Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Christmas craft inspiration

Christmas creeps up on you so quickly doesn't it?! As soon as October ends you realise you've got less than two months to get creatively crafting. With that in mind I recently had a scour around various blogs and books to find a host of simple ideas that will transform my house into a festive wonderland. Here's just a few, hope you like them too...

Cross sticth gift tags

Pine cone bunting

 Snowmen made from string

A sweet wreath

Decorating presents with conifer foliage

Paper and wood Christmas trees

                                                  Christmas tree shelf made from tree branches

What a cracker!

I've been busy lately coming up with a few simple homemade Christmas craft ideas for a local magazine.  They are dead simple to make and would make perfect festive gifts so I thought I'd share them with you over the next three posts...

Design and make your own pretty Christmas crackers using offcuts of wrapping paper. Choose a colour theme to run throughout and use a range of patterns to create a set of totally unique party crackers.

To make 4 crackers you will need: 
·      Four 20cm x 30cm rectangles of good quality wrapping paper in your choice of pattern (mine were from Paperchase)
·      6 cardboard toilet rolls
·      4 cracker snaps
·      4 tissue paper hats
·      Ribbon
·      Glue gun and glue sticks
·      A toy or sweet for inside the cracker
·      A tracing wheel (sometimes called paper perforator)
·      Ruler, pencil and scissors

1. Begin by cutting out a rectangle of wrapping roughly 20cm x 30cm.

2. Draw a line in pencil 10cm in from the short edge on both sides. Next use the tracing wheel to go over these lines. This will perforate the paper enabling the cracker to come apart when pulled. 

3. Next using the glue gun stick a cracker snap across the widest part of the paper at the bottom edge. Use a small amount of glue on each end of the snap.

4. Place three cardboard rolls in a line along the top of the paper  (opposite side of the cracker snaps) and carefully begin to roll the cracker. The middle one will stay inside, whilst those on the outer edges are there to shape the cracker and will be disposed of later. Just before you reach the cracker snap apply a few blobs of hot glue along the edge, then roll over to seal.

5. Gently pull one of the cardboard rolls at one end down and scrunch the paper together to close one end. Tie a piece of ribbon to keep it closed.

6. Now it’s time for you to insert your hats, toy or joke into the other end of the cracker. 

7. Finally seal the other end together by scrunching again and using a ribbon. Follow the same steps to make the next three crackers. 

8. To present your crackers gift wrap a small cardboard box, (a shoe box would be ideal) line it with tissue paper and fill with crackers.

A perfect present for a twitcher

These homemade hanging feeders are the ideal Christmas present for a bird lover. Not only will they provide essential food for over wintering birds they’ll also add a touch of festive cheer and decoration to the garden.

To make you will need:
  • 400g of bird seed
  • 1 packet of gelatine (20g)
  • spray oil
  • cookie cutters (we used heart, star and Christmas tree shapes)
  • baking parchment paper
  • drinking straws
  • twine

1. To begin, make up the gelatine sheet mixture according to the instructions on the packet.

2.  Gently heat the mixture until all the gelatine has dissolved, ensuring that you do not let it boil.

3. Add the melted gelatine to a large mixing bowl containing the bird seed and stir together well.

4. Next, line a baking tray with parchment and spray the inside of the cookie cutters with the oil so that the bird mix doesn’t stick to the sides once set.

5.  Once the bird seed mixture is cool spoon it into the cookie cutters and pat down to compact it. Cut a drinking straw into thirds and push one third into the center of each mould. This will create a hole for the twine to go through.

6. Next put the bird seeds cakes, still in their moulds, into the freezer to set for about 3 hours. Once set, remove from the freezer. Carefully push the cake out of the mould and pull out the straw. Thread a piece of twine through the hole and tie together to make a loop from which they can hang.

7. Wrap up your bird cakes carefully and place under the tree!

Animal jars

This set of animal-themed jars are perfect for presenting homemade preserves or filling with shop bought sweets. You can paint them all the same colour or alternatively use two or three complimenting shades. Give away as a set or individually as stocking fillers.

Materials- Makes 6
·      6 jam jars and lids
·      6 small plastic animals toys of your choice
·      Hot glue gun
·      1 can of spray paint in a colour of your choice (we used Liquitex acrylic paint spray)

1.  Wash your jam jars and lids in a dishwasher at a high temperature to sterilise them before starting. Next decide which plastic animals you want to glue to your lids.

2. Using a hot glue gun dab the underside of an animal with glue. Try to only glue its feet or base so the glue can’t be seen. Before the glue dries place the toy on top of a jam jar lid in the centre. Hold down for a few seconds then leave to dry. Don’t worry if the glue stretches and leaves a few hair-like strands as these can be easily picked of when dry.

3. Once all your animals are securely glued it’s time to paint them. You will need to do this outside. Place your lids on a table lined with newspaper. Follow the instructions on the can. The key to getting an even coat is to spray the lids a little at a time, leaving the paint to dry for a few seconds before spraying again. Gradually build the colour with short, even sprays. Once evenly covered with paint leave to dry outside for at least an hour.

4. Once dry you can fill your jars with homemade jam, chutney, sweets or chocolates. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A guide to making sloe gin

I've made sloe gin for the first time this year. We're abandoning the hell that is Christmas shopping in favour of homemade hampers. As well as sloe gin I'm doing flavoured oils, jam, biscuits and fudge!

The best time to pick sloes is after the first frosts. So I was unusually pleased when I had to scrape the ice off my car one late November morning. The next day I armed myself with a bag and headed to my local country park in search of blackthorn- the twiggy shrub that sloes grow on.

Sloes are easy to identify, their plump berries look like juicy purple grapes. Try to pick around 400g to make one 1litre of gin.

Wash your foraged sloes well and remove any twigs or leaves. Next, sterilise a needle by holding it over a flame and prick your berries all over. Place them in a large airtight jar.

Next add 225g of caster sugar.

Then pour over 1 litre of good quality gin. Secure the lid and shake well.

Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for at least two months. Once ready strain the sloe gin through muslin square and pour into a sterilised bottle. Serve your gin with ice, soda water or to make it even sweeter a splash of lemonade.