Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas Message

A Merry Christmas to all readers of my blog. After just over one month I have 132 Twitter followers, 10 Facebook followers and get between 60 - 90 hits a day. Not bad at all! It makes me very happy to imagine that there are people out there who share my love of pressie hunting and I look forward to unearthing more treasure in the new year when I will finally be running my giveaway competition. Sort of a late Christmas present. I'm working hard on the idea. It's got to be good or else what's the point? 

I hope that you all have a wonderful time wherever you are going and whoever you are with and remember that, no matter what, that it IS the thought that counts.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 22

We're coming right down to it now with just three more shopping days until Christmas. Still time to finish off the stockings that wow. I found this Box of 6 Pencils £5.95 from Emma Bridgewater on lovely stationery site The Paperie and special delivery is still possible until Friday but, failing that,  is also is currently stocked at WHSmith shops. Pretty and practical with Emma Bridgewater's distinctive loveheart pattern, this gift box is a treat for girlies of all ages. 

On the 22nd Day of Christmas...

I bought this Gazillion Bubbles Machine £15.99 for my godson on his fourth birthday. He had all his mates in a village hall for a do and this made them go crazy. Honestly, I had no idea. The only downside was a very slippery floor but the nippers were all having too much fun to notice. I can't recommend this toy enough for hours of fun and it can be wheeled out time and time again. Available from Toy's R Us and other large toy stores. 

Stocking Fillers 21

Here is something that parents either love or hate. It's up to you but I know for a fact that kids absolutely love them. Bath Crayons £4.00 from Hawkins Bazaar is the perfect way to encourage creativity even whilst bathing (we should all be so lucky). I have given these before and received withering looks as a consequence so choose your audience. They do wash easily off all surfaces and have a clever retractable mechanism for storage between use. Hours of splashy fun! If you are too late for the post, find similar at The Early Learning Centre. 

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

On the 21st Day of Christmas...

I'm trying to find things that you can also find on the high street now since most of the Christmas postage deadlines are now either upon us or past. How about this Set of 4 Mini Dishes £16.80 by Sophie Conran for Portmeirion. My love affair with this range of crockery and glassware began four years ago when I chose it as my wedding china and I use every piece of it. My mother gave me these bowls last year to further the collection. They are so diddy measuring 3.5cm x 9cm and yet so versatile. I use them when cooking to house prepared ingredients. I have one by the range with rock salt and pepper in it for seasoning cooking. They've been out a parties with snacks in and used at dinner parties for condiments. Made in a style that makes them appear hand thrown they come packaged in Christmas green paper and Sophie Conran's distinctive mint green, spotty boxes, they are a lovely present. In fact, unlike a lot of crockery ranges, most of the items in the range stand by themselves as things of beauty.  I found them on County China & Glass the but range is also available at John Lewis and stockists countrywide. 

Stocking Fillers 20

Amazing and original and packaged in a lovely tin with a hand-drawn design printed on it. This witty range of Clothes Plasters (from £2.99) are embroidered patches designed by artist Jennie Maizels and require only a hot iron to affix individuality and flare to your children's clothes. They come in packs of one, two, five or ten (£9.99 the ones in the tin above) and there is a style to suit all. My favourite is the "Love" range mainly because I have a favourite jumper with a moth hole at the chest and I think one of these would prolong its life considerably. Gorgeous!  

On the 20th Day of Christmas...

Here's a nice surprise! I found this Mrs. Beeton Jelly Mould £15.00 in Tesco this afternoon. It's a very decent reproduction of the ceramic traditional Victorian types and comes really nicely packaged. Normally I get a bit fed up with all the big stores doing mass produced wash bags, manicure kits and novelty mug sets for the present desperate at Christmas-time so this was a really refreshing find. I never make jelly but I would love to put this on a shelf in my kitchen along with my collection of traditional stoneware kitchen crocks. I think it would look right at home. Perhaps you know someone similar.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 19

Practise makes perfect! It's perfect for whiling away the hours on a rainy Boxing Day and comes beautifully packaged. Ridley's Magic Rope Cutter £3.99 available at Ripe along with a number of other Instant Illusion toys. Magic!

