That winter solstice really creeps up on you. We’re all so wrapped up in our last minute Christmas preparations that the shortest day slips past as an after thought. It’s only now, now that the madness is more or less over, now that the temperatures have dropped and the fog is settling in the mornings, that we realise winter is really here.
If there’s one thing we need in winter, it’s comfort. Whether it’s a dish of something sloppy and slow cooked to dip your bread into, a big fluffy jumper or a good cup of tea and a book, these short cold days demand a little cosiness. But comfort isn’t just about things. These limbo days after Christmas quickly have me craving the comfort of routine – not necessarily of work, but of routine and actually knowing what day it is. Comfort is little rituals, familiarities and nostalgia.
So this winter, we’re focusing on comfort here on Simple & Season. We’ll be going on a Tea Journey with Jing Tea, learning about the rituals of tea drinking and discovering new varieties. We’ll be cooking and eating, learning new crafts and taking comfort from routines and goals.
What would you like to see more of on Simple & Season this year? More food, more adventures and days out ideas, more reads or crafts? More self discovery and inspiration? Maybe something that’s not already part of the blog? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments?
It is peak candle season right now. Whether you’re getting down with the hygge trend or you’re covering every surface in a bid to banish the winter darkness, no doubt you’re spending more time striking matches that at any other time of year. It is, however, during this high concentration of candle-burning, that I remember how annoying they can be, not burning equally or dropping little black bits everywhere. How do you take care of and get the most out of your candles.
A few weeks ago my friend and I went to a candle making workshop which turned out to be in a Turkish lady’s kitchen in a council flat in Kew. And yes, it was exactly like the set up to the surrealist comedy sketch it sounds like. I did, however, learn a few good tips for keeping my candles ship shape.
The First Burn
It turns out that the first burn is really important. The first time you light a candle you need to burn it for three hours, which is the opposite of what I’ve always done as I didn’t want to ‘waste’ the candle. The long first burn ensures that the wax melts evenly, stopping that tunnelling you get where the majority of the wax sticks to the sides while the wick burns away in a shallow pool at the bottom.
Trim the wick
Trim the wick down to a couple of millimetres above the wax before you light it. Not only does it stop those big black lumps dropping into your beautiful candle, but ensures that the ratio of wax to wick is correct, reducing soot and that flickering flame.
Getting rid of air bubbles
Have you ever bought a candle in a nice glass jar only to get it home and there be big air bubbles and gaps between the wax and the glass. These don’t affect the burning, but they don’t look especially great, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on a candle. This is caused by the wax contracting in the cold, so all you need to do is warm up the glass. Gently blow it with a hairdryer or hold it over a steaming kettle and the wax will expand to fill the gaps and look just as perfect as when you bought it.
Do you have any candle care tips? What are your favourite candle scents?
Each month I pick one easy thing we can do to simplify our homes, diets and lives. This month, it’s shopping small this Christmas.
This Christmas I’ve made a concerted effort to buy as much as possible from independent brands and makers. To me, it’s an important part of simplifying, buying things made with love and care, sustainably and locally where the money makes a real difference to a real person. It’s something I’ve always felt guilty about not doing, and other than books and a few other things I’ve largely succeeded this year.
Along the way I’ve spoken to some really lovely people, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with the gifts I’m giving. It can be difficult to know where to start when you want to buy independenty. Here I’ve listed where you can find smaller brands, how to shop with the biggest impact, as well as my favourite makers I’ve loved and bought from this year.
Jacqueline Colley notebooks – see details below
Where To Find Independent Makers
In Bigger Retailers
Many department stores and websites like Not On The High Street stock smaller brands and independent makers. However, 9 times out of 10 a brand won’t thank you for buying from there – with their commission demands the little brand may not even make a profit. Use sites like Not On The High Street as a search engine to find products and brands you like the look of, then go to their sites to buy direct. Often you’ll get a better choice of products, a better price and even freebies by ordering direct.
