Honoring the Gift: Three Wise Men Get a Bit of TLC

Making something from scratch has its rewards. We all like new and shiny things. Honoring the past, though, also has its rewards. I love the challenge of bringing something back to its former self, especially when it has history and meaning.

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Three Wise Men, Originally crafted by Laura’s Aunt and Mother

My friend Laura grew up with these treasures: three wise men, lovingly crafted from the remnants of home-made holiday dresses. Laura’s aunt and mother followed a craft idea of the day. Each of the wise men started with a brown glass beer bottle. The head is a silk Christmas ball, popular in the sixties and the crown is the top half of a Styrofoam coffee cup. Sequins and felt are used for the eyes, with jewelry findings decorating each crown. I think they’re charming

These wise men are in remarkably good shape after nearly fifty years in and out of storage. But as with any well-loved object, they needed a bit of TLC.

Here’s what Laura has to say about these family heirlooms:

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My restored wise men on display in my home. I particularly love their sparkly new eyes which stand out better than the originals.

My Mother, Donnetta, and her sister Anita created the wise men when I was about six years old. I remember watching them work, knowing  the wise men must be precious because of the way my Mom handled them. I wasn’t allowed to touch them. They made two sets, one for each house. I looked forward to their appearance each year for the holidays. I was in awe.

After years of hosting many homey family Christmases, my Mother passed away in 1997.  The Christmas decorations remained with my Father until he  passed in 2012. At that point my sister and I divided up the decorations and I was lucky enough to get the three wise men. They were in rough physical shape (which I never noticed until then) and I was in rough emotional shape. I packed them away for a few years until I was able to open the Christmas box. Wonderful memories spilled out.

It was then that I found out a lot more about the wise men, and their history became even more meaningful for me. Nana (Mom and Anita’s Mother) had a box of notions and buttons for collecting miscellaneous strays and broken bits for future use. My Aunt became a professional seamstress and added a fabric scraps and bric-a-brac box. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the crafty gene.

Finding a picture of the three girl cousins was my first clue. Anita made velvet Christmas dresses one year for me and my sister Karen and for her daughter Claudia. Mine was the purple velvet dress. She saved the scraps of the three dresses, eventually using them for the wise men. Bric-a-brac remnants from her various sewing projects became the trim, broken jewelry the jewels on the crowns, and out-of-fashion hatpins that my Nana wore in her younger days adorned the tops of the crowns. They created these treasures from family belongings! I loved them even more.

When I began to examine them closely I laughed out loud. They made the wise men out of  beer bottles! Who knew? I soon found the magazine article they’d saved detailing the project with a Styrofoam cup as the base of the crown and a plain ornament as the head. Now I was laughing for several reasons: something I’d considered so valuable turned out to be made from common materials; the materials were from memorable family possessions.  My family didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, so I could only imagine the scene as my Mom and Aunt asked their friends to save some beer bottles.

I wanted these precious wise men restored to their former glory. I asked my dear friend Alys if she would take on the project because I

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My beautifully restored wise men in their custom storage box, Capes are held down to prevent wrinkles, and cushioning supports their delicate neck. Hat pins are up off the packing and protected.

know she enjoys this type of creativity. I knew she would return them to their original form as closely as possible.

Am I ever so grateful to Alys! I have no idea what “fray check” is, and the repaired hole in the purple cape is done so well I never would have noticed it. I couldn’t have begun to do the level of restoration that Alys did.

On the day she returned them to me they arrived in a beautiful, custom box. She box is the perfect size and it has a magnetic closure. She thoughtfully added cushioning to protect the crowns and the capes are held down to stay unwrinkled.  This way they’ll last in good condition for many more years. What a wonderful surprise.

Alys, I can’t tell you what it means to my heart to have them back to full glory and displayed in my home again at Christmas time. I know that my Mom and Aunt are smiling about it too. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and my warm-Christmas-memory soul!!!!

I wanted to honor the original design as closely as I could, using modern-day materials but keeping the original design in place.

wise-men-materials

Materials used

Blue Wise Man:

I trimmed the fraying edges of the velvet, then added fray check along the new, clean edge. I added a strip of blue, see-through ribbon along the front of the bottle to prevent further fraying. It worked out fairly well.

Purple Wise Man:

The gold trim and the corner of the cape were badly damaged. I found a close match for the original trim and replaced it along the cape’s edge. To avoid disturbing the neckline, I kept a half-inch of the original trim, then added the new trim below. I patched the hole using a swatch from inside the crown, matching the nap of the velvet as best I could. It looks shiny in the photo, but in person it’s far more subtle.

