This Christmas, handmade gifts are in

Published 6:29 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kathryn Wetherington (left) shows one of her handcrafted holiday wreaths to shopper Von Mitchell during the recent Christmas Expo hosted by the Chocowinity Fire Department Auxiliary. Handmade items top shopping lists this Christmas season. (WDN Photo/Kevin Scott Cutler)

Generations ago, homemade holiday gifts were the norm. Most folks did not have the means nor the inclination to give their loved ones a store-bought present.
Then came mass produced items that made gift shopping easier, if less imaginative. Yet, somehow Christmastime lost a bit of its magic.
Today, the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction, with homemade gifts now a sort of status symbol. And one doesn’t have to be especially creative or “crafty” to give a gift that isn’t plastered with “Made in China” labels.
Instead, shoppers are making their way to holiday craft shows, art galleries and artisans studios in search of that perfect, one-of-a-kind gift. Case in point: the recent Christmas Expo hosted by the Chocowinity Fire Department Auxiliary.
There, Kathryn Wetherington manned a booth overflowing with handcrafted wreaths in every color combination imaginable, from the reds and greens of Christmas to the purple and gold of East Carolina University.
“It’s coming from this country versus having it being imported from other countries,” Wetherington said of made in the USA handcrafts. “To me, that means a whole lot. When you buy something that is made locally, the community is giving back to the community.”
A retired Chocowinity school teacher, Wetherington began exploring her creative side and selling crafts a year ago. In addition to her wreaths, she’s become known for her unusual diaper cakes, painted bird houses and silk floral arrangements.
Even local teenagers are getting in on the act. While the Chocowinity Middle School cheerleaders greeted supporters from atop a fire truck in the town’s Christmas parade, Connie Respess was selling hair bows handmade by the cheerleaders themselves. Her daughters, Hannah and Courtney, are both cheerleaders, one at CMS and the other at Southside High School. Money raised from selling the bows will help finance the team’s upcoming trip to Hawaii, where they will compete in the Pro Bowl under the guidance of coach Jan Hill.
In a nearby booth, Brandi Cordon was trying her luck during the expo, as well. Her merchandise included wall plaques, hair accessories and holiday ornaments.
“I’ve been crafting for family and friends for years,” Cordon said. “I enjoyed it, it was a hobby, and then I decided to branch out. Once I figured out I could sell my crafts, I sold some to friends and online. This is my first show, though.”
Like Wetherington, Cordon is an advocate for shopping locally and for buying items that are handcrafted.
“I think we should buy from our neighbors, from people who are trying to make enough extra money to make ends meet,” she said.
Carolyn Sleeper, a “clay artist” from Washington, also believes in supporting creative people who are honing their skills.
“People should understand that as a crafts person we are doing our best to make a living,” she said. “It sure is not easy!”
Sleeper’s pottery reflects her love of nature and of whimsy. Her work is available at galleries and shops in Washington, New Bern, Wilson and Elizabeth City.
“I like to put my own spin on what a critter looks like,” Sleeper noted. “If it makes me laugh, I think I’ve accomplished what I wanted.”
Fellow Beaufort County artist Valda Belyeu joins Sleeper in encouraging area craftspeople.
“I support shopping locally as much as I can. As an artist who sets up at craft and art shows, I really appreciate all the people who come out and look for unique items,” Belyeu said. “I like to shop at the shows, too, because that is where all the good stuff is.”
Belyeu began designing her own line of handmade jewelry in 2005. Two years later, she started teaching classes, thereby sharing her love of the arts with others.
“When people shop locally, they are supporting their neighbors, who in turn take that money and spend it back in the community,” Belyeu pointed out.