piece of wood and overhang the work surface (so you drill through into thin air, not your table!). Clamp down if possible
  • Position the tip of the drill bit into the punched mark, and drill through the placemat right into the scrap wood. By using some scrap wood underneath you minimise tearing of the cork (though some may still happen – don’t worry this won’t affect the press’ use – see the next point)
  • Drill all eight holes and then sand off any burrs and rough edges. (If the cork has ripped or torn at all during drilling, don’t worry! Just trim off the ripped edges with your craft knife and sand down. It won’t affect the press at all if some cork has been shorn off as this is outside the actually pressing area)
  • Place a washer on each of the four carriage bolts and push them through the holes of one placemat – make sure the picture side of the placemat has the bolt heads (and the cork is “inside” the press)
The carriage bolt (with washer, unseen, on the underside) pushed through the newly drilled hole in the mat for the flowerpress
A carriage bolt through the newly-drilled hole (a washer has been placed between the bolt head and the board, which is on the unseen underside. Note that the cork layer is on the ‘inside’
  • Now slice off a triangle on the corners of all six cardboard pieces. Just cut enough so they can fit in the press (if you have a half moon punch, as I have used, you can do this instead)
Cutting the corner off the cardboard inners, note that it's close to the drilled hole so that you keep as large an area of card for pressing as possible
Punching out the corner so that the card inners fir within the carriage bolts – you don’t have to have a half moon punch, just slice a triangle off each corner instead
  • Place all six cardboard pieces in the press and put the second placemat on top, feeding the carriage bots through the holes on this placemat. Keep the picture side upwards, so the cork is inside
Layering up the sized and cut inner cardboard inners
  • Pop the remaining washers on the bolts, then screw on the four wingnuts
the finished corner - with carriage bolts, washers and wingnuts in place and all six layers of carboard inners
How each corner should end up – a board, six layers of cardboard, the other board and all fixed with a carriage bolt, washers and wingnut at each corner. Note how the cork side of each board is facing inside

Your press is now ready!! However, you can customise/paint the placemats. To do this:

  • take off the boards from the press
  • sand down the picture side of the placemat
  • wipe off any dust and spray with the white primer (remember to do this in a well ventilated area)
  • paint, draw, decoupage or decorate the placemat as you see fit
  • once dry reassemble the press

To use (briefly)

  • Sandwich plants, leaves and flowers between two pieces of blotting material (see advice here) within each layer of the press
  • You can utilise up to seven layers for pressing plants, so you can do as little or as much as you like at the same time. You have two layers that are cork and cardboard, and five spaces between the cardboard laters (remember to use two blotting sheets with every layer)
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
  • When you have loaded the flowers into the press, push down on the boards as much as you can with all your weight using one hand while screwing on the wingnuts with the other (or get someone to push down for you). This initial weight/pressure will enable you to tighten the press more and facilitate the flattening/drying process
  • Plants will need at least two weeks to dry, thicker/more succelent-type plants will need longer
  • Keep somewhere dry
  • Check the press regularly to see if it needs tightening as the moisture is lost from the plants (you can do this without disturbing the plants)
  • Replace the blotting paper when it becomes discoloured or damaged
  • You may need to replace the cardboard layers from time to time as they become indented from use

Check out my some hints and tips on using your flower and herb press in the following article:

Using a flower press
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/
Make a hanging herb planter - Ink Sugar Spice

Hanging herb planter

Make a hanging herb planter - Ink Sugar Spice

At the start of the year, one of the ambitions I had for this blog was to add in more craft-based posts as increasingly it has been just recipes and the bias of my blog has shifted somewhat. It’s now April, and this is the first craft-based post this year, so clearly I’ve been pretty rubbish. I didn’t even start my New year’s resolution, let alone break it.

You may have gathered from other posts that I tend to make anything myself that can be made by hand. I think myself very lucky that I have useful hands that do what I ask of them (as a result though, they do look like labourer’s hands sadly). It’s not about ethereal, arty creativity, that I make things. It’s simply my bloody-mindness: if it can be made, I’m going to have a crack at trying. I have a lot of ideas buzzing about my otherwise empty head, a pair of useful hands and not a lot of money, all providing an excuse to be creative.

These little herb planters are so easy to make and so cheap. I bought a few pots (“Socker” galvanised plant pots from Ikea) for £1 a piece and I already had garden twine and leather cord. You could also use any old shoelaces, scraps of ribbon or butchers’ twine you had to save buying anything new.

