For a few years now I’ve set an intention to give my boys something homemade each birthday. I love homemade. Though I’m quite new to the actual making, I was a lucky recipient of lots of it in my childhood. I grew up in handknits with pretty buttons that I helped pick out and my favourite ever dress as a child was made for me by my nanna from a drawing I’d shown her. That story probably deserves it’s own telling, fairytale that it was. I promise to tell it another time.
My mum, my nanna and my auntie knitted, they all sewed, my other auntie was a brilliant artist and maker (though she’d disagree). I don’t know if it was to do with my age – that I grew out of needing or wanting homemades – or the times we lived in, but my family stopped making at some point. It was the late 80s and I think as much as anything it went out of fashion. I didn’t realise I missed it until I had my own children.
I feel sure I took it entirely for granted at the time that things were made for me. They probably wouldn’t have had it any other way either. I was little and they enjoyed the making. But I don’t take it for granted looking back. I remember the needles clicking and the sewing machine whirring and the wool shop and the tubes of buttons and feeling special as I told somebody ‘my mummy made this for me’.
The love you can pour into your homemades is like nothing you can buy and, though it often feels like I run right up to the wire on a birthday deadlines, it’s so satisfying. There’s nothing like wrapping up something I’ve made and laying it out for a birthday boy to find the next morning.
I keep it simple. Having not much space in my jam-packed days, I choose smallish projects. It’s much more about love than wow factor. Past gifts have included: a felt fox mask, a baking apron, some felt farm animals, a wooden-framed tent (much simpler than it sounds), a shop-bought play kitchen with a makeover. I try to be realistic about what’s manageable in spite of my over-enthusiastic wild creative ideas. And I start early. I still curse myself occasionally for adding to an already full load, when I’m stitching like a mad thing with the house falling around my ears. But it’s a compulsion and I love it and the house can wait!
Our littlest boy, Noah, turned two this week and we made him a sensory box. We had so much fun putting it together for him. I’d had my eye on coloured sorting bowls and stars on Etsy for a while, but couldn’t find a seller that was UK based. Customs tax has made my toes curl too many times, so there was nothing for it but to make some.
I scouted around for wooden raw materials to paint and unearthed tons of options of blank wooden shapes. I do love when you stumble across a new world of craft materials and wonder how you’ve made it this far in life without a supply of wooden blanks. Well, that was easy to put right. I mainly shopped from independent sellers on ebay and probably spent around £15 on wooden bowls, scoops, acorns, stars and pots with lids, which we painted with standard watercolour paints in 6 colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple). Once they were dry we sealed everything with beeswax. This one. It’s scented with lavender, violet leaf and thyme oils and smells absolutely amazing.
The painting and beeswaxing took longer that I’d imagined, but I’d roped my husband in and we spent a few happy evenings listening to John Mayer, painting stars.
To the wooden bits and bobs, I added rainbow coloured felt balls and hearts for additional texture. Then popped it all in a large shallow tub with a couple of kilos of dried beans. The cheapest way we found to buy them was at one of those shops where you weigh your own dried goods scooped out of large bins. (Or is it just our sleepy little town that still has one of those these days?). I’d wanted to steer clear of using a plastic tub but couldn’t find a wooden box large enough and a basket wasn’t going to work with the beans and scoops.
On the birthday morning it was a big hit. With the paper ripped off, both boys got stuck in right away, digging with the scoops, filling, pouring, choosing colours, putting them together, chattering, playing, scooping. I think they fed the wooden farm animals as well. When the lid is lifted off, the oils in the beeswax fill the air and everybody becomes a little calmer and dreamy. Tremendous side effect. Even the grown-ups can’t resist having a rake through and a little play.
It’s really special watching them playing with a homemade present. It fills my heart so. Noah has no concept of where it came from of course, he’s just in the moment and it’s fun, exactly where he should be. But Ruben with his five year old eyes takes it all in and later whispers to me ‘ah so that was what you were working on mummy, you made that for Noah’ and his eyes sparkle and I know that he gets it. He knows how much love comes with something homemade and that’s a lovely thing to grow up knowing.