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.

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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.

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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

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Three Wise Men Refurbished, Posing in My Garden of Course

Lawn Tree Traditions: Greening up the Neighborhood

mother and son

Mother and son

If you drop by this week, you’ll see Christmas trees up and down the block. Our neighborhood has an extensive and coordinated effort to display cut Christmas trees on our lawn each year. The trees go up the first week of December and come down New Year’s day. I’m the block captain for our street.

We try to make it a family affair, but now that our boys are teens, their interest wanes.  This year my older son did the heavy lifting along with his dad, dropping trees at each house while I drove the truck.  My youngest son asked if he could stay in bed!  So it goes.

the muscle

The Muscle

Our neighbor, Greg lends us his truck for deliveries.  I get to dust off my manual transmission driving skills once a year.  It keeps me in the game.

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Ready for delivery

The Bay Area is diverse.  Not all neighbors celebrate this tradition.  When I was a young, I wondered why one or two people wouldn’t want a tree in their yard.  Then I grew up and understood that the world is full of different religions and cultures and it all made sense.  We see Menorah in neighboring windows and understand others simply don’t embrace the ritual.  It’s a great time of year to pause and reflect on the richness of diversity.

We have an artificial tree indoors, and a cut tree on the lawn.  I wrote about the pros and cons of real vs fake last year.  You can read more about that here.

Do you celebrate Christmas?  Do you display a tree?  Real or fake…or both?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, below.

Organized at Heart

I’m posting a series of articles featuring organizing around the holidays this month on my blog Organized at Heart. If the subject interests you, please go take a peak. Today’s blog: Holiday Storage: The Case of the Shrinking House. 

Of note: Wikipedia has a wonderful and detailed article on the origins of the decorated Christmas tree.  I’m always learning something new on that site and must remember to make my annual donation accordingly.