Tag Archives: crochet

Crocheted Christmas

Many people have traditions regarding their Christmas trees. There are live (real) Christmas trees or artificial ones which at least don’t shed needles and don’t require the death of a live tree. Then there are the lights – multicolored, all white, or all blue. (My mother didn’t care for these, as they always made her think of families in mourning. But I digress.)

There’s also the question of what goes on top – star and angel are the most popular choices. Ornaments vary from old, family ones that represent children’s ages or antiques passed down; modern ornaments that all have the same look; or handmade ones, often made by children. (Our old friend John used to add modeled clay ornaments, including naked fertility goddesses, to celebrate the pagan origins of the holiday tree. But I digress again.) To tinsel or not to tinsel is another choice. If a pet gets into it, tinsel can cause intestinal blockages or festive poop.

My mother’s tradition certainly included handmade ornaments of a specific style – crocheted. Mom (for some unknown reason, my friends and family called her Muzz) had the needlework gene passed down from her mother, who knitted.

Her specialty was snowflakes. They allowed for creativity, as no two snowflakes are said to be the same. (I don’t know how that could be tested, aside from examining every snowflake that ever fell. More digression.) Muzz had a special process to ensure non-floppiness of the snowflakes – she laid them out flat and dosed them with Elmer’s glue. When it dried, she had snowflakes that stood up to anything and never melted.

Muzz and her tree, complete with angel topper.

The rest of her ornaments were multicultural gifts. She had a fair number of foreign penpals that she connected with through crochet magazines. They shared patterns and sometimes completed ornaments that represented their skill or their culture. Muzz even sent a friend in India a large bottle of Elmer’s for her crocheted items. Other people – friends, neighbors, and church ladies – gifted Muzz with ornaments they collected on their travels. Many of them were Santas. There is a stunning number of Santas in various poses available.

For the topper, her tradition was one that owed its origin to my dad. He always insisted that it should be an old, dilapidated angel every year. It had a little smudge on its face. It reminded him of the 1938 film Angels With Dirty Faces – not strictly speaking a Christmas movie, but one he always liked, notably the title. (It had a hella cast, too.) After my father died, Muzz kept up the tradition.

Muzz was not one of those who liked plastic trees or put them up right after Thanksgiving. (We have a friend who kept her artificial tree up well into the spring. She decked it with suitable ornaments for Valentine’s Day and Easter. Yet more digression.) In early to mid-December, we would take her out to a tree lot and help her pick one out. Later, when she had less mobility, Dan and I would choose one, discussing what she would like best. It couldn’t be too tall, since she wasn’t able to stand on a step stool to place the angel. She always seemed pleased with what we brought home.

Alas, some of those traditions have now lapsed, owing to the fact that Dan and I no longer get a tree. It seems like too much for just the two of us, not to mention that we have cats. (Digressions continue. A friend of mine used to hang soft, felt ornaments on the lower branches specifically for her cat to steal and leave in various places around their house. She kept count of the thefts every year.)

I don’t know. Maybe it would be worth it to hang a garland on our balcony railing, just to hang my mother’s ornaments on it.

What are your holiday traditions?

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The Needlework Gene

My mother used to make me dresses out of flour sacks. No, we weren’t sharecroppers, although one of my great-uncles was. Back in the day, flour sacks were printed with calico patterns just so people could use them for clothing. It may have started back in the Depression, but it lasted well into my childhood. Later in life, when I was a teen, my mother found a bolt of cloth in the fabric store that was printed with a design that looked exactly like a feed sack. Of course, I insisted that she make me a tunic with the company logo featured prominently as a call-back to my childhood garb.

The gene for needlework may have been passed down through my family. My maternal grandmother was a knitter. She made sweaters for everyone in the family and sewed a little tag into each of them saying “Made Especially for You by Grandma Rose.” She could even knit a sweater from a crochet pattern, which if you know anything about needlework, is quite a feat.

My mother, of course, was a seamstress. She made a lot of clothes for me and my sister, including lots of calico shirts when the cosmic cowboy craze was on in the ’70s. She was prone to whimsy, as you probably guessed from the flour sack story. Once when she found some camouflage-print flannel, she made me my favorite floor-length nightgown (I had ones in yellow and blue) from it. One year at Halloween she even made me a nightcap to go with it. I powdered my hair and went to the party as “Rambo’s Granny,” a joke that no one seemed to get. Another time she made me a forest green wool cape and matching Robin Hood hat, which I wore to my college archery class. (The teacher just rolled her eyes and said nothing.) But most of the time she stuck to doll clothes and dresses and the like.

Later in life, my mother took up crocheting. She collected crochet pattern magazines and even acquired some foreign crocheting pen pals from the classified page. They exchanged handmade Christmas ornaments (crocheted snowflakes “starched” with Elmer’s glue were a favorite) and my mother sent needlecraft supplies that her correspondents couldn’t find in India or the Dominican Republic. Of course, we all got homemade Christmas sweaters that I would never dare call ugly, though my husband got one with a large moose on it.

I thought that perhaps the needlepoint gene had skipped a generation. I sewed a skirt and vest when I was forced to in junior high home ec, but my crafty efforts were more usually paint-by-numbers or wood-burning or ceramics. Then I discovered latch-hooked rugs, which involves short strands of yarn and a device that looks like it was designed to be used on high-button shoes. I still have on the sofa a small pillow that I latch-hooked and somewhere there’s a planet-scape rug that I hooked. This may have been a different manifestation of the needlework gene, as my maternal grandfather braided rugs in his time.

Hooked rugs quickly became passé. I’ve noticed that needlework crafts tend to come in waves like that. So next I took up needlepoint, then bargello, and eventually found my métier in counted cross-stitch. This provided the illusion of sewing without the need to actually sew anything. Instead one followed a pattern of wee Xs in different-colored thread (called floss) to make a picture. The cloth was full of tiny, regularly spaced holes to make the Xs in. It took less skill than embroidery and produced works that were easier to give away than hooked rugs. My mother-in-law still has a set of red-and-blue quilt-patterned pillows that I made for her.

Now, however, my eyesight continues to grow poorer and my hands to shake more with each passing year, so I’ve had to give up cross-stitch. Despite the fact that my mother continued to crochet dolls and stuffed animals for her church’s Christmas bazaar while her eyes were failing, I still don’t crochet. I can never get the tension right although there’s lots of it my life. And since I don’t have kids, the needlework gene ends here.

Still, I haven’t lost my interest in the needle arts. Just start doing petit-point or quilting near me and I’ll be looking over your shoulder.