Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about when I started crafting and sewing; the former is probably since I was old enough to wield scissors and glue. My mom has a picture of me sitting on the living room floor as a very young child (under age 5, since it’s in the Missouri house and we moved to Connecticut when I was five) surrounded by magazines, with a pair of scissors and some paper and glue. She says she used to give us old magazines and let us go at it, making collages and such. My mom was and is very crafty herself. She made some awesome ornaments out of eggshells and felt when we were little, that she still has and uses. When we were kids, she made a lot of our clothing, and bought a lot of craft projects for us to entertain ourselves. The one I remember the best is the book about making critters out of clay, the same book she used with my niece when she was a girl, and which she’ll probably use with my nephew in a few years when he gets old enough. She also crocheted and this she still does, mostly scarves and shawls and blankets. Cozy goodness. She taught us how to sew as well. I can still remember her cutting out patterns on the floor; for some reason, I loved the sound of the scissors crisply chopping through the fabric (still do). She’s also an amazing baker, the kind who knows how to tweak a cake recipe if it doesn’t turn out the way she wants it to (which is really more science than craft).
When I was a kid, my dad used to paint watercolors — one of which I have and treasure — and he had a model train set for which he would make the most fastidious little houses out of balsa wood. I still have visions of this and one of these days I will rifle through his workbench to see if I can find those little houses so I can snag one. He is a talented draughtsman as well. One time, I was making a Christmas ornament out of a tin can — something they had taught us at school, where you turn a tuna can on it’s side and make a tiny diorama inside and hang it with a string. I was making a little winter scene in my tuna can and I wanted a tiny bunny to sit inside. I approached my dad with a paper and pencil and asked him to draw the bunny. He tried to encourage me to do it myself, but I was very adament that he had to do it, because I wanted it to be good. I knew just what I wanted but couldn’t master the pencil myself. (The little art director.) Sadly, my father doesn’t draw or paint anymore and the train set was taken down long ago. He also used to build a lot of things — he made the desk I still use — and do a lot of the work around the house. His father had been a carpenter and my father had learned these skills from him.
From the time I was born, I learned from both my parents that you could make things with your hands out of any number of materials. That’s one of the greatest gifts I got from them, one that keeps on giving and will over my lifetime.
The third most important influence on me as a crafter was my Grandma Ginnie, my dad’s mom. She was a complicated woman (so diplomatic) but an amazing crafter. She could sew and paint and make any number of things. (She was a terrible cook, though, which is kinda funny. Was it a craft she couldn’t or wouldn’t master?) One of the things she made was Christmas decorations. Every year, she would paint a Christmas ball for each of her grandchildren. The earliest one I have is from 1969, so perhaps that’s the year she started?
This one is kinda simple but they got more complex as the years went on. Here is one from 1976, a little hint of the bicentennial:
One of my favorites is this one from 1991, the year I went to France:
It’s a bit hard to read, but it says “Parlay Vous?” and there’s something so cheeky and Midwestern about the misspelled French. I love it. I have about twenty of these ornaments in all and each one is a treasure. Some are quite elaborate, like this snowy covered-bridge:
Others are quite simple, just a few brush strokes indicating holly or a Christmas tree. She would wrap them in tissue and pack each one in a L’eggs egg (remember?) then ship them all in a box. When we were children, one of the excitements of Christmas was getting the box in the mail and seeing what the ornaments looked like. I suspect that as we became teenagers some of this excitement wore off and I wish I had told my grandmother how much her crafting meant to me and that it has survived in both my sister and myself and my niece. My brother doesn’t seem to have the gene, though he’s an awesome cook and now that he’s a homeowner, he’s learning the craft of home repair.
These days, my Christmas tree only has bird ornaments (some of which I made myself when I couldn’t afford any ornaments) and my grandmother’s ornaments. On the top is a little angel that she made:
When we were packing up her house after she moved into a nursing home, I came across some small knit doll ornaments and lacy snowflakes. Of course, I snatched them up and have strung them on ribbon to make a garland.
I don’t go too crazy as far as Christmas decorations go but the ones I do put up fill me with nostalgia and admiration for the amazing talents of my grandmother. It’s quite a legacy.
P.S. Hello to my Sew Mama Sew visitors! I’m posting all my 2007 Christmas gifts over the next few days, so click around and let me know if you see something you like!