Home(made) for the holidays

Guest blog by Dana Visse

Ah...the holidays. A time of great hope and intense anticipation for what we can do, experience, give, and enjoy. And yet, my ideas of what will happen each holiday season compared to what does happen; or what I can do and what I end up doing are usually another sign of my optimistic, yet unrealistic self. We really can drive ourselves crazy trying to compete with our own images of what holiday gift giving, decorating, event attending, hosting, and so on...should look like.

In striving toward whatever that holiday vision might be, it’s easy to lose the magic. After episodes of grand imaginations, I try to remember to focus on what brings the greatest joy for me. Like at Thanksgiving, when I emphasize expressions of gratitude, being with those I care about, and sharing with others, the holidays feel real and meaningful again. When I give to others, whether a personal or meaningful gift, or time in service to others, or when I make something edible, useful, or thoughtful—the holidays come alive again.  

Since I can remember, many of the gifts that have meant the most to me have been both homemade and heartfelt—the photobook my mom compiled of Sammy’s first year when I couldn’t manage laundry much less documentation...The crocheted shawl my mother-in-law made me because she knows I get cold working at my desk that I wear...when I get cold at my desk...The history book my dad wrote and bound about our family cabin...The poem book my husband wooed me with long ago...I can even think back to the matching outfits my grandmother sewed for my cherished Snoopy Doll complete with tiny polka-dotted purse, dress, and visor. The time she spent! And all those yummy jams, chocolate-covered orange rinds, and homemade treats friends and neighbors bring by.

Cherished possessions—photo books made by family members. Thank you for helping me document my life!

Cherished possessions—photo books made by family members. Thank you for helping me document my life!

And then there’s the gifts that I have given that have meant the most to me—mostly handmade. Every winter night, my kids heat up the lavender flax pillows I made to warm up their beds and bodies before sleep. So simple but beloved. And filling friend’s glasses at dinner with wine from grapes I pick, press, and filter.

I enjoy how at the holidays we can demonstrate to ourselves and our families what we value. For me, I value living simply and lightly. Homemade fits right in. I LOVE making gifts whether flannel pajamas for my boys (this year, shh!) or homemade pinot noir (every year) or attempting something completely new and uncharted. In years past, I’ve made sugar scrubs with essential oils, hand-dipped candles, pumpkin butter with a premeasured bread mix, tiered mason jar hot cocoa, mustard in baby food jars (do not recommend), and so on, all the way back to the fabric-lined basket I hot glued my grandmother knowing she would at least appreciate the effort—and she did. It held her personal mementos.

Tiered hot cocoa mix and bean soup are easy gifts to assemble with kid's help and look pretty.

Tiered hot cocoa mix and bean soup are easy gifts to assemble with kid's help and look pretty.

Every year I consider new projects... lemon salt, rosemary sachets from the school garden for teachers and staff. I enjoy the whole process from the gathering of ideas—should I make lemon-infused olive oil or lemon salt?—to the weighing of costs, materials, and time. What is reasonable; what’s unrealistic? For example, it’s probably not a good year to start a photo book in December for the grandparents! I like to consider what I have on hand (fabrics, containers, garden ingredients, summer-canned food I can build upon, etc.). And finally, I love thinking about the final presentation.  

Too often I scramble to wrap gifts at literally the last minute—like in the back room seconds before unveiling. Why spend all that time making something special just to rush it’s presentation?

Wrapped, if not days before, at least a few hours before giving. A slight improvement!

Wrapped, if not days before, at least a few hours before giving. A slight improvement!

To thwart my tendency towards procrastination, I found inspiration in Deb Glanz’s tutorials. Deb’s gift bag tutorials show how to use old magazines, grocery bags, and other paper to make your own gift bags. Way cool. Maybe some rainy day I will even get my kids to help me make a few ahead of time.


