Hand Made Christmas Traditions
A Family Tradition of Hand Made Christmas Decorations
Every year, as Christmas draws near, beautifully decorated Christmas trees begin to pop up everywhere. In public spaces everywhere, trees are put up, decorated with thought and planning. In stores and catelogs, dozens of them are covered with themed decorations for sale. In our city, there is even an annual Christmas Tree Festival, where lavishly decorated trees are decorated to compete in various categories, with the ultimate goal of raising funds for local charities.
These beautiful trees often involve significant planning and organization, are decorated with a theme in mind, or at least have matching colours. I love to see them every year.
Then, there's our tree. It won't win any decorating awards, has no theme and no cohesion. Those fancy trees, as beautiful as they are, will never grace our own home. Our tree is the result of a tradition of hand made decorations that now spans almost 20 years, and it's one my children have grown to love and contribute to as they've gotten older.
Here, I would like to share with you just some of the hand made decorations that now grace our Christmas tree. I hope you enjoy them, and are inspired to make a few of your own.
All photos are my own, taken with a Nikon D80 and an 18-55mm lens.
Simple Crochet Spirals and Balls - The ones that started it all.
The Christmas of 1993 was fast approaching. Our first child was almost 9 months old and very close to walking. For her first Christmas, I did not want to be constantly keeping her out of the tree for fear she'd hurt herself or break something. I wanted to allow her to actually touch, even play with, our trees. With this in mind, I began a search for child safe Christmas decorations that I liked.
My search failed. What few child safe decorations I found were pretty darn ugly. What I did find, however, was really pretty Christmas yarn. Having recently - finally! - figured out how to crochet, I decided that I would use these lovely yarns to make our decorations. I settled on making simple spirals, plus balls stuffed with fibrefill in two sizes.
We still have them. Looking at them now, I'm almost embarressed by them. The spirals are fine, but the balls are rather lumpy and not particularly round. Then I remember that I had no idea how to make a ball shape in crochet, nor could I find a pattern (this was, after all, in the days before the internet became common!), so I'd simply made them up as I went along. Looking at it that way, I think I did all right after all!
Glittery Christmas Yarn
When making yarn-based decorations for your tree, it's nice to have something with a metallic component to catch and reflect the lights on the tree.
Felt Stockings - Marking the turn of a millenium
The crochet decorations served well for a few years, but I hadn't quite got into the yearly tradition of making new decorations on an annual basis. There were a few that I made, but not in any significant numbers.
The next larger batch of decorations we made were, once again, brought on by necessity. We now had two daughters, aged 3 and 6 years, and we had just moved to another province for what was originally a 6 month contract with my husband's new job. With that in mind, we brought very few items with us, and no furniture at all.
We ended up living there for almost 2 years!
We had moved out in November, and ended up buying a 4 ft artificial tree (we've always had artificial trees). Since the move was supposed to be short term, we weren't about to spend a lot of money on decorations. Most of the decorations that year were made up of sea shells quickly decorated with ribbons and bows.
Making these was very quick and simple. I made a cardboard template to cut out the stocking shapes, plus another for a basic rectangular stocking top; the shaped ones were cut on the fly. The other felt shapes were done freehand. Some embroidery thread, beads, glow in the dark paint and some ric rac for hangers was all I needed.
Thirteen Christmases later, the glow in the dark paint still glows as bright as when I first made them!
Felt Stocking details - Here's a closer look at the stockings.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Simple Felt Bells - More easy and child safe decorations
Eventually, we moved again, and were back to living near family. By this time, making decorations had become an annual event, and when living near family, most of them were given out as gifts, sometimes added as decoration to a regular wrapped gift. Some years, depending on where we lived, materials could be hard to come by. These felt decorations were simple, used easy to find materials, and were inexpensive to make.
Once again, a carboard template was made. You might recognise the ric rac from the felt stockings! Yes, I still had some left over. A bit of stuffing and some buttonhole stitch in embroidery thread made for some quick and easy, child safe decorations.
It would be a few years before "child safe" was no longer a high priority!
Felt is a very versatile crafting material.
Crochet Garland - With a night time surprise
I made this garland as a way to use a new yarn I'd found. The pattern itself is very simple and easily adaptable. I madeanother version, edged in glittery eyelash yarn, which was used to decorate a staff Christmas tree and was later sold.
When the lights are out, the glow in the dark yarn is revealed.
Yarn with a Glow
Taking Christmas lights to a different level!
Shisha and mixed media decorations - Starting to go all out!
Several more years - and moves - later, and my tentative tradition had grown into something much more defined. I began to actively seek out new crafts to try, and to experiment with different materials. Perhaps the most elaborate of these annual decorations were these, with a shisha mirror focal point.
