When I was a little girl, Mom always encouraged us to work on a hobby of some sort. I sometimes wonder if keeping us occupied with a craft project was a way of keeping us out of her hair. For all of the time we were blurting out, “MOM, I’m bored… what can I do?” she promptly replied, “Spit in your shoe”. That was not exactly what I had in mind. Mom usually chimed up with, “Why don’t you work on your knitting? You are really making good progress, why don’t you work on that for a little while?”
Usually, the winter season allowed for more time to devote to working a hobby. In the summertime, we kids were always busy outdoors playing, and by the afternoon hours the town swimming pool was calling our names. In the evenings it was early to bed since Dad was up at 5:00 in the mornings and went to bed very early. He did not want a pack of kids yelling, screaming and giggling, keeping him awake, so we were sent to bed early. When I got old enough to sit quietly, Mom let me stay up to work on my knitting or crocheting. Mom was an excellent knitter. If I ever got stuck or frustrated, she was kind to help and offer encouragement. Often, we would sit quietly together, knitting needles clicking softly.
I knitted all sorts of mittens, scarves and blankets. When I grew tired of knitting I picked up crocheting. My Grandma Knuth was the crocheting expert in the family. I never did very well crocheting round rugs. They always puckered up looking like a giant bra cup. I did fairly well with afghans and bedspreads. I loved making soft baby hats, mittens and blankets in yellows and greens. I made lots of items for my hope chest. When I moved on to Bobbin lace making, I found that a bigger challenge and one I was proud of. My Grandma Scott taught me to throw bobbins, creating beautiful lace designs on a board and pillow my Grandpa made for me. Grandma and I sat together working our lace. I felt pretty special because no one I knew could make lace. It got me a lot of attention. One time Grandma and I even went to a county fair where we sat together making lace on our boards and pillows. People marveled at the young lady and her Grandmother making lace. Boy, did I feel special! Of course Grandma and I sort of snickered because we were fooling people. Throwing bobbins looks difficult but it’s not. We followed patterns mounted on the pillows, and the bobbins are moved in pairs. One can get pretty fast at weaving, but to a spectator it looks very complicated. My first and only real project with lace was a pair of pillow cases. It took me years to make enough lace to go around two pillows. After that I just made rolls of lace. It was sort of defeating to think I could work for an hour and end up with maybe 2 inches of lace.
In the 70’s came the years of latch-hook rug making. My sister Lisa and I each got kits for Christmas one year. The competition was dog eat dog intense! We argued over everything. I thought mine was the prettiest rug. Lisa’s was some kind of shape and mine was just rectangular so she thought her’s was better. We competed to see who could finish faster. I got done with the hooking first, but didn’t finish the edges for a number of years. Lisa completed hers long before I did. I think Mom finally finished mine. It was put in a drawer along with numerous other forgotten items I had put away for a hope chest I would someday have.
In 1979 I graduated high school and was given the promised hope chest. I put all of my craft projects in it. Mostly it was filled with things Mom said I would need someday when I got married and started having babies. Sure enough I married, but the babies never came. Then a decade later, the marriage ended. I moved out-of-state, gave my hope chest away, and in time, gave away all of my baby stuff. I kept the kitchen towels my mom handmade when she was a young girl, that she gave me when I moved away from home. I kept my bobbin lace pillow cases and a few afghans. Somehow, a lot of that stuff seemed silly to keep when the reality was, it was a planned part of my life that never happened. The dreams of a young girl stuffed in a “hope” chest now seemed foolish and long gone.
In 1997 my Dad gave us kids a little money that was found in Grandma Knuth’s purse after she died. I do not remember the amount but it was around $40 for each of us 5 kids. In memory of Grandma I decided to buy some kind of hobby item with it. The holiday season was approaching and while shopping in the craft section at Wal-Mart, I found a few plaster pieces for a winter village set that could be hand painted. I bought all 7 pieces they had, a set of starter paints and brushes. After painting just one house I was hooked. No telling how many brushes I went through that year but I was a painting fool! The next year Wal-Mart added more pieces to the set… and every year more houses or stores were found. I found myself frequenting Wal-Mart stores in Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana on trips to visit family, looking for new village pieces. By 2007, Wal-Mart quit carrying the items and I never completed the set. I have a total of 59 pieces, 23 of which are unfinished. I have no way of knowing just how many pieces would have completed the winter village but by the identifying numbers noted on each piece I would guess that there are at least another 50 to 100 pieces!
My eyes are not what they used to be so painting is more time-consuming than ever. Each piece takes 5 to 10 hours to paint. Still, each winter I sit down with my magnifying light and my reading glasses and paint the tiny details. I occasionally check eBay and other online sources for additional village pieces but the price of $2.97 is long gone. I can expect to pay $10.00 and higher for each piece and the more rare pieces can not be found. The company that once produced them has been bought out and the Wal-Mart line of plaster pieces has been discontinued.
I no longer decorate for the holidays except to set up the winter village set in a corner of the living room. I gripe and complain the whole time I’m setting it up. It is time-consuming to arrange small, cardboard boxes on two tables to get a “town on a hill” effect. It is no small task to get the fake snow (polyfill batting) just right, then poke a couple of strings of lights through the snow to come up under the houses and stores, lighting them up, and then put foil around the individual lights that I don’t want light to emit from. By the time I get each piece in place, I still have to set up various trees I have collected over the years. Fake snow is scattered over the batting to make it sparkle. I mutter under my breath as I run the vacuum saying this is the LAST year I’m messing with this village. FD smiles, puts his arms around me and tells me how beautiful it is. Pretty soon we are marveling over it and I feel great pride at my work.
At night when the house is dark, except in the corner of the living room, a fancy hand-painted village set comes to life for another holiday season. I remember, with thankfulness, the desire and inspiration instilled by my Mom and my Grandma’s, to be creative, and to have busy hands… bringing charm and delight to this enchanting season.
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…