Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Handmade Christmas Crackers

For as long as I can remember, crackers or bon bons have always been a feature of the Christmas table. As a child, it was the part of the family dinner on Christmas day that I looked forward to the most - pulling the cracker and hearing it go snap and then seeing who received the end with the surprise, joke and paper hat. Of course the plastic toy inside was always a disappointment and the jokes were lousy! Nothing much has changed. You can of course purchase 'upmarket' Christmas crackers from department stores but these are fairly expensive and even the better quality 'middle of the road' crackers have contents that compare with the budget crackers - you are paying for the packaging!

Have you ever considered making your own? I started making my own crackers over 18 years ago. It became my personal Christmas tradition - I would make them as my contribution for the Christmas table if we were spending Christmas day at a relatives home and when we started to celebrate Christmas at home with our children, every person seated at the table received a personal cracker. I always make a few extra for unexpected guests. One year my husband invited a single father and his four children to join us for Christmas dinner - on Christmas morning! That was the year I had made a bumper load of crackers and it was so lovely to be able to give each of his children a cracker to pull. I also make crackers as gifts for friends and neighbours - filling them with with sweet treats - so much more personal than a box of chocolates!

The beauty of making your own crackers is that you get to choose what goes inside! It is fun to shop for cracker gifts - they have to fit inside the tube of course but you can personalize the gift for the recipient - earrings for a daughter, a mini-torch for a son, it is entirely up to you!

These are the crackers I have made for this Christmas. I usually choose a different theme for each year. This year I have made several sets as I want to give you some more unusual ideas for making your own - yes, I am going to show you how - step by step. First of all I want to offer you some design inspiration by showing you the different crackers I have made for Christmas 2009.

These crackers in a green, white, silver and gold palette are for my Christmas table. Our home is surrounded by greenery at Eight Acres of Eden. When we sit down to dinner we look out through full length glass doors to a forest setting. Boughs of cedar frame our home and eucalyptus trees and palms fill the canvas. I take my inspiration for decorating my home's interior from outside and therefore, green is the accent colour for my table setting - I have green glasses, I sometimes use green napkins and it teams beautifully with white which is why I often make my crackers in white with accents of green, silver and gold. I also match them to my other hand crafted items - the crackers coordinate with my table wreath which surrounds a hurricane lamp which holds the candle. I have added the same green and silver trim to a napkin ring.

This is such a wonderful way to plan your Christmas decorating. Choose colours that work with your home - do you have dark timber and red velvet cushions? Perhaps a more traditional scheme of red, green and gold will suit or is your home modern - maybe you live in a beach house, you could opt for white, ecru and coastal blue and use shells to accessorize instead of flowers. If you live in a log cabin, cottage or mud brick home, a more rustic decorating scheme may appeal.

These are my flower fairy crackers. I was inspired to make these when one of my daughter's Flower Fairy books fell apart at the binding. She decided to cut out all the illustrations to use for crafts and scrap booking. There were so many to choose from, including the Christmas fairies. I love the Snowdrop fairy though! What characters do your children like? - perhaps you could make Winnie the Pooh crackers! The whimsical angel earrings that appear in the stores are also perfect for trimming a little girl's cracker. Why not 'Superhero' crackers for a young boy?

'Childhood' or 'Victoriana' is a theme you could use for adults too. Victorian scrapbook embellishments can be found in many craft stores. Before you race out to the store, check your stash of old birthday and Christmas cards - if you don't drop them in the card recycling bins - I always keep my favourite cards to recycle and reuse for crafting - making cards, tags and Christmas trims. These Victorian children at play were 'pop outs' from a birthday card my sister sent me one year. The pink crackers are for my girls and the blue one for my younger son. I also plan to make a 'Childhood' cracker for my new baby to hold a pair of bootees!

My youngest daughter - a twin, is excited to know she has a cracker made especially for her! She insisted on pink ribbons and lace for the trimming! As did her sister! She knows that there are chocolates inside and a surprise! Are you inspired yet? Ready for some practical help? Set aside some time for a cracker making session. Let's get started!

