Merry Christmas 2019!

Have a wonderful day! I’m naturally busy today and i’m sure you are too, but I will leave you with this: The Tailor of Gloucester.

This beautiful Christmas story is a favourite from Beatrix Potter, and was a key part of my childhood. I hold this particular film close to my heart. Enjoy it – it’s a mere 30 minutes long!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Best wishes,

Ashleigh

Christmas Angel Quilling

Welcome to my blog! I put out new posts every Wednesday about crafts, life, health, and poetry.

Right now all I care about is winding up work and have a lovely week off for Christmas. There will be booze and there will be baking and, oh god, there will be sweets.

This weekend my boyfriend and I are having our own little Christmas day (or weekend rather) and we’ll be exchanging our gifts and just having a lovely time. Then we’ll be spending Christmas day with our respective families. I insisted, actually, because we’re buying a house next year (all being well) and I’d like one more chance to be a kid before I go 50/50 on a property for the first time. It’s a scary step – but I am very excited.

Having experienced a lot of illness and hospital stays in the last few years (as well as other issues), I’ve lived with family and relied on them for a lot of support – I’ll be devastated to leave them. However, I will not be going far – no farther than drop-in distance for a cup of tea. It’s my partner who will be making a huge life-change and moving his business to be with me, so here’s hoping it all goes smoothly once we’ve started the ball rolling.

So it’s because I’ve got such a big year planned ahead that I’ll be 100% slobbing it in my jammies this year, being a big child, which is what I do best.

Angel quilling

Have you ever tried this craft? My brother introduced me to it – there seems to be hundreds of ways to quill and so many different crafts to come up with. My brother and I made some angels together, which was fiddly work at first, but it’s one of those things that becomes a lot easier once you’ve found your rhythm.

If you didn’t know: quilling is an art/craft which involves rolling, bending, or manipulating thin strips of paper into intricate designs or figures.

My first impression was that this is an amazingly economical hobby – as Fanny Cradock would say, ‘This won’t stretch your purse’.

Now there are millions of ways to do this and so many different designs, so have a look online or Youtube to find something you like. We made little finger-poppet angels, but once you have the basic figure made, you can create anything.

This isn’t a step-by-step or anything, but I just wanted to show you something cute I tried out recently. I would recommend a Youtube tutorial to get the technique down.

To make angels or little figures, you will need:

– Thin strips of paper from an A4 sheet (around 5mm) in desired colours
– PVA glue
– Quilling needle
– Scissors

Body
The body of these angels is made up of a small cone of quilled papers, about the size of a large thimble (to pop over your fingers!). You’ll need to glue about 8 strips end-to-end, allow to dry, and then coil together into a standard wheel with the quilling needle. Glue the end to the wheel to prevent it unravelling. Next, you need to gently push it in from the middle and keep going until it forms a cone shape. Do this very gently indeed – if you slip-up then the wheel will unravel and you’ll have to start again.

Once you have the shape down, smear a small amount of pva glue inside it, covering it all, and leave it to dry in its shape.

Head
Using the same technique as above, you’re going to make two wheels of 5 strips and push them out gently, just until you’ve made two little domes. Glue the inside of these, leave to dry, and then you can glue them together – now you have a little globe for a head.

Arms
These are just one strip of paper each, but be careful: small and fiddly = easy to fluff up. Push these tiny wheels out into little cones for the arms, glue inside, and leave.

Once all these are dry, you now have your basic figures. You can make these into anything now – a little santa, elves, angels – little devils, even. Fairys? Why not.

I think Quilling usually results in angels and fairies purely because people can make such beautiful wing designs.

Wings
For simple wings, make one larger wheel and four smaller ones. Before gluing the end of your strip down to the body of the wheel, let it unravel a little – you’ll see the strips separating. Before it goes too far (and once it is the desired size), pinch it between your thumb and forefinger and glue it in shape – this will make a tear-drop shape. One large teardrop + three smaller teardrops = one very cute wing.
8 tear drops in total will make a nice, small set of pretty wings – but you can make these as big and elaborate as you like. You can also look up the different spiral techniques and find some really intricate ideas if that’s your thing.

Me? I keep it simple.
Glue these pieces gently together, allow to dry, and then glue in between any bits you might have missed. Once dry, you can glue these to the body of your angel – try to use glue that’s been out for 15 mins or so so that it’s tackier and easier to mount wings onto and keep them in place without slipping off while they dry.

Glue on your head and arms and you are good to go! All your angel needs is a wig and maybe a halo. You can fashion a hair-do by quilling just the tips of the strips to make flicky-hair (as pictured) or coil a wheel to make a bun, but there will be much more exciting ideas online – play around and see what you can come up with.

