A Trip Around the Christmas Tree

I was admiring my Mum’s Christmas tree when I called round for coffee (all above board – she’s in our bubble and we have enough space to socially distance). We talked about the tree decorations that she’s collected over the years. I remember some from my childhood, others were bought as souvenirs on her travels or were gifts from friends. I thought about my own tree and how some of our decorations are special, each with their own story.

This glass dolphin was bought on the first of my three visits to the USA. We flew to Atlanta, met up with family members, then drove to the South Carolina Coast for my cousin’s wedding. She had met her husband when they were working together in a beach resort. Our extended family rented a huge beach house for the week of the wedding and had a great time, both experiencing the wonderful southern hospitality and seeing fascinating wildlife we don’t see at home, especially the dolphins and pelicans we watched from our balcony every day. There were alligators too! The following week K and I, and the kids, both very young at the time, did a road trip south along the coast then back to Atlanta Towards the end of the week visited Stone Mountain, a theme park not far from the city which included a number of artisan workshops, where I bought the dolphin ornament. It was the perfect souvenir of an amazing trip

Edinburgh is one of our favourite cities in the UK. We visit regularly, though not this year, for the occasional weekend and have found a gorgeous boutique hotel that is a pleasure in itself. Whatever the weather, Edinburgh has many delights. In winter, the Christmas markets, the lights and other special events are quite magical. There are museums and galleries and shops to visit if the weather is poor, but if the sun shines, there are parks, and the Botanical Gardens to enjoy. In August, the city is packed out for the Edinburgh Festival. We travel up to spend a day packing in as many Festival Fringe shows as we can. We have also visited the Queen’s Gallery at the Palace of Holyrood House (The Queen’s official Edinburgh residence), The art collection is superb and parts of the Palace and Gardens are open to the public too , There is the obligatory gift shop and cafe, both excellent. I bought this embroidered lion decoration, which represents the lion on the royal coat of arms.

Some of the items on our tree originate much closer to home. Some weeks back I made this bauble with sea glass collected from a beach near to where we live. Living near the sea (we can see it from the window….just) is a big part of our lives really. it plays a major role in the culture and history of the area and we enjoy spending time on the beach and on the water. It’s only right that something from the sea has a presence on our tree.

Do you have a favourite Christmas tree ornament? – I’d love to hear about it

Christmas Crafts – Crackers from a Kit

I saw this kit online from The Works and as I hadn’t bought crackers at the time I thought I’d get this kit instead. I chose this silver marbled design though they had others available.

The kit includes the pre-cut cards to make the crackers, which have the snaps already glued to the inside. along with ribbons, paper hats, jokes and name tags. All you need to provide are gifts to go inside (if you want to), so you could add something useful or personal (and the name tags make them perfect for that), After all, the world really doesn’t need any more tiny plastic aeroplanes that are left on the table, to be binned along with the rest of the Christmas dinner debris!

There were instructions on the packaging, including a template so you can see on the pack exactly what the final diameter of the cracker will be. That’s important if you are choosing gifts that will fit inside. I’ve added a few of steps of my own here . The cardboard shapes have very lightly scored lines and I found the crackers held their shape better if I creased along these lines to emphasise the fold points.

I then opened the card out flat, printed side down and rolled it up. A cardboard tube from inside a kitchen roll was my secret weapon at this stage, It held the shape of the cracker roll for the next stage, so I didn’t squash the whole thing flat.

There are three tabs along one long edge that slot into the corresponding slits on the opposite edge. I found it easier to do the middle one first. I simply moved the cardboard kitchen roll tube along as I secured each tab, removing it when all three were in place. It is a bit fiddly but the tabs do fit – just be careful not to tear the card – if you do a small piece of sellotape on the inside will repair it.

The next stage was crimping one of the ends and tying the ribbon on. Important! Don’t forget to drop the paper hat, motto and gift inside before repeating this step with the the other end of the cracker! I’m so glad I remembered! – I was glad Daughter was around to help (it was one of our Crafty Monday sessions- it was so much easier with two people. We deployed a length of craft wire here to loop around the crimp point, one of us pulling gently on the ends of the wire to form a narrow “waist” and them the other tied one of the pre-cut ribbons in a double knot. You can then gently pull the wire out

The name tag is self adhesive so can easily be attached after you’ve written it

There were materials to make six crackers and they did not take long to assemble, especially with two of us working on them. As you’d expect, the first one took longer, but once you work out how to do it the others take shape pretty quickly.

I’d definitely use these again. I love that they are plastic free and that you can add your own gift. The name tags means that you could use these instead of place cards. They could even be used as an alternative way of wrapping Christmas gifts, especially small, awkward shapes.

That’s something else crossed off my Christmas “to do” list!

Christmas Crafts: Door Wreaths

For this week’s Crafty Monday project, Daughter and I made Christmas wreaths. We enjoyed attending a workshop to make these last year, but classes like that are another COVID casualty. One of Daughter’s friends has started a floristry business: Polly’s Petals and makes stunning wreaths and kits with everything needed to make your own. Polly’s family have a large garden and much of the material is sourced from there. She even makes her own dried citrus slices, drying the fruit in the aga. Daughter went to collect the kits we’d ordered yesterday morning and arrived here with two large boxes.

