Category: Life

Art that connects with The Creator

Kristi Nash Harrison says she’s an attention deficit artist. “I jump from one thing to the next,” she told me when I caught up with her this week as she was preparing for what’s become known as “the most anticipated little craft show in Mechanicsville.” That would be The Three Whine Oh’s and Friends Holiday Open House at my Inspiring Handmade partner in art, Patti Jones’ home and studio: 8352 Devil’s Den Lane, Mechanicsville, VA 23111, in Battlefield Green. This year (the show’s 17th) the fun begins Friday, Nov. 22, at 3 p.m.-8 p.m., and continues Saturday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

For years, Kristi and Patti have joined their friends and fellow makers to create and show original art and crafts. And while her interests may be many, Kristi, a long-time local artist, and art teacher, says clay and paint are her mainstays. “Over the years, my art has evolved,” she said and explained that it always reflects various facets of her life. The crabs and water themes, for instance, are inspired by her mother’s love of life on the water.

glazed pottery cup with a crab
A sculpted crab crawls among sand and grass on a glazed cup. All glazes are lead-free and safe for everyday use with food and drinks.
Wonderfully illustrated crabs congregate on glazed plates. Pile them high with Christmas cookies and even when the baked goods are gone, these plates look amazing.
Whimsical dragonflies dance along the top of a glazed tumbler. Who wouldn’t be inspired by taking a sip or using a pen kept in this work of art?
A dragonfly prepares to light on a flowered lilypad on this glazed bowl. Want to make someone feel special? Serve them their favorite ice cream in what will surely become known as “the dragonfly bowl!”

This year Kristi’s also showing one-of-a-kind glazed bowls illustrated with majestic night skies.
“When I take my dogs out, Kristi explains, I love to look at the heavens and the stars. The heavens declare the glory of God,” she says, quoting Psalm 19. As an artist, she’s drawn to the sky and thinks of the northern lights and the array of colors you see in a sunset.
“I’ve also been inspired by the works of artists Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse,” she says.

Glazed bowls illustrated with a gorgeous night sky.
A crescent moon rises through a wondrous night sky draped in the Aurora Borealis on this glazed bowl.

As important as the art is to this creator who holds a master’s in art from Virginia Commonwealth University, Kristi’s work is about more than the image.
“I love sharing Scripture that’s a part of my life to help bring peace and inspiration to others,” she said. That’s one reason why her work has been so popular all these years. She said one woman who purchased a piece of her pottery told her she keeps her keys in it so that she’s inspired by it every time she leaves the house. “People have told me that they keep my work where they can see it every day and be reminded of God and their blessings. It helps them stay positive.”

You can see (and purchase) Kristi’s gorgeous pottery (all safe to use with food) and other work at this year’s The Three Whine Oh’s and Friends Holiday Open House starting this Friday, Nov. 22, 3 p.m.-8 p.m., and finishing Saturday, Nov. 23, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at 8352 Devil’s Den Lane, Mechanicsville, VA 23111, in Battlefield Green. Long-time fans of the show will tell you to get there as soon as possible Friday to get your choice of the art, crafts, and delicious baked goods.


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True colors

I love autumn. It’s my favorite season. Most of our family birthdays, along with our wedding anniversary, are in the fall. But in addition to all that, one of the things I love the most is the changing of the leaves. And I’m not alone.

Every fall thousands of people trek up to the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains of Virginia, enjoying Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Drive, and other areas. When we go, we’re hoping for that perfect day, when the air is crisp, the clouds are few, and the sunlight is plentiful, so we can take in one of the most spectacular scenes in nature—gorgeous fall foliage.

Various species of trees change color at different times as we march toward winter. We might begin to see the first spots of red in the forest in September as the black gums announce that change is on its way. They’re quickly followed by the black walnut’s leaves turning yellow and the dogwood’s turning red. Soon the hickory begins to change to a deep yellow. By mid-late October, depending on the year, there’s a wash of color from the hills to the flat land, which we usually call the “peak season.” That’s when we see the brilliant oranges and reds of the sugar maples, reds, and yellows of the red maple, and all the colors of the oaks and other species. Finally, toward the end of the season, the last show of color is provided by the yellow poplar. Beyond mid-November, the forest is generally shades of browns and bronzes with a few remaining color splashes here and there.

