Grow Your Own, Make Your Own

a journey of discovery


Handmade cushion cover – a farewell gift: part 2

I have borrowed my Mum’s sewing machine this week and have spent the past couple of evenings whizzing away at it to complete Janet’s cushion cover before she goes to live in the UK for a year.

 We had a new fabric shop open in town a few weeks ago so I went hunting for some beautiful material. I didn’t have to look too hard. There is so much beautiful fabric out there! I chose a black and cream theme and decided to get some patterned pieces and some plain pieces, as I explained in part 1. I probably should have looked around for some pre-loved fabric to use but seeing as this is my first experience sewing for ever, I decided to go with a safe option of fabrics that I could easily match and had the same thickness and texture.

 1.    I decided to make a 40cm cushion cover so I cut 4 pieces of each type of fabric into 12cm squares. This leaves a 1cm seam line.

J layout

2.    Cut 16 squares the same size out of cream cotton flannelette, and pin them to the backs of the coloured squares.

3.    Quilt each square with a simple criss-cross with black cotton leaving a 1 cm seam line.

4.    Using the layout photo as a guide, pin the quilted squares together. Join 4 squares to form a row and sew together. Make sure you sew the squares so that the seam comes out through the front (see photo). This will give you the rag style look on the front.

 J Piecing front together

 5.    Iron the middle seams down flat to make it easier to join the rows together

6.    Pin your first row to the next one making sure that the vertical seam lines match up. Sew each row to the next to form your front square which will be 4 little squares across and 4 little squares down.

 7.    Using a very sharp pair of scissors, snip each exposed hem on the front of the cover to just above the seam line. Space the snips about 1 cm apart to create a ragged fringe.

J Stage of sewing front together

 8.    Next, get the black fabric for the back of the cushion cover. Cut to 43 cm wide x 50 cm long. Cut in half lengthways. You should now have 2 pieces that will form the back envelope.

 9.    Fold one short end on each piece and iron flat. Fold over again and iron flat. Sew along the folded strip to form a hem.

J Cut back pieces

10.  Pin the back to the front with the right side facing in. Make sure your 2 black pieces overlap at the back by about 3-5 cm. This will be where you insert your cushion. Sew a seam around the outside edge of the cover to enclose. Turn the right way around through the opening at the back and VOILA! Cushion cover is finished! Pop a cushion insert inside and admire your creation.

J Finished cushion cover

 11.  To finish off the raggy front, wash the cover, line dry and give it a good shake. This should help the front seams to fray further and will finish it off nicely.   

 If you decide to give this cushion cover a go, I’d love to see your photos! You can post them on the Grow Your Own, Make Your Own Facebook page or tag me in Instagram @growyourown or even just email a pic to me at




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Handmade cushion cover – a farewell gift: part 1

My dear inspirational work friend, Janet, is leaving these shores to travel and live in the UK for a year. I’m excited for her and upset at the same time. I will definitely miss her but I also know that this sort of experience is really life changing in many ways. I’m a teensy bit jealous too as I love travelling and would love to see the UK and Europe, but I have had my fair share of travelling journeys and I know that at this moment I am supposed to be here (not to say we won’t do a little short-term travelling as a family sometime).

 As I thought about this I wondered what sort of parting gift I might be able to give her. She is going to be limited in what she can carry on the plane – no heavy or bulky items. So that rules out books, journals, dinner sets or irons. 

I thought about my own journeys to other countries where I had stayed for a substantial amount of time and I really valued the little, sentimental things from home – the photos, a special ornament, a bottle of tabasco sauce. These sorts of things can help to ease the transition to a new place and act as reminders of the friends and family back home.

So I have decided to make her a cushion. Well a cushion cover actually. That way she can pack it flat in her suitcase and buy a cushion filler when she gets to London. It’s going to be a rag style patchwork. Given the fact that I haven’t sewn anything with a machine since I was in high school, I thought the rag style would be more forgiving.

The best bit about this cushion cover is that some of the patches will be patterned and some will be plain but adorned with the names and messages from our fellow work colleagues. Over the past week I’ve asked each of our workmates to sign a part of the patch using fabric markers. It is already looking great.

I’m going to use a pattern I saw on the Australian version of Better Homes and Gardens TV show ages ago. I have been trying to track it down but no luck yet so I’ve done a bit of internet searching and will piece together a couple of different patterns to get the result I am looking for. I will post pictures of the process and the final cover when it’s finished. Wish me luck!!

Have you ever lived in a different country to where you grew up? What helped you transition as you got used to the different culture?




Inspired. There are many people in my life who make me feel that way. It is something that they do unconsciously. I’m sure if I told them they would laugh and question the truth of it. I’ve already told you about the inspiration my parents have given me. I’m sure they have no idea. Perhaps I should tell them more often.


