D.I.Y. Yule

Sorry, but it’s just human nature to like giving presents to our friends: never  mind that ‘it’s more blessed to give than to receive’ – it’s also a lot more fun to give than to receive.

Am I the only one who feels this way? As a little girl I saved my pocket money diligently so I could buy presents for my parents and grandmother: White Rabbit sweets for Daddy, nice soap or bubble bath for Mummy, and either talc or petunia pink lipstick [this was the 60s remember and I was still in single figures] for my Grandmother.

And my gifts always seemed to be an enormous hit. The wrapping, the home-made cards, the family put on Oscar winning performances, and I felt wonderful. At the same time I was cautioned that it’s the thought that counts and no matter how awful the presents I was given, I must always act as if I was delighted.

My great aunts were so encouraged by my beaming face when given a tin of meringues [which I loathe] or a box of Mebos [not a REAL sweet to a six-year-old] that those became our standard Christmas presents.

Worse still, my grandmother gave me a Rupert Bear annual until I was 12, after which it was the Radio Times, followed by Personality Magazine when TV came to the country and the Radio was unceremoniously downgraded.

I hated Rupert Bear, I didn’t listen to the Radio, and we didn’t have a TV, but I kept on smiling in delight until I left home, when my mother hinted that money might be a more suitable gift for a student.

My father was really the only one to let the side down. He enjoyed the White Rabbits, and the Giles Annuals I got him when I was a bit older, but he was the original Grinch where Christmas was concerned: he hated the feast, was unenthusiastic about opening presents, refused to buy any, would drink a lot and retire to ‘lie down’ as soon as he had eaten enough lunch. The lie down usually consumed the afternoon.

Daddy spent some years in Holland when he was a schoolboy, and claimed the Dutch eschewed all the commercial nonsense and gave only presents they had made themselves. This sounded like a grand idea but was easier said than done.

I couldn’t knit and I couldn’t sew: my embroidery was a disgrace and my cross stitch was very cross indeed. I used scraps of material to make lavender and lemon verbena sachets. I studded oranges with cloves then wrapped them in wool to make spice pomanders.

I even bought one of those polystyrene floating things you put in the loo cistern and studded it with dried flowers to make a decorative hanging ball, of dried flowers. My attempts at toffee and jam tarts were less successful… But I must say Personality was full of these crafty ideas.

I made my mother an eye shade from tin-foil covered cardboard, and paired them with these nifty tinfoil ‘sleeves’. I cut pattern into the foil like a stencil and the idea was your arms would end up with a pattern of tanned designs against pale skin.

I still think it’s an interesting idea but I don’t think my mum used them, and it was shortly after that she suggested to my grandmother that maybe money would be a more appropriate gift for me. My wonderful grandmother agreed, but saved all her old Personalities for me for the rest of the time the magazine was in print, so I didn’t lose out on a single recipe, pattern or crafty idea.

My grandmother had the anatomically incorrect grosse-pointe dog sniffing a flower I made for her converted into a footstool cover, but I noticed my mother never used the petit point hankie I made her. My hand-dyed forest green pillow slip batiks made with candle wax were also not a big hit.

I was in my 20s when I decided tie-dye was the way to go. I bought calico and fabric dyes and gave my family and friends several metres of their favourite colours in a tie-dyed swirl. Everyone was polite but, with the exception of the forest green, olive green and gold I gave my mother, I never saw those lengths of calico again. Mummy made hers into cushions for the dogs.

Using fabric paints on T-Shirts and pillow slips worked only for my own family really, although I’m sure if I’d painted roses and swirls on Egyptian cotton sheets they would have been used, but the whole idea was to take something inexpensive and make it precious by decorating it.

I discovered aromatic oils at much the time as my sister-in-law Yvonne Lorentz introduced them to the family. Yvonne used a burner – she gave me her old one – and made packets of aromatherapy bath salts and crystals. Kosher Salt, Epsom Salts, Bicarb – plus the oils – a lovely present.

Except they were all over the place. I made mine special by packaging them in bottles I leaded and coloured. I also made several different bowls of salts. coloured each bowl differently, then created a marbled pattern by spooning different colors into a clear glass bottle.  For family though bottles were decorated with leaded art deco roses or Egyptian or Medieval designs.

I was touched that some friends kept the container after the salts were finished and used them for other things. When my grandmother died I found several leaded jars of rose or neroli scented bath salts I had given her stashed away at the back of the cabinet under the washbasin. She never used them, which was a great pity.

Then there was papier mache: newspaper, flour and water, plus a mold, and the world is your oyster. I made wine sleeves, lavatory roll holders, chip dishes, fruit bowls, roll platters, rubbish bins, even trays. The only problems is it’s a messy process and takes forever. Once the item is complete, it needs to be painted, decorated, and sealed.

I still use papier mache items that are nearly 25 years old: but considering the amount of time put into any product, the fact that most people throw them away immediately is just too disheartening  so makes this more effort than it is worth.

In addition to the bath crystals and bath salts, the aromatherapy creams and massage rubs, I have recently added bath scrubs to my repertoire: depending on the problem, they can be used for cracked heals or to soothe and moisturise the skin. They can also be used to exfoliate and feed. Or energise and scent. Wake you up, calm you down, repel mosquitoes, disinfect you, attract lovers, sooth your mind

I must say those were quite  popular, but I also tried my hand at brandied peaches since we had a prolific bearer in the garden. Which is to say it bore prolifically for about a month. We picked about 50 peaches a day, ripened them in the sunroom away from the birds, then peeled, pitted and boiled them in a sugar syrup.

I collected bottles, sanitised them, then filled them with the stewed peaches and topped up with brandy. My attempts at making a wax seal were not that successful but thanks to the brandy, my husband is still enjoying those 20-year-old bottles of boozy peaches.

Home-made Cape Velvet Cream is also a winner, but an expensive one: actually, I think it is cheaper to buy it now, although the homemade version is infinitely nicer. Lavender Gin, Chili-Sherry, infused oils, and garlic pate are other grand homemade presents – as long as the recipients like that sort of thing.

My parents were always given a few bottles of homemade plum wine for Christmas. It was put up in the wine rack and brought down only when the giver came to dinner. And even then he was, noticeably, the only one who drank it.

Homemade Christmas presents are more adventurous than they used to be: badly knitted jumpers,  crocheted knee rugs, a cake tin full of coconut ice or toffee,  are not longer really acceptable. As for those halved Barbies with a crocheted ball gowns presented as hiding places for the spare loo roll or – God forbid – lavatory seat covers, no. Just NO.

You can give someone a homemade present now which has cost you very little except time, and be pretty certain that it will be well received. All it takes is a little effort and imagination. Tie-dyed napkins, stencilled pillow cases, pate, biscuits, salad dressing, homemade wine or liqueur  – Google will help you make a present for anyone, from padded hangers to Chocolate-coated strawberries. Happy Crafting!





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