They can also be scaled up depending on what size plant pot you can get hold of, but I’d suggest that if you are making a much larger planter, then use five or six holes and cords to support the greater weight (remember that soil + plant + watering = a lot of weight).

The cord is the crafty thing here – three cords that suspend the plant pot are also used to braid an integrated loop. This loop is braided back into itself, making it strong, secure and very neat.

For me, these mini planters they allow me to have herbs in my kitchen without cluttering up the window sill. I routinely grow a lot of herbs in my garden (27 varieties last summer and I’m aiming for the same or more this year), but the ones I most frequently cook with I like to have in reach of my cooking area, instead of traipsing outside repeatedly. Plus they make the kitchen smell rather lovely.

They make fabulous presents too, when potted up with a fragrant herb, a succulent or a baby house plant.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes on decorating

  • You can keep these plain or paint them up as I have done. I used a small pot of water-based model paint, easily available from model shops in a huge array of colours (you can also use an enamel paint but these are smelly, harder to clean your brushes after use and take longer to dry)
  • A quick spray with a car paint would provide a quickly coloured pot if you don’t want to stick with the galvanised metal. If you are using spray paint, I suggest to spray the plant pot between making the holes and braiding the cord, as you don’t want the cord to be painted (and spraying before making the holes may results in marks or scratches)
  • Use masking tape with paint for spray paint to create stripes or spray over a stencil
  • Also decoupage would work, but use a clear spray varnish to ensure your work is waterproofed

Notes on materials

  • I picked up these small metal planters from Ikea at £1 each. I’ve also seen them in supermarkets (in the summer gardening section) and in saver/pound shops
  • You do need metal, as ceramic or plastic would shatter, unless you have a small Dremel or similar tool with which you could use to drill holes
  • Be really frugal and use cleaned-out tin food cans: it’d work especially well with the larger bulk-buy tins you can get
  • I’ve used both a leather cord and garden twine to illustrate how to make these, showing you that a variety of materials could be used. Any strong twine will do, though do bear in mind that eventually string or twine will degrade, especially if it gets wet during watering (or you hang the pot outside in all weathers) so may need replacing at some point. Leather cord will degrade too but will last for much longer
equipment
Equipment needed – Plant pots, plants, cord and/or string, knife or scissors, hammer, scrap wood, nail, paint, brush (although, oops, I’ve left out the bradawl)

Equipment – you will need:

  • One or more metal plant pots (make sure there are NO drainage holes in them – or it’ll drip all over the floor!)
  • Roughly 3 meters of cord, twine etc per pot (actually it’s a little less but this is a nice round number to work with)
  • Hammer
  • Old piece of wood
  • Nail that is the same diameter (or very slightly bigger) as the cord/twine you are using
  • Tape measure
  • Scissors or knife
  • A bradawl or small screwdriver or skewer would be useful
  • Herb plant or other small plant and a small amount of extra soil (if needed to fill in any gaps)
  • Additionally, paint and brush or tin of spray paint or other decoration