First of all, you need to gather your materials. I use cracker making kits to make the interiors, which can be found in many craft and discount stores. A set of six costs about $3! Before these kits appeared on the market I used to make crackers using cardboard tubes, this involved lots of measuring and cutting and it was rather fiddly. The kits come with everything you need (the tube, the snap, hats, paper ribbon ties and very corny jokes) to make a cardboard cracker but the designs are not to my liking so a cover-up job is required. I find crepe paper gives the best result, especially when it comes to tying and crimping the end. Thicker papers such as scrap booking papers tend to be harder to work with and beware - if you use brown paper for a rustic style cracker - it will be impossible to pull! I know this from experience. The brown paper looked lovely trimmed with raffia and sunflowers but they sure tested our muscle strength that year!

You will also need good strong craft glue, scissors, a ruler and tape.

Step 1 is to roll up the tube - it even comes with slots and tabs - so easy! I usually use tape over the tabs to ensure they stay in place

Step 2 Cut out a piece of crepe paper allowing for overlap at the ends and a sufficient width that can be rolled around the cardboard tube. If you are using a light colour such as white you may need several layers to prevent the design on the cardboard tube showing through. Fold a neat hem along the edge and run a thin seam of glue along this edge and press into place. Allow to dry. Use the glue sparingly, it is very strong and too much may turn your paper soggy!

Step 3 Cut the ends to size allowing a small overlap which needs to be turned in and secured with a dab of glue or you may wish to use pinking shears or fancy paper scissors to trim the edge. I will be using ribbon to trim my edges.

Step 4 Tie off one end. I use narrow ribbon which I pull tightly, secure and leave in place. You can also use thin wire to achieve a very tight crimped effect but be careful not to rip the paper. Remove the wire and tie off with ribbon. Check the hole - is it small enough to prevent the contents from slipping out the end? - remember children shake crackers and try to peek inside!

Now it is time to trim the end using ribbon in whatever colour you desire. Chiffon and sheer ribbons always look pretty, metallic ribbons give a sparkly effect. If you are not embellishing the end with extra trims take time to get your bow right. If you are adding trims it doesn't matter if you struggle to tie the perfect bow!

I did not buy any ribbon for my crackers this year or last year. I am still using ribbon and lace I purchased in a bulk lot at a garage sale in 2008 - a huge box cost me $8! Much of it was unused and still on complete reels - lots of gold ribbon too! It was one of my best garage sale finds of all time!

Step 5 Trim the end. I am using silk leaves, attached in pairs using craft glue, building up layers of colours which complement - I have metallic gold, sage green and for contrast a silk ivy leaf. All my leaves were ripped off cheap 'tacky' garlands or taken from bunches of cheap and garish silk and polyester flower arrangements - the ones I would never dream of putting in a vase but the leaves are very useful, especially if you can find realistic looking ones in suitable shades.

Next, comes the finishing touches. A tiny silver poinsettia taken from a 'plastic' Christmas flower arrangement. I glued the flower into place and then added in the tiny silver holly leaves underneath. The little finishing details are glued in to place last - maybe tiny faux berries or gum nuts, maybe a star anise or a little gold star. I just love this aspect of the cracker making process. Play around with different elements in your design before you glue everything down.
I then glue into place a ribbon or lace trim for the ends. This gives a neat edge and really does finish off your cracker.

Step 6 Fill your cracker! I had lots of willing volunteers ready to help at this stage! Resist the temptation to eat the chocolates and always use wrapped chocolates or candy! Do not leave your crackers in a warm place - on a sunny windowsill or close to the fireplace if you are in a cold climate - the consequences might be soft candy or melted chocolate! There are so many tiny gifts suitable for filling your crackers. Use your imagination but suggestions are jewelery, stickers, tiny pencils or pens, key rings, lip gloss and other make up items, hankies, tiny soaps or bath pearls. For boys and men - tiny tape measures, torches or other gadgets for key rings, fishing or golf accessories.

You may wish to choose contents in a colour that coordinates with the cracker. As my daughter loves purple, I have chosen gifts for her in suitable shades. I have replaced the joke with a little card offering inspiration. Each of my children are receiving a little card with words of hope from the Bible. You may wish to write out Scriptures or other words of encouragement. And as for the awful jokes - they are all in my husband's cracker for him to read aloud at the table!

