Tag Archives: sewing

The homemade Christmas gift experiment


Last Christmas I got it into my head that it would be a really nice idea to make people’s presents. That was after I’d bought them of course, so it didn’t happen. And once the festive season began to fade my ambitions faded with it: I had a novel to focus on, and there simply wasn’t enough time for any serious crafting.

But then in mid-November the thought of a homemade Christmas fired up again. I started looking around for some inspiration, finding two books especially interesting: Makery and ReCraft, both using a combination of found and bought materials to create original and useful pieces.


I honed my ideas, and over the following couple of weeks began to gather the materials I would need. I was starting from a pretty basic set of skills – in fact the amount I was going to have to learn to pull of my plan was a major motivating factor. I had a sewing machine: it had been gifted to me last Christmas, but apart from a length of birthday bunting I’d never actually used it. But in my mind I’d committed by this point so I wasn’t about to give up.

I started small, with some gold necklaces made from refashioned toy animals and personalised notebooks for selected friends. But as Christmas drew ever nearer I realised I was going to have to take the plunge and tackle some of my more complex ideas.

It was a massive learning curve – especially where the sewing machine was concerned. I’d actually made the first few gifts before I realised that I was using it without the UK adapter. It’s a vintage Bernina, and fortunately very forgiving, but that did explain why it had been running at a million miles per hour…

I got over that hurdle, taught myself a few other crafting skills, and with the help of the books, the internet and a healthy dose of imagination, completed my mission a couple of days before Christmas itself.

What follows is a list of my craftings, mainly with pictures (apart from where it seems I got so into the making I forgot to take any) and with links where appropriate. I haven’t included detailed tutorials but I do hope to get round to that in the future – for some of these at least. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know more about then please let me know in the comments!

For the kids 

There were three children I wanted to make presents for: Arthur (nearly two) and his two cousins, aged three and five.

For Arthur I had decided months ago I wanted to make a doll. Having trawled the internet for ideas I decided on a Waldorf doll: I liked the principles behind it, and the fact that I could tailor it to suit him. There’s lots more I could – and will at some stage – say about this project, but I was generally pretty happy with how it turned out.


I came across a vintage pram in Oxfam to go with it, filled a couple of cardboard suitcases with a selection of clothes and accessories, and also made a doll-sized mei tai which only seemed appropriate for my little sling baby.



For Arthur’s cousins, I was keen to create things which would inspire imaginative play. For the three year old I decided on a hobby horse, inspired by one from Red Ted Art.


And for the five year old I made a wolf costume, loosely modelled on an idea in ReCraft.


For the brothers

There were five grown-up boys to make presents for, and they were actually my most challenging at first. By focusing in on their interests and just generally where they’re at, though, I soon came up with ideas.

Leigh’s brother is very into comics and graphic novels, as is Leigh. So when I came across the comic book coasters in Makery I figured they would be perfect. In the end Leigh did the actual crafting – clearly I couldn’t be trusted to choose the right pictures…

My eldest brother was about to embark on an adventure across the pond, beginning a new job in New York in January. So I carefully chose some fabric to make a passport case, again following instructions from Makery – and made a matching one for his wife too.



My middle brother is very into self-sufficiency and the environment, and has just finished a Masters degree in soil science. I made him a lunch pouch (another Makery idea), again choosing the fabric carefully, to help him on his eco-friendly path.


And the youngest… What exactly do you make an international rock star? I decided on something to make his life easier on the road, designing an allergy-friendly eating kit with stamped vintage cutlery and signs for the kitchens his food is prepared in. I might need to make a set for myself too!




Ben’s fiancee’s brother was also joining us for Christmas, and with Leigh’s help I made a set of scrabble fridge magnets. He’s in his final year at Oxford and I figured they fitted with the student vibe – I’d actually quite like a set of those as well…

For the girls

The four grown-up girls were a little easier to come up with ideas for. There was the passport cover for Greg’s wife, and for Ashley’s fiancee I created a picture from framed vintage lexicon cards to celebrate her growing business, Queen Bee Cakes. I’ve seen these all over the place, but I quite liked the addition of the lace background to give it a vintage feel.


For my youngest almost-sister-in-law I had a raft of ideas – she’s a clothes designer, and I came across all sorts of crafty things I thought she might like. In the end though I settled on a vintage tape measure brooch and a toy truck pin cushion – once again inspired by Makery.


Leigh’s brother’s wife was a little trickier, being considerably more sophisticated than me. But then I fell in love with these glitter candle holders made from vintage crockery in ReCraft– easy to make, but surprisingly effective.


For the parents

Neither of our dads are massive fans of stuff, so we decided to go down the route of photo gifts. For my dad I printed off an image I love of him with my Grampa from this summer, presenting it in a refurbished vintage frame.

For Leigh’s dad we cheated a little – we wanted to give him a jigsaw, and decided that one with the necessary complexity would be a little beyond my skills. So we created one with the help of photobox, and I made a little tin to keep it in from an old fairy light box.

Our mums were a little easier. Leigh’s mum is an expert at crochet, so I made her a bag to keep her supplies in – along with a pouch of new bamboo crochet hooks and a book of adorable crocheted animals.


For my mum, I fell in love with this mobile, inspired by a Liberty creation. She embraces the changing seasons in her countryside home, and I loved how this design brought beauty to the rain to brighten up even the greyest day.


