I like to make the most of special occasions and hand made gifts really say you care, but I don’t always have the time or headspace for anything that seems fiddly or complicated. These Valentines doughnuts are gorgeously tasty, simple to make, quick to bake …
Everyone has their favourites, even if they don’t always admit it, and scones are definitely some of mine. Comforting carby hugs, truly versatile little things, great for breakfast, dress them up for company for a fancy afternoon tea or make them savoury and have for …
Sam runs Childstar Samantha, a small business that specialises in creating colourful illustrations, art, homeware and apparel to make people smile. From sassy cats, typographic designs to jungle vibes and kid’s illustration, there will be something for you. Learn more about her range of playful designs, her views on shopping small and new and exciting plans for her business.
Tell us a little bit about your company? What do you offer?
My designs at Childstar Samantha are available as art prints, greetings cards and gift wrap; homeware gifts such as coasters, tea towels and cushion covers; jigsaw puzzles; and clothing, jewellery and accessories.
Childstar Samantha is a Carbon Positive eco-friendly business and I plant a tree for every sale on Etsy, through my partnership with Ecologi.
How did you get into creating art, homeware and apparel?
I basically started drawing as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil and was always obsessed with drawing faces. I ended up getting a degree in illustration and have been involved with various projects ever since, but started expanding to homewares and apparel in 2019.
A lot of the time, a customer (or potential customer) has asked me if I can make a new product for them and then other people have also wanted to buy them! I’m really enjoying experimenting and exploring which designs and product lines work for me and my customers. I have loads of works in progress that I’m going to be sharing later this year and next year.
Why do you think it’s important to support small businesses?
Shopping small and/or local, builds community, helps the economy (the money we earn tends to be spent in the economy – or on paying tax! – rather than sitting in offshore bank accounts) and is often kinder to the environment.
Because we are essentially human beings running a business, rather than a faceless corporation, we tend to feel more personally responsible which often results in indie businesses with lots of integrity (think plastic-free packaging and planting a tree for every sale).
Plus you are much more likely to get great customer service, with a personal touch, from a small business. By buying small you are making someone’s day – and possibly even making their dreams come true! Rather than just making some shareholders even richer.
Big business has so much opportunity and can offer a lot in terms of convenience and price. This can be hard to compete with for us small guys, but independent artists and businesses are where the majority of original ideas come from. If people don’t support us (whether through buying our products and/or shouting about us to others), it stifles creativity for everyone.
What do you think makes a great gift?
It depends on the person, and I think I’m pretty fussy and difficult to buy for (my husband would definitely agree!). I particularly love receiving jewellery, personally speaking, but I also love it when someone gives me something I never would’ve thought of getting myself – but that makes me smile when I look at it. This was the inspiration behind my Kickstarter campaign – for Meowie Catmas Christmas tree decorations – what with Christmas 2020 being a bit of a tough time for lots of people, it was really lovely when I got feedback that my Meowie Cat Christmas jumpers had made their day – or cheered up their loved ones. Who knows what this Christmas has in store for us, but I wanted to help spread the joy even further this year.
My tea towels are another great example of that – they definitely feel like an indulgent gift (even if it’s to yourself!), rather than just a functional tea towel (which they are too of course!). I’ve had so much wonderful feedback – particularly from cat lovers and David Bowie fans! Some people refuse to actually use them though and just hang them decoratively!
I know lots of people love personalised or custom gifts too – which I do offer for some products. I was commissioned to create the dinosaur / space / dragon themed art print trio, Pete Saur Delivery, Tri-Cera-Rocket and Drag-on-Sea, for a little boy and managed to find a way to incorporate his name into the designs. He was so pleased with them that I added them in my shop.
What are your top tips for finding the right gift for someone?
I am increasingly thinking about the environment every time I buy a gift. I’ve decided this year to get at least 80% of my Christmas gifts this year from small businesses – plus I love shopping in second hand book shops so SPOILER ALERT for any of my nearest & dearest reading this!
In general though, it’s good to ask yourself how the ‘giftee’ likes spending their time, what problems they may have that you could help with, and what could bring joy into their everyday lives? Art is such a wonderful gift to give someone, but it’s very personal, and so I think that’s why I got so many requests to add my designs to functional products – as it’s safer to give someone a mug for instance because everyone drinks something every day! You don’t necessarily need to know their colour scheme for that either.
What are your recommendations for favourite places to buy gifts?
Etsy is where I started out and it offers a wide range of unique items from millions of creative folk. I’m also part of a membership group for creative independent business owners called Indie Roller – we even have our own ‘Indieconomy’ where we can easily find each other and buy gifts which is really wonderful.
I love browsing independent high street stores too – they truly care about their offering and their customers – they often know them by name! You can find so many unique items by having a little look there. Over the last 12 months or so Childstar Samantha products have been hitting the shelves of some independent retailers – most recently in the US, which I’m very excited about!
What is the best gift you have ever received?
It’s very hard to pick just one, but last year my bestie made a little ‘care package’ for my birthday with lots of treats and pamper goodies in it, which felt really thoughtful.
