If Hattie Newman didn’t make something for her family at Christmas, they would be heartbroken.
Last year the set designer constructed a 12in paper replica of a Portuguese villa for her father – complete with deckchairs and orange trees. This year she’s crafted a whole city out of paper for Selfridges’ windows. “I’ll always create something – cards or tree decorations or little snowy houses or wrapping paper,” she explains. “I suppose my friends and family have come to expect it.”
While Newman’s creations are well beyond the capabilities of most of us, she insists that Christmas is a great time for amateurs to get crafty. “It shows you’re putting effort and thought and love into what you’re doing,” she says. “Whenever I give someone a gift I like there to be something handmade about it, even if it’s just an attractive bow or the way I wrap it up.”
Handmade does not have to look homemade, adds Sinead Koehler, founder of Crafty Fox Market – even if you’re a complete beginner. “There’s been such a resurgence in handmaking that the raw materials are now so much better,” she explains. “If you try out a few different crafts, you will find one you can do well – and if you’re a parent, it’s something you can do with children.”
Some people will find working with foliage is their “thing”. For florist and mother-of-three Katie Priestley, foliage garlands and five-point stars crafted from cornus have proved an easy and attractive way to decorate the house at Christmas. Florist Sue Barnes (lavendergreen.co.uk) livens up her Christmas table with ornamental cabbages, rosemary plants and juniper. “Collecting together simple, natural things creates that beautiful Nordic look where less is more,” she explains. “The effect is stunning and it looks as if you care, rather than you’ve just spent lots of money.”
Others, such as artist Ele Grafton, find their forte is with paper. “I use old sheet music and last year’s wrapping paper and Christmas cards to create cards and garlands,” she says. “It’s great to reuse and recycle what’s around you… we all love buying in independent shops; making things is going one step further.”
Simplicity is also key when working in paper, Grafton continues. If you don’t know where to start, however, there is no shame in investing in one of the many Christmas craft kits to build confidence, Koehler insists.
Even pros such as Newman use the odd kit. “I’ve made teddy bears for my friend’s babies using kits from etsy.com,” she confesses. “I customised them a bit, but without a kit I wouldn’t have known what to do.”
Read our handy guide on the best homemade Christmas gifts to try this year.
Whether it is an evergreen garland you’re making, or a napkin ring, card or a tree decoration, Newman’s advice is not to deliberate too hard. “Don’t think too much – just go crazy and be creative,” she says. “If you try to be too organised, you’ll never find time to do it.”
Handmade Christmas cards
Amy Cooper-Wright of stationers markandfold.com uses leaves as stencils on handmade Christmas cards. “Ferns are best, or any other decorative flat-lying shape,” she says. “Lie the leaf on the card and spray it with gold or silver spray paint.”
Dark colours contrast well with the paint, she continues, and it’s worth investing in good-quality blank cards and envelopes. She also decorates blank cards with five-point origami stars – for instructions see homemade-gifts-made-easy.com – that can double up as a tree decoration.
“With a needle, pull waxed linen thread through the top of the star to make a loop,” she says. “Then cut a slit in the centre of the card and pull the thread through to secure the star on the front of the card.” Cheat alert: perfectly folded origami stars are available from SELINAgoods on etsy.com.
Ele Grafton layers pieces of old manuscript, cut into stars or other Christmassy shapes, on to black cards (available from Hobbycraft or Paperchase). “The key is to use a variety of scale: a large shape, a medium and small one,” she says. “It sounds so straightforward, but the old paper has a creaminess to it and adds so much character to the card.”
Grafton often repeats an element from the front of the card on the inside and the envelope, to seal down the flap, and writes in the card using metallic pens. “It’s no more difficult than an adult colouring book,” she insists. “If you sit down and take a little time to focus on what you’re doing, you’ll end up with something beautiful.”
If you’re up for a challenge, Newman suggests experimenting with pop-up cards. “There are so many YouTube videos that walk you through the process,” she says. “If you’re inspired to make something, there’s always a step-by-step guide online.” See lovepopcards.com for inspiration – and invest in coloured card, UHU glue, a cutting board and paper knife.
