Today’s November 30, which means come morning I’ll be digging out the Christmas boxes and opening up the first window on the Advent Calendar. It will also be the first day of summer (here in the southern hemisphere), and it looks like we’ll be welcoming it with sub-tropical Sydney showers.
I have such strong memories of Advent calendars from my childhood. My mum did Christmas in a big way, and she built up an incredible collection of European calendars from her travels. A lot of them were fairly traditional with a nativity scene, a scattering of vintage-y silver glitter, and teeny-tiny windows that opened up to reveal a darling Christmas-themed illustration. How I anticipated opening up each window every morning! There were no such things as chocolates waiting to be popped open, although I do remember having one in the late ’80s. 1. Eric Carle’s Dream Snow Pop-Up Advent Calendar, $8.79.
We also had a wreath of Advent candles on our dining table, which was filled with walnuts or summer’s first cherries. And flowers! Just-cut Australian Christmassy flowers, which were always a variation of blue agapanthus, crimson Christmas Bush and – if we were lucky – red and golden Christmas bells. Aaah. It’s been a long time since I’ve spied some Christmas bells. I’ll have to keep an eye out for some this season.
I wanted Harry to have an Advent calendar to open each morning this year, so Mum was obviously my go-to lady. I’ve borrowed one of her vintage European calendars with a Christmas nursery theme (see top).
If you’ve left it til the last minute, there’s still time to get your Advent calendar. I’ve picked out three great Advent calendars from my US Amazon shop (see above) inspired by children’s book characters with a pop-up twist (weirdly, only the Winter’s Night calendar is available from my UK Amazon shop).
Each downloadable kit contains 24 individually-designed matchbox labels by Draw!Pilgrim, which are all vintage-style with an aged colour tint, fake ‘off-register’ colour overlaps and a variety of European Christmas Greetings. You also get 24 templates to fold up the matchbox bases as well as a template for slips of paper to write notes for treats or activites. Fun, right?
Check back on December 1 on Wee Birdy for my festive makeover.
After some good crafty ideas for Christmas? So far I’ve managed to make a few pom-poms for decorations, but I wouldn’t mind having a go at some of the rather lovely projects on my Pinterest boards.
Here, I’ve picked out my top 10 DIY projects for Christmas presents. They’re all gorgeous and more than a wee bit GENIUS – and so will you be if you make them! Just click through the links to the original tutorials and how-tos. Let me know how you go?
The creative team at KatyJane have come up with some gorgeous things for Christmas this year. I particularly love their advent calendar stickers. They are such a great idea that allows you to be creative with how you use them… on little glossy red boxes or envelopes, on kraft paper bags, and they’d be perfect for my advent calendar tutorial!
KatyJane also has sweet gift tags and everything you need to wrap and trim your gifts to perfection this Christmas. Take a look at their online shop and let’s support local Australian small businesses rather than the big box stores this festive season.
I’m happy to tell you that Festive Craft Kits in red and aqua are available in my shop again. Christmas is creeping up and these fabric craft kits are a versatile quick project to make or to gift. You can use the panels to make ornaments, or on Christmas stockings, for lavender sachets, in a patchwork project, or whatever else you fancy.
Over the past week when I’ve been begged to watch Rio, Barbie, Horton Hears a Who, or something else that has been on high rotation in my house I’ve been doing a little embroidery.
Have you been able to sneak in a little Christmas crafting?
Today marks the first Sunday in Advent, so I’m finally allowing myself to unleash the Christmas decorations – on Wee Birdy, that is (the real decos don’t come out til December 1). So my birdy pick this week comes from the ever-delightful Cath Kidston, who manages to pull out the festive goods year in and year out with a new vintage-y design. And this year, bless her polka-dot cotton socks, she’s gone with birds. (How good do those baubles look on top of the bowl of Quality Street?) Tweet tweet, merrily on high!
Remember that blog post I wrote about Christmas crackers a few days ago? Where I jumped up and down and swore that I had collated the ultimate top 20 list? Well, I just found one more. It only arrived yesterday. It’s a real little beauty. And it’s got my name all over it (OK, not literally). Introducing the exquisite Ben Pentreath Limited Christmas Crackers.
Disenchanted with what he found in London’s department stores last year, Ben decided there was nothing else for it but to create his own range. Made by hand in Dorset, these magnificent crackers are the Christmas incarnation of Ben Pentreath himself, handsomely wrapped with unique Judd Street and Pollock’s Toy Museum papers. Inspired (and oh-so-London)!