Method

  • Make three evenly spaced holes just under the rim of the pot, by tapping the nail through the pot into the spare piece of wood. (Do make sure it’s just under the rim or you will have problems later with water dripping out below the soil line)
punchedHoles
Holes punched into the pot and the rough edges tamped down
  • Wiggle the nail in each hole (that you’ve just created), to enlarge it a little
  • The nail will have made spurs on the other side of the pot as you tapped the nail through, so turn over the pot and tap these spurs down gently. If you leave them sticking out it can cut both your fingers and the cord!
  • Check that tapping down the holes hasn’t narrowed the aperture and that the cord still fits through – if it’s a little small place the nail back in and give it another ‘wiggle’
  • If you are using a spray paint or applying decoupage etc, this is the best time to decorate the pot (if you decorate earlier you risk scratching your paint/artwork when making the holes and if you leave it till you are finished you’ll have to mask off the braided cord, which will be more complicated)
  • To make the braided cord, cut three 70 – 90cm pieces of your chosen cord (the length depends on whether you want a shortish or long hanging braid)
  • Poke one end of a piece of cord through one of the holes, until about 5cm extends out from the pot
  • Tie off the cord securely, using your preferred knot – I use two half hitches. Make sure it will not unravel while holding the pot in place
knotAndHole
Two half hitches using leather cord
  • Repeat with the other two cords and holes
  • Grab all three long ends of the cord with one hand and, ensuring that they are as even as possible (so the pot won’t hang lopsidedly) make a loose, basic overhand knot. leave about 12-15cm of cord between the pot and the knot. Do not tighten the knot (you’ll need it loose later on)
braidAndHanging
The three strands, knotted onto the pot and then gathered into an overhand knot to start the braiding
  • With the three cords, make a loose braid down about 60% of the strands
3strands
Three cord braid
  • Identify the halfway point between the overhand knot and the end of the cords and bend the braid over at this point – this will create the loop to hang the pot
loop
Starting the loop – not that the loop should be braided, and not just plain strands
  • Now start to thread the loose ends into the braided part
  • It’s easiest if you work with one cord at a time, following a strand of the braid, weaving it in and out to match and creating a double braid pattern
  • A bradawl or thin screwdriver will help you open up a space to push the end of the cord through as you weave (this is why we created only a loose braid) If you are having problems weaving the ends in to a double braid because it is too tight, you will have to unravel and start the braid again
doubleweavecloseup
Weaving the ends back into the original braid, to make a double braid. This secures the loop and ensures it doesn’t work loose so you can hang the pot up with confidence
  • Keep going until you get to the knot
  • Once you have successfully woven one cord into the braid, repeat with the other two, so you are left with three small ends close to the knot
  • Loosen the knot a little and, with the help of the bradawl to make a gap, feed the ends of the three cords through the knot
knot
The loose ends fed through the overhand knot – this now needs tightening and then the ends trimming
  • Pull on the knot to tighten it and once you’re happy it’s secure, snip off the ends with a little to spare (to ensure the ends don’t slipt through the knot and unravel it)
braidFinishedCord
A finished leather cord braid and loop, note that because of the way we’re braiding, the loop itself is only a single braid (but will be strong enough)
  • Check that the pot hangs straight by lifting up the pot using the braided loop you’ve just created – you can adjust any ‘wonkiness’ by untying one of the knots at the rim of the pot, checking for straightness and retying
  • Now’s the easiest time to paint or decorate the pot (unless you sprayed it earlier)
paintedPot
Making sure the pot hangs straight – you can see the placement of the holes evenly spaced around the pot here, and the half hitches
  • Pot up your chosen plant, filling any gaps with additional soil. Make sure the soil level is about 1cm below the holes you made, otherwise when you water it will drip out of the three holes
  • You can now hang your potted herbs out
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/
Gingerbread fox biscuits and home made cutter

Gingerbread foxes plus make your own cutter

foxBiscuits4I had an idea to make some gingerbread foxes – the biscuit itself is the right colour for a fox and some white icing would make excellent white fur highlights. Just one problem: nowhere does fox-shaped cutters!

I have made my own cutters in the past, so this wasn’t much of an obstacle, and when I’m determined to do something, I have to finish it.

Notes
  • You don’t need to do fox cutters yourself – you can use these instructions to do any shape. In fact, it’s probably better to start off with something easier, for instance a leaf shape or a cloud etc.
  • So, not only is this my own gingerbread recipe but there is a how-to on reshaping your own cutters. I do normally use a soldering iron to fix the metal together, but as I didn’t want to assume that everyone who wanted a go had a soldering iron or even wanted to use one, I’ve fixed it together with a folding and trapping method, so no hot solder required 🙂
  • I’ve written this in two parts: firstly the cutter making and then the actual recipe.
  • Please bear in mind that it is difficult to judge exactly the circumference of your new cutter shape, as it is not easy to measure

Making your own design cutter

Equipment – for the cutterfox biscuit cutters
  • One large, cheap pre-made cutter – any shape (although a round or simple shape is best as you don’t have to straighten so much out then)
  • Two pairs of sturdy pliers – one with a block/straight head and one needle-nose
  • A pair of tin snips or a good pair of wire cutters
  • Paper and pen/pencil
  • Piece of string
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Small craft hammer (optional)

