Easy Table Decorations

Last weekend I hosted a wonderful dinner party at my home – the most people we’ve sat down to eat in our house!  I had an absolutely wonderful evening, and I hope my guests did too!  I wanted to share an easy way to brighten up your table in the winter using some greenery from your garden!  When I made these I wasn’t thinking about blogging so I forgot to take quite so many photos as normal!

You’ll need:

  • A vase – decide this first so you know how much green stuff to cut
  • Scissors or garden secateurs
  • Stones or pebbles – this is optional
  • String or ribbon – this is also optional

Once you’ve decided on your vase, decided if you want to put any stones or pebbles in the bottom, if so, go ahead and do that.  Don’t make the same mistake I did – wash them first, saves faff later on!  Add some water to your vase, obviously don’t fill all the way up to the top!

Then head out into your garden with your scissors or secateurs and find some nice bits of greenery.  I chose a small bit of holly, some rosemary (smells delightful!) and a small amount of another green plant that I can’t remember its name!  Anything that currently looks good will do!  Don’t chop your whole plant down otherwise you won’t keep your garden looking green!  If you want to use holly, remember its spiky (my second mistake).

Take your greenery back inside and wash each piece to get rid of any bugs.  Arrange the stems in your vase till you’re satisfied with how it looks.  Cut away leaves that will be in the water as necessary – much like flower arranging!

You can optionally use some string to weave or plait a decorative ribbon to tie around the vase, or just tie a ribbon!

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If you’ve got any left over bits, or maybe you’ve got a nice pine-cone like I had, then just arrange some bits in a jam jar and put the lid on – no water required!  Sure it’ll die off quicker, but it saved me some waste!

I hope you enjoyed this post, have a good weekend and I’ll see you next week!

Spiced Salt Dough Decorations

I was originally going to do a post showing you some wonderful origami shapes you can do to make paper napkins look decorate at the Christmas dinner table, but then I realised I was still a Christmas present short for my grandparents!  At this point I searched Pinterest and discovered some wonderful recipes for cinnamon and apple dough ornaments that would make lovely presents.  I picked up the laptop, put on the Christmas music and prepared to start making some ornaments…

At this point I realised that I just didn’t have enough cinnamon for most of these recipes.  I didn’t want to do a plain simple salt dough…so I decided to get creative!  I present to you my mixed spice salt dough ornaments!

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I’m using cups as my measurement today because my bread maker came with some wonderful cups that measure only in cups…and they are convenient measurements…so cups it is!  You can convert this into whatever quantities you want!

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup mixed spice (or selection of spices of your choice that adds up to 1/2 a cup)
  • approx 3/4 – 1 cup warm water (for some reason it binds better when its warm!)

Optional extras:

  • Cookie/pastry cutters
  • Rolling pin
  • Straw
  • Evergreen leaves (I used some leylandi – they come in useful once in a blue moon!)

Step 1 – Make the dough

Mix the flour, salt and mixed spice together in a bowl.  Add the water slowly, mixing with a spoon or your hands.  You want to stop when the dough binds together and you can use your hands to mould it into a smooth ball without getting loads on your fingers.  If its too wet, add a little more flour and knead it in well.  If its too dry add a tiny amount of warm water.  I forgot about taking any photos until I reached the point of having it in a convenient ball (after making several ornaments as well!).

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Step 2 – Roll it out and make your ornaments!

Roll it out on a surface!  If its the right consistency you shouldn’t need to flour your work surface, but if it does stick, just knead a little more flour in to the dough.

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If you want to be fancy and decorate them with an imprint of an evergreen leaf, then lay your leaf onto the top the dough and use your rolling pin to squidge it in.  If not, just use your cookie cutters and cut some simple shapes out.

Then carefully peel it up and admire your lovely imprint!  Use your cookie cutter to cut out an ornament making sure you get the nicest parts of the imprint.

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To make the hole, I find a drinking straw works really well!  (But you might have to squidge some dough out of it every few holes you make!)

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The dough is happy with being kneaded back up into a ball several times, but like the rules of biscuit baking, try not to handle the dough too much, you don’t want it to dry out and go all crumbly on you!

Step 3 – Drying them out

There are a variety of ways you can dry them.  The simplest is to air dry them.  Downside?  This can take days!  The method I’m using today is putting them in my herb drier (which is basically just a dehydrator) because I want them to be done quickly so I can seal them.  Traditionally you oven bake salt dough on a really low temperature and try hard not to burn them!  I’ve also seen online somewhere (I forget now) of a recipe that allows you to microwave them too!  But personally I’d recommend air-drying to be sure they won’t break.

