• Cora

Handmade Christmas gifts 2019

Updated: Jan 13

My run-up to Christmas this year has been very different from last year. As a student I had a lot more time to make presents even with my assessment hand-ins, whereas since finishing my master's in September I have been juggling five part-time jobs which has left me with a loaded schedule and barely any time to sew, let alone do normal things like go food shopping and clean. This year I started sewing presents at the beginning of December, and having only two full days off before Christmas I had my work cut out. I still wanted to make them, because it's so much more enjoyable than going shopping and because I wouldn't be able to afford buying what I was making from local artists, and I'm refusing to contribute to fast fashion. I love that handmade gifts are more about the thought and time given to creating something rather than just the finished product. I was making presents right up to the night before I left, but I did have the main ones out the way early on, and I enjoyed every moment of it. I didn't sew anything for myself in November or December, but because of this "deadline" I was pushed to sew and did a lot of sewing when I probably wouldn't have otherwise -given my schedule.

For the garments, I deliberately chose simple patterns, and let myself have some freedom with the non-garment presents to keep it interesting. I also ended up giving two people "maker's vouchers" because I just didn't have time to make what I wanted to be able to give them; one- a garment of their choice, the other- oven gloves. And poor David, seeing me spend any spare moment sewing gifts, kindly agreed for his to slide down to last priority, so his linen Fairfield shirt remains resting in a pile for now (I did manage the time to cut it out).

I did actually make my first present at the end of October, a leftovers soup bowl cosy for my mum, but I had to wait several weeks to buy garment fabric as I didn't have the money. In hindsight, I should have started to make my non-garment presents throughout November as these were all made from different fabric I already had in my stash, but as it happened I made these last.

First fabric buys in a long time. Top down from Merchant and Mills: 185 Linen Boston Fall, 185 Linen Pine, Tencel Twill in Rose Dust, Indigo Twill

I have a small immediate family and very few friends I would actually make handmade gifts for which makes my task easier, but this year I narrowed the pool even more as I chose to make for four people only; David, my mum, brother and best friend.


Wiksten Shift

This year I decided to just communicate with my garment recipients so that I could make them something I knew they would really have a place for in their wardrobe, rather than blindly guessing and hoping they would wear it- a less stressful and more sustainable option! Having gone through some pattern ideas with her, my mum chose the Wikston Shift and the fabric she chose was Indigo Twill from Merchant and Mills, a reasonable (for M&M) £15 per metre, I ordered 1.5m and this was enough for a size 14 plus extra leftover for a drawstring bag! For ease, I stuck to one place to order fabric from.

The fabric is stiff and fairly heavy, but it softened up after a wash and I think it works really well for more of an Artist's Smock look.

I only changed the sleeve length- my mum wanted it to be a bit longer than a similar Seasalt top she owned at 44cm from shoulder seam to hem. Wiksten complicates this slightly with a dropped shoulder but I estimated that currently the sleeves would be 43cm so I added 3cm + 5cm for the hem. I also suggested some contrast topstitching and my mum chose this terracotta/brown. I decided to toptitch everywhere I could; pockets, hems, neck facing, shoulder seams and I think the effect is really cool.

Cropped Willow Tank

My best friend chose a Willow tank, unseasonal but a practical choice for her upcoming travels to Asia and South America. She chose the linen colour, Pine, which is so beautiful. For this project though I only needed one metre. I made her my version of Willow that I modified to fit me when I was going through my Willow spree in late summer (small bust adjustment and straightened the side seams so I could crop it). Luckily she and I are very similar in size so it should fit her well. I used bias binding that was in my stash, I had just enough of this oaty coloured linen-y one that matched the fabric really well- I was having no luck finding nice bias in my local haberdashery!

Soup bowl cosy

This is a Helen's closet tutorial. I bought some cotton batting that I used inside and the rest was leftovers from my Christmas makes last year. It’s a very quick and easy project and I’d definitely love to make myself one, although we don’t currently have a microwave- so that's on hold.

"Leftovers" presents

It was enjoyable pulling out lots of my smaller scraps of fabric, ironing them and picking out ones I wanted to use.

Lavender Bags

I saw these lovely looking lavender bags and thought they would be a nice extra to pop in present bags. Very easy with minimal costs. I bought the essential lavender oil for £5 as I was adding in rice to bulk out the lavender so wanted it to be strong-smelling enough. The lavender I already had- harvested from my family's lavender bushes in the summer.

I had a bit of a production line going; cutting lots of squares, sewing them, turning them inside out and finally filling them and hand-sewing closed. I chose leftover linen in two lavendar-esque greys and a beautiful check which is up there with my favourite fabrics. I made parcels of two rather than three and made four parcels in total.

I found the right weight per bag was 69 grams. Have a scales on side and it makes it so much easier to pop it on to make sure your bags are all fairly consistent.

