A Christmas cracker!

You can’t have Christmas dinner without Christmas crackers – well, that’s my view anyway! We groan at the awfulness of the mottos, we laugh at the pointlessness of the ‘gift’ and we feel silly wearing the paper hats… but it is a tradition and we stick to it every year.

In moments of great industriousness, I have made my own crackers and spent ages thinking of appropriate gifts and jokes to go inside. They always go down well, but they take a lot of planning.

This will be my first Christmas without my parents, Diana and John, so this year will be tinged with sadness for all the family. But Mummy’s enthusiasm for a traditional family Christmas is firmly entrenched with all of us and I shall be filling stockings, dressing the table and fussing about the sprouts just as always.

I love decorating the table, I think it makes such an impact with pretty napkins, candles and, of course, a special Christmas table centrepiece. I have produced so many over the years and always find myself getting excited as I add the finishing touches. If you don’t have a large table, you can still make it look lovely with a table runner ­– cheap enough to buy even in supermarkets these days – or run up one of your own very simply. Table sprinkles are also great fun and really do add a touch of glitz and sparkle… but you’ll be hoovering them up for weeks afterwards!

Returning to the Christmas cracker… did you know they were invented in 1847 by a London sweet maker called Thomas Smith? Rather unromantically, he devised the Christmas cracker as a money-making idea when bonbon sales slumped. They originally contained love messages and a sweet. The enterprising Mr Smith then went on to the snapping strip to replicate the sound of a crackling log fire!

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Putting the ‘festive’ back into Christmas shopping!

In my opinion, Christmas shopping – whether you are battling a busy high street, overwhelmed in a mall or sitting hunched over your keyboard shopping online at 3 in the morning – none of it is as festive and fun as it should be! So why not take the stress out of your festive shopping with a visit to a Christmas market?

I’m going to start with a fairly local one in the very pretty town of Tavistock on the far side of Dartmoor.

Tavistock Dickensian Christmas – 25th November 2016

The Dickensian evening includes the switching on of the Christmas lights, and an opportunity to start your Christmas shopping and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Be transported back to the ‘olde world’ with shop owners and staff wearing Dickensian dress, stalls selling roasted chestnuts and even steam engines adding to the atmosphere. You can find out more here.

Blenheim Palace Living Crafts for Christmas fair 17th – 20th November

On a rather grander scale… stock up on stocking fillers at the Living Crafts for Christmas fair in this stunning Oxfordshire stately home, where you’ll find more than 150 selected designer-makers, including artists, milliners and jewellers. Indulge in some hot chestnuts or a hot chocolate, then choose handcrafted decorations to adorn your home. Magical! Click here for more information.

Bath Christmas Market – 24th – 11th December

I love Bath any time of year, but this magical Christmas market makes it extra special. There will be more than 170 traditional wooden chalets lining the streets of the centre of beautiful Bath, transforming Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths into a wintry wonderland. Along with stalls from craftspeople from all over the South West, there is also the chance to go ice skating, ride on a carousel or enjoy a glass of mulled wine in the Après Ski Bar.

Find out more here.

Edinburgh Christmas Markets 19th November – 7th January 2017

If you really, really enjoy Christmas markets, then Edinburgh is the place to go as this lovely city has TWO markets, one Scottish and one European and they run through into January! The Scottish Market in St Andrew Square showcases food and drink from the country, including seafood and sausages, chocolate and cakes, plus handcrafted items. The popular European Market has been running for 20 years and is held in East Princes Street Gardens, offering traditional toys and gifts.

Click here for more information.

And finally… another Dickensian market. The trouble is the Victorians and Mr Dickens, did Christmas so well that, for many of us, it has become the ideal Christmas!

Ulverston, Cumbria Dickensian Christmas Festival – 26th & 27th November

Ulverston puts on a tremendous show every year marking the start of the Christmas season and bringing a little Christmas magic to both young and old. The historic market town is full of fantastic shops, great pubs, cafes and cobbled streets. The Dickensian Festival boasts a huge variety of free entertainment, free events for children, fabulous Christmas market stalls with lots of unique gifts and festive food, costume competitions, horse-drawn carriages, music and dancing. If you really want to get into the spirit of the festival, why not come in costume and take part in the grand parade around the town?

Find out more here.

Photo credits, top to bottom:
tavistockbid.co.uk, nmctours.co.uk, www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk, Visit Scotland, OxfamBirdsEye.