Each included

  • florists foam ring and base
  • hanging string
  • huge amounts of foliage (included cypress, Scots pine, holly, ivy and various other evergreens,
  • dried seed heads, teasels, grasses, pine cones
  • dried citrus and cinnamon stick bundles
  • berries
  • pheasant feathers
  • ribbon
  • florists wire
  • full instructions

There was more than enough in each to make quite a substantial wreath and all we needed to provide were secateurs or strong scissors. We began by soaking the foam in water for ten minutes and attaching a hanging loop.

Working from the outside, we began to cut small sprigs of foliage and pushed it into the foam.

We continued until the whole wreath was covered and no foam was showing.

We then added the other items, twisting florists wire round the citrus and cones to make a stem to push in the foam.

I have vast numbers of feathers so I added some of my own. I looked in the ribbon box and found a length in a pinky peachy shade that looked perfect so I used that instead of what came in the kit.

Daughter added some gun cartridge ends and found some gold ribbon

Even though the kit contents were very similar our wreaths are very different. We love them. Thanks Polly!

Lockdown Crafts: Pheasant Feather Baubles

With Daughter taking Mondays off work (with annual leave allowance to use up by the end of the year), we’ve decided to use those days for a bit of craft activity. Welcome to Crafty Mondays! Unlike the wax melts we made last week, this week’s makes took me until Thursday to finish off. I’m pleased with the result though.

I have quite a collection of feathers, mainly pheasant. How I came to have these is another story.

Daughter had seen these Christmas tree decorations on Pinterest and had wanted to try making them for a while. The tops of the baubles are made with the ends of cartridge cases, so she’d asked some friends who shoot for some spent cartridges we could use. The brass part is attached to a plastic tube so I looked online and found a great way to separate the plastic from the metal – you pack the cartridges into a shallow box with the metal parts upwards, proud of the box, then rest an iron on top, turned to the highest heat setting. After a few minutes the metal heats up enough for the plastic to start to melt and the two components pull apart quite easily.

For our decorations we used polystyrene balls as a base. We painted these with acrylics first – the darker ones worked best. I wouldn’t use such a bright tan colour next time as it showed through the feathers. Impaling each ball in a toothpick was the best way to hold each one and these were stuck into a piece of polystyrene packaging to dry.

We only used the tip of each feather, snipping off 1-3cm pieces.Further down the feather the central vane is too thick and rigid to bend round the ball shape.

Starting at the lower end, with the smaller feather tips of similar colour, we glued these on in a circle, overlapping slightly with the tips meeting in the middle.

We continued gluing on the feathers (using a light coating of PVA glue, thinned slightly with a drop or two of water). Each circle of feathers overlapped the previous one, covering the cut feather ends.

At the top end the last circle of feathers was glued in place with the cut ends together, close to the toothpick.

Where there was too much of the base colour showing through, I simply touched this up with a black Sharpie. The feathers were then sealed in place with a thin coat of clear PVA glue.

Next we cut about 12 inches of gold thread, knotting the ends together to form a loop. The knot was then glued to the inside of the cartridge end with hot glue. Holding the thread to each side of the cartridge, hot glue was applied along the edge of the cartridge end. It was quickly positioned centrally over the cut feather ends and held firmly in place until the glue set.

The loop was then threaded through a gold-coloured bead which was secured to the top centre of the cartridge with another drop of hot glue.

We made seven baubles altogether in different sizes, a couple with the barred dark brown and cream hen pheasant feathers, and the rest with the rich chestnut, black and cream cock pheasant ones. The brass tops go well with them.

I just need the tree up now…maybe at the beginning of December!

Sea Glass Spheres

Being on the beach a lot, walking Buddy the Labrador, provides lots of beachcombing opportunities and lots of craft materials for me, especially sea glass and driftwood. This is only a small selection of the sea glass K has gathered on his dog walks.

The action of the sea and sand has two effects on glass. The surface becomes abraded giving it a frosted appearance, then the corners and edges are smoothed away. Eventually a piece of glass will be transformed into a rounded translucent pebble and these, especially those in interesting colours, are the most sought after. Much of the sea glass in our collection is still quite angular, So I’ve been thinking of more ways to use it, especially since I made some mosaic coasters earlier this year. I had an assortment of polystyrene balls, so I wondered how they would work covered in a sea glass mosaic to make Christmas tree baubles.

I started with the loop to hold the hanging thread. I cut a piece of wire about 12 cm long and bent it round a pen to form a loop.

I threaded the ends through a glass bead and pushed them into the ball. I kept the ball in position on a toothpick pushed into a piece of polystyrene packaging, then began to glue the pieces of seagrass in place. I tried PVA glue first of all, but it doesn’t dry quick enough and the glass started to slide off. I needed a quick drying alternative.

I ended up deploying my trusty glue gun. I’d avoided it at first as I thought the hot glue might melt the polystyrene but it was fine. I continued hot glueing the glass pieces to the ball, occasionally cutting a piece to fit with the tile cutters.

