For some time, we’ve had a beautiful Oak King on our nature table. Earlier this year, I decided that I’d like to make a representation of the Holly King to take his place after the summer solstice; this is the day when the two kings are said to fight until the Oak King is slain by the other. The victorious Holly King therefore reigns and rules the land until the winter solstice, when the two kings meet again. This time the Oak King wins and therefore rules the following half of the year.
I wanted our Holly King a little smaller than his counterpart: Autumn, in particular, is a season where many treasures of the earth can be found and brought home for the nature table, meaning that space can get a little pushed. But what to make him from! I’ve never used clay and it’s so long since I did anything with saltdough that I didn’t quite trust that it would turn out ok, (and although I’d decided I’d like a Holly King months ago, I’d characteristically left it to within days of the solstice to do anything about it!) I wanted to use a natural material and it needed to be able to withstand being enjoyed by a small child – our nature table is all of ours. I choose wool felt. Plant-dyed would have been my ideal but I couldn’t find suitable colours without buying a large, expensive pack.
Next, I drew two holly leaf templates of different sizes on card and cut them out of two different shades of green felt. I used one shade for the bigger size, another for the little but that was just personal preference. I cut out two circles (using a small plate and a wide mug as their respective templates) out of a third shade of green and pinned and stitched these together with my sewing machine, the smaller one centrally on top the larger, leaving a little gap for stuffing. I used sheep’s wool balls, then sewed up the gap.
Next I pinned and hand-stitched the leaves on, Because I’m a bit lazy, I didn’t go all the way around each leaf; just enough to attach the leaf securely and look decorative. Here and there, I added a sparkly green bead or few.
I then hand-stitched the face, squidging (is that a technical term?! Let’s say yes!) the stuffing a little to shape the nose. If I’d had more time, or been making this or someone else, I’d have cut an extra circle of felt the same size as the large circle to attach to the back to cover up the visible stitches from sewing the leaves on. (I’d attach it by hand-stitching the two large circles together around the edge).
On the solstice, we gathered together, lit some beeswax candles and beat a sort-of rhythm (three-year old style!) on a drum. We placed the Holly King on the Oak King and I told the story of this being the day that they meet together. My son’s age is a tender one, so I prefer not to talk about battles with much detail. We talk about how the Holly King has the victory this time; now is his time to reign, for holly stays green all year, and it is at its most splendid in winter when the berries provide colour for the landscape and food for the birds. We talked about how the Oak King will have his time again when the wheel turns once more to the winter solstice. The oak and many other trees and plants will then soon start to think about waking up again and growing their new leaves. After this, we thanked our Oak King, took him off the nature table, wrapped him in tissue paper and stored him away. The Holly King remains in his place. Hail the Holly King!