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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Barbara Rue makes albums with photos she takes to match poems and inspirational phrases.

Handmade holiday

Area women creative in producing Christmas gifts, decorations

Pat McFadden’s grandson Joe didn’t really care for the handcrafted bowling pins she gave him one year for Christmas.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Mildred Koons made a table decoration with Santa getting a lighthouse ready for Christmas.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Ann Kramer sits buried under the gifts she has sewn for this year’s handmade Christmas.
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Berniece Ringquist creates hot pads with bottle caps, cotton batting and felt.
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Ringquist gives sweet dill pickels.
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Barbara Rue makes personalized greeting cards as gifts.
Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Bonnie Senters framed vintage Christmas cards as gifts.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Mildred Kooms made a flying Santa Claus.
Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Ann Kramer sews pajama bottoms for her children and grandchildren for Christmas.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and some, or many, of you probably woke up early Friday morning to get in on the great deals you found among the ads in the Thanksgiving papers. Ah, the Christmas shopping season.

But there’s an alternative to fighting crowds and facing trampling: handmade holidays. I talked to some Crafty Living readers about their experiences with giving or exchanging handmade holiday gifts, and it was fun and enlightening to hear what folks had to say.

McFadden family

Pat McFadden of LaGrange e-mailed Crafty Living to say her family of 19 (three generations, ranging in age from 4 to 82) has been doing a handmade Christmas since 2003. At first, she says, the “non-crafty” among the family were concerned they wouldn’t be able to do it. But as each year passes, it’s been fun to watch what family members come up with for one another.

Pat didn’t want to pick out any favorites among the gifts, but there were some she mentioned that caught my attention. For instance, the coasters are made using tiles from a home improvement store and photographs of each of her eight grandchildren. The photos were printed, cut to fit the tile, then decoupaged on the tiles and sealed before a piece of felt was put on the back. I tagged this as a fabulous idea I may well steal.

But the handmade items aren’t always a hit. One year for a young grandson, Pat made bowling pins out of two-liter bottles. She says the look on the boy’s face said it all for what she described as a dud.

Pat described a scene of family gift opening that sounds almost idyllic. Instead of the hustle and flurry of flying giftwrap and blurred views of gifts, the spotlight is on the one person opening a gift, and everyone in the family is interested to see what was made by whom.

“This way everybody is so interested in what they are getting, or who made what for who, and there’s never any boredom,” she said.

Her daughter, Becky Ellis of Indianapolis, had done handmade gifts in the past, but she said the family’s handmade Christmas (without the rush of last-minute Christmas shopping) has brought meaning back into the holiday for her.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I really feel like it creates meaning for me in the season.”

And in some cases, it’s created new interest among some family members. One of Pat’s granddaughters painted her a pottery bowl, which the granddaughter spent much time on, and she has since taken a class on throwing pottery.

So each family member has drawn a name and, I presume, all are at work thinking up and creating this year’s gifts.

Berniece Ringquist

The soon-to-be-94 Berniece Ringquist of Fort Wayne makes trivets using pop bottle caps, cotton batting and felt. She’s known for giving them as gifts for Christmas, weddings, birthdays.

She has been making the trivets off and on for about the past 10 years, she said.

The trivets sound time-consuming. Each bottle cap has to have cotton glued to the top of it. Then, each cap requires a 2-inch square of felt wrapped around it and a backing put on. It takes 22 bottle caps to make the trivet, which is in the shape of a bunch of grapes, Berniece said.

It takes her a week to make one trivet, unless she has everything prepared, then she can do it in a day or two.

But Berniece (Aunt Bea as she’s known in the family) is also known for a couple of other handmade gift items. Her sweet dill pickles are another welcome gift, and she has those done for this holiday season. Another of her handmade items is a holiday cereal snack mix.

Barbara Rue

A scrapbooker, Barbara Rue of Leo-Cedarville sought inspirational or funny quotes, poems or sayings, took photographs to match and created 30-page booklets to give as gifts.

For example, she found the following poem by Ogden Nash:

“Celery, raw

Develops the jaw,

But celery, stewed,

Is more quietly chewed.”

Then she photographed a bunch of celery and put the stalks side by side in a book. Some of the books are 5-by-7 inches and some are 6-by-6 inches.

The reason for the scrapbooks this year, Barbara says, is that she’s getting older and wanted her family and friends (five daughters and two friends) to have a sampling of her work.

Her advice: You can always make cards for those who might be toying with the idea of doing something handmade this holiday season. If you don’t want to make your own holiday cards to send, you can make sets of note cards or thank-you cards for friends and family. There is plenty of inspiration out there in the craft and scrapbook stores, as well as on the Internet. Go searching today and you could start making some of your own handmade gifts.

Ann Kramer

About three or four years ago, Ann Kramer of Fort Wayne started making pajama bottoms for her children and grandchildren. They loved them so much that she’s even made boxer shorts for a couple grandsons.

But her talent doesn’t stop at making pajama bottoms as gifts; she has made fleece buntings with hats, blankets and door hangings that are either a Santa Claus or a witch in the shape of a crescent.

The list of what Ann has done can get quite extensive.

This year, she’s working on a memory quilt for one of her children, made from T-shirts of various events that child has been involved with.

The weekend before I spoke with Ann, she had knocked out 10 pairs of pajama bottoms (no small feat, if you ask me).

Eventually, the grandmother and great-grandmother would like to make each of her grandchildren a blanket.

Bonnie Senters

Bonnie Senters of New Haven is also a scrapbooker.

This year, she took apart an old scrapbook of her mother’s, which contained greeting cards from the late 1930s into the 1940s. Then she made family members a framed piece of artwork with one of the cards as the focal point.

“Those old cards have such character,” she said. On the back of the frames, because you can’t open the cards after they’re framed, she placed a tag (stained with coffee to give it an aged look) and wrote whom the card was to and from and what year it was given.

Bonnie points out that she didn’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money (although she acknowledges that scrapbooking can get pricey).

“I was real thrifty getting the frames” she said.

Mildred Koons

A needleworker, Mildred Koons makes decorative wall hangings from felt and embroidered with sequins as gifts. The seventh one, on which she is currently working, she may keep for herself, she says. It is about 3 1/2 feet long by 10 inches across and has all the expected Christmas characters on it, including three Santa Clauses.

“I don’t know when this is going to stop,” she said of making the wall hangings. She wants each of her children and grandchildren (of which there are 12) to have one and she’s only given a hanging to one of her grandchildren so far, she said.

The 85-year-old has also made Christmas tree ornaments and a table decoration that features Santa decorating a lighthouse.

The needlework takes her a couple of weeks to complete. “It keeps me out of jail,” she said with a chuckle.

Joyce McCartney is not a craft expert. She is, however, interested in crafting of all types. She shares her experiences and those of area crafters. To reach Joyce, call 461-8364 or e-mail Also, go to the blog at Hear podcasts on knitting at Crafty Living: Math4Knitters.