Friday, December 17, 2004
Crafts projects for real people
For those who relish the festive bustle of December, holiday preparations can take all kinds of forms: some of us shop, some bake, some follow more spiritual pursuits. All around Carlisle are families who greet the holiday season by breaking out the glitter and the glue guns. Daunted by my own quest for a crafts project that I could turn into a family tradition, I set out to see what other people were working on as handmade gifts or home décor ideas. Here are a few ideas that local families shared with me.
Timm Brandhorst and her two daughters, Emma (8) and Clare (6), collaborate on handmade gifts every year, varying the craft as the girls get older and more adept. "Each year the projects change — the tradition is just that we make something," Timm explains. "In the past, we've made bookmarks, tree ornaments, pot holders, picture frames, and paper chains." This year, the Brandhorsts are making pomander balls. Derived from the French words for "amber apples," pomander balls are a centuries-old craft popular in Colonial times in which aromatic spices are inserted into a piece of fruit, which can then be hung in a closet or room to scent the air.
Large lemons or oranges
Powdered fragrant spices such as cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg
12-inch squares of muslin cloth, tulle or cheesecloth (one per fruit)
Narrow fabric ribbon (approximately 6 inches per fruit)
Use a pin to make holes all over the peel of the fruit; then stick whole cloves into the holes. Roll the fruit in powdered fragrant spices. Shake off the loose powder and leave them to set for a few weeks in a cool, dry place. Then wrap each fruit in a square cloth and tie the cloth shut with the ribbon. Pomander balls are self-preserving; they last and continue to give off wonderful scents for years!
Salt dough ornaments
For Nancy Cowan, the challenge with crafts projects is finding something interesting enough for five-year-old Katherine but easy enough for two-year-old Samantha. This homemade salt dough, which bakes into a sparkling white, bisque-like texture, is the perfect solution. It takes five minutes to make and costs pennies per batch. Stamp out cookie-cutter shapes with it or hand-mold it. Once it dries, decorate the ornaments with paint, glitter, sequins and other glue-on pieces, or just leave them white. (Note that this dough is inedible, but non-toxic.)
Iodized salt (not kosher)
Place 1 cup of cornstarch into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add 2/3 cup water and stir until cornstarch is dissolved. Put aside. Place 2 cups of salt and another 2/3 cup water in a medium-sized saucepan and heat to boiling. Remove from heat once salt water starts to boil and add cornstarch liquid to saucepan. Stir constantly until mixture seizes up into a mashed potato-like consistency, about 20-30 seconds. (If mixture does not seize up after about one minute, return saucepan to heat and stir until it does.) Stir until dough has come together into a large ball. Let sit until cool enough to handle. Turn out onto a sheet of waxed paper and knead briefly until dough is smooth and pliable. Form shapes by hand, or roll out dough between two sheets of waxed paper with a rolling pin and use cookie cutters to cut out shapes. Poke a hole in each one with a nail so that you can hang them. Put shapes on a cookie sheet and bake at 200 degrees for about two hours. Let cool, then decorate however you wish! Store unused dough at room temperature in an airtight plastic bag.
In previous apartments, Sandy and Peter Nash used to tape the holiday cards they received from friends onto doorframes and walls. Once they moved into an antique farmhouse on Concord Street, they preferred to avoid sticking tape on their walls but still wanted to display the photos they receive each year. Sandy came up with a great solution. She bought a sheet of corrugated plastic, approximately six feet by three feet, at Charette's, for about $11 and used shears to cut out a Christmas tree shape. The plastic is rigid enough to stand on its own leaning against a wall; you could also glue a picture hanger to the back and hang it from a nail. As photo cards arrive from relatives and friends, Sandy uses double-sided tape to stick each one to the tree (starting with her own family photo at the top), making a distinctive holiday display that welcomes visitors to her home during the holiday season. At the end of the season, just "undecorate" the tree and put it away for next year.
© 2004 The Carlisle Mosquito