Homemade gifts beat store-bought ones every time as far as I'm concerned. But then, I've been blessed with talented friends and family whose handcrafted Christmas presents have always been right on the mark — for example, a kit of pre-cut fabric pieces for me to assemble into a table runner, or hand-thrown pottery bowls for serving up home-cooked stews. But the best handmade gift I ever received was from my Grandma Olga one special Christmas, when her sewing skills turned my humble Barbie doll from shabby to chic.
Like many of us from a certain generation, I treasured my Barbie doll. She was a fairly high-cost investment for my parents, who were supporting a young family on a small income, so I received the doll and nothing else for a birthday gift. Her clothes were expensive in stores, so my Barbie was forced to wear the dress she came in, day after day, until my mother and grandmother hatched a plan to change all of that.
Our Christmas Eve tradition was to attend midnight church service, then go to Grandma Olga's house at 2 a.m. for breakfast and to open our presents from her. I was about 6 years old on the Christmas my young eyes beheld the finest present ever: a complete handmade wardrobe for my Barbie. Awed and delighted, I pulled one garment after another out of the box. There were several dresses with full circle skirts, shorts, blouses, and other garments, all of them perfectly fitted to Barbie's form. What I remember best is a tailored suit that looked like something Jackie Kennedy might have worn. A glittery evening gown rounded out Barbie's fabulous Christmas collection. Overnight, she went from shabbiest to best-dressed in the county.
No one would ever have mistaken Grandma Olga for a fashion designer, but she'd pulled off an entire clothing collection by herself. Every garment in Barbie's new wardrobe was made from leftover scraps from other projects, mostly quilts she'd made for her mission charity. Her fingers were never idle; she always had a project basket next to her chair. She's inspired me ever since that Christmas. Thrifty, flexible, and clever — those are the qualities possessed by the best crafters.
Have you received any inspirational handmade gifts that had great personal meaning and influenced you? Please email me (email@example.com) your stories and photos (jpeg, 300 dpi), if you have them, and they may end up in a future issue of the magazine.