Making Jam – More Fun With Friends!

Making jam is more fun with friends! I recently spent an evening with a close friend of mine, brewing up some delicious jam.

Homemade Jam For GiftsA ‘preserves party’ sounds contrived, but it came about naturally – I said I planned to make marmalade, and would she like a jar?

She said, yes please, and she wished she had the courage and the know-how to make preserves.

I said, I could show her sometime, if she wanted…

Jam Jars - Homemade Berry Jam

And that was that. I popped round with the fixin’s for two types of preserves, plus my favourite wooden spoon, apron, jars, lids, and my Big Jam Pot. (My poor friend doesn’t have a lovely jam pot like I do: it was a gift from an Auntie who was upgrading to a mythical Better Pot. I can’t imagine a Better Pot than my Big Jam Pot! I advised my friend that she search out one second hand – a Good Pot can cost a fortune new – whatever the price, it’d be worth any penny.)

We spent a lovely evening chatting and stirring. I imparted all the wisdom I could manage, everything was less work and more fun with two, and we made an awful lot of jam. Oh yes. I think I’ve made enough for all my homemade jam gifts in a jar this Christmas. We made Mulled Wine Jelly which is beautifully transparent, and my famous berry jam. Yum!

Wine Jelly - Homemade Gifts in a Jar

Next week we’re planning a chutney party. I hope I’ve inspired you to make jam with a friend!

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Homemade Jam Cookies Recipe

Jam cookies are a wonderful way to use up ends of jar of jam – and show off your creation!

Thumbprint Biscuits

These yummy jam cookies have a shortbread base, filled with a ‘thumbprint’ of jam. That’s why they’re often called thumbprint biscuits! I made these with berry jam, but you could use any preserve. This recipe only made a smallish amount of cookies – about the right amount for a week’s worth cookies to enjoy with cups of tea. If you’re catering for a crowd, I would double or triple the recipe.

Jam Cookies

Jam Cookies

Recipe based on this one

Ingredients

  • 150g butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Vanilla extract
  • 3 and a half cups flour
  • pinch salt
  • Preserves – any sort

Method

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract, then fold through the flour and salt. The mixture should form a soft dough. Roll into balls and indent the centre with your thumb of the back of a wooden spoon. Place the cookies on a tray, not too far apart – these aren’t ‘spreaders’! Fill the indent with preserves and bake for ten minutes.

Homemade Jam Cookies

It’s that easy! Why not match a batch of these cookies with a gift of homemade jam? It’s a great way to give folks a literal taste of what’s inside the jar!

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Preserve Me! How to Make Jam – Advice for Making Jam

I’ve spent a lot of time researching how to make jam! Recently, a good friend of mine asked for some advice for making jam, so I thought I’d share some of my findings with you after the jump.
Homemade Grapefruit Marmalade
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Christmas Holiday Checklist

A Christmas holiday checklist can really take the stress out of planning for the holiday season. I’ve decided to share my own personal Christmas holiday checklist – of course it will need to be personalised to your needs. Just start a new file on your computer, and jot down everything Christmas-y throughout the year.

Merry sleepy christmas!photo © 2005 Tommy Jørgensen | more info (via: Wylio)

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Jar Toppers for Homemade Gifts in a Jar – Mini Tutorial

Jar Toppers can really top off a homemade gift in a jar (pun totally intended). I’ve been thinking on how to really show off this year’s batch of Christmas baking – while keeping my hard work fresh ‘n tasty.

Last year I presented baking in plastic bags – the thick, flat, transparent sort. It looked great, but wasn’t very environmentally friendly, and because the bags weren’t airtight, they couldn’t live under the tree. Bags and bags of baking filled my biggest airtight tin – right at the time of year I needed it most!

Jars seem like the perfect answer. Plus, they turn simple baking into beautiful and stylish gifts in a jar – and the jar itself becomes part of the gift. Everybody wins! And how do you dress up a jar? With blackboard paint, obviously.

Jar Toppers For Homemade Gifts In A Jar

The only thing lacking is the baking.

Mini craft tutorial after the jump…

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More Christmas Cross Stitch + Free Christmas Cross Stitch Pattern

Christmas cross stitch is a lovely idea, but I haven’t done very well at it so far this year. But at the store the other day, I spotted these sweet little wooden embroidery hoops.

Wooden-Embroidery-Hoops

It must be the Christmas spirit, because the shape reminded me of something… a Christmas bauble. Do you see it?

