Sunday, 20 January 2019

New Year, new plans

With the decorations down and the year nicely establishing itself into a comfortable routine, I sat down, as I usually do, to consider my plans for this year.  I'm not one for making 'new year resolutions', I've found that whatever good intentions I might have, the 'stop-doing' 'cut-back' 'do without' 'give-up' list rarely survives the first half of the month. So around this time I like to think about the things I want to start doing.  This year I plan to try out more crafts. Admittedly I had this same plan last year, and I did quite well - I learned to crochet, I tried Ruskin Lace and Hardanger, felt-work and felting and knitted and crocheted a whole range of things I've not made before.  What I have discovered about myself is that, these days, I am better at learning if I attend a workshop and receive tuition than if I try to teach myself!

With that in mind I booked two workshops for January.  The first, 'Yarn Dyeing with acid dyes' was held at the For the Love of Yarn studio in East Kilbride on the 12th January.  The workshop was led by Lisa Harland, the creative genius behind this hand-dyed yarn company and I was joined by six other 'Yarnigans' who follow Lisa on her Facebook page and had traveled from various corners of Scotland to attend.

Before getting our hands dirty, Lisa gave us a set of dye notes and ran through the theory and practice of dyeing.  Then it was in at the deep end.

Lisa handed us our chosen yarn, wet from being soaked in a citrus acid solution (the 'acid' of the acid dyes) and on tables wreathed in plastic and covered with appropriately illustrated plastic tableclothes we laid out our skeins of 'Platinum' sock wool.

When Lisa had explained that she was only going to give us three colours and black to play with, I detected a slight sigh of disappointment amongst the novice dyers.  But when I looked at the colours provided - yellow, pink and turquoise - I was immediately reminded of that combination 'yellow, magenta, cyan' that every inkjet printer is provided with.  We had the powder dissolved in water in cups and squeezey bottles and provided dry to sprinkle.  We set to work.

There is something wonderfully companionable about a group of women focused on similar tasks working with rapt attention. Apart from occasional requests to 'pass the blue' and enquiries from Lisa on how we were doing, the work progressed in almost silence.  Initially we all reached for the pink and blue, but the yellow began to make an appearance on some of the skeins as we remembered our childhood experiences with mixing paints.  Eventually we were all happy with our skeins and they were wrapped in cling film to preserve their colours and were placed in the bain maries to 'cook' and set the colour.
We retired to the showroom to add to our notes, grill Lisa on colour and design related issues and work our way through a pot of coffee and not a little cake.

Lisa explained that different dyes and 'mordant' agents are used for animal and plant fibres so the yarn we were using was 75% super wash wool and 25% nylon, but yarn spinners such as Chester Wool have blends of un-dyed yarns available with everything from alpaca to yak, bamboo and cotton. Despite our limited palette we produced very individual results.

We were sent away with our wet yarn in plastic bags under strict instructions to hang them to dry next to, not on a radiator.  Mine took about 24 hours to dry fully, hung on a coat hanger.  It was surprisingly satisfying to put it on the swift the next day and wind it into a cake, and even more satisfying to turn it very speedily into a pair of socks!

I found myself during this process wondering how I would dye different colours using just these three bases and how I would achieve different effects.  I also spend a reasonable amount of time searching the web for un-dyed spun wool and dyestuffs.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this could be the start of a whole new hobby.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Day 26 through to when the (thinner) fat lady sings...

Well it's done.  £30, thirty days.  I have 81p left, but only because the tutor at the quilt class gave me the unused milk to take home, or this would have gone on a couple of pints of milk.

I am slightly thinner, and a much wiser woman as a result of this challenge which has been interesting in a whole raft of ways.  I learned a lot about myself, and my shopping, cooking and eating habits.  I used a number of cookery books I haven't opened for years.  I've been creative in the kitchen and cooked, from scratch, for the whole thirty days (not a morsel of convenience food has passed my lips).  I've rediscovered kitchen equipment that I'd forgotten I'd owned and realised the benefits of planning, batch cooking and sensible use of the freezer, oven and microwave.  I've also begun to realise how easy it is to confuse luxuries with essentials and to take for granted the blessings of an adequate income.