… we pat ourselves on the back because we put men on the moon, but we can’t figure out precisely how God gets a green leaf to turn brilliant crimson in the third week of October.

According to the Virginia Department of Forestry and National Park service, color change in leaves is not fully understood and remains a mystery. Imagine that—we pat ourselves on the back because we put men on the moon, but we can’t figure out precisely how God gets a green leaf to turn brilliant crimson in the third week of October. The master Creator can humble us in many ways.

But we do know a few things about leaf color: Forestry professionals (of which my father was one during his career) tell us it involves sunlight, moisture, temperature, length of the day, chemicals, and hormones—not unlike teenagers.

A green leaf is green because of the presence of a group of pigments known as chlorophyll. Reaching back to high school biology, you may remember that chlorophyll absorbs light to provide energy for photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is active during the summer growing season, capturing the sun’s energy and using water and carbon dioxide to make simple sugars. These simple sugars are a tree’s food. All during the summer, the chlorophyll is constantly being produced and broken down, creating food for the tree, and as a side-effect, keeping the leaves green.

But it turns out that all that green actually is masking the leaves’ true colors. As autumn approaches, weather changes somehow signal a slowdown in the production of chlorophyll. The green begins to fade and the masking effect disappears. Other colors that have been in the leaf all along begin to show through. Some pigments give us the yellows, browns, and oranges. Others give us reds and purples. Supposedly, the brighter the light (the fewer cloudy days) during this late summer period, the greater the production of these pigments and the more brilliant colors we see come Fall. Somehow that has to be balanced with enough rain to keep the trees healthy.

So we might sum up what we know about leaf color like this: During the growing season, chlorophyll production keeps the leaves looking green. As nights get longer in the autumn, chlorophyll decreases and eventually dies off completely. Only then are the pigments in the leaf unmasked to show their colors.

And so, what we realize is that all of us who travel every fall to the mountains are really going to see just one thing—a bunch of dying leaves.

We don’t go to the mountains in the summer just see the leaves when they’re full of their own life when they are supplying their own needs with their own chlorophyll. No, we go when they’ve run out of their own resources when they can no longer feed themselves when they have come to the end of their own leafy strength. No longer are they green and proud, supplying the food for their mighty oak, or majestic maple. Now they are dying. And it’s only now that they’re at their absolute most beautiful. Only now are they seen painted in the true colors their Creator designed them to show.

It’s only when the leaves are dying that they’re at their absolute most beautiful, painted in the true colors their Creator designed them to show.

And all that makes me think of God’s Word in Romans chapter 6. Here, Paul writes in verses 6-8: “For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.”

So each fall, I think of the many people drawn to see dying leaves. Leaves, which after a season of self-sufficiency, are finally showing their true, beautiful colors. And I’m reminded that God has designed me to die to my natural self-centered ways and to show my true colors as well—colors that are true of anyone who has new life in Christ. We see what a God-colored life looks like in Galatians 5:22. What shows through is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

But I can’t show those colors when I’m living for my own selfish desires, in my own strength. Those God-colors are only evident when I’m dying to those things and living for Christ.
A pretty inspiring lesson from a bunch of dying leaves, I think. Are your true colors showing? Are mine?

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Remembering a wise & creative grandmother

Photo of Ruby and Will Price holding the toddler Stephen around 1968 or '69 in Pearisburg, Va.
Handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
Handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price

My Grandma Ruby would have been 112 today. Born in 1907, she passed away just weeks before our first child was born in 2004. I’ve shared a little about her here, where I discussed the handmade furniture she created from scraps of wood for my mother to use with her dolls.

In honor of Ruby Cox Price Johnston today, I want to share some of what I wrote for her memorial service 15 years ago.

When I remember Grandma, I remember sweet iced tea. And pies and Christmas time visits (including the time she leaned too far and fell into the Christmas tree). I remember watching the Lawrence Welk Show and Hee Haw together by the wood stove in the house where I grew up. Grandma liked to stay very warm. There are countless memories of singing together. She loved the old classic hymns as well as the silly songs of long ago. She passed them down to my cousins and me, so we can sing the 1923 hit, “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” and “Carolina in the Morning,” first published in 1922.

