The Charm of Making: A Story of the Christmas Stockings

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Illustration from the Golden Book, The Night Before Christmas, with a Victorian family and toys, including a china doll.

My first impression of Christmas stockings came from my Little Golden Book edition of The Night Before Christmas. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care . . .” I loved the Victorian images in this edition, especially the old toys and the china doll! The tradition of Christmas stockings did not play a big part in my childhood. If there was a stocking, it was an inexpensive mesh one prepackaged with cheap candy, received as a gift from my father’s employer.

I remember my little brother and me buying a plush stocking from the mall the year he and I lived with Mammaw at Christmas-time. We had both of our names written on the cuff with glitter and glue. This stocking was more a symbol of our solidarity (we were still a family, even without our parents there) rather than a Christmas tradition.

Lucile made needlepoint Christmas stockings for all of her grandsons–yes, all seven of her grandchildren were boys–and these very special hand made gifts became a tradition in my family with my children.

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Jonathan & Alex with their Christmas stockings made for them by Grandma ‘Cile. Jonathan’s stocking is hiding behind Alex. Christmas, 1989. Tokyo, Japan.

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Jonathan with his Needlepoint stocking. Christmas, 1990. Tokyo

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Jeremiah with his needlepoint stocking made by Grandma Lucile. Watch out! Big brother Alex is reaching for an enticing gift! Christmas, 1994. Harrah, WA

When my boys’ dad moved out from our home, we decided that the boys’ stockings would go to his house, for them to use there. It was hard for me to give up these beautiful hand-made stockings, with the memories of Christmases we had shared with them. But it is a truth that losing something makes room for something new in your life.

My friend, Ann, had a dream one night. She dreamed that she was making the most beautiful Christmas stockings of velvet and satin, with ribbon and bead trim. When she awoke, she decided that she would make the stockings that she dreamed about. Her family members were the first to benefit from her luxurious creations. But Ann was not ready to stop creating. She made stockings for her friends, and I eventually became the benefactor of a sumptuous purple velvet stocking with a white satin and lace cuff. Next, Ann decided that with my help, we would make stockings for each of the six children who then lived with me: Jonathan, Alex, Jeremiah, my twin stepsons, Isaac and Philip, and baby Brighde.

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Alex with his green velvet stocking, and the contents laid out. Christmas, 1998. Harrah, WA. (Needlepoint ornament to Alex’s left made by Lucile. Wooden stacking tower behind Alex, painted by me for Brighde.)

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Jeremiah with his purple and gold stocking, 1998

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Isaac with his white velvet stocking. 1998.

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Philip with his red velvet stocking. 1998. (The nutcracker ornament to his right is one I cross-stitched.)

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Jonathan with his blue stocking on his lap. Christmas, 1999.

Brighde, Christmas 1999

Brighde reaching into her rose stocking. Christmas, 1999.

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My four children together. January, 2000.

In Arthurian legend, as in the movie, Excalibur, Morgaine tricks Merlin into revealing to her the Charm of Making: “Anaal nathrak, uthbar spathud, dokiel dienvay.” What Morgaine did not learn from Merlin is how to give of her heart through the work of her hands.

While Christmas stockings have become a family tradition for us, more importantly, in my view, making gifts has become a tradition. This is what I call “The Charm of Making.” Sometimes everyone gets the same item, like these stockings, personalized for each one. Sometimes an item is made just especially for that person. How much nicer it is to be at home, moving my fabrics, trims, and found items around until I come across just the right effect for a gift, than to be rushing through the mall to grab that advertised manufactured item before it is all sold out.

The boys are all grown up, and live away now. Brighde and I still hang all the stockings at Yule. Sometimes, the boy who belongs with the stocking comes home to find his treats at Christmas-time. Sometimes, someone new shares Christmas with us, and gets to find treats in one of the beautiful stockings.

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My stocking: Purple Victorian pearls and lace.

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Brighde’s stocking: pearls and roses.

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Jeremiah’s stocking: royal purple with crystals and gold.

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Isaac’s stocking: sumptuous winter white.

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Jonathan’s stocking: blue and silver winter night.

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Alex’s stocking: green renaissance.

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Philip’s stocking: red and plaid with sequin lights.

One stocking was started a year after all the rest. It was started, and interrupted by life. Sometimes, the charm of making takes a while to work it’s spell. This blue stocking for Nana Marilyn was packed away for a move across the country to Connecticut, then came back to Oregon two years later, where it was unpacked again, and lay reverently on the sewing table for another eight years. This is the year that the charm fulfilled its promise for this beautiful handmade gift.

Marilyn's stocking. Early winter morning with melting ice cycles

Marilyn’s stocking. Early winter morning with melting ice cycles

May the charm of making ever visit you and your family during the magic of the winter season.

For my antique doll followers, I promise an article about fancy hair china dolls, and the history of china dolls after the holidays!

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The Story of the Dresden China

Since I have added a page about the History of China Dolls, which includes a section on the History of Porcelain Production, which includes a photo of my heirloom Dresden China, I would like to share with you the story of how this absolutely precious set of porcelain china came to me.

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This is also another story about Lucile, and about what a positive influence she has been in my life. There were several times during my 18 year marriage to John and Lucile’s son that I lived with them in their five bedroom Nebraska craftsman style home for a few months. These were times when my husband and I were in transition during our eight years living abroad. They were quite welcoming to me, and I felt right at home with them.

Lucile often made a quick soup for lunch. One lunchtime, not too long after Grandma Hazel had passed on, Lucile decided she would get out her china soup tureen and cream soup bowls to use for lunch. When she brought out this gorgeous cream colored set, with pink and blue flowers and silver trim, from the bottom of her bell collection cabinet, I was astounded by its beauty! Now, Lucile had a variety of ordinary dishes for every day use, and a comprehensive set of blue snowflake Corelle dishes for large family gatherings and entertaining, but I had never seen this elegant soup set before!