Novelties were hand-picked by Ben and include traditional favourites like wooden dice, pencils, marbles in a paper bag, pastry cutters and nutmeg graters. There is also a “terrible joke” (tick!), paper hat (tick) and it goes bang (tick! tick! tick!). Crackers are £40 for a tray of six, and they’re worth every single pretty penny.
I’ve been a huge fan of Australian artist Poh Ling Yeow‘s work for years… way before her MasterChef fame. You can see one of my previous posts about her work here. So I was more than excited when Poh emailed me recently to tell me about her exhibition that’s currently on at Hill Smith Gallery in Adelaide. We emailed back and forth for some time and she’s so lovely. Poh told me that despite her cook books, TV shows and everything else that comes with the MasterChef success she’ll never stop being a fine artist. When you look at her work you can see why – she has such a talent and her art must be an intrinsic part of who she is. How amazingly beautiful is this painting?!
I love everything about Poh’s art from her beautiful dry brush technique that creates such wonderful graduations of tone and colour to the lovely soulful Chinese girl she paints. (Poh refers to her as “the girl”, and she reminds me a lot of my girl, especially that exquisite mouth.) Most of Poh’s work is an exploration of her identity as a Chinese Australian, which of course resonates with our family too. I’ve vowed that by the time Poh next exhibits in Sydney I’m going to be first in line to purchase one of her paintings. I’ve wanted to for years, and I think I deserve it, I’ve had such a crappy time in the last couple of years. I’m saving my pennies!
Images: Hill Smith Gallery
If you’re in Adelaide go and visit the Hill Smith Gallery and see Poh’s work in person. It truly is breathtaking.
As an aside, I just googled ‘Poh ling Yeow’ to see if there were any specific links to her culinary life and among the top google suggestions were “Poh Ling Yeow boyfriend” and “Poh Ling Yeow married”… I think there must be a lot of interest from the blokes out there! There’s a great interview here if you’re interested and she also has a blog which is related to Poh’s Kitchen, her TV show. .
I really wish I lived on a street that went nuts with their Christmas lights. In fact, that just might have to be my number one criteria for future homes. We drove over to Second Street in Ashbury on Saturday night to watch them switch on the lights. Look at the amazing scenes that greeted us there. Twinkle twinkle!
It was being filmed for the Lifestyle Channel, so there were loads of people out on the street enjoying the beautiful balmy night and festive atmosphere. It was one of those Sydney nights that just begs to be spent outdoors, and the air was heavy with the scent of jasmine and some kind of lemony, peppery eucalyptus. Most of the owners had set up tables on the footpaths and were getting stuck into the chardy and chip ‘n’ dip. Loved it! Enjoy the photos by my awesome brother-in-law, Lucas Boyd (and me)!
If you’re shopping for a baby or child this Christmas, there are few presents lovelier than something custom-made. Parents love the whole idea of a treasured keepsake and pre-schoolers get quite a kick out of having something with their name – or even better, face – on it. But tread warily when it comes to personalised baby stuff. The web is literally stuffed with naff bears with machine-embroidered names and dodgy ‘nappy cake’ novelty gifts (seriously, can we just ban the whole concept of a ‘nappy cake’?). You also need to allow enough time for production and delivery – so now is a good time to order online.
Here are some really lovely ideas to get you started…
1. Custom-made name print
It’s been a few years since the world discovered the charming work of Dutch designer Nina Invorm, and I’m still as nuts about her bright folky stuff as ever. These custom name prints for girls (with strawberries, top of page) and boys (with apples, above) feature colourful bunting with the child’s name in Nina’s inimitable handcut alphabet. You can also order extra prints and postcards of your design. US$38.82 from Nina Invorm’s Etsy shop.
6. Custom boy and girl dolls
Super-adorable dolls for boys and girls can be customised with your choice of skin and hair colour and style, and can be further personalised with an initial on the front and the child’s name on the back. From US$35 from Sophi and Lili.
p.s. The custom-made plate, bowl and cushions, above, are by Etsy seller Olliegraphic. Her Etsy shop is on vacation at the moment, but it’s worth signing up for notification once she’s back. I also love PZMac‘s charming customised Liberty print cushion, which is made using your child’s photo as a reference and features their name in hand-stitched felt lettering on the back. Bookmark them for next year’s birthday presents.
It’s back! Wee Birdy’s annual Christmas cracker round-up! Supposedly invented by Londoner Thomas J.Smith in 1847 as a marketing ploy to add interest and value to his bon-bon sweets, crackers are one of the most English of Christmas Day traditions.
So what makes a good cracker?
