Monthly Archives: December 2011

The power of dreams?

Do you ever have great ideas just before you go to sleep? I’m never sure if I’m actually asleep but I get some of my best crafting inspiration then. I can see exactly how to make the idea work and better still, see how fabulous the finished item will look. If only this could carry over into reality.

In just such a pre-sleep moment, I dreamed how amazing my Christmas cake could look with a simple iced design like I’d seen at Betty’s Teashop. I’d only have to mix up one colour of icing and have a little practice. The fact that I’d never used a piping bag before didn’t stop the power of my dream. This time the enthusiasm did carry over to the daytime and I set about icing my cake with excitement. How difficult could it be?

What was I thinking? I suddenly developed the shakiest hands ever! You can see the results for yourself. My top festive tip would be that you can cover up a lot with little silver balls. I’m also trying the diversion tactic of adding a big fancy ribbon around my cake. And yes, the pale pink patch on the right is where I was concentrating so hard on the front end of the piping bag, that I failed to notice what was spilling out of the back. Ah well, I don’t think Betty’s icing squad will be calling me anytime soon!

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Christmas present

I feel properly Christmassy after an afternoon with my friend Rosie.

She lives less than an hour away, a very grey journey full of jaded shoppers with the only highlight a spaniel wearing a tinsel-decorated collar. The incredibly dark day and constant rain were soon forgotten as I entered Rosie’s home and fell in love with the way she’d decorated for Christmas. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves twinkled with fairy lights and cards cleverly displayed between the spines. The real treat was the mantelpiece. Baubles shone on lengths of red satin ribbon and the dramatic black fireplace was topped with a row of printers’ trays filled with tiny treasures – a little fawn, a doll from childhood, miniature parcels and pretty charms. I do hope she turns this into a tradition, adding new treats every year.

Rosie’s two-year-old, Phoebe, has just discovered the joy of parcels and was soon happily unwrapping my bag of goodies, including the new Alicia Paulson decorations. I hadn’t decided which would be for Rosie and which for her daughter, so we watched to see which she would take to most. The embroidered cup of hot chocolate won hands down, leaving Rosie the deer with a sparkly bottom.

As it turned out hot chocolate was the theme of the afternoon as Rosie made the most beautiful big mugs of chocolate for us and added the extra treat of pink and white marsh mallows. I loved watching Phoebe have her very first taste of hot chocolate from her own mini mug.

We sat and talked for ages in a post-chocolate haze, curled up on the big squashy leather sofa having a cuddle of Rosie’s beautiful new baby.  We dreamed about what we could make for Christmas if we had lots more time. We both love the idea of a Christmas village and had soon developed this into the crazy idea of making it in gingerbread. Maybe next year…

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Christmas past

Someone once told me that if you don’t have children yourself, you stay much closer to your own childhood. For me this certainly rings very true, especially at Christmas. For a week or so now I’ve been having little twinkles of memories about my childhood Christmases. These days I’m still all about the anticipation, much preferring the planning, decorating and wrapping to the actual holidays.

When I was little there was always such excitement about when we could put up the Christmas tree. I was brought up in a small village where heaps of cut trees were piled up outside the green grocers’ shop. It was simply a matter of picking out one to suit and reserving it with a tag with your name on it. When time permitted, the owner would pack a load of unruly trees (no netting in those days) into his van and distribute them around the neighbourhood. There was no rule to the timing of this delivery and you never knew quite when to expect your tree to be hurled unceremoniously into the front garden. I would always wonder how this poor undignified heap of branches would be able to take on so much magic.

The first stage was to protect it from the dog, which appeared entirely unfussy if a tree was growing or uprooted when it came to the business of territory marking. If it was in the garden, it was clearly meant for him. Much ‘shooing’ later, it was time to get the tree into the house. In those days I think trees must have been cut a long time before they were sold, as needle drop was enormous. The thing would leave a trail from the hallway through to its resting place in the living room – apart from the year my dad had the idea of bringing it in through a window, which removed almost every needle it had.

There was no thought for leaving roots on Christmas trees back in the 1970s, so the operation to get it to stand up was a major task in itself. A large bucket and many bricks later, it was in position and only needed around 2ft chopping off the top where my dad always misjudged the height of the tree in relation to the ceiling. Yes, we always competed with Trafalgar Square with the size of our tree!

