Making paper is such simple pleasure. A little circle of friends made some together today. We began, like bread bakers, a day or two in advance, ripping a dozen sheets of paper into small pieces and leaving it to soak in a few cups of water. One family cooked theirs up and spun it through the food processor to get a fine pulp; the others just rubbed the soaked paper for a few minutes, til the fibres came apart, to make a rough, porridgey texture.


You’ll need a screen. We had ready-made screens and homemade screens. An embroidery hoop with a pair of fine tights stretched across it works surprisingly well. You’ll also need a tub wide enough to accomodate the screens, and for good measure, a bit of mesh and a sponge to help press the water out.


The children ran round the garden collecting flowers and leaves to add to the paper;

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Plucked the petals from their stems and threw it all into the mixture in the tub, with a bit of extra water.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Ready? Here we go. Slip the screen (screen-side-up) under the pulp, and lift it up to catch a layer of paper. If you don’t like the effect, tap it out and try again.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

If you choose to, lay the mesh over the pulp on your screen, and press gently with the sponge to release water, frequently squeezing out the sponge. I’m not sure it is necessary, but we admired the look of it after.

papermaking © elisa rathje 2012

Set the papermaking screen somewhere warm to dry for a few hours. It’s far too miserable to leave ours outside, sadly. We’ll pry up our homemade paper with a butter knife, and show you later!

honeycomb smocking

Perhaps the last of my studies in textural sewing with linen, one more toss cushion. (Though now that I think of it, I have a penchant for rosettes that I haven’t yet explored.) This piece uses true smocking, in a honeycomb style, very different from the shirring I’ve used before. The smocking is worked by drawing together even gathers on the reverse, and then on the right side, joining a pair of gathers, slipping invisibly up to the next spot over, sewing it to the gather beside it, and so on, so that a diamond shape begins to appear. Pardon? I’ll let Ginny over at Buttons and Bobbins illustrate this one. The stitched effect echoes my knitted honeycomb handwarmers and pleases me greatly.
honeycomb smocked cushion © elisa rathje 2012

There you are. It isn’t difficult, just perfect for a rainy night watching an old movie that you know well enough to look away from frequently. I find it charming to look at, the soft diamonds with hard edges, cousin of the kissing pleat.

handmade linen cushions © elisa rathje 2012

An education, so far. A variation on the kissing pleat pillow, a quilted and piped piece, this honeycomb smocking project, knife pleats, a second kissing pleat cushion, a ruffled experiment, and the tufted pillow. Someone seems to have made off with the shirred cushion to keep them cosy on the antique sofa, which is next in line for some attention. Tell me, which one do you like?


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When I’ve made flatbreads or English muffins or pizza, I love to make breadsticks out of the last of the dough.


I use a simple recipe for everything inspired by recipes from the River Cottage Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens. Mine is 500g each of whole and white spelt, 10g of yeast, 650ml of warm water, though I usually make up part of that with sourdough culture to deepen the flavour, 20g of sea salt, and a good glug of olive oil. I knead that well and leave it to rise, covered, overnight before using it for various recipes. Preheat the oven to about 200 C/375 F.

Roll out a good handful of the dough to a half centimeter on a floured surface.


Slice lengths of about a finger’s width;


Arrange them on an oiled tray in shapes as you please. The spirals are delightful, my children adore them. I like to drizzle the bread with garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt.


Bake them through, about 18-20 minutes. I once made the mistake of putting them in a piping hot oven I’d been baking pizza in, and it swiftly turned them to charcoal.


Breadsticks! So great for simple meals out in the garden.


Soapmaking is one of those traditional skills with a long and ancient history. Making soap yourself grants access to possibilities for variation that is ever so satisfying. The purity of materials is in your own hands, this way. I’m very fond of that deep sense of connection to history and the independence that making things by hand allows. Baking sourdough bread, sewing clothes, throwing clay pots, preserving foraged foods, this is the kind of work that makes me feel grounded. And industrious. I traveled by train to the beautiful seaside village of Clovelly, Devon, to study cold-press soapmaking with Sarah Harper at The Clovelly Soap Company.

soap-making © elisa rathje 2011

A few natural ingredients are required, and a willingness to calmly, carefully handle the dangers of sodium hydroxide, no worse than chemistry class, but far more exciting, I should think. We dressed in long clothing, with aprons, rubber gloves and protective glasses, and kept a spray bottle of vinegar nearby (to counter the alkaline sodium hydroxide, if necessary).

soap-making © elisa rathje 2011

First we measured out coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, and olive oil.

soap-making © elisa rathje 2011

Melted it.

soap-making © elisa rathje 2011

Measured out the sodium hydroxide with great care. The name sounds slightly daunting, but if you responsibly handle boiling water, lighting fires, pumping a car with fuel, or driving one, frankly, you’ll be alright.

soap-making © elisa rathje 2011

We took this step outside and refrained from inhaling nearby. Adding the sodium hydroxide to the water is safest, stirring til dissolved. The chemical process heats up, so the next project is to cool the melted oils and the sodium hydroxide & water to the correct temperature range. This is the challenging bit, to pay attention to the dropping temperature when one does get lost in conversation, exploring beautiful things in the studio.

soap-making © elisa rathje 2011

Once the temperature is reached, we mixed the two liquids, added essential oils, and whisked them rapidly til they thickened and the wake of the whisk left traces behind it. I used geranium and rose oils.

Excellent process. Once the mixture reached trace we poured it into the moulds and covered with cling film, wrapped in a blanket to slow the cooling process, and went out for a walk along the stone harbour in Clovelly.

I’ll be unmoulding and cutting my soap soon, and leaving it to cure for a few weeks. If you’d like to make your own soap, you can follow Sarah’s guide, first published in the winter appleturnover newsletter. Or if you are a lucky thing and can visit Devon, go and see Sarah and her Clovelly Soap Co.

tufted pillow

Next in my series of linen pillows, those little textural studies in sewing. I find tufted furniture quite entrancing, much like kissing pleats and smocking. Something about the sculptural qualities of tufting is so appealing, and I made a cushion to try it.

how to cover buttons with fabric

I love the tradition of accentuating tufting with buttons, from early vintage pieces to the Barcelona chair. Time to learn to cover my own buttons. My button jar had odd ones that I wasn’t sure how to use, so I bought a set of four with reassuringly simple directions printed on the back. Cut out the template and use it to cut your fabric. Sew a running stitch round the edge, pop the button in on the wrong side and pull to gather tightly. Smooth out the fabric and press the washer into place. Magic! Suddenly I was transported to my youth, wearing my mother’s 1960’s blue skirt & jacket, with cloth-covered buttons to match, just the same size as these. Very Jacqueline Kennedy.

handmade tufted linen pillow

I marked out four spots on each side of fabric before I began the piece. After covering the pillow in two shades of linen, I used some sturdy thread to sew through a pearly button back and out through the front, fabric-covered button, pulling as tightly as possible. Back and forth between the buttons til securely fastened, much wrestling and squashing of the cushion involved. I think the tufted pillow makes a fine addition to the daybed, quite cosy. Now I have rosettes in mind for the next cushion, though as winter steadily approaches, it must wait its turn til I’ve finished the nine-patch quilts.

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handmade tufted linen pillow