Firstly, it must look good. A Christmas table isn’t properly dressed without a splendid-looking cracker adorning each place setting, so choose wisely. It must also contain a wonderfully-interesting trinket (which could also be spectacularly crap – just as long as it keeps everyone amused while the turkey is carved). There must be a paper hat and it must be worn – at least until the end of the first course. There should also be some quality bad jokes to be read aloud around the table. Finally, it must go bang. (Or ‘snap included’, in cracker-speak.)
Also, this is the very first Wee Birdy post where some of the products link to an affiliate site. Now, you know how picky I am about my crackers, so there is no way that I would compromise my editorial integrity by including anything that I wasn’t genuinely excited about. But since Wee Birdy is now my full-time job, I’ve decided to test affiliate links from time to time over the next few months (they are the ‘Click here to buy’ links). I only recently discovered that so many of the products I recommend actually have associated affiliate programs, so it made sense to give it a go. If you’d like to buy one of my recommended products, you’ll be supporting Wee Birdy and keeping it up and running. Yeah! (And thank you in advance!)
Let’s see what made my Top 20 this year…
1. THE BEST VALUE CRACKER John Lewis cream and gold Christmas Crackers, £10 for a pack of six, from John Lewis. Click here to buy. With a line-up of quality trinkets including photoclip, clothes brush with mirror, mini scissors, phone charm, bottle stopper, tape measure and an egg cup, these luxe-looking crackers are great value for a tenner. Otherwise, you can’t go past Tesco’s Value Crackers, where you get 10 crackers for £1 (though I can’t vouch for the contents or quality).
2. THE BIRDY CRACKER Christmas Bird Crackers, £30 for a pack of six, by Cath Kidston. Click here to buy.
You can count on Cath Kidston to make a festive cracker with a sweet retro sensibility. Each cracker is filled with an assortment of Cath Kidston goodies, including a set of three badges, mini playing cards, two hair slides, compact mirror, mini pencils and red hanky.
3. THE FAIR TRADE CRACKER Fair Trade dinner crackers, £9.99 for six, from Oxfam.
These recycled crackers feature blank name cards that slot into place on each cracker, so you can use them as place cards. The presents are Fair Trade and include a handmade notebook, friendship bracelet, earrings or a spinning top.
4. THE HANDSOME CRACKER Box of Blue Handmade Celestial Christmas Crackers, £29.95 for six, from Liberty. Click here to buy.
Reminiscent of Liberty’s iconic Hera print, these ornate crackers are hand-embellished with a peacock feather and offer a stunning alternative to the traditional holly-and-berries crackers. Along with the usual line-up of hat, snap and motto, gifts include a lipstick case with mirror, ballpoint pen and a compass.
5. THE HISTORIC CRACKER Box of Mr and Mrs Liberty Christmas Crackers, £34.95, from Liberty. Click here to buy.
Historic photos of Mr and Mrs Liberty first started to appear on Liberty merchandise about two years ago, but this is the first time they’ve landed their own crackers. Three cheers for Mr and Mrs Liberty! They’re looking suitably splendid in purple and gold and offer an assortment of trinkets such as a compact mirror, miniature photo frame and a clothes brush.
6. THE MUSICAL CRACKER Carol Concerto Crackers, £39.95 for eight, from Harrods.
These hand-crafted crackers are exclusive to Harrods and contain Xylophone keys and a conductor’s baton so you can have your own little carols session around the Christmas dinner table. There are also numbered crowns, jokes and the traditional snap.
7. THE RETRO SWEETIE CRACKER Retro spot mini crackers, £18.95 for a box of nine, from Selfridges. Click here to buy.
Confession: these cute handmade crackers almost didn’t make the cut. They don’t have hats. Or jokes. And I’m not entirely sure they go bang. But each one contains a mini packet of Love Hearts. Too sweet to ignore, right?
8. THE ENTERTAINING CRACKER Box of six Scrabble crackers, £18.95 for six, from Selfridges. Click here to buy.
Now here’s a new idea for your classic board game: turn it into a box of entertaining crackers! Containing hats, mottos, and letter-moving puzzles, this box of Scrabble crackers also boasts a game board, letter tiles, letter-tile holders and more Scrabble paraphernalia and game instructions. I can’t work out if you get your starter letter tiles in each cracker – but it would be kinda silly if they didn’t. Monopoly and Twister crackers are also available.
9. THE PARTY CRACKER Party print crackers, £19.95 for six, from The Conran Shop.
The Conran Shop also has a gorgeous line-up of beautifully-designed crackers, and this one is no exception. These little lovelies contain hats, jokes and quality practical gifts.
10. THE BEAUTY TREATS CRACKER Lancome Beauty Christmas crackers, £38 for a box of six, from Selfridges. Click here to buy.
