Years ago when I blogged regularly I would do a review at the end of year using photos of my feet. It’s kind of odd to think about now but at the time seemed an apt way to honour where my feet had taken me over twelve months.
My feet are bony and long-toed and roll slightly inwards. “Pigeon toed” as a kid, sometimes tripping over myself, class mates noticed and made fun of me. For years mum took me to see podiatrists and I wore orthotics in my shoes to help my feet walk as they should.
Yet I have always loved walking. It is when I feel both alive and restful. Closer to nature and to the urban, to God.
It has been a year of walking. Short solitary walks, almost every day on the farm have sustained me. Given me relief from the strain I felt at home. Helped me reconnect with my body and my breath. Helped me notice the subtle changes of season: watch birds and grasses and cloud covering. A moving space to cry or rage or grieve in, talk it out, let it go, play with ideas, pray.
It has also been a year of walking with others: most of all my three children. It was the thing we most looked forward to and needed after a day of balancing (rather haphazardly) chores, egg cleaning, meals, schooling - the time after lunch we would be free to roam and ramble. Walks became our daily reset button, and oh did we need them.
Then there were a few special walks with my sister and friends after weeks of not being able to see each other: time to chat vigorously and move our legs, notice the season unfurling around us. My dear friend came on a walk with me in spring, and she took this photo. I think it’s my favourite from the year, a reminder that 2020 was a year of walking too...
It was a year of making - sewing and knitting wearables for me and for others (but mostly for myself). I definitely didn't set out to make the amount of items I did. I had some loose plans and hopes at the beginning of the year, which grew and grew as the year plodded along.
Being able to slowly work on projects with my hands brought much comfort in an otherwise strange and sad and unsettling year: something I could tangibly hold, control, complete. Something beautiful and useful. It was play, and it was meditation, medicine. I also loved learning new crafting skills along the way. These are my top nine makes from the year:
1. Teahouse Dress // pattern by sewhouse7 // pure linen fabric from the fabric store
I wrote a blog post about this dress here. I loved the process of making this dress so very much - the clean lines of the pattern, the challenge of learning new things (the gathered yoke in particular), using dark blue linen that had been sitting my stash for a couple of years waiting for the perfect pattern, and the result of a dress that is both comfortable and flattering, that I really can feel myself in.
2. Sibella Cardigan // pattern by Carrie Bostick Hodge // wool/yak/silk blend yarn by ochre yarn
This was my first time knitting lace which was a bit tricky but also a lot of fun. I didn't make the arms quite long enough - this is a recurring problem for me as I get so impatient to wear the knitted item I rush the sleeves! It's actually perfect wearing for the crisp summer mornings we've been having lately and the yarn which is a blend of merino, silk and yak fibres is deliciously soft and breathable. I think I would size up if I ever made it again so it could be used as a layer over a top - instead I wear it over bare arms with sleeveless tanks/dresses etc.
3. Wiksten Shift Top // pattern by Wiksten // double gauze cotton by Artelier Brunette
My most worn handmade item of the year, for sure. The pattern is roomy and comfortable, perfect layered over jeans or a skirt. I have worn this all year round; over thermals in winter and by itself in summer. I think the fabric is what makes it so special though: a lusciously soft double gauze with these golden embroidered spots scattered over it. And pockets, gotta have pockets. I have already sewn two more tops in this pattern!
4. Flea Cardigan // pattern by Pinneguri // yarn by Ochre Yarn, Jamieson & Smith 2ply, stash 4ply
I love this cardigan - I used the English translation of the original Norwegian pattern - it was so pleasurable, I almost didn't want it to end. My first time knitting a steaked colour work garment (and my second time doing colour work ). Someone said knitting colour work was like painting and there is something so playful and beautiful about the process. Like the Sibella cardigan I skimped on the sleeve length and ended up with 3/4 sleeves instead of full. I really must stop doing this! It's lovely and wearable and I would like to try a second one with longer arms and different colours one day.
5. Vertices Unite Shawl // pattern by Stephen West // yarn by Ochre Yarn, Bendigo Woollen Mills, random stash
Best shawl ever! The perfect way to use up bits of 4ply yarn you have leftover from other projects or stashed away. Such soothing, simple knitting with lovely little features where sections join. I looooved how the pattern works each panel into it as you go along and the I-cord bind off is just divine. I know I will make this again one day in different colours...
7. Origami Face masks // pattern by Aplat // fabric cotton, linen etc from stash
Such a wonderful free pattern from Aplat. We had to wear masks (and still do in grocery shops) for months during the lock downs this year so making some of my own, beautiful masks made a difference about the whole thing for me. I made some for my parents and sister and friends, plenty for ourselves. Best of all easy to adjust with each cord or elastic and washable.
