Kate on Kirstie’s Handmade Christmas
I can’t quite believe it all happened, it was a very surreal day. I’m writing this the day before the show is aired and to say I’m a little nervous about watching myself on the telly box is a bit of an understatement.
It all started when an email landed in my inbox in the summer of 2019 saying the show was looking for contestants, and I thought ‘I might as well have a go and apply’. So I filled out the application form for the toy category, sent it off and promptly forgot about it and carried on as usual thinking nothing would come of it. The summer passed and in September I had a call from Raise the Roof Productions. They said my application had stood out and was I still able to take part on the show? Wow, I was so shocked. I immediately said YES! I’m pretty sure they have quite a few people apply for the show and to be selected was a real honour. They said they would come down and film my back story first and then the filming for the actual competition would happen a couple of week later in Devon at Kirstie’s Christmas HQ.
And then hard work began. Firstly, to clear out the studio (summer house come storage area for bikes etc.) and to make it look like ‘Christmas has exploded’ as they put it. My neighbours must have thought I’d gone completely bonkers putting up decorations in September.
Amy from the production team came down with her camera and spent a few hours asking me questions and filming me drawing and crocheting. She was awesome and made me feel relaxed enough to talk about myself and my work in a coherent manner (although I now know I was mispronouncing ‘amigurumi’, sorry everyone!).
And then the super hard work began – designing what I was going to make for the show. I was told that I would have 4 hours on the day to make my toy. If you are a crocheter then I think you’d appreciate that that really isn’t a lot of time to make a whole toy. What had caught their eye on my application form was the Alebrijes inspired toy (very colourful Mexican folk art sculptures of mythical creatures), I had made for Simply Crochet magazine. Problem was that would take around 8 hours to make! So I spent about 2 weeks designing, redesigning and reducing the number of stitches so I was happy I could make it in the time limit. I even worked out how many stitches I could feasibly do in a minute to work out the maximum amount of stitches my toy needed to be (minus sewing and stuffing). But even then it was going to be tight.
My design was still going to be inspired by the Alebrijes so my reindeer would be colourful with lots of embroidery stitching detail over the top, inspired by the dashes and markings that are painted on the sculptures. Although Alebrijes are usually made up of several animals merged into one, my design was going to mainly be a reindeer, considering it is a Christmas show (although it did start off with a little fox and rabbit in it to start).
We had to travel down to Devon the day before filming started because it was going to be a really early start the next day. My lovely husband came down to support me and stop me freaking out too much. I made sure I packed enough materials I would need (probably enough stuffing, yarn and safety eyes to make about ten toys!).
The next morning, we had an early breakfast as we were being picked up at 7.30am. We were told to wear something Christmassy on the day, so it was really easy to see who in the hotel was also there for the filming. In fact, I met two of my competitors there, the lovely ladies, Emma and Nic.
We travelled together in the car we were picked up in and it soon became apparent we were all worried about time (that made me feel a bit better). When we got to the house we were shown into the green room. The house was this amazing cornucopia of eccentric things, including huge taxidermy animals. And of course, the amount of Christmas decorations and glitter was mind-boggling. We all sat down at the big table, had a cuppa and met our fourth competitor, Alan. They then ran though the order of the day. There were three other competitions running that day so all the timings were planned down to the minute.
Finally, it was our turn to make our way through a rabbit warren of corridors into the room we would spend the next four hours and set up our materials. We then had to wait for Kirstie to come in and start the competition off, we hadn’t met her yet.
And then there she was. Kirstie walked in and said hello to us all and told off the production team for picking us up so early! I was a tad star struck. We were told as soon as Kirstie starts the competition off we should go to action and pick up our tools. So she then said her bit to camera, ‘your 4 hours starts now’ and at that exact moment my hands felt like they had doubled in size. They were shaking so much I could barely do a thing and completely fluffed up my ‘not so magic circle’ as it didn’t pull together. Luckily she had to do another take, so I pulled it all out to start again. I messed it up a bit a second time too but I had to roll with it or I thought I’d never get started.
Kirstie then took turns to come round to us all and talk to us about what we were going to make. She went to Alan first as he had to shoot off to the workshop, in fact, we didn’t see a lot of Alan during the day. I really can’t remember what I said to Kirstie at that point, so it will be a nice surprise when I watch the show.
I knew I would be nervous but I had hoped I would relax into it a bit once I had started. This was not the case, the cameras were on us constantly and I was really worried about time. My hands were so clammy the yarn would not slip through them easily so every stitch was a struggle and by the end of the four hours my hands were like claws! At about halfway Kirstie came around to talk to us again and to have a go and what we were doing. This was already pre-planned so, as I knew she hasn't done a lot of crochet in the past, I gave her some embroidery to do on one of the little reindeers ears.
We had a break for lunch after that and when we returned to the room with only 44 minutes left to finish our projects. I was pretty happy with how much I had got done in the time so far. There was a slight panic when Emma got locked in the toilet but luckily she made it out in time to go back down. Emma was making a gorgeous traditional jointed mohair bear with a growler (that sounded like a sheep). Nic was making a hobby horse in a Rudolph costume, and Alan was making a traditional, working nutcracker. I had my head down most of the time and whenever I looked up I was amazed at all the work everyone had managed to get done. There was some fierce concentrating going on in that room.
With about 10 minutes to go I had pretty much done everything I had wanted to get done, so I added some more decorative stiches over the top. At about 2 minutes to go I realised I forgot the make the tail! It was too late then, but luckily it wasn’t going to detract from the piece although was a bit annoyed with myself.
The third time we saw Kirstie was when she came in to say ‘tools down’ and we were then filmed walking out of the room and then ushered into another room, where we were filmed looking ‘slightly concerned’ while our pieces were being judged. I was mainly concerned about my lips that were shaking uncontrollably, still feeling utterly nervous.
For the last time we went back into the competition room, all the tables were pushed back ready for judging by Illustrator Jane Foster. I literally had no inkling who would win as everyone did an amazing job and really pulled out all the stops. We were told to make sure we knew who was standing next to us so we can turn to congratulate them when we heard the result.
When Jane called out ‘little reindeer’ as the winner my first thought was ‘who’s is that, which way do I turn?’ And then I realised it was me! Wow, I couldn’t believe it. Kirstie put a leaf wreath around my neck and handed me the trophy. Back in September when I first found out I was going to be on the show, I thought I had won already, so this was the icing on the cake. Everyone deserved to win, and I hope they do feel like winners just for being on the show because everyone put their heart and soul into their piece.
The trophy sits on my mantelpiece, but I also came home that day with new friends, great memories and an awesome insight on what it takes to make this fabulous show.
If you want to have a go at making your very own Reuben Reindeer then click here for the pattern.