Make it yourself, do it yourself

21 December 2011
My thanks to the men who commented yesterday. It was really great to hear your opinions and learn a little about how you work.


As I waited for a meeting to start on Monday, I browsed through some blogs I'd never seen before. It made me really happy and optimistic about the future to see so many people making gifts and food hampers from scratch. Hand made and home baking has become part of our lives again. After a history of doing things this way, and a brief fifty year glitch, we're coming back to it. It feels good to me.

These above and below were made by my sister, Tricia. Above was going to be part of a quilt but ended up not wanted and left here after a visit. I use it all the time on my kitchen table.  Below is a linen cushion cover Tricia sent to me yesterday. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's a hand sewn portrait of the two of us. I am in the red striped stockings, she has my polka dot stockings on. I will have to talk to her about it.  ; - )

I came to hand making more from necessity than the beauty of it, although there is an abundance of that. I sometimes wonder what a shop assistant would say if I asked for a cloth for draining yoghurt or cheese, or a set of small to larger cotton circles or squares to cover my fermenting ginger beer and sour dough. But in the end nothing did better than the little open weave cloths I made. Table mats, runners and napkins were the same. Not only did they serve my purpose, they used up the scraps I had left over from larger projects. I think it's a bit quaint to use doilies alone to protect a precious wooden surface, but I'm much more open to sewing a doily into something more substantial that I've made from scraps. My doilies are sometimes from my mother so I'm also sewing memories into items I use on a daily basis. It's the best of both worlds and I smile when I see them.

This charming bird, in my favourite polka dots, was made by Sarndra. It guards our front door.

This make-it-yourself ideology comes into play in the garden too. Instead of buying stakes and fancy climbing trellises, Hanno makes do with what we have, recycling old pieces of steel and iron and using ancient timber stakes, bamboo canes and small raw branches for small climbing frames. I wanted a large stone vessel to place under the palm tree to hold clean water for the chooks when they were free ranging. I knew a stone vessel would be out of our price range if I bought one but when our old stone bird bath was too damaged to use in the front garden, it became that stone drinking vessel. The chooks use it every day.

Very early on in my simple life, I decided that instead of buying products all the time, I would be productive and make them myself, and that has stood me in good stead. I make aprons, napkins, small curtains, table runners, covering cloths, dish cloths, face cloths, rugs for our pets and many other household soft furnishings and woollie wearables like mittens, scarves and socks that allow me to use scrap fabric and wool while I'm producing something I need. Home production feels right and honest to me. I feel I'm doing what I should be doing and that I'm getting the full value of what we have here.

Do you know what this is? I found it inside something I bought at an antique shop about a year ago. It's hand stitched in red and green cottons and features a horse, church, Christmas tree, birds, a woman and several other things. It's made of open weave cotton and measures about 130 cm (50 inches).

When I need something new in my home, I don't think of getting it at the shop anymore, I start looking through my stash. Usually I have exactly what I need or something I can modify. It's a great feeling to be self-reliant and not to have to rely on what's in the shops to supply our needs. I think I've become a lot more confident since I've lived this way; I'm sure I'm better for it. So while I browse around the blog neighbourhood and see others doing what I'm doing here, but in different ways and often with much more ability and finesse, I smile and feel like I'm part of a soft and beautiful revolution. Those of us who make do with what we have are showing how simply made cotton, linen and woollen items are not only be utilitarian but also make a meaningful contribution to a unique home.


  1. How I agree with you about being self-reliant. I often see things I like advertised for sale at silly prices, then I have a think and reckon I could make something similar myself. Time is usually the deciding factor, or I will have decided that I don't really NEED whatever it was I saw!

    This year money has been very tight and I have been busy making gifts for my family and as always, have got SUCH pleasure from making them, whether sewn or cooked or baked. This is all second nature to me, but what a pity that some people have never realized how fulfilling making little items to brighten or be useful in their home can be. So many say "Oh I COULDN'T do THAT" when they see a simple knitted scarf or x-stitch picture. Anyone would think they'd been asked to redesign the wheel! Practice makes perfect, as my mum used to say - and she was right! Or the other lame excuse is not having the time. Perhaps a little less shopping for "things".

    The same applies to baking a cake or making jam, and the more you achieve, the more CONFIDENT you get, and you soon broaden your repertoire.

    Crafting - or baking - is a balm to the soul too. Whenever I am worried about something I get busy to take my mind off the worry. Ironing, for some reason, is the best balm of all. And to think I used to hate it!

    Once again thank you for the inspiration your blog posts bring. I love that little Christmas hanging you got "free" from the antique shop!