On the 19th Day of Christmas...

It is astounding how quickly children grow up and once they are standing, it's fun to keep track of their progress. My dad used to mark the height of my brother and I on the doorway to the kitchen with a biro. They've just had a refit but those little scratchy marks and dates are still there - a little piece of family history. This Davy Dragon Height Chart £31.00 from Kid's Rooms is a beautifully conceived decoration for the nursery or playroom to help chart their progress. It is made from fabric, attaches like a hanging to the wall and has little fabric picture frames that mark the latest height of each child that you can put a photograph in. Perfect as a christmas, birthday or new baby gift that will last for years. 

Showcase: The Annual Merchant of Hoghton Festive Market

Yesterday, we visited Hoghton Tower, near Preston, for the annual Merchant of Hoghton Festive Market. I have had in my diary for ages so we were really looking forward to it. The event was very popular. We arrived at about 10.30am and joined the queue of be-wellied and wrapped up crowds all making their way by car and on foot up the hill towards the fortified manor house. 

This is what Lancashire life at Christmas is all about, particularly for us having only been resident in the county for a year or so. The air smelled of roasting meats and the landscape all around was dusted with the remains of last week's snow. Simply magical. 

We wove our way amongst the many stalls dotted along the path up to the house. I really liked the Ballard Designs stall which was overflowing with beautiful home furnishings made from warm and cosy woollens, linens and heavy cottons matched with leather and ribbon all set up on gorgeous fat hay bales. I definitely look forward to watching out for their website when it goes live.

Inside the barn, we found the beautifully-packaged and friendly Pleasington Catering stall and their range of hot dishes including Salmon & Smoked Haddock Crumble, Shepherd's Pie and Aubergine Parmesan; all freshly prepared for the day. Finally, we narrowed the choice down to the  Salmon and Smoked Haddock (which we had for supper last night by the way and it was delicious!)

We also picked up some great big loin chops of lamb for our Christmas dinner from Rossendale-based butchers J. & R. Holt (01706 212296) who are not currently online but who cover a many, many regional farmer's markets and will return to Hoghton Tower at the next Merchant market in the new year.  

Finally, we finished our trip off with a visit to Hoghton Tower's gift shop. Set out in a former stable complete with cheerfully painted stalls and is a treasure trove of really lovely gifts for the home, souvenirs and traditional wooden toys. This was where we finally found our daughter's Christmas present and a few more souvenirs for family and friends we will be visiting round the country in the next few weeks. 

It was a lovely day trip out for our family and a great opportunity to discover a little bit more about our new home. Sadly, the queue for a very popular Santa's grotto proved too much for our very grumpy baby but we figure we'll just have to get their earlier next year. The next Merchant of Hoghton Farmer's Market will take place on 15th January 2012 from 10am - 2pm and it costs £1.00 per car admission. We will no doubt be returning then. We highly recommend it.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 18

Only a week left until the big day. So exciting! I took my daughter to her first birthday party yesterday and to save a lot of aggro, we all drew names in a Secret Santa style arrangement so that each child got one present from another child. So simple. So sensible. I drew my friend's son Oscar and we chose two Rubber Ducks £5.00 each from John Lewis for him; the two blue ones at the top in fact because I love the little rubber ring they have 'boy' written all over them. Also a great stocking filler idea for some seriously stylish splashing. 

On the 18th Day of Christmas...

