Thursday, 8 December 2016

8th December: Scrapbooking Twinkly Christmas Photographs

A couple of years ago, I attended a workshop at the Lomography shop; they sell vintage camera and equipment and their workshops are a great way of trying out the kit without the price tag of investing.  I LOVED it, and you can read about and see the pictures here.  Today I want to share the scrapbook page I made about the experience, which will go into my Christmas album.  I don't make a daily scrapbook layout in December; instead this blog is my record of my Christmas memories and I am really enjoying going back and working with photos and stories from previous years.

This page was inspired by the pretty Christmas stars in the photo.  I shot the decorations using a Petzval lens which has sharp areas of focus and makes everything else seem soft and delicate and twinkly.  Perfect for Christmas! As my photo was going to be the focus for the page, I wanted to create an intricate frame it that would really draw the eye.

I designed the frame by first drawing round the photo to get the size right and then doodling stars in the top left and bottom right corner.  Once I was happy with the placement, I cut it out and used this as a template.  I traced around my template onto white cardstock and used a craft knife to cut round it, and remove the little centres of the stars.

I love the way the sprinkling of the stars came out, and I think the frame really helps to lift the photo.  This is definitely not the fastest process, but I find as a scrapbooker I'm happiest making pages slowly and carefully with lots of little details.  It may mean I'm not prolific, but I get my favourite results working at this pace and creating something unique.

With the frame finished and laid in place, I looked to the colours and motifs in the photo to provide inspiration for the embellishments. I decided to stick to shades of blue and gold to complement the picture without overwhelming it, and also to use woodgrain and white as neutral accents.  Actually, I love the look of white on white and it's a look I use a lot.

To continue the theme of stars, I used my craft knife to cut star shapes out of patterned paper.  The lacy look of these stars matches the frame and allowed me to add texture and embellishment without too much weight.  I scattered them around the page, balancing out the frame and giving structure to the design.  A sprinkle of gold stars entwined through the other elements of the page tie it all together and add a bit of shimmer.

I had-cut my title with a craft knife, and added in the other words on little boxes made from white cardstock.  To finish off the page, I layered some patterned paper behind the photo and frame, and used black mist to add ink splatters to the design.

You may be thinking that this page has no space for journaling, but actually it is tucked away on a label in a pocket behind the photo. I thought the black text might look too heavy against the white of the design, but I can't make a page without journaling!  The story helps to give context to the page, explaining why I have taken the time to scrapbook a picture of department store Christmas ornaments.

I really enjoyed assembling this page, taking time in this busy festive season to slow down and craft a detailed and intricate series of elements.  Stars are definitely working for me at the moment as a Christmas motif and I hope to be able to incorporate some of the these techniques into my next page.
Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

P.P.S. This layout was featured in Jot Magazine, which was so exciting!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

7th December: Festive Ginger Biscuits

This is a blog post I write during this season every year and it's about a subject that's very close to my heart.
Ginger biscuits.

I bake these biscuits very regularly. They're simple, they're easy, and you literally cannot mess them up. They have become my own little tradition with a lovely history: the recipe was given to me by my grandma (that's Nanny to me) who hand-wrote the recipe and put it in a letter. She got it from a lady called Elizabeth who has passed away, but who will always be remembered whenever these little treasures make an appearance.

I have baked a few as a little indulgent treat for myself, I have baked reams of them for students and colleagues alike, staying awake after midnight is long gone because I foolishly promised a homemade treat. I have baked batches for friends and family, using my prettiest sprinkles and my most Nigella-looking jar. I have made them in miniature, I have made them in triplicate and I have made them with a group of 40 over-enthusiastic teenagers on Guide camp. Nothing says fail-safe like giving a recipe to the Guides. I have made them for charity, for cake sales, for the joy of baking, and most of all, I like to make them at Christmas.

We go back a long way, me and these biscuits.
I thought they might become that-thing-I-always make, but instead of being tiresomely predicable, people actually request them. "Can we have some of those biscuits you make; y'know, the ginger ones?"

I don't need a reason or an excuse. Baking them makes me happy, filling the kitchen with the heady scent of ginger, cinnamon and winter sweetness and spice. They remind me of sharing them out with loved ones and saving some for myself for those quiet moments when only the most comfortable pyjamas and the guiltiest TV will do.