Finally, you need to repeat the tying off and trimming steps for the other end of your cracker. Make sure it matches the opposite end! Glue into place in the centre of your cracker your chosen picture or embellishment. I absolutely love these faux fronds of silver fern which I have used on my daughter's 'purple' cracker and the 'All Black' masculine crackers for my husband and eldest son - very appropriate as they are New Zealanders and All Black supporters - as I am also a NZ citizen I will be joining them in front of the TV screen on Saturday night to cheer on the All Blacks in the Rugby when they play Australia! Now here's an idea for the mad keen sports men in your life - make them a cracker in the colours of their favorite team and add the team's logo. Just love that the All Blacks wear the Silver Fern - it goes so well with my Christmas decorating! Notice how these silver fronds are appearing in my other table decorations! I'm so glad it was not a Kangaroo a Bulldog or a Shark!

I hope you have been inspired - if you do not have the time to make your crackers from scratch, why not buy a set of plain foil crackers in silver or gold and add your own ribbons and embellishments in colours to tie in with your table setting. For those who want to make crackers in a similar fashion to mine here is the cost breakdown - remember this is in Australian dollars!

1 cracker kit (makes 6 crackers) $3 - that is 50 cents per cracker for the inner tube and snap!
Crepe paper 99 cents - $1.20 per pack, 2 packs used for a set of 6 crackers
Glue - I buy a 1 litre bottle for $20 at Bunnings, of course it will be used for lots of craft projects!
Ribbon and trim, minimal cost - from my stash of garage sale lace! Each year I recycle the silk leaves and trims to reuse the following year.
Silver Ferns - a stem cost $5 at Spotlight but I have used it on two garlands, as well as the crackers.
Gifts to go inside - I usually allow $3-$5 per person for 'gift crackers'. Spare crackers are filled with a handful of chocolates. I buy a big box from Big W for $10. This year I found earrings and necklaces for $3 reduced from $8 and $15 at Big W. Also packs of stationery for $3 which were split up between crackers.

It works out at around less than $3 for each cracker plus the gift - of course you can keep the cost down by recycling trims, cards and ribbon and just filling the crackers with candy or chocolate. It is entirely up to you but by creating your own crackers you are not only giving a special handmade gift (made with love!) but designing something beautiful to decorate your table this Christmas. I look forward to showing you my Christmas table with the crackers in their individual place settings.

Wishing you a very Creative Christmas Season. More inspiration coming soon!

With love and joy,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I'll be Home for Christmas

Welcome to Christmas at Eden and my first 'official' post on this, my Christmas blog. It is all about preparing for Christmas. I'll be home for Christmas - where will you be this Christmas time? Visiting family? Holidaying with friends? Have you even decided where you will be spending Christmas Day? Have you started any preparations? I would love to share with you some of the ways in which I prepare for the Christmas - a season which has always held a special place in my heart. It is so important to me it even features on my Family Vision poster.

'Christmas will always be special time in our household, when we all come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a beautifully decorated home, around our table adorned with flowers and candles, giving gifts to one another and blessing others, particularly our neighbours.'

This Christmas will be extra special as our seventh baby is due at the beginning of December. My preparations are underway, I do not wish to be shopping at the last minute in crowded stores with a newborn baby in my arms and I am relieved to know I have a little stash of gifts for family and friends waiting to be wrapped or tucked into gift baskets or dropped into stockings on Christmas Eve!

This is because I shop for gifts all year round When I am in a store, or even at the supermarket and I see suitable items on sale I buy one or two to go into my gift box. This spreads my expenditure throughout the year. I have a box for gifts but these are not 'designated' gifts. They are little gifts which I can give to others at Christmas or even use for birthdays or other special occasions, they also make good hostess gifts. In my 'gifts to give' basket are items such as -

Scented soaps and candles - some candles come in their own glass holders, soaps and candles may come in pretty tins, some are just plain and wrapped in cellophane, these cost less than those that come in lots of packaging - I will embellish these later (I will show you how in a future post!) Perhaps you make your own candles or soaps - this is something I would love to do - but as I have young children who love to be around me when I craft I have chosen to concentrate on crafts which do not involve the use of hot liquids or chemical processes. The time I have to spend on crafting is affected by other commitments, so I choose to pursue crafts I truly love such as making bon bons and garlands. Handmade soaps and candles are readily available at farmers markets and I am happy to support local enterprises. (There are lots of blogs with detailed instructions on how to make your own soap and candles if you want to try this.) Beautiful hand made bon bons and garlands are harder to find and a lot more expensive to purchase, so it is rather fulfilling to make my own - I look forward to showing you how at this blog.