After about 5 hours in the herb drier they were nice and hard.  I’ll also be leaving them overnight before attempting to decorate them, just to be sure!  They do go lighter in colour when they dry – they also look a lot like biscuits but please don’t try to eat them, I promise they’ll taste disgusting…unless you like large amounts of salt.

Important things to remember if you’re oven drying – don’t have the oven too hot and don’t use self-raising flour.  If you do, then the mixture will bubble and you’ll have some odd looking ornaments!  I haven’t tested this recently with photos to prove this, but I remember it happening when I was a child.

Step 4 – Decorating them

So that these hopefully last many years I like to cover them in a good layer of PVA glue (the clear drying variety!).  You don’t have to do this, but it does make them nice and shiny!  If you want to paint them, then do it before you add the glue, but make sure they are properly dried first!  You can cover it with glue after you’ve painted them to make them nice and shiny too.

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I don’t have any pictures of them all finished up yet because they’re still drying, but I promise to update this post with some pictures when I have them!

Finally, thread some ribbon, string or thread through the hole and hang up your ornaments, or wrap them up and give them as gifts and enjoy them!  I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.  I’ll be taking a week off from this blog next week to recharge my batteries and spend some quality time with both sets of family so I’ll see you in a couple of weeks!

Christmas Papercrafts

It’s been busy round here with Christmas preparations so I thought I would give you a couple quick and easy papercrafts to decorate your home that’s suitable for children to do too!  We’re going to be making paper garlands and paper snowflakes today!

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You’ll need:

  • Paper (I’ve just used coloured A4)
  • Scissors
  • (Optional) Sellotape – depends how long you want your garlands to be!
  • (Optional) pencil to draw out design first

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Garlands

I used to love making these when I was little – I hope you enjoy making them too!

Step 1: Choose your colour and fold your A4 sheet in half lengthways and then open it out and cut along the fold so you have two strips.

Step 2: If you want to make a long chain, then I suggest cutting as many strips of paper as make it long enough for your purposes and sellotaping them together (securely!).  As mine are intended for my mouse to play with, I won’t be using making them very long!

Step 3: Fold the strip of paper in half.  Keep folding the paper in half until it is the size you want.  I only folded mine three times and its size after folding is about 3.5cm by 10.5cm.

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Step 4: Draw out your design if you’d like to.  Remember that you have to have a join on the folds otherwise your chain will just fall apart (and that would be sad!).  I’ve only drawn half the design on most of them (and only a quarter of a snowflake!) because I’d like it to be approximately symmetrical!

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Step 5: Now its time to cut out your designs!  (As you can see I didn’t cut out the middle holes on the snowflake as it was going to be too tricky!)

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Step 6: Now unfold them and see what you created!

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I thought this snowflake needed something extra, so I folded it back up again and did an extra cut:

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Snowflakes

I’m sure everyone spent some time as children making paper snowflakes – if you didn’t, then now is a perfect time to have a go!

You’ll want to start with a square of paper and then fold in half diagonally three times to make a triangle.  Then just slits in sides.  Make sure you don’t totally cut off a side otherwise it’ll always full apart!

Here are some examples of the cut triangle and what it turned into:

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and have made some nice things to decorate your home (or maybe your pets home – my mouse will be seeing some of these!)

Christmas Craft Tutorial: Beaded Baubles

If you ask anyone what they picture on a Christmas Tree, aside from the tinsel and the star, I reckon the most common answer is baubles!  I had a couple of plain baubles on my tree this year so I decided to make some beaded decorations for them – and I’ve written a tutorial so you can have a go too!  You make them off the bauble and then just slip it over the top when its all done – and you can try it on the bauble as you go to get the fit right.

Beaded Bauble Covers

I’m going to write it out in full, but if you know what you’re doing, or get the hang of it and don’t want lots of pictures then I’ve put the basic pattern at the bottom.

You’ll need:

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  • Some beads
    • I used some seed beads that I had lying around the house – I recommend seed beads for the netted bit on the bauble, but you can use others to dangle off it or to embellish the netting bit if you like
    • I used 3 colours for the netting part – I’ll call them A (cream), B (dark purple), C (pink) – there are four on my picture because I hadn’t decided on my colours at that point!
  • A needle that’ll go through your beads when threaded (bonus points if you have a beading needle!)
  • Some thread – I used some strong sewing thread
  • Some scissors
  • The bauble you want to decorate

Optionally you may want a tray to lay your beads on and a second tray to work on (in case like me you have a habit of dropping the beads)!

