Hosting a holiday dinner this year? We have a project you must try out: mixed-media Christmas crackers. These creative holders pop when you open them to reveal fun surprises inside. Follow this tutorial from Dea Fischer (originally featured in our November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine) to create your own Christmas crackers. They’ll add handmade style to your holiday table, and they’re sure to be a big hit with your guests. Dea also shares wonderful ideas for embellishing the papers and adding handmade touches to give your Christmas crackers an extra-special mixed-media twist.
Mixed-Media Christmas Crackers By Dea Fischer
For more than 25 years, my English family and I have made our own Christmas crackers for the Christmas dinner table. Crackers are a tradition in the United Kingdom. They typically contain small prizes and sweets, and they make a large pop or crack when opened. Making your own is an opportunity to personalize your crackers for each guest as a thoughtful gift. Create and decorate your own papers, embellishments, and tags to make them truly special. Sometimes we include toys, candy, or trick gifts, or special gifts like handmade jewelry, pocketknives, bookmarks, and fishing flies. Make some for your family and friends. A little practice is all it takes to make consistently well-formed crackers.
What is a Christmas cracker?
Christmas crackers are used at place settings on the Christmas table. Dating back to Victorian times, they were invented by confectioner Tom Smith, and originally contained sweets and love poems. Today’s Christmas cracker is a cardboard tube, wrapped in colorful paper, filled with small gifts or sweets, and twisted at both ends. There is a banger inside the cracker: two strips of chemically impregnated paper that react with friction, so when the cracker is pulled apart to reveal the gifts, it makes a bang.
- Small gifts: toys, jokes, mottoes or quotes, puzzles and riddles, interesting facts, jewelry, small rubber stamps, art supplies, etc.
- Tissue paper
- Paper towel tubes, cut to 6″ (You will need 1 central tube for each cracker, plus 2 extra tubes for forming the ends. The end forms will be removed, so one set of these is sufficient to make all your crackers.)
- NOTE: Alternatively, you can cut a 4″ x 6″ rectangle from cardstock, overlap the long sides by 1/2″, and join them with double-sided tape or glue to form a tube.
- Cracker snaps (Available from online suppliers and some craft stores.)
- Double-sided tape
- Paper: Any decorative paper, similar in weight to drawing paper, and flexible enough to twist without tearing (I used 7″ x 12″ pieces of smooth brown kraft paper, as I wanted to paint and decorate the papers myself.)
- Supplies for decorating the paper (I used fluid acrylic paints, mark-making tools, rubber stamps, stamp pads, stencils, alphabet stamps, and pens.)
- A few sticky notes
- Ribbons, string, or wire
- Decorative papers, fabric scraps, beads, and embellishments
1. Select gifts for each cracker. The objects need to be small enough to fit inside the roll without distorting its shape. Traditionally, a tissue paper crown is included for guests to wear during dinner. Go fancy or go plain. The crown is just for fun! We often add jokes or puzzles, and, last year, each cracker contained a tiny scroll bearing the meaning of the guest’s name and a fortune for the coming year. (FIGURE 1) Make a small tissue paper-wrapped packet for the gifts (or use the crown to wrap the gifts), and perhaps add a small candy. (FIGURE 2) Insert the completed packet into a cardboard tube. Write the guest’s name on the outside of the tube for future reference.
TIP: I like to include gifts I’ve made, like necklaces and earrings, and art supplies for my artist friends, like little jars of beads, special papers, etc. I also love to make tag books with jumpstarts and inspirational sayings and images. (FIGURE 3)
NOTE: Today’s paper crowns are usually made of brightly colored tissue paper. I enjoy the challenge of making something a bit special, so I made these crowns from Japanese Gampi tissue. They are simple to make. (SEE THE CROWN SECTION BELOW.)
2. Lay a cardboard tube on the table and tuck a cracker snap strip against the inside of the tube. Ensure the ends of the snap are straight and protrude equally from each end of the tube. (FIGURE 4) If necessary, secure the snap in place with a small piece of double-sided tape at one end.
3. Lay your decorated paper face down. Place the filled tube in the center of the paper lengthwise. Set an empty roll on either side of the main roll with approximately 1/2” between them to simulate a long tube. (FIGURE 5) Be careful not to distort the ends of the snap strip inside.
NOTE: Hand-decorated papers bring a unique touch to your crackers. All the papers used in this article were created using smooth brown kraft paper to create a coordinated suite of papers. Some were block printed using stamping inks and a range of wooden Indian printing blocks. Others were hand painted with acrylic paint, with wood-grain and other patterns combed into the wet paint.
4. Adhere the edge of the paper to the central tube only, using a small piece of double-sided tape. Do not tape the paper to the end tubes. Carefully roll the paper around the line of 3 tubes, smoothing it snugly around the tubes. To get a nice, snug fit, try rolling away from you, pulling back against the curve of the paper as you roll, to take up any slack.
5. When straight and snugly rolled around the tubes, secure the paper with a couple of inches of double-sided tape in the center and at each end. Adhere the paper to itself; do not attach the paper to the end tubes.
6. Slide one of the end tubes out a bit, so that there is a gap between the center tube and the end tube of about 1 ½”. You can’t really see the gap, but you can feel it by gently depressing the outer paper with your fingertip. Check to ensure the end of the snap strip is free and straight by looking inside the tube.
7. Grasp the center tube firmly in one hand and the protruding tube in the other hand, holding the end of the outer paper firmly. Pull your hands slightly apart to apply tension to the paper, but not too much; you don’t want to tear the paper. Holding that tension, twist your hands in opposite directions. The paper will twist with a neat fan twist in the gap between the tubes. (FIGURE 6) Looking inside the end of the tube, a small hole should be visible where the paper is twisted, through which you should see the end of the snap. (FIGURE 7) Repeat for the other end.
8. Slide the loose tubes out from each end, ensuring the end section retains its neat shape, write the guest’s name on a sticky note, and apply it to the cracker until you have completed your decorations.
9. Tie decorative ribbon, fabric, or wire around the twist points with a double knot. Do not pull too tightly and obstruct the snap end. I often use decorative wire embellished with beads and other components. (FIGURE 8)
10. Create decorative elements such as a central band, and add a gift tag bearing the name of your guest. I wrapped found and decorative papers, vintage lace, hand-colored crochet pieces and ribbons, and added charms and beads along with the name tag. (FIGURE 8) Repeat the process for each guest’s cracker, set your table, and wait for the fun to begin.
1. Measure your head, and cut a strip of tissue or lightweight paper to that length plus 1″, by 6″–8″ high.
2. Overlap the ends by 1/2” to form a circle, and glue in place.
3. Fold the joined strip into an accordion, as you would for paper dolls or snowflakes, and cut the top of the crown into your choice of shape. Go simple with points, or cut something fancy. I created the diadem shape by cutting the top of the crown on an angle higher at the front, and then folding in an angled accordion to cut out the top shape.
4. Open the crown flat and decorate it with lightweight embellishments, such as decorative papers, metallic pens, or a touch of glitter.
Dea Fischer is an internationally sought teacher and book artist with works held in collections in Canada, the U.S., England, Korea, and Japan. Dea teaches popular courses in book arts, altered books, collage, and lowtech image creation. Visit her website at thestarbook.ca.
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