Other gifts I purchase for my gift box are textiles and teas . The textiles might be tea towels, aprons, wash cloths or cloth napkins. They are very suitable for sending overseas. There is a lovely 'upmarket' gift shop in my town which sells beautiful linen, some is vintage and rather expensive but the owner also stocks quality cotton and linen tea towels which cost only $3.50 each! The tea towel in this picture came as a free gift with a Country decorating magazine! Tea towels can be used to wrap a package of homemade biscuits, they can be used as a lining for a basket of 'goodies' for a cook - 'tea towel' ideas will follow in a future post!

Tea - It is always lovely to take time for tea and to encourage others to do the same. This is why I often pop a sachet of a speciality tea into a card or even a tea cup for a friend. It is also a lovely gift to accompany a batch of home made scones or brownies for a friend or neighbour. Look out for speciality tea stalls at your local farmer's markets. Prefer coffee? You may find special or local coffees at your farmer's markets too.

Have you noticed how my gifts co ordinate? Although they were purchased separately, this was intentional - I also buy gifts in suitable colours for Christmas - greens and reds or I look out for gifts in colours favoured by family and friends - do you know their favourite colours? This is is a useful thing to know!

I also buy gifts throughout the year for specified people - mainly my own immediate family.
You will not find me in the queue to lay by big ticket items in the Target toy sale in July - our budget does not allow for outlandish expenditure and we do not buy expensive or 'faddish' toys for our children but they do receive gifts!

Gifts that nurture creativity and cater for special interests, that will be appreciated and when Christmas is over, be used and used again! So you are not likely to find me in the toy aisle unless I am buying a special baby doll for a daughter or a Lego set for a son (these are the big presents!)

I am more likely to be buying gifts in the discount bookshop or at the craft store. I hope my children don't peek at this blog but you should be able to work out what their interests are! All the books were substantially reduced and the puzzles and games cost less than $3 each! Games in tins are from Aldi and the puzzles from BIG W.

You may choose to shop in the January sales for the following Christmas. I know some people even wrap their gifts immediately on their return home but I prefer to buy gifts throughout the year and wrap them in the week before Christmas - I enjoy doing this once the house is decorated and then I can place the gifts under the tree - ones that might be peeked at or unwrapped by a curious toddler go under the tree on Christmas Eve!

I do buy Christmas decorations in the New Year Sales when there is often 50% or more taken off the original price. I have quite a collection of tree ornaments - they were not bought in one excursion - each year I buy one or two special pieces to add to my collection. I will show you them in the post on decorating the tree!

Preparing for Crafting

As crafting is one of my 'indulgences' at this time of year. I ensure that I have all my supplies in order. As I do this, I make a list of any materials I am likely to need. As I have quite a stockpile of lace, ribbon, card and embellishments thanks to one fortuitous garage sale purchase a few years ago, the only items I needed to buy this year, were some silver leaves and faux berries for garlands and an extra big bottle of craft glue! A trip to Spotlight was needed but on the day of the planned trip I chanced upon a garage sale which had numerous new Christmas craft items, in the very colours I wanted, as well as decorations and giftware for sale - all at a fraction of what I would have paid at Spotlight! I also found vintage cloths and wicker baskets for displaying all my Christmas materials and gifts!

I tidy and reorganize my craft cupboard and this year as I am making and revamping several garlands, I decided I would organize my silk leaf and flower collection which were stored in hat boxes. I ordered them by shape, size and type and placed them in zip seal plastic bags. This took me an hour or two and my daughter helped but when it came to making a new wreath it was a much easier process - so worth the effort!