  2. Lovely Rhonda this post has made me look at things I have in a different light.

  3. Hi Rhonda,

    I started making homemade chicken stock last week :) :) It's so easy and tastes so much better than anything in a can :) :)

    Next, I'm going to try making homemade yogurt with fresh, raw milk :) :)

    There's something really satisfying about making do and making things for yourself ;) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)

  4. Apart from the money you save and the really great feeling of satisfaction in making things yourself, the saving of resources is a really great incentive for me. We went Op Shopping yesterday and the sheer magnitude of the stuff in these shops is staggering.Perfectly good stuff thrown out because it's no longer required/ fashionable/ useful.Like many people leading simple lives we vary rarely buy anything new. Instead we op shop, or make things from what we have at home. Thanks for all the helpful hints you offer in helping me and others do this with more confidence. I know that there are so many people now blogging about their experiences with living more simply and sharing their skills. It is a really great community that I am very thankful for. xxx

  5. Another inpsiring post, thanks you are so resourseful :)

  6. Could it be a table runner Rhonda?

  7. I love your description of a soft and beautiful revolution. I became very minimalist when I moved here 7 ears ago, but I am slowly finding I need to add a little softness and beauty. the chook pillow your sister made you is very cute!

  8. Soft and beautiful feels just right for the arts of homemaking. bI guess a lot of my sewing was done from necessity. I might never have made childrens pyjamas, curtains for the lounge or car seat covers if I'd had the money to buy new but there was joy back then in making from scratch and there is pleasure now to look back and think that I did all of that. Cherrie

  9. Hi Rhonda..i only started this way in my life about 3 years ago..and wow i have enjoyed it so much.I don't bother shopping around for things anymore i have a good look around my home and stash and i can usually make it myself.
    I love being self reliant..making my own things,learning things about myself as i go..seeing what i can do and what i can achieve by myself.
    Money has been very tight for us but we have managed to pay off debts and become debt free..thankfully..and its thanks to blogs like this one that has encouraged us and in some ways supported us through tough times.
    We love our new life..if we can't buy it then we will have a go at making it..
    Our confidence in growing food and keeping chickens has baking and sewing and knitting skills are improving..
    Happy Christmas
    thank you

  10. I totally agree. I love looking at other people's crafts because most are so easy to make. Your look wonderful. I believe what embroidered piece in the last photo would be maybe a table runner/sampler. My grandmother had a lot of table runners she kept in the "buffet". Ours had mostly flowered embroidery and the fabric was not the same but I believe it is the same idea.

  11. New stuff isn't something that happens round here. I've just finished making the last present and I think I've spent exactly $4 altogether. (two items from the local junk shop to incorporate into other things).

    I have one or two ideas to share about making this and that which I really should put online. There is a really pretty bell pattern there now so I will have to add to that. I suppose I am lucky in that we were brought up with very little and simply made anything extra ourselves so I just do it anyhow - by osmosis I think!

    I do like this site :) It shows that my way of life is out there too.

    viv in nz

  12. Love your blog. We have much in common. Wondered if you could post on knitting socks? With our winter here in the U.S. I would love to knit wool socks but have never attempted it. Using four needles seems beyond my abilities...Maybe you could prove it to be easy?? Thanks. Susan (homemaker wife and mom of two children)

  13. @Susan,

    I'm in California and I am a knitter...especially of socks. That's one of my favorite things to knit. It is very easy to use four-double pointed needles and knit in with the fifth. That's how I learned to knit. It gives you a much nicer rounded shape with less stress at the corners :) :) If you can knit and purl, you can make socks :) :)

    Rhonda, if you ever do a sock-knitting tutorial let us know. Otherwise, Susan, you can private email me, if you feel comfortable, and I could certainly try and do a tutorial on my blog :) :)

    I love socks... :) :)

    Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather ;)

  14. "a soft and beautiful revolution" - so well put! All your things are so pretty; I particularly love the bird, and I can see I'll have to make one for myself.

  15. We reuse and repurpose everything we can too. Keeps the ol brain cells working trying to reinvent things! :) Fun too! When we cannot use something and it is still good we pass it on to others who can use it. One person who gets some of it has a small shop and supports their family from its sales. A win win solution. Since most everything we have was once used to begin with who knows how many lives they have lived. :) As usual Rhonda I get lots of inspiration and motivation from reading your posts. The deep satisfaction felt from living this type of life is priceless. Sarah

  16. More articles like this please, simple but basic! It's nice to see the older ways return to current times!

  17. Your beautiful homespun cross-stitch is a bell pull I am sure. If it has pockets on the ends to hold a dowel on both ends, if not, you can sew small 1/2 inch or 1 inch pockets to put dowels through them, I am sure Hanno can make something. Then you hang on the wall. You need ends that are heavy enough to hold but yet light enough not to pucker or sag this beautiful piece.
    My mother and I used to to own and operate a needlepoint and embroidery shop in my community and we did custom needlework, needlepoint, and church embroideries by hand.

