Tuesday 2 December 2014

How to knit retro-chic Christmas Tree Balls ...

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas ... over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers. We've got all our Christmas decorations down from the attic, and we're busy putting them up. 

Yesterday as I was waiting for my Christmas mincemeat to cook I had a go at knitting my first Christmas ball to go on the tree. It's kind of cute and retro, don't you think? 

I'd had a vague idea of what I was going to make, and I'd gone down to Bunty's, my lovely local wool shop, and asked for some wool that would match the Christmas ribbon that I'd used to trim the dried orange slice decorations and the cinnamon stick decorations that I'd made for the tree last week. I don't want it to look too matchy matchy but I think that the ribbon will tie everything together without hitting a jarring note. 

Anyway, I found some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino in colour number 340037 (which is the dark red/ burgundy) and some Peter Pan Merino Baby in colour number 3031 (which is the lovely cream colour). They both knitted up on size 3 needles. I thought they ought to work pretty well together, so I brought them home for the project. 

The ball is knitted on five needles: four active ones to carry stitches and a spare to knit each row onto. I've drawn a diagram of how it knits on each one of the four active needles: 

Each square represents a stitch. The squares that are white are knit in the cream wool and the ones that I've coloured in with pencil are knit in the red wool. You can see a line of ticks down one side where I've ticked each row off as I've knit it. 

The first thing you need to do is cast on 12 stitches, and divide them between the four active needles.

Knit the first round, joining the circle, and being careful to keep the joining stitches on each corner reasonably tight so that you have even tension. The second row is just plain knit stitches as well. On the third round you need to add one stitch at the end of each needle, by knitting into the connection loop from the previous stitch. Remember that the pattern above applies to each of your four needles. The left hand side (looking at the paper) is the start of the row on the needle, and the right hand side is the end.

Now just keep going, following the pattern above. 

When you're finished cut the wool, leaving enough to crochet a chain to fix it to the tree. Draw the wool through the remaining 12 stitches on your needles, but don't pull it tight. 

Darn the small aperture shut at the opposite end of the ball, where you started.

Turn the ball inside out, and secure and darn in any loose ends. 

Gently, using a little stuffing at a time, stuff the ball with filling. I used a soft toy filling.

When you've got enough filling in the ball to make it plump, but not too stretched, draw the wool tight through those last 12 stitches to close the opening and secure it with a few darning stitches. 

Crochet a simple chain with the wool that remains and fix it with a darning needle to make a loop that you can hang over the branch of your Christmas tree. 

I finished mine off with a bow that I thought would match the Dried Orange Slice Decorations and the Cinnamon Stick Decorations that I've already made for my tree.

And that's it! Ta-dah! You've made a Christmas ball for your tree.

All the best and happy knitting, 

Bonny x

Monday 1 December 2014

How to make Christmas mincemeat ...

Today my kitchen smells so good I don't want to go out ... .

I'm making my Christmas mincemeat, and the smell of fruit and spices is truly wonderful. It's the very aroma of Christmas itself, and totally guaranteed to restore your Christmas mojo if you're struggling to get excited about the festive season.

If you'd like to give it a go, it's really easy, and you can keep it in preserving jars to give as gifts or to use as and when people pop around for a catch-up over the holidays. At this time of the year I keep a few packets of pre-rolled puff pastry in the fridge so that I'm all ready to go if I need to scramble and knock out some mince pies and/ or sausage rolls at short notice.

Anyway here's what you'll need if you'd like to give my mincemeat a go:


1 large navel orange
1 large lemon
1 large Bramley apple, cored and chopped into smallish cubes. There's no need to peel it.
400 g mixed dried fruit - you can chose your favourite combination. I used: 125 g of dried barberries; 200 g mixed peel; 75 g of golden jumbo raisins and 100 g of black sultanas]
175 g of soft dark brown sugar
50 g almond slivers
150g shredded suet. I like to use Trex, a low-fat vegetarian alternative.
Grated nutmeg to taste
2 heaped teaspoonfuls of mixed spice
3 tablespoonfuls of brandy

And here's what you'll need to do:

1. Mix all of the ingredients except the brandy in an oven-proof saucepan. Grate the orange zest and lemon zest and add to the mixture. Juice the lemon and the orange and add the juice to the mixture as well. It is important to have everything mixed really well.

