Cushions for pennies.

sofa cushions 1

Just before Christmas, on one of our common Charity shop rambles, we came across some lovely fabrics. The first was a light green, American screen printed fabric from Braemore Design, the second a turquoise design with branches and birds from Design Edition Limited, 1981 and the third an unknown dark blue and red, Eastern European looking fabric. We got them for the bargain price of circa €1 each. The question was what to do with these as there was not enough of any one fabric for a large project.  We are planning a sofa built into the wall in our extension and the choice fell upon using our lovely finds, to make large cushions  for it. We already had some Laura Ashley rose printed fabric, a gift from a neighbour,  that fit nicely into the design.

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Patchwork has been used for hundreds of years to make use of smaller pieces of fabric and creating a beautiful whole. We decided to do a very simple version for our sofa cushions. Anyone with basic sewing skills can manage a project like this, and you can adjust it to suit your taste and requirements. Here follows a description of how we made ours, if you would like to give it a go.

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 We used some 65x65cm inner cushions from IKEA, so the squares of fabric needed to start out as 75x75cm squares. We prefer tearing the fabric squares over cutting them, as it makes for  perfect straight edges.  Fold your fabric square into a triangle corner to corner and press the fold with your iron. Cut on the fold and fold the remaining triangles again, press and cut. You will end up with your square cut up in four equal triangles.  For four cushions you need four different fabrics.  If your fabrics have an up and down in the design, you might want to keep them all in the right direction on your finished cushions.  Put them out in a line on the floor all in the same direction and take the top piece from your first square, the left piece from your second square, the bottom piece from your third square and the right piece from your forth square. Put the pieces together for your first cushion and move on to do the same thing again, but this time start with the left piece from your first square, the bottom piece from your second square and so on, until all the pieces are used up. Sew two pieces together, press the seams, sew the other two pieces together and finally sew the whole lot into a square. We pressed the seams from the back and sewed again, close to the seam. This makes for a decorative finish but also strengthens the covers and they can stand up to numerous washes.

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We had some old curtains that would make great cushion backs, but they were white, not a wise choice with four teenagers in the house, so we dyed them in the washing machine into a neutral brown. We tore them down the middle and turned the pieces around, overlapping each other along the middle, to make a slit opening on the back of each cushion. Place your backing fabric facing right side up and the sewn squares on top, right side down. Pin and sew around the edge. Cut the corners close to the seam [see picture] and turn right side out. Press and stitch close to the edge and then again further in, to create a wing all around the edge.

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Using  fabrics in this way is very satisfying as you end up with a cohesive design when starting out with quite different individual pieces. Using old fabrics is economical, fun and good for the environment. We made 8 large cushion covers for a total of €13.50. In the pictures the covers are modeled on our sofa in our combined living and bedroom. We can’t wait until we have our extension finished and they can be moved into their intended place.

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Beautiful edible perennials.

We have a lot of slugs in our garden. It is a problem as annual vegetables and flowers tend to be attacked when they are small. We still like to grow them, but we also decided early on to go down the perennial route as well. We do have a lot of Nettles, Dandelions and Chickweed growing wild in the garden and like to cook with all of them. Good King Henry, Turkish Rocket and Wild garlic have been added to our collection of perennial vegetables.

Perennial vegetables.

They are reliable and tasty and because they grow in abundance, very hard for the slugs to eradicate. We also like pretty flowers and sometimes they go hand in hand with food production. The Daylily, Hemerocallis is a popular perennial that grows in gardens everywhere. Many Daylilies are edible and have been used throughout China and other parts of Asia for a very long time. We love to eat them, both in salads and stir fries.


Another reliable salad plant is the Ice Plant, Sedum Spectabile, that has succulent leaves, very tasty in a mixed salad. This is a purple variety along with some Nasturtiums.

Iceplant and Nasturtiums.

Cardoons and Artichokes bring great beauty as well as taste to the vegetable garden.

Artichokes and cardoons.


We can not exclude the Sunflowers, Nasturtiums and Borage, although they are annuals, they like to seed themselves around the place and can all be eaten as well as provide floral beauty and food for beneficial insects.

nasturtiums and borage.

It is in fact easy to create a vegetable garden full of edible flowers. We like to incorporate as many flowers as possible in our annual vegetable patch as it confuses some pests and add a lot of joy as well as taste. It is a lot of fun but please make sure you know exactly what you are growing and eating to avoid any toxic plants.

For further reading we highly recommend:

James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution


Creating a Forest Garden: Working with nature to grow edible crops. By Martin Crawford.

Building with tyres.

Before work commenced.
We have long been admiring Mike Reynolds and his Earthship designs, that started out in the 1970s in Taos, New Mexico, and has spread to many places across the world. The Earthship uses old car tyres as a major building component. When it was time to start the extension to our little cottage, we decided to build a semicircle tyre wall on the north and east side of the planned space. The purpose of the wall is to hold the earth-bank in place and protect the building from the worst of the elements. The first long, hard, but essential part of the construction was getting the drainage sorted out. We dug a ditch and added a perforated drainage pipe along with gravel and a permeable plastic sheet to protect it from clogging up. We then backfilled it with earth and levelled the whole area.

. Dranage

It is important to have a level and stable surface for your first layer of tyres. It takes about two whole wheel barrows of soil to fill one tyre. We had a lot of soil for this purpose as when we moved in, the area behind the house was sloping and had to be levelled out for the extension. Each layer consists of 25 tyres and we added 12 layers in total. Thankfully we had friends around for some of the backbreaking work of filling and emptying 600 wheelbarrows of soil for the wall and at least 800 more wheelbarrows of soil to fill the space behind the tyres, rebuilding the earth-bank. First few tyre layers.

The soil needs to be compacted into the tyre by pounding it with sledgehammers. You can use small lump hammers at first to get the soil into the rim and then fill it and pound in a circular motion across the top. We were not overly concerned about getting the tyres perfectly filled, as this is just a retaining wall that will be plastered over and not a part of the actual building. You do need to be careful though when choosing your tyres for each position and layer, as you are likely to have a selection of sizes. Think about your project as a giant jigsaw puzzle where you want each row to be as uniform as possible.

Getting there.

It is very rewarding to use a material that is a by-product of our modern society in a constructive way. Getting tyres is easy. If you go to ask at a tyre changing place, remember that you are in a position to bargain a bit. The place is likely to have to pay quite large amount of money to dispose of their tyres, so you asking for them is going to save them a lot of money. Ask politely if they can deliver them for free. They may even pay you a little bit to take them. We do not like to think about how much it would have cost us and the environment to build our wall out of a more commonly used material, like concrete blocks and cement.

Started roof construction.

The spaces in the wall are filled with old plastic flowerpots, drinking cans and plastic bottles etc. to save on the amount of render we are planning to use.

Wall with infill.