So once again, here is the recipe. Elizabeth's Ginger biscuits. Simple, elegant, delicious, and my own little Christmas tradition.

Elizabeth's Ginger Biscuits
8oz self raising flour
4oz butter
3oz caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp ground ginger
(Optional extras: Extra tsp of ginger, half a tsp of nutmeg and 1 tsp of cinnamon. 100g white chocolate. These are my own additions, but I highly recommend them)
1. Mix together all the dry ingredients.
2. In a saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the golden syrup.
3. Mix the two together.
4. Roll into balls about the size of a walnut. I get about 12-15 from a batch.
5. Bake at 170 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
6. Leave to stand for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack.
7. Melt white chocolate and drizzle (or dollop) on the top. Extra style points for arty swirls. Cool unicorn points if you top with edible glitter.
Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

6th December: Cosy Christmas Mittens

At Christmas, it’s lovely to wrap up in gloves and scarves and mittens to guard against the cold.  I love to go outside and watch my breath mist in the sharp air, and inhale the cold crystal clarity of the season deep into my lungs.  But when it’s damp and chilly and everything’s a bit sodden, it can be miserable.
Cosy knits definitely help with this, and I knitted myself a pair of hand warmers to ward off the chill.  I’m sure we’ve all had days where we feel like an extra layer, even inside, and my classroom at school seems to oscillate between sultry oven and industrial freezer with no happy medium. Hand warmers are great for indoors as you don’t lose any dexterity.  Actually, they are also great for outdoors if, like me, you like a haul a camera with you everywhere you go and you want to be able to push the buttons and twiddle all of the things without removing your gloves.

Of course fingerless gloves will serve the same purpose, but I tried knitting those before and it didn’t go well because a) the fingers were fiddly and annoying, b) the first one came out far too small, and rather than keeping my hands warm, simply restricted circulation to my fingers, which was the complete opposite of the desired result.  I couldn’t face the prospect of knitting two more (a replacement, and then the other hand, which would require ten more fingers overall) and so I gave up in a huff.  This was nine years ago and I’m totally over it and can laugh about it now.  Mirthlessly. 
Anyway, it’s lovely and indulgent to curl my fingers into the warmth of wool, especially if there’s a bit of cashmere in there as well, and I cannot get enough of this yarn from indie Australian company Skein.  Which is unfortunate because I have very little left and am therefore considering keeping the little ball that remains as a pet.  A soft snuggly pet that never needs feeding or walking and never makes any mess, but will quite contentedly sit and watch Gilmore Girls with me while I craft.

The colours are wonderful, drifting in and out of muted violet and soft grey shades, and I learned a new mini-cabling technique while knitting these up. The pattern is called Pride and Prejudice Mittens by designer Christelle Nihoul, and you can find it here on Ravelry. I'll be honest: I was kind of sold on the name alone, but I think they have a real sense of delicate elegance that feels very regency. The textured pattern is used effectively without swamping the whole mitten, and I think it's very pretty.

I haven’t knitted huge numbers of mittens before – exactly no pairs, to be precise – and so I think I would have benefitted from proper instructions for right and left gloves.  They need to be symmetrical, not a matching pair, and so my thumb gusset was a little misplaced on one of them as the pattern only had full instructions for one hand. The second hand being left as an exercise for the interested knitter. Not to worry though, and I would actually knit them again as I love the design. Any with yarn this pretty and luxuriously soft, I’m going to have warm little fingers this Christmas.

Kisses xx

P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Monday, 5 December 2016

5th December: Festive Pocket Page Scrapbooking

Yesterday I shared this page that I created to document my obsession with tea, which is only fuelled at this time of year by the availability of delicious Christmas teas.  If you're familiar with my style, you might know that I like to journal a lot, and that yesterday's page really didn't have much journaling space. Similarly, I took loads of tea-based pictures last Christmas and yet I only used one of them on the page. Well fear not scrapbookers, because yesterday's page was only half the story; you can find full details of that layout here, and today I'm sharing the pocket page that goes alongside!
Recently, I have been making a pocket page quite often to accompany a scrapbook layout.  This has mainly come about because I take a lot of photos and I've invested quite a lot of time learning how to take pictures that I love.  But given that my scrapbooking style and preference is usually based around one photo, the consequence is that the majority of those photos never make it into my album. 