Next came the ritual of making the fairy lights work. Carefully wound around old copies of the Christmas Radio Times the previous year, it was always a mystery why they never worked first time. Every bulb had to be tweaked and/or replaced before up to three sets were placed on the tree. This was apparently men’s work and I was never allowed to touch. I didn’t care, I was very happy to unpack all the baubles and reminisce over the sparkly wonders I’d forgotten. I don’t remember us ever buying any new decorations but the collection was huge and very special.

‘Operation Tree’ had typically taken some hours by this point and it was often time for my brother and I to go to bed once the fairy light stage was complete. The real magic occurred overnight because by morning something breathtaking had happened. A rush downstairs on a gloomy December morning would reveal the most beautiful, most twinkly, most marvellous tree ever. The elves had clearly been at work overnight! The only elf was actually my Mum, who must have worked into the small hours placing every last ornament and every swathe of tinsel to absolute perfection. I think many families enjoy handing over the decorating to the kids to do whatever they fancy but I never felt deprived or frustrated. My Mum always created the most magical Christmases a child could ever wish for – the tree was only the start. I’ll never be able to thank her enough for the memories she’s given me.

It’s never been practical to have a Christmas tree in my small flat. I did have a teeny one once but the poor thing could only handle tiny ornaments or it looked like I was being cruel to it. Instead I usually bring in bunches of evergreens and hang them up with generous lengths of red ribbon. Very Country Living!

My latest tree tradition is to create decorations for my friend Rosie and her little girl. I started last year with the two felt trinkets you can see above, made using wonderfully retro patterns from Alicia Paulson. I’ve just put the finishing stitches into the two decorations I’ll present this year. I will be meeting with Rosie next week, so I won’t reveal what I’ve made until then.

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The Cinderella cupboard

My fabric stash has reached critical mass. It’s on the verge of exploding and filling the few remaining spaces in my little flat. It has stretched beyond its home in the airing cupboard (where it found solace after a bad time in a disappointingly damp cupboard), formed a small colony in the living room, plus a mini mountain at the foot of my bed, which has grown to such proportions that I can no longer access the drawers of my dressing table. (If you’ve ever seen the film The Quatermass Experiment, you’ll have some idea of how something can grow and invade like this without explanation.)

While an abundance of fabrics could never be distressing, the dust and disorder of such a sprawling mass has become a source of stress. It’s also far from practical if my earlier 20-mimute hunt for my felt selection is anything to go by.

So what to do in an already packed home? Storage is at such a premium that I’ve gone so far as to install overhead bookshelves. I’d had a vision for several months of a tall, skinny cupboard that could stand in my narrow hallway without obstructing passers by. I’d taken the search to Ikea and far beyond only to come to the conclusion that such a piece of furniture did not exist. But then the answer presented itself to me in the basement of an antique shop. I was poking about, mentally furnishing a fantasy room with some of the weird and wonderful items in the shop, when I had to stop in my tracks and squeal: “That’s my cupboard! Look, look, this is it!” My accompanying friend was a little bemused but humoured me as I rooted around madly in my handbag for a tape measure to confirm that I really had discovered my Price Charming of cupboards.

After a frustrating two-day wait for delivery, the skinny glass-fronted bookcase arrived at my abode and took up temporary residence in the middle of the living room where I could lovingly sand, prime and paint it. I even discovered treasure under the old wallpaper in the back of the cupboard; a copy of the Bath Chronicle dated 1969 was there to tell me when it was last renovated. I fully intend to keep up this tradition and conceal a piece of a current publication for the next owner to find. A cover from Mollie Makes would be appropriate if only I could bring myself to cut it up.

So here it is, three coats of Farrow & Ball’s finest later, my brand new fabric storage cupboard. Now for the best bit. I intend to spend a very indulgent few hours sorting my fabric stash, folding and filing as appropriate. I love the idea of having piles and rows of material, each showing a hint of its repeat lined up like the spines of books my cupboard was designed to house. Already I’m feeling slightly anxious about the best approach. Should I file by colour, pattern or keep collections together? Indecision never felt so good!

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