The joy of crafting for Christmas

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 December 2014 | UPDATED: 22:03 19 January 2016

Cake

Cake

©JustinSleePhotography2014

(and every other day of the year)

Abi Gouldings - AKA Mrs Giddys - handmade festive collectionAbi Gouldings - AKA Mrs Giddys - handmade festive collection

Not all crafting is created equal. On one side of the equation are the gorgeous gifts that look like they’ve been handmade in heaven by fleet-fingered angels, and on the other, well, there are photo frames covered in glue-encrusted pasta shells.

Whether sublime or ridiculous, however, both can show love and be received with equal amounts of genuine gratitude. And if it’s proof you’re after, just try presenting your granny this Christmas with a beautiful handmade leather bag and your own cack-handed attempt at an embroidered hankie (you were aiming for daisies and daffodils but it all went a bit Jackson Pollock). She will love both equally – but will probably clutch the hankie closest to her heart.

Hand-crafted products have enjoyed a discernible resurgence in recent years. Call it the Kirstie Allsopp effect if you wish, but more and more people appear to be seeking out unique, highly personal items in addition to their multi-buy chain store bargains.

And while some people are happy to indulge in a bit of crafting DIY, there is, thankfully, also a growing army of talented professional crafters willing and able to do the work for us.

Christmas cakeChristmas cake

Here we look at two sides of the same crafting coin – a one-woman accessory-making business and the most successful craft bakery in Yorkshire – to find out what makes them tick (stick, sew, bake and decorate).

Abi Goulding of Giddy Designs creates all manner of handmade items from felt, buttons and ribbons in her Barnsley workshop (otherwise known as her living room). She began making felt brooches and hair accessories when she couldn’t find the bright colours she wanted in the shops, and began selling her wares after building up a stockpile on maternity leave from her job as retail online and administration officer for Museums Sheffield.

‘It started out as a pure hobby but then I decided to attend my first craft fair, which was terrifying,’ she said. ‘I’ve learnt since that you just have to smile when someone picks up an item you’ve spent hours designing and making and says to their little girl “oh, you could make something like this, darling”.

‘On the flipside, it’s really lovely when people say nice things and recognise the time and effort I’ve put it.’

Mince pies  get a starring role at Christmas at Bettys award-winning Craft BakeryMince pies get a starring role at Christmas at Bettys award-winning Craft Bakery

Abi has a full-time job, two young boys – Joshua, four, and Zachary, two – and a home to run in addition to creating her handmade products, resulting in a somewhat frenzied schedule, especially with the busy festive season just around the corner.

‘I’ve been making Christmas decorations since July,’ she said. ‘When you’ve made your 20th elf, the novelty starts to wear off, but I just take a night off and design something else.’

She believes hand-crafted gifts have come back into vogue because they show thought as well as money has been invested. ‘It’s about giving something personal and unique that no one else can buy,’ she explained. ‘People feel appreciated because you’ve thought deeply about what they might like instead of just grabbing the latest three-for-two deal off the shelf.’

Abi was inspired to take up a craft by her mum, an accomplished knitter and seamstress (she even made her own wedding dress), and both are now attempting to instil a crafting ethos into Joshua and Zachary.

Bettys craft bakers put the finishing touches to their fabulous fanciesBettys craft bakers put the finishing touches to their fabulous fancies

‘Mum uses my offcuts to teach my boys and their friends to make simple bits and bobs,’ said Abi. ‘It’s about passing on knowledge and skills and creating a lovely crafting circle.’

While Abi is just starting on her crafting journey, Bettys’ is approaching its milestone 100th anniversary. Swiss baker and confectioner Frederick Belmont came to England to develop his craft skills and opened his first Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate in 1919.

In the 95 years since, Bettys has become famous the world over for its dedication to delivering beautifully crafted food through its six Yorkshire tea rooms and its mail order service that transports Fat Rascals everywhere from Tunbridge Wells to Tokyo. ‘Craft at Bettys is all about attention to detail, the skills we have honed and worked on for generations and the passing on of knowledge,’ said Claire Gallaher, the company’s head of food and drink innovation. ‘Our aim is to ensure our craft skills and knowledge are carefully woven into future generations because they are our point of difference and show our pride and passion in what we do.’

Bettys recently won Craft Business of the Year at the Baking Industry Awards run by British Baker magazine. In an age when traditional baking methods have largely given way to mass production, the category was established to celebrate the best of Britain’s craftsmen – putting people and not production lines in the spotlight.

The judges were won over by Bettys’ commitment to quality and its phenomenal activity in the last year, during which it launched more than 100 new products, made more than five million specialities and went global with its online shop. This is all in addition to the countless loaves it bakes every day in its traditional wood-fired oven; the 10,000 fondant fancies that are iced to perfection every month; and the half a million Fat Rascals shipped out around the world every year.

‘Creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of our business,’ said bakery operations manager Paul Gray. ‘We preserve and nurture our craft techniques, focusing on skilled handmade and hand-finished products while remaining up-to-date with our technical expertise.’

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