Once you get in the swing of things, you can make some adorable paper figures which, once dry, are actually quite sturdy – and even better, if you make them the way I’ve detailed above, you can pop them on your fingers and make ’em dance.

Cute idea, huh?

As Neil Buchanan would say: why don’t you try it out for yourself?

This is a great craft to do with kids, but again, very fiddly – for little ones, maybe make the bodies first and then let them decorate and play.

My next blog will be due on Christmas day – I’m not sure what I’ll be posting yet, but I promise it’ll be festive, so please subscribe if you’d like to see more from me. I put out new blogs every Wednesday.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Chocolate Yule Log in an Hour

Welcome back! I put out new blogs every Wednesday.

Continuing our Christmas crafting (or baking!) seeing as it ’tis the season, I give you: the lazygirl chocolate yule log.
I just made that up, but it works.

My boyfriend and I desperately wanted to bake something last Sunday evening, but only the little express stores were open and it was raining, so we dug about in the cupboards, hoping that we’d had ingredients for yule log. And we did! The only thing we were worried about missing was a bar of chocolate, and lo and behold, he found some vegan chocolate he’d bought to try ages ago, having never bothered to eat it. Happy days!

We decided to make chocolate buttercream rather than ganache, and it worked out lovely. We spliced two recipes together: one for sponge, and one for the buttercream.

This was so quick to make that you could definitely do this in an hour if you have all your ingredients ready. The only delay is the cooling, but with such a thin sponge, it took hardly any time at all (and you can of course shove it in the freezer for 10 minutes – trust me, it gets the job done)

You will need:

Icing

  • 100g chocolate
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar (and more to dust)
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp milk

Sponge

Combine your ingredients with a spatula and whip with an electric whisk if you have one, before transferring it into a 33cm x 23cm dish lined with grease proof paper. This will create an inch thick rectangle of sponge. Bake at 200C for 20 minutes.

(Mary Berry’s recipe states 8-10 mins, but it wasn’t nearly done for me and needed double the time)

No butter! This mostly-egg recipe ensures that the sponge is flexible enough to roll over and yet strong enough not to crumble apart. All very clever.

Once it’s cooked, let it cool for a few minutes. Turn the cake out onto another sheet of grease proof paper and peel off the backing. Next, score a line 2.5cm in, lengthways, along one long edge of the cake. Use this to fold it over on itself in a swiss-roll shape. Pull the grease proof paper over with the first roll and let it roll inside. This will help you unfurl it later when you want to add the filling.

Leave it to cool in this rolled shape.

Next, make your icing. Start with gently combining your softened butter with the icing sugar. Add in your cocoa powder. Melt the chocolate in your preferred manner (in a bowl within a pan of boiling water, or in the microwave at 20 sec intervals) and add this to the mix, folding it all in together. The mix will start feeling a bit stiff and claggy – use the milk to smooth it out and give it some moisture.

Once your cake is cooled, you can unfurl it and start smoothing liberal amounts of buttercream inside it, coating the lot, before rolling it back up again and pasting buttercream on top. You can use a fork to create streaks like bark, add holly, whatever you like – me? I was happy to dust it with icing sugar and eat the thing.

So there you have it! The world’s laziest yule log.

Quick, easy, and definitely yummy – we scoffed this while watching Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

You could make this Vegan by using egg replacer/oil, vegan chocolate, vegan milk, and vegan butter – though if you’re vegan, you’ll have all this down already and won’t need me to advise you.

I hope you enjoyed that tasty little treat! See you next time – I put new blogs up every Wednesday about crafts, hobbies, writing, health – my life, really.

How to Make a Christmas Wreath (easy)

Welcome back to my blog! I put up new posts every Wednesday.

As it’s officially CHRISTMAS SEASON WAHOOOOOO! I thought I’d talk about a lovely wreath-making workshop I went to. Me and some of the girls from work had a great time making these wreaths (and I’m pleased to say the prosecco was flowing) so I’d definitely recommend an evening like this if you have one going locally.

These were made at a local florist near work. We paid £40 each and the space, materials, tutor, and bubbly were all supplied – you just had to bring yourself!

So here we go – I’m about to clumsily pass on the wisdom.

I’m going to call these the wrap-and-go wreaths, because that’s literally how it’s done – you just wrap the thing and go.

I say these are “easy”, but they’re easy once you’ve got your materials and wreath ring ordered in, and once you’ve wired your decorations – these bits were done for us. I have wired leaves etc before for my autumn candle holder craft here, but I have to say I was grateful not to have to do it again, as it’s fiddly.

