Put.the.glue.gun.down. Step.away.from.the.wire.cutters. The creative spirit at work - part I.

not my house, but definitely a dreary day in early December
There's something about cutting and pasting that I find hard to resist when it's an "inside" day. Oh, sure, I could while away the dreary hours with an improving book, or make and freeze any number of deadly side dishes, or catch up on phone calls, or even clean something, but the most appealing use of useless time, for me anyway, is to do something completely frivolous, completely useless, and yet generally harmless. I refer, of course, to the making of Christmas crafts.

This year, I've returned to a project that has been lying fallow since last year or the year before or - ok, let's face it, a lot longer ago than that. It has lain very fallow indeed for a very long time. If I make even a few moments' "progress" on it when the mood strikes of a rainy November night, well, I'm not going to say I'll feel that I've made life more worthwhile, but just that I haven't totally sat around like a lump while the Season of Crowds, Markdowns and Sales thunders ever closer.

In past years, I've provided directions on how to decorate with cut-up J.Crew or Anthropologie catalogs. Some of you may remember my justly famous Home-Made Paper Eucalyptus Trees. (takes bow) And the lesser known but still impressive Volcano of Sprinkles, Shreds and Sighs with Noises, Steam and Smoke is still discussed in awed voices in certain London streets. (looks for back-street exit. just in case.) Sadly, recent catalogs have not inspired festive thoughts. Recent issues of Vogue have struck me as a legible substitute for prune juice.

So I sat, gazing sullenly at my set of Six Decorative Scissors Suitable for Cutting Paper, grabbed from a clearance rack at my local Target because it was a great buy and also because one never knows when Life will require one to produce small pieces of paper with assorted decorative edges.

And then a project began to take (imaginary) shape. For as long as I can remember some of the cards we get each Holiday Season have been impossible to dispose of. I don't mean the ones with friends' babies in cute elf suits or their 6 children in plaid shirts or puppies in antlers - I love those too. Who wouldn't? But something about a moon shining on a deserted icy skating pond, or a Giacometti-like harp, or a fierce constellation, for example, speaks to me. Or a rabbit. So, I admit, we now have a few shoeboxes full of these cards, and I've always thought I should find a way to reuse them.

Um, just realized there are more than a few such boxes,
and the "tuck 'em away" thing has been going on
for more than 5 years. Oh, well.

above: not a covered dish but the beef stew 
I made the other night. Looks good, right?

So, anyway, our teeny but public-spirited village library out at Flintstone Manor was organizing its usual seasonal festivities - covered dish plus It's a Wonderful Life, covered dish plus Miracle on 34th Street, omg that was Natalie Wood sniffle sniffle, Late Book Return Amnesty Week, Late Book Return Amnesty Week Extension,  Late Movie Return Amnesty Week, Fund-Raiser with Lecture for Amnesty International late returns optional, Cookie Decorating, and - wait for it - Wreath-making Seminar with Refreshments. I didn't even need to go to the seminar, the flyers were so clear. This was Destiny. You affix stuff to a Wreath Base and add a bow. This was what the Decorative Scissors Suitable for Cutting Paper and the Hours of Short Gray Twilights were meant for. And of course my famous Seasonal Refreshments - the world's best bourbon balls. A brief moment while we contemplate what makes them so fabulous: I put rum and cognac in the cookies and we drink the bourbon.
When I got back to the city, I looked over my collection of shoeboxes/cards. Clearly a wreath made of whole cards was unworkable - but a wreath made of holly leaves cut from whole cards, or at least from the colorful spangly portions - well, if there's one thing this apartment has, it has doors and fences. The fences are on the terrace. I hang flags and decorations on them when so moved, and it has happened that I've hung smelly merchandise awaiting return out there too. Now in my spinning brain, several dozen imaginary card-based wreaths awaited assembly.

Why holly leaves? Because I can. That is, while I don't consider myself artistic, in 6th grade I learned to draw holly leaves, the travelling art teacher being of the belief that everyone should be able to draw a few simple and useful things: bunny at rest, bunny sitting up, back of bunny (like back of cat with change of ears & tail). Holly leaf, pair of holly leaves with berries. Stuff like that. We drew circles - using coins - to kick off the creative process. My mom, who could draw, felt that the desperate art teacher was stifling my artistic creativity. I will tell you, however, that my artistry with Views of The Bunny delights small children, and I'm glad to have this small skill. So - on to the holly leaf. On to maybe hundreds of holly leaves.

so anyway these are bunnies, not holly leaves.
um, in case you were, you know, wondering
Cutting the holly leaves from Christmas cards turned out to be a slow and painful process. The points and indentations were a challenge for the bargain scissors. My wrists and fingers hurt after making only 3 leaves. Solution: put the project away for another year.

And so another Christmas passed, and more cute cards were added to still another shoebox. It had become a dumb habit - one of, alas, many.

Still more time passed, and then I came across a shoebox stuffed with cards and a few pairs of funny-looking scissors. The light dawned. The leaves didn't have to be holly. They didn't need to look like any particular species. I mean, who would believe they were from a tree or a holly bush anyway? In fact, the final project, whatever it turned out to be, would look better if the leaves were all different random sizes. As they have turned out to be.

During a breather from cutting out leaves, my creative efforts in making a Wreath Base drew me back out to Flintstone Manor where there lurks a craft shop in a local mall, and - 'tis the season - they sell Wreath Bases! Effortless, as they say.

this is not a wreath that was covered at the library lecture.
I mean, who has household scraps that classy lying around?
One look at the wreath bases and I decided that rather than painstakingly glue each leaf to another leaf or to the base, I'd tape short lengths of wire to the backs of the leaves and connect the wires to the wreath base. After taping a few I decided to save time by using small file folder labels instead of tape. The creative process is slow but inexorable.

