Thursday 18 January 2018

Who really wants a home-made Christmas?

Flic Everett has tried to follow in Kirstie Allsopp's footsteps and knit her own baubles, but remains unconvinced that all that effort is worth it

Crafty lady: Kirstie Allsopp who presents Channel 4’s Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas
Crafty lady: Kirstie Allsopp who presents Channel 4’s Kirstie’s Homemade Christmas

A few years ago, seized by the spirit of recession - and misguided optimism - I decided I was going to have Christmas a la Kirstie Allsopp, and make all my presents by hand. An expensive mistake I've been painfully reminded of while watching Kirstie's Homemade Christmas on Channel 4, where, over the past few weeks, she has been busy demonstrating how to make a stunning Alpine wreath (possible), an origami advent calendar (impossible), and also, how to crochet your own baubles (why bother?).

Unlike Kirstie, I am not blessed with the craft gene, nor am I gifted with a warehouse full of televisual elves to help me out. Nevertheless, I envisioned friends marvelling at my hand-moulded bath bombs, delicately scented with rose and geranium; reeling with delight at my specially brewed sloe gin; and being festively overjoyed with my home-baked biscotti, enrobed in crinkling cellophane and tied with red ribbon.

Preparations began at the end of November, after I spent the best part of a week trawling the internet for recipes, and the rest trawling specialist shops for obscure ingredients.

It turns out that bath bombs require a nuclear amount of citric acid and bicarbonate of soda to do their fizzing - if you add too much water to the mix at the blending stage, it erupts into an evil, hissing volcano, leaving bits of wet, coagulated powder everywhere. The recipe, therefore, urges you to add it "drop by drop", along with a plethora of food colouring and essential oils.

I must have spent at least ¤40 and attempted the process at least eight times - every single one curtailed abruptly in a contained explosion. I ended up going shopping and spending twice as much again on things my friends might actually want to put in their bath, rather than something that looked as if it had been dredged from the plughole.

The biscotti recipe ("enough to feed a crowd!") resulted in a mere 12 biscotti, as hard as roof tiles, that resembled ancient biltong. The lucky recipients got four each.

As for the booze, I quickly realised that it's not possible to make sloe gin without buying bottles of gin. Or bottles to decant them in.

Before discovering there were no sloes in supermarkets in November, I made one bottle using blackberries instead for my ex-father-in-law, who pretended to be happy. He's not a drinker.

That toxic experience was enough to persuade me that, whatever Kirstie says, making your gifts, cards and decorations is ludicrously expensive and unrewarding for all concerned.

Have you any idea how much faffing goes into making a candle? You need moulds, wax, wicks and scent. If you've got money to burn, you'd be better off investing three figures in a three-wick Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir.

As for soap, you might as well try to start a cosmetics factory in your shed. Lye! What is lye, anyway?

Home-made cards and wrapping? Please don't. A blotchy potato print of a holly leaf will go straight in the recycling bin. A card overloaded with wool and/or some glitter glue will just fall over. They sell nice versions of these things in the shops, for far less than it costs to buy industrial quantities of their constituent parts.

And when it comes to making toys, that may work if you're a flash-needled nanna who can knit exquisite zebras and armadillos out of an unravelled jumper, but show me the child who unwraps a wonky felt rabbit with tenuously attached plastic eyes at Christmas, and I'll show you a scene of Dickensian disappointment.

Because here's the truth: this sort of handmade present is all about showcasing your own hopelessly average craft skills, in the hope that somebody will cry, "Wow, you must sell these!", and absolutely nothing to do with the recipient's happiness.

Of course, there are thousands of "crafters" who do flog their wares. The Christmas markets are full of them: weird jester hats made from boiled wool in some Welsh outbuilding, funny little soaps scented with guava and cardamom, "perfect stocking fillers" of Tolkien-esque wooden creatures sitting on mushrooms. Clocks that someone's dad made out of old Roxy Music singles, coasters made from offcuts of Christmas tree trunk, Alpine jumpers knitted from what appears to be steel wool coated in sheep oil.

But there's almost nothing at these markets that anyone would want, other than edible things made by professionals. The same professionals who own the right equipment, buy the right ingredients wholesale and make a living out of it, because it's what they do day in, day out, year-round.

The people who spend a few weeks pouring scented wax into vintage teacups, then wonder why they're making a loss, are the ones who should forget it.

Because a home-made Christmas present nobody wants is not a present; it's an encumbrance you can't even give to charity, because you know they won't want it either.

There is only one exception to all this - when your children make presents. No matter how wonky, badly glued and glitter-shedding, these are infinitely better (and worth far more) than anything that could be bought.

I still treasure the lumpy picture frame from nursery and the pine cone with a crayoned holly leaf stuck to it: the only acceptable handmade spirit of Christmas.

Irish Independent

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