Undertaking this challenge of a few weeks has had its fun moments.  It's been good to try out new recipes and to resurrect old ones.  I haven't been hungry, and for the most part I've not been bored by my food.  I have lost 4.5lbs - and I suspect this has occurred because I've not been eating the hidden sugars and fats found in convenience foods (palm oil, etc) and there has been precious little alcohol (not completely absent however, as chicken-feeding duty provided wee perks!) and no chocolate.  I've also - and rather surprisingly - been more active this month, or so my pedometer tells me.  I imagine this is due to the miles I've walked looking for bargains and comparing prices at different supermarkets. It has also been heart-warming the interest that friends have taken in my challenge, and the generosity of people in both supporting me with windfalls and garden produce (and indeed soup and bread) and in asking after my health and progress.

The rather unexpected downside of the challenge was how much time it actual took up.  Making £30 last for a month and eating reasonably healthy, balanced meals took a lot of time, planning, preparation and cooking.  I found for most of my waking hours I was thinking about food -- not because I was hungry but because I was considering how best to make use of what I had in my store cupboard and what I would have to buy.  How one does this whilst job-seeking, looking after a family, or dealing with a disability or long term illness, I have no idea. Yet the sad fact is that low income households often have these additional stressors.

There have been a couple of low points.  I'd once again offered to help out a friend in her fabric shop this week while she was away at a show.  The last time I did this I took a packed lunch that included poached salmon sandwiches, a peach and chocolate biscuits.  On Monday this week the bread was homemade, the cheese had to be grated as it was too dry to slice and I used the very last of a jar of chutney that had seen many, many days.    The only fresh fruit that I've had since the start of the challenge has come from neighbours' and friends' apple trees.  I ate the last of the apples last weekend and have missed my daily dose of vitamin C.  I found myself slightly resentful and looking forward the the end of the week and the end of the challenge, but it has an end  - the 12% of people in Stirling living in income deprivation are not so lucky.

I pledged to give the difference between £30 what I normally spend on food in a month to the charity (about £180) but I am so pleased that Start-Up Stirling will receive significantly more than this through the generosity of friends.  Your sponsorship has been incredibly motivating and the monies will be put to good use I am sure.  If you haven't yet, but still want to donate, the Virginmoneygiving page remains live for a few weeks yet.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Will the challenge have a lasting effect on me?  I'm not sure.  I would like to think that I will shop, cook and eat in a more canny fashion than previously, but only, I suspect, if it doesn't involve too much thinking.  My home cooked food has been far more enjoyable that most of the convenience food I usually buy, but I am looking forward to Sainsbury's vegetarian sausages, chocolate and a tad more wine.  And on that note, I'm off to pop a cork now in celebration of the end of the challenge.  Cheers!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Day 24 & 25: Just another lazy Saturday/Sunday

Saturday's heavy and continuous rain dried to a cold night and a bright Sunday but it was no hardship to stay home and await the weekend's deliveries.  Unusually the postman arrived early and so, knowing that I am at the end of the Amazon driver's route, I thought it safe to spend an hour or two at the SWI Stirling, Clackmannan and West Perthshire Federation's "Try a craft day".
I was a little late for the 11am start and as a result ended up on the 'book folding' table.  It wouldn't have been my first choice, as I've never really seen the point of folding books.  The resultant objects gather dust and you've lost the use of a book.  I may be a convert.  At the cost of a few pennies I have two Christmas decorations that exactly follow the spirit of my 'budget Christmas'.  Yes of course they will gather dust, but so does everything else at this time of year, and if at the end of the season they are too grimy to store, I can remove the decorations for reuse and them recycle the book without feeling that I am throwing money away.
Each of these designs was made from about half a cheap and surplus-to-requirements paperback.
The covers were removed from the paperback and then the book split into two pieces down the spine.  It is important to have a book that that has been properly glued, you don't want loose pages.  For the yule log each page was folded along its vertical axis twice, with the page edge and then the first fold ending up next to the spine. Half a book will provide a semi-circular log - if you want an entirely round one, use at least 240 pages (and you may get away with only one vertical fold).  Once folded the 'log' is stuck to a piece of card using double sided tape and then decorated.  The holly leaves and robin are little wooden tree ornaments, and the 'berries' are mini pompoms.  You could make your own from modelling clay or carboard, knit yourself a robin, raid your box of tree decorations (as I have done) or decorate with real holly and ivy.  A glue gun provided the adhesive needed.

