Over the Christmas period I try each year to make as much of the family’s festive experience as personal and as meaningful as possible. For me this means bringing as much handmade and home created magic to the Christmas period as possible.
I don’t mean to say that we avoid the commercialised trappings of the winter festivities: with an eight year old child in the house unless I can find a way to manufacture my own Lego bricks there will always be hope that Father Christmas maintains his long standing relationship with the big toy manufacturers, but I have spent the last few years making as much of our winter decor as I can, and after much experimentation I have developed an almost surreal number of ways to make a mince pie.
One of the little touches that make our Christmas extra special is crafting handmade Christmas crackers. It’s my way of adding some extra pop to the festivities.
Commercial Christmas crackers have long been recognised as problematic for the straight-to-landfill nature of their cheap plastic gifts that provide little-to-no entertainment nor useful value, but the crackers themselves are easily made, and more meaningful and useful gifts can be made or purchased.
One of the gifts I decided upon this year was jigsaw puzzles, as both Russell and Bean enjoy a quiet time solving jigsaws.
To knock the gift up a notch I decided to experiment with whether I could create my own jigsaws as an extra surprise.
Using photographs of my family members and Christmas guests as a basis, I used a combination of generated photograph elements and photoshop to turn each photo into a winter or Christmas scene featuring the recipient.
The finished images are sublimated onto thick paper puzzle board with reduced ink saturation to prevent the finished jigsaws from becoming too dark or saturated. I set up a pressing station on a 2cm thick piece of MDF where I could line the images up as precisely as possible to produce the largest puzzle area I could with an A4 print.
Once the pieces have been squished and heated and then left to cool, I began the slow, delicate, and mind-numbingly tedious task of prying them apart.
The packaging was not so easy as the dissembled puzzles were too large to package into a cracker shape with card thick enough to hold its structure. I ended up constructing little personalised pleated bags from recycled national History Museum wrapping paper, with a clever little notch system at the top, which allowed me to insert a traditional cracker snap as a pair of pull handles, giving a large crack at the point of pulling open the bag.
The completed jigsaw puzzles turned out to be a hit. They provided a solid hour of diversion after our Christmas Eve feast, giving me the perfect alibi to sneak into the kitchen and whip up dessert while everyone was busy trying to crack the mystery of their own jigsaw.