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Christmas Family Handmade

A tiny holly wreath {handmade}


You’re going to have to forgive me for mentioning the C word when we’re only a few hours into September, but we will have to talk about a little festive crafting in a minute.

But first, a little story.  Earlier in August, I scooped Kitty up on a Sunday afternoon and took her off to see the Festival of Quilts at the NEC. At nearly seven she’s just about old enough to enjoy looking at the quilts without getting too fidgety and I love any chance I get to have any of the children one-on-one.  It was so much fun to see what she liked, and what she wasn’t so bothered by.  She loved the children’s quilts, though she would have chosen a different winner, and I was blown away by their talent and creativity, and the beautiful big art quilt of Africa.

Hello Kitty was an obvious hit, but she also tended to pick out the very geometric quilts, preferably with lots of bright colours, the more the merrier.  She would choose a rainbow over any other colour, including her current favourite, blue, and in her mind quilts are definitely made for snuggling under; I think she was a bit bemused by the art quilts, and one with big holes in it got a “I don’t think that would be very warm Mummy!”.

Having followed so many of Kelly’s quilts in progress over on her Instagram, we had to go and see them in real life; they’re absolutely gorgeous and we both thought they should have won.

As for me, well judging by the photos I took, I’m clearly still in the grips of a hexi obession, I also like rainbows, and I really really need to make one of those Passacaglia quilts, just as soon as I can clear some space in the WIP basket.

It should be no surprise then that our meander through the market place seemed to have a bit of a theme to it.  Kitty had some very fixed ideas about what she wanted; some fabric (some with blue dolphins, and a gorgeous pink stripe), and then pink sparkly thread to match, and then we both fell in love with Itching to Stitch, Kitty with the beginner crayons kit and me with just about all the wise words – expect some more cross stitch in our future!

But my make from this week (how’s that for not letting the stash accumulate!), came from one of the first stands we visited, and a company that has come up with something seriously ingenious (which is why they’d sold out of a lot of things).  Ashmead Designs have invented an EPP template that is felt on one side and cotton on the other and is designed to be left in your patchwork.  You tack the fabric on like normal (felt side to so it doesn’t slip), then piece together, then quilt and then remove the tacking.  It gives the patches a bit of structure to them, and while I don’t think I’d use it on a full size quilt, it would be perfect for keeping cushions looking vaguely the same shape that you made them.  It also means that if you’re using low volume or very lightweight fabric, you can’t see the seams through the piecing because they’re all backed.

I have a bunch of tiny hexagons to play with, probably in pincushion format, but to get the feel of it I picked up one of their Christmas wreath kits.  And if the thank you socks were the first thing I finished in the tent, this little wreath is the first thing that I finished in this house.  It took me an afternoon and evening, but I make things with three children rampaging around, so for anyone else it would probably be quicker, and it was incredibly satisfying.  First basting, then sewing, and finally stuffing (with brown shetland that I found in my spinning drawer which shows you how good the lining is!).

It’s just so sweet and dinky, and I’m so looking forward to putting it on the real Christmas tree.

I know I could have waited until Christmas, and there is a lot of fun in making things and adding them on while we’re in the middle of Christmas, but at Christmas I’m usually in a flurry of making presents and cooking, and this year we’ve got to work out how to do everything with the Aga, and actually it was lovely to do some completely indulgent crafting, even if it was in August.

So tell me I’m not alone; have you started marking things for Christmas yet or is it really just me?


Joining Crazy Mom Quilts for Finish it up Friday and Frontier Dreams for Keep Calm, Craft On

Christmas Family Photography

Christmas 2016


It was never a question of how early our little trio woke up on Christmas morning, as much as what time they finally went to sleep. We could hear the chatter ebb and flow in their room but it never quite seemed to have got to the point where they’d actually fallen asleep.  John went to check on them several hours later to talk to a very wide awake Kitty and asked Elma whether she was still up:

“I’m really very fast asleep Daddy, because if I’m not fast asleep then he won’t come!”

Of course you were sweetie.

I know Kitty fell asleep for a little bit around midnight but John also found her sitting at the top of the stairs waiting for morning at about 3am so clearly that didn’t last.  It’s the first year that their excitement has hit fever pitch to the point that they can’t sleep and it was so sweet to see, it’s an infectious sort of excitement even when you know how the magic works.

