Ferne passed away peacefully at home last week. She was 98.
Ferne hadn’t done ceramics in a long time, but her hobby was such an important part of her life that it was mentioned at her funeral. My sister and I even spotted one of her lovely ceramic Christmas trees in the background of a photo in a video montage that spanned her entire life. I sometimes wonder how many of those trees she made—I’ve seen at least three, and each was a little different from the others.
In Ferne’s honor, here’s a glance at some of my favorite Ferne-made pieces.
The Choir Kids & Christmas Tree: Ferne detailed these choir kids to resemble my sister, brother, and me back when we were all under 10 years of age. (I’m the one with pony tails.) In the background is the Christmas tree she made for my mom. Every year when I bring these out I treat them very gingerly. (On close inspection it looks like my sister was decapitated at some point and had her head carefully glued back on. I have no idea how or when that may have happened.)
Mom’s angel: Some people focus on the gold candle holders, but I love the iridescent gown most of all. I still have the special “tear drop” candles Ferne gave Mom for the angel to hold.
Dresser Sets: Ferne made nearly identical covered dresser sets for my sister and me. (I might not know the correct term for them, but I’m sure Ferne did!) My set has a slightly lighter green than my sister’s set. When I was a teenager, I was heartbroken when I accidentally dropped the lid of the larger dish. Thankfully it was a clean break and was easily glued back together. I can’t remember ever not having them.
The Cheese Plate: Most of Ferne’s creations were much like the woman herself—classy, refined, elegant—so this whimsical cheese plate really stands out. I especially love the tiny paw prints trailing from “Nibble with Arlene & Walt” right up to the playful cheese-eating mouse.
You can see more (but by no means all) of my collection of Ferne’s creations in my previous post.
Not only do I hope to honor Ferne’s memory with this post, I also want to use her work as an example of how precious handmade gifts are when they’re created with intent. She spent hours refining and perfecting her projects, and she imbued every brush stroke, every detail with love. She even signed and dated each piece.
I guarantee none of her ceramic pieces will ever be discarded or sold during my lifetime.
Ferne will be missed, but she’ll always be fondly remembered when the holiday pieces are on display, when the cheese plate is used, even when I dust my bedroom. (Which I’m sure is not nearly often enough to suit Ferne. She was extremely tidy.)
What are some of your treasured possessions that were handmade by someone you love?
Puppy Sadie should graduate from puppy school next week, so perhaps one of these days I’ll be able to get back to more crafty endeavors. Right now, though, she’s still extremely curious and eager to “help” (if by “help” you mean trying to pull the double-pointed needles out of my hands so she can play with a half-knitted sock).
Good things are worth waiting for, or at least I hope my brother-in-law agrees since he’s still waiting for his Christmas socks.
Good things are also worth doing right.
You might remember that I made a set of replacement pool table pocket nets for my cousin’s gorgeous old pool table a couple years back. It took a while for him to devise a strategy to attach the new pockets, and from what I understand it was a bit challenging because you have to work at awkward angles. He attached the final pocket net a couple months ago, so I asked him to write this guest post.
New Pockets for the Brunswick Home Comfort
By Mark Hendrickson
This Brunswick pool table, the Home Comfort model as it’s known, has been in my family since I was a little boy. I first remember seeing this table in the parlor of an elderly couple who lived next to my family when we lived in town. As this couple disposed some of their possessions, they gave the table to my parents.
The 3.5’ x 7’ Home Comfort, made in about 1905, turns into a couch when the heavy playing surface is flipped up into a vertical position. In a 1911 Brunswick catalog, the table is described as “a very popular design especially adapted for use in a den.” The table sold originally for about $150.
On this particular table, the seat back and seat cushion are original — leather covering with horse-hair stuffing. The felt on the table was renewed in 2012.