For my Grampa

The final recipient of a homemade gift was to be my 96 year old grandfather. Again stuff was the last thing that he needed, but he’s been an invaluable support in reading the drafts of my novels and I thought he might like to sample some of my blog. He’s not online, but I found a brilliant company who turned a selection of posts from my blog into a beautiful book. Not quite homemade, but certainly with a lot of my creativity in it.

So there you have it! A selection of homemade gifts for all the family. There were moments when I’d regretted my decision – generally when it was three in the morning and I just had to finish one last thing – but it was immensely satisfying to give presents which I had made myself. Now I just need to get thinking about what I’m going to make next time round…

Linking up to The List with Hannah at Mums’ Days and Aby at You Baby Me Mummy.

Word of the week: create

You may have noticed things have been a little quiet around here this week, and that’s because every spare second has been taken up with creating! After warming up with some golden animal pendants before our trip to London, present-making began in earnest last weekend.


I’d actually been keeping myself awake at night worrying that there was no way I was going to find the time to put all my ideas into practice, so it was a bit of a relief to finally get the sewing machine up and running. You’ll have to wait to see the results of most of my efforts, but I’m pretty sure Arthur doesn’t read the blog so here’s a sneak preview of one of his gifts – a mini mei tai for the doll I’m planning on creating for him this week! It’s actually one of my favourite things I’ve made ever. Tutorial to follow…


It’s not all been about sewing. In fact I’ve been getting crafty with pretty much whatever I can get my hands on… The sewing’s been especially fun though – getting to grips with the machine I was given last Christmas, lots of problem solving and trial and error, and fortunately a reasonable degree of success!

Arthur’s been getting in on the crafting vibe too, enjoying getting glitter everywhere whilst I put the finishing touches to his cards.



Then there were the sticks we collected on our woodland walk to put to good use. I was keen to make something wreath-like for the front door, and came up with this:


Whilst Arthur and Daddy turned these antler-like sticks into our very own red-nosed reindeer.



There’s still lots to do, but we’re taking a bit of a break this weekend at my cousin’s wedding just outside Dublin. The whirlwind of creativity will continue next week I’m sure, and hopefully I’ll manage to get everything completed in time for Christmas!


The Reading Residence


Making an advent calendar


This time last year, I decided I wanted to make Arthur an advent calendar. I wasn’t keen on him having a chocolate one – and besides, that’s always been a bit of a minefield with my nut allergy – but I wanted a way to make the countdown to Christmas special.

I looked at the various ideas available online, and whilst there were lots of great designs none of them felt quite right. So the only thing for it was to come up with something myself.

After paying a visit to our local haberdasher I came away with this gorgeous fabric by Makower. It reminded me of the winter skies above Torbay, and that’s what got me thinking… Why not create a design which celebrated where we lived? A Christmas boat sailing on the Devon seas.

I’m going to take you through my process in this post, but you could use it to create any design that suits you and your special little person. A Christmas train was my other main idea, or maybe a wintery woodland scene. As long as you can work out where to fit in the pockets then the only limit is your imagination.

You will need:

– Paper and pencil for sketching out a design

– Sewing kit – I made mine by hand but a machine would be handy too!

– Two large pieces of fabric for the base – mine were approx 110cm x 80cm

– Smaller pieces of fabric for the details – remember you’ll need extra for the pockets!

– Embroidery thread

– Finishing touches (ribbon , bells etc)

– A wooden dowel the width of your calendar with two screw in hooks for the ends

– Cord for hanging

Step one: Sketch out your design

Keep it bold and simple, and remember to incorporate the all-important pockets.

Step two: Create your ‘canvas’


I split my scene into the sea and the sky, and backed it with some sparkly tweed I found online. The thicker fabric was pretty handy to help give the finished product some solidity. Sew around three edges of your canvas but keep the top edge open – that way you can hide all your stitching. Alternatively you could leave the backing until the very end – maybe easier if you’re using a machine…

Step three: Start to add the detail



Depending on your design you may wish to create templates for some or all of it. I freestyled the boat but created paper templates for the smaller elements.

Step four: Create the pockets


Again depending on your design these may be intrinsic to the design elements (for example the sail pockets and the portholes) or added on later (like the stockings and the fish). You will need to decide on the best order to sew the different parts together!

Step five: Add your numbers


I actually left this until the very end, but in retrospect it would probably have been easier to add the numbers before sewing everything on to the base. I looked at various patches/ pre-made numbers, but in the end decided that embroidering them on would be the best way to get the effect I wanted. I just used a simple back stitch, but you could really go to town with this if you have the skills!

Step six: Put it all together


Once you have all of the elements of your design ready then all that remains is to sew them on to the base. This would be way quicker using a machine, though I did find the hand sewing quite therapeutic on dark November evenings!

Step seven: Get ready to hang


Once the design was complete, I folded over the top and created a space for the pole to go through for hanging – because of your double layer, you should be able to stitch the back in such a way that it doesn’t spoil the front of your design (the little robins *may* have come about because I messed this up at first…). Then slip the dowel through, screw a little hook to each end, tie on the cord and you’re ready to go.


The next challenge is to find twenty-four little gifts to go inside the pockets – but that’s a story for another post… Suffice to say, Arthur loved it. I can’t wait to get it out again this year!


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