If this is too daunting, try using a customised stamp (getstamped.co.uk can turn your line drawings or sketches into stamps) on coloured card or blank greetings card to create bespoke Christmas cards and labels.
Newman also suggests decorating blank cards with patterned or primary-coloured tapes. “Cut them into geometric shapes and stick them on in some kind of arrangement or pattern,” she says. PetitePinkBoutique on etsy.com is a great source of sparkly tapes, while loud-coloured Pop Tape is available on Amazon.
For a final personal flourish, seal envelopes with wax – misterrobinson on etsy.com sells beautiful, handmade, Christmassy brass stamps and sealing wax.
Make your own wrapping paper
Given the shops are filled with handmade-effect wrapping paper this year, you can easily get away with making your own. Graphic designer Abigail Mondon of littlewrapco.com suggests using online printer printmajic.com to turn your designs into wrapping paper. “You can print off a couple of sheets at a time to see how it looks,” she explains. “Coming up with your own design makes giving a present even more personal.”
Newman takes a more freehand approach to her handmade wrapping paper, decorating brown parcel paper with marker pen. “Brightly coloured Posca pens are amazing as they make big marks that dry instantly and look like paint,” she says. “Stars are an easy shape to start with, although you can let your imagination run wild.”
Packs of Posca pens, including metallics, cost £23.99 on Amazon.
If you don’t trust your drawing skills, invest in a rubber stamp and create a repeat pattern on plain white or brown paper. The Etsy shop PaperGrapePrints sells hand-carved Christmas stamps, (£16 for a set of four) but there are hundreds of other festive-themed options online.
As far as ribbons are concerned, simple baker’s twine is the thing this Christmas, according to Mondon. It’s so popular that many suppliers are out of stock but cloudsandcurrents.com sells it in colours including metallics. If you prefer luxurious “Tiffany” bows, you can perfect the art of tying them by watching a mesmerising tutorial on liagriffith.com.
A handmade tag will complete the look. Decorate simple paper luggage labels (also available on cloudsandcurrents.com) or wooden ones from papermash.co.uk with stamps or stickers – Papermash’s glitter alphabet stickers (£5.50) are a good option for those with illegible handwriting.
Create a table centre-piece
Glitz is out this Christmas, according to Barnes: “If you’ve got a long table, cut a branch off any evergreen tree and lay it down the centre,” she says. “Then decorate it with ornamental cabbages, artichoke heads – building up a textual arrangement costs nothing and looks incredible.” Laying an antler in the centre of the table is another dramatic option (from £25; horncarver.co.uk).
Rather than worrying about a tablecloth, the designer Matilda Goad suggests making a table runner using brown parcel paper. “They’re super easy and cheap,” she says. “You can run them down the table over a tablecloth and write guests’ names at each place setting, paint them with gold stars or even cut the edge in a scallop shape. If you don’t want to use brown paper, you could use leftover wallpaper.”
Floral stylist Willow Crossley, recommends block printing your own napkins. “It’s so much easier than you’d imagine: just get pieces of linen and use stamps dipped in fabric paint to make a pattern,” she explains. “I like to use paisley, but stars and hearts also look good.” A range of Indian wood printing blocks, and fabric paint, are available at theartycraftyplace.co.uk.
This Christmas, inspired by the catwalks, Crossley will be tying up her napkins with enormous velvet ribbons. But in the past, she has made her own napkin rings. “Buy any old plastic napkin ring, wrap it in green floristry tape then stick on berries and acorns and miniature feathers using a glue gun,” she says. Etsy.com sells an abundance of this kind of embellishment, as does floristrywarehouse.com.
Rosemary twigs can also be used to make napkin rings (and candle collars), says Liz Earle (lizearlewellbeing.com). “Bend the twig into a circle and fix both ends together with artificial berries on wire,” she explains. Such berries cost £5.99 (floristrywarehouse.com). Earle also creates pine-cone table settings by painting cones with silver paint and using glitter glue to fix name cards into the cone scales.