So I've been affixing wire to the backs of leaf cutouts, not constantly, my attention span tends to be wobbly and, as with grey t-shirts, one spangly multicolored leaf is much like any other, but the supply has built. Not to lose momentum,  I have been attaching them, at random, to the Wreath Base while debating whether further embellishment is called for.

volcano ingredients
noise-makers & food color optional
just so you know,
this not a neat & tidy project
Early training in an organization unlike the Girl Scouts has left me with a distressing taste for making things that go BANG, or at least PUFF, or pfft, and I'm considering adding interest to the project by having it emit puffs of glitter and alphabet noodles when someone walks by, but the building staff has asked for a little restraint. The building staff are generally fans of my creative efforts, by the way, and come upstairs on their breaks to take pictures of the seasonal works on display in the hallway. I prefer to think they take the pics because they find my creativity astounding. Himself wonders if they are CIA sub-contractors required to report strange sightings and that's why they can't make it upstairs with food deliveries before the food cools.

Question: is it even possible to make a plan to do/be/act "random"? Consider the implications of your answer as regards the attachment of leaves to a Wreath Base.

Part II of the Christmas Crafts post will include at least one picture of the completed wreath. Spoiler alert: there will only be one wreath. Enough already.


  1. Replies
    1. thanks, Wendy! this amorphous beast of project has been slouching its way towards becoming a wreath for truly at least 7 years - I looked at the dates on some of the cards. But it's now hanging outside the apartment door, and I caught our handyman taking a photo to send to his family, so I think by my next post it'll be ready for prime time.

  2. This post mad me snort loudly and titter so much that one of my colleagues is now reading it too!
    Planning anything random seems somewhat futile ;-)

    I would love to see visuals of the finished wreath!

    1. hi, Ruth, glad you enjoyed!

      so yes, the wreath is just about finished, and has posed for a few iPhone pics, smiling modestly.

  3. You go girl! "Crafting" can be totally invigorating or just a huge pain in the ass. I actually have a craft room that seems to be a running joke with my loving, supporting family. I can not wait to see the finished product so I can swear under my breath.

    1. hi, BB, I'm always enthusiastic when i get the idea, then about ⅔ of the way through boredom sets in. When I returned from my honeymoon, my mother had dropped off a bulging carton at our new place. It contained projects I hadn't finished, going back to an unheeded green wool skirt from 7th grade.

  4. So it's been 7 years but I'm very impressed with your tenacity, talk about stick-to! I am not a crafty person though I do try my hand at sewing but I have no patience.
    Like Ruth I was snorting my way through this post, thanks Fred!

    1. Oh, no, not tenacity. Procrastination - coupled with the inability to throw anything away.

  5. Fred, honey, we need to pour you a nice Woodford Reserve.

    So, I was on a conference call yesterday when I first saw that first photo and did not realize I wasn't on mute. oh well. I recovered enough to say something sobering about something sober.

    You are a "klisterer"! My Norwegian grandma possibly made up this word, as in, "Lane what are you doing klistering on my good table"? Involved glitter,glue, little stars etc. I love that you klister.

    1. Oh, and I reuse cards by cutting out shapes or just rounds with pinking shears to make our gift tags. Fun! And keeps the boxes down.

    2. Hi, Lane, as dopey things people do over the holidays, this is pretty harmless and not nearly as messy as SantaCon.

      Glad you got a chuckle!

  6. Crafts...oy vey. I was not well versed even when i was a girl scout. i was demoted from leader bc i asked whats the point. I have this thrifty thing in me that has all the best intentions though. I say get craft scissors to save time, yoga for tenacity. Vogue is indeed prune juice lately!!

    1. I have the same "thrifty thing" and I'm trying to learn to fight it. Not easy.

  7. Wow...you are very committed. And thanks, now I think I could draw a bunny:) Crafts used to be great fun to me,then I burned myself, cut myself and my result looked like shit, so I gave up and stick to knitting now. Good for you!

    1. Well, this effort has required no sharp edges - the scissors are meant for first graders - and no wax or hot glue. In fact since I like a glass or two of red wine while crafting or other mindless activity, I stoppered using the tape dispenser and switched to Avery stick-on file labels to stick the leaves to their wires. I'm all about household safety.

  8. You are hilarious. I have no crafting abilities whatsoever. I'd have made a terrible school teacher.

    1. No, you'd have called in the Room Mother. Or, if allowed, traded off with another teacher. Tee hee.

  9. As I am consumed with work this month, your blog is my " improving book". I can't wait for part 2 f this post to see the finished wreath!

    1. Hi, KnitYarns! coming soon to a small screen near you!

  10. I had to get the sewing machine out this week as I didn't have enough time to have a velvet skirt needed for a Christmas party hemmed by a tailor. After many attempts of trying to attach the seam binding by machine and having to make constant use of the seam ripper due to the slippery nature of real velvet, I recognized how I have let my skills diminish. I guess it is time to put down the iPad and do something constructive. Can't wait to see the wreath. Bravo.

    1. Wow, Teacups, I am impressed. Sewing on velvet scares me, and I've been known to hem pants with an office stapler (long side of the staple on the inside). However, the great thing about the current project is that if I stop, say for a cup of coffee, I can walk away from it and nothing happens - paint doesn't dry, stitches don't slip, sugar doesn't burn. It's mindless, silly and relaxing.


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