These images give me hope, ideas, and a sense of presentation purpose. I can even use the spent ribbon, boxes, and pretty paper I collect every post-holiday clean up. I rarely buy new wrapping supplies (besides washi tape, a recent fetish) because I find that old maps, kid’s artwork, grocery bags, and recycled gift wrap combined present any gift beautifully, thoughtfully, and environmentally. These tutorials show how.

So before you suffer mall madness or exhaust yourself trying to meet whatever your own unrealistic expectations are, consider adding in a little something homemade. And see if that brings any new enjoyment for you. Please report back and pass it on.

What homemade holiday ideas have you planned or remember fondly from holidays past?  

And to Think, I Nearly Didn't Do It!

About 25 years ago I took part in a women’s art show put on by a group, LOCAL14, not realizing how this one show was going to impact the rest of my life.  I nearly didn’t do it since I had three young children and the application process alone seemed quite overwhelming, but somehow I managed to pull it together.  Now I don’t think of myself as someone who is easily intimidated, but this was a daunting bunch and while I was more than happy to participate on the periphery I was invited to join…and I did.  I stayed with the group for about 15 years, assuming a variety of administrative tasks, and never ceased to marvel at how 40+ women could not only put this annual event together but also at the creative energy behind the artwork represented.  This was a divergent group of women from nearly every socio-economic strata working in the widest variety of media imaginable.  In them I found some of the most inspiring and enduring friendships I would ever know.  I would like to introduce you to just a few of those.


Sandy Visse was not one of the first people I met within the group and I didn’t really get to know her until we shared director duties within the organization.  While I have always loved her ceramic sculpture work (and am now the proud owner of many of her pieces) I have come to admire her even more.  Our term as directors may have initially led us to a “Titanic” like moment of bonding, but we have since become the yin to each other’s yang.  We don’t try to understand it but our friendship seems to be held together by a mutual appreciation of all things darkly humorous.  We have collaborated on various projects, most notably our “bugs” (ceramic bodies and paper wings) and most recently I have cast molds of some of her ceramic sheep to make beeswax candles.  We have also had some memorable adventures, including a planned trip to Egypt that thanks to the Arab Spring became a trip to Rome where we, along with my daughter, did 20 museums in 10 days. Art, eat and laugh seems to be our modus operandi.  Haystack Gallery is one of the many places you can find Sandy’s work.


I met Ann Munson early in my tenure with LOCAL14 and was bowled over by her energy and enthusiasm.  In fact, she had a company called Enthuse Design at that time which offered among other things beautifully designed garden goods.  While I always think of Ann as a wonderful painter I don’t know of a medium she has not explored.  The sign of a truly creative mind.  Ann was my mentor when I started Reminiscence Papers, my wholesale paper company, and we traveled together to trade shows for many years.  Our travels took us to Chicago, Atlanta, New York, etc. and we always took an extra day or two to hit the local museums, making sure to treat ourselves to a really good meal after long days of selling our wares.  Since we both had young children during those years we commiserated, vented, laughed and bonded on those demanding trips, and even visited the occasional emergency room (actually just once – thank you Ann).


Katy Lareau and I came on board with the group at the same time, but were at completely different stages in our lives.  I had just had my last child and she was pregnant with her first.  Art and the creative spirit has a way of bringing people together.  In spite of our different mediums and locations (she lived on the Oregon Coast) we struck up a friendship that endures.  Katy works primarily in fused glass and has recently been producing beautifully fanciful pieces in metal/enamel.  In fact my pieces of her enameled jewelry “accidentally” went back to DC with my daughter.  I will try and re-claim them over Thanksgiving….wish me luck.  I am also the very proud owner of a complete fused glass set of dinnerware by the very talented Ms. Larue.  The kids are all grown now and Katy has moved to Portland so I’m anxious to see what develops from that move, both personally and professionally.


