Monday 20 November 2017

Have yourself a crafty little Christmas

With the average person expected to spend nearly €500 on presents, our reporter decides to rein it in, and give homemade gifts a try instead

Hands on: Deirdre Reynolds gets stuck into her homemade Christmas presents Photo: Tom Conachy
Hands on: Deirdre Reynolds gets stuck into her homemade Christmas presents Photo: Tom Conachy
Kirstie Allsopp handmakes some tree baubles on 'Kirstie's Handmade Christmas' on Channel 4
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

There's just eight days left to get Christmas all wrapped up. As the high street heaves with last-minute shoppers however, is it really still 'the thought that counts'?

Irish consumers are tipped to splurge a staggering €4.21 billion this festive season, according to a new report by Retail Ireland. But emulating the man in the red suit doesn't have to leave you in the red.

Kirstie Allsopp's 'Handmade Christmas' continues on Channel 4 on Wednesday night, and from homemade mince pies to hand-poured candles, the presenter leaves even Santa's little helpers in the shade.

Featuring an assortment of DIY pressies, the series aims to prove that you don't have to splash the cash to spoil your loved ones during the season of goodwill.

Kirstie Allsopp handmakes some tree baubles on 'Kirstie's Handmade Christmas' on Channel 4
Kirstie Allsopp handmakes some tree baubles on 'Kirstie's Handmade Christmas' on Channel 4

Mind you, after bagging a rumoured £400,000 deal to stay with the station, the star is unlikely to have to pay a visit to her local Credit Union this Christmas.

When it comes to festive gift-giving, ordinarily I'm all in favour of throwing money at the problem.

Designer perfumes, DVD box sets and luxury chocolates are just some of the clichéd presents I've purchased in a desperate bid to prove my affection for family and friends on December 25.

Of course, the custom of exchanging gifts on December 25 dates all the way back to the Three Wise Men, who famously forewent the traditional babygro to present the baby Jesus with frankincense, gold and myrrh.

With a €399 Playstation VR headset and Dyson's Supersonic hairdryer, also €399, among this year's most coveted gifts for big kids who've made the nice list however, somewhere along the way it's become more for ho-ho-show.

With Santa's belt tighter than ever before though, it's time to make like Rudolph, and rein (deer) in my spending.

In the past, I've turned my hand to painting, pottery and poitín-making, with some of my artwork even making it onto friends' walls (albeit the loo).

So how hard can whipping up a batch of mince pies or throwing together a few Christmas crackers really be?

Channeling Ebenezer Scrooge, I began by scouring the presses for anything that could be upcycled for project Cheap-mas. Among the ghosts of Christmases past: some leftover wrapping paper, a half-used tube of glitter glue, and old ribbon.

Next stop was the interweb for some inspiring (read: idiot-proof) festive gift ideas.

Bath oil

When it comes to quantifying your love for someone on Christmas morning, label-laden beauty products are typically a safe bet for both guys and girls. Bath bombs and fancy soaps are just two of the festive favourites you can rustle up yourself at home.

Not quite at Lush skill levels, I decided to keep it simple by making a bath oil that has just three ingredients: 100ml of base oil bought in a health store for €3.49, 30 drops of geranium essential oil rescued from the back of the bathroom cabinet and a sprinkle of gold glitter left over from an arts and crafts session with my niece.

After tipping the lot into a vintage perfume bottle I nabbed at a car boot sale, now I'm just hoping that a large red bow will distract my mother from the fact that it's not her beloved Chanel No.5 Foaming Bath gel on Christmas morning.

Sloe gin

For the auld fella, something a bit more potent would definitely be required.

With Ireland's gin revolution showing no sign of slowing, Dingle and Glendalough are just some of the homegrown brands of blue ruin sure to be found under Christmas trees throughout the land next weekend.

But you can put your own festive twist on the tipple by simply adding sloe berries. But be warned: taking about seven weeks to mature, the process is certainly 'sloe'.

I went sloe berry hunting back in October and, after painstakingly puncturing each one with a knife to let the juice escape, filled a disused Kilner jar a third of the way with sugar and then berries before pouring in the gin.

Topped with a tiny Santa hat I got in a discount store for 75c, my batch - made using Aldi's budget-friendly Boyle's Gin (€24.99) - will be good to go on Christmas day, and guarantees a very merry one, indeed.

Fairy door

Sure enough, the DIY fairy door I parted with all of €3 for to make my four year-old nephew happy is unlikely to compete with the €80 Hatchimal he's hoping Santa will bring, or even the real thing made by The Irish Fairy Door Company, which cost €24.95.

Lovingly hand-painted and decorated by his very own fairy godmother however, surely it beats another selection box?

Tea light holder

Sick of burning all my money on pressies that are still shrink-wrapped 12 months on, I'm not even asking Santa to bring me the customary smelly candle this year. And it looks like my sister will have to settle for a 'bespoke' tea light holder too.

Inspired by Allsopp, I glued a scrap of colourful material and fabric flower to an empty yoghurt jar, later popping in a 30c Penneys tea light pilfered from a 12-pack.

Jo Malone it undoubtedly ain't. But with any luck my efforts will light up her world - and not just get on her wick - on Sunday week.

Christmas cards

Feeling more and more like the Grinch who stole Christmas, I'm not about to blow the budget on those glorified bits of cardboard otherwise known as greetings cards either.

Instead, I picked up a pack of 10 plain cards and envelopes in an art and craft store for €3, and dusting down last year's wrapping paper and a heart-shaped cookie cutter, did it myself.

Alright, so they're not exactly going to put Hallmark out of business, and sending a Whatsapp would certainly be easier. Like Scrooge himself though, my penny-pinching cards are sure to stand out from the crowd on the mantelpiece, even if it is for all the wrong reasons. I even plan to save a few quid by hand-delivering some of them.

Ultimately, craft queen Kirstie won't be losing any sleep. But my very own Handmade Christmas has taught me that you don't have to battle the crowds or max out your credit card to show that you care this yuletide.

Skinted or minted, one survey by Mediacon found that the average Irish person will drop €493 on Christmas presents this year. At €32.53, so far, mine have come in at a 15th of that.

Only time will tell whether my loved ones think their presents are crafty - or plain crappy. Let's face it, most end up being regifted anyway!

Irish Independent

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