Candles and lanterns
One can never have enough glowing candlelight at Christmas, according to Barnes, who suggests filling large glass jars or lanterns with cranberries or chestnuts and burying small candles or night-lights into them. Grace Erskine, of Erskine Rose, pours her own scented candles into matt black glasses, which she then personalises with chalk pen. “It’s so easy to make your own candles but if you don’t have time you can place shop-bought candles in black glasses for a similar effect,” she says. Black espresso mugs are available at Habitat (habitat.co.uk).
Crossley also makes her own candles at Christmas – in tea cups – dyeing them with wax crayons and scenting them with a few drops of essential oil. “They’re so easy to make yet they’re such a professional-looking present that people can’t believe they’re home-made,” she says. See willowcrossley.com for instructions.
Festive fruit in the sitting room
Fruit brings colour to a room at Christmas, says Goad, and it’s very easy to arrange in a bowl. “As soon as pomegranates are grouped en masse they scream Christmas. I also love physalis fruit – its fun to eat and looks rather magical,” she says.
Barnes arranges clementines and apples in glass bowls and bell jars. “Try spraying the fruit with iridescent silver or gold spray to give them a whisper of a sparkle,” she says. “It has a sugary effect that is much more subtle than glitter.” Otherwise twist battery-powered fairy lights into your bell jar (star lights at papermash.co.uk cost £7.95).
House plants are another quick and eye-catching decoration, adds Goad – poinsettias or bulbs such as paperwhites or tulips. “Think outside the box about what they are planted in – everything from a great splatter enamelware saucepan to a giant shell can work,” she explains.
A Christmas sitting room is not complete without some kind of gingerbread house. Newman makes her own houses out of card and sends them to friends in small gift boxes – see diagram above right or make your own.
Or, you could invest in a ready-made kit from Trunkaroo. For the past two years my children and I have enjoyed creating their Christmas box, which includes a flat-packed house ready to be painted and assembled, and accessories to make various tree decorations. For an edible version, biscuiteers.com sells a pre-baked gingerbread house kit, complete with royal icing, icing bags and decorations (£35).
Create stars and garlands
Florist Katie Priestley’s cornus (dogwood) stars can be hung on doors and positioned on the fireplace above a garland. “They are really simple to make and give a festive look to any part of the house,” she says.
“Bend the stem into the basic five-point star shape, then tie the crossing points together with string. You can also put two sticks or differing colours together for a more substantial star.”
Priestley arranges her stars around a garland of overlapping bunches of greenery bound with wire on to string. “I use spruce, eucalyptus, plus holly and a few dried hydrangeas and limes,” she says. “It’s so versatile: as well as on the fireplace, you can lie them down the middle of the table or loop them up a banister.”
Grafton makes garlands using carol sheets, old books and wrapping paper. “You feel a little naughty cutting up books but you are turning them into something new and unique that you can store up and use again,” she says. She cuts stars using an oversized paper punch (available on Amazon) and sticks them back-to-back along baker’s twine. “I use glue dots to stick the paper so it’s not even messy,” she says. “You can also fix pine cones between the paper shapes for a natural look.”
Homemade tree decorations
Natural decorations are the easiest and most elegant, according to florist Philippa Craddock, who suggests threading hand-dyed asparagus fern through the branches. “You can buy it from markets already dipped in gold or silver and it gives a wonderful frosted appearance,” she explains.
Pine cones hung from branches are another elegant and quick-to-assemble decoration. Buy them in boxes of 55 from floristrywarehouse.com (£4.99) then attach a loop of ribbon or gold thread using a glue gun.
Crossley likes to make fabric baubles with her children by taking polystyrene balls, (£2 for 12, hobbycraft.co.uk) and gluing fabric remnants on to them, then fastening on a loop using dressmaker’s pins. “They can look just as pretty as glass baubles and yet they don’t break,” she says. “Limit the colour palette for a more coordinated look – florals look sophisticated – or for a full-on festive theme use scraps of fabric printed with Christmas motifs.”
If you’re feeling brave, you could try making an origami tree decoration – paper ornaments are another of this year’s trends (although you will need patience to master this historic Japanese art).
Or you could cheat and buy a tree topper kit from the queen of folded paper decorations, Origami Est, complete with coloured paper, ribbon and comprehensive instructions to teach you how to fold your own large origami star.(£12; origamiest.co.uk).
This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.