When I remember Grandma, I remember praying. Grandma prayed and lived a life of godly devotion to her Lord and her family. She was not ashamed of the gospel, rather, she was ashamed of the many ungodly things in this world. For instance, she would never read a book any further than the first curse word she encountered. Over the course of her long life, she was a faithful member of several churches.

I learned these things from my Grandma Ruby:

  1. Be faithful to God and the things He calls us to do.
  2. Sing a lot.
  3. Things that you carefully make with your hands are beautiful and valuable.
  4. Pray often. I know she prayed for me.
  5. Love your family; be proud of your children and grandchildren. And tell them you’re proud of them and that you love them.

Grandma Ruby lived a quiet, often hard life, working with her hands in what many would consider remote rural places. She picked cotton and tobacco in the fields of North Carolina as a child. She raised my mother and her sisters, as well as several step-children, in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, where if they had any luxuries, it was because she made them—toys, dresses, good food. She was never famous, but her legacy will reach far and wide through her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thank you, Grandma, and Happy birthday. I love you.

Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price. The cracked mirror of the vanity, reveals some sort of bee keeping-related paper. My grandfather kept bees.
Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
Detail of handmade doll furniture by Ruby Price
The old Price home
The home my grandfather built in Pearisburg, Virginia. This was where my mother and aunts grew up and was Grandma Ruby and PawPaw’s when I was little. Photo by Hannah Rountree

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Inner beauty

image of a Geode exterior
image of interior of a geode rock
Use the slider to see inside the geode.

The rock you see above is a geode. Geodes are hollow formations, often roughly spherical, that become filled with mineral deposits through water flow and other natural processes. This geode was given to me by a good friend of mine from California. He and his family used to camp out west where they collected these rocks, which don’t look like much on the outside. But once he was back home, he would cut them open to reveal the amazing crystals or other mineral deposits inside.

Sometimes, we can be a little like a backward geode. In our beauty- and youth-obsessed culture, outward appearances are paramount. Instagram feeds are full of photos carefully staged to show off perfect appearances, while beauty video bloggers, or vloggers, crank out countless hours of YouTube tutorials on how to look your best—i.e. youngest and most beautiful. And did you know Americans spent $16.5 billion on 17.7 million elective cosmetic surgeries in 2018 alone? So says the American Society of Plastic Surgeons®. Today, the U.S. beauty industry is valued at $80 billion and expected to reach $90 billion by 2020. But all that money and effort is spent only on the outside.

In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew’s gospel, we find Jesus calling out the hypocrisy of the backward geode religious leaders of His day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (verses 27-28, ESV).

God is more concerned about our inward beauty than what’s on the outside. Maybe He even created geodes to give us a simple picture of what we should be. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look our best, but if the outside always demands more time and effort than the inside, it might be time to re-evaluate.

Want to try seeing yourself and those around you like God does? Look for inner beauty. What is special, amazing, fun, inspiring, sweet, or wonderful about someone that has nothing whatsoever to do with the outside? And when you see it in yourself, let it express itself through your creative work and everything you do. “For The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but The Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b, ESV)

Who are the geodes in your life? They may also be beautiful on the outside, and that’s great, but what’s special about them on the inside? Drop us a line in the form below and share your thoughts with us.

Knee power

Corrie ten Boom asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?”

It’s a fair question. Psalm 145:18 says, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” With a promise like that, we can be encouraged to pray more than just over our meals. Just a couple of verses before Philippians 4:8, the driving verse for Inspiring Handmade, is verse 6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” Maybe that’s where we sometimes get confused. Prayer is not the work toward some desired outcome; it is the desired outcome.

We’ve created a couple of pieces based on Patti’s Wire People sculptures to help keep prayer top of mind.

The Prayer Up! print from Patti’s Wire People sculpture is available here.
The Prayer Up! Journal is available here.

The old black walnut tree

photo of Patti Jones on her family's farm with the black walnut tree

I recently traveled back home to visit my mom for a few days on the family farm in Wythe County, Virginia. I love that farm, which has been in my family for so many generations. The living monument that has stood guard over the farm all these years is a huge black walnut tree. In its younger days, it served as a property marker. In recent years, the graceful old tree has offered a place to hold countless family picnics.

And to every generation, the tree has offered its treasures for each to do with as they pleased.