The Christmas tree used the other half of the book, with each page having three folds.  The first fold takes the top right hand corner of the facing page to the spine to provide a right angled fold. (I've demonstrated the folds in the photo using a single page removed from the book -- but if you want to make the tree all the pages should be folded while still attached to the spine).
For the the second fold, take the right hand edge of the triangle and fold again to the spine. Finally make a small fold in the piece of the page that sticks below the edge of the book so that the 'tree' will be able to stand level.  (This odd page had a piece cut out of the bottom for some unknown reason.) Once all the pages are folded, add a piece of card to give it a flat back and then decorate the tree.  I used some glitzy Christmas parcel string and some of the wooden stars I had left over from last year's advent calendar.  Thank you Jennifer Carruthers, I enjoyed learning about this craft!

 The downside of spending a couple of hours out of the house however, was that I did miss a delivery - and this time it was unexpected.  I returned home to find a bag on my door mat, with a tupperware container of homemade soup, a loaf of wholemeal bread and a packet of Early Grey tea bags.  My good friend Jill (who worked with me for ten years, and survived, relatively unscathed) had made a mercy trip from Edinburgh with some goodies to help me through the last few days of my challenge.  In addition to two avocado from Steph and the eggs from my stint as chicken feeder, I've certainly been well cared-for this week.  In keeping with the spirit of the challenge though, I think I should count this largesse as using up the 'lives' I allowed myself at the beginning of the month.   Of course I could have frozen the soup and the bread until after the end of the challenge, but if you had smelled the aroma wafting from inside that bag, you'd have done exactly as I did and had a bowlful and two slices of bread immediately. Not having to do any cooking added to my sense of this being a very lazy Saturday and Sunday!

If you'd like to sponsor me for this challenge and support  'Start-Up Stirling' you can do so here!

Friday, 2 November 2018

Day 23: November bites

Another morning with a bit of a bite to it and another day of waiting for deliveries.  So time to do more thinking about those £5 presents.  Around this time of year in addition to 'compilation' presents, there is also an upsurge in 'do-it-yourself' kits, especially of the culinary variety.  I confess I am rather keen on these (as a recipient, I mean) as I have reached the age when I have more than enough stuff, and so really appreciate consumables and experiences as presents.  Here are a couple of my suggestions for gifts that come in at about £5.
"Biscuits in a Jar" is a BBC Good Food recipe that you can find here. It would make a great gift for those with a sweet tooth that like to eat, but not really cook.  I had most of the ingredients in my kitchen store cupboard (except for chocolate - who ever stores that? And the Horlicks). You need a large Kilner or other air-tight jar, this one I found in Sainsbury's, but you could use any large clean jar,  with at least one litre volume  - but make sure it is odour free, you wouldn't want the biscuits to taste of pickled onions!  I calculate that the costs come out like this: flour 9p; cranberries £1.20; oats 17p; sugar 23p; chocolate (dessert not cooking, but from Lidl) 76p; Horlicks 15p (I used half of an individual sachet); baking powder 2p and the Kilner jar  £2.50; £5.12 in total.  You could leave out the Horlicks or reduce the amount of chocolate or cranberries to keep in budget. The recipe and instructions are tied to the jar, and explain that the recipient needs to provide their own butter and an egg. This jar won't make it to the Christmas wrapping night, though, I have some birthdays to buy for this month, and suitably wrapped this will make as nice a birthday as a Christmas gift.

This is the make-it-yourself kit for Snowflake biscuits, another BBC Good Food recipe.  A version of this is available in their 'Homemade Christmas' magazine, or here.
The snowflake cutter came from Hobbycraft and my only purchases this time were ready-to-roll fondant icing and silver balls for decoration.  The costs were:
castor sugar (I had white, not golden) 38p; plain flour 12p; fondant icing £1.50: royal icing sugar (it contains egg white already unlike ordinary icing sugar) 22p; silver balls (half a tube) 50p and the cutter was £1.  Total cost £3.72.  all the ingredients are in a recycled cardboard box covered in last year's wrapping paper, and to give as a gift I'd add cellophane and ribbons and cover the lot in more wrapping paper.  Recipients need to add butter and an egg (and a bit of creativity with the decoration).  

Of course I was so busy thinking about Christmas I forgot to take something out of the freezer this morning for dinner tonight, so it will be the last of the pre-prepared pizza bases.  This time, as I'm a bit short on cheese, I shall wilt some spinach and squeeze out the excess liquid before arranging it on top of the still frozen tomato-sauced pizza base, making a neat barrier into which I shall break two eggs.  Baked at about 190C this will provide a tasty meal.  I'm on chicken duty again this weekend, so am hoping the eggs will be replaced if the chickens are kind.  