The perfect cracker for Christmas lunch with the girls. Available only at Selfridges, each cracker contains a mini Lancome beauty treat (either Génifique 7ml, Visionnaire 7ml, Bi–Facil 30ml, L’Absolu Rouge Mini, Juicy Tube 7ml, Hypnôse Mascara Mini), hat and beauty tip (so good we’ll forgive them for the missing joke).
11. THE VINTAGE CRACKER Mini vintage Christmas crackers, £7.50 for a box of six, from Hunkydoryhome.
Give your Christmas table a retro vibe with these ultra-cute mini crackers in a ‘50s-inspired snowy village design. Each cracker contains a novelty hat, motto/joke and snap.
12. THE BEAUTIFUL CRACKER Over the rainbow crackers, AU$110 for a box of six, from Papier D’Amour.
These stunning crackers from Sydney-based store Papier D’Amour contain trinkets such as a mini flask key ring, crystal perfume bottle, silver cufflinks with crystals, crystal memo clip and luggage tag.
13. THE HIGH ROLLER’S CRACKER Glad Tidings Cracker, £1,000 for box of six, from Fortnum & Mason.
No Wee Birdy cracker round-up is complete without the ridiculously-expensive cracker, and Fortnums never lets me down. I always get a voyeuristic thrill inspecting the ultra-luxe contents. These wonderfully ornate crackers are presented in a polished walnut box, and contain silver-plated trinkets including a sugar dredger, egg cup and spoon. (Really? Surely you’d get your very own live miniature pig for that price.)
14. THE PRACTICAL PRESENTS CRACKER Santa and reindeer boxed crackers, AU$50 for a box of 12, from Papier D’Amour.
Cooks and gardeners will love the gifts in these traditionally festive crackers, which include a silicone cup cake mould, travel corkscrew, sun stamp and inkpad, home-made food labels, wooden herb markers, gingerbread man cookie cutter and copper plant markers.
15. THE CRAFTY CRACKER Meri Meri Tis The Season Christmas Crackers, £15 for a pack of eight, from John Lewis. Click here to buy.
Meri Meri is the super-lovely name behind beautiful partyware, and this year’s reflects the brand’s attention to gorgeous detail. Each cracker contains a hat, a joke and presents such as playing cards, a music maker, bouncy ball, dice, bowling set, water shooter, bottle opener keychain or a magic trick.
16. THE BEST OF BRITISH CRACKER Best of British cracker, £15 for a box of six, from Marks & Spencer.
Celebrate one of Britain’s greatest traditions with these patriotic set of Union-Jack-emblazoned crackers. Each cracker contains a gift, motto and hat, as well as a British-themed trivia game. Gifts include a screwdriver set, sewing kit and mini nail clippers.
17. THE CHARITY CRACKER Rainbow Crackers, £10 for a box of five, from the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity.
Choose crackers with a conscience and help raise money for the Rainbow Trust. Each cracker contains a hat, joke and an individual number that you register for a chance to win a £5000 Boodles diamond.
18. THE KIDS’ CRACKER Mask Adventure Christmas Mini Crackers, £5 for a pack of six, from John Lewis. Click here to buy.
Children will love these mini crackers featuring cute Christmas character masks instead of paper hats. They also contain the traditional favourites (snap, motto and joke) as well as a secret task to complete, like, ‘try to get the word Rudolph into the next three conversations without it sounding silly’.
19. THE COOL DESIGN CRACKER P&C Christmas Cracker, £11.50 each, from Present & Correct.
Online stationery shop Present & Correct is a long-time Wee Birdy favourite, and they’ve really come up trumps this year with this artful handmade cracker filled with all sorts of high-quality papery, design-y delights. Each cracker contains a 2012 tag book calendar, a rubber stamp, a christmas pencil, some erasers, a 10cm ruler, a lucky chocolate sixpence, a Scrabble letter magnet, some confetti and a label. No hat or jokes but it surely goes bang.
20. THE DIY CRACKER Make your own crackers with accessories, £3.99, from Oxfam.
Get crafty and make your own crackers with this handy kit containing recycled paper, jokes, hats, ribbons, snaps and instructions. Notch up some more ethical points and add a Fair Trade gift from the Oxfam website, like lipbalm, chocolate coins and jewellery.
They were made using prints of 18th century book illustrations, and include handmade paper hats, jokes typed up on an old-school typewriter and presents from design shop Magma. They even go bang! (They ripped out the snaps from some cheapie Sainsbury crackers.) So very clever!
Top photo of lovely Christmas spread courtesy of Cath Kidston.