Monday, June 1, 2020
How a Centrepiece Came Out of the Closet
Some years back my mother gave me a Christmas centrepiece that she had made for me. I hope I don't sound like an ingrate here, but as soon as I unwrapped it on that Christmas morning, I privately and silently decided that I would rework it at some point. That centrepiece sat in its box in the back of my hall closet for I don't know how long, waiting for me to get to it. Last fall when I was cleaning out the closet I decided the time had arrived to redo it.
Incidentally, this was the same closet clean out that led to my upcycling the canopies from three old umbrellas, and also moving my yoga mat from the back of the hall closet to the front corner by the door, where it would be much more easily accessible. I started doing yoga just a few weeks later. Cleaning out your closets can change your life, people.
This is how the nutcracker centrepiece looked when I received it. My mother had glued what I suspect were dollar store nutcracker tree ornaments, some plastic greenery, and an LED candle encased in plastic, to a plain, unfinished board from my father's woodworking shop. The idea was that it was supposed to be the "12 drummers drumming" decoration for my "12 Days of Christmas" decoration collection, but while I liked the concept of the centrepiece, and appreciated the thought and effort that had gone into it, I didn't like the execution.
I'm not normally indecisive, but occasionally I do have a very difficult time coming up with a project plan. This was one of those times. It took me a ridiculously protracted amount of time to figure out exactly what I was going to do with this centrepiece. I'd never made one before and I seemed to have a lot of trouble envisioning it. The candle and greenery were definitely going... somewhere else. I decided I would get a new base -- a round or oval one would work -- and paint it red using some red paint I'd bought to paint a little cupboard I was planning to put up in my kitchen. I found a new base promptly: it was a $4.52 round cheese board from the dollar store. I thought the nutcrackers could be ranged around the edge, and I could put something else in the middle, but what?
At this point I did what I do when I can't figure out what to do with some decorating or craft project -- I turned to my two closest friends: Christine and Lindsie. They both have excellent taste and good ideas, and I can't tell you how many times I've been in an agony of indecision while at some crafting or home furnishing store and wished I had them with me. I emailed Lindsie a picture of the original centrepiece and said I was trying to figure out what to do with it -- what should form the new centre of this centrepiece? Lindsie suggested a tree. I got a 12" tree from Michaels for $8.14, as well as a box of 10 spools of Christmas ribbons for $10.13, and I bought a $5 piece of red felt for the bottom.
Then I pried the nutcrackers off the old base -- they were glued so firmly in place that I had to use a hammer and chisel for some of them. (Very thorough woman, my mother.) I put together a mockup of the centrepiece, arranging the nutcrackers on the base around the tree, and emailed a photo of it to Christine, saying I wondered if I should decorate the tree with tiny ornaments, perhaps sewn to a ribbon wound around the tree. Christine advised against decorating the tree, but suggested I paint the base of the nutcrackers, which were blue, red, and green, in a single colour to make it look "less folksy". I did take her advice about the nutcracker bases, but I couldn't get past the feeling that the tree needed something, and experimented with decorating the tree with ribbons and a gold star from my beading supplies before I finally figured out exactly what I was going to do.
This is the finished centrepiece.
One side of the cheese board had the word "CHEESE" and the names of various kinds of cheeses inlaid upon it, and the other side was plain. I painted the plain side, the rim of the board, and the edge of the under side in red, and then put two coats of acrylic finish on top of that. I glued a piece of red felt to the bottom, then a length of tartan ribbon to the edge. Two of the little drummers have adorable tiny tartan drums, and I thought it made for a nice touch to echo that tartan with a similar tartan ribbon.
So much for the base. I painted the bases of the nutcrackers in cream craft paint, to match the base of the tree -- a finicky job requiring numerous coats and touch ups, but worth it. I also did a little re-gluing where needed -- some of the nutcrackers were losing their drumsticks, helmets, or even arms. I think my mother snipped what appears to have been gold thread hanging loops off some of their helmets, so I clipped the remaining gold thread as closely as I could, and then touched up the remaining nubs in black craft paint to make them less noticeable. (I tried prying out the nubs, but was unable to get them to budge.)
As for the tree, I decided on a simple ribbon bow topper. I wanted to use the tartan ribbon I'd used on the base, but when it didn't stand out against the tree with the kind of definition the red satin ribbon did, I sewed the tartan and red ribbons together and then made two bows and stitched them in place. The resulting two-layer ribbon is quite stiff and holds its shape rather than drooping, which was an added bonus.
And, finally, I glued the tree and the nutcrackers in place, and my centrepiece was complete. I spent more on this project than I had hoped to, but I still have lots of Christmas ribbon and red felt left that can be used for other things. While the end result doesn't have quite the professionally designed look I wanted it to have, I think it turned out pretty well, and am looking forward to seeing it on my kitchen table this coming December.
I just hope my mother doesn't remember giving me a handmade nutcracker centrepiece that vaguely resembled this one. She's 81 and her memory is getting a little iffy, which can sometimes be to my advantage. There's a certain made-in-Scotland MacBeth tartan scarf in my possession that is not the same scarf as the made-in-Scotland MacBeth tartan scarf she brought me back from Scotland when she and my father travelled there years ago, and that I subsequently lost, and she has never noticed the difference, even though the closest replica I was able to find online wasn't that close.
Also, she has never used the internet in her life and wouldn't read my blog if she did, so I think I'm at least safe from giving myself away via this blog post.