Needless to say when I popped out to get the chocolate for the jar and the silver decorations for the snowflakes the delivery man arrived with my parcel.  Fortunately my neighbour was home and took it in for me.  The parcel contained a pair of wellington boots and a pair of flip flops.  It reminded me of this challenge a bit.  Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.  

If you'd like to sponsor me for this challenge and support  'Start-Up Stirling' you can do so here!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Days 21 & 22: counting down (in more ways than one)

As expected I had to do a little shopping this week: milk, red pepper, large mushrooms, spinach, vegetable spread, and yoghurt - so despite my shopping around to find the cheapest available, I am down to only £4.61 left of my budget to see me through the final week.  Let's hope that the power stays on, that the freezer doesn't blow up and that I am not suddenly beset by unexpected visitors!

Now that All Hallows E'en is past it feels as if we are counting down towards Christmas and the turn of the year.  The weather this week has been cold, frosty and misty interspersed with drizzle and grey mornings.  The heating has been turning itself on more frequently and the cats seem a lot less keen on staying out late at night.  My food thoughts dwell increasingly on comfort food. On Wednesday I ate the second portion of sardine fish cakes that I had frozen, along with a large portion of my homemade boston baked beans.  The saucy beans were just what the fishcakes needed.  I finished off the last of the apple 'crumble' for dessert.

Being Halloween, I thought I ought to get to work on my bargain pumpkin.  Not, I fear, to make a jack o'lantern, but to turn it in to something delicious. The Love Food Hate Waste website pointed out this week that Scotland throws away enough pumpkins every year to reach from Edinburgh to Stornaway, which is shocking, given how versatile they are.  So I cut my 99p Lidl pumpkin in half, took out the seeds (and saved them) and roasted both halves.  The first half was then peeled and chopped and added to a saucepan with chopped red onions (thanks Liz!) the chopped red pepper, a chopped chilli, stock cubes, water and seasoning, and then simmered until the veg was soft and pulpy.  In the meantime I cleaned the 'strings' from the pumpkin seeds, gave them a rinse and a bit of a blot with a tea-towel and placed them on a baking tray with a good drizzle of olive oil some sea salt, black pepper and fennel and cumin seeds.  I baked these for about 25 minutes stirring regularly to keep them well coated in oil.  They make a delicious soup topper or snack. Once the soup was cool I blitzed it in my blender (another piece of kit used for the first time in years) and stirred through the smooth puree half a tin of the coconut milk I bought last week, then portioned it up for freezing, leaving two portions (out of ten it provided) in the fridge for Thursday/Friday lunches. Yummy.  The remaining half of the roasted pumpkin I have plans for at the weekend.

Unusually all the deliveries have arrived more or less when scheduled this week, so I was able to get out today to have a mooch around for Christmas presents for under a £5.  One of the things you will have noticed is that at Christmas shops are full of what I refer to as 'compilation gifts'.  These are packs of related things wrapped up in seasonal packaging.  It is generally still cheaper to make these packs up yourself than buy those on offer, here are a couple of examples.

Sainsbury's provided me with a £2.99 novel (Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan) a mug for £1.50 and drinking chocolate 'shots' at 30p each, 15 grams of mini marshmallows (from a 180gram bag, £1) about 8p. A total of £5.48 (you could leave out two of the hot chocolate shots to keep in budget or find cheaper versions at bargain supermarkets).  The second collection also came from Sainsbury's.  A £2.75 mug, a £1 tub of Cadbury's drinking chocolate (on special offer as it is the end of a line - but the best before date is 2020), a 'winter edition' chocolate bar (Christmas tree shapes) for £1 and a slightly larger bag of mini marshmallows, 20p: in total £4.95.  I've placed these items in cellophane bags (I keep these in the house to package my handmade socks) and will decorate on the night I set aside for present wrapping. You could use recycled gift bags, party 'treat' bags, a decorated box, handmade wrapping paper or a nice piece of fabric if you preferred, they would all work well. Whether or not you are on a budget for the festive season, these would make nice gifts for someone who enjoys a cosy evening in.

If you'd like to sponsor me for this challenge and support  'Start-Up Stirling' you can do so here!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Day 20: "Chooseday"

Over the years many of my more organised friends have extolled the benefits of bulk buying, batch cooking and a canny use of the freezer, but to be frank I've never really appreciated the attraction or the benefits.    
However I agree there is a certain satisfaction to opening the freezer, while the kettle for the morning tea is boiling, to select something for dinner and to have the choice of a whole range of homemade meals.  Despite the slight increase in temperature today over Monday's early morning -2.8C, stew and dumplings was calling to me and I took these out together with some of the mash potato I had left over from the shepherd's pies. Served with the penultimate portion of my apple crumble and yoghurt, this will be a satisfying choice for a Tuesday.