How about now?

Free Christmas Cross Stitch Design

Cute, yes? I think these would make sweet homemade Christmas gifts. You could easily personalise them too, with the recipient’s name and the date. They’d look great on a Christmas tree, maybe finished with Christmas themed fabric on the back. I think it shows that homemade doesn’t mean tacky or horrible (though of course you may respectfully disagree with me!).

This wasn’t a terribly quick project – it took me a whole evening – but a more accomplished stitcher could probably turn them out a whole lot faster. I also free handed a lot of the pattern, which slowed me down. And it shows in the results too.

Christmas Cross Stitch Design

So, somewhat dissatisfied with my attempt, I fired up KG-Chart. KG-Chart is a free, open source program which lets you design your own cross stitch patterns. It also lets you save your pattern as images, which is how I can share this free Christmas cross stitch pattern with you:

Free Christmas Cross Stitch Pattern

I’ve just used one colour for the pattern, so you can use whatever colours you like (hey, I’m not here to judge you – I’m just trying to give you a free Christmas cross stitch pattern). You’ll notice that this pattern is a little prettier than mine. That’s the problem with hindsight though.

Click on the picture for a larger version. If you do use this pattern, I’d love to hear from you – just leave a comment to get in touch.

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Grapefruit Marmalade Recipe and Pictures

Grapefruit marmalade is a classic preserve – and look at that amazing colour!

Homemade Grapefruit Marmalade

I made it to deal with a glut of grapefruit – well, three grapefruit, but that counts as a glut in our household. It felt great to be ‘putting up’ food which would have otherwise gone to waste, rather than buying produce specially to preserve. I think I’m going to be making a lot more seasonal preserves from now on.

Grapefruit Marmalade recipe and more pictures after the jump…

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Printable Christmas Gift Tags

Printable Christmas gift tags make wrapping that big pile of Christmas gifts so much easier! No more running to the store to pick up more, or improvising Christmas gift labels out of bits of cereal box – just print out another page. Easy. Done.

Free Printable Christmas Gift Labels

Every year, I make up a set of Christmas labels. Making Christmas tags yourself has some advantages – you can type your name and the recipient’s name right in and choose the paper you want to use. I’m no designer, but with a bit of patience, it’s easy enough to whip up very pretty Christmas gift tags yourself.

This year, I’ve made two designs: one with some clip art snowflake shapes, and one with just a simple Christmas message. There’s plenty of room to write the recipient’s name on the first gift tag, but the second one would have to be flipped over to add a name.

Free Printable Christmas Tags

You can download these Christmas gift tags, for free. They’re sized to for business card stock (you can buy pre-perforated business card stock at any stationery store – this project is designed with the Avery A4, C32094 Business Card template), but you can use any paper or card. You can even use sticky-backed label paper and just slap the gift tag right on the gift.

Free Printable Labels for Homemade Christmas Gifts

These Christmas gift tags are completely free for non-commercial use. I’ve uploaded two formats – .doc (Word), for if you want to personalise these gift labels, and pdf, for if you just want to print ’em.

Click here to download the Word file.

Click here to download the pdf file.

And if you do end up using these gift tags, I’d love it if you could let me know in the comments.

Update – check out more of my Free Printable Christmas Gift Tags here!

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Cross Stitch Sampler Progress

A cross stitch sampler is a big project. Really big. I knew this before I started, but I still went ahead and designed a sampler anyway.

Cross Stitch Sampler Patterns

Yes, I made my own cross stitch sampler design. Surprisingly, it was easier than I thought. I first decided what I wanted it to say, found a pretty cross stitch font in an old book and designed a simple boarder. I added in some pictorial elements too, like the bird and the heart, to add some interest.

Cross Stitch Sampler Designs

It’s a big job though – easily bigger than anything else I’ve ever stitched. I’m not even a quarter of the way through – and already it’s riddled with mistakes – but I’m really proud of what I’ve done so far.

Cross Stitch Sampler

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Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas – Part One

Homemade Christmas gifts really show you care. It’s already halfway through November, so I’ve brainstormed a few homemade Christmas gift ideas to inspire you to give something handmade this Christmas.

Handmade Christmas gifts are more thoughtful than gifts from a store. They show that you’ve put a lot of effort into the gift – the only drawback is they take time to make! However, if you add up the time of driving to the mall, finding a park, trekking for hours around the shops and then queuing at the till before heading home again… then all but the most complex craft projects can be quicker to tackle!

