When I was probably eight or nine, my mother (a commercial artist) started including me in her holiday craft projects. My favorite by far was making ornaments.
I'm not talking about making pot pourri sachets or tangerines covered in whole cloves. Nor did we make gingerbread ornaments or string popcorn. All those are very nice traditions that I love, but my mother was of German heritage. My maternal great grandparents came from the Black Forest region of Germany. They were toymakers, artisans and craftsmen and women. It was up to my mother to keep up the tradition of her ancestors, and she brought me along for the ride.
Now, since I was a child of the `50s, we had Styrofoam. Styrofoam (or polystyrene foam) came into use around the time that Rosie the Riveter went to work in the factories during WW2. By the 1950s we had all manner of craft Styrofoam in a variety of shapes and sizes. It turns out that Styrofoam balls were (and are) the perfect base for crafting handmade ornaments.
Gathering Our Bits and Bobs
Before we could begin decorating, we had to get ourselves outfitted with ribbons, straight pins, fabric swatches, beads, rhinestones, sequins and what I used to call jewels. These "jewels" were actually crystal rhinestone beads. I thought they were beautiful.
But where to buy?
Since this was years (decades in many cases) before we had a neighborhood Joanns, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, or Dollar General...and no one even dreamed of an Amazon...we had to make a trip into New York City--to an area that butted up against the famed garment district. Here, in an area that covered little more than a city block, we had access to store after store that specialized in fancy bits and bobs.
In retrospect today, these stores were quite remarkable--their proprietors even more so. Tables and shelves were piled floor to ceiling with boxes, trays and cabinets full of beads, rhinestones and sequins. I doubt the owner knew half of what he had...and forget about taking annual inventory. The shops were more like warrens with aisles so narrow, you had to navigate with care.
We me in tow, Mommy sailed through the store like a practiced skipper and seemed to know exactly where to find what she wanted. We'd spend the day scouring the shops, discussing color schemes and making our selections. And when we had all the goodies that we could possibly carry, we made our way back home to the Connecticut suburbs.
Let the Decorating Begin
As I've explained before, Halloween was a big deal at our house. We decorated the foyer and living room from ceiling to floor with crepe paper cobwebs, bedsheet ghosts, and honeycomb tissue paper pumpkins and skeletons. Even for the advent of Christmas crafts, we couldn't, and wouldn't, interrupt the Halloween festivities.
So we usually started making Christmas ornaments in July or August. Yes, it took that long to make five or six ornaments apiece. Using tiny straight pins, we would cover an entire 4" or 5" diameter Styrofoam ball with sequins, beads, ribbon, scraps of fabric and rhinestones...lots and lots of rhinestones.
My mother used to say that she was part crow because she loved with glitter and sparkles. I confess that I have the same addiction, and today the added benefit of access to mylar!
Decorating with Ornaments
Once our work was complete and Halloween was over, it was time to start decorating. Few of our handmade ornaments went on the tree. We gave them more prominence than that. Because we made Christmas balls every year, we had quite a collection. We filled glass bowls with rhinestone ornaments, hung them in front of windows where the light could dance with the jewels and made them the focal point of table centerpieces.
To this day, I love making (and collecting) ornaments. And yes, I'm a sucker for a Christmas store. So it is with great pleasure (and wonderful memories) that I introduce you to some of my ornament crafting. Enjoy.
Rosie Country Ornaments
We start this week with a demonstration of how I make Rosie Country ornaments. You can order a set of four ornaments through either our Etsy or Amazon store. And with ornaments made with our original Rosie bandana fabric as the start of your collection, I invite you to collect pretty fabrics of your own and make more. It's a craft project you can even share with your children and grandchildren.