It's another one of those tightening-the-belt Christmases for the bf and I, and so most people on our lists will be getting at least one homemade present. It's more meaningful this way--I love getting gifts that the giver made personally--but there's always the concern that you're putting all this time and effort into making something the reciever will find repulsive, especially if you're making it for someone who doesn't have similar tastes to yours. Which brings us to a little craft book I have called Have a Natural Christmas '77.
I was certain this book would be a treasure trove of fugly crafts made from pine cones, sticks, beans, feathers, and seeds. Once I investigated futher, it wasn't all that bad--the book was put out by Rodale, publishers of books and magazine titles such as Prevention, Men's Health, Women's Health, and proponents of organic farming since the early 40s (another of their titles you might have heard of is An Inconvenient Truth). It actually seemed touching that this well-intentioned publishing company put out a little book of natural Chistmas crafts.
Although the more I contemplate the cover project here, a gingerbread house with cashews as the snow on the roof and pumpkin seeds as, uh, pumpkin seeds on the chimney, the less I feel like eating, so thank you, Rodale, for that 30-year-old diet tip at holiday gorge time.
But as you're about to see, crafting got worse than natural ideas in the time of disco fever.
I'm all for recycling and being DIY and I'm all for rustic decor, but this book reminded me about some of the just-plain weird crafts grownups were always making us kids do back then, when we didn't know any better. Here's an idea where you're supposed to hang clay flowerpots upside down from red ribbons as "bells." Here's one where you slice logs into disks then drill holes into them to make tabletop pencil holders. A-ha! Directions to make an "offbeat bag" for a youngster out of "denim pants" or as we now know them,
How about this suggestion: "If you'd like to make a gift for a kitchen or dining room wall, why not design a handsome bean collage?" Only in the '70s, folks, only in the '70s! I can actually think of several reasons to not do that.
The book does have a few recipes I'd try such as Christmas pumpkin bread, but less appealing ones include "Carrot Pickle," an all-raw fruitcake, and "The Snowdrift Special," which is buttermilk, unsweetened pineapple juice, lime juice, and honey served over crushed ice with a grated lime rind. WHAT? I can't even begin to understand that.
But at least a lot of natural supplies tend to match each other. When the crafter went beyond her back yard or pantry for supplies, and out to the craft store, she raised the stakes for potential crimes against good taste. Join me as we remember a time when old people could still afford to live in Central Jersey because the taxes weren't yet prohibitively high. When I was growing up all of our neighbors were old people (except the kids behind us, one of whom my brother married). Across the street we had the Johnsons, a lovely pair of white-hairs who used to feed our cat and call her Whitey. It was a little racist because her name was Snowy, but that's OK. I always thought dapper Mr. J looked a little like Maxwell Smart, and he would say things like, "Oh dear, bread and beer, if I were rich, I wouldn't be here." Which of course made no sense to an 8-year-old who had been made to visit her elderly neighbors. Mrs. J had a square jawline and kind of a narrow bouffant short hairdo.
In the '70s, Mrs. Johnson was big on crafting Christmas decorations, and the main components for them were Styrofoam forms, glitter, sequins, spangles, and beaded straight pins, and each individual craft would utilze many different colored combinations of those elements. My parents still probably have packed away various tree ornaments she made, and there was also a small Christmas tree made from a styrofoam cone onto which circular pasta and sequins were glued (a hybrid of natural & artificial!), which was then spray-painted gold. It was possibly also bedecked with rickrack as garland.
I'm not sure if this was a school of decoration- making back then as seen in Family Circle, or if Mrs. J was a pioneer in this style. If so, maybe we can consider her an outsider artist.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are unfortunately long gone, but today I salute Mrs. J's creative spirit with the one relic of her handiwork I've inherited. (If you've made it this far, you should really enlarge these photos.) This number is about the size of a baby's head and features velveteen ribbon, spangles, sequins, four different kinds of beads, glitter, golden rickrack, and a little elf.
Finally, if you haven't yet been inspired to make your own presents, here's another one of Rodale's suggestions. Don't say I never gave you nothing.