Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hand Crafting a 19th Century Christmas

A favorite of mine.

    Christmas is coming and time is running out. For the past few months I have been working, long and hard on a Christmas project for the tree , at My Old Historic House. Christmas in America is a rather new holiday. Until Victoria took the throne in England, very few people knew or celebrated Christmas. Victoria's husband, Albert, was from Germany, and in Germany they celebrated Christmas. This was toward the middle of the 19th century. Albert brought evergreens into the palace and sent for decorations from Germany. News traveled all over about this custom, and the Christmas tree was born. Word soon reached America and slowly the custom became popular here as well. It wasn't until the 20 century that every home had a Christmas tree. The 21 century has taken Christmas to a new level, making it more about buying and spending than the real joy of the season.
    In 1860, the period to which I have decorated ,My Old Historic House, Christmas was still rather new in America. I am sure very few homes had trees, unless you  lived in a large city or were of extreme wealth. Rural areas were slow to pick up new traditions. Hazekiah Elgin, who built my house, was a man of great wealth. He was also a Riverboat Captain and had a paddle wheel steamer and had access to finer things, having traveled from port city to port city. New Orleans and St.Louis were both considered pretty large cities at that time. So I am sure he had heard of this thing called Christmas. I have no records, so I just have to assume, he did. Mrs. Elgin would have taken on the task of the Christmas tree decorations. Store bought ornaments were few and far between and had to be ordered from catalogs months in advance. Most people made there own Christmas tree decorations. That is what I have done this year and want to share with you.
    Victorian "scrap," also known as lithography, is colored printed paper and usually die cuts, that were used in Victorian times by both children and adults, for various past times and collections.Scrap first appeared in the middle 19th century. Most were made in Germany and Great Britain. These pre-cut scraps ,were relief stamped and embossed to give them a three-dimensional look and feel. They were,and are, sold in sheets and can easily be pulled apart.Collections of scarps were pasted into special albums and Victorians mixed calling cards and greeting cards and any other pictures they likes or wanted to save. The Victorians were very Romantic and loves sentimentality and keep shakes. Scraps were used for decoupage, collage,gift cards, Valentines, and Christmas ornaments. This is very much like the scrap book  craze, that a lot of Americans are into today. These scrap books can be found on today's markets, but, they usually fetch a very big price. There are several companies making reproductions today. I for one, have a hard time telling the new ones from the old. Sometimes the new ones are a slight bit thinner than the old ones. So for this project I have ordered  my Victorian Scraps over the computer. They were mailed to my door step. In the 1800's, scraps would have been ordered from a catalog and shipped in the mail, just as they are today. So this part has not changed much.
      I have used 6 inch gold paper doilies  for my ornaments. These are not always easy to find, but most places that sell cake making supplies handle them. Buy a lot of them, as it takes several, sometimes for one ornament. I gathered all kinds of things for this project. A trip to Hobby Lobby and Ben Franklin, where I bought gold cord, tinsel robe, beads, colored stones and various other items of interest. I had no directions, I just set out and made it up as I went along. I used a glue gun, as glue seemed to take to long to set and was not strong enough to hold the weight. Snap, snap, snap of the glue gun trigger and I had an ornament. I trimmed the tinsel garland with scissors to make it smaller, as I had no luck finding it that way.Making these ornaments is a several step process. First I traced around  the gold doilies  on poster paper and colored construction paper. I cut each of these out by hand. I glue the colored construction cut out to the poster board cut out and then the gold one on top. All thee layers are needed to give strength. After this you can trim as you like. I have added depth sometime by putting one layer on top the other and spacing it with a small square of cut cardboard. I usually run a gold garland piece around between these two layers.One could use old jewelry as well and scraps of lace and  other found objects.

