paper stars

In Praise of Simple Pleasures

I finished work this week, increasingly giddy with that end-of-term feeling that I’ve never quite managed to grow out of. I love my job, but the thought of hanging up briefcase and heels and simply nesting for 3 whole weeks is a wonderful one. With the recent intensity of work and the heady social chaos of the festive period, it feels like we’ve not quite seen enough of each other of late, and certainly haven’t seen much of the house in daylight hours. As a result, this weekend has been spent decorating for Christmas, eating hot, buttery crumpets, piling logs onto the fire and just enjoying being here, with each other, with no alarm clocks and no cause to rush.

small pleasures
It’s a time of contentment in simple pleasures, like the unwrapping and rediscovery of cherished ornaments, like these Faberge-esque beauties bought at the now defunct Smith & Hawken store in Manhattan on my first ever trip to the city a decade ago, along with a box of vibrant and perfectly round glass berries which catch the light and twinkle against bare branches which I’ve propped in vases and dotted about the house

S&H eggs
S&H berries
I’ve finally brought down the last of the boxes full of books which have been hidden up in the loft for the last year whilst we tackle the renovation, and spent a lovely hour picking out some old barely-remembered favourites to re-read over the holidays. They sit stacked full of promise on my bedside table, and the anticipation of losing myself in them again is half the pleasure. This year I’m hoping that Santa brings Nora Ephron’s poignant novel Heartburn, which I’ve inexplicably failed to read in the decades since it stormed the best seller lists.

reading pile

We’ve been filling the house with some of the treats I associate with childhood Christmas, like bowls of these fat satsumas, easy enough for Harry to peel without help and impossible to walk past without taking one…

satsumas
And pots and planters filled with cyclamen, one of my all-time favourite plants, with their plucky flowers which look like they’ve been blown upwards with a hairdryer – apparently fragile yet able to withstand freezing temperatures and the accidental casual neglect they suffer at our hands

cyclamen
And we’ve begun the process of decorating the house for Christmas, little by little. Whilst I sort of admire that Marthas of this world who can magic up a Christmas wonderland in the space of one night whilst the rest of the house sleeps, for us it tends to be a very gradual build of festive accents and treasures, as we build up to the big day. This weekend our log basket has gained a garland of Japanese origami paper lights;

concertina lights
And this salvaged barn star leans casually against the kitchen skirting

amish barn star
Whilst the ancient typewriter in our entrance hall hammers out a traditional carol

remington

I’ve added a few handmade decorations too this year, like the paper stars I posted about in November, and these star garlands, made by laying two flat star cut-outs on tops of each other and stitching together before bending out to form a 3d star. These look great if you use different but tonal colours (I layered yellow and orange, and red and pink), but also beautiful in a subtle, rustic way if you use plain white paper, newspaper or muted shades. Run them through your sewing machine and just pull out about an inch of extra thread between each one.

star garlands

As part of holiday preparations I also did a tour of the house changing out blown lightbulbs, and gathered quite a hoard, so – inspired by this idea – I’ve coated the candle bulbs in white glue and dipped in glitter to make these sparkly tree ornaments. To create hanging loops, I’ll thread yarn through a small button and glue it to the top of each bulb to hold it in place. I’m just deciding whether to use these as gift toppers, tree decor or to simply place in wine glasses for Christmassy evening dinners as a sparkly place setting for guests. I tried various different colours but loved the deep graphite-like grown-up sparkle of these ones the most.

glitter bulbs DIY
And finally I’ve of course been doing a bit of festive culinary experimentation, like making these Christmas tree pie-toppers from puff pastry and pink peppercorns; use them on tops of stews and casseroles or instead of a full pie crust. For sweet pies, I’d simply dust them with icing sugar and maybe use edible silver balls in place of the peppercorns.

puff pastry trees
My favourite of all though was finally getting round to making a Bûche de Noël – the English translation of a chocolate log is distinctly inferior to the magnificent French original, and this ganache-coated chocolate sponge will I think become a family favourite for the future. I added mushrooms fashioned from marzipan and gave it a festive coating of icing sugar ‘snow’ (which also helps to hide any heavy-handedness in the rolling process..)

buche de noel
And as you know, I can never resist adding a dash of pyrotechnics..

buche de noel

It’s been a weekend of nesting, of family and friends, and of holding each other a little tighter and counting our blessings as events unfold in the outside world.  I hope you had a good one, and that the world where you are is safe and warm.

Starstruck



Stars… don’t you just love them? Folding and cutting stars and smothering them with sparkly glitter glue and paint is surely a right of passage for all children, and is the basis for much homespun Christmas craft. But it would be a great shame if we limited star-gazing to those times only.  I challenge all fully-grown adults to grab the nearest piece of paper (bills, doctors appointments, fines; the more depressing the paper, the more satisfying this will be…), and make a star.  Hell, make a galaxy; once you’ve started it’s very hard to stop…

I made these ombre tonal stars (above and bottom) for Harry’s room, to hang jauntily from Brad the Stag’s antlers, and also to form decorative garlands about the house.  Whipping myself into a snipping & folding frenzy, I’ve also decorated our beautiful but lethal ancient spiral staircase, which seems to be invisible to adult peripheral vision and has caused many a painful encounter for anyone over 5 foot.  With its gaudy bling-tastic stars it’s now quite hard to miss.

Experiment with different colours and textures for very different effects per below.. I embellished with glitter and tiny buttons, and used gift wrap for the bright stars, 216gsm textured card stock for the tonal stars.  Step-by-step instructions below for those who have forgotten everything they learned in geometry classes… no complicated measuring I promise!

3D Star Tutorial:

I’m showing the ‘no fancy tools’ method first using just a cup and a ruler… those who can rummage in a draw and retrieve a pair of compasses will find an even easier method below.

  1. Take a glass (or anything round and flat) and measure the diameter; halve this and make a note.  It’s 4.5cm for me.
  2. Draw around the glass, and then measure and mark this distance around the rim, giving you 6 equidistant points.
  3. Join up these marks with straight lines, skipping alternate points, ending up with a star like this in Fig.3
  4. Cut out the star, and fold right-sides together along each of the INNER angles of the star – do this 3 times in total.
  5. Turn over and fold wrong-sides together along each of the OUTER POINTS of the star, giving you your 3D shape – again, make 3 folds.
  6. refold and score again to reinforce the sharpness of the folds, then pop out to make your star.

If you have a pair of compasses, simply set them to the distance you want for the circumference of your star, draw a circle then choose a point at random along the rim. Swing the arms of the compass to mark either side of this where it bisects, and ‘walk’ your compass around the rim to make 6 marks in total – by holding the compass in the original position you won’t need to measure.  Then follow steps 3-6 as above.

These make beautiful gift tags too – just tape a piece of ribbon or thread to the back and then loop over the neck of a wine bottle or onto a gift.  Thread them together to form a garland, prop them up on mantles or shelves, or simply hang a few from a doorknob; be warned though; they’re so tactile and perky that visitors will gravitate towards them and want to give them a good squeeze…

If you try these do let me know how you get on… message me below or even upload your beauties to www.facebook.com/katescreativespace and let’s have our own paper constellation…