This is just a sampling of the friends and relationships that developed from that one show way back when. While I am not great at keeping in touch with everyone, there is one time of year when many of us come together.  Ann Munson has a commercial greenhouse that she generously opens up for us to hold The Artists Greenhouse Sale every December.  This is an event like no other and has developed such a following that there is a line at the door long before we open up…outside…in DECEMBER!  Artists at this sale offer their older work, experimental work or seconds at reduced prices.  Customers have come to know that there are some real deals to be had.  Personally I don’t sell seconds, but I do have a lot of older pieces and I occasionally do some quirky little mixed media work just for this show.  This year I’ve made a mountain of origami boxes from recycled coffee table books and some fun and flashy slider boxes.  I also manage to do a fair bit of shopping.  If you’re in the greater Portland OR area you might want to check this out.  I’ll be there the whole time, madly trying to catch up with my talented circle of friends.


Just one week later, December 12th & 13th a more intimate event will take place - the Merry Procrastinators Party.  This annual event is part studio sale (featuring our current studio works) and part Holiday party.  If you happen to be in the greater Portland area try and join us.

Confessions on Paper

If the first step is admitting you have a problem…..I have a problem.  No need to worry about the rest of the steps, since I really don’t want to get rid of this problem (though a bit of “curbing” might be in order). I’ve had this problem for years and first noticed it around the age of 5. I’m a full fledged, card carrying paper addict, as evidenced by the following photos from my studio and office.


Since kindergarten you ask? Yes. I distinctly remember being given, in “art class,” used mimeographed sheets so that we could draw on the back. Setting aside the wonderful smell of mimeograph ink, and if you’re older than about 45 you know what I mean, I was incensed that I was expected to do my best work on a crappy piece of paper. Really? If I was going to spend my precious time drawing what would no doubt turn out to be an inspired masterpiece I certainly deserved a nice piece of paper and not something that felt as though it had been dug out of the trash.  (Yes, I could express righteous indignation at a very early age.) I can also remember trips with my mother to Import Plaza, an exotic import store where we were allowed to pick out one item and I invariably chose a package of brightly colored origami paper.  Didn’t know squat about origami, but the possibilities that those pristine sheets offered were endless.  The thrill of opening that packet still sends shivers down my spine.

Throughout the years I experimented with other media — paint, clay, metal — eventually graduating from college with a degree in art and a concentration in fiber.  Keep in mind that this was more than a couple of years ago and paper arts as a major was not really an option. I spent a few years as a weaver/feltmaker but when my middle son was two yrs. old, I enrolled in an adult ed bookbinding class at the local community college, primarily to get a night off. However, it just took one class and I knew that paper was indeed my re-found medium and I never looked back. Since then I have worked as a bookbinder, box maker, paper designer my own designs are available on this site), papier mache “sculptor,” letterpress printer, printmaker and tried or done pretty much everything else that can be done with paper. The one paper thing I leave to others is papermaking. I’m happy to just admire and collect the work of expert papermakers.

So what is it about paper that I find so appealing? Well, I think that it’s the versatility. It can be molded,

and folded,

and formed,

and printed.

And that’s just for starters.  Paper comes in a nearly unlimited variety of weights, textures, colors, finishes and sometimes scents. It can be relatively affordable, or even free as the recycled map, music and grocery bag papers used to make these little gift bags.

Of course there some glaring exceptions to that “affordability” factor, such as these metallic leaf (mica) papers from France. They are actually gold/silver/copper/bronze leave that have been adhered to a tissue thin base and you don’t want to know how much they cost. I use them very sparingly and only when I can show them off as evidenced in this lamp shade made by Helen Hiebert. (Check out her book, Paper Illuminated, for more shade ideas and instructions.)

So what can paper not do? I’m thinking. I have seen furniture made from corrugated cardboard, newspaper used as garden mulch, edible rice papers that surround chewy candies, machines that tightly roll paper to be used as fireplace logs, translucent waxed papers that replace glass windows…..I could go on and on and on. For me, I’m satisfied making books, boxes and the like.  After all, I’ve got enough stock to keep me going for another 50 years or so (see top photos).