How to have a handmade Christmas

Selvedge Advent Festival

Selvedge Advent Festival - Credit: Archant

Polly Leonard of Selvedge in Highgate gives her tips on how to rediscover the true magic of Christmas by eschewing rampant consumerism and embracing the crafted and homemade. Call it the anti-Trump effect

In the yurt

In the yurt - Credit: Archant

“We all remember that moment of magic at Christmas when you were a child you opened your gift and it had that ‘aaah!’” says Polly Leonard of Selvedge, the Highgate shop and international textiles magazine.

“Everyone wants to recreate that but it’s much more difficult now than it used to be because we all have cupboards full of stuff.

“By spending some time either making something for someone or making something with someone I think that brings back the magic.”

Of course, just because something is handmade, it doesn’t mean it has to be made by you. If the idea of making your own seasonal decorations or presents sounds like more of a sentence than a promise of Christmas magic then of course you can buy a ready made item.

Patch, Swoon

Patch, Swoon - Credit: Archant

The Makers’ Fair part of the Selvedge Advent Festival would be a good place to start, with its collection of artisans both local and international selling everything from homewares and Christmas decorations to jewellery and fashion – all entirely made by hand, of course.

If inspiration strikes, however, then the week long festival offers a wealth of opportunities for people to turn their hand to a new craft, with workshops in Christmas wreath making with Highgate Flowers (see pages ), letterpress Christmas cards courtesy of Tufnell Park’s Harrington & Squires, or embroidery inspired biscuit icing.

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For textiles fiends there’s also the Merchants’ Fair, with an international textile market gathering international dealers in traditional fabrics, vintage lace, original chintz, embroidery, block printing, kantha, indigo and haberdashery, perfect if you plan to deck the halls with home sewn pieces.

Leonard advises anyone planning to embark on a craft project or two to be realistic about how much time they will have to devote to it before Christmas and don’t take on too much at a time of year that tends to be busier than usual.

Claire Fletcher tambourines, �53.95

Claire Fletcher tambourines, �53.95 - Credit: Archant

“It’s always better to do one thing well than lots of things not so well,” she says. “It would be perfect to have a little project which you did every Sunday afternoon between now and Christmas, for example.”

And while you shouldn’t worry if your project comes out looking a little, well, handmade, there’s no reason to leave your ambition at the door.

“We aim for perfection but every stage towards that has value,” asserts Leonard.

“Christmas is supposed to be a special time,” she continues. “If you go into Oxford Street it can end up being pretty traumatic so I would always advocate making the shopping experience pleasurable, buying something locally and reducing stress. Which is where the fair comes in!”

Selvedge Advent Festival

Selvedge Advent Festival - Credit: Archant

Selvedge Advent Festival runs from Saturday, November 26 until Saturday, December 3 at St Augustine’s Church Hall, N6 5BB. Workshops take place on evenings throughout the week and can be booked at


“We have lots of handmade, very special, intricate things in the shop, including some lovely tree angels,” says Leonard. “You can buy a handmade thing, which costs a fortune but you’ll keep forever or you could spend far less money and make it yourself, or anything in between.”

Christmas wreath

Christmas wreath - Credit: Archant

Simple DIY Christmas decoration projects include making a wreath for the front door or a garland for the mantelpiece – get a hand with your wreath-making at the Highgate Flowers workshop; baking some gingerbread cookies for the tree; or making a Hungarian reverse appliqué felt stocking at the Selvedge workshop.

A decorative theme can help you draw the whole scheme together, although it’s up to you how closely you adhere to it.

“I’ve had gingham fabric, block-printed newspaper from India, brown paper, all kinds of things,” says Leonard. “I’m fairly restrained most of the time so at Christmas I go the full kitsch. This year I’m very drawn to mixtures of textures so wool and tweed next to linen and velvet and then some metallic leather.”


Hungarian felt stockings

Hungarian felt stockings - Credit: Archant

Selvedge’s most popular Christmas gift are felt slippers from Finland that come in Santa Claus red and a pale grey, says Leonard. “We sell some sweet little felt animals that make great stocking fillers and are great if you have visitors with children around Christmas time,” says Leonard.

A jar or gift box filled with cookies or chocolate truffles and handmade wash bags filled with soaps are other smaller gifts that would be relatively easy to make in a batch.

“We have a section on the website with free patterns and projects. There’s quite a variety, a bolster cushion, a bow tie,” says Leonard. “People can download a free craft project and then come to the fair and buy their materials.

Huopaliike Lahtinen red slippers, �52.95

Huopaliike Lahtinen red slippers, �52.95 - Credit: Archant

“It’s also lovely to buy someone a workshop as a present because you’re buying them some time. No one ever goes away unhappy because they’ve made something themselves and it’s a really positive experience all round.”

Wrapping and cards

Even if you opt to buy all your gifts, you can still add a handmade touch with the presentation. A handmade card is always lovely to receive and Tufnell Park printer Harrington & Squires are running a letterpress Christmas card-making workshop as part of the festival. There’s also a workshop in hand block printed wrapping paper with Yateley Papers for presents that will look too pretty to rip into.

Letter press Christmas cards

Letter press Christmas cards - Credit: Archant

Ribbons and even pom poms willl add pizzazz – VV Rouleaux in Marylebone is your one-stop shop for the best ribbon selection in London – or even fabric off cuts from your fabulous sewing projects.

And Cambridge IMPRINT are running a Christmas workshop in conjunction with Selvedge on December 8 where they will offer wrapping tips so your weirdly shaped gifts will still look smart under the tree.

Antique Hungarian hemp yardage, �23.95

Antique Hungarian hemp yardage, �23.95 - Credit: Archant

Christmas Day table

“A Christmas tablecloth is a very nice way to buy something that will become an heirloom,” suggests Leonard. “Everybody makes an effort with their Christmas table and a nice naturally dyed tablecloth would be a perfect addition.”

Add some festive cheer with crackers, table settings, and a bit of nature. Winter flowers such as hyacinths on the table will help lift the atmosphere with their fresh scent. You can divide up the tasks among the family – put the kids in charge of decorating the table if you dare, they could make place names for everybody with potato prints or origami.

At Cambridge IMPRINTS’s Christmas workshop, they’ll be showing people how to make a Christmas garland and Christmas crackers for a festive yet cool Christmas table and they sell a cracker-making kit.

Hand block printing wrapping paper

Hand block printing wrapping paper - Credit: Archant