This method is only for the metal ring methods – if you’re using an oasis ring, that won’t work here because the wrapping technique would simply crush the oasis into dust.

Supplies

1 metal wreath ring
Damp moss/vines/twigs/fur (for the base)
Blue spruce/fir branches
Sprigs of holly
Bay leaf branches
Twine
Scissors
Small garden secateurs
Copper wire or florist’s wire

Decorations
Ribbons
Cinnamon sticks
Pine cones
Dried oranges

These were all purchased via the florist’s supplier, so I would imagine you’d need to order these in via either your local florist, garden center, or online. This is the hardest part, because I’ve never bought sprigs of blue fir and holly online – have you?!

You can of course use dried or artificial foliage if you wanted. Oh, and I’m told that decorations such as dried oranges and cinnamon can be bought at Poundland, of all places, as well as Amazon – so look around.

Method

We began with pre-mossed wreath frames, but you’ll need to make your base. Tie your twine to the frame in a simple knot and stuff the moss in the frame and wrap it as you go. If you click the wreath frame link above, the Hobbeycraft website actually shows you some pictures of this method. Pack the moss in thick so you have something spongey for everything else to rest against. Tie it off when you’re done.

Once you’ve created a solid frame to build on, you can begin building the body of your wreath.

Tie twine to the outside edge of your frame and knot it (as you did before). Next, gather together a bunch of your supplies – take a big sprig of fir, bay leaf branch, and holly branch, and hold them together in a bunch so they layer up. You’re going to manipulate these around the shape of the wreath frame in one go – not layer by layer, branch by branch. If they’re too long or need trimming, then use your secateurs to adjust them.

This was the best part, actually, because I was expecting to have to wire up each individual sprig and place it in the frame – nope, not the case. You are literally going to grab the foliage and wrap it together as one lot in a binding process.

Start binding your bunches

Place your bunch of bay, fir, and holly roughly where you want them to start (I went round clockwise) and then start wrapping the twine around it. I don’t mean in a blanket-stitch type method – we’re talking two wraps round per bunch here – don’t worry about it feeling loose because you can pull it tight at the end. Weave the twine between the leaves and secure it against the frame – remember you can tidy this up later. If you can hide the twine, great – if you can’t, then oh well, that’s part of the rustic design, right?

Once you’re done, pull it tight, and move on to the next bunch – you want to layer this under the previous one and go around in the same direction. Do this until you come full circle and you will have a basic wreath of fir, bay, and holly! Tie off your twine and tweak away at the leaves until you’re happy with how it all lays together.

You can use big bunches, thin bunches, whatever – it’s your wreath. The thicker the foliage, the bigger and more impressive the wreath.

If you want more holly on top or want to add any accents, you can do this by tying on more twine and going around the frame the opposite way (anti-clockwise) to keep it symmetrical, or until you are happy that you’ve filled any gaps.

Now you have a basic green wreath – you’re halfway there!

Now you can decorate with your cinnamon, pine cones, and dried oranges – which all smell amazing, by the way. You will need to wire these. Get yourself some copper wire or florist’s wire and twist it neatly around your decorations, leaving a long ‘tail’ of wire at the end. You can see the cinnamon is wired in mine – you can wrap the wire around in a loop like that, or you can wire just around the bottom. What’s important is the tail, because that’s your hook.

I chose to place mine in neat bunches of three and clustered them together (see pics), but you can do yours your own way. You can also use whatever decorations you prefer – we used natural accents, but you could have baubles and ribbons if you wanted.

Simply thread the tail of the wire through your foliage and out the other side of your frame. Turn the tail in on itself and tuck it back up and through the frame and foliage again. They should be hooked on securely but not so tightly that they have no wobble-room.

Your final touch is to add a bow – these can go at the top, bottom, side of your wreath – wherever! It’s yours!

I used a glittery hessian material and wrapped it in a bow around the bottom half of my wreath, leaving the tails to dangle.

And there you have it – you have created a wreath.

Are you as surprised as I am about how simple the process was? I mean you literally just tie on your twine, wrap it around the big layers of fir, bay, and holly, tie it off and bam – it’s all on there. Easy. No fiddly wiring of each individual sprig for hours on end! You just wrap and go.

The great thing about wreaths and their materials is that it’s very difficult to go wrong. Providing you wrap them around the frame in the same direction, the wild and full nature of wreath design lends itself beautifully to hiding any clumsiness or mistakes.

Voila!


Once you’ve learned this simple wrapping method, you can make all kinds of wreaths of all different sizes – get creative and see what you come up with!

