Skirts & Stockings…

There was a short time frame in my life when I thought I was invincible. I don’t mean those teenage years when you think nothing bad can ever happen. I knew better, having lost my only brother when he was 12. No, this short segment of time actually felt like 2 minutes, but it was more like 5 years. I’m here to tell you the sad tale about a gal who thought she had talent. Me.

No fireplace mantle. Bought a curtain rod and hung our stockings on the sliders…

My 5 year stint in infamy started around 1980. My wonderful sister-in-law Elly was more than handy, she was talented and crafty. And really, really into Christmas. Every December she painted her huge dining room window in a different religious Christmas setting. Hark the herald angels sing, the manger scene, Mary and Joseph with Jesus. You get the picture. Ha-ha-a pun. Wish I had one to show you. I think Elly painted the scene backwards so the window looked best to those walking or driving past her house. Amazing. People in Spencer looked forward to what she would paint every Advent. Elly had craft and talent oozing from her pores. My pores have always been clogged.

Elly set the bar unbelievably high. We lived in Spencer from 1977 until 1982, so I was aware of her gifts and my lack there of. She made me a bisque Nativity Set for Christmas in 1979 by hand. I might have given her a set of dish towels. Cringe. Part of it was she was crafty and enjoyed it. Part of it was she really thought a lot of our whole family. Since she’s 18 years older than her baby brother (my Hubs) we didn’t know her and Dewey very well when we got married. But that changed dramatically when we moved to the same town they lived in, Spencer. Their 4 kids were mostly grown, married and having babies of their own by then. Our warm relationship was part-friendship, part antique collectors and maybe a little-mother-son-daughter-thing. Our kids knew Elly and Dewey as aunt and uncle, but really considered them more like another set of grandparents. This closeness lasted long after we moved away.

The following year in 1980, Elly made me a Christmas tree skirt. Woman!! A kit she bought, cutting out different colored stamped felt pieces. Sewing them to the circle skirt. With sequins and pom poms. I was humbled by her talents and great gifts. I needed to up my game and do something awesome for her for a change. Except for those damn plugged pores which enveloped my whole body. I was hopeless. And clogged up.

Nevertheless, I bought a tree skirt kit right after Christmas that year. Probably because Sernett’s had them on clearance. I was determined to make Elly something handmade which conveyed how much she meant to me and prove it was possible to unclog my clumsy-no-talent-pores. The skirt took me the better (ha-who-am-I-trying-to-kid-MISERABLE) part of 1981 (that whole year still gives me the willies) but I got-r-done. And the skirt turned out quite nice. But something happened to me during the process. Even though it was torture, I actually thought I could do crafty projects. As if.

Another friend living in Spencer named Shari, was more artsy-fartsy than Elly. Maybe I ran around with them to keep myself humble. Now I was eating humble pie on a regular basis. Shari convinced me our Christmas tree needed more homemade ornaments. (Just kill me now). She brought over little patterns of semi-easy (but 10 on the difficulty scale for this putz). I bought pieces of felt, cutting out tiny shapes, glueing and sewing eyes, ears and mouths. I didn’t realize there were stores full of craft and sewing needs in the world. When the directions called for a bit of stuffing in the snowman or bear’s belly, I had no idea what to use. I finally ran to the dryer and pulled out the full lint trap. Ta-da, stuffing. It was at this time that I should have realized crafts and Neese had no business doing business together. But foolishly thought I had morphed into a crafty person. Indeed.

The snowman and teddy bear I struggled to make with dryer lint 1980..,

Sadly we moved from Spencer so my two encouraging mentors were no longer available for their uplifting chats. I was on my own in the craft world, which really ended being a form of Dante’s hell. I got the crazy notion our whole family needed handmade felt Christmas stockings. And we numbered 5. Might as well have been 19 & Counting Duggars (without all their weird shit). I bought 5 stocking kits at the end of the year clearance sale. Giving me plenty of time, about 8 weeks each to finish them before December 1st, the following year. Piece of cake. Not.