Only seven more sleeps until the big day now. How exciting! Here is another great man-gift solution though that is not to say that this wouldn't make a fantastic Christmas present for culinary enthusiasts of either gender. This Set of 5 Kitchen Knives & Block £49.00 from Oliver Bonas is a refreshing departure from the traditional wooden job lurking at the back of the counter top bringing 'cutting' edge, almost sculptural design to the fore. Or, alternatively, it just looks damn smart and the perspex block puts pay to that irritating game of hunt the right knife. Particularly when you've got a massive Christmas dinner to prepare. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 17

How cute? Why not stuff a stocking with this Blue & Red Rose Coathanger £4.20 from This Is Pretty. I met someone once who (quite vehemently) believed that padded hangers were the work of the devil and I could never understand why. Obviously some are nicer than others (pastel yellow, crocheted and smelling of mothballs are a no-no of course) but who could say that this child-size hanger isn't cute as a button and wouldn't look so smart with a pretty dress hanging from it in a wardrobe or on the back of the nursery door. It would also make a lovely present for a 1st birthday or new baby. 

On the 17th Day of Christmas...

I'm not normally a fan of giving jewellry. It's so personal and there is so much dross about that it's rare that you find something that your know will genuinely touch the recipient. This is why I was so excited when I found the jewellery range at Highland Angel; an amazing array of simple designs matching multi-coloured pearls with smooth, clean silver charms. There is something in this shop for every woman in your life and for every occasion. I particularly like the idea of the Little Angel Collection as truly meaningful flower girl gifts. The Silver-Grey Pearl Bracelet with Initial & Star Charm £34.00 (above) is going on my wishlist but, I'll admit, it was a very tough choice between this and some of their fabulous drop earrings. I may have to have both. Simply exquisite.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 16

Sometimes lovely things serve no purpose other than to add a little superb decoration to your life and this is one of them. Santa's Magic Key £5.50 from East of India at The Contemporary Home is a little piece of wrought iron joy on a vintage manilla gift tag and would make a lovely stocking filler, advent calendar gift, present embellishment, party favour, table or tree decoration. I would most like to hang it on the wreath on our front door. Gorgeous. 

On the 16th Day of Christmas...

Yesterday, I took my mum Christmas shopping at one of my favourite places: the craft centre at Heskin Hall near Chorley. We always go visit when she comes to stay with us because it is a treasure trove of gorgeous shops selling gifts, local produce, antiques and gardening stuff and has a fabulous tea room selling very naughty homemade cakes. It is also the home of The Gift Barn and Mulberry Moon where I can always find something perfect if I'm stuck for a gift. I love this Birdcage Wall Hook £10.99 from Mulberry Moon. A lovely Christmas or housewarming gift, it could make itself useful almost anywhere inside or outside the home. It struck me that it would also make a perfect key piece for my latest Personal Project that I posted a few weeks ago because it really makes a statement measuring almost a foot in length and the caged bird feature is so pretty and unusual. Well worth tweeting about. 

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 15

Completely scrumptious. This Breakfast Menu Tray £12.00 from Jelly & Blancmange is a lovely toy for a small child. I'm a big fan of traditional wooden toys and there's something about the smoothness and roundness of these pieces that is particularly eye-catching - I love the cheese! The Jelly & Blancmange site is choc-full of good quality festive accessories, tradional toys and magic party bag fillers so go and have a wander around. I know twelve quid might be a bit steep for the stocking but I reckon individually wrapped they'd take up quite a bit of room and it'll kickstart the training for when the little darlings are old enough to start serving you breakfast in bed (which is the way?)

On the 15th Day of Christmas...

So cute. My daughter was given this little Owl Holdall £13.75 by my aunt for her first birthday. It's great because she is getting interested in everything and she simply loves the opportunity to empty my handbag. Now I just fill it full of interesting things from the nursery, kitchen and bathroom and watch her go. I've trawled the internet for them and most places seem to be sold out but I found some available at Bazaar Barnstaple and Amazon do them as well but at almost twice the price and even they are running low on stock so they must be very popular. I particularly love the design of the holdall because the neck of the bag is narrower than the rest of it so even if it gets up-ended, you won't end up with absolutely everything on the floor in Tesco. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 14

A nice little stocking filler with an original and enchanting design. The Moth Mirror £3.00 from Warbeck & Cox is one of a series of illustrations including Beetle, Damask, Key and Leaves patterns. This is my favourite because I love, love, love this classic shade of turquoise. The mirrors measure 6cm in diameter so they can go into pockets, makeup bags and teeny tiniest of clutch bags. They also look really lovely as part of a collection on the dresser of a boudoir or guest bedroom. See the image below from my recent post showcasing the artisans at the Manchester Gift Market for some other examples.