  18. I would also guess that it's a bell pull. You put decorative wooden or metal rowels or strips in the bottom and the top and then hang it on your wall. The Dutch ladies used to embroider these with all kinds of pictures; a strip of six different windmills or old fashioned clocks, or flowers or toadstools, etc. I think this might e a Dutch tradition. My Dutch mother has made quite a few of these. Usually they are done in cross stitch, but not necessarily. Ellie from Toronto, Canada

  19. Love that pillow, Rhonda. It's as cute as it can be.
    Warmest wishes....Jeri from Utah, USA

  20. Ladies, I don't think it's a bell pull. There is a ¼ inch hem all round and no space for dowels. It's 5 inches wide and 50 inches long. I think it may be a narrow table runner that someone has worked as a sampler. Maybe. : - )

  21. It looks like a door hanging to me. I used to see them seasonally but not so much lately. My grandmother was a prolific embroiderer and cross stitcher and taught me both skills.

  22. Inspiring as usual Rhonda Jean! Your mystery embroidered object looks sooo Swedish. You would find things like that in virtually every Swedish home - handwork done by the older generations. If it had been wider it would definitely would have served as a table runner. Maybe it was custom made for a narrower surface.
    Although this kind of embroidery sadly belongs more to the past, I saw a funny revival in our local Design Store. I couldn´t resist buying a prepared sampler to be done in cross stitch with the text "I used to be indecisive but now I´m not sure". Some of them were quite rude but fun. What the heck as long as they keep the art of embroidery alive.
    Greetings from Uppsala/Sweden where we have just had our first snow.

  23. The polka dot bird and the backyard birds are cracking me up. They are so fun. Talent and creativity kind of runs through your family. Yep.

    brenda from arkansas

  24. A thought provoking post as always Rhonda...i am constantly in awe and inspired by the blogging community and wonderful things being created!

  25. I wrote today about your runner but am not sure if you received my reply. I have never made a comment on your blog. Not sure if I do it right but this is my last try. Your runner is ment to hang over the back of a grandfathers clock. My mother had made one identical as yours. I am new to your blog and enjoy it very much. Have made my own soap and knitting my own dishcloths. Next step washing powder. Haven been making my own bread for some time and have always cooked from scratch.

  26. I love your posts about the value of crafting and cooking, handmade and homemade, showing us that they can be more than just nice hobbies, but a way of life. You are such an inspiration! Thank you!

  27. Hi Rhonda,
    Pretty and cute bird hanging and pillow case. I too embroidery for my cloths and pillow cases, stitch pillow covers with old clothes like so many things.

  28. Jacqueline, this is the first comment I've had from you. No others have shown up. The cover for the back of a grandfather clock makes sense to me. Thank you.

  29. I cook from scratch out of necessity as we have a daughter with a peanut allergy. At first it was a chore but now I've come to learn it's a way for me to show my family love. After some of my early attempts it is a way of them showing me trust - I'll admit to throwing out a dinner that went awry during the cooking process & having cheese on toast for dinner, thankfully less often these days with a little more experience.

    I am coming to understand the extra love in making something yourself - be it dinner, a cross stitch as a gift or even a child's costume for book week at preschool - rather than buying off the shelf. For the next few years I am studying part time & working full time, so I treasure more my 'Mummy time' than ever before.

    Donna from near Canberra

  30. My kids are 11 (today) and 15. They still want gifts at holiday time. But crafting, making things at home, and getting "new" clothes at the thrift shop and "new" books at the used book store are very much part of the plan. One of the best gifts my husband and I give the kids throughout the year are skills: cooking, sewing, fixing, using tools safely.

  31. Hi Rhonda, you are so right. I'm trying to make a lot myself too. Just finished a sweater and am now knitting my third pair of bedsocks. We wear them over our socks to keep our feet warm ; )

    Could the stitched piece be a clock runner ? I have something similar lying on top of my coo coo clock ??

    Have a wonderful day.

  32. I have been following a similar path for going on 40 years now. It is deeply satisfying and also makes me feel at peace to not be a part of the selfish, acquisition minded world that uses a disproportionate share of the worlds resources. I also feel prepared for whatever comes, whether prosperity or poverty, we can do just fine.
    I just recently tried your recipe for laundry soap. I have been making my own for years out of my homemade soap leftovers. The Fels-Naptha soap works fine, but after a few days began separating into soap gel and clear liquid. Any ideas what I did wrong?

  33. Joan, you didn't do anything wrong, it separates. If you read the post on making it, it says it separates. If you have some for a long time and shake it every time you use it, it stops separating but in the beginning, it's normal.

  34. Thank you Rhonda, that is reassuring. I didn't notice that comment in the post on making the laundry soap. Mine turned out to be a VERY firm gel, much like Jello with not enough water. However, it has gotten the stains out of garments I had given up on, and I am going to keep making it until I get the texture right. I just pour some of the liquid in along with the gel, and it seems to work out just fine.

  35. The item you found at the antique shop appears to be a sampler or table runner. I'm guessing table runner from the length.



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