6. Field Hat // pattern by Amy Christoffers // yarn by random stash, Ochre Yarn
I made so many of these! Addictive, quick week-long knit hats in the round using colour work patterns that truly feel like play. A win that the boys liked them too and could help choose the colours. I made one for my sister, one for Beren, one for Archer.
8. Tamarack Jacket // pattern by Grainline Studio // fabric by Robert Kaufman, random stash
We affectionately call this the "dog jacket"! This was the most tricky make of the year - firstly the quilting of each panel, then the welt pockets (which still weren't quite right) and finally the hand stitched binding around the edges. All in all I like it - it's super warm and the chocolatey brown Robert Kaufman linen-cotton fabric is beautiful, but I don't love it... It still feels quite stiff and a bit restrictive to wear with lots of layers underneath. I'd like try it again one day and had more length to it so it comes past the hips; and maybe size up so I can include buttons and have pockets on the exterior instead of welt-inner ones.
9. Trillium Dress // pattern by Made by Rae // cotton gauze fabric by Nani Iro
A dress for spring! It has pockets and can be layered over tops and tights on cooler days or worn with bare limbs on warmer ones. I used the washi dress pattern (now named called #trilliumdress ) which I actually sewed a version of about six years ago - it was my first ever handmade dress and although made of the most glorious cotton it was a little too short and tight for my liking. I didn’t wear it much and in the end cut it up so I could use the fabric in other things. It seemed fitting to make this dress again with the right modifications in another equally dreamy blue @itoitonaocotton gauze. Such lovely fabric calls for a simple shaped garment I think. I wear this one so much!
So many things made Christmas feel special this year: waking up with my sister and a dear friend to celebrate with us // Filling the house with flowers from the garden: feverfew, smoke bush, hydrangeas, valerian, lavender, dahlias and nasturtiums // Feasting on so many delicious things like ricotta pancakes for breakfast, trout gravlax Alex prepared, creamy potato salad with homegrown dill, rosemary crackers the boys helped me make with the best local pate, pavlova adorned with fresh fruit, cherries and roasted peanuts in their shells // Spending the afternoon outside in the mild summer air napping, playing games and reading books // Watching the house grow dark and quiet after all the excitement and intensity of the day // Lighting all the advent candles and saying a payer of thanksgiving for the Christchild and all the gifts He brings...
May all God wants
to bless you with
come to be, and may
your inner mangers,
fresh with hope,
hold wonders of His love,
and splendors of His world,
and wisdoms of His word
May peace surround you,
behind and before you,
your words and work,
your hearth and kin,
and all the friends
you haven't seen,
in your heart speak:
the prince of peace
And as the trees of the field
clap their hands,
may you sing joy -
marvel in the clouds
bees and sprouting seeds
full plates and grubby chins,
it all begins with love.
Eight years ago I made a skirt from the most beautiful fabric I had ever seen: a linen and cotton blend by Japanese textile designer Nani Iro of dark blue with sage and green and purple and cream and yellow gold hues. We were living in France and I had recently had my first baby. I was 23, and learning to sew clothes for myself felt exciting and daunting in equal measures. It was a gathered, high-waisted skirt with a zip, I had just enough fabric to make it. And while I loved it, I found the skirt to always a wee bit tight.
In eight years my body changed further. I developed an autoimmune disease and lost and gained weight, I moved house five times, I became a farmer, I grew and birthed and breastfed two more babies. The skirt was sometimes worn (partially zipped), but eventually got packed away in my sewing box to "do something with one day".
That day came recently when I decided I really wanted to modify it; extend it's waist so I could wear it with comfort (and joy!). I unpicked the zip and the gathers on one side of the skirt - I inserted a piece of dark blue linen in the waist band (since I didn't haven't any of the original fabric left) and re-attached the gathered skirt and zip. I added a little silk thread embroidery to blend the linen in - but also make a feature of the modification, a whiff of whimsy.
The skirt reflects my body in many ways: the lines and scars of wear, of use and growth. I am softer than I was eight years ago, softer to touch, yes, but also softer in my heart and mind towards myself. I speak kindly to the face that looks back at me most of the time: the body that enables me to do and feel and sense so much life. I am also stronger than I was eight years ago, in muscle and also in resolve to stand up straight and speak clearly to the world of the things I care about, the hopes I hold.
Making clothes is never just about the clothes, it's a story of who we are.
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb
If I were a wise man I would do my part, -
Yet what I can I give him, give my heart
~ Christina Rossetti
Today marks the fourth and final week of Advent where we consider the gift of love. How wonderful it is to be able to bed loved and to love others! Do you know it is because “God first loved us”: his immense love for us that is the reason Jesus came to the world at all? It is from this place of great love that God desires relationship and connection with each one of us and Jesus makes possible through his birth, death and resurrection. Jesus said: “Let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (John 1:4-7).
Look for opportunities to show love to others this week: love that is patient and kind, that does not envy or boast or keep a record of all the wrongs. Love without expecting anything in return, love born of compassion and grace.