Finally, finally it was 8 o’clock, John had had a cup of tea and we were ready for Christmas to begin.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas 2016

Our Christmas is noisy and colourful and slightly chaotic; we opened stockings, ate the satsumas from the toes and then opened the posh jam and curd from the heels to spread on brioche for breakfast.  At church the children all went up to the front to show the congregation something they’d received for Christmas – in our case it was stickers and a colouring book from Kitty, stickers for Elma (“I got stickers because I love stickers because I got stickers because I asked for them, I love stickers”) and Pip a tractor, though he came back for another round (“I got sticker!”) with one wrestled from his little big sister.  The church was full of people with lots of families and it felt properly joyful to be among our little community there, especially as it might well be our last Christmas here.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas 2016

Back home to polish off the Bucks Fizz, open presents and cook. I love cooking Christmas lunch, I know that might sound a strange thing, it’s a big meal and there are lots of components to get right and all the rest but for me it’s a love language to nourish my family; to see the table groaning with food and watch everyone come back for seconds is all the reward for the time spent pottering away in the kitchen.  I suspect it’s hereditary because I’m certain my mother felt the same way; she always seemed to have Christmas lunch easily under control and she was famous for insisting on people staying for meals or going home with cake.  Perhaps part of it is that I’ve done more than a few turkeys now so I’m not too phased by the whole thing, it’s just a big Sunday lunch with cranberry sauce, yorkshire puddings, pigs in blankets and my great-grandmother’s stuffing recipes.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas 2016 Space for the Butterflies - Christmas 2016 Space for the Butterflies - Christmas 2016

The new addition to the menu this year was homemade Christmas pudding.  I combined Felicity Cloake’s recommendations from the Guardian with a little bit of Nigella’s recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess and duly boiled the whole thing up on Stir-up Sunday.  It would have been huge even had I not know that Pip and I were the only people likely to eat it, the others opting for the now time-honoured tradition of sticky toffee pudding and ice cream, and I think it’s probably bigger even than the one my Mum made.  Next year I’ll find two smaller pudding basins and split the mixture but I’m not going back to the shop bought ones because oh was it delicious.  Well it still is, we’ve been making some serious inroads and we’ve still got more than half the pudding left.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas 2016

Apart from a few forays into the garden so that Pip could run off his exuberance, we spent the rest of the day curled up together in our lounge, gently eroding the pile of presents under the tree.  Last year Kitty in particular got into a bit of a opening frenzy which I hated, I want to teach them to open each present and treasure it before moving on to the next so this year we really tried to slow down. If someone was given a picture book we stopped to read it, or a craft kit we tried to really look at it without emptying all the contents over the floor never to be seen again, and their big presents were hidden in the studio until mid afternoon when I coaxed all the kids upstairs on the pretext of finding some socks and John did his magic.  Pip has a fire engine balance bike which he adores even while still trying to work out how to ride it, and Kitty and Elma are the new owners of a dolls house which at the time of writing is being lived in by a little purple gnome and their wooden Mummy and Daddy (both of whom are lying down on the floor).  There hasn’t been a day since Christmas that it hasn’t formed a major part of their day.  Elma is the storyteller and I’ll admit I’ll happily sit and knit and watch without watching to see what they’re all up to.

Our in-between days have followed the same pattern; good food and a lot of creativity; Kitty has made books, we’ve all painted, John has played around with encaustic painting, the girls have done craft kits that were their Christmas presents and I’ve made some sizeable progress towards the next quilt or two.  It has been, and is, utterly perfect in a messy crumbs-and-paint-on-the-floor sort of a way.  And perhaps it will never be Instagram or Pinterest perfect, but this is the time that we need, a little family hibernation at the end of the year to get ready for all that 2017 has to bring for us.

Christmas Family

On Christmas Eve


It feels curiously unhurried around here this morning.  In my head the run up to Christmas is all about running around making extraordinary amounts of food, the oven on or most of the day spitting out mince pies and gingerbread men at appropriate intervals while I simultaneously clean the house, wrap the remaining presents and desperately try to finish off everyone’s Christmas presents.  And while mince pies and gingerbread are on the list for today, all of the shopping was done yesterday (Pip and I left the house at 6.45am and returned at 8.24 having been to both the butcher’s and Sainsburys proving that while insane, it is definitely the way to go) and with a bit of luck and a following wind I should have done today’s to do list by lunchtime.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas ~Eve and a peaceful Christmas

Perhaps it’s the unexpected advantage of having had a viewing for our house earlier this week so that it’s already tidier than we could ever have imagined possible, perhaps it’s having had so many days off ahead of the big day and finally letting my mind have a rest but it feels rather wonderful.

