There is much joy to be had in the anticipation of Christmas – a joy captured by children as they make their Christmas preparations. For Dalesman Magazine this Christmas, I visited Yorkshire’s ArtisOn craft workshops where people are reclaiming that joy, by making their own decorations.
Joy of making
ArtisOn, in Masham, was founded by Gaynor Pearson and Sue Palin. They are supported by Josie Besant, of Masham Gallery and local artist Ian Scott Massie. Their aim was to encourage more people to discover the joy of making.
For Christmas, Josie was inspired to lead a workshop making wooden angels after seeing them in Poland. She says, “In Krakow, all the churches were hanging with these angels. Some look incredibly old, and others are quite modern.”
Josie provides pre-cut wooden angels for people to decorate as they choose. She shows pictures to give ideas, but encourages everyone to try something new.
Many people lack confidence when it comes to arts and crafts, but Josie makes it easy. She demonstrates how to draw a face, and offers a treasure trove of paints and trimmings including wool for hair, ribbons, beads, and glittery trinkets to adorn the angels.
Josie says, “We get lots of people who are real beginners – they haven’t picked up a paintbrush since they were at school. But this is an easy entry to rekindle the joy of making, and it’s magic to see that happening in adults – you don’t usually see it in adults.”
The angels certainly seemed to spread a peace and contentment, as everyone merrily selects embellishments to make angels which, like their makers, are all different.
As well as tuition, the workshop provides time out from the frenzy of pre-Christmas work and domestic responsibilities. Gilly Knowles commented, “At home there’s always a job needing doing,” and likewise, Nicola Down said, “At home, I think I’ll do it, but I don’t get round to it.”
And, adds Ieva Kuproka, “With the people here, you get the Christmas mood.”
Once made, the wooden angels can be used year on year, and observes, Nickie Titterington observed, “They’ll become heirlooms.”
In an alternative Christmas craft workshop, rag rug artist Heather Ritchie demonstrated how to make rag wreaths or mini Christmas trees from recycled old clothes. Once made, like the angels, the wreaths can be used year after year. When made incorporating fabrics with family memories, the decorations have great significance.
Tutor Heather Ritchie took the traditional Dales thrift craft of rag rugging and turned it into an expressive art form with an international following. Her rugs tell stories, and, she says, “Each year, I make a special Christmas rug. I’ve done scenes of Reeth, snow scenes, me carrying some lambs, Grinton Church with the stained glass, and a group of children singing Christmas carols.”
In the workshop, Heather offers a projects that can be completed in the day, such as mug mats’; mini rugs that make Christmas gifts; wreaths; or little Christmas trees.
Heather teaches two techniques: hooky and proddy, which give a shaggy or smooth texture. At the end of the day,” says Heather, “People go home with a new skill, and something that they can treasure for years.”
As in the angel class, people come not just to learn a new skill, but also for fun, for time out, to try something new, and to make something special for Christmas.
Alex Donkin came with her mother, Glenda Cresswell. Alex made a rag Christmas tree and said, “I’ve never done this before, but Mum does quite a bit at home. This is a nice day out together, and now I know what it’s all about now. You can do a bit, and see a result. It feels useful, I’m enjoying it.”
Mother and daughter pair Christine and Natalie Moores also came to learn the skill. They’d bought a rug kit, but, three years later, were still uncertain what to do with it. Natalie made a striking wreath of textile poinsettias, and went home confident that she now knew what to do with her rug kit. She said, “Technology and the internet are wonderful things, but a real person is so much better.”
And at the end of the day, said Gaynor, “I get a nice warm glow when I see what everyone’s made.”
Read more in Dalesman Magazine, December 2016 issue
Rediscover the joy of making by booking a course at ArtisOn