Handmade Christmas – Unique Projects For A Special Holiday Season
Here is a round-up of the Christmas crafts that I made for this year, each finding a special place in founding new holiday traditions.
By far our biggest change and achievement in 2021 was buying our first home. After a decade of living in a rented flat we needed some outside space and a place that we could really put our own mark on. Our new home was far from a blank canvas when we moved in, and a lot of my energy over the past few months has been trying to shape that canvas to something that we can make our own mark on. Now that we have achieved that in a few of the rooms and the garden, we have been able to put something of ourselves into the space, and holiday decorations and small personal touches have made a huge difference. Here is a quick round-up of the things that I made to keep and to share.
New House, New Advent Calendar
My six year old absolutely loves advent calendars. I know, most kids do, but he loves advent calendars, and looks forward to them more than he looks forward to Christmas itself. The Christmas before we moved I made an advent calendar in the form of a row of tiny stockings, sewn from a printed fabric panel. We hung this along the length of the stairs this year, and it looked beautiful, but I also wanted a main attraction for the living room. I decided to celebrate our move by making a new calendar that was truly personal and represented our joy in our new home.
The advent calendar is an MDF house shape with 25 individual doors, painted with acrylics. This was the most involved project I took on and took by far the longest to complete.
I think my biggest learning from making this was that not all acrylic paints are made alike. The white paint, especially, gave me many problems. Even after a good undercoat and primer followed by four coats of the white acrylic I was getting only about 40% of patchy coverage and did think at one point that I might have to ditch the entire project, and had to sand back a lot of my work to have another go. I switched paint brands and it was an absolute world of difference.
The painting took a number of days, spanning a few weeks to complete, because a lot of the brickwork, etc was painted in layers, and I was often waiting for things to dry so that I could add bricks and other details. On the finished calendar there is a road sign (shown blank in the above photo) with our street name. Each door of the calendar holds a little decoration for a 40cm tree that decorates my 6 year old’s room, so that he can decorate his own little tree through December.
Monogrammed Christmas Stockings
The house advent calendar lived on our mantlepiece over the Christmas period, but a fireplace is not complete without a row of stockings waiting for Father Christmas to arrive down the chimney. We’ve painted our living room a soft grey and wanted some Christmas stockings that would work well with the gentle colours that we have in the space, and found a very muted, cool green cotton velvet online.
I designed the shape of the stocking to make best use of the length of fabric that I bought, to cut down on wastage and to fit onto the extra long mat of the Cricut maker that I upgraded to recently after having my previous machine for close to a decade.
This really made a huge difference to the sewing projects that I made over the Christmas period as I struggle in the cutting out phase of a project as I get vertigo when I look directly down. Being able to hand this step off to a little machine made this so much easier for me.
Maximising the usage of the narrow width 1m of velvet that I bought resulted in a stocking shape with many benefits, such as a nice wide ‘leg’ section and rounded ‘foot’ shape. Along with the smooth cotton lining this means that any awkward shaped gifts pass in and out of the stocking with ease.
I added a split monogram to each of the stockings, because I have been so very much enjoying making our home, and our holiday experience within it, personal to us. A lot of places will tell you not to use iron-on vinyl cuts with velvet, and actually not to iron velvet at all, but as long as you keep a few pointers in mind it should be fine, especially for projects that aren’t going to be worn and laundered extensively.
I used a 100% cotton velvet, and made sure that the nap was running smooth before placing the vinyl. When applying the vinyl, ensure that you do not move the iron or press, and take all the steps you usually would for best vinyl adhesion (pre-warm the area, finish off by pressing on the back, again smoothing the nap).
The vinyl was applied to the cut pieces of the stocking, which were then sewn and finished off with a fuzzy cuff, and an integrated hanging loop, ready for Father Christmas to visit.
Felt Gingerbread Decorations
I pretty much never bulk-make anything when I’m making things as I like to have an idea, carry it out and move on, but this year I decided to make some special gift tags that could be used as Christmas decorations. The little boy of one of my friends has a great fondness for the tale of the gingerbread man, so I decided on little gingerbread people made from felt, made mostly for children in the family.
I cut the felt fabric and the wadding on the electronic cutting machine, which again freed me up to get on with the fun job of assembling them.
I absolutely loved this project, and it was my favourite in terms of the time spent making them as I hand sewed them all in the evenings whilst enjoying Christmas TV. The wadding gives the figures just enough heft to feel substantial and yet lay flat, and keep the proper dimensions of a gingerbread cookie.
I learned a new gift wrapping technique to include an integrated pocket on the front of the gift, to hold the little gingerbread people safely on the presents until their new owners had opened them, and hopefully they went to live on a few Christmas trees afterwards.
In the UK (and I think in a few other countries like Australia) we pretty much universally have an addition to our Christmas Dinner table that our friends in the US and elsewhere don’t often have, and that is the Christmas Cracker. These aren’t the edible sort of crackers. They are little paper bob-bon shaped table decorations.
Each contains four things: firstly, a ‘snap’ – a tiny but loud little explosion that goes off as two people each grab an end of the cracker and pull it apart; a crown-shaped hat made of thin, tissue-like paper; a joke printed on a slip of paper, and a small gift. The gifts are always tat that is going to end up in landfill, and usually made of plastic. A little frog that you make jump across the table by flicking a tab at the back, or a tiny plastic magnifying glass. They are also ridiculously expensive for what they are as a sum of their constituent parts. There has been a shift towards some sellers making and marketing more ecologically conscious versions of crackers in recent years, but when I have looked at these a lot use either plastic-coated cardboard in their toys or the toys are little metal puzzles. Both still a lot of fossil fuels to produce, and though they are not plastic they are not necessarily recyclable and it feels like a lot of ‘stuff’ for what will provide at most five minutes of entertainment.
So, for the past decade I have been making my own crackers. Actually, my grandmother made her own a couple of decades ago, and you can now buy ‘cracker kits’ from some stores in the UK. However, they really just need a cardboard tube (hello toilet rolls) and some paper if you can’t find a kit. You can even buy bundles of cracker snaps cheaply online if you love that little pop of excitement.
The joke is easily taken care of, and you may even be able to find and write some decent ones (though I would suggest that the ‘terrible cracker joke’ is a bit of an institution itself, and maybe the jokes do need to be awful to count).
You could also easily cut and make paper hats, but this year I wanted to make something that would be more comfortable and joyous to wear, so I decided to make fabric hats that we could reuse each year.
I used a printed cotton fabric for the hats, for comfort and ease of laundering, and stabilised one side with some iron-on interfacing, to mimic the slight stiffness of the hat and to stop the points of the crown from flopping over. Once again I designed and cut all of the pieces on the electronic cutter, because why struggle when you are lucky enough to have the tools to do the hard bit for you? I have the cut files at my disposal this way, in case I want to make more in the future, in case we have guests or to give as a gift.
I made the crowns so that they would fit both adults and children and were adjustable to any head size by way of a wide velcro tab. Hopefully they will last many years. They are certainly a lot more comfortable to wear, and solve the problem of the paper crowns always being too big or too small. nobody has a head that is the right size for a paper crown.
In case you are thinking of making your own Christmas crackers one years I almost always fill them with a pair of nice socks, and/or a chocolate treat.
Our Handmade Christmas
Every year I try to add a few more handmade elements to our Christmas, to celebrate our family and the things that we hold dear in the cold and dark months. I hope that you had a gentle and peaceful holiday time and that this year is kind to you and those you love, and (if you are so inclined) you make beautiful, powerful things.