I hope you enjoyed that. If you’d like to see more, please subscribe – I put out new content every Wednesday.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

How to Make a Pine Cone Christmas Tree

& other stories.
Welcome (back) to my blog! I put out new posts every Wednesday.

I thought I would lighten the mood a little with some crafts this week. I’m one of those very impatient people who loves to do crafts but doesn’t much fancy anything too taxing or time-consuming; not unless it’s something I intend to take up as a hobby.

If you’re like me and like to have a quick fix when it comes to popular new crafts, then you’ll like this one: a Christmas tree made out of a pine cone.

But first

I told you I’d showcase my Mookychick poem to you, didn’t I?

Click here to read my poem, ‘Weight’, on the Mookychick website!


Well here it is! I’m very proud to see it on the front page. I hope you enjoy my poem and, if you click my author profile, that you enjoy my photo too. I could’ve just used a photo of my face, but I thought ‘Nah – let’s use the one with the squirrel’.

But back to pine cone Christmas trees!

You must have seen these going around Facebook and the like. I’m sure people have been making these for years and years, but crafts go in fads and currently this one seems quite popular.

Not only do they look extremely cute and adorable and Christmassy, but they looked pretty easy to do – so I gave it a go.

And, like most things that look easy, this was actually a little more fiddly and time-consuming than I bargained for. If you want to make an impressive, intricate, painstakingly painted and detailed piece of art then you’ll need a good magnifying glass, tweezers, and a lot of time to dedicate to the ~ finesse ~ that you’ll ultimately want to achieve.

Or, you could be like me and just chuck something together, see what works, and have fun with it.

You can make these absolutely any way you want and with whatever decorations you want – that’s the cool part. You can make several of these and no two should look the same. You could make mini pine cone trees for all occasions!

Tools I used

Superglue
Hot glue gun
1 x fabulous pine cone (try to find a tree shape – mine was a bit narrow)
Florist wire
Oasis
Crepe paper
Red meshy fabric stuff
Li’l baubles (I snipped them off a length of Christmas tree beads)
An angel for the top (a Christmas tree decoration cut in half)
Scissors

Method

First I washed any residue off my pine cone and dried it thoroughly. You might want to do this a day or two before you start crafting, because I think this has an effect on how well the glue sticks to it.

(If you are painting your pine cone, do this first before putting it on the base for obvious reasons!)

Next I got started on my base. I cut a small thick square of oasis and wrapped this with red crepe paper. I glued it down with superglue (this will stick more to you than anything else – beware!) in a parcel-fashion. After that I wrapped around my red mesh, which looked to me like a nice rustic touch to give it a bit of warmth, and glued that down too.

Now you have a base, you need to wire your cone. I used florist’s wire, but I would recommend a thicker piece of wire (maybe jewelry wire or copper wire), because mine bent and was too soft. I wired my cone by weaving or wrapping it around the spines at the base and forming four hooks of bent wire. I used these to stab into the base and keep the cone sturdy. The flexibility of the wire came in handy here because it allows you to make adjustments.

In the future, I would likely buy some mini plant pots to make a sturdier bed for the oasis, but this method works just fine.

You may find it hard to get the wire through your crepe paper or fabric, so think about that when you choose your materials. I personally just stabbed and prayed.
I wrapped some crepe paper around the base to hide the join, and hey-presto.

Now you have a cute base with your pine cone on top! It’s time to decorate.

I first began the dull and arduous process of superglueing each tiny bead onto each spine of my pine cone. Not only did I have to hold it firmly in place for ages, but the things were sticking to my fingers more than anything else.

I switched to my hot glue gun and oh baby, all that changed! The cooling of the glue once applied happens so quickly that you can start dotting on your beads here, there, and everywhere, and they’ll be set in 10 seconds. I very much recommend using a glue gun for speed and ease of use.

I turned my cone upside down to apply these, but ideally you would probably balance them on the tip of each spine. I could not be bothered with this – I’m all about the instant fun with these projects.

At this point you will realise how stringy the glue from a glue-gun can be, and it’ll look like you have cobwebs all over your tree. Never fear, for these come off easily – and if you were making a Halloween pine cone tree, these stringy bits could actually look really awesome.

Lastly, I cut a decorative angel in half and glued them to the top.

There we have it! A very simplistic pine cone Christmas tree. I think even the simplest designs look very sweet indeed and would make a great crafting project with your kids – just be very careful with the glue gun, because these get very hot.

With lots of time, effort, and imagination, you could make some incredible looking decorations out of pine cone Christmas trees.

I hope you enjoyed that.

If you’d like to see more of my crafting attempts or book recommendations or musings on health-related topics, then please subscribe. I put out new content every Wednesday.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh