CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Essex Life today CLICK HERE

Have yourself a very homemade Christmas

PUBLISHED: 16:21 12 December 2014

Fireplace decorated by Essence

Fireplace decorated by Essence


Whether you are a skilled crafter or you just want to create something unique for your festive celebrations, the trend for a homemade Christmas is white hot right now. Christine Penhall meets four Essex experts offering some excellent inspiration

Picture the scene. It is Christmas in the idyllic homestead of the fully-fledged festive goddess. The Christmas cake was prepared months in advance, over the last few weeks gifts and cards have been expertly fashioned for friends and family, and all that is left is to meticulously hand-tie some unique decorations for the trees (yes, plural).

While few of us would place ourselves in this picture of pre-Christmas bliss, more and more of us are looking to pick up the skills of a five-star Christmas crafter, ready to dip our toes into the world of the homemade Christmas. And whether or not we reach the dizzy fairy heights of the festive goddess or not, there is a growing trend towards making our celebrations homely and wholly unique.

Craft shops are now full of the various tools to make your own decorations, and if you type Christmas food gifts into your search engine you will find hundreds of recipes for treats such as pickled pears, spiced arancillo and cinnamon biscuits. You can even knit a Christmas jumper and support a charity by buying a pattern from Save the Children.

The Decorations

Christmas as we know it has its origins in Victorian Britain and many attribute part of this to the influence of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. In 1848, The Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree and soon many homes had one, adorned with candles, sweets, homemade decorations and gifts. So, where can we get the inspiration to make our houses a little more unique in December?

Sharon Creates of Ongar-based Christmas Essence has worked on Christmas lighting for prestigious London streets such as Oxford Street and Regent Street, internal dressings for venues such as The Shard and residential properties of the well to do, as well as decorating two homes for last year’s TOWIE Christmas special.

‘My mum was an inspiration for Christmas,’ Sharon explains. ‘She would start planning in August and collected magazines for years for ideas. Some people find Christmas a real chore, but every year I decorate every corner of the house.’ And while the trends change each year, people do have similar tastes. Sharon adds: ‘Last year it was lime green, whereas this year it is all shades of green. Some people only want red or gold, and there is a lot of rustic this year too. We go out into the countryside with a wheelbarrow and load it with anything from conkers and acorns to leaves and holly. We weave it using ribbon or rope, or spray paint it. Some people aren’t creative, so we are there for them.’

Sharon Creates’ Christmas Tips

Forage! Acorns on the branch are best, plus pine cones. If they haven’t opened to let the seeds out, putting them on a radiator will do the trick.

Buy cans of white, silver and gold spray paint. You can transform anything with a can of glitter and some glue. Water down the glue, dip a pine cone in it, then in the glitter, shake it and it’s done!

Have a base colour for your colour scheme. If you have a red carpet with gold, use gold as the base for the bigger decorations, then have a red ribbon so the eye is drawn to the tree and not the carpet

The Cards

Sir Henry Cole, head of the Victoria and Albert Museum, commissioned the first Christmas cards in 1843. Today, this personal touch is important to many and home card making is hugely popular.

Marion Emberson owns Sugar and Spice Crafts at Barleylands in Billericay and started crafting as a little girl. The appeal is simple, she explains: ‘It is made by you for someone — it’s personalised. If they like pink, you can make the card in pink. You can also put people’s names on things. These days names often have more than one spelling, so getting it right on a mass produced card can be difficult. This kind of touch makes a big difference.

‘This year people are producing a lot of cards with embossing powders and simple designs. Stencils are also a trend as well as dye cutting. Christmas cards have to be simple but effective as you are making a lot and they have to look good. For new ideas, I browse through Pinterest and American magazines. Don’t copy things, just pick different elements and merge them into a unique creation.’

Marion Emberson’s Christmas Tips

Always keep it simple.

Set timeaside and have everything ready to go.

Put your details on the back of the card saying, ‘handmade by…’ You may get some orders off the back of it for next year!