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The Wheel of the Year forever turning…

wheelyearblackberriesAutumn has most definitely arrived and we’ve had some gorgeous misty mornings and dramatic sunsets. I’m not sure if it is my imagination but there seem to be huge quantities of blackberries in the hedgerows this year and the rowan trees are thick with their red berries… I do hope this isn’t a sign of a cold winter to come! I came across an article in a magazine that was talking about it being ‘Mabon’, which I had heard of but didn’t know much about, so I did some Googling…

Mabon is the Autumn Equinox, or Harvest, on Sept 21nd/22nd in the ‘Wheel of the Year’ as followed by practicing Pagans. All very ancient and traditional, I thought… but it seems not! The Wheel of the Year is an annual cycle of seasonal festivals, observed by many modern Pagans.  It consists of either four or eight festivals: either the solstices and equinoxes, known as the ‘quarter days’, or the four midpoints between, known as the ‘cross quarter days’. and tThe term ‘Mabon’ was only introduced in the 1970s.

While many historical Pagan traditions celebrated the various equinoxes, solstices, and the days approximately midway, celebrating all eight festivals is a new departure and, you could say, a jolly good excuse for more partying!

Joking aside, I love the idea of celebrating the changes in the seasons, the fruits of nature and the changes in the weather. Mabon, which is basically Harvest Festival, is the Pagan ritual of thanksgiving for the fruits of the earth and recognition of the need to share them to secure the blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming winter months.

The Festivals of the Wheel Of The Year represent the active and dormant states of nature, man and agriculture. Each of the festival days was ruled by a governing deity, with each region having its own associated deity. From planting to reaping to winter to summer… the seasons were of great importance to our ancestors, for their very existence depended upon good harvests, mild winters and enough rainfall.

So, as it is Mabon, here’s a lovely recipe using quince which, apart from having a beautiful name, is a magical autumn fruit. When stewed for a long time, it turns aromatic and gloriously pink. Its syrup makes an excellent base for a warming autumn cider punch.

Quince, apple & cider punch

Serves 6

  • 250ml apple juice
  • 225g soft brown sugar
  • 1 quince, peeled, quartered and cored
  • 1 vanilla pod, halved
  • 1 apple, cored and sliced
  • 500ml cider
  1. Put the apple juice in a pan with 250ml of water. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Add the quince and the halved vanilla pod.
  3. Simmer for at least 30 minutes, or up to an hour if you want a stronger colour.
  4. Add in the apple slices and cook for a couple of minutes, then add the cider and remove from the heat.
  5. Serve immediately, making sure there are some slices of apple or quince in each glass.
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An Ocean Birthday

Seahorrse

This was a sample made for my July TV show by Sylvie which I feel didn’t get enough airing – I just love it and the ideas used here are really worth showing you.

Start with an 8 x 8” white card blank and then layer some of the beautiful blue marble paper from our Joanna Sheen Backing Papers Volume One onto silver mirri.

Cut several pieces of the Louisa embellishment (Louisa Lace Border Signature Die). Try the 300gsm Elegance satin card on our website – it works brilliantly. Cut another piece of white card to about 5” square and colour it with distress inks. To get that wonderful bubble effect – flick tiny amounts of water at it once you have coloured it. Then draw round the splodge with a white gel pen to create bubbles.

Now cut several Ocean corner pieces (Signature Ocean Corner die) and 3 or 4 Sammy Seahorses (I chose that name – makes me smile every time!). Colour them all with Promarkers and assemble the seahorses one on top of the other and then apply a layer of crystal lacquer.

Now assemble the card. Add a layer of dark blue net/tulle between the middle panel and the back of the card and add the Louisa pieces to the back of your middle panel before you stick it down rather than trying to glue it afterwards. Add all the corners and then the seahorse and fish.

Add a final row of Louisa bits and a die cut Happy Birthday to finish the card.

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Hydrangeas, my favourite!

Well to be accurate, one of my favourites as I have several! The thing I love about hydrangeas is that once they start flowering (mine are just about to burst into bloom), they carry on giving you a lovely show of colour and form all summer long. As an extra bonus they are fantastic to dry and arrange indoors during the winter, so fab – very useful plants!

This card uses a pretty image from the Marjolein Bastin Summer pad. Marjolein is an artist who has been working with the craft industry for many years and the range of her images is amazing. We have a Spring and Summer pad at the moment and will be launching  Autumn and Winter pads on Create and Craft in July.

This card is a simple one that I think looks really beautiful – it would be rude to praise one of my own creations too highly! The image is layered onto a leafy green cardstock and that same green used to diecut the hydrangea leaves. The hydrangea flowers have been cut in two shades of pink.

It is then easy to assemble. Cut the border out from the sheet on the Marjolein Bastin Summer pad, attach to the card blank (I trimmed a little off an 8 x8″ card) and then fix the image and arrange the diecut hydrangeas – all made using the Signature Dies Hydrangea and finally add a few butterflies, again from the pad – see easy peasy!

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