It was soon covered with glass sections. I then mixed up some grout and filled the gaps, pushing it into the spaces with a finger. I allowed this to dry slightly then wiped over the glass with a damp sponge to remove the excess.

Then it was simply a case of adding a hanging thread. You can spray with polyurethane varnish to protect the grouting and give the glass a sheen, or even shine it up with a tiny drop of vegetable oil.

I think this would work even better using a clear plastic base. I’ve see these in craft shops, with a hanging loop incorporated. This would make the whole bauble translucent.

Overall I’m happy with it. It might be a little bit early to think about Christmas decorations, but I can live with that!

Have you started thinking about Christmas decorations or presents yet?

The Table Gifts – Last Project Before Christmas!

We have a family tradition of putting small wrapped gifts at each place setting for Christmas Dinner. This year I made these tree decorations. I couldn’t post these before Christmas Day and spoil the surprise for our diners.

To get the basic design shapes I found Google images for each of the figures and zoomed to get each image to the right size for a tree decoration. I was going to print these out, but ended up just tracing the the shape on copier paper held up to the screen. This gave me the templates for cutting out the shapes from felt, two for each.

These were the simplest two to make. It was easier to add the features to the front piece before sewing the two sections together. For the penguin I appliquéd a white oval with a notch out of the top end, then added black sequins for eyes and a yellow diamond shape for the beak. I sewed the front and back sections together, using tiny running stitches close to the edge and sandwiched the yellow felt feet and a ribbon hanging loop between the two pieces, stitching them in to the seam. – I left a gap, stuffed with polyester fibre (not too much – just enough for the item to hold it’s shape) then sewed it closed.

The star simply had silver sequins stitched on to one pattern piece and a ribbon loop added as before prior to stitching the two sides together and stuffing.

For the tree I sewed on sequins, including a star-shaped one at the top. After sewing and stuffing I wound a glittery pipe cleaner round for tinsel. and added a few more stitches to secure it. The bell had a row of sequins sewn close to the bottom edge and beads added for the ringer.

The robin had a red oval and a white crescent shape appliquéd onto the front. The beak was a yellow felt diamond shape. I crocheted the legs and stitched them into the seam at the bottom. The snowman’s nose was made by rolling up an orange triangle of felt and sewing in place. I added black sequin eyes and embroidered a smile and twiggy arms. I crocheted a hat and scarf to finish.

I loved the way these characters and the penguin took on a bit of a life of their own as I created their faces. Now most of them have gone to their new homes, I’m tempted to make some more to add to my own tree!

Our Christmas was lovely. K made a delicious meal: He cooked a goose to perfection. Daughter made a trifle as an alternative dessert for those of us who don’t like Christmas pudding. Hope you all enjoyed your festivities too. Merry Christmas!

Getting The Party Started….With a Little Bit of Christmas Crafting

The Ukeladies

I’ve had a couple of days off from blogging, because of all those getting-ready-for- Christmas jobs that were mounting up…. and the party season of course!

Our friends, K and A organised a Christmas party at the village club on Friday night. Everyone brought something for a shared buffet and the ukulele group I’m part of (The Ukeladies) played a few Christmas songs to get everyone in a festive mood. Our founder was ill and couldn’t make it but the rest of us were in good form and everyone seemed to enjoy it. We only played five short songs so nobody really had a chance to get bored!

One of the reasons Christmas prep takes me so long is that I keep getting distracted by crafting opportunities. Take gift wrapping for example. I do actually enjoy doing this and could have had it all done and under the tree days ago, but oh no….. had to fiddle about with some handmade gift labels didn’t I?

I was rather pleased with them though. Here’s how I did it.

A while ago I picked some alder twigs, with tiny cones on and lightly sprayed them white to give a frosted effect.

I also used the following, all of which I had already

  • craft wire
  • red beads (I had quite a mixture from old necklaces etc,)
  • narrow ribbon
  • tiny jingle bells
  • fresh foliage (I used some Leylandii sprigs)
  • plain brown luggage labels
  • hot glue gun

I began by cutting a 7inch length of wire and threading on three beads, moving them to the centre and twisting the wire.

I then added a bell on to the wire an arranged a small twig of alder cones and a sprig of foliage, twisting one of the wire ends round the stems to secure.

Then I cut a length of ribbon about 8 inches long and adding a small dot of hot glue to the centre to secure it to the wire-wrapped spray, tied it round in a bow. I added a tiny blob of the hot glue to secure the bow.

I threaded the remaining wire tail through the hole in a label and twisted it back on itself to the underside of the spray, making sure that the end was tucked underneath and not sticking out. Applying hot glue to the back of the spray, I then held it in position on the label for a few seconds until the glue had hardened and the spray was securely in place. Then it was just a case of adding a message to the label.

I’m pleased with the results. I’d been reading loads about how bad for the environment a lot of gift wrap is, not just the plastic foil type. Many papers have a plastic coating or glitter (which is usually plastic fragments). I found some printed brown paper wrapping in Flying Tiger that appears to have the right credentials and looks great with these labels. I have now wrapped all the presents, so that’s another job ticked off the list!

Have you been creative with your gift wrapping this year?