Let us pray as we light the fourth candle on our Advent wreath, the candle of Love:
Thank you for the great love you have
for every one of us. Thank you for our
capacity to feel love and be loved by
those around us. Give us opportunities
to show your love to others: love that is
patient and kind, that does not envy or
boast or keep a record of all the wrongs -
love without reciprocity: love borne
of sacrifice and grace. Thank you for being
above all else a God of LOVE. Amen.
Baking festive cookies to share with family and friends fills me with joy! Here are five of my favourite recipes which I have tinkered and adapted to be gluten free and coeliac friendly...
* “Bunsli” Swiss Chocolate Spice Cookies *
The favourite. Hands down the best Christmas cookie! I like using ground hazelnuts instead of almonds in my Brunsli but you can use either or a combination of both. Nice dark chocolate and that hint of cinnamon and cloves makes them so special.
You will need:
3/4 cups white crystallised sugar 1 pinch of salt
250g ground hazelnuts (you can also use almonds or a mix of both)
1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons of ground cloves
2 tablespoons flour (I use rice flour)
2 fresh egg whites (70g), lightly beaten until frothy
100g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa
1/2 cup white sugar for rolling/dusting
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat egg whites with a fork until frothy but not stiff (you can also just shake them up in a jar with a lid until frothy) Add egg whites to dry ingredients and mix. Next melt dark chocolate and pour over other ingredients and mix well. Using clean hands knead dough into a ball.
On a lightly “sugared” (more white sugar) surface roll out dough to 1cm thickness and cut into desired shapes – if your cookie cutter gets too sticky, rinse in warm water - I keep a bowl next to me for this purpose. You will also need to re-sugar the work surface.
Arrange cookies on trays lined with baking paper and sprinkle with a little more sugar. Bake in a moderate oven (180’c) for 10 minutes (they will hardern as they cool down). Once cool, store cookies in an airtight container – they will last 3 weeks if stored like this.
**I find rolling out the dough on a piece of baking paper prevents sticky dough clean up, and you can use it for baking the final batch of shapes on**
* Raspberry Marshmallows *
Making your own marshmallows is fairly simple and satisfying: they are light and delicious! These ones include real raspberries which bring a gentle pink colour and flavour...
You will need:
1/2 cup frozen or fresh raspberries
2 cups white sugar
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons powdered grass-fed beef gelatine
1/2 cup water
Place raspberries, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Stir every so often to make sure all the sugar dissolves and the raspberries break up.
Meanwhile let the gelatine powder “bloom” by sprinkling it on top of the 1/2 cup water - I do this in a deep cooking pot or large mixing bowl.
Once the raspberry sugar syrup is gently boiling pour slowly onto the gelatine - whole beginning to beat with an electric mixer on a low speed. Slowly increase speed to high and beat mixture until it becomes thick and glossy, the colour will lighten. It takes about 8-10 minutes. Spread marshmallow mixture into a baking paper lined tray and set in the fridge for an hour or two.
Using a cookie cutter of your choosing press shapes out of the marshmallows and dust lightly with icing sugar and tapioca starch or cornflour. I make a mixture of 1 tablespoon or each. You can also use dedicated coconut. Store in an airtight container...
You can use all the offcuts for homemade rocky road or chopped up in festive warm drinks
* Zimtsternes: Cinnamon Stars *
I love to make are these cinnamon stars or “zimtsternes" as they are called in German. These are especially lovely with the addition of citrus zest and juice and ground cinnamon. Delicate, fragrant and spicy. They are often covered with white royal icing or meringue but I prefer them adorned simply with a thin brushing of egg white and a sprinkle of raw sugar...
You will need:
250 grams or 2 cups ground almond meal
1 pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons rice flour + 2 tablespoons tapioca starch OR 4 tablespoons of GF plain flour
1 cup crystallised or raw sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon or orange zest
2 tablespoons lemon or orange juice
2 fresh egg whites, beaten until frothy
1 egg white, beaten and frothy, for brushing on top
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until frothy but not stiff. Add egg whites to dry ingredients and mix. Next stir in citrus zest and juice. Using clean hands knead dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface (lightly sprinkled with crystallised sugar too) roll out dough to 1cm thickness and cut into desired shapes. Arrange cookies on trays lined with baking paper and air dry for 2-4 if possible before baking (I have skipped this step many times before and they have worked out fine). Preheat oven to 180'c, brush cookies with egg white and bake cookies for 10 - 15 minutes, careful not to brown them - they will harden as they cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a month.
* Gingerbread Angels *
It’s no secret that I love gingerbread. I share this recipe every year for your gluten free gingerbread needs! The psyllium husks is an unusual addition I know, but it really helps bring a little elasticity to the dough without drying it out. For added zing stir in a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger into the dough.
