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Editorial blog

Christmas craft influencers talk about their favourite festive creations and trends

29 Aug 2018

Angela Sara West chats with Christmas craft influencers about their favourite festive creations and tips, tricks and trends. Okay, it’s only September, but we’ll have you feeling festive in no time!


Debbie Shore

Derby-born Debbie Shore lives in Lancashire and is the UK’s best-selling craft author.

Alongside designing products for Crafter’s Companion, she pops up on shopping channels, including Create and Craft TV, illustrating her unique brand of friendly guidance while demonstrating all manner of machines, kits and more.

The self-described “accidental sewer” writes projects for sewing magazines and loves sharing her knowledge with other sewists at needlecraft shows at Earls Court, Olympia and the NEC, and via her video and written tutorials for YouTube (to which she has nearly 200k subscribers) and her Facebook channel. When it comes to writing books, she’s second-to-none. With her contemporary, inspiring and achievable style, Debbie’s Half Yard series (published by Search Press) has proved phenomenally successful. “Becoming a craft author was one of the most exciting turns in my career and, even after 17 books, it’s still as exciting! I’m so proud of the books and the feedback I get from readers.”

From amazing advent calendars and no-sew wreaths made from scrap fabric, to gift boxes and festive placemats, Debbie’s mega-seller title, Half Yard Christmas, covers numerous themes, from rustic and traditional, to contemporary and monochrome, even kids.

Her favourite styles and makes for the festive season? “My house is decorated partly traditional with reds, golds and greens, but my living room is contemporary silver and white. I love anything sparkly but I keep the decorating simple, I hate it when the house looks bare after they come down! We have a holly bush in the garden and I love big displays and wreaths. A few years ago, I made Christmas trees for friends, fluffy cone shapes with built-in lights. My most challenging make was a spotty printed oilcloth tree with branches… one of those projects I wished I’d never started! I’ll be making a table runner and place mats this year, too.”

Debbie’s now working on a Christmas range of quilting fabric, alongside her range for next summer. “It’s based on sketches of my garden again, but very different to the current range. My garden was the inspiration behind my fabric range, flowers, birds and dragonflies, and it’s fabric that inspires my projects. I’ll see a certain fabric and imagine what I can make with it.”

She’s also launching an online sewing site, the ‘Half Yard Sewing Club’. “Subscribers will be able to follow videos and instructions for a wide range of projects, including techniques such as dressmaking and quilting.” Still busy with books, two more launch in early September. “A new concept called ‘Build a Bag Books’, then I’m working on my next four!”

Facebook: 12,000 followers

Instagram: 1,700+ followers

You Tube: 190,000+ subscribers

www.halfyardsewingclub.com

Jane Means

London and Singapore based gift-wrapping guru, Jane Means, works as an adviser for luxury brands such as Harrods and Dior, as well as for A-list celebrities and royals. She’s lent her meticulous eye for detail to Kirstie Allsopp as a judge on Channel 4’s Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas and regularly teams up with TV’s The Crafty Beggars, Julie Peasgood and Wendy Turner.

Inspired by her travels to places such as India and Iran, she says Japan has been her biggest inspiration. “It’s where I learnt basic origami and various folding techniques with fabric.”

The secret to this genius gift-wrapper’s success? “To stay in front of competitors, it’s vital to be a leader, not a follower and always have something new to offer.”

She says double-sided tape and giftwrap embellishments, such as holly, ivy and twigs, are key to make presents stand out in a pile and personalisation is a huge trend in the Christmas gift-wrapping world.

Her biggest wrapping challenge? “A rocking horse live in front of an audience.” Jane’s blog is bursting with creative wrapping ideas and she’ll soon be launching a new collection of embellishments. Catch her and her wrapping team in luxury London stores and at her workshops in the run-up to the big day.

Twitter: 8,000

Facebook: 4,000

Instagram: 6,000

Pinterest: 2,000

www.janemeans.com

Claire Donovan - Heart handmade UK

Enjoying social media hits of over a million, Belfast-based Claire Donovan loves to share handmade items, craft ideas, free Christmas patterns and inspiring home décor via her easy-to-follow craft tutorials, home décor guides and blog. Christmas superfan Claire says her first memory was of the festive period. “Where crafting and Christmas collided….

