Towards the end of 2023 I pushed the spend button on a the blueprints and materials for project that I had been coveting for many years: Larissa Holland’s 12 Days Of Christmas felt ornament patterns. These were, in so many ways, beyond my budget. Not that I have a budget, more a comfort level of spending on myself, and it was time to get comfortable with doing something for me and my happiness.

A New Room

We had recently finished the month-long project of redecorating the dining room, replacing the 45 year old carpet that was here when we moved in with some better flooring, and redecorating the room in some rich and warm colours to try and make the room somewhere that we would better enjoy family meals together.

View from Living room door before/after

As December followed so quickly after the completion of the dining room makeover, I started to think about how to decorate the room for the festive season. I have always loved birds in my home decoration (hence the wallpaper) and we have a second pencil tree that we refer to as ‘the bird tree’, as it is filled with only bird ornaments. We placed this tree in the dining room for this Christmas, instead of its usual home in the front porch, but long term I wanted some decorations that were selected (or made) especially for this room where our family gathers every day to eat and share details of our individual days.

Handmade Heirlooms

One of the reasons that I like to hand make so many things, especially around Christmas, is in the hope that maybe they will help form the basis of happy and warm memories for many years. At the time of year when outside can sometimes feel dark and cold, and on the surface it would appear that so much of life has been stripped from our surroundings, it’s good to bring some of the richness of life indoors. To me that means home cooked comfort and handmade beauty.

Larissa Holland’s set of 12 decorations are well known to many makers. I have coveted the patterns for many years, but have struggled to justify the outlay in terms of both the patterns and materials for something for myself that was less than necessary. I decided to reframe my thinking on this in several ways.

  1. Most importantly, I am no less deserving of nice things than anyone else.
  2. I wouldn’t hesitate encourage any of my friends to buy the things that would bring them joy if it were within their means.
  3. Having a pattern-led project offers a breather for my overactive creative mind during this busy time.
  4. The completed decorations would hopefully last for many years, and would be special to me, and maybe also to my family.

The pattern calls for good quality materials, such as wool felt rather than acrylic craft felt. Good materials increase costs, and this was another consideration that needed to be factored in.

I decided on a palette of colours drawn from the details of the patterned wallpaper of the dining room (and the matching patterned cushion I had sewn for my birdwatching chair), and decided to add a few additional gold highlights in the form of metallic threads, to pick up on the (if I do say so myself) wonderful sparkly gold wallpaper that I had picked out for a feature wall.

Embroidery threads, wooden beads, cotton pipe cleaners and various other crafting trinkets gathered together, I started making the first ornament as December. It was like opening an Advent calendar of things that I actually liked.

On The First Day Of Christmas…

The ornaments themselves are simple enough to make. The embroidery stitches used are minimal. The overall effect is definitely in excess of the skills needed to make the ornaments, which rely only on back stitch, a straight stitch and a few French knots. I may have gone off script with a few of the stitches on occasion when I had put the instruction sheets aside, and I think I added a few chain stitches here and there, but I otherwise very closely stuck to the stitching guides as I wanted to make something without overthinking it. I wanted this project to be a resting period for my brain, where somebody else has already done all of the thinking. I did so little thinking that my autopilot kicked in when I started to assemble the embroidered elements, and I used blanket stitch (which I use for all of my own felt ornaments) rather than the whip stitch as given in the pattern. I decided to stick with it for the entire series as I like the edge it gives, and the way that the stitches sit perpendicular to the edge.

Thought the wallpaper I matched the materials to is bold in design, the colours I chose for the ornaments are rather more muted than a lot of people who make this ornament set. I had to find a line between going too naturalistic for the colour scheme and yet finding space for all of these colours from the winter world.

On The Second Day Of Christmas…

I specifically decided to take my time with making these ornaments. I did wonder if I might make them over the course of 2024, but despite how busy I found myself over December, that only served to make me want to occupy my hands in a gentle, low urgency project all the more in the evenings.

The author of the ornament set says that the ornaments get progressively more complex as you move through the set, though the same motifs and stitches are recurrent through the entire series.

The simplicity of the stitches means that I can put my focus on choosing colours of felt and embroidery floss for each element from the limited palette of fabric sheets and thread that I had ordered, and though I am trying to make a concerted effort not to go for the obvious choices, it is hard to get away from the temptation to make the beaks of the birds a pleasing golden yellow colour.

I have used three strands of embroidery floss for each of the ornaments throughout, simply because it is easier to split a six strand skein of thread into two groups of three strands than to keep juggling them about to sort bundles of four threads as the pattern calls for. The impact on the resulting embroidery is minimal but it makes thread management so much easier for me.

On The Third Day Of Christmas…

Madame Poule with her handsome comb and wattles and extra fancy appliqué flower is my favourite of the first three days of ornaments. Her fuzzy cotton pipe cleaner feet (which I have dyed with alcohol markers) give her a stance that says she means business. She has a gloriously stout chest that looks like it would become ruffled if you took too long make her latte. She is an icon. I had to stop myself from making several more French hens for the sheer joy of this pattern alone (and I did have to stop, as it would be disastrous if I ran out of materials before reaching the dancing ladies and drummers). If I find myself with spare materials at the end of the project I shall be making more decorative chickens. Chickens for all seasons, not just for Christmas.

A Project To Cross The Threshold

2023 draws to a close today, and really it is not a boundary of time that I mark with any great importance, but I am glad that I have an ongoing comfort project to see me into this new part of the winter season. When the decorations are boxed away, and the weather turns more grey than frosty, these ornaments will be a cheerful reminder of creativity and coziness.

The partridge and his pear, the turtle dove and my lovely French hen are now complete. and the next set of three are already underway. I won’t wish the time away, but it will bring me joy next year to find these decorations in the dining room each time I walk in there to share a family meal.