Getting ready for Christmas

Every Wednesday from now until December I will be sharing ideas on getting the house ready  for Christmas. 

By starting early this year I plan to do lots of the little extras that I normally never have time for or only manage at the last minute under stressful conditions.
My belief is that anticipating and preparing for an event is often as enjoyable as the day itself. Let's face it Christmas is really only 2 or 3 days together - if that. But by preparing and creating and talking together as family or friends means you can have fun for a couple of months!

The newest post is always the first on this page. 
Do let me know if you have ideas to share, I would love to add them in here too.

Week 8: November 18th

Time to put up the tree?
Remember this beauty?
Back in September when I discovered Jane's beautiful photo on Flickr, I had grand plans for creating a 6 foot masterpiece on my wall. Now it's November and the thought of multiple nail holes in my wall is not so appealing ( to my landlady). 

Time to come up with the reserve plan of action ... a tree for the wall that doesn't have to be permanent and does not involve many nail holes in a concrete wall ( yes the walls are made of thick concrete here in Beijing).
1. To create the tree on fabric, possibly cut to a tree shape. Quickly dismissed as likely to sag and difficult to hang up.
2. I thought of paper and card - not firm enough.
3. My last idea is the best so far ... use a white canvas stretched on wooden fame. Use sewing pins to attach your trinkets/ ornaments/ treasures to the canvas. Can be very inexpensive to source a plain canvas to the size you want - lots of hobby shops have them and if you have an art college nearby there will be a supplier for sure.
Mine is 12" x 20" (30cm x50cm) for no other reason than that was what I found in my cellar. Painted with white emulsion paint.
You could choose a very long one and have the canvas standing on the floor leaning against a wall if you want to go big. The possibilities are endless.

 The close up shows you how my pearl headed pins act as an extra decoration and keep the things in place. Using a green ribbon makes it easy to create the tree's outline.

I gathered buttons, pompoms, old earrings, lots of hearts and laid them on. If you use a few mini pegs you can add small photos of family or friends too. Have you spotted Alice on mine? There were a few mistakes and pins needed to be repositioned - so I advise you to lay it out first before pinning. (I admit I retouched this photo to take away the mistakes and their holes)

Once you are happy then push the pins through the canvas  and cut up small pieces of wine cork to add onto the pin-point on the backside of the canvas and avoid injuring yourself, at the same time stopping the pins from falling out.

Next year, when I am in my own house I want to do like Jane and fix it to the wall. I think a combination of some permanent tiny frames fixed to the wall and then in between the Christmas elements can be 'blu-tacked' on so they are removable.
Another idea would be to use a heart or a circle shape, which can stay on your wall all year, and again have some tiny frames that stay on the wall all year and some that get added for the Christmas season. Just remember to lay it out first before you knock nails in the wall!
 Look forward to seeing your creations. Please email me your photos and I would love to include them here - or link to your blog. 
Anything not clear ? Just let me know. Have fun putting your tree up! 

Week 7: November 11th

Washi tape anyone?

Are you in love with Washi tape?
Not heard of this hip Japanese tape?
Where have you been hiding?

Washi tape (I keep wanting to call it wasabi tape) is a Japanese twist on masking tape. Made from 'washi' rice paper, it has the ability to be removed easily and is handy for many things in the artsy fartsy world I try to inhabit. It is often to be seen as a torn strip attaching a polaroid photo to a random piece of wall - not only is it useful for sticking but also wrapping, decorating and writing on. See here for the delightful story of how it came out into the creative world in 2006! (It takes a minute to download, but it's worth the wait.)

Today I felt 'inspired' to start on a few gift tag ideas for the Christmas pressies. No, I haven't actually bought any yet - hence no wrapped presents in the photos -- but I rarely do things in the right order.
Guess what my colour theme is this year! Inspired by my eldest, whose love of the colour knows no bounds, I fished out card, wasabi washi tape and a few rubber stamps.

You just need a few ingredients to cook up your own unique tags to use on gifts for any occasion.
  • card - I used natural white card I had lying around
  • my two favourite rubber stamps, bought in Santa Fe and Hobby Lobby
  • red/white twine, which now seems to be called bakers twine
  • bits of origami paper
  • 4 of my treasured rolls of washi tape
  • glue, hole punch, pearl buttons and red felt

 The washi tape adds a subtle accent on some tags, on others it is the only decoration - with just enough space between to write "Merry Christmas."
The subtle shading of the tape makes it fit well with most styles, and I love the way it is easy to peel off and restick as I misjudged the edge of the card several times.
Can you spot the baker's twine stuck onto the card to accent the red washi tape? Optional but adds a twist of twine.