    I made garlands for my tree out of ribbon roses. These roses were made by Victorian ladies to decorate there hats, dresses and homes. It takes about one yard to make one and it is a simple procedure of folding right angles and turning. I have made several hundred. After I made a dozen, I taped them together in a line using green floral tape. I left a couple of inches between each rose. I used a simple green garland (this comes in 20 foot pieces from any department store) and wrapped between each rose all the way down the line. I tapped each end with green floral tape. I chose to make the garland in sections for several reasons. One it is easier to tape and make, and two, I can loop them on the tree much easier. I plan to connect each section of the garland to the next with a pretty bow.
    I also made little baskets from the gold dollies as well. I used a half one and did the same there layers . They were bend around and glued  together. You will need to hold each one for a minute or so, until the glue has time to set. These can then be decorated in any fashion, with any materials  you have or want to use.
     I do not plan to use electric lights on my tree, as lights were first used after 1900.  I do have a large collection of clip on candle holder for the tree. I will add these, with tiny 4 inch candles, but never plan on lighting them. These candles were usually lite only on Christmas eve or Christmas day. There was always a bucket of water setting close by in case of a fire. Many  wonderful homes were lost with fires from these Christmas tree candles.
    All the gold, glitter and beads from the ornaments will catch the light and make the tree seem to be lite, weather it is or not.

    I am hoping to use a real tree, as I have never seemed to like the fakes. They sure are handy and a lot less mess.They are all two full and perfect.  I love the old fashion Balsam trees that seem to have a Charlie Brown appearance, with the limps far apart and some long and some shot. This makes  room for my big hand made ornaments.I have been known in the past, when forced to use a fake tree, to cut a few branches out and put short ones where long ones go and vice-versa.  Usually real trees are not available till after Thanksgiving. It is a good thing as they dry out so fast. I have to go to St.Louis, 70 miles away ,to find a tree like this. It has been a awhile since I bought one and Lord knows what it will cost.I have my heart set on a eleven footer. I am hoping for nice weather with no big snow storms, so I can have a few open houses and tours.
     I hope you like my hand crafted 19th century Christmas project. Feel free to try your own hand at making some. You can find the scrap art pieces on many sites on the net. Just type in Victorian scrap art on the search bar. One is a good as the next, price is the only factor. Maybe you can come and take a tour and see my tree. . Just come by anytime. I will leave the lights on and Sissy Dog will meet you with a jump and a kiss.  Happy Christmas crafting.

My tree topper, it is 18 inches tall.

Top of the tree topper.

bottom of the tree topper.

You can see how they catch the light.


This was the river scene last night as Sissy and I walked home from the shop.


Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Richard:
Gosh! You have been really busy in creating these wonderful ornaments for the Christmas tree. The Victorian scraps work so well and really will give a vintage feel to the finished tree. And yes, it really must be a real tree, artificial ones are horrid and your beautiful decorations deserve the best.

We are lucky that a Christmas tree market is held just outside our Budapest apartment and so we shall buy one from there. As is traditional in Hungary, the tree will not be put up or decorated until Christmas Eve!

Sweet Old Vintage said...

Richard... oh my you have been busy... What a lovely way to spent time and so rewarding... Just beautiful... You are so true to the periods... Lovely.

Marcia said...

These are wonderful, Richard! Are you selling them in your shop or online? I think there might be a great market for them already made (although they would be fun to make if you had all the 'parts' to do it). You are such a wonderful artist...thank you for sharing and inspiring me!

Martha said...

What wonderful ornaments!!!! I think your tree will be beautiful!

Pamela Gordon said...

Richard these Victorian tree ornaments are just beautiful! No wonder many didn't survive due their delicate nature. I can't wait to see your tree. I hope you will be able to find a real one. Thanks for visiting and commenting on my posts. Blessings, Pamela

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing how to make these Dresden-style Victorian ornaments.

I have been wanting a Victorian tree forever, but the ornaments at Hobby Lobby -- even if they're of an angel or a high-topped shoe -- just don't look right.

Now I see what to do. You are so generous in sharing your artistic skills with us.