Step 1 – Cut a long bit of thread (preferably a 1m or a little longer) and thread the needle.  Then thread 3 beads in colour A then 1 bead of colour B onto the thread.  Repeat this 6 times so that you end up with 6 beads of colour B on the thread.  Don’t tie a knot at the end, and be careful not to push all your beads off the end!  At this point, grab your bauble and check that when you make a circle with the beads it fits round the top of the bauble.  If its too small, then add another 4 beads and check again (keep adding until it fits).  If its too big then take 4 beads off.  Its important you keep the basic pattern of 4 beads – 3 of A and 1 of B.

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Step 2 – Tie the beads into a circle – leave a long enough tail to be able to weave in at the very end (about 10-15cm is a good amount).  Make sure you use a sturdy knot – you don’t want it falling apart!

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Step 3 – Your working thread should be between a bead of colour A and a bead of colour B.  Thread the needle through the B bead, the next 3 A beads and another B bead – this gets it in the right place to start the netting!

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Step 4 – Thread 3 beads of colour B, 1 bead of colour C and 3 beads of colour B onto the thread.  Push them down close to the circle.

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Step 5 – Take your needle through the next B bead on the circle and pull tight enough that you don’t have any loose beads.

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Step 6 – Repeat from step 3 until you have gone through all the B beads on the circle!

Step 7 – To end this round, thread the beads as in step 3, but as there are no B beads left, we go through the first one again, up through the next 3 B beads and the C bead.  This gets us in position for the next round!

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Step 8 – This works in exactly the same way as the previous row – thread the beads, then take the needle through the C bead on the row before.  The pattern this time is: 4 C beads, 1 A bead, 4 C beads.

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Step 9 – Continue this all the way round and to finish this round, take the needle through the first C bead, up through the next 4 C beads and the A bead.  This gets you in position for the next round!

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Step 10 – Do the next row in the same way, the pattern is 6 A beads, 1 B bead, 6 A beads.

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Step 11 – Again, once you’re all the way round, go through the first A bead and the next 6 and the next B bead.

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Step 12 – The next row’s pattern is 7 B beads, 1 C bead, 7 B beads.

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Step 13 – Hopefully you’ve worked out how ending the row works now!

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Step 14 – Just one more row of netting to go.  This time we’re just going to do 15 C beads in this round.

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Step 15 – To finish this round and prepare for creating the dangles, take the needle through the starting C bead, and then the next 8 C beads.

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Step 16 – To create the dangles, I threaded the beads you can see in the photos onto my thread.  You can do whatever beads or embellishments you like here!  It helps if the bottom bead is very smooth so the thread can flow over it easily (unlike my ones!).

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Step 17 – Take the needle back up through all the beads except the one at the very bottom.

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Step 18 – Take the needle through 8 C beads and pull tight to create the first dangle.

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Step 19 – Thread the needle through the next 8 C beads and making the dangles until you are all the way round.

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When you finish OR when you run out of thread – I ran out of thread as I was ending the final round (at Step 14).  To finish off, thread it through several rows like the pictures show, and then tie a knot, but don’t cut the tail, we still need it!  If you already have a tail then go ahead and thread through up to there and tie off with that one.

To join a new piece of thread – Get a new piece of thread and tie it on using the tail you’ve just left!  Then thread it up through the rows of beads as in pictures below until you’re where you need to be to continue where you left off!

To finish – Thread all the ends through a few beads as the length allows and trim the ends.

It should look something like this:

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Then put it on your bauble:

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And hang it on your tree!

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The Basic Netting Pattern:

Starting row: (3 A beads, 1 B bead) x 6.  Tie into circle
Row 2: (3 B beads, 1 C bead, 3 B beads) x 6
Row 3: (4 C beads, 1 A bead, 4 C beads) x 6
Row 4: (6 A beads, 1 B bead, 6 A beads) x 6
Row 5: (7 B beads, 1 C bead, 7 B beads) x6
Row 6: (15 C beads) x 6

Variations:

You can do all sorts of colour variations and varieties of dangles.  Here is just one variation on the dangle that I quite liked:

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I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.  Give me a comment if anything is unclear and I’ll try my best to help you.  Do share your projects with me if you make them too!

Tutorial: Woven Willow Bird Feeders

Continue reading “Tutorial: Woven Willow Bird Feeders”

Soapy Experiments

Hello everyone!