.   A lovely pressie for 'ladies' of all ages.  

On the 14th Day of Christmas...

This is an inexpensive and extremely novel gift idea. An Enamel Matches Storage Tin £5.99 from The Gifted Penguin. It is big enough to hold one of those big chunky boxes of cooks matches, comes in two colours: slate and clay (pictured) and would be ideal for the kitchen, the shed or in the car for soggy camping trips or anywhere you care to strike a match. I venture to say that these is one of those brainwave presents for those people who "have everything". I also think they would look best snugly tucked into a lovely big willow basket of dry kindling for when the fire gets lit on cold winter evenings. Blanket's out everybody! 

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Stocking fillers 13

More sweet treats for your little ones (and big ones as well) this time from master confectioners Hope & Greenwood. A great way to reward all that good behaviour, For A Good Boy/Girl £3.50 are perfect for stockings of for trimming the tree. Each small decorative box contains milk chocolate balls wrapped in silver foil and topped off with a ribbon. I also think they would make rather original favours for a festive wedding or formal dinner. Vintage sweetie heaven. 

On the 13th Day of Christmas...

God Bless You Ma'am! Perfect for that patriot in your life, this Queen Clock £45.00 from HunkyDoryHome would look absolutely gorgeous in any house as the style ticks both the contemporary and retro boxes. A very chic and enviable gift for almost any occasion as the iconic postage stamp cameo is an unmistakeable emblem of all things Cool Britiannia. 

Stocking Fillers 12

This probably won't come as much of a surprise but, I actually like making and writing thank you letters and cards. If there is only one thing I manage to teach my kids over and above life's little social essentials, it will be to recognise the imperative of knowing when to say 'Thank You' and then really meaning it. It IS the thought that counts. Likely, there will be a few thank you letters to write when Christmas is over so how about these simple and delicate Thank You Tags £4.50 with bird motif from vintage stationers Edge Inspired. Measuring approximated 7cm x 4 cm (business card size) and sold in packs of ten, they would make a lovely embellishment for a thank you gift and are pretty enough even to be sent on their own with a little ribbon in a tiny handmade envelope and a short hand-written sentiment on the reverse. Pure class!

On the 12th Day of Christmas...

Depending on your point of view, this Doodle Table Cloth £30.00 from Sophie Likes is either a Godsend or the worst idea ever conceived. My guess though is that the idea of encouraging creativity and keeping the little darlings at the table for the duration of a meal will drop most in the former camp. And it's a wicked present for an auntie, uncle, grand- or godparent who doesn't have to deal with the washing machine anyway ; ). I once got a mildly withering look from a friend after I gave her kids bath crayons but they were ecstatic and I'm sorry, but it is the recipient's joy that counts. It comes complete with 8 different colour felt tips and the colours wash out at 40 degrees in the machine so the fun can just go on and on and on. Have a look because Sophie Likes also has a pillow case, and single and double duvet options but even I am not brave enough to recommend drawing on bedding. It could result in some pretty embarrassing conversations after sleepovers. Still a brilliant idea though and could be an original present for those older 'children' that you know.

Stocking fillers 11

Something for everyone and so indulgent. This is the Christmas Present Card £10.95 from The Biscuiteers - a business that has made an art form out of cakes and cookies. Choose your personal message and take pleasure watching them eat it. And what's more, the gorgeous gift box it comes in can be used afterwards to keep trinkets and personal keepsakes. Knocks a tin of Roses out of the park. Yummy!