Each stocking was different. I started on the one I deemed the easiest. But it was also the biggest. Why hadn’t I looked on the package and noticed that one was gigantic? The other 4 were all the same size. Right away, Joshua claims the big one. He thinks more candy and toys will fit in it of course. Smart kid. He was about 9. The kit had all these minuscule parts you have to cut out. Little cheeks, eyeballs, and hands. The parts that didn’t have felt to cut out, you had to stitch in the blushing cheeks or little mouth. Nightmares are easily made of similar things. The pattern on Joshua’s stocking is a little boy and girl coming down the stairs with Santa and his bag of toys at the bottom. The actual stocking had a blue inked pattern where all these tiny parts needed to be sewn. They have to be stitched in exactly the right place or the blue marks show and it looks like ka-ka. Houston, we have ka-ka.

My stitches are big, uneven and blue ink marks are on the side of his face. Sigh…

Remember now, we’ve moved from Spencer to Davenport so I’m not only new in town, I’m alone and 350 miles away. Long distance phone calls are expensive and not to be wasted on silly craft projects when one is not crafty. I had already bravely walked into 30 Lanes and gotten on a bowling team and league. These gals would soon become some of my dearest friends (still) and wouldn’t ‘ya know, some of them had the craft gene. One perfectionist named Mary Lou (not to be confused with my bestie, Mary Ellen aka-Fred) noticed Joshua’s stocking, I had barely started on it, but definitely showing some blue ink where there shouldn’t be. She literally gasped and choked. Started clucking her tongue and shaking her head. Not pleased. This would not do. At all. Asked what in the world was I trying to accomplish? Gulping, I tried to explain. Stuck her hand up and out (no explanation can fix this Denise) grabbed all 5 kits as she left my house. (Thank you God).

Hubs and my stocking done professionally by Mary Lou, 1984…

Mary Lou might have finished them the following day by the end of business. Oh I jest, but they did not take her very long, maybe a month, tops. You did see ‘perfectionist’ by her name, right? I don’t remember what all I did for Mary Lou. Gave her some money and did some baking (take that Mary Lou, she didn’t really like cooking or baking, yay me) for the next few months. And my family had some exquisite Christmas stockings. I did manage to add each name on the tops of their own stocking, using leftover sequins. I think Shannon might have helped me with one or 2. And the small bubble burst and I realized no more crafts cause I just wasn’t capable. My little world was happy until there was no cute stocking for the very exquisite Ariana. My first grandchild. I had heart palpitations for 6 months after she was born, worrying about her lack of a Christmas stocking. While I hemmed and hawed on this new (wonderful) dilemma I got her a store bought stocking and hung my head in shame.

Lame store bought cheap stockings while I figured out who could make me more…

Another move and we’re in North Muskegon. I started working in the kitchen at McDonald’s. Great job, best boss. Ever. Not too long after I started, Mark the owner hired a gal my age named Carol. She had ‘crafty’ tattooed on her forehead, so spotting her was easy. Ari was now about 5 (yes, 5 years of shame for her lame stocking). I bought a cute stocking kit for her and Carol whipped up that puppy in nothing flat. Raggedy Ann and Andy, both with orange hair. Too stinking adorable. A couple years later, Shannon married Tracey, so Carol stitched one for him. Two years later, Landon (come on say it with me, “Drew to the rest of the world”) made his basketball appearance and Carol made a stocking for him. And yes, the name Landon will forever be on his stocking.

After a few years, I left McDonald’s and Carol moved. We would have a short respite until our little ballerina Peyton danced her way into my life. I was without a crafty person again. Dang it, how can it be so hard to keep these peeps in my ordinary life? At the time I was Parish Visitor and thought maybe one of my ‘gals’ could make a stocking. Now it’s been 20 years since I first bought felt stocking kits. The ones Carol made looked nothing like the ones from the mid-’80’s. Bling. They have sequins up the wa-zoo, and the patterns are so detailed. Not an inch on the stocking is without some decoration. Some of my little ladies could have done it a decade before but not anymore.