Sorry for a quiet month on the blogging side of things, life has been ever hectic and the garden and nature has taken over my life for a few weeks!  However, recently I discovered the fun of making soaps and bubble bath!  This isn’t actually as hard as it sounds if you start with a base.  The soaps I actually made as presents for my mum’s and grandma-in-law’s birthdays, but I made enough so I could keep a sample of each!  Today I’m just going to focus on the soaps and leave the bubble bath for more experiments and a later blog.

The Joy Of Handmade Soaps

One thing I learnt in this process is that commercially available soaps from the supermarket don’t always melt.  It made a rather sticky gooey mess so I don’t recommend trying it.

When I got it right, I started with a shea butter and oatmeal base that I got from Hobbycraft (you can find it here).  This was really easy to use.  I simply melted the right amount of soap, added the fragrances and any prettiness, poured it into a mould (small, clean margarine tub!) and let it solidify.  I made five ‘flavours’.  I should say that I’ve no idea if using some of the fragrances, colours and herbs were recommended, but it seems to have worked just fine for me!

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Shortly after making.  Clockwise from top right: 1. Lavender and Rosemary; 2: Tangerine; 3. Chocolate; 4: Rose; 5. Mint

Flavour 1: Rose (a.k.a. Turkish Delight)

I used Rose Water (the stuff in turkish delight!) for fragrance and dried rose petals (also brought from Hobbycraft) to make it look pretty.  I also added a small large amount of pink food colouring.  I like how this turned out, although I haven’t used this yet and it smells more like turkish delight than pure rose!  Sadly the pink has faded to an odd brown but still smells beautiful!

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I love the patterns from the Rose Petals, but its a shame it lost its stunning pink colour!

Flavour 2: Lavender and Rosemary

A relaxing soap!  For this I used lavender essential oil and freshly cut rosemary leaves.  I cut the leaves up a little bit to help release the scent better.  The rosemary leaves also look quite pretty.  For colour I added the tiniest amount of blue food colouring to get a lavender-like colour!  I just love the smell of this one, haven’t used it yet, but it does smell good!

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I love the very uneven distribution of rosemary leaves!

Flavour 3: Tangerine

I was originally only going to do three flavours, but I had extra soap base, so thought I’d do five instead.  This was one of the extra ones.  This one was very simple, I just used some tangerine essential oil for the fragrance and some yellow food colouring for the colour.  This one seems nice enough, I wouldn’t say its my favourite, I think the food colouring had a slight smell which seems slightly odd, but its something I would definitely experiment more with.

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The plainest looking soap!  (The little dots you can see is the oatmeal from the soap base).

Flavour 4: Mint

Now I’m a huge fan of mint so it was natural I’d try a mint soap!  This was also one of my extra flavours because I thought mum and grandma might like the others better!  For this I used peppermint essence (yep, the food flavouring!) and some freshly cut mint leaves.  Mmmmm, it smells good!  I also added some blue and yellow food colouring in an attempt to make green…it ended up green after cooling, but it definitely didn’t look green in the saucepan!  This soap I have started using and I’m very much in love with it!  It not only smells and looks good, but my skin is loving it compared to my normal shower gel!

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A part used bar of mint soap.  It’s actually a bit greener than my camera would have you think!

Flavour 5: Chocolate

Last, but definitely not least, we have the chocolate soap!  This was created especially with my mum in mind.  It uses cocoa powder and chocolate extract for both the smell and colouring.  It smells just like an extra chocolately cake that’s just finished baking!  I did warn my mum not to try and eat it because the soap base probably isn’t edible!

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Personally, I think this is the best soap I made today, it looks and smells wonderful.  Can’t wait to try it!

Overall I had a thoroughly good time playing at being a chemist making soaps and its so easy using this method!  I would like to try the whole process at some point, but for now I’m going to shower with the joy of using my handmade soaps!  You’ve probably guessed I love handmade anything by now, even my mouse enjoys his homemade toys!  (Oh wait, you’d like a cute mouse picture?  Really?  But its so off topic?  Oh, ok, if you insist, here’s my little darling!)

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Mouse Toys – The Second Installment

A better title for this post would probably be “How To Spoil Your Pet Mouse.”  But there we go, Colin is a well-loved little mouse.  Here’s today’s bonus mouse photo!