Method

  1. Draw round your cutter on a sheet of a piece of paper – this will help you to get a rough size for your new cutter shape
  2. Using the string, trace round the shape you’ve drawn and measure it – this will tell you the circumference of your existing cutter. Your new shape needs to be smaller than this
  3. Draw out your new shape that you want and again measure with the string to check it’s smaller than the original cutter. Readjust your design as necessary
  4. If your design is fairly simple you should be able to complete it without breaking the join (where the two ends of the metal have been welded together)
  5. If you have a complex design it becomes very tricky to shape it with a joined cutter – that it, it’s easier to work with a strip of metal rather than a pre-joined piece. For this, either work the join backwards and forwards until it snaps (many cutters are not joined together terribly well) or use the tin snips or wire cutters to snip through the metal. For my fox cutter I needed to use a strip of metal so I broke the join Making a fox cutter - first stages
  6. If you are working with a strip of metal now, you need to work out what part of the design the join will reform at. It is best to have it (as we are not soldering) on a corner or straight line – try not to position it on a curved area as the action of pinching the ends together will create either a sharp corner or flat line.
  7. Using your drawn shape as a guide, start to bend the metal with your two pliers. Remember that all bends and corners must be at a 90 degree angle to the edges of the metal strip. Otherwise you will start to get the cutter out of alignment – the cutting edge must lie flush when you are finished or you will not be about to cut your dough well. As you work, test that the cutter is lying flat by placing it, cutting edge down, on a table and checking that it lies flat all along
  8. As you work keep regularly checking your cutter against the shape you’ve drawn to check you’re still on the right lines
  9. Your straight head pliers are great for ensuring bends and curves are at 90 degrees to the metal strip as you can see the right angle it makes
  10. The needle-nose pliers are good for making tight bends, but do remember they are slanted so can cause your  bends to occur on the slant if you’re not careful
  11. The straight head pliers can also be used as a mini anvil to hammer bends onto and ensure those bends are very crisp with the craft hammer, if you’re using one
  12. Remember that you need to bend both the cutting edge and the thicker edge (the edge you press down on) equally or the cutter can become misshapen. However, the thicker, top edge doesn’t need to be as perfect as the cutting edge
To finish without soldering
  1. Leave one end 2mm longer than the point at where you want the join and one end 4-5mm longer (this accounts for the fold you are going to make in the metal)
  2. Where the two ends meet, you need one end slightly longer than the other by about 2mmcrimping
  3. Bend the longer end over at 2mm in from the end, creating a fold. It is important to bend this to the OUTSIDE of your shape (bending inwards will ruin the shape of the cutter. Having a thick join on the outside edge of the cutter will not affect your cookie shapes)
  4. Slot the other end into this fold
  5. Using your block end pliers crimp the fold tightly together
  6. Make sure the edge of the pliers is in line with the edge of the fold and start to bend it over on itself
  7. Once you cannot bend it further because the pliers themselves are now in the way, remove the pliers and reposition them to crimp the fold down as tightly as possible
  8. This should fix your cutter join enough. If it does ever slip out of joint, you should be able to slide it back together
Checking over
  • If you have any really wavy cutting edges crimp them with the pliers to smooth them out. It doesn’t have to be perfect – biscuit dough is forgiving and you won’t notice a few small kinks in your biscuits after they’ve cooked
  • Not satisfied with what you’ve done? Don’t through it way – the metal can be hammered out flat and you can re-use it to try again
  • Make sure you wash the cutter thoroughly before first use

Gingerbread biscuits

Notes
  • Makes about 30 small – medium biscuits
  • I have not included a recipe for royal icing to flood the biscuits, as you may wish to decorate them differently or not to decorate them at all.
  • For my fox biscuits I made up royal icing (icing sugar, water, meringue powder) and outlined the shapes with a small round nozzle piping bag and flood-filled using a cocktail stick.
Equipment
  • Bowl
  • Saucepan
  • Cutter
  • Rolling pin
  • 2 or 3 baking trays, lined with parchment or baking paper
  • Palette knife
Ingredients
  • Unsalted butter – 100g
  • Golden syrup – 3 tablespoons
  • Black treacle – 1 teaspoon (this does add an essential dark colour and the tannic taste needed for true gingerbread but can be left out if you don’t have any)
  • Demerara or muscovado sugar – 75g
  • Plain flour – 230g (plus have a bit extra incase the mix needs it and for dusting)
  • Ground ginger – 1 teaspoon
  • crystallised ginger – 25g, very finely chopped
  • Orange zest – from one orange
  • Orange extract – 1 teaspoon
  • Bicarbonate of soda – 1 level teaspoon
  • Water – 1 tablespoon
Method
  1. Put the water, sugar, syrup and treacle in a sauces pan and heat until just boiling
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Add in the orange zest and extract
  3. Weigh out the flour, bicarb, ground and crystallised ginger in a large bowl and tip in the heated mix from the saucepan
  4. Bring together until the mix is fully incorporated (add in a bit more flour if it’s really gooey – it should be quite thick, but pliable, rather like warm playdough!)
  5. Leave to cool – and then pop it in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (keeping the dough chilled is key to ensuring your cookies don’t spread out of shape)
  6. Flour your surface quite well and roll out to about 3mm thick
  7. Cut out your shapes and place them on the lined baking trays
  8. Put the trays somewhere cool to chill (outside in cool weather or in the fridge)
  9. Heat your oven to 170C fan / 190C conventional
  10. Bake the biscuits for about 12 – 14 minutes – they should be firm(ish) to the touch  (leaving them for about 15-16 minutes will have them the right consistency for tree ornaments, slightly less and they are moist and delicious just for eating straightaway)
  11. Leave to cool in the trays
  12. You can leave them in the trays for decorating or lift them carefully with the palette knife onto wire racks
  13. Decorate as you see fit when completely cool