Watching my dad hang a paper angel ornament I’d made on the tree was the proudest moment I can remember. Construction paper, glitter glue and sequins with a little yellow yarn hair to match my own blonde locks. I was five and would make paper chains for days… Very little has changed!”

She starts making Christmas gifts in August and still loves making decorations for her house. “Whether it’s a garland, a paper village or decoration for my tree. Crochet is probably one of my favourite crafts for making because I know people hold on to those. I’m most proud of making an afghan - my winter crochet gift to myself!”

Claire set up Heart Handmade UK after she was forced out of work by illness, leaving her housebound. How does it feel to inspire others in a similar situation and encourage them to get crafting? “I got sick back in 2009, but I was too nervous and afraid to tell my followers about my medical conditions until 2016. The response blew me away. I got emails from all ages around the world telling me that they’re in a similar situation, that they felt so alone and asking for tips or just sharing about their lives. It filled me with joy and such gratitude.”

Pinterest: 1m + views

Facebook: 46,700+ views

Instagram: 20.8k views

www.hearthandmade.co.uk

Sachiyo Ishii - Knits by Sachi

Born and raised in Japan, best-selling craft author Sachiyo Ishii became a money broker on Wall Street and in London before discovering doll making, dressmaking and knitting in her thirties.

Sachiyo lives in Sussex and says felt is the first craft she fell in love with at school. “Sewing felt mascots became a big trend in our classroom. I spent every penny on felt squares and made little stuffed animals and dolls almost every day. We exchanged end results as gifts for Christmas. I remember giving my favourite to the boy I had a crush on and he really liked it! I love spending time materialising my ideas and making someone smile at the end. It is very rewarding.”

How has her childhood in Japan influenced her crafting style? “I grew up in the 70’s, when the Japanese economy was growing more rapidly than ever before. Sanrio, the company well known for ‘Hello Kitty’, certainly influenced my ‘cute, quirky and Japanese’ style.”

Sachiyo’s work regularly appears in knitting magazines and her delightful books Mini Felt Christmas and Sew Your Own Felt Advent Calendar (both published by Search Press) are veritable feasts of festive creative ideas and inspiration. From felt tree decorations and fun penguins to larger-scale projects such as a fabulous felt Christmas countdown, gorgeous gingerbread house or Santa complete with sleigh and reindeer… even the complete Christmas Story! Step-by-step photographs and templates clearly guide you through.

A few of her favourite Christmas makes? “It was such a delight to create scenes with the felt dolls and animals I made for ‘Mini Felt Christmas’. I also have a knitted/crochet version of these projects. You can tell Christmas is one of my favourite themes! I made a large knitted Advent calendar last year which took me a few weeks. It has 25 knitted pockets with numbers and each holds little knitted toys. Pockets and toys were not too difficult, but making the calendar board and attaching pockets with even space required some effort.”

www.knitsbysachi.com

Top Drawer and Craft

Top Drawer and Craft will be back at Olympia, London, between 9–11th September 2018. “Introduced in January 2014, Craft has confidently grown with each edition, proving to be a successful and popular addition to Top Drawer, the UK’s leading international design-led trade event,” says Alejandra Campos, Show Director of Top Drawer.

“Top Drawer refreshes its offering every season by incorporating new concepts and segments. It embraces trends including lifestyle, homewares, fashion and global market developments, presenting brands that inspire whilst offer commercial appeal. Top Drawer has become the chosen platform for leading design-led brands to showcase their new collections. From independent shops and concept stores to museums, department stores and online retailers, each edition attracts the most successful retailers from the UK and overseas.

The launch of new initiative across the show, together with our well established new talent area, SPOTTED, is part of our commitment to promote and support start-ups and new designers – the young entrepreneurs of today are the elite of tomorrow.”