Pocket pages have allowed me to change that, but still scrapbook in the way that suits me best.  In November, I ordered lots of my Christmas pictures from last year to be printed by photo company Cheerz.  I've used them a few times and I love their square prints in particular.  I've been really pleased with the quality of the images that come back; I always upload my photos to their site from my computer rather than using my phone, but that's because I take photos almost exclusively on my dSLR. The pictures also arrive pretty quickly, and come presented in a lovely box that's also great to store them in. I've ordered the Big Fat Box a couple of times, and I can get tons of prints in there.

Having these Christmas pictures printed and ready to go has made it very simple to put together a divided page to match a layout. I always opt to have them printed with a white border, because I both like the look, and I think it ties the pictures together well to form a set.  I've stuck to square pictures as it's a size I like, and so picked up a pack of 12x12 pocket pages with space for nine 4x4 photos. Then I slot in the pictures I want to accompany the scrapbook page.

I spread my pictures out and decided to fill the other pockets with little embellishments. I cut a white cardstock border to go in each empty pocket as a frame so that they would match the photos and make the design seem cohesive.  Then all I added were some gold sequin stars and snowflakes cut from patterned paper from Shimelle's Christmas Magic collection. The stars are a good linking element with the scrapbook page, and the snowflakes just seemed festive to me!  For each snowflake, I cut out two of the same pattern and stuck them back to back as this divided page protector will eventually have another set of pictures on the reverse to match another page.  This way, everything is versatile and double-sided!

By contrast, I haven't embellished my photos at all as I don't think they need it.  They look clean and uncluttered, and any detail I wanted to include is either in the empty pockets or on the full scrapbook layout. Perhaps adding embellishment to the photos is something to try in the future?

In my opinion, the other big plus when it comes to using divided page protectors is the extra journaling space.  I have no problem including loads on my pages (I always have plenty to say!) but knowing there is going to be lots of space in a pocket page to get all my thoughts down, means that I don't need to think about creatively finding more journaling room on the scrapbook layout. I can concentrate on the design knowing my story is going to be told in full.

Having said that, I will always include some journaling on a layout even when there is an accompanying pocket page, because I like the look of handwriting.

 I'm really pleased with how this spread turned out and think it will be nice addition to my Christmas album. And while I will never be a project-lifer, I am certainly prepared to embrace the pocket page and its photo-holding capacity!
Kisses xxx
P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

4th December: Scrapbooking Christmas Teatime

I drink a lot of tea.  That's not strictly a Christmas thing, it's just a life thing. But I definitely drink more at Christmas because it's a nice, cosy thing to do, especially if said tea is filled with cinnamon and vanilla, cloves and nutmeg, and any other festive spices that want to join the party.  At this time of year, I will often buy a cheeky Christmas blend or two, and in fact this year, I treated myself to a tea advent calendar with a new blend or tea-based treat revealed each day.
Last year, as part of my Journal Your Christmas, I took a few photos of my festive fascination, arranging the tea things into pretty layouts. You can find that post here.  This year, I scrapbooked those pictures, to document my addiction.  Hurrah for tea!
More and more when I scrapbook, I find I am using a white cardstock background, simply because I think it goes with everything, and it helps to define all the little details that go on top.  I hate it when those details get lost, especially if I've invested a great deal of time creating them. I then chose a picture to represent the ongoing tea fascination, and layered up different patterned papers to frame it. I included some lined paper underneath the photo so that I could include a couple of lines of journaling.

To embellish this layout, I wanted to add some detail and so I hand-cut flower motifs from a sheet of patterned paper. I like the festive colours which seem Christmassy to me without being overtly themed; in fact I don't think anything I've used to make this layout is actually part of a Christmas line.  Layering the flowers behind the photo gave the page a more intricate, delicate look which I liked, but I still wanted to add something to great a bit more sparkle.

To tie in with the festive subject matter, I decided to add stars to my page, and so I used a craft knife to cut out the outlines of five-pointed stars.  I drew them free-hand before cutting them out in neutral patterned papers which would complement the colour scheme. Drawing them out like this meant that each one was unique and slightly different in size and shape; an effect that I love as it adds variety and gives me the ultimate in personalised embellishments!