2. Place the lid on the saucepan and cook in an oven, pre-heated to 150º C, for 3 hours. Take it out halfway through and stir well. Then return to the oven for the remainder of the cooking time.

3. When it's cooked remove from the oven and allow to cool down, stirring it regularly as it cools to ensure that the fat coats everything evenly. Don't worry if it looks like it's drowning in fat: that's normal! Add the brandy, and stir again to mix it through.

4. Bottle in sterilised jam jars sealed with wax seals.

You should sterilise your jam jars by washing them thoroughly in warm water, drying them on the outside only and placing them open end up, in an oven that's been pre-heated to 150º C for at least 20 minutes. Wash the screw top lids and place them inside side up in the oven for 20 minutes also. I explained how to do it here: Clementine and Cardamon Marmalade.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 28 November 2014

The last week of November ... a recap on the week that was

I can't believe that we're almost ready to start opening doors on the Advent Calendar. November has flown by.

It's taken an enormous effort of will, but I haven't officially put up any Christmas decorations yet. I've been itching to ... but, so, far I've more or less held the line. There have been a few purchases made with the holidays in mind, and I have been busy making decorations for our Christmas tree.

The weather here has been grey and miserable - so, the Wonder Dog and I have reined in our wanderings and stayed close to home. One day we oven-dried some orange slices to make these decorations, which glow warm and orangey with a twinkling fairy light behind them. You can read my post on how to make them here: Dried Orange Slice Decorations

And then we made a few cinnamon parcels, using the same rustic-looking hemp string and ribbon, to compliment the orange slices on the tree.

You can read my post about the cinnamon here: Cinnamon Stick Decorations

Together they create a timeless old world look. Using the same ribbon for both helps to tie the overall design together. 

I like to keep things simple and not too commercial. I hate acres and acres of plastic and tinsel, so there'll be lots of homemade alternatives, and paper chains. I've bought some lovely, ready-cut papers and not-so-messy glue dots so that Emi can get busy and have a go at engineering some decorations too. I chose my words carefully these days. With judicious use of a verb like engineer, which sounds nice and heavy and grown-up and masculine it's amazing what I can talk the little chap into doing.

Christmas came a little bit early on Monday as I took delivery of my new handbag camera, a Canon SX60 HS. I'm really pleased with it. If you're interested, you can read my review here: SX 60 HS Review

The Wonder Dog and I took it out and about during the sunny interludes, which were few and far between, but it did a lovely job of capturing the autumn tints in all their colourful glory. 

With all the mild weather, autumn seems to be holding onto her foliage well past the normal threshold for winter - not that I'm complaining. 

The Wonder Dog had his photograph taken more times than he would have liked to. In the end he went and hid under the kitchen table, where I'm sure he knew the light was terrible. He's smart like that, the Wonder Dog. 

I tried some still-life compositions of the chaos that is my desk. It's amazing: I have a huge desk, but somehow it's always a struggle to find space on there to do anything. It's kind of like Dr Who's TARDIS, only it operates in reverse. 

Today I'm off with a chum to the Black Friday sales. I can't say that I've noticed Black Friday before. I know it's a huge thing in the States, where people get through Thanksgiving and then turn their minds to how few shopping days remain until Christmas. As we don't celebrate Thanksgiving it's never really featured, but I guess with these hard economic times the retailers are having to try every trick in the book to shift their merchandise. 

I'm not the world's most enthusiastic shopper, so I know that I'm going to come home feeling exhausted. I've made a big pot of roasted winter vegetable soup, which I'll serve up to the troops with some nice fresh bread. Hopefully it will get everyone fed without too much further effort on my part. You can find my recipe here: the very best roast vegetable soup. It's a real corker of a soup!

Anyway I'd better push off and put my best foot forward as those bargains won't buy themselves. 