The rose ribbon garland is breathtaking!

Thanks again,

Linda McMullan said...

I can hardly wait to see your Old Historic House all decorated with your handmade ornaments! It's going to be very, very special.

Stacy Leigh said...

This is so inspirational!! Thanks Richard! These look like more fun to make than Christmas cookies and that is pretty fun :)

Confessions of a Plate Addict said...

Oh, Richard! These are lovely! You are so talented! Hope you are having a great week!...hugs...Debbie

mississippi artist said...

These ornaments are so pretty, you really should make them to sell!I can't wait to see pictures of your home all decorated.You and Sissy had a beautiful view to look at on the way home.Give her a kiss for me.

lvroftiques said...

Richard they're all lovely! And you have been a very busy guy! I can't wait to see the finished tree. I know it's gonna be spectacular! Will you be having a big Christmas party to show it off?

I've always prefered the real trees to the fake....You just can't reproduce that fragrance, but I finally gave in a couple of years ago when any of the decent live trees around here were $100+ and a nice big faux tree was $15 at the local Goodwill....Gotta save that money for more globe de mariee *winks*...Priorities my friend... priorities!
It looked like a beautiful evening there on the banks of the Mississippi. Thankfully we're having nice weather here too for a change. Hugs and kisses to you and Sissy girl. Vanna

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Richard-

You've done an amazing job with those tree decorations! I never thought of making them myself, using the reproduction scraps! Your tree, real or not, is going to look lovely with all those beautiful old-fashioned ornaments.


xinex said...

Wow! I di dnot know you were this creative too. Beautiful ornaments, Richard. Thanks for the history of Christmas trees.....Christine

Curtains In My Tree said...


You are a man that can do anything. Cook , sew, decorate, shop, interior designer, artist, painter, dog trainer, historian, great person, and now a paper, blogger, photographer, friend on and on dear man

Your vintage looking paper ornaments are beautiful.Just like your entire home

Us do an exchange? I will make you one and get it in the mail and I will expect mine anytime before Valentines? deal?

Enjoy this nice weekend I will be working on those curtains for my front bedroom. LOL

xoxo to Sissy

Shelia said...

Hi Richard! Oh, my! I love your ornaments and the roses garland is gorgeous! I can't wait to see your Old Historic House all decked out for Christmas! I know it will be beautiful!
Thanks for liking my little diddle daddle! :)
Be a sweetie,
Shelia ;)

ornamentsbypink said...

Richard very pretty ornaments! I love that rose garland. Will be watching to see your decorated christmas tree!

SavannahGranny said...

I absolutely love your handmade ornaments. Each is a work of art. Thank you so much for sharing with us. Wish I could see your lovely home especially at Christmas time. Have a great weekend. Love the shot of the river. Ginger

Divine Theatre said...

Gracie and I loved every last thing about this post!
You are probably tired after your tea...and working on the wedding? Please make sure to get enough rest...and kiss the littlest angel, Sissy!

Ann@A Sentimental Life said...

Richard, I am gorgeous. I can not wait to see more pictures of your home for Christmas!

Diann said...

Wow, you have been so busy Richard! All the christmas decorations are amazing and wonderful! Very Victorian. Have a wonderful weekend!

Linda (Nina's Nest) said...

Beautiful classic Victorian! Wow - you have done a fantastic job creating all the lovely ornaments! Oh, you commented about the Welsh cupboard....I think it was $2600....the picture doesn't do justice to the height and presence. Thanks for stopping by! Linda

Entertaining Women said...

Just beautiful! Ilove it all, and your ribbon roses have captured my heart...sigh. When I was a small child, we would put the cones on our tree. Each night the elves would bring us a tiny gift, like a pair of socks with lace on the cuff. When I was four, I told my mama that I knew that there wasn't really a Santa Claus. She responded simply, "Really?" the next morning when we awoke, the elves had left a gift in my sister's cone, and mine was...empty! It took about three days, and I told mama that I had just been teasing; I knew that there was really a Santa Claus. She responded simply, "Really?". I've believed in Santa ever since. Cherry Kay

Sissysmom said...

