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,


  1. Ann I have said it before and will say it again....
    You amaze and inspire me alright!
    You are one driven gal.
    They look sooooo beautiful...And would make a delightful personal gift!

  2. Hi Ann~
    Thanks for stopping by the other day~
    What fun little crackers...I remember those form when I was I was a kid! We had those every year!
    I will try to make some...I don't think mine with pop....I will just wrap toilet paper rolls with surprizes in them!

    I really like the Victorian one~


    PS I can't wait til the baby gets here! What a special Christmas this will be! Can you tell I'm a bit excited???? ;)

  3. Ann
    What a lovely job you have done on these crackers. We always made crackers for christmas growing up & I used to, but haven't for the last couple of years. I think I shall have to this year since Zai & Ellie will be perfect helpers. I used to fill them up so full with special little gifts just for the recipient! Such a lovely Christmas tradition!
    Renata :)

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  5. Your Christmas Crackers are beautiful. I've just popped over via Renata's blog. I used to make crackers for my family, although not as elaborate as your gorgeous ones. I'd choose a nice, small gift for each person and then write a little poem or limerick about that person to put in the cracker instead of a joke. I would buy the really cheap crackers from the shop and take out the paper crowns and the 'snap' because it was cheaper than buying them individually.


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