Friday, 9 December 2011

On the 11th Day of Christmas...

Today I tackle the problem of what to get a man for Christmas. For me the hallmark of success in this matter is if the damn thing makes its way out of the packaging in time for the following Christmas. Sure, you can give them practical gifts like socks and golf balls because they will almost certainly use them but, when it comes to giving a man a present, there is a certain satisfaction to be had from finding something novel that they might actually quite like. (I'm not expecting any spontaneous emotional outpourings or anything). I like this hand turned wooden cherry bowl £40.00 designed by Andy Beck at Treecycle available via the Folksy artisan site. It's the ideal shape and depth for dropping in and scooping out keys, change, gum and billfolds as and when needed and will look fantastic in your hall or home office.

Stocking fillers 10

Here's a nice thing to find in your stocking. This pretty "Little Star" Children's Mug £7.50 is from a collection by Jamie Oliver at lovely online gift emporium It's Darling. I have something like this in mind for my little 12-month old who is currently 'practising' drinking out of a cup. Who knew? She has rejected almost every sippy cup on the market and prefers good old porcelain china like her mamma. She also seems to be really getting into tea (very weak and decaff, of course!) Altogether, she's a chip off the old-ish block. All she has to do now is figure out how to drink without waterboarding herself and, for this, perhaps a smaller mug will help. Baby steps! 

On the 10th Day of Christmas...

It's definitely time to update the kitchen utensils. Most of ours are from my husband's first flat in London and have definitely seen better days. Also, because we have a lot of display space in our kitchen, it's nice if the things we put in it are functional but attractive too. For a while now, I've been collecting vintage stoneware mixing bowls and pudding basins for cooking. You pick them up at fairs and car boot sales for next to nothing and they are so much more attractive than modern crocks. My favourite is a giant cream T.G. Green & Co stoneware mixing bowl that has a duck-egg blue glaze inside. Smashing! It's for this reason, that I love these Milk Bottle Measuring Cups £22.00 from Anthropologie. The design is both classic vintage and novel and I love the raised lettering that denotes the measurements as it reminds me of my lovely stoneware collection and would look amazing on display in any kitchen. Anthropologie is a real Aladdin's Cave of inspiration. When I worked on the King's Road in London, I could happily while away a whole lunch hour in its Chelsea store and have always been able to find great presents there. An original and thoughful gift for someone who sees the kitchen as the focal point of their home. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 9

Isn't this lovely? Noel Silver Letters £6.50 from Just Trio - a gift shop based in Bideford in my home county of Devon. They have a large selection of both contemporary and vintage style gifts and homewares. So pretty and a lovely stocking filler for one of those older 'children' who pay the bills and go to work but still gets dizzy at the thought of a sock full of excitement at the end of the bed on December 24th. The elaborate snowflake is a particularly nice touch. I can see it hanging from a door knob or silhouetted in a window on Christmas Eve. Only 2 weeks to go....

On the 9th Day of Christmas...

I die! Seriously! What a gorgeous gift! Both a candlestick AND a vase and there are FOUR of them. This is what present-giving is all about. Set of 4 Numbered Bottles £59.00 from gorgeous online boutique Pale & Interesting. You could dot them about your window sills or line them up on the mantlepiece or fill them full of ketchup and they would still look completely amazing in any home. The philosophy of the site owners, Atlanta Bartlett and Dave Coote are that their products be "functional, beautiful and out-of-the-ordinary" and it doesn't disappoint. These will be hard to wrap effectively, so I suggest packing them with some shredded brown paper in a small basket or wooden crate and including some pretty red candles, a couple of Christmas keepsakes and...oh go on then...some cream satin ribbon. De-vine! 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Personal Project: Provence-style Hand Towels on a Hook