Red Wise Man:

The third wise man needed eye surgery and a few replacement jewels along the front bodice, but he was otherwise in good shape.

red-wise-men-starting-point

Missing an eye and a few sequins, but otherwise in good shape

After steaming out a few of the storage wrinkles, I added new hat pins to each of the crowns. I found these beautiful pins last summer when I was traveling in Edmonton, Canada. My friend Kelly works for Urban Scrapbook, and writes a regular blog feature called Kelly’s Korner. We popped into the store and there they were on the counter. Serendipity!

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I found these pre-made at Urban Scrapbook in Edmonton, Canada. They’re perfect!

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Updated crowns

three-wise-men-refurbished

Three Wise Men Refurbished, Posing in My Garden of Course

50 thoughts on “Honoring the Gift: Three Wise Men Get a Bit of TLC

  1. What a wonderful restoration job you have done Alys! My goodness I remember those crafts from the 60’s and 70’s when all kinds of bizarre household items came together to make something new. Not always successfully either! Laura’s mother and aunt made a lovely and so thoughtful job of their creations originally and you have made an equally lovely and thoughtful job of restoring them to their former glory. No wonder Laura is pleased! I love the final, very-much-Alys touch of a customised storage box. These wise men are all set for another fifty plus years of festivities! Please encourage Laura, if she hasn’t already, to keep with the dolls the written record of their original making, and this one of their restoring. It is alarmingly easy to lose their history and so wonderful for future generations to have it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pauline! I really had fun with this project and would love the opportunity to do something like this again. When I was in high school in the late seventies, I made a Mr. and Mrs. Claus out of a tall 7-Up bottle, covered with a tube sock died pale pink. I hung on to them for years, but finally sent them packing in a fit of cleaning. Do you also remember things made from bottles of dish-washing soap? The bottles looked like they had shoulders.

      Thanks for suggesting that Laura print this post to store with the wise men. She did! What fun to think this blog post could live on for another generation, keeping company with three former beer bottles dressed in velvet. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think we had 7-Up though there may have been a time when bottles were dressed up. I was busy making corn dolls in the 70’s, an old European tradition and later fleece dolls and angels – and macrame of course 🙂 Glad that Laura has kept your blog post with the velvet attired beer bottles – who knows where it may all end up!! Happy New Year Alys – and Laura – xoxo

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  2. How lovely! You did a fantastic job there Alys, and I am so very impressed with the mending of the material. Love those hatpins! And your friend’s story is quite something. All families should have these kinds of treasures to pass on to future generations!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your talents have truly blessed your friend, dear Alys! Fabric from beloved holiday dresses and Nana’s hatpins made these wise men family treasures. You were the perfect person to painstakingly restore them to their original charm for Laura. Hugs for sharing this warm Christmas story today! You are a true gift to us all, Alys! ♡

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Well done, Alys. You honored these family treasures from start to finish. How sweet that the robes are scraps from the girls’ dresses, that you happened to buy those pretty hatpins, and that they are now restored to their family home. Perhaps a copy of this blog should be tucked into the box for future generations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary Elizabeth! I too love that the wise men are dressed with fabric from the girls dresses. It makes them all the more special, doesn’t it? Great idea on saving a copy of this with the wise men. Laura tells me that she’s saved a copy.

      As for the hat pins, it turns out that they have a story as well (see below). Serendipity.

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  5. How beautiful the wise men are and what a lovely story. Wish you lived closer so we could get together for crafting. Julia said you sent her a lovely tower for Christmas. She was very pleased and is very thankful for all the support you and the others have given her in this very difficult time. God bless you always.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Amy. We’ll have to plan a special craft day when we visit Virginia. Won’t that be fun? I’m glad to hear that Julia is receiving lots of support. I know you mean the world to her. We’re all delighted to hear that the Harry & David tower lifted her spirits during this difficult time. xo

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    • Thank you, Kerry! You know I once had my own bottle craft: A Mr. and Mrs. Claus made from tall 7-UP bottles covered with a man’s tube sock died a soft pink, then dressed in festive red clothing. I wish I had a photo. I kept them for years, then unceremoniously tossed them in a fit of cleaning. LOL