The most important decision for the day already made, my head was free to think about other things.  This week will be abnormal in that instead of my usual trips to the Needle and Natter and the quilt group, I'll have to stay in to receive parcels and workmen. Despite my best attempts to arrange for everything to arrive on the same day, the notifications tell me to expect knocks on my door every day for the next six.  There are benefits to this.  I'll need to pick up a few food essentials this week - milk and non-dairy spread for example, but the time restraints mean that I'll not be wandering around the supermarket bemoaning the prices of the things I can't add to my basket this month. The downside is that I'll not be able to identify reduced items that might prove useful constituents of £5 Christmas presents.

At this time of year supermarkets, garden centres, gift shops, delicatessens and other places selling what might be described as 'posh' food items are clearing their shelves of end of ranges, odd items of old stock to make way for all those Christmas specialities and packaged-for-Christmas items.  This doesn't mean that the items are out of date, or even close to it, the shops just need the space.  More about this later (when I'm more able to go out 'foraging').

For now, let's continue out discussion of other under a £5 presents.  If you don't think your skills are up to socks, then maybe scarf making is for you.  I am currently addicted to making these scarves - knitted in the round on four 2.75mm double pointed needles from left over sock wool.  Over the years I have made probably made hundreds of pairs of socks, but have never been able to throw away the ends of the skeins.  As a result I have the equivalent of a laundry basket-full of odds and ends.  Being knitted in the round means that one only 'knits' there is no 'purl' stitch needed to produce stocking stitch, all the loose ends from the joins are on the inside, so no sewing in is required, the scarf is double thickness and lies beautifully flat and the only sewing up required is the pom-pom on the ends (which is optional!).  So these scarves haven't actually cost me anything to make but will make lovely gifts.  If you don't happen to have baskets of spare wool lying around the house, each scarf takes about 200 grams of 4ply (about 800 metres, not including the pom-pom) and could easily be made for under £5 if you chose high-percentage acrylic yarn.  Budget supermarkets like Aldi, Lidl, B&M and Home Bargains often have special offers on craft materials, so it is worth checking them out for yarn, but be quick - Aldi's new range of 'Crafty Yarn' sells out the day it goes on-line/on-the-shelves.

Of course knitting isn't your only option for scarves.  I'm a beginner crocheter, but still managed to produce these scarves without too much angst. Again they use about 200 grams of yarn, but in each case here I've used a much finer yarn: 'lace' weight or 'fingering' as it is also known.  Harder to find in shops at reasonable prices, but not impossible.  Good places to look are charity shops which frequently have boxes of yarn the result of house clearances or crafters 'de-stashing'.  Especially useful are specialist organisations like Remake Scotland who specialise in collecting materials for repurposing, up-cycling and crafting.  Also check out free cycle networks like Gumtree and sites like Google marketplace and Ebay.  Someone out there has exactly what you are looking for at the price you can afford.

As my sisters will tell you I have no need to buy new yarn (probably ever) not of course that that would stop me, but I am particularly aware at the moment of my 'survivalist' mentality, a phrase coined by a Facebooker.  I now appreciate that before the start of my challenge my kitchen cupboards were stocked for war, and there is a reason my neighbours bought me this sign for my sewing/craft room.  So in addition to using up odds and ends of left-over yarn, I'm also planning to use up yarn that was bought with intentions lost in the mists of time.

This 400-gram ball of mostly acrylic has moved house with me at least twice, and possible four times.  I have no idea why I bought it and I'd need two balls for the sweater on the ball band, so having finished my latest scrap scarf this is my new project.  Serendipitously I found a pattern for a scarf that uses exactly 400 grams of aran weight yarn.  It's a bit more challenging than my normal plain knitting and I can't knit this and watch DVDs, but a good audio book is just the thing while waiting in for deliveries.  Not possible for £5 you say?  Think again.  Aldi are currently offering 400 grams of aran-weight yarn (only available in brown) for £3.99. Now I'd say that is a good choice for a Tuesday.

