Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas Ornaments, a family tradition

I come from a long line of creative people. My great grandmother (gma Lefler) is as far back as I remember. She use to braid my hair, taught me how to do needlepoint when I was little, made amazing rolls and molasses cookies, was always making us clean (boo hiss), and always had yarn in her hands. I currently have  4 afghan blankets she made. One of which she made for my wedding day, which she never witnessed.

Then there is my gma Hewitt (currently known as cowboy gma). Gma is always positive, willing to do just about anything, and (sorry gma) can't bake. She loves to thrift shop, play bingo, and eat out. She also paints. I wish I had just an ounce of her painting abilities. She will say she isn't very good - but I disagree. She and gpa have been making Christmas ornaments ever since I can remember.

Gpa cuts them out and sands them (I think). Then gma does the painting and photo finishing. There are a million different templates. Each year there are more designs. My tree is full of ornaments from my childhood (and my husband's as she made a bunch of him when we got married) and of my kids. My tree is very 'handmade' looking - and I LOVE it. There was a time (probably middle school/high school years - you know the ones - the ones you thought you knew everything and should have things just so?) when I wanted a pretty, fancy, store bought type tree. Thank goodness those years are behind me. We have a TON of fun with the kids every year going through all the pictures and telling family stories.

And, my mom. She will do anything in her powers to help family, and (sorry mom) CAN'T cook or bake. But, she sews, knits, crochets, rug hooks, and has done some painting (many years ago). She has made so many fabulous items - and a few crazy ones too - which is part of what I love.

My mother-in-law. She can sew, knit, paint, and come up with just about any kid project. She was the one that gave me the confidence to try sewing clothes.

As for the men - my gpa Hewitt (cowboy gpa) is the only person I know that can smoke a cigar while walking for exercise! (silly gpa) But hey, he is healthier than he has been (that I can remember) and at 80+ y/o smoking is NOT what is going to take his life. Gpa is a talented wood worker and can figure ANYTHING out. He was a pattern maker by trade (he had to look at something, figure out how it worked, and then make a pattern to make more). He has made all kinds of furniture pieces over the years (one of which I have!) and was able to bring to life just about anything gma could think of. Oh, he can text, email and Skype with us.

My dad is also a really talented woodworker (although he will deny it) and graphic designer. He has an amazing design sense. He can build houses (a very handy ability for me!) and any furniture piece you can imagine. Whenever I am stuck on designs - he is the person I go to.

These are just SOME of my influences - but hits the high points. This time of year, the Christmas ornaments are always the high point - along with all the cookies. But, since cookies just add to my hips - I will try to focus on the ornaments. ;)  The pictures show just a small sample of what I am talking about. For everyone, there are a few standards.
1. birth = lamb
2. wedding = chapel
3. first house = house

Luckily, I have learned how to make them as well. I haven't made many of my own yet - 1 because I can't really paint and 2 because gma is still making them!

Do you want to know how to make them too?

Use 1/4" wood, trace/draw a simple image.
Cut out (this is where the power tools come in handy).
 Drill hole in top for hanging string.
Paint base coat (both sides).
Now, on one side - paint all the details. There is a shortcut for this section - simply buy those pre-painted wood items at the craft stores. They are a lot thinner, but will work just fine. All you have to do is drill the hole and add the picture.

Choose the picture to put on the back of the ornament. This is actually kind of tricky. It is not easy choosing photos that work well with each shape. Luckily, digital photos make this a little easier.
Print on photo paper and cut image to fit on ornament. It works best to cover the entire side with the photo, but not necessary. You will need to plan your painting around the photo if it doesn't cover the entire back side.
Once all paint is dry, glue photo to ornament (Tacky glue works well). Make sure to have glue cover the entire photo back surface for best adhesion.
Once dry, it is time to write names and dates on the photo. This of course can be done in your photo editing software. But, traditionally has been hand written using paint pens (which I think adds to the handmade look).
The last part is what makes these last forever. The photo is coated with a polyester/resin 2 part mix similar to this. Craft stores and home improvement stores (in larger quantities) tend to carry similar products. It doesn't take much per ornament 1/4-1 tsp depending on the size of the ornament.
Once that dries, simply tie on a string and you are ready to add a wonderful memory to your tree for many years to come.

A couple of notes:
The poly/resin mix is self leveling. Use a LEVEL surface when working! Make sure to use as little as necessary - it will run - to cover the entire photo and about 1/8" beyond the photo edge. The mix will have air bubbles form while curing. Simply gently exhale on the coating - mouth wide open -do not blow like you are blowing out candles. GENTLE breath will pop the bubbles. Let the coating cure according to the directions.

To store, wrap in wax paper. I would avoid storing in a hot attic, but I think it can be done. Just not sure what will happen.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Not only are these fun to put on your own tree, but they also make a great gift for others if you can get your hands on their pictures.

Do you have favorite holiday traditions? Please share.

Want to see LOTS of other really cool stuff? check out the Linky party happening at Home Stories A to Z.

Home Stories A2Z


  1. I love that! What a wonderful life story to tell every year! We have a traditional "christmas ornament" gift. Every year I gift my daughter an ornament. As a child I recieved a new ornament every year, then when I was old enough and had my own place- I recieved all my ornaments for my own tree. I have taken one step differently with my daughter, I give her an ornament from something that impacted her or something she did every year. (since she was old enough to do things!). She has a Bronners Name from the year she was born - a yellow happy face with braces from the year she got her braces, a viola w/ music from last year, This years ornament is the first she helped to pick out - it's a Mackinac Bridge - from her class trip. She also has ski's, ballet slippers and more. I keep them in the original box, and write on the lid usually - the date and why that ornament. It gives her a little bit of my handrwritting for keepsake, and tells her story. I've noticed in recent years - she can share many of the details with visitors and enjoys opening each one up to place on the tree. (it also means that she won't have a tree full of dated ornaments, or of only handmade childish items.) I treasure the school made ornaments and handmade ones she's brought me too...

    1. I like your ideas! I have several of the kids' ornaments that they too will get when they have their own trees. Thanks for sharing.