I like the subtlety of a motif like this; it's easy to think of stars purely in terms of glamour and glitter, but a woodgrain star has an edge of sophistication. Hand wrote my title and cut it out with a craft knife. a technique that I have been a tad obsessed with of late, and set the title just below the photo to lead into the journaling.

All that remained to finish the page was a little sprinkle of ink and stars. I often like to add a splash of black ink as it can help to ground the black of the journaling.  And then a little gold star or two tops the whole design with a smidge of sparkle.

I have LOVED pulling out photos from last year and scrapbooking those as and when I get the time.  I don't have the hassle of printing or editing; the prints are ready to go and the journaling is written and recorded on my blog from last year. The only tiny downside is taking pictures of the finished pages when there are so few daylight hours. But mainly, there is just the pure fun of crafty Christmas time, when the weather outside is frightful but I'm cosy indoors with pretty paper.

And a trusty cup of tea.

 Kisses xxx
P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

3rd December: A Spot of Festive Baking

Regular readers might recall that back in October, I visited the Bluebird Tea Co for a tea blending workshop.  While there I somehow dropped my debit card into the card machine and all my money fell out in exchange for tea, and I still have no idea how it happened. One of the things I came home with was some gingerbread rooibos chai, which smells divinely of Christmas.  Perusing the excellent Bluebird Tea Co website, I found a recipe for chai-infused banana bread that was calling my name, and I had no choice but to put some of my newly purchased tea towards this very worthy cause.

You can find the recipe here and it worked very well indeed; I will certainly be baking this again! The trick to the recipe is that the milk is gently heated with leaf tea for 6-8 minutes which makes all the lovely flavours insinuate their wicked way into the liquid.  Then hey presto: you strain out the tea and when you mix up the cake, all the flavours in the tea get mixed up too. I opted to use gingerbread rooibos chai to give the loaf an extra festive touch, but I think pretty much any chai would work like a charm. I also added some ground ginger and cinnamon to my recipe, but that's mainly because in winter I have a hard time restraining myself from adding ginger and cinnamon to everything.

 I did find that it actually took me longer to bake it than the specified time in the recipe, but covered the top with foil to prevent it from browning too much and checked on it every 5-10 minutes, skewering through the middle until it had all cooked.

The whole flat seemed to fill with the scent of fresh baking, banana and cinnamon. I hovered by the oven, waiting for it to be done.  And then had to leave the loaf cooling on the rack untasted as I was going out. Heartrending.

Good things come to those who wait however, and for almost a week, my evenings ended in cosy delight, snuggled up with my camp blanket on the sofa, lights a-twinkling, candles lit, a cup of tea at my side and slice of warm, toasted banana bread slathered with butter to indulge in. It was so good.

On a practical note, I sliced up the end of the loaf, wrapped each piece in greaseproof paper and froze them, and the cake has defrosted very well. A great way to preserve those last few slices and make such a tasty treat go further.  I even saved a slice for the Man, who was away with work at the time, and we had a piece each for brunch one morning.  Sharing is hard as I don't like to give cake away.  But apparently it makes you a better person or something.

Anyway, I particularly enjoyed this recipe; it's nice to have a dessert you can serve warm when winter temperatures plummet and I will certainly be adding this particular cake to my repertoire.

Kisses xxx

P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired byShimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Friday, 2 December 2016

2nd December: Christmas Market Twinkles

At the end of November, I hopped on a train to Manchester the spend weekend with the fabulous members of Team Armenia: leaders with Girlguiding with whom I spent three weeks in Armenia volunteering with the Armenian Girl Scouts. But that’s another story.  We get together every so often for a weekend to catch up on each other’s lives, and this particular weekend we planned to do so while exploring the Manchester Christmas markets.
I haven’t visited the Manchester markets before, but I had always heard very positive things.  Let me start off by saying that they turned out to be the best Christmas markets I have ever visited! We began exploring around three in afternoon, and soon found that the market sprawls across a large area of the city in little sections.  This is ideal as nowhere gets to crowded, it feels like there’s so much to see, and everything is still within easy walking distance.