The idea of felt gift tags appealed to me too - but I quickly realised how difficult it would be to write a message on the felt. Instead I sewed 3 sides of the felt rectangle to make an envelope of sorts -- which can hold a 'secret' card inside. Whether you choose to fold some colourful paper  or print on card -- the felt pouch will make a reusable gift tag pocket for next year too! By sewing a loop at the top I plan to thread the loop onto the string/ribbon that will tie the present up.

Have I got you interested in wasabi tape yet?
If you live in Japan, things are very easy, with many stockists to get a roll from.
The rest of us can shop at Amazon or Etsy, where there are several sellers.
A great selection is to be found at an interesting online store Papernation and dear old John Lewis, in the UK, even has some nice designs. 
Many places sell baker's twine such as Stampeezee and The Twinery - just make sure you check out a few sites because prices and length of string vary a lot. 
I'd love to showcase your examples if you email me with them. 
Have fun making your gift tags now, so the last minute present wrapping will be much less stressful!

Week 6: November 5th

1. Birds from Drift Living
2. Robin - Anthropologie
3. Owls from Drift Living
4. Bullfinch peg - Drift Living

This is the time of year to feather the nest for winter.
I am thinking it would be nice to bring a few of our feathered friends inside to decorate the tree this Christmas.
How about using some to add life to your gift wrapping too ? A Bullfinch peg would work well as a tag holder on a parcel too.

Maybe you want to share some love by hanging up some feeders outside for  the birds in your neighbourhood like this domed beauty...
Image: RSPB

Week 5 - 31st October

A taste of Christmas!

Being British, it wouldn't be Christmas without cake and pudding.
So take a look at these confections I found online - some lighter on calories than others, but all a feast for the eyes.

1. Cupcake tree ornaments made with recycled old sweater cuffs - buy the greetings cards here.
2. A simple way to decorate your cake would be to use these wooden scandi-style scene makers, available here.
3. If you don't fancy a traditional Christmas pudding then how about pudding style cupcakes? Rich and  chocolatey. Recipe here.
4. If you are feeling adventurous then look here for a fab tutorial on how to make these delightful and delicious gingerbread houses. Just love the idea of a gingerbread town sitting on my kitchen table.

Week 4 - 20th October

Start now to create some traditions for Christmas


By starting the journey now, we have time to create some traditions.
It takes time to be creative, lack of time is one of the main reasons we find Christmas so stressful.
It's not like I am decorating my house or sending cards this week... but I am starting on things that will be part of our time together this year.

When I saw this silk quilt on Niki Jones' beautiful online collection...

it started me thinking about all the silks lying dormant on my shelves.

Being an impulsive soul, I started straightaway sewing this grey with the ticking stripe silk - adding just a dash of red at the ends. It would have been redder but this was all there was.

The hand stitching is going to take time, but then I hope this quilt will be wrapping itself around a few christmases to come. 

So though it seems like it's a bit early, it really isn't.

'Patience is power; with time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.' 
Chinese proverb

Week 3 - 13th October

Start now and you can make your own Christmas cards

Ever meant to make your own Christmas cards, but thought of it too late in December?
Well there's no time like the present to get started!

These days I don't send many Christmas cards partly because I live in China ( and some muppet in our local postal sorting office snaffles most of our cards rather than deliver them... I think they want the stamps, because all the bank statements and bills arrive). Sorry I digress. 
So I decided a couple of years back to make a donation to charity and send everyone an email to greet them and let them know their card was buying a goat instead. 

 But there is something special about making a few cards yourself
 to give close friends and family
and it is in that spirit that I started today.

I started with things that I had readily to hand and in quantity:
  • felt
  • black card
  • pompoms
  • fabric
  • sewing machine
If you like my idea, then start with what you have and only buy what you need - so if you don't have babushkas on your fabric then use something that is seasonal for you. (I like babushkas any season actually!)
Pompoms are not very practical as they stick out a long way but I really love pompoms and I think the warped card is worth it! You could easily cut  a star out from paper or fabric instead. 
Just keep it simple and graphic, that works best.
Black was an odd choice - I really wanted to use a brown recycled card - but it had been rolled up too long and would not behave. Actually I like the black now - so always work with what you've got, often it comes out better!

Inside the finished card (Not the wording, of course, that's for you to read in the blog)

The finished outside. 
I love red felt hearts at Christmas - think I've got hearts in my danish blood.
Sewing is not meant to be perfect - so give it a try.
I only sewed one pompom per card - but there are lots lying in wait in my cupboard!

 Just showing you the reverse side of the card and felt, to give you the backstory.

 Let me know if these instructions don't make sense - 
but please note I photoshopped this,
 and am very proud of the small steps 
I am making into that huge wilderness of photoshopdom.

"Pompomtastic" as my daughter would say - 
she inherited an irrational urge to collect pompoms too.
In case anyone was interested...
these pompoms are actually all the way from Chiang Mai in Thailand, 
made by Hill tribe ladies. 
(A must visit destination for all pompom lovers.)

