Crafty ways to cre­ate gifts with char­ac­ter

Mak­ing your own presents and dec­o­ra­tions is a joy if you keep things re­ally sim­ple, finds Maria Fitz­patrick

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

With the warm win­ter sun stream­ing in the win­dows, the scene in Joanna Gosling’s west Lon­don kitchen couldn’t be more English: a cu­ri­ous cat and a skit­tish spaniel, bun­dles of ivy just cut from the gar­den, dis­carded wellies, steam­ing mugs of tea and a plate of choco­late fin­gers. But it’s Ja­panese that’s on the agenda – or more specif­i­cally a Ja­panese word, mot­tainai. “It roughly trans­lates as ‘It’s a shame for some­thing to go to waste with­out its full po­ten­tial be­ing re­alised’,” she ex­plains. “It’s bril­liant that one term can say so much more than just ‘up­cy­cling’, which is the clos­est we’ve got in our lan­guage.” It’s un­sur­pris­ing that Joanna, the BBC news broad­cast jour­nal­ist and an ac­com­plished lin­guist, has in­ves­ti­gated the most in­ter­est­ing words to ex­press her new project – a book of ideas for mak­ing any­thing from gifts to dec­o­ra­tions to house­hold fur­ni­ture at home. What’s more sur­pris­ing is that she man­ages to find the time. As any work­ing mother of three young chil­dren will tes­tify – she and her hus­band, Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, have three daugh­ters, Maya, 11, Iona, nine, and Honor, five – the last-minute up-’til-1am school play cos­tumes can be de­mand­ing enough. “Yeah, I’ve had my mo­ments. Honor was de­ter­mined that she wanted to be an evil ‘Pur­ple min­ion’ from the film De­spi­ca­ble Me for Hal­lowe’en,” she smiles, half rolling her eyes at the mem­ory. “Fool­ishly, I broke out of my pat­tern of do­ing cos­tumes that hinge on a skirt and some sort of cloak – and if it doesn’t in­volve a cloak, get them to re­think who they want to be – and made her the lit­tle black dun­ga­rees and painted her face pur­ple. She was so ex­cited the night be­fore, but when she saw her face, she said ‘I hate it’. She wanted to be evil, but pretty.” But when it comes to mak­ing dec­o­ra­tive photo boxes or shelves or turn­ing an old po­tato crate into a beau­ti­ful break­fast tray, peo­ple are al­ways ask­ing Joanna how she has the en­thu­si­asm left when all the must-dos are done. “It’s weird, even though I’m prob­a­bly busier than ever, I prob­a­bly make more things than I ever have done,” she says. “Life seems to be so much more stress­ful than it used to be, and ev­ery­one needs a way to de­com­press, like walk­ing the dog or do­ing yoga or danc­ing. It re­ally clears my head. It’s not just nice, it’s nec­es­sary.” It’s a ther­apy that other busy work­ing peo­ple in the pub­lic eye un­der­stand. “When I first started writ­ing about craft, Kirsty Wark [the pre­sen­ter of News­night] got in touch to say ‘I’m so glad some­one’s talk­ing about it’. She’s a big knit­ter. And then there’s the ac­tor Ryan Gosling, he knits too – my fel­low Gosling!” she laughs. Roller-paint an old wine crate and stamp a mes­sage or a name on the side, put a fab­ric of­f­cut in the base and fill it with a se­lec­tion of ham­per in­gre­di­ents. Dress-up shop-bought sweets, colour­ful pen­cils, just about any­thing by putting them in a jam jar and cov­er­ing the lid with colour­ful fab­ric. Tie a bright rib­bon round the lid, and print a la­bel with a per­sonal mes­sage for the side. Even if you’re tak­ing a bot­tle to a party, wrap it in a bit of colour­ful fab­ric and tie it with a rib­bon and a home­made swing tag. Joanna’s pas­sion for mak­ing came from a “prac­ti­cal im­pulse to find so­lu­tions to things”, rather than a de­sire to make ev­ery­thing look “pret­ti­fied”. It goes a long way to ex­plain why, de­spite her stylish eye and ob­vi­ous tal­ent, her ideas are in­spir­ing and achiev­able, not in­tim­i­dat­ing. She taught her­self to use a sew­ing ma­chine and to knit, and in­sists that her de­signs are “no skill re­quired”. “I had al­ways made lit­tle bits and pieces, since home eco­nom­ics at school, and I made stock­ings for us be­fore the chil­dren were born. But when we moved here the house needed quite a lot of work, so I sort of ex­panded on that, and started to com­bine a bit of DIY with craft and it all went from there. I started to ask the ques­tion, ‘What could I use that for?’ more of­ten, and I got hooked.” Her house is tes­ta­ment to flashes of in­spi­ra­tion, such as when an old