All the best for a splendid weekend,

Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds and image-in-ing

Thursday 27 November 2014

Cinnamon Stick Christmas Tree Decorations ...

I know. I know. It's much too early to put up the Christmas decorations. It's still November for crying out loud. I mean, you've got to at least wait until St. Nicholas Day on the 6th, haven't you? Otherwise it all just seems a bit too ... enthusiastic and unrestrained.

But the thing is. Yikes! I love Christmas. It's a time when all Irish people who possibly, physically can, go home to the Old Country - Mother Ireland, and all that. And by jeepers it's a wonder she doesn't sink under the weight of all us wild geese as we disembark from our various ferries and aeroplanes. It's a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful celebration of life. We all go home, party, catch up with everyone and it's just brilliant. You can't blame me for looking forward to it.

Anyway this morning I was out doing the weekly shop when I saw the cutest little potted Christmas tree. Just a little one, you understand.  I knew it would look absolutely perfect on a strange wall that leads into my kitchen. As it was technically just a pot plant, and not a fully paid-up Christmas tree, I reckoned that it would be fine to bring it home in November.

Then when it arrived in the kitchen it looked so bare that I had to thread it up with a few fairy lights that I just happened to have lying around. And then I got a few of the smaller dried orange slice decorations that I made the other day, and tried them out for size. (You can find the link for making them: here. Suddenly it was starting to look rather splendid, but I thought it needed a little something else.

I rooted around and found a bag of cinnamon sticks, and set about tying them into little bundles with my hemp string. I didn't do anything fancy: just a double knot around the sticks, tied at the ends to make a loop to go around the branches and prettied up with a little bit of ribbon to match the oranges.

So that's it: they're pretty, really easy to make, cost next to nothing and they even smell nice into the bargain. What's not to like? You can even chose your ribbon to make them co-ordinate with all your other Christmas tree decorations.

Oh, and I'm definitely, positively not putting any Christmas decorations up until it's at least December ... .

All the best,

Bonny x

Wednesday 26 November 2014

How to make dried orange slice Christmas decorations

Down here in London it just keeps raining and raining and raining. We're getting really fed up with wet feet and muddy paws. So to keep our spirits up we're looking forward to December when we can get going and deck the halls with boughs of holly ... . 

Yesterday we had a go at making these little beauties:

In fact we made a whole big bunch of them. Here they are hanging on the stem of my desk lamp: 

They look great: simple, traditional and understated, with their little ribbons and rustic hemp string ties; all very shabby chic. 

If you'd like to make some for the Big Day, they're really easy to cobble together.

You'll need:

2 big oranges (should produce about 12 to 14 slices)
baking paper
hemp string
parcel ribbon

You really need to start the day before by slicing your oranges into straight slices that are about 1 cm thick.

Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Heat the oven to 50º C, and place the tray of orange slices in the oven for several hours. The longer you can leave them in there for, the better will be the result. Mine spent the better part of the day drying out in the gentle heat, and then I switched the oven off left them in it to cool down gently overnight.

This was how they looked the following morning:

When I held them up the light they were lovely, and I thought happy thoughts about how pretty they'd look on my Chrimbo tree illuminated with sparkling fairy lights.

Now all you have to do is string a little bit of hemp string through each slice and you'll be half-way home. I threaded the hemp string through a darning needle. 

And then pierced a hole in the orange and drew the string through with the needle before cutting it to the length that I wanted.

Then I joined the two ends of the hemp string with a knot, and prettied it up with a piece of ribbon tied in a bow. And that's all there was to it.

In my photos I've shown them hanging from various knobs and knockers around the house, but the big plan is to put them on the Christmas tree once I get it installed ... which is going to be one day very, very soon. 

I've got a few slices left over that I could use in some festive pot pourri. They'd look great with some pine cones and a few pot pourri roses. 

All the best for now,

Bonny x

And if you liked the orange slice decorations, take a look at my cinnamon stick decorations too: Cinnamon Stick Christmas Tree Decorations

As shared on Creative Mondays