The last few days at home have been wonderful and I’m sure that’s contributed to the general sense of ease and relaxed excitement.  We’ve made mince pies together, had a really rubbish go at potato printing to make wrapping paper (great stamps, wrong sort of paint I think), played a lot of trains, done colouring in, and sang every Christmas carol all five of us can come up with.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas ~Eve and a peaceful Christmas

A couple of weeks ago I took a conscious decision that I was not not not spending the run up to Christmas desperately trying to pack everything in and busting a gut to get the impossible finished; I’ve been doing that far too often to far too long in the real job and what I need more than anything this Christmas is unhurried time.  My plan of the summer, to knit all three a jumper for Christmas was looking unachievable quite a while ago when I realised that knitting my very very tall Kitty a jumper in 4ply just wasn’t going to happen, and then this week it had a major rethink.  the original amended plan had been to do something else for Kitty, to finish Elma’s Christmas cardigan by her birthday and then power on through Pip’s Christmas hoodie in the remaining 13 days, all the while knitting John’s socks on the train too and from work.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas ~Eve and a peaceful Christmas

Well Elma’s is finished, and I’ve turned the heel on the first sock, but Pip’s jumper is currently four inches of hem.  I knew on Monday that I could knit like the wind and I would be done in time, except, I found I didn’t want to.  Knitting, and any other sort of making is my expression of love to the recipient and love should never be rushed or be a chore.  I wanted to make him this adorable jumper stitch by stich, treasuring the yarn, the memories of the shop in Paris where we bought it, and my darling little boy.  I know I need to get it finished this winter because it may not fit by next but I don’t mind it being an Epiphany present after all.

Taking conscious decisions to step away from the stress is all very well, but the need to make something handmade, a Mama-made present for each of them is written through my core.  John won’t mind that his socks come part knit, but I didn’t want Elma to be the only one with a finished something.   So John and I came up with a plan; he took the children out on Wednesday and I spent the day at home, mostly on my own, and on Thursday I took the children to soft play for three hours where we met up with several of Kitty’s friends from her old school, and he pottered around at home and had a round of golf with his friends.

My day was spent sewing on buttons, sewing up a skort (yay for Oliver + S patterns) and inventing an apron all of which I am looking forward to telling you about in due course.  It was the perfect way to unwork at the start of the holidays, to swap piles of paper for thread and needles, and I think it’s set the tone, and it meant that in one fell swoop I was done.

And so today we will whirl through the food prep, make cake, drew up for the crib service at church and watch our two little angels bring glad tidings and a sprinkling of tinsel.  We’ll tuck them up in bed with the same stories we read every Christmas, and wonder how long it will take them to fall so deeply asleep that it’s safe for Father Christmas to work magic.  It’s going to be busy and exciting and all the things that Christmas with a 6, 4 and 2 year old should be, but most of all, there will be peace, even in the noisiest moments.

Space for the Butterflies - Christmas ~Eve and a peaceful Christmas

Perhaps if our Christmas is to have a theme it is peace, and it’s what I wish for each and every one of you this Christmas:

May the joy of the angels,
the eagerness of the shepherds,
the perseverance of the wise men,
the obedience of Joseph and Mary
and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas

Happy Christmas!

Christmas Family Video

Elves in Action


Space for the Butterflies - Elves in Action

Once upon a time there was a house where no Christmas light shone, no tinsel shed sparkles all over the carpet and no anthropomorphised penguin sang astonishingly catchy jingles from a shelf.  The house was dark and the people who lived there were away on a very well deserved pre-Christmas holiday to a place of sunshine.  And so it came to pass that an elf had a very good idea.  He told his wife, the three tiny elves and their auntie elf and they gathered in the early fog of a winter’s morning to set right these wrongs and let Christmas shine all over the house.

Space for the Butterflies - Elves in Action


The elf and the auntie elf hunted high and low for all they would need to bring about the transformation, and the three tiny elves carried boxes, hung decorations and danced all day long.  And when the darkness came, light shone from the happy Christmassy house, and in the garden a snowman braved the 13 degree weather with fortitude until the time came for the elves to sneak away under cover of the night.