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  6. Those wise men were wise enough to know where to go to give them a lift. Another career in the making for you. I agree with Mary Elizabeth and a copy of this post should go in the box. You are quite multi talented here and those little things we think nothing of at one time, like finding pretty hat pins had a purpose all along.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marlene, there is yet another layer to those hat pins! Please check out Boomdee’s comments below. Thank you for your kind words. How wonderful it was to pull out all the skills I’ve learned over the years to restore Laura’s beloved wise men. Laura printed an early copy, but now that there are so many additional comments, I think I’ll print a refreshed copy for her collection. Hugs, MH

      Liked by 1 person

      • I often want to come by and check out the remaining comments. Thanks for reminding me. I’m so sorry to hear about Shelly’s struggle with cancer. The world still needs beautiful hat pins. I was thinking I could use a few of my own for different projects. You have opened a large circle of connection here. Your kind gesture affected many in a positive way.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m the same way, especially for those blogs that hold and moderate comments. There are only so many hours in a day though. I knew you would appreciate the hat pin story, Marlene. I hope Shelly will stop by and know we are all thinking of her.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. You’re a generous friend and what a nice story hon. I know how busy you’ve been and to take on a treasure as a project could really be daunting. But you made it look easy, they look brand new now. Great job on the sewing, you’ve got impecable skills. Did you learn that trick in collage? It’s a shame so many girls and guys don’t know how to use a sewing machine anymore. I’d like to sew more often, it’s fun making something unique. xo K

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right: it was a bit daunting at first. My days in theater costume shops definitely prepared me for this kind of restoration. I learned techniques for gentle alterations when using historic pieces in a costume. A film professor used to pay me $75 per piece to create an accoutrements for helmets he collected from World War I. The first one took me 12 hours to create, but as I improved my technique, I got faster. Instead of making $6 an hour it got closer to $9 an hour at a time when minimum wage was only $2. It helped me buy groceries in those days. I haven’t thought about that in years. Thanks for jogging that memory.

      I too would like to sew more. Watch this space. When Mac leaves for college, I’m reclaiming some surface space for my sewing machine which currently lives in a cabinet.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Good for you to put those talents to work for the lucritive and I’m sure satisfying design work. $9/hour would have seemed like a gold mine. I remember making 2.25/hour at my drugstore gig in high school. Now that I think of it. I probably worked from 4pm-8pm and made a whole $9 bucks…..Canadian, LOL omgosh, how did I make that stretch so far! We were the Suzy Ormans of the 70’s, hahahah xoxox.

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        • There is a lot to be said for learning how to live on a budget, how to save for a rainy day and how to get by without. Though there were some lean and difficult days, it’s good to know that you can get by on less if you have too.

          Yes…we were the Suzy Ormans of the seventies. That makes me smile.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh and did I tell you? Those pins from Urban, they’re made by one of our customers, Shelly, She can’t do much now due to her declining health. Shelly’s got cancer and has had a pretty tough time of things. She’d be tickled to see her pins in California! Thanks for supporting her efforts.. xo

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  9. I just read Boomdeeadda’s comment above, and thought how amazing that there is another layer to this already amazing story. How many people’s lives have been touched by these wise men? Your wonderful gift of friendship takes so many forms, Dear Alys.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anne, thank you for your gracious words. Hearing about the hat pins gives me goosebumps. Shelly, if you’re reading this, please know that your beautiful pins have breathed new life into a family treasure, hundreds of miles from Edmonton. Thinking of you.

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      • Yes, Shelly, your hatpins WILL be treasured on these wisemen for many years to come! My two teenagers are already discussing who is inheriting these wisemen when I’m ready to pass them on. I feel so grateful that I had a skilled friend like Alys whom I could ask if she’d be willing to restore them (I struggled with that for some time…I know how busy Alys is, but I also know her love of this type of project…so I ultimately decided to be bold and ask her, let her know it was OK to say “no”, and then leave it up to her), and I’m so grateful that she accepted. I really couldn’t have even come close to the level of restoration that she did, and I LOVE the new eyes and hatpins! I’m trying to find a pic of we three girls in our velvet dresses–so far no luck. I’ll share if I do find it. Life has often been dreary for me with the early passing of my Mother in 1997, becoming a single parent to two children with special needs, the recession really affecting us in 2008 and the passing of my Father in 2012. Having something like this back in my home…one that causes such happy family memories of when I was young to be refreshed and remembered…is a real bright spot in my life!

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  10. So much to love in this post!
    The results of your work are excellent! What a lovely gesture, Alys!
    Knowing that you had such fun doing the work while at the same time making Laura so happy is just icing on the cake.

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