They have also inspired my sister I’m sure. She too has a similar dream to mine and to theirs. In turn, she inspires me! She and her husband are further along in their journey than I am so here is another source of wisdom from whom I can seek advice. Lou Lu is a vegan and, among other things, has recently started fermenting foods. I tried some of her homemade tempeh not long ago. I tell you what – don’t judge tempeh until you’ve tried homemade! It was absolutely delicious! She lightly pan fried it in spices and I could not get enough. Unfortunately, she also lives 5 ½ hours away by car so, naturally, making tempeh will have to go on my list of things to try and make myself.


image courtesy of photography by BJWOK/

image courtesy of photography by BJWOK/

Another inspirational woman who follows the “grow your own, make your own” philosophy is Aunty S. She is also a long way into her journey of growing and making her own food. She tells me that she didn’t know how to grow vegetables when she first started. It’s hard to believe her as she tells me this and I look over her shoulder to see the flourishing melon, pumpkin and zucchini vines creeping out of their garden beds and across the back lawn. Aunty S has started making her own cheese. We are yet to try any, there have been a few lessons learnt along the way with batches that didn’t work, but I’m keen! Very keen! Aunty S also does a lot of preserving and drying of excess produce that she grows. I’m sure she will be another source of valuable information and advice over the coming months.


I have a friend from work who inspires me to do what you can with what you have. You don’t need a 7 acre block to start growing and making your own. This beautiful young lady lives in a unit in town. She grows herbs and a few vegies in a tiny patch of garden and in pots, and she outsources for large volumes of produce with which she makes chutneys, jams and pestos. She also makes her own pasta, and always shares the surplus of her wares with friends and workmates. She does it without fanfare, just simply pops around to people’s desks and offers it. Growing and making your own is not about serving just yourself and your family. It’s about building community, being connected with the food we eat and being generous to those around us, and my friend does this simply and beautifully.


There are many others in my life who inspire me in different ways. These ladies and my parents specifically have inspired me to start this journey to grow my own and make my own, and to extend that to others.


Who inspires you, and how?


I have just become the guardian of Herman for 10 days. Herman is a sourdough starter and while he is in my care he will grow (hopefully I won’t kill him accidentally!) and be fed and grow some more. On day 9 I will divide Herman into 4 parts. I’ll give 3 away to friends and use the last portion to make a German Friendship cake. Then the cycle will continue in the homes of my fellow Herman guardians.

I love the idea of this! Not only do my family & I get to enjoy watching Herman grow and then eat the yummy cake at the end, we get to share him around with others.

Have you ever made sourdough? Or have you ever had a communal guardianship over something like a school pet or plant?

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Sauce Day

Sauce day. Tomato day. Passata day. Whatever it’s called it is always a good day.

I married into an Italian family. The town where I live has a strong Italian culture and days like this happen all over. Once a year, families get together and make tomato sauce, or passata. We’re not talking sugar filled ketchup here. This is the stuff we use to make rich, delicious bolognese and pizza sauce.

Depending on the weather in the lead up to sauce day, the tomatoes are usually gathered by hand. There is a big tomato farm about 40 km out of town. Hundreds of cars gather early in the morning at the designated meeting place and then we all follow the farmer out to his fields, armed with buckets. The next couple of hours are spent picking buckets and buckets of juicy, sun-ripened roma tomatoes. We then pay the farmer per bucket and take our spoils back to GH’s uncle’s place.

Unfortunately this year, due to the extreme heat wave this summer, many of the tomato crops were destroyed. We had to pre-order and pick up the tomatoes at the market, and a big thanks goes to Uncle R and Aunty S for organising the 230kgs of tomatoes we used this year and for allowing us to use their home to make the sauce.

Once the tomatoes have been picked (or picked up!) they are thrown (gently of course!) out onto a big tarp on the lawn and washed down. We then put them into big tubs and fill with fresh water. From here they go to the cutting table. Everyone who has a spare pair of hands gathers at the cutting table and we proceed to cut each tomato into smallish pieces ready to go through the crusher.

Then two people work the crusher, pouring the tomatoes through what looks like a meat mincer. The juice flows into a tall container with a tap at the bottom. The tomatoes go through the crusher 3 times to extract all of the juice and pulp. The skins and seeds remain in the waste which goes out to the chook pen. The older chooks leave the scraps but the younger ones, the naïve first years, run eagerly to see what prize they have won. By the end of the day, they’ve had enough of that strange red stuff that seems to keep coming and coming!

Once the tall bucket has been filled with the juice and pulp, salt is added, followed by a thorough stirring. We then put the mixture into long-neck bottles typically used in beer making. The tap at the bottom of the container fits nicely into the opening of the bottles and ensures that none is wasted. The bottles then move to the capping table where metal tops are pressed on. Once all of the chopping and crushing has been done, and the bottles have been filled and capped, they are taken over to the fire pit. Two 44-gallon drums lay over the fire pit with their sides cut open. The bottles are gently placed into the barrels until they reach the top, and then the barrels are filled with water.