gingerbread foxes recipes and how to make your own cutter

How to construct a three tier naked wedding cake on Ink Sugar Spice | www.inksugarspice.wordpress.com

Naked wedding cake

Naked wedding cakeThis was the first wedding cake I’ve ever made. I’m pretty pleased with it and it drew quite a number of really nice comments. The cake was made for the wedding of some close friends.

I pre-assembled most of the cake before we left and packed it up into four separate boxes. As all four of us were also attending the wedding (my husband was best man) I had a stress-inducing drive down the motorway and into to London with the car parked to the ceiling, expecting to find a smashed mess of crumbs and buttercream. It survived. Phew.

I’m not going to detail the recipe here – I used one from Good Housekeeping, as the tin sizes/volume matched perfectly. You can access that recipe here. I also cheated and bought-in buttercream, but I will explain how much I used in case you need to know this in order to buy the correct amount.

As the cake needed to be covered in fruit and flowers, I wondered what to put on the top of the cake – it seemed wrong not to have something. Traditional wedding cakes all have something, even if it’s just the slightly clichéd bride and groom figurines. I saw a few cakes with some banners or names of the bride and groom poked into the top of the cake. I didn’t like any of these but this gave me an idea, coupled with the slightly vintage-y theme to the wedding and I created some mini bunting.

Mini bunting for wedding cakePreparation

  • As mentioned above, I used the recipe from Good Housekeeping to make the cakes.
  • I made a 10″/25cm cake for the base tier, an 8″/20cm cake for the middle tier and a 6″/15cm top tier.
  • Each tier was comprised of two sponges each cut in half to make four layers per tier.
Equipment:
  • Cake dowels, for keeping the layers stacked (otherwise the cake will collapse in under its own weight)
  • Cake boards to fit the three tiers (a thicker 10″/25cm board, a 8″/20cm board and a 6″/15cm board)
  • The bunting (see below for how to make it)
Ingredients
  • Jar of apricot jam
  • Sugar syrup – lemon and vanilla
    • Put 500g of caster sugar and 500ml water in a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Then boil (not on a very high heat) for one minute. Leave to cool.
    • Divide into two bowls of cups – have roughly 2/3 in one and 1/3 in the other. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the larger amount and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to the smaller amount. Swirl and set aside
    • Paint the vanilla sugar syrup onto the top of each of the layers for the middle tier (that’s four 8″ sponges) and the top tier (that’s four 6″ sponges) using a pastry brush
    • Do the same for the lemon sugar syrup on all four of the 10″ sponges
  • Six 400g buttercream tubs (you could get away with five if you are using all the same flavour I think):
    • For the base tier, I used one and about a third 400g tubs of vanilla buttercream and one 400g tub of lemon. I put the vanilla between layers one and two, then lemon between two and three and vanilla again between three and four
    • For the middle tier I used one and about a half 400g tubs of chocolate buttercream (I had a little bit left over from two tubs). I made this tier completely chocolate all the way through
    • For the top tier I used one tub of salted caramel buttercream and the rest of the vanilla buttercream left over from the base tier. I put the salted caramel between layers one and two, then vanilla between two and three and salted caramel again between three and four
  • Fruit
    • I used two punnets of redcurrants (I wanted white currants too but couldn’t find any). Remove the first few currants (the end that would have been attached to the bush) so that there is a 5cm or so stem. This is so you can push the currants into the cake to secure them
    • A punnet of raspberries
  • Edible decorations:
    • Roses and rose petals – to match the colourway of the wedding. Leave a 5cm stem on the roses
    • Lavender – a handful of the prettiest sprigs you can find, shorten the stems to 5cm
    • Mini meringues. I made some lemon mini meringues to my own recipe – which you can find here
  • “Semi-edible” decorations
    • Gypsophelia (or Baby’s Breath) featured a lot in the wedding and in the bouquets so I added some. The flowers are edible but the stems are not (though they are non-toxic and can be used on the cake). Baby’s breath is also brilliant at covering the bases

