In our family, crafts and Christmas wrap together in the perfect package of love, talent, sequins, and thread. The crafting began patterned after my mom’s abilities and my sister’s creativity ’round about kindergarten. Mom’s earliest sewing lessons revolved around Barbie doll outfits and Christmas ornaments. When I sat my butt down long enough, and I didn’t have a book in my hands, I held one needle or another, a craft project in my lap whether I sat cross-legged on the floor or sank into our Pee-Wee-Herman-sized couch. From sewing needles to cross stitch needles to dull, oversized plastic canvas needles, my mom and sister patiently taught me the various sewing crafts. Thanks to them, my Christmas ornament collection began when I was six.
Snuggled next to my mom, I channeled her love and energy into my crafts until I held an amazing, glittery, finished product. Well, amazing to the eyes of a child in the beginning; but with practice, pride, and passion, they organically grew into the ornaments I enjoy even today.
It might have started because my mom stayed home to raise us, and my dad worked hard at the business he owned. My parents pinched pennies to feed us, clothe us, and save for college. How much did it cost to buy a pair of jeans, or corduroys? More than it cost my mom to buy fabric and whip up something. Out came her sewing machine, the whirl and click-click-click of the foot pedal as she zipped up one seam and down another. I think my favorite outfit is a pair of overalls in denim, striped blue and white after an old-fashioned railroad conductor. She probably bought it because we’d taken a scenic trip by railway through parts of downtown Cleveland. When we walked up to JoAnn Fabric’s at the mall, we’d come home with zippers, buttons, elastic, fabric.
But those clothes I wore played second fiddle to my Mom’s truest talents: Christmas ornaments and Barbie doll clothes. When I wasn’t sucked too deeply into the story line of Doctor Who, lessons came one stitch at a time. I’d get to sewing my much simpler doll clothes, or my favorite: ornaments sparkling with sequins and seed beads. My go-to craft stores no longer exist, small mom-and-pop shops that existed in houses: Bette’s Beads & Boutique on Mentor Avenue, a few minutes by bike; and Strawberry Basket on Center Street a few blocks north of my elementary school.
First it was the felt kits by Darice, watching TV and cutting, stitching, beading. From the cats I learned the art of protecting the thread, the yarn, the beads. Rambunctious (Bunky for short), Ditto (he was a carbon copy of Bunky in appearance), Shalamar, each decided that the thread needed their tender, loving care more than mine. And by tender-loving, I mean claws fully extended, fur-flying fun-loving kitty care.
Whether I channeled magpies or mermaids, I loved shiny things, and I found the lure of ornaments a-glitter with sequins and seed beads impossible to resist. If we hadn’t had that cathedral ceiling, I don’t know how we would have housed the impressive collection of ornaments we Heinrich women cranked out. The diversity of our crafting still amazes me, augmented as it is from years of gifts by friends and family, plus my tendency to buy one or two ornaments a year from craft shows. One for 2016 is the literary dragon I commissioned from my writer friend Jennie, who runs Foxy’s Art Box.
When it came to crafting, Mom taught me two lessons that echoed Dad’s, not that they ever actually said this. Work until the job’s done, however many days or weeks that might take an hour here, an hour there. And, if you’re going to do, it you darn well better do it right, pouring your spirit into it, your passion.
Each ornament served as a goal. Make this snow cone. Make that pair of ice skates out of the plastic canvas kit; or maybe the cute mailbox next. Did I love birds? Look at this adorable pattern in mom’s latest catalogue, cute bluebirds wearing scarves and Christmas hats. I saved the nickels and dimes from weekly chores, birthday money, and when I was older, the money from the Saturday job of cleaning Mrs. Sirl’s house, or working at Dad’s shop for a few hours. When the money didn’t go to books, it went to crafts.
Mom taught me to sew, but my creative sister Patti, ever the one to draw, taught me how to make patterns. A world opened. Did I find a picture of a set of ornaments, but liked only one of them? Or maybe I’d rather buy the next Trixie Beldon book, or the Three Investigators.
At the kitchen table, Patti would show me how to sketch an idea, turning it into a pattern. With see-through onion paper, we’d trace out the individual pieces, and before I knew it, we’d be pinning our patterns to the felt and felt scraps, ready to cut. We saved every spare seed bead and sequin from our kits, then rounded out the specialty colors from Bette’s, Strawberry Basket, JoAnn’s, or mom’s own stash.
We thrilled to the possibilities during the crafting heyday of the eighties, before cheap imports from overseas undercut our crafting. We bought table space alongside our mom at the church and school craft shows. Our table held felt, plastic canvas, bread dough, or whatever craft we’d learned, and liked enough to produce extras to sell or give as gifts. I need to personally apologize to the friends, cousins, and aunts whose Christmas tree boughs bend beneath the weight of the bread dough ornaments I gave each year! Well, unless I came up with a special design—like the Star Trek Next Generation figures for my cousin Lynn, or Gandalf, Frodo, Legolas, and Aragorn for cousin Donna. I worked for pennies an hour, but it was pin money, allowing us to buy a few gifts at Christmas while our creative side came out. And learned to work. Through the night, even, when it came to tending twelve to eighteen bread dough ornaments that took all day to make, and six hours to bake with three turnings. That didn’t count the time to dip them in shellac, paint; dip; and dip again, until finally adding the glittery golden hanging cord.
Each Christmas, I pull out these spirits of days past, present, future. All those hours Mom invested in teaching me to sew, do cross-stitch, plastic canvas. And my sister, teaching me the art of bread dough, forming an adorable ornament out of salt, flour, water, and acrylic paint mixed in.
Whether these were creative skills or practical, they stood us in good stead. They’re the skills and lessons that have gotten me where I am today, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Sis. You are the spirits of Christmas all the year through, and you continue to teach me. It’s not Christmas until our family ornaments hang from the tree, reflected in the soft glow of miniature lights.
Where does your Christmas spirit come from? Family? If you don’t celebrate Christmas, what holiday do you recognize as one year ends, and the next begins? Do you pull out a certain craft project every Christmas, the way I do? I’d love to hear your story.