A full time self-employed artisan since 1987, I owned a paper collage card shop in Toronto for eight years, creating all of the handmade cards sold there. One year, after finding pen knives in boxes of crackers supplied by an upscale retail shop, I decided to create something more festive, fun and family-friendly. The first year I made 111 crackers for my shop. They sold instantly. I continued each Christmas increasing numbers while continuing on with my card business..
In time I moved to Muskoka and began researching the original crackers of the late 19th century / early 20th century, it became clear that the market place crackers of today are pale remembrances of the fun-packed original handcrafted designs. Modern crackers may look beautiful on the outside but tend to be filled with lack luster hats, unseasonal jokes and cheap plastic trinkets or gizmos. Determined to put the fun back into Christmas crackers, I decided about 8 years ago to sell them directly on-line - mostly to the United States. I continue each year to research further into historical documents about the original Victorian Christmas cracker traditions, finding new ways to add more puzzles, Christmas trivia and lore, tiny tree decorations, holiday candy and brightly patterned hats. I make Christmas crackers filled with full-sized musical handbells and others just for celebrating Christmas Eve with santa and elf hats, candles and hot chocolate and pages of Christmas carols. One design is specially created for a Dickens' Christmas; yet another, the "Peace" cracker features highlights of Christmas traditions around the world.
The annual Christmas start-up (which includes Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and New Years) each years begins May 1st, with research into new seasonal jokes, making thousands of paper hats by hand, and designing / producing the scores of various activity sheets. But the cracker business has expanded far beyond Christmas. January through late spring, I am kept busy creating birthday, wedding, Valentine, Easter, anniversary, graduation, bar/bat mitzvah crackers and in the summer, Kids' Summer Fun Crackers and Cottage Crackers. My American customers asked me to start making Thanksgiving crackers; these now represent 35% of my seasonal work. I also love the challenges of creating custom-designed crackers for corporate clients for their marketing, product launches and corporate branding, gift-giving, fund-raising and Christmas parties. Recently I completed a custom cracker for the rebranding of the new Tangerine banking services.
As the work grew so did the dream of creating a cracker cottage industry - a small creative business which would employee an artisan team of local residents with part-time seasonal employment and a means of their earning some extra Christmas income. Christmas crackers in England were traditionally made by 'outworkers' who would arrive at the cracker factory at the beginning of the week to pick up the supplies they would need to make their quota of Christmas crackers - at home. Often workers would set aside space in their dining or living rooms which, sometimes to their families' dismay, would be taken over with tinsel, rolls, snaps and ribbons for the season! And, that is what we do at GillianCrackers. The Christmas Cracker "Elves" arrive to pick up their supplies to do specific jobs - to package activity packs or fill crackers. Other Elf Helpers work onsite filling orders and preparing shipping which is a huge job. Up to six people now help seasonally and at other busy times throughout the year. Bracebridge is home to Santa's Village, Santa's summer home so it is fitting that we build a unique, hand-crafted cracker business here.
1) To continue creating handmade, fun-filled crackers - unique in design and content containing an optimum of variety.
2) To share with customers the Victorian roots of the hand-made cracker tradition when they were a lively source of holiday fun, family entertainment and included the all-important element of surprise. Victorian crackers were an event; an entertainment that people looked forward to with anticipation and that is what I want my customers to expect from GillianCrackers!
3) To build up a local hand-made cracker cottage industry
1) One of a Kind Show - Two Christmas and One Spring Show - approximately 1989 / 1990
2) CNE - Arts and Crafts Building - 1989 / 1990
3) Several local shows and farmer markets over the years
1) Brides Magazine - Click HERE to View
2) Muskoka Magazine - Click HERE to View
3) Readers' Digest - "Victorian Secret"
5) North Country Business News - Click HERE to View
6) Toronto Star (Reporter Nancy White) - "Custom-made Christmas Crackers Offer Gift of Peace"
7) Hamilton Spectator (Reporter Nancy White) - "I Ended up as Santa Claus"
8) CTV - KC Colby
9) Muskoka Life Magazine - "Found in Muskoka - Crafty Delights"