I had a part-time job cooking 2 nights a week at an assisted living facility. I use the term ‘cooking’ loosely but that’s a blog for another day. I asked around and a co-worker offered to make a stocking for 40 bucks with the promise it would be done by Christmas Eve. Oh boy. Why didn’t I ask for references? She stopped me in the hallway a couple days before Christmas. “I’m not going to be done with the stocking. It’s so hard. Everything takes too long. Sorry.”

My beautiful fairy ballerina, Peyton, 12, 2016…

About 6 weeks later, the gal at work handed me a bag. I gave her the money and eagerly reached for the stocking. There are not words to describe what was in front of me. I just stood there and cried. Out of frustration and anger. Let me show you a Christmas ornament that Ari made in Montessori preschool when she was 3. Yes, 3. The little beige doodle bug shows more talent than my ruined 15 dollar kit plus the money I just doled out. I honestly don’t know how anyone could hand that monstrosity to me. I would have lied and said my house burned down. Sorry I’m homeless. I threw it back in the bag and begged God that John would forget about the stocking and not ask to see it. Wrong. Sorry God, no more frivolous praying for dumb stuff. He (John not God, though God for sure was dumbstruck about the stocking too).

Top left center, beige doodle bug ornament made with more expertise by Ari, 3, 1994..;

Back to the drawing board. I had recently bought an old handmade quilt top. Why, I haven’t a clue. My friend had inherited it and didn’t want it. The quilt top was twin size, made of small squares of very loud 1940-ish cotton. I wanted to have it finished, but the right way. Of course I was having trouble finding the right person for this job. Everyone who looked at the quilt top wanted to do 2 things. Machine quilt it and fold all the darling zig-zag edge pieces down. Ugh. No, I waited because it would have been hand quilted had it been finished 60 years ago. And the most unique part of the quilt top was the edge. An amazing talented gal named Sue from my church came to my rescue. She belongs to at least one quilt club, maybe several. Her work is unbelievable. I literally drool when I see her quilts. Which ticks her off because of the dry cleaning bill. Sue finished my quilt perfectly, hand quilting it and leaving the cute edges.

Neat quilt that Sue completed. The bottom black edge is the cutest part, 2009…

Light bulb revelation. Maybe Sue was the crafty person missing in my life. She was!! I brought over a couple stocking kits and the pitifully sad sack stocking (so Sue would feel sorry for me). After her disbelief mumbling about the hack job, she squealed “Ohh, this looks like fun.” (Are you for real?) For the most part (except for the quilt and Christmas tree skirts later) Sue refused monetary payment. Lucky for this loser, she didn’t enjoy cooking and seemed to like mine. And loved my canned goods. Every time I made something special, I brought over a meal, a basket, or dessert to Sue’s and Bill’s house. Sue made Peyton’s, Graham’s, Sarah’s, and Erica’s stockings. Then she whipped up 4 Christmas tree skirts one year for Shannon, Joshua, Adam and Ari’s big gift.

To be on the safe side Sue stitched 2 spare Christmas stockings for our family, which continues to grow. Thanks God. Those two have been languishing in my antique blanket chest. I got them out hoping Ari might become a new mommy by Christmas. But our little baby girl was not quite ready to celebrate Christmas with us in 2016. Graham, grandpa and I got into a heated discussion about which stocking was perfect for her of the 2, so I invited Ari over to choose. (Ha-she chose the one I picked out. Maybe not as much ‘bling’ but it’s a little snow angel. Duh, easy choice) Then I tucked it back in the blanket chest and will stitch her little sequin name for 2017. I offered to stitch Josh’s name on the blingy one this Christmas. “Not yet gram. Wait until he proposes!” Smart girl. Gotcha….

For Josh if he ever proposes…

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