Instagram: 32,200 followers

Twitter: 20,500 followers

www.topdrawer.co.uk

Biscuiteers

Harriet Hastings co-founded Biscuiteers with her husband, Stevie Congdon. “We came up with the idea for Biscuiteers on a weekend away in New York. We were sure that there were lots of people as passionate about biscuits as we are and that there was a real opportunity to set up a biscuits gift business online that was completely different from anything else in the market – biscuits that would look as beautiful as they tasted, biscuits that people would want to talk about.”

Using the very best natural ingredients, they create witty, beautifully-decorated biscuits galore. Her favourite Christmas designs? “I love the intricacy of the Advent tin which accompanies our cloth advent calendar, this year designed in partnership with Susie Watson – hand icing 24 individual biscuits to create the ultimate foodie advent calendar is no mean feat! Every Christmas we send out thousands of our Jolly Gingers, each with their own personality. Santa is my favourite!”

Will Biscuiteers be incorporating any trends in their Christmas bakes? “We keep a close eye on colour schemes and trends which we anticipate for the year to ensure that our biscuits fit perfectly into the festive home, whilst still making a statement. We’re incorporating very trendy colour schemes into our Christmas 2018 ranges – our bauble design, in particular, is blue, green and red with a shimmery finish this year.”

Biscuiteers’ Christmas workshops are designed to guide eager icers through the creation of some of their most iconic tins. “This year, this includes our Nutcracker, Snowman and Winter Wonderland designs, as well as a construction class for our DIY Gingerbread house – all allowing you to take your masterpiece home afterwards. Our boutique teams adore running these classes and love seeing those who have taken a class with us previously return for festive favourites, as well as welcoming new icers who are keen to be Biscuiteers!”

What’s next for the Biscuiteers? “Exciting new launches this autumn include our Beatrix Potter designs and our Halloween ranges which feature both traditional spooky characters, but also a more modern Day of the Dead style. We’ll also be at the Spirit of Christmas in the autumn and look forward to meeting biscuit fans there, where they can pick up some of our festive favourites!”

Twitter: 21,600

Instagram: 74,000

Facebook followers: 36,000

www.biscuiteers.com

Zeena Shah

Hackney-based printed textiles designer, maker, illustrator, author and tutor, Zeena Shah, found her calling while studying at the Chelsea School of Art. “I studied textile design, specialising in print design and instantly fell in love with print making. The immediacy of screen printing was addictive. You could transform a plain piece in fabric in minutes using torn paper. I enjoyed experimenting and having fun with design and was drawn to fabric. I’ve always loved print and pattern, but also the tactility of cloth, and the way it is made, can be fascinating.”

She launched her own business ‘Zeena’; in 2010, selling her collection of hand silk screen-printed and handmade home accessories, along with embroidery kits, internationally. Although print making’s her go-to, she’s a crafty all-rounder. “I’ve always enjoyed doing a bit of everything and for me, different projects have grown my business organically.”

Serving up cocktails on arrival, her cracking Christmas cracker workshops demonstrate how to make uber-cool crackers containing goodies from the London Transport Museum. “I’ve always made crackers so, for me, the class was an extension of my Christmas preparations at home and it’s really lovely to share my skills. I love sharing my love of printmaking, and showing people how simple it is to do and the wonderful affects you can achieve. It’s so rewarding to inspire this kind of creativity!”

Pinterest: 74,000

Instagram: 11,000

Facebook: 1,841

Twitter: 3,834

www.zeenashah.com

Zack Mcclaughlin

Zeena’s partner, Zack Mclaughlin, meanwhile is also a maker and something of an Instagram sensation, having clocked up over 31,000 followers. The crafty couple collaborated on a Christmas project for Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas show last year, combining print making and paper cutting to create a giant handcrafted paper garland. “It was hot, sweaty and nerve racking but I had a ball and somehow won the competition, which was incredible!” He and Zeena were asked back the following year to judge the wreaths.

Inspired by nature, paper and wood artist Zack’s high-end clients include Ralph Lauren Paris, Barbour International, the BAFTAs nominees party, De Beers and Ascot Racecourse, along with shopping malls in Hong Kong and South Korea.