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I said as much to Lucile, and she told me of it’s origins: Her younger brother, Vernon, was a paratrooper, stationed in Europe, during World War II. He sent this lovely set of Dresden china to his mother during The War. The china made it to America safely, but Vernon did not make it home alive. ┬áHe landed on a cliff with his parachute. The wind caught the ‘chute enough to pull him off the cliff, but it did not open enough again to break his fall. He was killed.

Lucile brought the Dresden china from her mother’s home in Lawrence, Kansas after Hazel’s death.

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Now, when Lucile made a pot of soup, there was way more than would fit into an elegant European soup tureen! But we set the tureen in the center of the table to admire as we ate our German carrot and sausage soup from the pretty bowls, and thought about Hazel–grandma and mother–and Vernon–son and brother.

The scalloped rims of this set are unglazed, and the knob on the lid of the tureen is like a little fancy pot itself! Eight bowls accompany the lidded tureen. The pieces are stamped on the back: Rosen-thal with crown and crossed swords in the center of the word, and a cursive “e” at the end of the word. Under, is SELB GERMANY, then POMPADOUR (the name of the whiteware pattern), then US. Zone. My research shows me that “US. Zone” indicates a specific short period of production (WWII), and that Pompadour came in a number of painted styles, including the popular Moss Rose, but I have not found a reference to a style like this set.

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When Lucile left this Earth in 2002, my former husband was remarried, and I was not in line to receive any inheritance from my former in-law’s estate. It was Vicki, my angel of a “sister,” who asked me if there was anything I wanted from the house as they began to clear it out to ready it for sale. Of course, my number one choice was that set of Dresden china–if no one else had claimed it yet. I told her where to find it in the bottom of the bell cabinet.

A few months later, my sons brought a box into our house in Washington, that came by way of their father, from Vicki. It was the Dresden china. Vicki said no one else in the family–not her, nor her three brothers–even knew about this china. (Perhaps Vicki’s older sister, Karen knew, but she died before Lucile did, and Karen is another story.) They didn’t know the family story connected with this china, nor where to find it in the house. Vicki said that it was meant to be mine because Lucile had shared it with me, and I knew its story and its history.

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Once in a while, when I’m feeling cranky, I still have short bouts of resentment for what I missed out on monetarily from my former marriage and my in-laws’ estate. (Remember, I had nothing to inherit from my own family. “Why can they afford to add on a music room and remodel the kitchen when all I have is this small apartment that I have to share, grumble, grumble.”) But I continue to be amazed at the way the universe provides that which we imagine. My heirloom Dresden china is another example of how something that I truly admire, from someone I care about imensely, found its way to me.

Thank you, Vernon.

Thank you, Lucile.

Thank you, Vicki.

Thankful for Family Time and Good Food for Sharing

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Miss Ruby enjoys showing our Thanksgiving table and Butterhorn Rolls

I remember my first attempt to make bread. I was 16. As with most of my cooking ventures then, I opened the only cookbook I had available, my mom’s red and white Better Homes and Gardens binder, and chose my recipe. I bought yeast packets, mixed them up with sugar and milk, added flour and a few other ingredients, and kneaded. I shaped the dough into french loaves and waited. Nothing happened. I baked the dough and ate the tasty, but rather solid bread. What I didn’t understand from the cookbook instructions was that the liquid had to be warm, but not too hot, to encourage the yeast to grow.

My dad had talked of making bread when I still lived with him, but somehow, it never happened. Learning to make bread was definitely a time when I needed my dad to show me how. Luckily, I do have his recipe, passed down from Mammaw, for making southern cornbread stuffing!

I was so glad when I met my future mother-in-law, Lucile, to learn that she was an excellent cook, and made bread! I now cherish a number of family recipes from her that we still enjoy. Butterhorn rolls is one that I used to make for holiday dinners, but I haven’t made them in years–not since my boys lived at home, and were all with me for holidays.

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Jonathan & Grandma ‘Cile, Summer 1988

I had a retail job miracle this year, and managed to take Thanksgiving week as vacation time, so I cooked a traditional meal which I shared with my mom and two of my four children, plus my son, Jonathan’s, fiance. Though Brighde and I eat a low-gluten diet these days, for better health, Lucile’s rolls are worth cheating on our diet for. We made butterhorn rolls as part of our feast fare. In tribute to Lucile, and all the feasts and family time I shared with her, I would like to offer you her recipe.

Lucile’s Butterhorn Rolls

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk (whole, organic)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 package (1 tablespoon) dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup melted shortening (Crisco butter flavored)
  • 2 beaten eggs (yes, organic free range)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups high quality unbleached flour (Bob’s Red Mill) plus more for kneading

Add sugar to warm (slightly warmer than skin temperature) milk. Stir in yeast. Alternate adding remaining wet and dry ingredients, to maintain temperature, stirring, and then kneading, until flour is incorporated and dough is elastic.

Place dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until double in size, 2 to 3 hours. Punch down. Divide into 3 or 4 pieces. roll into rectangles about 1/4″ thick. Cut rectangles into wedges about 3″ by 5″ (like refrigerator crescent rolls), roll up, shape into a crescent, and place on a greased baking sheet or silpat mat, 2″ apart, and let rise again.

Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until golden. Serve warm with butter.

These are great to pair with Cream of Celery soup! (Click “Home” in the left panel and scroll down to the previous post.)

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To me, Thanksgiving is the best time of the year to share good food and to spend time with those I love best, around the table in person, and in spirit. Happy Holidays, from our family to yours!