The original pockets were a mesh fabric made of forest green wool. Over the years they had torn or stretched to the point where they would no longer hold pool balls that fell into them. Luckily for us, we have an outstanding knitter in the family (Paula) who agreed to make new pockets, using the existing ones as a model.
Once Paula finished making all six pocket nets, it was my job to affix the pockets to the table. The pockets are attached in two major ways.
How the pockets are attached
First, the lower edge of the pocket is stapled into the wooden frame of the table bed below the playing surface, at each pocket location. After this part of the pocket is secure, the top and outside edge of the new pocket is sewn to the leather and metal bracket that is screwed into the top of the rail at each pocket. It takes good strong button thread and a sturdy needle to puncture the leather lip on the bracket.
Once the pockets are stapled and sewn in place, the final step is affixing black fringe around the pocket bottom and around the outside edge of the upper leather and metal bracket.
The bottom of each pocket has a round wooden plug, shaped somewhat like a squashed hourglass. This wooden plug helps enclose the bottom of the pocket and provides a solid surface for affixing the fringe.
In creating the new pockets, Paula incorporated a length of wire at the ends, around the circumference of the hole at the bottom. This wire is wound around the hourglass at its narrowest point, thus effectively closing the pocket at the bottom. The lowest part of the wooden plug extends beyond the knit pocket and thus allows us to hot glue the fringe (salvaged from the original pockets) to the plug.
The upper fringe was affixed to the leather and metal bracket with hot glue. Originally, I suspect that the fringe may have been sewn into the leather, but they didn’t have the ease of hot glue in those days.
Overall, it took me approximately 6 hours to complete the installation of the new pockets. They work wonderfully, look as the originals did, and we no longer have to station someone by a pocket to catch a ball before it drops to the floor!
Note from Paula: After a bit more use, friction will help the fibers of the nets “felt” slightly so they’ll look more like the originals did in their prime.
Photos courtesy of Mark Hendrickson. Not only is Mark an amazing wood worker, he’s the creator and executive producer of Barn Find Fever. Follow him on Twitter: @FindBarn and Instagram: @nassaublue66.
I’ve mentioned before how creative and talented my relatives are, but sometimes they really out-do themselves. My cousin, Mark (the one with the great old pool table and who built my new porch railings) made the coolest gift for my 8-year old niece, and I asked him to write a guest post about what’s got to be the girliest woodworking project he’s ever done. Be sure to check out Mark’s blog, too: http://www.blackbearjournal.blogspot.com/
THE DOLL BED MADE FOR TWO
by Mark Hendrickson
I believe it may have been last Thanksgiving that my God daughter Reese approached me, with her dad, and asked if I might be able to build her a doll bed sometime. With Christmas just a few weeks away, it seemed like the natural thing to do.
The project began with Reese providing me with the height of one of her dolls so I knew how long to make the bed. She actually has two special dolls — Kit and Ruthie — so it was not to be a single bed but a bunk-style doll bed.
As I planned the project, I thought that the bed should be convertible. That is, the beds could be stacked in typical bunk-bed fashion, or, one half could be lifted from the other and they could be placed side by side.
I looked online to get a few ideas and then drew plans for the corner posts, head- and footboards, bed frames and the simple cleats glued to each post to enable the top bed to set securely on the bottom. When stacked, the beds are 19″ high, 23″ long and 16.5″ wide.
The beds are made of solid pine. The typical pine you buy is ¾” thick, much too bulky for a doll bed. So one of the first steps was to plane down these boards to ½” thickness which seemed to be a better size. I cut and assembled them and then completed the purple painting of all surfaces. [Paula’s note: A master of understatement, Mark makes the process sound a lot simpler than it was!]
In addition, my wife Mary and I enjoy projects where we can combine our skills: mine in the furniture-making arena and hers in the artistic touches once the construction and painting is completed. Mary then stepped in and added the wonderful painted highlights that you can see in the images.
Paula’s note: As cool as the beds look in photos, they’re even more impressive up close. On Christmas we were all inspecting the work and every little detail Mark & Mary put into making Reese one of the best gifts she’ll ever receive.
My family had an elf on the shelf long before the Elf on the Shelf book was first published.
Since the elves came before the book, it means the story about them has to be true, right? Christmas magic is real.
Also real? Christmas obsessions.
My brother and I both veer perilously close to the “obsessive” side of Christmas, but our sister isn’t quite as extreme as either of us. (That said, you know it’s the holiday season when Lisa starts “glinging” Christmas tunes. Glinging is ideal if you can’t remember the lyrics – just sing “gling.” Repeatedly.) But it’s really not our fault. It’s hereditary. And according to family stories from Grandma Bussey, we can trace it back to our grandfather.
Grandpa Bussey died way before any of us were born, but left a wonderful legacy. I have tons of Grandma and Grandpa’s old ornaments on my tree, even if you can’t see them all here:
Grandma loved bells, and pretty much every bell on my tree used to be on hers.
In the basement I have a heavy, old, battered tree stand. It only holds about a cup of water (that’s before the tree is added), so it’s not exactly practical. Grandma said she hit the roof the year Grandpa bought that stand – which at the time had poinsettia lights on its decorative base. It was expensive even by today’s standards. One day I’d love to see it restored, but poinsettia bulbs aren’t easy to find.
Grandpa Bussey didn’t just buy things, he made things too. I’m told he made this wooden Santa that’s so cool I leave him standing in the stairwell year round. It makes me smile to see Santa waving at me when I go up or down the steps.
He’s a little hard to see by the tree, so here he is in broad daylight….
And check out the log fence Grandpa made for beneath the tree (hey – one of Grandma’s bells got in the shot):
Grandma said Grandpa collected all of those branches on their property (which she referred to as a “farmette”), cut them to size and assembled the fence. It even folds up for easy storage. The fence is made of ten 12″ sections that are hinged and can be positioned however you like. It still has faint remnants of “snow” on the top of each rail, too.
I never got to meet my Grandpa, but his love of Christmas lives on through us – and the cool things he made.
What are some of your family’s special holiday keepsakes or traditions?
Most of us are on pretty tight budgets these days, which has more people than ever looking for inexpensive gift ideas. Instead of going cheap and buying someone another five-dollar fleece throw (as warm as they are, they are sort of impersonal), try putting your own skills to use.
Not everyone has the talent of my woodworking cousin, who has made things like table trays, mantel clocks and cutting boards all of us over the years, but everyone has at least one thing they’re good at.
Here are some other memorable gifts I’ve received in recent years:
- Homemade Pumpkin Chili from another cousin, complete with the recipe. It was frozen, easily transportable, and so delicious that I’m looking forward to making it again very soon.
- My niece and nephew’s framed artworks.
- The cool yarn Christmas wreath my sister-in-law made me that I’ve been dying to put up this season.
- Personalized ornaments.
- Glass coasters (the ones you’d put photos in) with individual pastel drawings instead of photos, from my sister.
- Handmade jewelry from another cousin.
- The hat a non-knitting friend made for me on a knitting loom.
- Framed scrapbook page with photo of my newborn nephew and me.
- Kitchen task lights installed by (and from) my brother.
- Framed felted piece made by my sister.
Still not sure you can make a great gift? Worried you won’t have time to make gifts? How about these ideas:
- Duplicate a favorite photo – Copy the photo, pop it into a simple frame and give it to someone who can appreciate the memories. One year I copied photos of my paternal grandparents at their jobs — he was a train engineer, she was a telephone operator – and put them double frames for my sister, brother and cousin. (Perfect photos for a home office.) Another year I found an old photo booth strip of my sister and me as little kids, put it in a simple landscape frame that could be turned on end and gave it to her.