The supplies are purchased and in order and the crafting has begun. I have made several sets of bon bons, revamped my favourite table centre piece and constructed one new garland. I will be posting step by step instructions in posts to follow soon.

I am also preparing my home - deciding where I will position my Christmas displays and cleaning designated corners. The tree will placed next to our fireplace which is not used as we are in our summertime, so I cleaned out all the accumulated ash. I scrubbed the tiles underneath and I hope to also polish the cast iron wood burner. If you do not have a lot of Christmas decorations it is best to choose just one corner of your home to decorate, rather than try and spread your decorations out. By choosing just one corner you create a sense of abundance and a feast for the senses - choose somewhere where you will be spending lots of time - where you can enjoy your decorating efforts. I know I will be in my living room feeding a baby throughout the day and night - how lovely will it be to come into a room with the lights twinkling on the tree in the wee small hours?! If you spend more time in your kitchen cooking and baking for all the family that will be arriving over the holiday season why not concentrate your efforts here?

I will also have some cupboard and table top displays in other areas so the polishing cloth has been receiving a workout. I also plan to do Christmas craft and baking with my children - handmade advent calendars and baking gingerbread is a family tradition, so I will check out my pantry supplies of spices in particular!

A home made Gingerbread wreath also makes a beautiful display for your table!

Have you started to make your preparations? Are you excited about Christmas? It can be a stressful time for so many people and it is such a shame that it has become so commercialized but it can be redeemed for the sake of our families, for the sake of our finances, for deepening our relationships and ties with family and friends. Let's take it back! Reclaim the holiday season and seek to make it the special time it deserves to be -

'For the stores don't own Christmas, it's ours to enjoy
To celebrate the birth of a baby boy
Named Jesus and He is still the reason
Why we celebrate the Season!'

From a poem I wrote for Christmas, have read aloud at many of my seminars and will share with you soon!

With love and joy,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Welcome to Christmas at Eden

Welcome to my latest blog 'Christmas at Eden'. I have created this blog for a specific purpose - to inspire you to create a beautiful Christmas for your family and friends. I have always loved Christmas and for the past 12 years I have hosted 'Creating Christmas' seminars and workshops for homemakers. I began inviting friends and neighbours to my home during the Christmas season to share ideas and inspiration for creating a memorable Christmas. Each year the numbers attending grew as my friends brought along their friends and neighbours. I have also run seminars at community venues - in homes, churches and on one occasion in an old historic schoolhouse which had been converted into a cafe.
I have always run these seminars for love not money. I have never asked for payment except on one occasion when the owner of the schoolhouse cafe asked for a small fee to cover the cost of supper that she provided. I occasionally sell some of the Christmas garlands I make but 'Creating Christmas' is not a business. Perhaps one day it may become a home based enterprise - but for now my family is my first priority.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share my love of Christmas with a wider audience via this blog. This is a blog for those who love Christmas - it is not just for crafters. I hope to share many of the topics that I cover at my seminars which include 'Preparing for Christmas', 'Decorating the Tree', 'Setting the Christmas Table', 'Giving gifts' and 'Blessing Others at Christmas'.

I live in a beautiful Forest setting and much of my inspiration for Christmas decorating comes from nature. I also cherish family life and creating family traditions is something I love to do.
I believe every individual is made in the image of God and therefore a creative being. I love to create and will share ideas that are simple to recreate, that do not involve outrageous expenditure. I hope to provide wherever possible photos and step by step instructions for more involved projects such as making beautiful bon bons or Christmas crackers as they are also called, for your table. These are just a selection of my bon bons for Christmas 2oo9.

This is one of the first creative projects I will feature. I hope to give you enough time to make your own bon bons for this Christmas. I look forward to your visits and meeting others who also love to celebrate Christmas in style.
I am a busy home educating mum of six (soon to be seven) so I cannot promise an exact starting date for all the Christmas posts at this blog. I write about my family life, homemaking and home education at my main blog which you may wish to visit too at

I am looking forward to welcoming both old and new friends as I invite you to visit and share Christmas at Eden. From my home to yours -

With love and joy,

P.s Use the link in the sidebar to visit my main blog at eightacresofeden. The link above in the body of the post is not working.