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As well as the snuggle pouch and fake friend I made for Colin, I’ve been spoiling him with some more handmade toys.  The selection I’m going to show you today have all been made primary from lolly sticks stuck together with PVA glue.  This has been an interesting experience, and I thank my mum for the years of giving me experience in junk modelling and crafts – it’s coming in handy to spoil Colin with lots of toys!

They’re intended for him to climb and chew on as none of the materials are toxic to mice.  In some instances a large amount of bulldog clips were used to hold the sticks together while they dried.  I’ve also learnt the best ways to make climbable platforms and ladders and that the best way to make lolly sticks stay together is to use the largest surface of stick possible – and hope the sticks are flat (and not slightly bent like some of mine are – hence the bulldog clips!)

This first one is a house with a ladder – the upstairs is a great place to hide treats!

Next is a small platform and ladder designed for putting food bowls on:

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Another platform, this time without a ladder (I’ll place it near something he can use to climb up) and a little shorter for putting a saucer wheel on:

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And finally, a seesaw!  He hasn’t played with this one yet, so I’m not sure what he’ll think of it!

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DIY Waterproof Camera Case

So, for those of you who don’t know, I’m going to be one of the bloggers for The Wildlife Trusts’ Campaign – 30 Days Wild (you should all sign up), have a look at my photography blog if you’re interested!  As a result, I’m getting into practise and helping to give people some ideas of what they can do!  Yesterday it was raining here in Cambridgeshire.  So, in the aid of being wild, I decided to make a waterproof camera cover for my camera!

Here’s a picture of my camera, its a Sony HX-300 in case you’re wondering.

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Materials Used:

  • 1 cylindrical squash bottle (1 litre size worked well for my camera!)
  • Some ziplock bags (I used 4 of the small snack size ones…I didn’t have any bigger ones, enough to cover the camera when opened out!)
  • Sellotape
  • Scissors

How I did it:

  1. Carefully cut the top and bottom off the squash bottle.  Be careful of the sharp edges at this point.  Cut it to be a bit bigger than the lens of the camera when fully extended to try and keep some of the rain off.
  2. Cover the sharp edges with a couple of layers of sellotape to avoid cutting yourself or scratching your camera.
  3. Get some ziplock bags, cut the closing part off and open up the sides so you have a sheet of plastic.  Stick enough of these together in such a way as to cover the sides, top, bottom and back of your camera.
  4. Put the squash bottle lens protector over the lens.  Put the plastic bag part around your camera, stick the plastic to the squash bottle to join it together.
  5. I left the other side open to allow me to take it on and off my camera easily.  Due to the way I can hold my camera, it is easy to just draw the extra material together and cover the camera when I hold it to take photos.
  6. Cut holds for the straps if you would like.

Some photos!

Creating with Clay

Every so often I like to make something in a different way to how I would normally.

Over the last few years, I’ve always wanted an advent ring, one like this which you can buy on Etsy here:

Advent Wreath by Florasense on Etsy.

I decided that I would probably be able to make a nice simple one out of a block of air-drying clay.  It’ll be nowhere near as beautiful as this one, but it would be functional!  I also wanted one with 5 candles instead of just 4.

So I got a block of white clay from Hobbycraft and a set of 4 red dinner candles and 1 gold dinner candle from Tesco.  I plan to use the four red candles around the outside and one gold dinner candle in the centre.  In Christianity, these candles help the Christian undergo the spiritual preparation for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

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The basic wreath

Before I go any further, I just want to say that I am not a theologian, nor am I in any way an expect in these matters, I am telling you what I was taught in Sunday School many years ago and what my current exploration into this also tells me.  This something that I was brought up with as a child in school and Sunday school, despite not really understanding it at the time.  I understand it much better now.

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With some candles!

The first red candle you light, on the first Sunday of Advent, is the Candle of Hope.  The second red candle, on the second Sunday of Advent, is the Candle of Love.  The third red candle, on the third Sunday of Advent, is the Candle of Joy.  The fourth red candle, on the final Sunday of Advent, is the Candle of Peace.  Finally, on Christmas Day, you light the gold candle in the centre, this is the Christ Candle.  Traditionally, this candle is white to signify the purity of Jesus.

There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you understand this better, but I’m going to leave it there for now.

For now, my clay is still damp and drying, so I’ve left the candles in their plastic wrappers so they don’t get covered in clay.  I intend to simply protect it with a coating of PVA glue (as my Mum taught me to do with clay when I was little!).  I’ll put a few more photos up when its completely dry so you can see!

Its not perfect because I don’t have much experience in working with clay, but I’m perfectly happy with it.