Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 8, 2013

Marta Hepler Drahos: Crafty Christmas helps mend broken heart

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — For years I’ve been on the receiving end of gifts lovingly made by hand — gifts like a picture frame decorated with beach stones I helped its creator collect, caramel and chocolate sauces for a favorite baked pear recipe, quilted wall hangings depicting my wedding and my beloved pets.

Then there were the soaps topped by dried rose petals and lavender needles, the string lights decorated with colorful origami shapes, and the frozen tamales accompanied by handwritten instructions for thawing and cooking them.

So this year I’m countering Christmas consumerism by giving away several handmade gifts of my own — imperfect as they are.

Despite what I always considered to be my lack of creativity and artistic talent, I’m mustering my confidence, throwing caution to the wind.

It all started this fall with my first-ever batch of grape jam made with fruit from “Marta’s Vineyard,” a row of five old-fashioned Concord grape plants like those my father grew along a fence when we were kids.

The jam was rich and flavorful, just like I remember my mother’s tasting all those decades ago.

But more important, making it from vines my husband and I planted a few years ago in our front yard was my first, tentative step toward a DIY lifestyle I all but gave up after my first husband died, shattering our dreams of homesteading on 33 acres.

I sold the property after I remarried and bought a smaller, 10-acre parcel in a different county with my new husband.

But because of the painful memories of what I’d shared with my first, what we’d already started and what yet might have been, Everything from canning and candle-making to chickens and goats.

Last month, buoyed by my jam’s success, we cleared off the kitchen table and brought out the small loom my sister gave me last Christmas.

I’d already started putting it together but had grown frustrated by the sketchy directions, which led directly from assembling the loom into weaving a scarf, without actually saying so.

This time around, my husband helped. And after getting off to a rocky start by hopelessly tangling two skeins of yarn, we finally threaded the loom and wove our first scarf in rich shades of brown and rust, with turquoise and green accents.

Every few days I take it out of its tissue wrapping and admire its neat, textured rows of warp and weft, its handtied knots, its short, even fringe. It’s not professional, but it’s professional enough for a first effort.

Now we’re making wine cork trivets using corks from some of our favorite local wines, from wines we splurged on in Napa and Temecula, and from wines we bought just because I liked their labels.

Next up? That ubiquitous Christmas sweater.

Reach Marta Hepler Drahos at