With Apologies for the Hiatus – it’s been a busy month!

There’s been a lot going on the past few weeks – my little sister’s wedding, the reason for the wedding bunting I’ve been making since Christmas, beginning a new job, and finally, now that we’re home from a much needed holiday, spring is well under way and we’re seriously behind on our garden preparations!

Congratulations to the bride and groom on a gorgeous wedding – very much their personal style and lots of beautiful handmade touches to the ceremony and reception. I was particularly taken by the home-grown baskets of bulbs as table centres, and the handmade pyrography favours.  The bunting was pleasingly well-recieved!

At the wedding

Normal service on the Country Skills blog will be resumed very shortly – including a round-up of my volunteers’ thoughts on their big bacon challenge results, more foraging tips, and how to make your very own home-cured ham!

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That Wedding Bunting – now well underway!

The quick and simple Christmas Bunting was only ever a dry-run for the big task – I’d promised my sister bunting to decorate the village hall for her wedding reception.    Time is ticking on, so I’ve been getting on over the last few weeks.

Wedding bunting, complete

My plan was eventually to make 6 strings of 10m length each, in pursuit of which I’ve begged, borrowed and not *exactly* stolen all manner of fabric scraps, old clothes and bits and pieces.  I also bought a 72 yard bolt of yellow double-fold bias tape from the US via the marvel that is ebay.  This time I’ve chosen a bigger pennant, 8″ long by 6″ across.  I’ve also tightened the spacing so there is 6″ between flags.

Bunting pennants, laid outIt’s a great selection of colours and patterns, garnered from friends, family, work colleagues, the back of my wardrobe, and freecycle.  The fabrics come from three sets of curtains, three blouses, a pair of jeans and a pair of cords, one pair of jim-jams, two offcuts of woollen suit fabric, some polyester scarf material, and one tea towel.

Bunting pennants, cut and ironedA bit of back-of-envelope calculation and I worked out I needed 29 flags per string.  I drew a new template on cardboard from a packing box.  Words cannot express what a slow boring job cutting out 180 triangles is, but with perseverance, and sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the telly evening after evening, we got there in the end.

Bunting pennants, sorted into groupsAfter ironing and sorting into piles, time to assemble the bunting.  Bias tape has quite a lot of ‘give’ in it, so peel a load off the roll and give it all a good stretch, this will also help it lie flat.  I measured 10m lengths and then found the middle of each.  Then starting in the middle, pin the pennants one at a time into the fold of the bias tape, measuring the gap between them approximately.  After that, it’s just a matter of running the whole length through your sewing machine using appropriate complimentary – or if you like, contrasting – thread.  Try to avoid skewering your fingers on the pins too often.

Completed bunting

There it is – I hope she likes it!  Only four more strings to assemble before it’s all done!

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Handmade Christmas – cracking crackers!

Christmas crackers are great, and an essential part of Christmas dinner in my house.  I mean, what’s not to like about adults wearing silly paper hats after a lovely meal and plenty of wine?  But the ones I’ve bought always seem to contain absolute rubbish which no one would ever want.  How about making your own, with the traditional silly paper hat and motto, but with the added bonus of a small, thoughtful gift, an after dinner chocolate, or both?  Well, it’s simple and fun, here’s how!

Handmade Christmas crackers

You will need:

  • Some cracker ‘blanks’, these are widely available from craft shops and on the internet in various sizes, colours and pack sizes.  I chose plain silver ones.
  • Cracker ‘snaps’, if these aren’t included with the blanks, one for each cracker you plan to make.
  • Ribbon, wool, raffia or string, for tying the crackers up, as decorative as you like.
  • Decorations for your crackers, if you want.  I used metallic leaf skeletons, some ribbon and a couple of small jingle-bells, all glued in place, but be creative, anything from the card making section of the craft shop is a good place to start, or how about some decoupage with last year’s Christmas cards?
  • Finally, cracker gifts!  I found some quite cute keyring gadgets of various kinds and also added a nice after-dinner chocolate.  If the gifts are for specific guests, put name-labels on the crackers.
  • Scissors, sticky tape, and clear glue.
  • Make hats and mottos yourself!

Making them couldn’t be easier and is a crafty relaxing way to spend a dark December evening.

First three steps of cracker constructionStart by sticking one end of the cracker snap onto the cracker blank with sticky tape.  Then roll the cracker blank using the tabs (cracker blanks have slightly varying designs, so follow the instructions that come with yours!).  Pinch, twist and tie up one end of the cracker with the string, ribbon, or other thread you’re using – I used silver paper raffia.

Decorating the finished crackersNow fill your cracker with all the bits and pieces, and tie up the other end of the barrel in the same way.  Once you’ve tied this up, stick the second end of the cracker snap into place.  You can decorate the crackers now however you like!

‘But what about my hat and motto’, you may be thinking?  I did see hat-and-motto sets for sale, but they’re awfully expensive considering what you get, a cheap tissue paper crown and a small slip of paper.

Making the hats couldn’t be simpler.  Get some Christmas wrapping paper, I used the end of a roll of white and silver metallic paper which I had knocking around.  First, measure the circumference of your head (unless it’s unusually large or small, in which case perhaps find someone with a more ‘representative’ head to measure – then again, you’ve made them, so perhaps it’s only fair to claim the perk of a cracker hat which fits for once!).  Now cut some pieces of wrapping paper twice as wide as the finished hat you want, and about 1cm longer than the circumference you’ve measured.  Using clear sticky tape, stick the paper into a loop.

Making paper crowns for crackers

Now fold the loop flat (image 1), then in half, then fold each of the halves into three, so that you’re now on the central panel of the film-strip above.  Now fold this in half one last time, then make a single diagonal cut half-way up the paper.  Unfold your two zig-zag topped crowns.  It’s like being back in primary school!  And since they’re neatly folded, tie them that way with ribbon or a small elastic band.

For the mottos, anything goes!  Good (or bad!) jokes, limericks (or haikus?), brain teasers, interesting facts, or even thoughts for the season or personal wishes for your family and friends’ year to come – make them pretty in a word processing package, print them out, cut into strips and fold them up with your paper hats.

Crackers needn’t just be for Christmas – they’re a lovely creative way to package small, special gifts.  An unusual way to wrap a special piece of jewellery, perhaps even a surprise ring?  Or consider using crackers to package wedding favours?