It All Began with Isabel Estelle Earseman Thomas
My mom likes to joke that I could’ve been named “Isabel” or “Estelle.” As annoyed as I am sometimes with the name they settled on thirty-seven years ago, I am glad they didn’t go with “Estelle.” For a time I was nearly “Lynn” as well, but I would’ve accepted “Isabel” before any of them. Alas, with Leigh I am stuck, and I shall be called “Leah” instead of “Lee” forevermore.
This particular ancestor of mine came to Pittsburgh from Knox, Pennsylvania, and she brought her crafting savvy with her. I suppose my family may have her to thank for all the DIY projects we end up doing throughout the year. And, apparently, the McIlhattens before her loved to organize and be a part of things. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I’ve always known about the grandmother I never knew. She lived on the third floor of my grandparents’ house until she passed. And as she lived in the 1970s, the thing to do back then was make Styrofoam Christmas ornaments.
Now I don’t remember ever making these as a child myself. My family inherited some of her ornaments, as did my aunts. These ones were wrapped in felty fabric and secured with pins and beads and sequins. It was also the era of extremely fragile glass and metal ornaments that wanted to break as soon as you took them out of the box. Those I remember the most, as they were brought out of storage at Grandma’s house every year. Their home was built in the early 1900s, in a kind of Edwardian style we don’t see much today. So it had a decent sized foyer, a music room, front sitting room and formal dining area, all fitted with pocket doors we never ever closed.
Making the Ornaments
I don’t think I would’ve had the patience as a child as I do now to make these traditional Christmas baubles, so it fascinates me to watch my nearly ten-year-old niece make them right along with the adults. My nearly seven-year-old nephew has even shown interest, but he’s a little more afraid of the pins than the rest of us. We’ve been making them for so long that we know some are, inevitably going to be lost in the carpet or stuck in a finger.
In Simon’s defense, he got a pretty long sewing needle stuck in his foot last summer. A sewing needle he wasn’t supposed to be playing with. I am curious to see if he’ll go near the crafting table at all this year!
Since my maternal grandma died, the Redman family ladies decided it was time to revive this old tradition. A new family was enjoying the old family home, and we wanted to keep the Redman spirit alive. So Ornament Days were born. So for the last six or seven years we’ve gotten together before the holiday season really kicked into high gear to eat, drink, be merry and make ourselves some ornaments.
This photo is perhaps fifteen or more years old at this point, but you can really see some of my Great Grandma Thomas’ ornaments up on the tree. We’ve tried to replicate them as best we can, but the same materials just don’t exist now as they did in the 1970s. And, in all actuality, the Styrofoam balls with the built in ornament hook loops are becoming harder to find as well. So over the years we’ve become a bit more creative with our designs.
The ornaments hanging the lowest to the right are ones my great grandma made, and there’s another golden one a bit further back she did also. All the rest were made over the years during the Redman Family Ornament Days.
The day this post goes live is the day we’re having our kickoff to the holiday season – October 22nd. It was the only day fully available to several of us, and I’ll be just a few days out from my surgery. I look forward to designing this year’s theme, pigging out on some good food, and chilling with the family on a perfect Autumn evening.
I hope, if you don’t already, that you have a family tradition like this that allows you to spend quality time with those you hold dear. Ornament Days might not have always been around, but I absolutely love that we’ve been able to rekindle this particular tradition.