If you'd like to sponsor me for this challenge and support  'Start-Up Stirling' you can do so here!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Day 19: Monday morning blues

Well, not so much blue as silver today, the very first heavy frost of the season.  I heard my neighbour leave the house at the crack of sparrows to go to work, followed by that oh so winter sound of ice being scraped from a windscreen.  I rather smugly pulled the duvet up around my ears only to be landed on moments later by several pounds of cat.  I do wish pets would understand the concept of the end of British Summer Time. So cats fed and the daily ablutions completed I decided to try out 
some more of the odd pieces of equipment I have bought over the years.  This time it was a mandolin and a food hydrator.  I bought the hydrator years and years ago after I had a glut of plums and tomatoes, thinking that in future years such an item would help me make the most of the bounty. Needless to say, I have't had a plum glut since and I've not managed to get more than a few handfuls of tomatoes from the plants I've grown annually.  My reason for taking these things out, of course, was the apples.  I carefully peeled, cored and sliced (using that mandolin - the only piece of kitchen equipment I am genuinely nervous about using!) and placed the rings on the drying racks, and left the machine to do its work.  Of course, it would probably have been helpful if I had hunted out the instruction manual first.  It certainly worked, but I sliced the apples too finely and left them in the dryer too long.  The result? Apple crisp pieces! They won't be wasted, they will make a great muesli addition, a topping for porridge or an addition to cakes; but they were a long way from the leathery rings of chewy apple I was hoping for.  Still plenty of apples left and once I've scrubbed the stuck-on bits of apple off the trays I'll have another go.  

I didn't need to do anything other than put my pre-pared shepherd's pie in the oven to heat and brown and steam a few vegetables, so while that was cooking, I did a stock-take of my larder.  While I have plenty of dishes prepared to see me through the rest of the challenge month, stocks on store cupboard/fridge essentials are low or gone completely.  Here's the list as it stands at the moment: white bread flour, whole nuts and ground nuts, coffee beans, tea, dried mushrooms, barley, lentils, parsnips, swede, green fresh veg, lettuce, cucumber, fresh herbs, peppers and chilli, onions, tomato puree, tinned and fresh tomatoes, garlic, olives, anchovies, rolled oats, vegetable spread, milk, frozen peas, kitchen roll, dried yeast, yoghurt. I've also run out of greaseproof paper, light bulbs, bleach, and am down to the last few inches of cooking foil.  Another month on a £30 budget would be very hard. All of which had me thinking about Christmas.

I know, it's not even Halloween yet, but imagine what Christmas would be like on a £30 food budget for December.  And to quote from a favourite childhood book of mine:
Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. "It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress. "I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff..  
I've heard a lot of people recently talking about the arrangements they are making for Christmas, the agreements they have come to with family about the amount of money to be spent on presents, and whose 'turn' it was to host the Christmas lunch.  By mutual agreement my siblings and I no longer buy each other presents, and the same arrangement occurs with many of my friends, but for those suddenly thrown on hard times who would normally 'do' Christmas to the full, coping with little or no money at Christmas must be very tough.  

So I've decided for the remainder of my challenge blog to include ideas for presents that can be bought (or made) for under a £5.  I know that even this little will be beyond the purses of many on the breadline, but perhaps for the rest of us, it might be time to put a bit more care and a bit less cash into Christmas.  

Not surprisingly, I'm starting with socks.  (I AM the Sock Lady after all).  Each of these pairs of socks was knitted with yarn that cost less than £5.  There's no pure wool here (obvs.) but then if you want your socks to last a little while you want a bit of nylon. The two pairs in the middle of the photo are 75% wool and 25% nylon and those at the top and the bottom have a reasonable proportion of acrylic in them.  They are not hard to make for even the most basic of knitter, and once you handle 'knitting in the round' are quickly completed.  You can find a basic sock pattern here.  Many on-line yarn shops have special offers, you'll need about 100 grams or 400 metres of sock or 4ply yarn for a basic woman's sock and a tad more for a man's (if his feet are bigger than a size 8 or 9).  If you want to make boot socks, double knitting (DK or Sport) works well, you might get a pair out of 100 grams if the skein has plenty of yardage.  You can buy 100g of acrylic yarn for under £2 a ball.  Check out The Wool Warehouse for a wide range of suitable budget yarns, but if you don't do on-line shopping (or can't order enough to get free postage) visit your local Hobbycraft, they offer 'click and collect' too.  If you can't knit, find a local 'knit and natter' group and join it.  I guarantee there will be sock knitters there, and all will be willing to help you learn.  Socks may seem like a deeply boring gift, but once you've worn a pair of handmade socks, it is very hard to go back to shop bought.  You might find yourself with a second career knitting socks.  What would be so bad in that?

If you'd like to sponsor me for this challenge and support  'Start-Up Stirling' you can do so here!