Week 2 - 7th October

10 Creative Ideas for Advent

I love the word Advent - it holds so much expectation in its meaning.

This week I have lots of ideas to build the expectation starting from December 1st.
I think Advent calendars can be one of the most creative and exciting ways to get ready for Christmas, and you don't need a child in the house either!
I have a few ideas to share with you today, some to buy and some to create but all guaranteed to increase your happy expectations for the month of December.

Let's start with ones that are a countdown, pure and simple:
1. Zinc numbered tags from Jeanne d'Arc Living
Use these to add onto a string line. Behind them you see little paper packets which can be filled with a special note or instructions as to where to find a little present. I love the colour of zinc against old newsprint.
2. Use red striped ribbon and simple card tags. Make each number themed with something linking to Christmas. Each day, add a new number so that by Christmas Eve all 24 are suspended. No need for a present each time. I love the little charms hanging from each tag and the way Christmas has been spelt out on the tags. I wonder what 1 -16 say!

3. If you are in the mood for embroidery, and get started soon, then this could inspire you to sew on natural linen. Lululollylegs has a great tutorial on how to make this.

4. Ready to fill with a little gift, these Christmas cones are numbered for the days of Advent. Fill with small treats like sweeties or tiny toy. Lotta has many great ideas on Flickr 

5. A book for every day in Advent.
A Christmas Story Book Calendar is the brilliant suggestion of Mo on Babyccino Kids blog. The idea is to have a Christmas story for every night of Advent. You need to get started now, if you are going to collect 24 books together but what a fabulous way to remember Christmas 2010.

6. Pockets ready to be filled in this colourful calendar.
Check out here for a tutorial on making one for your home.

7. More pockets from Maileg, if you would rather just buy it. I just love her images for Christmas.

8. Yet more pockets in the shape of a tree, again from Maileg. But this could be the source of inspiration to make one yourself.

9. Nisse girl with pockets is the one we bought for our home last year and Alice, 16 at the time, was certainly not too old to enjoy a little pressie each day of Advent. By the way this Nisse girl is about a metre high!

10. Twenty four days too many? Then think of the 4 weeks of Advent and light a candle for each week. This little piggy will be just perfect

  • It helps to start collecting little presents well in advance, ie now, and think of variety so as to avoid 24 sweetie packages. 
  • Some of the treats could be written on a card  such as a trip to the theatre, ice cream parlour etc. 
  • Don't feel the pockets have to be filled with material things. Thoughts and promises are good too.
  • The first year I made an Advent Calendar, we still had all 3 children at home and buying 72 presents was a mammoth and expensive task. So if you are trying this for the first time and have several children to buy for, try to be creative in the type of 'gifts' or let the children take it in turns to open it for that day.
  • I would love to hear of any ideas you have tried and what gifts you may fill the pockets with.
  • If the gift is too big for the pocket, try wrapping it and then using a clothes peg to clip it to the outside of the pocket!
  • No child? Then do one for your partner and have fun ... or better still show them this blog and get them inspired to make one for you! 
Extra ideas from your comments:
  1. Maria suggests that we could add 2 -30 pieces from a jigsaw puzzle everyday to the 24 pockets (do your maths according to how big the jigsaw is!). Then the family can assemble the jigsaw through Advent, only seeing the picture when it is complete. Sounds perfect for all ages and jigsaw abiltiies! I am definitely doing that this year, though it has to be for the last week of Christmas as we are only all together from december 18th!

Week 1 - 30th September

Start now and you can be ready by Christmas!

Yes it's still September and I am daring to mention the C word!

Today I am starting a weekly column to get ready for Christmas 
and I am inviting you to join me
 every Wednesday C.M.T. (China Me Time) and get involved.

 Rather than adding to the pressure, the plan is to enjoy making and creating 
some unique, fun and stylish things for Christmas. 

Let's start with an image that I discovered on Flickr a few months ago 
and began my creative christmas crusade. 
Isn't this amazing?
Image by Jane Schouten

Jane's inspirational mural is just perfect for people like me 
who have boxes of little treasures - too lovely to throw away 
but on their own too random to make much with.
 Now we have the answer!

This afternoon I started to delve into my boxes and soon had a starter pack for my tree.
I encourage you to make a little box this week and start collating things to go on your wall tree
How big should they be? 
Well that depends on the size of your final tree. 
I intend to have a wall tree about 5 foot high (1.70m),
 so objects between 1 and 4 inches (2 -10cm) will be fine.
Don't worry about to fix them to the wall - I will come back to that nearer the time. 
Having some little pegs will be handy and nothing wants to be too heavy.
Don't be limited to Christmassy things- think of it as a winter wonderland tree.

I am not going to pretend I have all the answers yet but I never let that stop me in the past!
Won't it be great to create something from all your long forgotten ephemera? 
Of course you may just need to go buy a few key extras but don't buy anything yet.

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