To construct the layers and tiers:

  • Set aside or mark out the best ‘top’ for each of the three tiers – that’s one of each size
  • Trim any domed layers (apart from the very top 15cm/6″ layer) with a bread knife so they are as flat as possible. Brush off excess crumbs
  • For the base tier:
    • Place the first 25cm/10″ layer on its cake board and brush with the lemon sugar syrup. Spread on a layer of apricot jam then pipe or spread on the vanilla buttercream
    • Place layer number two on top and brush with lemon sugar syrup. Add a layer of lemon buttercream
    • Place layer three on and treat the same as for layer one: lemon sugar syrup, jam and vanilla butter cream
    • Place on layer four (the one you identified as the best) and brush with lemon sugar syrup. Do NOT add buttercream
  • For the middle tier
    • Place the bottom layer on and brush with vanilla sugar syrup and cover with chocolate buttercream
    • Place on layer two, again add vanilla sugar syrup and chocolate buttercream
    • Place on layer three also has vanilla sugar syrup and chocolate buttercream
    • Top with the fourth (best) layer and add the vanilla sugar syrup. NO buttercream!
  • For the top tier
    • Place the bottom layer on its card and brush with the vanilla sugar syrup. Top with the salted caramel buttercream
    • Place on layer two and add vanilla sugar syrup and a layer of vanilla buttercream
    • Place on layer three, cover in vanilla sugar syrup and top with salted caramel buttercream
    • Finally add the last layer (the one you reserved and did not trim) and cover in vanilla sugar syrup
  • This is the point that I boxed up the cake – I did the final assembly at the wedding venue

Making bunting

  • You will need to cut out enough diamond shapes from coloured card as the letter you need to use. The diamonds need to be about 3cm tall and about 1.5cm at their widest part. Alternatively if you have a graphic programme you can print out diamonds with the letters on (which is what I was able to do). I used ‘just married’ and the couples’ first names
  • Remember each strong of bunting has to fit on a 15cm/6″ cake (the top tier) so don’t use more than about twelve letters per string or it will be too wide
  • Cut out and fold over the diamonds so that they turn into triangular flags. If you weren’t able to print them out, space them out on a table and draw on your letters as neat as possible
  • You will need two wooden skewers for each row of bunting and a length of nice string (I used kitchen butcher’s twine)
  • Lay out one long length of string and glue the inside of the paper for the first letter fold the paper over the twine. Press down on the bunting flag so that the glue fixes, but ensure the twine is at the top where it folds.
  • Make sure you get your letters in the right order (and that all the letters are on the same side!) and complete your first bunting string
  • Put a blob of glue near the top of a skewer and tie the twine to it as close as you can to the first letter. Repeat with the next skewer close to the end letter. Trim the loose ends of the twine
  • Set flat until the glue is dried. Repeat if you are making two bunting strings

Final assembly

  • Taking the dowels, you will need about 5 to 6 for the bottom layer. Push one dowel in to the cake about a quarter of the way in from the edge and mark where the cake stops. Withdraw the dowel and cut it to size. Use this to trim the other dowels. Push them all in, spacing them in a circle halfway into the cake.
  • Take a little of the leftover buttercream and put a blob or two on the top of the cake. Set the middle layer on the bottom layer and make sure it’s central
  • Repeat the dowels on the middle layer – you’ll need one less (unless you’re very cautious). Place the top layer on the middle layer one the dowels are in
  • Shake a little icing sugar over the layers (not essential)
  • Take your fruit, flowers and edible and non-edible decorations and arrange on the cake as you see fit. The stalks you left on the currants and flowers can be pushed into the cake or between the layers or boards to set them in place. Use a little leftover buttercream to fix the mini meringues on to the cake
  • Reserve your nicest flowers for the top tier
  • Place the bunting in place by pushing the skewers into the top of the cake

Naked wedding cake

Pistachio and almond tuiles

How to make your own tuile template

Pistachio and almond tuiles

Pistachio and almond tuiles – for the tuile recipe please see my separate post

Tuile templates are expensive for what they are – here’s how you can easily make your own for nothing.