Instagram and Twitter
Most of the indies I’ve bought from this year I’ve discovered on Instagram. It’s a lovely way to discover new brands and makers by going down a wormhole of beautifully styled Instagram pics and new hashtags – all with the excuse of productively Christmas shopping. Checking out Twitter hashtags like #meetthemaker, #handmadehour and #folksyhour is another great way to find out about amazing people making amazing things. And don’t forget to ask the question! When I tweeted asking whether anyone knew great independent makers I got some great recommendations.
At Christmas the number of fairs and markets increases by about 600% (not an actual scientific figure), so make a day out of it, have a mulled wine and find some new favourite things. Even if you’ve missed one locally you can research the makers that were there on the market’s website or Twitter feed.
Eve of St Agnes Ode To Winter candle – see details below
Etsy is a bit of a minefield. There’s just so much stuff it’s easy to get overwhelmed (have you tried searching for toys on there?!). However, a top tip for Etsy shopping from my friend is to search it for something specific. It’s not all that easy to browse Etsy for inspiration but you can get some great high street alternatives when your search is laser targeted. Get your inspiration from the high street, then go home and search Etsy for ‘men’s knitted burgundy scarf’ and you’ll find something perfect.
Well, you’re reading this so I hope you’re being inspired and will check out my favourite makers! But I also get inspired by other bloggers, many of whom have much more traditional gift guides this time of year. And it’s not just traditional bloggers you can look at. Cooperative art spaces and organisations set up to support independents will often have blogs of their own – I got my cute Christmas cards from Betty Etiquette who I found on the Just A Card blog.
Betty Etiquette Christmas cards – see details below
Where I’ve Shopped This Christmas
The following are all some of my favourite shops and makers that I’ve bought from this Christmas, and some I consider good Instagram friends. These are all people I’ve bought from this year and that I thought you’d love – I receive no payment if you buy from them.
I’ve bought cards and notebooks from Jacqueline this year, but she has bags, trays and all sorts of lovely things in her animal prints. At £4 her A5 notebooks make an excellent stocking filler or present topper-upper (see the first picture above).
Mirta has the dream life, printing beautiful nature-inspired calendars, cards, bags and artworks in a little village on Lake Como. She’s also an absolute darling. I have asked Father Christmas very nicely for one of her scarves, but her bear print is one of my favourites too.
‘Bear in the Woods’ reproduced with permission from Modern Botanics
A beautiful little online shop that has lots of lovely things. If you have children to buy for I’d especially recommend checking them out – they have the CUTEST stuffed penguins and bears, as well as lovely wooden toys.
Another Instagram favourite of mine, Rebecca has just launched her site with prints, cards and a good value bespoke service. I’ve already sent her cards around the world, and have also ordered one of her lovely prints as a gift. I really want one of her custom prints too – send her Instagram links and answer a couple of questions she’ll create a print with your loved one’s favourite things. Order quickly for delivery in time for Christmas.
Photo reproduced with permission from Rebecca de Havas
A craft fair discovery for me, I am in love the idea behind this brand. Inspired by a John Keats poem, all their products are natural, seasonal and just sumptuous. They do creams and lotions if you’re into that kinda thing, but I’m all about the candles. There is one for each season, and they not only smell just like those seasons, but really uniquely too. There is something familiar but completely different about each scent which is why I had such a hard trouble choosing. Also, the packaging is to die for, I’m keeping the box my candle came in because it’s just so lovely.
Alicia hasn’t set up her shop yet but if you ask her nicely she may post one of her gorgeous scarves to you in time for Christmas. She dies linen and other natural fabrics using botanical dyes she’s made herself, and they come out in these beautiful deeps pink tones with an ombre effect. I’m also smitten with her Instagram, so if nothing else you should follow her.
Photo reproduced with permission from Botanical Threads
An Etsy find, I really love these gorgeous bobble hats! They look really well made and thick, and all the wool they use has a lovely tone to the colour. Dan will be unwrapping one of these on Christmas morning and I hope he likes it as much as I do.
As mentioned above, I’ve got my Christmas cards this year from Betty Etiquette, and you can see how cute they are. I also have my eye some some lovely feather notecards on her site to send to my pen pals.
Who are your favourite independent makers? I’d love to discover some more!