- Make a favorite recipe – Cookies are great, but change it up like my cousin did with the pumpkin chili. That froze well, but unfrozen perishable foods can be “wrapped” in insulated lunch bags. Look for a large recipe you can split among several people. Spiced nuts, chai latte and peanut brittle are a few edible gifts I’ve enjoyed in years past.
- Offer your time – If you’re good at DIY projects, offer your time and skill with things you’re good at. It might be painting a room, planting a garden, moving heavy furniture, shoveling snow – anything you think the recipient might like a little help with.
- Print some coupons – A friend who doesn’t cook much loved my homemade veggie burgers, so I gave her a coupon to redeem at a later date. My sister loves Fudgy Bonbons, but they’re best fresh, so when she visits her in-laws for Christmas, I usually give her a coupon to redeem for a fresh batch.
- Make plans – My grandma was always hard to shop for – by age 90 there wasn’t much she didn’t already have. One year my aunt & uncle and dad decided to take her out to lunch on alternating months throughout the entire new year. Grandma always loved going out for lunch, so I’m sure she enjoyed that more than a more traditional gift.
I try to give some homemade or handmade gifts every year. Sometimes they might not quite hit the mark, but when they do it’s a great feeling, like hearing how much some folks look forward to my chocolate almond toffee each year, or arriving at my cousin’s house on Thanksgiving and seeing he’s wearing the socks I made him last Christmas.
Even better? When you start getting special requests for handmade items.
What are some fun homemade gifts you’ve given or received over the years? Why are they so special to you?
I’m not sure Ferne would like me giving away her age, so let’s just say that today is her birthday and she’s probably celebrated more birthdays than most of you have.
Ferne is my mom’s cousin, and despite a slight age gap, the two seemed more like sisters. It’s no wonder since Ferne spent most of her summers and school vacations staying with my grandparents. Since my mom grew up with two brothers, I’m sure she relished every visit from Ferne.
Back in the day, Ferne’s hobby was ceramics and she made lots of beautiful gifts for Mom and Grandma. A couple years ago I was chatting with Ferne and told her I’d just put out all of the gorgeous Christmas decorations she’d made, and she seemed a bit surprised that I’d set the “those old things” out each year. In places of honor, no less. But I do.
To help celebrate Ferne’s birthday, I decided to share photos of just a few of her creations. (Others were packed away with more decorations, so I just pulled out the ones that were easy to find.)
This trio of angelic choir kids – painted to look like my siblings and me (I’ve got the pony tails) – is my personal favorite:
In the background is the Christmas tree light Ferne made. According to family lore, the tree form didn’t originally have all those pin holes, so Ferne had her husband, Lenny, painstakingly drill each and every tiny hole. She also made Grandma a slightly larger three-piece tree, so Lenny was pretty busy that year.
Another year, she made Mom and Grandma each a Christmas Angel. The coloring of this one kind of reminds me of my mom, which was probably intentional on Ferne’s part:
She also made Mom a green holly leaf candy/nut dish (with bright red berries) and a matching dessert stand. Christmas wasn’t the only holiday Ferne made decorations for. Here’s an Easter egg (she even painted the inside):
One year she personalized a cheese tray for Mom & Dad. I don’t know if you can read the script, but it says, “Nibble with Arlene and Walt,” then she painted in a path of tiny footprints leading up to the cute little mouse eating a piece of cheese. The footprints were an extra special touch that I adore:
Mom and Grandma weren’t the only ones to get special gifts. One year Ferne made dainty little covered dishes for my sister and me. This is my well-worn set:
You can probably see the feint crack across the right side of the larger lid. I was devastated when I accidentally dropped and broke it when I was a teenager, but thankfully a bit of glue did the trick.
Somewhere I still have a large owl she made for us. There’s also an unsigned cake stand that I think Ferne made. It’s elegant, like Ferne herself, and done in her signature colors: off-white and pale green, with gold accents that match the gold on the Angel’s candle holders.
