This Christmas, we decided to go for the non-commercial route of making our own Christmas decorations. To help us on our way, we asked Clare Wilkinson, food stylist and photographer to give us some ideas of how to make our handmade Christmas picture perfect! 

"It’s hard not to be tempted by all the glitter and twinkles in the shops every year as seeing new baubles that you ‘just can't live without’ lures you in every time! Then as you lug down the decoration boxes from the attic, you remember all the other glittery things you’ve purchased over the years, making you wonder where you are going to put everything without having it look like a sparkly unicorn exploded in your sitting room. I’m a sucker for this every year too and maybe I’ll never learn, but this year I wanted to add some homemade decorations to the mix. By rummaging around my kitchen, where all my best ideas come from, I explored some alternative decorations that you could make too, adding your own little homemade twinkle to the festivities. Check out my list below with easy steps to guide you along the way." - Clare Wilkinson

Christmas Meringue Wreaths
" These meringue wreaths are so pretty and delicious that I’m not sure how long they will last on the tree before suspiciously disappearing! I’ve included the trusted Ballymaloe meringue recipe here as it couldn’t be simpler to make. Divide the meringue into a few piping bags with a different shaped fitted nozzle in each so that you can create a selection of styles.

Put some parchment paper on a baking tray and draw out even circles using a small round bowl or plate to guide you, this will help direct you when piping out your meringue into wreaths.

Now the fun part: play around with the meringue to create your own styles by alternating between piping bags to make different patterns. Then you can really jazz them up by adding edible glitter or sprinkles. I got 16 meringues out of this recipe and they will keep in an airtight container for up to two weeks before adding to your tree. Once they've been added to the tree, I wouldn't recommend eating them as they won't be too nice from sitting out in the air. They'll last on the tree for about a week before they go soft."

Ingredients 
2 egg whites
110g caster sugar

- Preheat an oven to 150C.
- Add your egg whites and sugar together in a clean, dry bowl. Whisk at full speed with a hand mixer until the mixture forms stiff peaks.
- Divide your mixture between piping bags and, using the circles you’ve drawn to guide you, start designing your wreaths.
- Bake the meringue immediately for 45 – 60 minutes or until crisp. When cooked properly, the meringue should peel off the paper easily. Turn off the oven and allow the wreaths to cool inside.
- Once your meringues are ready to be hung, cut a small bit of ribbon or string, tie through your wreaths and hang from the branches of your Christmas tree.

TIP- Place on the higher branches of the tree so they are out of reach of your four-legged friends or those little sneaky arms that might be lurking nearby!

Nature-inspired Gift Wrap
"This really does add a special touch to any gift, letting the recipient know you’ve made an extra effort for them.

I used some brown kraft paper to wrap each present, then added a folded piece of gold tissue paper and some raffia as my starting point, but each gift had its own little twist added. Garden raffia is a natural fibre used for tying and grafting plants, it is completely biodegradable and can be found in all good garden centres. 

Dehydrating fruit is a great way of using up any excess fruit you mightn’t be able to get through quick enough. This can be done in either a dehydrator or in an oven on a low temperature over several hours. The dehydrated fruit will last months in an airtight container so you can store them for until you want to use them.

With your scissors and tape at the ready, get designing your own personalised gifts, adding a sprig of rosemary, a stick of cinnamon or a slice of lime – the possibilities are endless. Take it a step further by adding some bay leaves pierced with cloves for an extra hint of Christmas aroma.

The suggestions below all make for gorgeous additions to any hand wrapped gift. Check what you have at home or take a nature walk to find some more inspiration amongst the trees:

  • Evergreen branches
  • Winter leaves 
  • Dried lavender 
  • Star anise 
  • Walnut
  • Sage
  • Pressed flowers
  • Pheasant feather 

Glass Bottle Lights
"I’m not assuming you have a lot of empty bottles lying around, but if you happen to have one available then this is definitely the quickest decoration on the list to whip up. I had a choice of colours and styles to choose from, which I knew would come in handy at some point. It pays to be unorganised at times and not get to the bottle bank!

You can pick up little battery fairy lights pretty easily, I got these ones in Penney’s for only a couple of euros and they fitted into the bottle perfectly, leaving some room to hide the battery pack behind.

Clean out your chosen bottles and allow to fully dry upside down. It's up to you if you would like to leave the label fully intact or not, I chose to leave one on, then I removed the label on the other bottle and tied a bit of twine around it. Then just pop your lights in and you're done, so simple and effective!"

Edible Place Settings

"Dig out your cookie cutters and dust off your rolling pin as these little cuties will definitely win the hearts of any guest, even those grumpy Christmas grinches! This idea works well with lots of different biscuit recipes, but I’ve included a simple vanilla biscuit recipe you can use. The place settings are topped with royal icing so all you need is a piping bag and a steady hand to decorate them. Depending on the size of your cutter, you might want to keep it to nicknames or you might find it a bit of a squeeze when you're piping out your guests' names!" 

Ninja Bread Men

"These little guys are just too much fun, perfect for making with kids or just to get big kids into the Christmas spirit quicker than you can say ‘HiYa’! I found these little ninja-shaped cutters on Amazon and used royal icing recipe to make a very simple, but effective design on top"

"Make your Christmas a little greener this year, avoid unnecessary plastic and waste wherever possible and have fun while doing it. With an emphasis on reusing and giving something a new lease of life, these handmade Christmas decorations were inspired by my love of food. I hope you can create something deliciously beautiful this year too!"

To keep up with her gorgeous food photography, follow Clare on Instagram.