We light the fire and wait for the water to reach boiling point, then allow the bottles to boil for 45 minutes to an hour, after which time the fire is extinguished and the bottles remain in the hot water bath for another hour or so. They are then divvied out to the family and go on to the much higher purpose of making beautiful, rich and tasty bolognese or pizza sauce.

I was privileged to receive Nonna’s bolognese recipe after my husband and I got engaged. I felt like the mysteries of the world had been revealed to me! It is still the best sauce I have ever tasted and I feel very lucky to be able to cook it at home with homemade passata that I helped to make!

Do you gather with your family for a traditional day of making something? What do you make and where did the tradition come from?

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Grow Your Own, Make Your Own: A journey of discovery

 I am pretty sure my dream came from the dream my parents had for themselves – to live a simple life, to grow my own food, to be connected to the land and provide experiences for my family, without costing the earth.

 There could be lots of different ways that one could live a dream like that. I guess my ideal comes from where my Mum & Dad were before they had to give it all up. We had a 2 acre hobby farm with oranges, mandarins, apples, plums, apricots and pears. Asparagus grew between the citrus trees, we had a pecan tree near the chook pen, lambs in the side paddock, Petunia the pig, a goat named Cash, Sam the sheep, a turkey named Tom, and numerous other domestic pets – cats, dogs, guinea pigs and budgies (all with their own special names but too many to mention here!). We had a small irrigation channel out the back that was used to water the farm and for swimming in. There was a little side channel that fed into our neighbour’s farm, which we would pretend was a creek. We would play in the mud and pretend that we were orphans who had to fend for ourselves in the forest of fruit trees. We would search for tadpoles and collect eggs from the chooks (what we call chickens in Australia). We would climb our neighbour’s Mulberry tree and not come down until our lips and fingers were stained bright purple.

 We lived on the farm for nearly 10 years until my parents had to sell it. By that stage I was in year 12 at school and all I wanted was to live closer to my friends in town. I didn’t really appreciate living on the farm at that time. It had just become a lot of work for my Dad, and too far away from the activities of our daily lives. But I miss that farm now. My appreciation of the upbringing I had has become stronger and stronger over the years.

I suppose when you become a parent yourself, you often think about the experiences you had as a child. I think back on my childhood and I remember happiness, creativity, love, friendship, togetherness, music, laughter and learning. Of course there are times that I remember that are not all fun and laughter. I do remember the household chores, the death of pets, the family feuds, the not so great stuff, but the majority of memories that echo in my mind from that time are of happiness and love.

 Of course, I want my own children to have an upbringing like that! And one of the elements of that upbringing that I want to bring to my children is the DREAM! But I could be waiting forever for the right property, the right home, the right time. So I have decided to start now, where I am at with what I have.

 My current situation is this: I have one child – a gorgeous little boy (the Munchkin) who will be 2 years old in April. Together with my husband (GH), we live on a small suburban block that backs onto a nature reserve. The view out my kitchen window is a little snapshot of the Australian bush. We have two dogs who love to dig so I decided to set up the vegetable garden away from them out the front. We have several large bushes in our front garden, which provide a bit of privacy and protection from the street, so the garden is sort of tucked away. I am not terribly good at growing vegetables. I love to cook but I tend to never be able to follow recipes and go off on experimental tangents. I don’t know how to sew more than a straight line (I used to make some killer “scrunchies” when I was a kid!). I love to create; I love colour and natural materials. I really enjoy craft – card making, painting, candle making, beading. I love the idea of permaculture, I want to only ever buy organic food, and I try to support small, local businesses where I can.

 It is from this starting point that I begin this journey for myself and my family. This journey is not just about growing our own food, but also being less reliant on buying “stuff” and beginning to make our own, repair instead of throw away, upcycle, create and break out of the “cookie cutter” mould that we sometimes allow ourselves to get cut by. Would you like to join me?

image courtesy of simon howden /

image courtesy of simon howden /

PS. My parents are still living their dream on a much smaller scale. They inspire me! They live on half a block in the middle of town (it’s very small!) but they have 3 chooks who provide them with a steady supply of eggs, they have a rich compost system, they grow asparagus, lettuce, artichokes, tomatoes, strawberries, raspberries, rocket, spinach, parsley, basil, lemongrass, chillis, and potatoes – the list goes on! Mum makes her own soft furnishings, she has restored old cupboards and side tables, she makes her own ice-cream, and Dad preserves lemons and olives. I’m sure I’ll be knocking on their door a lot during this journey for some valuable advice.

 Step one on the journey? Making our own sauce – Italian style!