What does he love so much about his favourite material? “Paper has so many qualities to it that just add so much to each piece I use it on. It is inexpensive, light, delicate yet strong, infinitely versatile as well as plain beautiful. My favourite technique is scissor cutting paper; it’s just so satisfying and I love the textures you can create with it.”

Zack once created an endangered Gouldian Finch out of paper and wood for his hero, Sir David Attenborough. “My proudest moment! To see the photos of him holding and playing with what I had made was so surreal…” He’s also collaborated with Jo Malone London to turn their Regent Street store into a handmade paper secret garden, for which he won the People’s Choice Award at the RIBA Regent Street Windows Competition 2018. “It felt absolutely amazing! It was such a fun dream project to work on.”

Zack’s blog will soon be supplemented by tutorials and videos and his ‘build your own bird kits’ are currently being refined and will be back in time for Christmas. He also runs paper bird workshops, making mini Barn owl or life-size hummingbird sculptures, while his wire sculpture-making workshops see his wonderful wire robins a huge hit during the festive period.

Instagram: 31,000

Facebook: 3,584

Twitter: 868

www.paperandwood.co.uk

Rosie Brewer

Rosie Brewer creates unique wooden work using a variety of wood species, all sustainably sourced and FSC certified, with each sleek and minimalist piece handmade in her Devon workshop.

Her love affair with wood started at six, when her parents bought a Devon sawmill. She made boxes from the offcuts, and turned some into bird boxes. Studying 3D Design at college, she discovered her calling and found her way back to woodwork, honing her skills in the world of wood.

Specialising in unique wooden kitchenware, she’s featured in Period Living and Vogue Germany magazines, and stars as ‘designer-maker of the month’ in this month’s issue of Country Homes. “Being featured in a magazine is always a buzz of excitement, but being designer-maker of the month was extra special. I was very grateful to be selected and to be featured amongst such other great designers really boosts my confidence so that I can actually consider myself a professional in this field. I find that the more places I am featured, the easier it is to get other opportunities, press and otherwise. I think it somehow adds to my credibility.”

A few of her favourite Christmas makes? “The mini serving boards, which feature every festive season in a variety of ways, from serving little individual cheeses on Christmas Day to cutting up a lemon or lime for preparing gin and tonics for friends and family. I have also been experimenting more with carving recently and am currently coming up with a range of hand carved mini salt, pepper and spice pinch bowls, ideal for festive gatherings.”

She has spotted a few trends in the world of wood carving lately, which she’s featuring in a few of her Christmas makes. “Many people are incorporating more texture into their pieces, more deliberate and bold carving strokes, showing the marks from the tools and using light to show the highlights and shadows of each piece. I think it reminds people that this work has been hand carved and not made by some slick machine. I used to sand out all of the troughs and facets that my tools would leave and am not doing that so much at the moment. People seem to be responding well to it. It’s all part of a more honest approach in showing how pieces are made and the process behind each one.”

Instagram: 1,600 followers

www.rosiebrewer.com

Cathy Eliot

London-based embroidery expert and teacher, Cathy Eliot, learnt the craft as a child. “My aunt taught me embroidery but I only picked it up again a few years ago. I love how tactile it is!”

Her beautiful mini embroidery Christmas tree decorations were a winner on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas last year. “It felt amazing to be asked on to the show and the day spent filming was a lot of fun. Winning was the cherry on top.”

Cathy holds classes for kids and adults, both beginners and intermediates, at Fringe 108 in North London and Drink, Shop & Do in Kings Cross. “If people are inspired to try embroidery because of me, that’s great! Embroidery is really meditative, so I hope it brings people some peace in this hectic world. If a workshop can distract people from their worries, give them a sense of achievement and a chance to meet some like-minded people, then that’s perfect!”

Cathy plans to exhibit at a few of London’s Christmas markets and hopes to hold Christmas themed mini-hoop workshops, teaching various stitches and providing templates for handmade festive gifts. Her favourite Christmas designs? “The mini hoops, especially the reindeer. The most challenging ones to make are the felt decorations – they’re quite fiddly!”

Instagram followers: 12,500

www.cathyeliot.com

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