Shisha mirror embroidery is a beautiful Indian art that I was eager to try out. It is typically done with a very light glass mirror, but none was to be had, so I used regular round mirrors found in a craft store. They are much heavier then traditional shisha mirros, but they worked beautifully.
The fabric I used for these were left over from costumes I'd sewn for the girls, and I used a variety of embroidery threads, beads and semi-precious stones. At this point, giving these decorations as gifts had also become part of our tradition, and it was not unusual for us to have only about half of the total number of decorations made left for our own tree. If we lived near family, I would make one for each household. When we lived away from family, we would choose several to gift to new friends we'd made over the past year.
Our Shisha Mirror decorationsClick thumbnail to view full-size
More shisha decoration detailsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Learn More About Shisha Embroidery
A gorgeous, traditional form of embroidery.
Blackwork - in colour! - Adapting traditional embroidery patterns
Another set of decorations mixing techniques and updating traditions. Blackwork embroidery is a type of embroidery using a variety of stitches, mostly back stitch, and done almost exclusively in black thread, though some versions are done in red. I adapted patterns for blackwork to fit onto small Aida cloth strips. Some of these were stuffed and sewn into little pillows, while others had cinnamon stitcks sewn in so that they were sticking partly out the top. All included scented oil in the stuffing, and where edged in crochet thread, some with beads.
Scented SachetsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Learn more about the rich history of blackwork embroidery and the many cultural patterns and designs.
Cinnamon Dough Decorations - Sparkling cookie shapes
Here's a plate of cookies you definitely wouldn't want to eat!
Many years ago, I had made a garland using a combination of purchased beads and beads I'd made using a cinnamon dough. The garland itself broke after a couple of years, but I hung on to the beads for quite a while before yet another move saw them passing out of our possession. The beads had kept their scent for many years.
I love a tree full of lights, so our decorations were usually planned to reflect light. These are no exception, while adding an extra dimension of scent. They were great fun to make and decorate!
A Gallery of Cinnamon Dough Decorations - Just a few of the entire set.Click thumbnail to view full-size
For a craft like this, save money and buy in bulk!
Temari ornaments - A different take on Japanese hand balls.
Perhaps the most elaborate Christmas decorations we've made were these temari. Temari literally means hand (Te) ball (Mari) and are a beautiful Japanese art. These were the first temari I ever made, using 2 and 2 1/2 inch foam cores. Since then, I've made others with and without hangers on 3 inch balls. I definitely recommend using the larger size to start with!
Temari gallery - A closer look at the different temari patternsClick thumbnail to view full-size
So many beautiful patterns! From the simple to the elaborate, these are sure to inspire.
A variety over the years - A few extra ornaments, some of which were experiments, others are the only ones left from certain years.Click thumbnail to view full-size
Wrapped Stars - Fast, easy and flexible
For our 2010 ornaments, the girls and I worked up some wrapped 8 pointed stars. They turned out to be really fun to make, and there were so many ways to make each one unique! It's a great way to use up small amounts of yarn, as well as crochet thread and ribbon yarn, in all sorts of combinations. We even reversed the wrapping sequence in a few of them, which I found I actually liked better. The open centres can be decorated in all sorts of ways, or be used for a photo.
A gallery of a few of our wrapped starsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Spice is Nice! - Organic textures, natural spice scents, and a hint of metallic shine
When I was a child, my mother showed us how to use blown egg shells as a base to glue on various seeds, pulses and spices to make decorations. My childish attempts were rather disastrous, but the memory of how fun they were to make stuck with me. In 2011, we decied to continue the scented route, but wanted to go for a more organic look and feel, and these were inspired by my childhood memories.
We raided the spice cupboard, used purchased shapes and added a touch of shine by using metallic paints to make some rather unique decorations.
Shine and SpiceClick thumbnail to view full-size
Blank ornaments are available in many inspiring shapes and sizes.
Listed, but not photographed
Over the years, there were a lot of other ornaments made that either didn't survive all our moves, or were all given away, but are still great crafts to try. Here are a few of them:
Mexican God's Eye: A quick and easy craft that can also be a yarn stashbuster.
Cross stitched "pillows": Tiny squares of aida cloth were stitched and sewn together with stuffing and a hanger to make little pillows.
Beaded medalions: A single large bead was framed with rings of smaller beads to make a medallion. These were great to add to the ribbons and bows of gifts.
Bead weaving: Small seed bead designs where needle woven in peyote or brick stitch.
Precious gifts! - Friends and family have added to our collection with other hand crafted decorations!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our 2012 Christmas Tree - Plus some overflow decorationsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Do you have hand made decorations on your Christmas tree?
Feel free to share some of your family's favourite traditions.