Playful, bold and joyous are just some of the words I’d use to describe Childstar Samantha. I love the designs and for someone that loves cats and Bowie, it really couldn’t be playing to a more appreciative audience. I actually bought a few of the tea towels as gifts last year and just loved them. Seeing the festive meowie cat Christmas decorations brought the biggest smile to my face, so I may well be getting one to decorate my tree this year too. 🙂
It was really inspiring reading Sam’s views on shopping small and local and knowing that she is part of groups like Indie Roller and Ecologi makes me feel confident supporting a business that has people and the planet at the core of what they do.
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Lavender, much like marmite, seems to be a love or hate it ingredient. Up to you, but I think these lavender scones gorgeous. The combination of lavender, Earl Grey and lemon goes together really well; they are subtly floral and perfect for an afternoon teatime treat.
Scones are one of the simplest things to make and that means that once you’ve mastered the basic method and recipe you have so much creative freedom to play around with flavours and combinations you like. Have a go and let me know what you think.
Ingredients for Lavender scones
450g self-rising flour
100g cold butter
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1tsp dried culinary lavender
220ml cold milk
2 Earl Grey tea bags
60g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
Ingredients for the icing
130g icing sugar (sieved)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Makes between 10-12 scones.
Tear 2 Earl Grey tea sachets and culinary approved dried lavender and add to the milk in a jug. Pop it covered in the fridge ready to include later. This should be done a few hours before making the scones.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, gas mark 6.
Sieve the self-rising flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
Add chopped fridge cold butter to the mixture and rub together with the tips of your thumb and fingers in a fluttery motion until it looks like bread-crumbs or an oat mixture. It’s okay if some of the butter hasn’t fully combined, as that will help make lighter scones when they bake.
Stir in the caster sugar.
Sift the lavender and tea bags from the infused milk.
Add in the lavender/earl grey milk mixture by hand (this is messier but will help you get the right texture. You’re looking for a dough that holds together and isn’t sticky, otherwise you’ll need to add more flour which will alter the texture of the scones). Different types of flour absorb liquid differently, so add the milk gradually and judge whether you need the last of the milk.)
Once the scone dough has come together, turn out onto a lightly floured board and cut the scones using a 7cm cutter. (I liked the size of these but make smaller ones if you prefer).
Add the scones to a greased baking tray and brush each scone with some milk (taking care that it doesn’t drip down the sides, as this can effect how the scones rise).
Cook for 10 minutes, turning the baking tray half way through to ensure even baking.
Once cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool.
To make the icing, mix the sieved icing sugar, lemon zest and juice and salt together.
Using a teaspoon, drizzle the icing onto each scone any way your heart tells you. Top with a few sprigs of dried lavender.
Scones are best eaten on the day, but will last 2 days in an airtight container.
Before cutting out the scones, I dip the cutter in flour, which will help the scone come out easily. Dip, cut, repeat.
As you cut out each scone, no matter how instinctive or tempting, avoid twisting the cutter, this will make the scones rise unevenly. (They will still taste just as lovely though).
These lemon and blueberry cupcakes are such a treat. Beautiful, stylish but most importantly delicious. A gorgeous lemon sponge covered in a smooth and vanilla buttercream spiked with a dash of lemon curd and topped with tart and sweet blueberry jam. A gorgeous treat for …
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Mince pie cookies, a playful take on the classics.
Mince pies are undoubtedly a Christmas staple; the taste, the aroma and the ritual all make for one of the most traditional seasonal bakes that has truly stood the test of time. There are 12 days of Christmas after all though, so in my mind this leaves plenty of room for a little creative tinkering and this is where my mince pie shortbread sandwich cookies come in. These represent everything that is gorgeous about the original, I’ve just swapped out the shortcrust for shortbread to make an elegant treat for the festivities.
These are really simple to make, only a handful of ingredients, have a go and let me know what you think.
Ingredients for mince pie cookies
150g plain flour
100g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
pinch of salt
Jar of mincemeat
Icing sugar (for decoration)
Makes approx 6-8 sandwich cookies (you can easily double the recipe if you are cooking for a crowd)
Preheat the oven to 170°C or GM3.
Using a food mixer, combine the butter and sugar together until the mixture is light, pale and fluffy.
Then gradually add in the sifted flour and pinch of salt to the mixture. With the mixer on low, gently mix in the flour until it just begins to clump together. You do not want to overmix the dough here, this will make the shortbread more like a biscuit and you want it to be short and crumbly when it cooks and just melt in the mouth.
Gently flour a worktop and rolling pin and roll out the dough to about ¼ inch thick and cut out rounds of dough. Make sure to cut out an even number as they will be sandwiched together at the end.
For half of the circles, use a smaller cutter to cut a smaller circle in the middle of the dough, so that you will be able to see the mincemeat poking through later.
Transfer all of the cut pieces of dough to a baking tray and place in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to chill down before cooking.
Cook in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes until pale and lightly golden brown around the edges.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Take each shortbread base and smooth out approx 1-2 tsp of mincemeat to the middle of the cookie.
Before sandwiching the cookies, take the shortbread tops and lightly dust all of them with icing sugar. Then gently take them by the sides and sandwich down on the shortbread bases filled with the mincemeat.
These will keep in an airtight tin for a few days but are best eaten on the day that they are made.
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