I really like making stuff for my family, friends and for my home. A lot of people gulp at the idea of a homemade gift but it doesn't have to be a sticky-back plastic job. You can add that personal touch to your presents to make them extra special without a degree in design. And for the right recipient, it will make the pressie that much more special. We were in Provence for our holiday this year and bought this hook from a local artisan shop in Roussillon. I like it because my kitchen has a lot of dark and light contrast in it: a canvas of white picked out with strong fire-engine reds, dark wood, enamelware and wrought iron details. I like the novelty of it too with its strong shape and bold type. Pretty hooks are lovely gifts to buy for friends because they are so useful and can go anywhere. I needed somewhere to hang a hand towel near the kitchen sink and as there was nowhere convenient at waist level to do this, I mounted my feature hook on the wall above the basin. I then made up some hand towels based on the traditional provencale style of sewing a loop of pretty ribbon to the centre of the towel so that it hangs in a nice big clump your can get your hands on easily. Here, I've used a plain white towel and added a loop of dark red gingham ribbon to complement the colour on the hook but you can decorate the towel as elaborately as you wish so long as what you end up with can still absorb water and go in the washing machine. Perfect as a house warming gift and an easy and thoughtful present to make with little ones. 

Hook: Find a good range at Denbee Country Crafts. Guest towels: 19p each from IKEA, Gingham ribbon: From a selection at Gisela Graham available at John Lewis and trendy gift shops. 

Stocking Fillers 8

Three lovely things today because frankly I couldn't choose between them. Trinket Box Felt Craft Kit £2.95Spaceboy Set of of Colouring Pencils £1.50 & Three Stripey Mouse Craft Set £4.95 all from the where you will find many, many more lovely things for under a fiver to stuff your stockings. I chose these three from the creative kids section because that's my bag. I love the little felt and ticking mice in particular. They are simply the essence of innocent childhood magic.  

On the 8th Day of Christmas...

Hampers. Generally, they are a nice idea but unless you go super luxe they can work out very expensive for what you get. There's often a couple of bum gifts and the whole thing is padded out with pretty packaging that's good for nothing but the recycling bin. It also lacks the personal touch. But, if you're stuck for a gift idea for someone truly tricky then they do make a nice gesture particularly if the contents are carefully selected. So I would suggest making your own. Your starting point should be the hamper itself. I doesn't need to be a wicker basket, although there are some lovely ones around at the moment. I love this Wooden Divided Trug £18.99 from Wood & Willow because it has a lovely classic shape and is a gift in itself. After use, it can be used to store anything from condiments to cutlery on a work surface. Line it with some pretty fabric or shredded brown paper and then let your imagination run wild. Cheese, spreads, chocolates, booze and little treats. A great present for a family or your host at Christmas.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Stocking Fillers 7

I was so excited when I found these. Can you guess what they are? Legomen! Yes. Obviously. But there's a difference because they are also Legomen Crayons £4.00. Small pleasures. I found them on a website called Colour Me Fun and they come in 8 colours in a free cloth bag. A sensational stocking filler  that would also make a great children's party bag. The site is stuffed with different designs from stars to dinosaurs. There is even a pick'n'mix option. I like the space invaders myself but then I am the wrong side of thirty. Legomen are timeless and great for unleashing the creativity in any young artist. 

On the 7th Day of Christmas...

Perhaps not for vegetarians this one. I was really sorry not to get to the V&A Museum on a recent visit to London. It is one of my favourite places in the Capital and I had arranged to have tea there with my godmother before London Transport intervened and I got stuck in a tunnel. Grumble. Grumble. So, instead, I've done the next best thing and had a little wander around their online shop over a nice cup of Earl Grey. Mounted game heads seem to be all over the place at the moment but I think this Floral Stag Head £45.00 is the prettiest one I've seen. It is the perfect gift for someone who (like me) likes to cover the walls of their home with interesting stuff as well as paintings and photographs. It would look great in a recess, above a door or over a mantle mirror or guest bed.  It would also look fabulous mounted above an ornate hook in a hallway or cloakroom. Made of lightweight wooden board, the surface design is derived from 18th and 19th century Italian textiles and it comes in a self assembly pack so there's fun to be had putting it together too. All proceeds from the shop go back into helping keep this great British institution accessible to all as a free resource which is  more than enough reason to go for a littlegift shopping there. 