Beautiful!! I will be stealing this idea, but of course mine won't be as nice as yours, you are so talented!! I can't wait to see your tree all decorated.

Give Sissy Dog a pat on the head from me!


Scribbler said...

I have seen your comments on some of the blogs and had to check you out. You are so very ambitious making all those beautiful handmade roses and ornaments. I used to have an arts and crafts shop years ago when I lived in NC, long before the days of Michael's and Hobby Lobby. I used to like doing things like this, and you have inspired me to give this a try. If my effort is successful, I'll post it! Otherwise, no. ;-)

The ribbon roses are so realistic! Just gorgeous.

bj said...

Hi, Richard...thanks so much for stopping by. Hope you come often.

I am so envious of your talents. I could NEVER make these beautiful ornaments. Those ribbon roses just made me breath a little pretty.

We started using a faux tree years ago when our little boy was so allergic to live ones. Have used them ever since. Like you, tho, I would rather have a real one.
Now, I use a lot of lights on my tree but it is a tiny 4 ft. tree...the large one became too hard for this olden couple to carry upstairs to the attic.

Your tree is going to be breathtaking with all these beauties.

Sares said...

It must be amazing to live in a home with such history at Christmastime. The amount of work that you have out into all the detail is outstanding and I am sure when it is all pulled together it will look amazing. I do hope you share with us! Happy Pink and I wish you luck on your tree hunt!

Victorian1885 said...

What wonderful decorations! I just love the Victorian era and did not know that about Queen Victoria so thank you for the knowledge regarding Christmas in Victorian times. Have a wonderful week.

The Dusty Victorian said...

Hi Richard,
Your Chirstmas will look magical - absolutely lovely work. Along with all your beautiful porcelaine and table accessories. Thank you for the Christmas inspiration.

Butterbean Row said...

You sure have been busy! I especially love the garlands with roses that you made. Wow, all of those hand made roses are just gorgeous! I would make a trip just to see those!
I like your idea of the real tree. I hope you will post a photo of it when you get it decorated.

All the best,

♥charlotte----love the river photo

Jillian's Bella Rosa Antiques said...

WOW. You are amazing! Such fancy dancy ornaments and I can just imagine they are perfect for My Old Historic Home.

Inspiring indeed!

Susan said...

Enchanting, enchanting, enchanting. Did I say, enchanting? Oh my, I cannot even believe you created such loveliness. Fabulous job! Susan

Kay said...

Richard, I just love these ornaments so much! They bout make me want to cry they're so pretty! Would love to see them on your tree.

Rhissanna said...

Oh my! The ribbon rose garland is perfect and such a lot of industry went into making it! I love your ideas for Christmas decorations. I'm glad you found gold doilies. I've been stuck with spraying white paper ones for my Christmas cones. Hugs to you and Sissy Dog.


Debbie@Debbie-Dabble and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

First off, thanks so much for your visit!! I apologize for not visiting before this but I am decorating my fool head off!!

These ornaments are to die for!! Stunning, stunning, stunning....
I ordered a few of these on ebay ( not as beautiful as yours, of course) and plan on adding them to my Living Room tree....

And the garland, be still my heart..
Can't wait to see your home decorated for the Holidays!!!


Bonnie said...

You have been one busy man. Can't wait to see them on the tree. You are a true artist. We have an 1865 stone Greek Revival Home with clip on candles (Un-Lit) as well, but our decorations are nowhere as fancy as your beautiful ones.

BettyJean @ Shabby Tea Party said...

Hi Richard, I just found your blog thru LilacLaneCottage and have had the best time looking around, these ornaments are stunning! If you have any gift wrapping ideas, please plan to stop by on Wednesdays to share.. I'm trying a linky party, my first. Warm Hugs