Here’s my top homemade Christmas gift ideas:

  • Preserves – Everyone loves homemade jam! I always think jam is one of the tastiest gifts in a jar. There are heaps of recipes online and it’s easier than you might think.

Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas - Homemade Jam

  • Baking – the key with gift giving is to give appropriate gifts. Baking is a wonderful gift idea for any occasion, but Christmas is the one time of the year when everyone is surrounded by sweet treats! You can stir all the love in the world into that cake, but if it’s stale by the time it’s eaten, it won’t be enjoyed. So pick a recipe which is a good keeper. Shortbread is traditional, and my favourite is biscotti, which will keep ’til January if necessary.
  • Sewing Kit – throw a few spools of thread, pins, needles, small scissors, safety pins and a couple of buttons into a pretty box and you’re done. If you’re making this gift for a child or a teenager, include a simple craft project which they can do right away – maybe a small cross stitch? This is also a good gift for men, who are often hard to buy for. They might roll their eyes at a sewing kit, but they’ll appreciate it when they need to sew on a button! Check out this Martha Stewart tutorial for how to make a sewing kit in a jar.

Sewing Kit Essentials

  • Wine charms – Homemade wine charms are quick and easy to make, and great for just about everyone. Roll out some no-bake clay into fun shapes, and once they’re dry, paint them and thread them onto wine charms you can buy online.
  • A Cup of Tea and a Lie Down – A Cup of Tea and a Lie Down is a great gift for that busy person in your life! Just match a pretty tea cup with a small box of tea, a few biscuits and a novel with a note explaining what the gift is. Keep the costs right down by buying a pretty cup second-hand (remember: it’s not ‘used’ – it’s ‘vintage’!), and passing on a novel which you’ve read and loved – your friend will treasure it because it came from you. Okay, so this isn’t a homemade gift exactly – but you won’t find it at the mall.
  • Cross Stitch – There are a lot of fun cross stitch designs out there which made great homemade Christmas gifts. They’re not all your Grandma’s cross stitch either! If you’re not a stitcher, why not make up a kit, with the design, thread, plus a embroidery hoop, needle and fabric. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, anyone at the sewing store would be able to help you out – plus the sewing stores often have pre-packaged kits – but that’s not homemade is it?

Modern Cross Stitch Ideas

  • Photo Frame – Cover a plain, cheap photo frame in pretty paper and include a meaningful photo. If this gift isn’t ‘big enough’ for you (we all know that it’s the thought that counts, but we’re all afraid of short-changing our friends!) include a voucher for photo printing. There are a lot of places online which will do this – they’re great, because you can upload photos from your computer and have them delivered to your door.
  • Recipe Book – Buy a blank book (or if you’re feeling particularly crafty, bind your own!) and add one or two of your favourite recipes – preferably ones your friend has admired in the past.
  • First Aid Kit – Everyone needs one! I always give first aid kits as house warming gifts which sounds terribly boring, but a bottle of wine gets emptied fast – and it’s not nearly as practical. Design your gift around the recipient – will they keep it in their car, kitchen, or handbag? Find a suggested list online, and gather your supplies up. Or, buy a pre-packaged kit and repack it in a pretty vintage biscuit tin. Or create a decorative hat box which they’ll be proud to display – and thankful they did when someone inevitably cuts a finger!
  • Mint Tin Emergency Kit – You’d be surprised at what will fit in a mint tin! Just empty out a little tin of mints and stuff it full of useful things most folks don’t carry about. I emptied out mine for the photo below. See if you can spot: three sticking plasters, a needle and six colours of thread, a magical pill towel which expands in water, three pain killers, about eight buttons in different colours, a tampon, bobby pins, a hair tie and five safety pins. Really – it does all fit! It doesn’t take long to put together, but it’s oh-so-handy. I was once able to hand my boss a needle and thread to mend a rip in her shirt five minutes before she had to meet a client. You just can’t buy brownie points like that.

Emergency Kit - How To Make an Emergency Kit

  • Stationery Sets – Stationery Sets are perfect for preteen girls, and for grown ups too! Fold your own envelopes out of pretty pages printed from magazines, add a block of paper, a pretty pen and print some return address labels to personalise the gift. Include a few stamps and who knows – you might even get a thank you note!


That should get you thinking! In Part Two, I’ll show off my own homemade Christmas gifts for this year… once I’ve made them!

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