All you need is an old plastic table mat (or the top of an ice cream tub or similar) and to use either a pair of sharp scissors or a craft circle cutting tool.

I’ve shown you a circle template here, but you can go on to create lots of different shapes: triangles, flowers, fruit, stars. Anything you can think of really!

Equipment

Equipment needed for making tuile templates

Equipment needed for making the templates

  • A cutting mat or board or any surface that you’re not going to cry over if you cut into it
  • A plastic placemat or the lid of an ice cream tub
  • A pair of sharp scissors
  • A permanent marker (if you use a normal pen or felt tip it won’t set on the plastic and you’ll just end up wiping it off with your hand!)
  • Masking tape (not strictly necessary but stops slipping)
  • A craft circle cutter if you have one (these are actually pretty cheap and easy to get hold of online or from craft or model shops)
  • Piece of thick paper cut out into a circle – a typical tuile will be 7-8cm (about 3″) to use as a template or
How to
  1. First of all, if you are using a place mat or other large piece of plastic, cut the item down to fit into your baking sheet. There’s no point doing this if you then can’t lay the thing flat on your bake sheet!
  2. Fold the circle of card in half, then half again (so it is a quarter circle) to find the centre. Use this to work out roughly how many circles you can get out of your plastic. You’ll need to leave at least a 1.5cm / almost 1″ gap between each circle. For a piece of plastic that covers an entire baking sheet I’d expect you to be able to fit in about eight circles and for a tub lid, about four.
  3. Put two strips of masking tape down the plastic where the centre points of the circles will be – this will help you mark the centres and to stop either the cutter or scissors slipping.
  4. Mark out where the centre point of each circle will be – use that piece of card you cut into a circle to make sure you leave enough gap between each tuile shape to make them evenly spaced and to ensure you haven’t put them too close to the edge or each other.
  5. If you’re using the cutter, put the blade to the right distance (remember it marks the radius not the diameter, so if you’re doing a 7cm tuile, set it at 3.5cm).

    Using a circular cutter, perfect for helping to make tuile templates

    Using the circular cutter

  6. Put the compass point on the centre mark and slowly and gently turn the cutter – it might be easier to keep the cutter static and turn the plastic. Better to make many gentle turns than try to cut out the circle with force quickly as this can distort the shape you at cutting out.
  7. If you are using scissors, you will need to mark the outline of each circle around the card, so you have a shape to cut to. Mark out all the circles.

    Using scissors to cut out

    Cutting out with scissors

  8. Carefully jab a hole in the centre of a circle being sure not to stab yourself! Cut towards the edge and then go round the inside of the line. Tidy up if need be.
  9. Whatever method you are using, repeat until you have all the tuile shapes cut out.
  10. If you want to go on and make other more unusual shapes, you need to use the scissors method or use a craft knife.
  11. Thoroughly wash the template before use but it should last you a long time.

    Two finished tuile shapes - one by cutter and one by scissors

    Two finished tuile shapes – one by cutter and one by scissors

Herb sprigs for the kitchen

herbs
Such a great way to use any herbs you have growing profusely in the garden at this time of year. They make a pretty, alternative tiny bouquet (especially if you use thyme or lavender when in flower – a bit early for my lavender yet). Also, as they hang in your kitchen, the heat from your cooking will bring out their aromas and help them dry. Once dry they can be used as individual herbs or pot pourri in a casserole, for example.

Use anything you have growing, but if you have the right herbs you can create a blend for specific recipes, for example:

Herbs de Provence

Rosemary, savoury, thyme, marjoram and sometime dried lavender flowers

Italian seasoning

Basil, rosemary, bay, oregano, thyme

How to make up the sprigs

Cut as long a stem as you can on each of the herbs and arrange in a circular pattern around one really nice sprig that you like – that is build up round a central stalk.  Wrap the stems together with jute or gardener’s twine and leave one long end, so that you can hang it. Tie on a ribbon if you like for a little extra flourish.

Hang in your kitchen until dried, then crunch up the leaves and store in a sterilised pot for use as a blend, or separate the herbs to use individually.

See also my post on flavoured salt mixes, which can also be a use for your herbs.

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