You will need:
3/4 cup of honey or golden syrup 2 cups of GF plain flour (or 1/2 cup rice flour, 1/2 cup buckwheat flour + 1 cup tapioca starch)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 tablespoon of ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, ground cloves + ground cardamon
1 teaspoon of cocoa powder
1 tablespoon psyllium husks
1 small egg
Melt butter over low heat in medium sized saucepan, add honey or golden syrup and bring to a gentle boil, remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes. Add sifted dry ingredients, psyllium husks, spices and a small egg, stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cover pot and stand at room temperature for 1 hour. It will thicken considerably and become more “dough” like.
Turn mixture on to surface which has been dusted with extra flour. Knead lightly, working in only enough flour until mixture loses its stickiness. I find rolling and cutting the dough on a piece of baking parchment/paper helps reduce stickiness. Roll dough to about 1/2 inch thickness and cut out shapes as desired.
Decorate with dried fruit such as cherries, currants and citrus peel. Bake in moderate oven (180’c) for 8-10 minutes or until golden. They will harden as they cool. Recipe can be doubled.
* French Style Chocolate Hearts *
This recipe is adapted from a French Christmas biscuit magazine I bought while we lived there. It’s a simple shortbread that is sure to please chocolate loving friends and relatives - with both flecks of chocolate throughout the cookie and one side dipped in rich, dark chocolate.
You will need:
2 cups GF plain flour (or 1 cup each rice flour and tapioca starch)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chocolate sprinkles or chopped chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
pinch of salt
70g dark chocolate (70%) for melting
In a large bowl combine the above ingredients (except dark chocolate for melting) and shape with your hands into a ball. You can use a food processor on a low speed if you rather. Wrap dough in foil or plastic-wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 180'c. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/2 cm thickness and cut into hearts - arrange on baking-paper lined trays bake until golden for 10-15 minutes. Cool. Melt dark chocolate and taking each heart dip one side into the chocolate, letting any excess chocolate drip off - before placing back onto the baking-paper lined tray to dry. It should take about 1 hour or two for the chocolate to set.
This is a Christmassy twist on classic play-dough which includes cocoa, cinnamon and essential oils. You can even mix in a little gold or silver glitter. It makes a lovely, creative gift for young children in a container with a few cookie cutters, interesting rocks and gum nuts to play with. See instructions below for how to make baked salt-dough decorations with it which you can hang on your tree.
Festive Salt Dough
You will need:
- 1 3/4 cups plain flour + 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup fine salt
- 2 tbsp oil
- 4 tbs cream of tartar
- 2 cups water
optional: add a few drops of essential oils such as sweet orange and clove
Mix all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and comes away from the sides of the pan. Tip out onto a clean plate and roll dough into a ball and let it cool before playing with it.
** You can make decorations with your salt dough by rolling it out flat, cutting out your desired shapes. Gentle poke a hole near the top of each shape (the end of a pen or pencil works well) - this hole will be what you can thread ribbon or string through so it can be hung up. Arrange your shapes on an oven tray, and bake for 15 minutes in a moderate oven at 180’c. They will harder as they cool. Once cold you can paint your decorations or brush with glue and glitter etc. Thread ribbon or strings through the holes and hang on your tree **
“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing, and all
the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
Today is the third Sunday of Advent where we consider the gift of joy! Joy is that deep down sense of contentment regardless of what’s going right or wrong in our lives. Jesus said that He came so that “our joy may be full”, that our wellbeing and flourishing is at the heart of God’s desire for all of us.
Like the gift of hope, joy is not dependant on what we do but rather it is a state of being. We know life will bring unexpected blows and losses, many of us have felt them this year with increased illness, isolation and uncertainty. Joy is not saying that our hardships and suffering don’t matter, it is acknowledging them whilst also turning our focus to God and trusting that he sees, loves and cares for us at all times. There is joy in speaking to babies who can’t form their words yet smile and understand us, there is joy in giving to others not expecting them to give anything back, there is joy in laughter and cheerfulness, there is joy in rest and a slower pace, there can even be a joy in letting-go of things and thoughts that no longer serve us.
Let us light the third candle on our Advent Wreath, the candle of Joy:
Thank you for the gift of joy:
that deep down sense of being well,
in spite of what’s going wrong in our lives.
Joy that lasts so much longer
than fleeting “happiness”
Thank you for saying that you
have come SO that “our joy may be full”
that our wellbeing and flourishing
is at the heart of your desire for every one of us.
Let us feel JOY afresh this season. Amen.
always creep up
and surprise me,
a long overdue
catch up with my body
and she tells me
I’m sore, spent
the world outside
the cold and unsure ones
with sun and rain
It’s enough to watch
to breathe a little deeper
roll hunched shoulders back
sip broth in a nice mug,
to be frazzled
and drink grace in,
stroke kindness into tired skin.
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...