Homemade Christmas With Love

The family started making homemade gifts during the lean years of our childhood. It became a family tradition that carries on even though 50 years have passed.

Dad could take parts of worn-out, wrecked bicycles and mix-and-match them to make one that, after he sanded and painted it, looked like new. That was the Christmas that he was still on crutches after a horrible car accident that kept him hospitalized for months.

Clyde Martin working in father-in-law Clarence McGhee's woodworking shop, Madison, KS 1959.

This photo actually shows Clyde Martin in 1959 in his father-in-law’s workshop, but we don’t have a 1958 photo of him.

One year he painted a Monopoly board to replace a missing one. The folks may have found the game parts at a yard sale without the board or someone gave it to them. With hours of work, he hand-painted the squares on a masonite board and added all the lettering.

The six of us played Monopoly for hours at a time, sprawled on the floor around that board. With our pale yellow, pink, and blue paper dollars spread out in front of us, we vied for wealth but often ended up in poverty. Even the get-out-of-jail-free card wouldn’t stave off bankruptcy when we landed on Park Place and couldn’t pay the hotel costs.

I wish I had that board that he created. I’d hang it on the wall as a piece of folk art. 

Mom was a master of turning leftover fabric scraps into new doll clothes. Leftover curtain making material magically became a ballgown for my sister’s Toni doll. My sister still has that doll and those one-of-a-kind dresses. Mom didn’t have any patterns and just created the outfits using trial and error.

She used her trusty Singer sewing machine to make quilts for our beds. I remember the yellow squares alternating with colorful hand-appliqued butterflies. They kept us snug on winter nights in that cold second-floor bedroom of the old farmhouse. We would wake in the morning to see frost designs on the inside of the windows. We stayed under the covers until we heard the clatter of Dad stirring up the embers and adding a log to the woodburning stove that served to heat the whole house.

Mom’s Singer was the old-fashioned kind with the treadle. My Singer is a plain white one, but for old time’s sake, I wish I had this black model that looks so much like what Mama used. You can really count on a Singer.

singer sewing machine pixabay

I’m not nearly the seamstress that she was, but with my machine, I’ve made doll quilts and table runners. These are easy and quick-to-make gifts that delight the recipients. I’ve made some storage bags to hold all those plastic grocery bags, another easy gift that’s useful for anyone. It’s a basic tube with elastic at each end and a loop to hang it. To fancy it up, I put a strip of quilted pieced down the front of the tube.

toni and doll quilt.jpg

My older brother became a master carpenter and used his evenings and weekends in November and December to create gifts for his sisters and our parents. The year that he constructed hump-backed chests for each of us still amazes me.


Gail Martin, Cindy Ross, Shannon Hyle, Samantha Hyle, Karen Martin (Kolavalli), Owen Martin, Virginia Lord (Allain), Susan Leigh. Owen made a trunk for Mom and each of the sisters, plus a step stool for Samantha with her name on the seat.

Making homemade gifts with your sewing machine or with woodworking tools are a great way to stretch the budget at Christmas. Everyone loves a handmade gift stitched with love.


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