wooden pal­let be­came the per­fect liv­ing room cof­fee ta­ble, or the grey lace and clay can­dle­hold­ers that she’s mak­ing this morn­ing. She’s de­lighted that craft is “com­ing back”. “It’s weird, I haven’t been able to fathom what took so long, be­cause it’s been so mas­sive in the States for ages. But things seem to have turned a cor­ner here, partly be­cause of the aus­ter­ity that peo­ple are feel­ing, and also be­cause of groups like the WI: peo­ple are re­ally sur­prised that it’s not what they ex­pect it to be. This coun­try is full of re­ally in­spir­ing crafters bring­ing it alive in their com­mu­ni­ties in a very mod­ern way. “You will al­ways have some peo­ple who’ll be a bit sniffy about craft­ing and knit­ting, but I just feel that it gives you a break away from work­ing that al­lows you to be cre­ative,” she ex­plains. “The feel­ing of ‘I made that’ is re­ally healthy for kids, and if they’ve been in­volved in mak­ing some­thing, like an ad­vent cal­en­dar or dec­o­ra­tions, they’re much more emo­tion­ally at­tached to the tra­di­tion when it’s taken out and hung up each year. It’s like a com­fort blan­ket. You pass on a mem­ory, a tra­di­tion, and hope­fully the idea of us­ing your imag­i­na­tion rather than just buy­ing some­thing.” This year, the girls, who have started sew­ing and of­ten present Joanna with safety-pin bracelets and hand­made key rings, are all in­volved. They have been for­ag­ing, so there will be gifts of pots of jam as well as “can­dles for ev­ery­one, lit­tle skirts and trousers for the kids, lots of knit­ted bits and bobs, and sim­ple lit­tle cloth gift bags”. The only way it can work, though, is if you keep things re­ally sim­ple, Joanna says. “Home-made isn’t about per­fec­tion, it’s about char­ac­ter,” she says. “I worry that I’m al­ways bang­ing on about keep­ing things sim­ple, but none of us has time to sit craft­ing some­thing per­fectly. I try to work out the quick­est and sim­plest way to achieve it, avoid­ing as many steps as I can. If I thought about the palaver of tack­ing the edges of some­thing be­fore sew­ing it, I’d prob­a­bly never bother. In­stead, I tear fab­ric to roughly the right size. We have to get com­fort­able with im­per­fect edges.” She loves the Ja­panese Have all your craft things in one place – even if it’s just a drawer with all your sup­plies – so that when you get the urge to make some­thing, ev­ery­thing is al­ready to hand. My es­sen­tials are: cookie cut­ter, spray mount, a craft knife, air-dry clay, paint roller, fab­ric of­f­cuts, dou­ble-sided tape, a Dyno la­bel maker, craft scis­sors, stamps, elec­tric drill and a screw­driver. Start col­lect­ing things that have been used once, glass jars, bot­tles, wooden boxes, and get into the habit of think­ing, “What can I use that for?” When you see odd bits of fab­ric, but­tons, rib­bons or tools that you like in mar­kets and craft shops or fairs, buy them then, even if you don’t have a spe­cific project in mind. Then you have a trove of ma­te­ri­als to dip into when the mood strikes, and your project is less likely to in­volve a shop­ping trip. Don’t stress about do­ing things “prop­erly” – it should be plea­sur­able. art of “furoshiki”, which essen­tially means us­ing at­trac­tive cloth to wrap gifts, knot­ting it rather than us­ing any tape. The ef­fect is sim­ple, im­pre­cise, and beau­ti­ful (see be­low left). “We all throw away too much, but if you take time over some­thing, how­ever im­per­fect, it tends to en­dure,” she says. “I hon­estly be­lieve that you can make things so much nicer than what you can buy – peo­ple are re­ally moved by the ef­fort you’ve gone to, es­pe­cially be­cause time is in short sup­ply for all of us. The by-prod­uct is that mak­ing some­thing from scratch tends to make you eval­u­ate need ver­sus want, and I think that’s re­ally pos­i­tive.” Above all, with the rush and pres­sure that seems in­evitable at this time of year, mak­ing things “sets aside time to just breathe, and be”. When the al­ter­na­tive is queu­ing in stuffy, packed depart­ment stores and hear­ing All I Want for Christ­mas is You 50 times in one af­ter­noon… well, it’s ac­tu­ally a present for your­self, too. ‘Home Made Sim­ple’ by Joanna Gosling, with photography by Rachel Whit­ing Kyle Books, £19.99)

Ma­te­rial girl: Joanna Gosling says cre­at­ing gifts at home can be sim­ple, stress-free and fun

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