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.

An Ocean Birthday


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.


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!


Ninety years young!

The Queen on her 90th birthday walkabout.I make no apology for being a royalist! I think our Queen is magnificent and, for her still to be as active as she is at 90, is just incredible. What a role model she is and what changes she has witnessed in her lifetime. What I also love is picking up little nuggets about the Queen being herself, the ‘real Elizabeth’, especially tales about when she was a youngster. These are two of my favourites:

Horse-mad from the earliest, Lilibet, as she was known, used to tie dressing gown cords to her nursery bed posts as reins to drive her pretend horses. Some 30 toy horses were fed, watered, groomed and then ‘stabled’ in a corridor each night.

Once, while very bored in a French lesson with her governess Crawfie, Lilibet tipped a full ink pot over her own head!

“Good evening Mr Bond.”And then, possibly my favourite moment where she showed her great sense of humour… the Queen surprised the world during the London Olympics by pretending to parachute into the opening ceremony, uttering the immortal line: “Good evening, Mr Bond.”

Well done, and many happy returns for yesterday your Majesty!


Here’s a quick summary of some of the events, major and quirky, that Elizabeth II has witnessed:

8 May 1945

Victory in Europe Day

Elizabeth and Margaret walked miles through the London streets, witnessing public jubilation for themselves.

17 May 1956
Elvis Presley’s first chart hit Heartbreak Hotel reaches number 2 in the UK

The Mini, with its creator Sir Alec Issigonis26 August 1959
Launch of the Austin Mini

30 July 1966
England win the World Cup

1 July 1967
First UK colour television broadcast

20 July 1969
The moon landings

1 January 1973
UK enters the European Economic Community

First man on the moon. Photo: NASA20 July 1976
Viking I lands on Mars

Silver Jubilee

4 May 1979
First female UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher was also the longest-serving UK Prime Minister of the 20th century.

1 January 1985
UK’s first mobile phone call is made

9 November 1989
Fall of the Berlin Wall

20 December 1990
First web page

“Annus horribilis” In the words of the Queen “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”

6 May 1994
Channel Tunnel completed. The tunnel was the first land link between Britain and France since the last Ice Age.

4 August 2000
Queen Mother’s 100th birthday

11 September 2001
Terrorist attacks in New York claim 2,996 lives.

Golden Jubilee – although 2002 saw the deaths of both the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, the Jubilee year was marked with popular support for the Queen.

Lovely portrait of the Queen surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to celebrate her 90th birthday. Photo: Annie Leibovitz14 April 2003
Human genome decoded

4 February 2004
Facebook launched! And here’s a page for the British Monarchy.

Global financial crisis – the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Diamond Jubilee – Elizabeth became the first British monarch since Victoria to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee… and appear alongside James Bond!

9 September 2015
Elizabeth II becomes UK’s longest-reigning monarch. The Queen entered the record books as Britain’s longest-reigning monarch after surpassing the reign of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria. At 5.30pm she had officially equalled Victoria’s 23,226 days, 16 hours and 18 minutes on the throne – over 63 years, seven months and two days.