As the dusk descended it seemed to get more festive.  We were lucky with the weather: it was cold but clear and that seemed to bring lots of people out to enjoy the atmosphere.  I think Christmas markets feel so much more enticing when they are all a-bustle with lots of revellers.  The twinkly lights and the beautiful decorations certainly made everything seem all the more Christmassy, even in November, and I loved sauntering along in the growing dark, camera out, enjoying the illuminated flashes of sparkle and the pretty displays glowing in the night.
Looking back, I do think I should have sampled more of the food on offer.  There was a huge range, from the traditional German hotdogs to the gluhwein stands wafting the delectable scent of mulled spices in the air.  We passed vendors of waffles, pancakes, crepes, chocolate, marshmallows, macaroons, pizza, cheese… you name it.  We did make a pit-stop for hot chocolate which was devine: thick and creamy, I opted for a shot of amaretto in mine to make it extra warming and delicious, and then also forked out for a flake as it seemed appropriate.  It was absolutely delicious.
It’s a wonderful feeling, standing amidst happy crowds, hands cupped around a warm mug, Christmas tree towering over head: I felt as though I could simply inhale the festive spirit.  It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Eventually our feet gave in and we went for a round of drinks before spending the rest of the evening nestled into the warmth of a restaurant booth with good food, even better company and a whole lot of life chat to catch up on.  What could be better?
Kisses xxx
P.S. This post is one of my December series inspired by Shimelle’s scrapbooking class Journal Your Christmas.  My aim is to blog every day throughout the month to document all the little moments that make the most wonderful time of the year.  Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

1st December: Journal Your Christmas

I LOVE Christmas.  To my mind, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.  I pretty much enjoy everything about it: the twinkles, the cold sharpness of air that may bring snow, the cosy films, gallons of tea drunk in thick, warm socks, the food, the music, and best of all the festivity of times spent with friends and family.  Today I'd like to share my Christmas manifesto.

And a few of my Christmas photos from years past!

Each year, to help document the season, I take part in Shimelle's class Journal Your Christmas.  This is a scrapbooking class designed to guide participants in their reflections on all things Christmas.  This might be accompanied by some crafting action, but mainly is about journaling; jotting down little notes and memories that help capture the spirit of the season.

For the last couple of years, I have taken part in Journal Your Christmas in a blog format, and so this year I will be doing the same, as it really works for me!  I am going to aim to take my camera pretty much everywhere to document the little moments as they happen.  And I am going to try and blog every day during December.  This really motivates me to sort and edit my photos promptly, and to write my stories while the details are still sharp in my mind.

I don't scrapbook daily simply because it doesn't work for me.  I like to make 12x12 pages rather than minibooks, and there are days when there just isn't the time to craft amid work and friends and life and all the things that are happening!  However, I know I can always make a few minutes to blog, and that's something I can keep up with, without it turning into a chore or an obligation.  I actively enjoy it!

However, this doesn't mean I won't scrapbook at all.  On the contrary, recording my Christmas memories in blog form means I have photos and journaling all ready to go for when I do have a cosy evening in with a cuppa, some chocolate and piles of pretty paper. I also have lots of lovely moments recorded on my blog from previous years, so in November I ordered a whole batch of pictures from 2015 to be printed so that I can scrapbook them when I'm feeling Christmassy. Which is basically all the time once we hit November.

So how will I be making the most of this Christmas? There are lots of lovely plans in the works.  I have Secret Christmas Weekend all planned for the Man, the Annual Christmas Shindig organised with friends, plans to visit the Christmas markets in Manchester and of course the numerous ones in London, delicious recipes to bake, scrapbooking projects to share, and even a last minute weekend in Cologne. Not to mention all the lovely traditions of decorations, the tree, Christmas films, carols and the big day itself.  It's going to be a good year, and I'm looking forward to living it, and documenting it.

This is quite simply my Christmas manifesto: to embrace every experience and to record the important moments.

Whatever your thoughts on Christmas, make sure you take time to enjoy it, to plan little treats for yourself and those around you, to reflect on the lovely things in life and what they mean to you, whether you're a scrapbooker, whether you do Journal Your Christmas, December Daily, or none of the above! However you celebrate the season, I hope you have a wonderful month and wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Kisses xxx

P.S. I know Christmas is coming as soon as the conversation in my classroom at school turns to the John Lewis advert and which other stores have done a better or worse job. Before you know it you've got a classroom of students blinking back tears at a YouTube compilation of heartstring-tugging Christmas moments because it's all just so beautiful really isn't it, Miss?