The Food

The ritual of the Christmas feast began before the Middle Ages. Still a centrepiece of the celebrations, supermarkets provide as many ready-made treats as we wish, whether it be own brand mince pies or a top of the range Heston Blumenthal Christmas pudding.

For the ambitious Christmas cooks there are festive cookery courses all over the county where you can improve your skills. Ex Masterchef contestant, Ann Hood, runs the Smart School of Cookery, which teaches people to cook stylish and tasty dishes with no fuss. And how about this for taking the strain out of Christmas dinner? Ann explains: ‘One of our most popular recipe ideas at this time of year is our Stress Free Christmas Dinner which is designed to be prepared and cooked within two-and-a-half hours.’

Ann Smart’s Christmas Tips

Don’t buy the biggest turkey you can find.A smaller one is more tasty and juicy and if you buy the right size it can cook in just one to one-and-a-half hours (3kg) if you spatchcock. Buy another one for Boxing Day if you need more.

Vegetables should take no longer than three to four minutes. use a peeler to make ribbons of carrot, toss them in rapeseed oil (try my ready to cook oils with a hint of rosemary, seasoning and garlic) and pop them in the oven at 200°C for three minutes

The Presents

BBC Radio presenter Bridget Metcalfe is a seasoned creator of personalised gifts and established Arts and Crafts Circles in Chelmsford and Ongar in 2005. She began making presents when she was a child.

‘We would make simple decorations from coloured card, lots of glitter and pretty ribbons,’ Bridget explains. ‘I always loved the idea that I was making things to add to the decorations which my family had owned for years.

‘Now I make jewellery; mostly bracelets and rings,’ she continues. ‘They are all made from beads and each one is unique with its individual little silver twists of beads and charms. I like to make gifts in someone’s favourite colour or which I know will match their personality.’

Bridget Metcalfe’s Christmas Tips

There are a lot of books to inspire you, plus the internet is a great place to pick up ideas.

Don’t panic that you won’t make a good job of it – just start! It’s surprising how effective you can make things look. If it goes a bit wrong, I always think it adds to its charm.

Keep it simple until you’re more confident to create more elaborate gifts.

Get in touch

Christmas Essence

Sugar and Spice Crafts

The Smart School of Cookery

The Arts and Crafts Circles


Related articles


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Essex Life

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Ballroom star and world class judge Gary Edwards has enjoyed an incredible career in dance, claiming 30 dance titles across the globe, followed by a stint as advisor to the Royal family of Brunei. Now a presenter on hit American show Dancing with the Stars, Denise Marshall caught up with the Romford-born star for the inside word on Strictly 2018!

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

As we mark the centenary of the end of world War I, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office reveals a unique insight into life at war during this bleak time | Words: Hannah Salisbury

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Essex is home to some of the most stunning vistas in the UK. From the estuary of River Thames to the North Sea coastline, the county’s scenery is a diverse patchwork of stunning sea views, ancient architecture and vibrant gardens. We pick 9 of our favourites

Read more
Tuesday, December 4, 2018

As an enduring British institution, it’s incredibly important to get your Sunday lunch right. Here are 12 pubs in Essex that know how to deliver precisely what you require.

Read more
Monday, December 3, 2018

For those still figuring out how to spend your Friday through Sunday, we’ve rounded up 5 of Essex’s best things to do to ensure no second of your weekend is wasted

Read more
Friday, November 30, 2018

We’ve teamed up with Grand Illusions to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win a £250 gift card with the stylish homeware brand

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

When winter comes and a frost settles all over our county’s prettiest locations, you’re presented with so many fantastic photographic opportunities. Here are 19 times Essex was prettier than a Christmas card

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Are you stuck for things to do this winter? Essex is home to some truly magical places perfect for a family day out or a special event to get you feeling festive. Here are 9 locations you have to visit this season.

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Stephanie Mackentyre continues her tour of Essex’s finest eateries and this time drops into the Back-Inn Time American diner in Chelmsford

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

At the end of summer we asked Essex Life’s readers and followers to send in pictures of your pooches loving life on our county’s beaches - you got back to us in droves and here are the pups that made the cut in our October issue!

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search