Tied with some piping and fabric "string"


For my best friend I made my first handkerchief and mitred corners! I thought a linen 'chief would be a handy thing while travelling, either replacing tissues which take up a lot of space or being used as a flannel with water to keep cool. I even thought that in emergencies you could use it as a make-shift bag by placing objects in the middle and tying a tie around the top, so I used one from a bunch of leftover ties I found from a previous Kochi Jacket.

I first followed this tutorial for mitred corners, but didnt like the way the corner was left just as folds, it was very obvious in linen and looked unfinished. So I unpicked my topstitching and went back and quickly sewed the fold lines of the corners together.

I also machine embroidered her initials, another first

For my brother, I made a set of four linen napkins, the idea being they can be used for more special dinners and/or having friends around. Luckily I had just the right amount of this lovely black check linen, another old favourite, which has been made into a Kochi Jacket and Winslow Culottes. I made a quick tie out of linen scraps so they can be rolled up together, I'd really like some like this now!

I found a different tutorial this time by Colette which gave a second option for sewing the corners. For some reason my corners and folds weren't as neat, but I think that is the fabric as this linen is quite thin and fluid.

Quilted coasters

While searching for gifts that could be made from leftovers, I really like these embroidered quilted squares/ hot mats that could be used as a place mat, or to put objects like vases on. I took a photo of the example but I cannot find a trace of the blog post! If anyone knows please let me know so I can include it.

Meanwhile I have found some other tutorials that do a similar thing:

Purl Soho simple stitched hot mats.

Purl Soho reversible Sashiko placemats.

I thought that coasters would work well like this too, and used a tile as a template for size. I didn't have a plan but made it up as I went which was so enjoyable, and luckily worked out fine.

I started my first coaster by cutting strips and then decided to alternate colours, I chose rectangles just because they fit well with the fabric scrap shapes. I wanted the second of the pair to be different so opted for more random shapes.

It was so fun sewing them quickly together then pressing them and seeing the pattern forming.

After making these two patchwork squares, I cut two identical squares in my cotton batting and two squares in plain linen scraps for the back.

I pinned the patchwork piece and the cotton together and started to hand embroider. I didn't mark on the fabric but used pins as a rough guide, I chose a simple running stitch for one and cross stitch for the other.

Deciding on colours

The last step is to place your backing piece of linen right sides together on top of the patchwork piece & batting, with the batting therefore lying at the bottom of this sandwich. Sew around leaving a gap for turning and hand-sew closed.

Drawstring bags instead of wrapping paper

I had forgotten to buy some more brown paper this year to wrap presents. I didn’t have the time to go seek out some in a shop, so I thought it would be nice and more sustainable to make drawstring bags in which to put all the gifts, and which doubled as a present itself! I had enough leftover fabric from the Willow and Wiksten to make matching bags, and for my brother's I used leftovers I had in my stash. I was making these at the eleventh hour.

I followed my own drawstring bag tutorial that I wrote up (haha) for ease, and then for the Indigo Twill bag I made a gusset so that it had more of a base. I used this good tutorial by Purl Soho for that. I was put off my making a gusset with the linen bag because I wanted to french the seams, and I'm not sure if it's possible to do that with a gusset, or at least I didn't have time to think for that long about it and work it out. I didn't french my Indigo twill bag as it is far too thick a fabric, I zigzagged instead.

Found some lovely piping in my stash that I bought once thinking it was bias binding. Perfect for this project!

Luckily I also had enough trimmings in my stash and in the right colours to match my other bags.

The Indigo twill drawstring is my favourite. As it's a structured fabric it works really well with a wider base and the sides still stand up when the drawstring is undone. It would be a great knitter's project bag. Because the fabric is so much thicker, it's not possible to pull the drawstring all the way closed (see below). I therefore added a big snap fastener in the middle just below the drawstring channel so that it can be closed. This is really nice because you can then leave the drawstring undrawn and still close the bag. I just love this fabric, it would make a perfect Foreman.

Using leftover camel twill (from my Sapporo Coat) for my brother's drawstring bag

I made little care labels that I pinned onto the garments/objects letting people know what they were, the fabric content and how to wash and not to tumble dry. Given the little time I had this year I'm very pleased that it was a success and I got everything I wanted to done. I ideally wanted to make six rather than four napkins, and as per my perfectionist personality, I kept thinking of new little makes to add to people's collections. Despite my nature though, I was good at making sure I didn't tire myself out making presents and even though I wanted to, I kept reminding myself that I don't need to "do it all", and that what I had made already was enough.

I am looking forward to getting back to making something for myself, I started a York Apron in November which remains half done because I didn't have 7 metres of bias in my stash. I've just recently bought some so hoping this can resume soon. I have instead been doing a tiny bit of knitting over December, I managed a snood and a few more lines of my cardigan. But of course, I need to first make David's Fairfield, and my maker's vouchers!

Moss stitch snood in yarn from stash bought ages ago

Left side of cardigan started, you can begin to see the ribbing forming on the left edge as I work it in stocking stitch and then rib for the first/last 10 stitches.

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