Stocking fillers 6

Ok. This is quite extravagant for a stocking but bear with me because I think it's almost irresistible particularly if one of your number is getting or has recently received a two-wheeled present this Christmas. The MPH Bike Bell £20.00 from Pedlars is one of three ingenious and humorous designs, one of which will suit any enthusiastic cyclist. And, if you don't want to spoil the surprise, just install it before you wheel out the joy.

On the 6th Day of Christmas...

Stunning and the perfect gift for a serious traveller and lover of art. This is a detail of a Typographic Map of Rome £125.00 (unframed) by Swiss artist Ursula Hitz. There are many stupefyingly intricate citiscapes represented on her website but I chose this one because Rome is the most amazing city in the world to me and I think that every element of the print, which includes the seven hills, parks, noted places and The Vatican is simply exquisite. Each print is a limited edition signed and numbered by the artist. Framed or unframed, rest assured that you will be very, very popular.

Showcase: Manchester Christmas Market

For my daughter's first birthday, we took her into Manchester for some Christmas shopping, pretty lights and gluwein (for mummy of course) at The Christmas Market. This is our second year visiting and it really really is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours in town. Here's some of our finds. 

We found some lovely gift shopping at Quite Contrary Designs just outside the Town Hall. I bought these two fabric covered mirrors £6.00 each as small gifts for friends. I love the contrasting fabric and the soft punched leather pouches they come in. Artist Mary Shears hand makes all her products working with vintage inspired fabrics, buttons, leather, tweeds and wool fabrics to make seriously gorgeous bags, scarves, keyrings, brooches and cushions. Her business is resident at the Manchester Craft & Design Centre in the Northern Quarter if you don't make it down to the market this Christmas.                                                                     

It has become a custom to find a new Christmas decoration for my daughter every year. It's a really nice thing to do for a baby (her godmother does it as well) and it means that eventually, our tree will be covered in unique and unusual baubles that will hold a lot of meanings and memories (for us more than for her I imagine but nobody says gifting has to be selfless!) Yesterday, I added this small nativity £3.50 to our current collection from one of the traditional German stalls. It is made from wood with tiny figures exquisitely painted. It was the little sheep on the right that sold it to me though. So cute!  

Speaking of sheep, we found this lovely Sheepey Scarf £10.00 as an additional birthday present for Her Majesty. I particularly liked it because, at the moment, she refuses to wear hats and it comes right up around her ears thereby giving her head at least some coverage. It's by a company called Jomanda and they make a whole range of soft toys and children's accessories that are suitable from birth. They are definitely a business to add to my Fantasy High Street. I don't know any parent who wouldn't be thrilled to receive something like this for their baby. 

Another lovely find was the ceramic stall by Interlude Ceramics. Based in the heart of the lake district, they product a simply stunning range of wheel-thrown stoneware crockery, mugs, jugs, bowls and one-off pieces. They also receive commissions. A few days ago, I posted an Engagement Album featuring gift inspiration for couples and this (above) makes a lovely addition. Last night, I bought this delightful little stoneware Christmas Pudding £1.00 to put on the mantlepiece in our sitting room for the festive season. Yummy.

Finally, no journey home from a Christmas market would be complete without having to share the passenger seat with the top half of a seven foot fir tree £15.00. We picked up ours in the main square outside the town hall for an unbelieveably reasonable price. The vendors there said that they have plenty in stock but they're going fast and the prices will most probably go up as demand intensifies and supply begins to dwindle so get down there fast. Completely in the mood for Christmas now. Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly...Fa-la-la-la-lah.............

I Heart MCR!