Space for the Butterflies - Elves in Action

Space for the Butterflies - Elves in Action

They told no-one what had come to pass apart from the other uncle and auntie elf who had been sorely but unavoidably missed, and not even the tiniest elf shouting “we go decorate your house tomorrow Gran Grandad” over FaceTime could spoil this most festive of secrets.

And so today, as the light hauled itself upwards into the sky, they came home, and at last we can share what is one of our favourite videos ever, safe in the knowledge that it went down well and all the elves have been forgiven for telling fibs and are still invited for New Year’s:

All of which is to say that we filmed a Vlogmas video last Saturday when we did a day trip to Yorkshire to decorate my in-laws house before they got back from their holidays. Mum, if you’re reading this, please note that we hoovered!

Christmas Elma Family

The decorating conundrum


Space for the Butterflies - Merry Christmas

We have the dark house on our street.  All our neighbours decorated on 3rd December, gold and white lights strung across the front of garages and the two tiny reindeer glowing gently from the lawn of the house on the corner, but we have nothing up.  No lights out front, no wreath on the door, no tree, nothing to suggest festivities but the fairy lights that have been up since Halloween and the picture of Father Christmas on the cornflakes.

We’re not suffering from an Eberneezer-esque case of the Bah-Humbugs, and we are on the brink of out-decorating every single one of the neighbours, but until now we’ve held off.  It was a certain someone’s birthday yesterday, and this year, as in the last couple of years, we let her decide whether she wanted the house to be decorated for her birthday or wait until after.  She almost invariably chooses to wait, and in fact I’ve only decorated once on 1st December; I was pregnant with Elma and thought that maybe the promise of a Christmas tree might tempt the baby to make an appearance sooner rather than very very late.  12 days later, she arrived all of a hurry.

It’s not an unfamiliar concept to me; my sister’s birthday is 15th December and when I was little we never decorated until after her birthday; which usually meant waiting until the end of term and then decorating as soon as we got home.  But when I was little it didn’t feel late; it felt like we were decorating at the same time as everyone else.

This year we’ve been asked if we’re worried about all the good trees having gone, and if I were to belive social media, we’re the very last people in the entire planet to have still not yet done any decorating.  Work’s no consolation either; at 8.20 on 1st December we finished decorating the office Christmas tree.  It’s not the official office one,  but a little bundle of artificial glory which spends most of the year living in a bin bag on the bottom shelf of our library and cake shelves.  Sitting on the carpet hanging pink and purple baubles up with paperclips has got to be one of the best ways to start the day.

I love Christmas. Love it with a capital L.  Or perhaps I should say that I love Advent; for me it’s all about the getting ready; the things that we do each and every year to mark time as we head towards the 25th.  When I first started working I would happily take the Christmas-New Year shift at work as long as I got to be home for the week before Christmas, for the carolling, the carol service and collecting the order of mince pies from the village post office, walking along the shoreline with Dad scavenging for driftwood, all the while belting out Good King Wencleslas, the magic in the light of the advent ring as each week went by, and the Christmas Eve party at Grannie’s house, which my sister and I took over in later years; she in charge of the catering, me the author, director and producer of our very own two-man panto.

Nowadays our family have their own traditions, the Christmas Eve crib service where everyone dresses up (John is threatening to go as Batman this year and the Vicar has promised she’ll work him into the story- it’s almost tempting!), heading out in the dawn to collect the turkey and then making my great-grandmother’s stuffing recipies and prepping veggies while Carols from Kings plays on the radio.  And of course, dressing the house to within an inch of its life.

And so tomorrow, when we go to buy the tree and bring it home, and tie it to the wall with fishing wire so that Pip can’t pull it over, and get the boxes out of the cupboard and find the new decorations that we brought back from the Black Forest this summer, I’m going to be just as excited as the children.  And yet I cannot regret letting Elma have her day; we still have plenty of time for Christmas (no matter what the media says), and yesterday our lounge was pink and pastel rainbows; the Happy Birthday banner I made for Kitty’s first birthday hung across the wall, and a pile of presents in fairy wrapping paper waiting underneath.  She was in her element, all smiles from the minute she rushed into our room at 6am; “is it morning?! am I four?!”


And tomorrow we will decorate.  But are we the only ones? Is there anyone else out there that doesn’t have a tree? are artificial trees letting people start decorating earlier? or is it just that 2016 has been such a humdinger of a year that we need all the help we can get?