Needless to say I’m very careful when handling all of Ferne’s creations. I treasure each piece for different reasons, but mostly because they were were made with love. By today’s birthday girl.
Happy Birthday, Ferne!
I’ve heard that my mom used to sew a lot of her own clothes, but I only remember seeing her old purple dress form gathering dust in the basement. (Until my sister-in-law brought it back to life and gave it a much nicer home.)
When Mom wanted to sew, she usually borrowed Grandma’s old black enameled sewing machine with the fancy gold swirls. It was pretty, but too heavy for a kid to carry. It was extremely convoluted to thread, too. I don’t recall her sewing a lot when I was little, but I clearly remember helping Mom fill bobbins and her making me thread the machine. Through this, around that, through the wire loop, down into the metal ring and finally into the needle itself.
On rare occasions when Grandma needed her machine, we’d borrow Aunt Freda’s slightly newer New Home sewing machine. It was just as heavy, just as tricky to thread, but wasn’t decorated with gold scrolls. I eventually inherited the powerhouse of a sewing machine and still use it to this day.
But I don’t sew clothes. I make pillows, quilts, simple curtains and one time I even made bedroom drapes. I used commercial pleating tapes, but they had incomplete instructions clearly written by someone for whom English was not a first – or possibly even second – language. A friend who’s an experienced sewer came over to help me figure out the pleats. She looked at Aunt Freda’s sewing machine — which only does straight line stitching; no zig-zags, no buttonholes, no zipper attachment, and no alternating stitch lengths unless you manually adjust the lever – and said, “Does it backstitch?”
Yes, it can backstitch. It’s electric, too!
(I’m not sure how old the sewing machine is, but on an episode of Mad Men, Betty’s sewing machine looked ultra modern compared to this one.)
Even if Aunt Freda’s very old New Home can’t compete with modern machines and their fancy stitches and special attachments, it’s the machine I’ll keep using until one of us dies. Sure, it’s next to impossible to find replacement bobbins (a worker at one place I checked exclaimed, “I’ve never seen a bobbin like that!”), but I’m not a seamstress. All I need to do is sew straight lines, and maybe a few gentle curves.
In a future post you’ll see why Old Reliable was out and running.
What old appliances or tools do you still use – and would you ever dream of replacing them?
Any guesses as to how old this New Home is? I honestly have no clue. (Apparently Aunt Freda didn’t believe in saving owner’s manuals.)
On Easter Sunday my family did more than celebrate the holiday. My brother Brice, cousin Mark and his wife Mary all kindly came over early to help me with some home repairs.
While Brice, Mary and I were scraping the exterior window trim and prepping it for painting, Mark somehow turned this crumbling 92-year old porch rail that was literally falling apart….
….into this sturdy new porch rail that’s ready for a couple coats of fresh brown paint:
Somehow Mark beefed it up a bit without losing the Craftsman look and feel of the original design. He had to cut curves to fit around the pillar, which couldn’t be easy since the pillar is slightly tapered.
As if the new porch rail along with Brice, Mary and Mark’s much-appreciated help on the windows wasn’t already enough, the day got even better when the rest of the family came over. We had a really fun raclette dinner and an egg hunt plus a little co-birthday celebration for a cousin (whose birthday was a few weeks earlier) and for me (whose birthday is yet to come).
My sister-in-law Jeanne made a rather fitting carrot cake, but also made us both some really cool birthday gifts. My cousin got a hand-knitted water bottle cozy, and I got these adorable embellished towels….
…..and the perfect gift for a Christmas freak who’s an obsessive knitter:
Yep. A wreath made of yarn! How cool is that?
Someone in the family is always working on something special. (One of these days I’ll get Mark to guest blog about some of his woodworking projects!) It’s especially great knowing a lot of our handmade projects will likely become family heirlooms one day.
I’m lucky to be part of such a talented and creative family. What are some handmade heirlooms from your family? Who made them and why do you love them?