My grandfather, Homer Umberger, gathered the tree’s walnuts and created unique carvings, like the one you see below. He created a menagerie of carved animals and figures from the walnuts, which will be the subject of a future post, so stay tuned!

Photo of Honest Abe walnut sculpture
Honest Abe, by Patti’s grandfather, Homer Umberger.
Photo of bunny hand-carved from walnuts by Patti's grandfather Homer.
Bunny hand-carved from walnuts by Patti’s grandfather Homer.

My dad gathered the walnuts and cracked them to give away to friends and family who loved to bake with them.

Today I’m gathering my own black walnuts to make dye for my pine needle creations and homespun yarn (more on that in an upcoming post!). It makes me smile to think of all the family history that has played out on this grand green. I hope the old tree will be standing guard, and offering its treasures for many years to come.

Not everyone has an old walnut tree, but we all have something. What do you make with what you have? Share it with us in the comment box below. We’d love to read about it and, with your permission, share it with the Inspiring Handmade family.

Fall & fairs

Image of Girl with Balloons, a sculpture in wire and cut paper on driftwood.

The State Fair of Virginia is underway as I write this. The Fair, maybe as much as anything, is a metaphor for life. Along its avenues and amongst its attractions you can find emotions from across the spectrum. Joy. What child hasn’t thrilled to win a prize at one of the carnival games? Patti Jones’ “Girl with Balloons” recalls the simple joy of things like balloons. Wonder. The sights of the Fair from the top of the ferris wheel. Disappointment. The missed toss that loses the prize, the final stop of the ferris wheel. Curiosity. Touching a goat, a pig, or milking a cow for the first time. Hunger. The array of deep fried everything—from bananas to Oreo cookies—stirs the appetite after hours of walking. Sleepy satisfaction. Finally resting after a full day of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes.
Life, like the Fair, is so easy to rush through. But it only lasts for a season. Savor the Joy, the wonder, even the disappointment, the curiosity, the hunger, the sleepy satisfaction of a day well spent.

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Stay on the wheel

Have you ever watched a master potter forming a new piece of work on his wheel? He’ll take a lump of clay, plop it on the wheel, add water, and turn the wheel on. That’s when the magic happens. His masterful fingers remove clay from where he doesn’t it want and apply pressure in just the right places to transform the lump of clay into the form that he has planned for it.

The metaphor of the potter and clay has long been applied to the human experience with God. The Bible is full of references to this ancient art form. Consider Isaiah 64:8: “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You are our potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”
Jeremiah 18:1-23 and other passages also reference the imagery of the potter and clay.

All people everywhere are, indeed, made in the image of God, as recorded in Genesis 1:27: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
The second chapter of Genesis offers a little more detail it its seventh verse, which says, “Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

Of all of the creatures that God made, people are the only ones He made in His image. Think about that for moment. With no other creature does Scripture say that God shared His very breath.
We understand that the “image of God” refers to the immaterial aspect of our humanity—qualities such as our sense of morality and self-awareness. It’s what sets us apart from animals and enables us to have fellowship with our Creator.

Originally, God declared that His completed work was “very good.” That image of God in us, though, was marred when Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s way and follow their own plan. The entire Bible from that point on until the last book of Revelation is the account of God pursuing His creation, calling us back into that close relationship that was lost because of that first sin by Adam and Eve.

Finally, God the Son, Jesus Christ, left the glories of heaven and humbled Himself (Philippians 2:6), entering our space and time as a small baby who grew to be a man. Jesus lived to show us what God was like and He died to pay the price for our sins. Because of that, if we believe in Him, trusting Him to restore our relationship with God, then the Scriptures say we will be saved.

Now let’s get back to the potter. Second Corinthians 3 tells us that those put their trust in Jesus Christ are being transformed by God—that is they are being changed from their sinful, rebellious selves, into people who look more and more like Jesus. The churchy word for this is “sanctification.”

I like to think of it like as a lump of clay in the hands of a master potter. As long as the clay is on the wheel, in the hands of the potter, it will be transformed from a lump into whatever form the potter has in mind—a vase, a dish, a pitcher. Sometimes the potter turns the clay into something beautiful that decorates a room. Sometimes he makes something very useful. But he always has a vision and a plan for the clay on the wheel. And just as it takes time for a potter to transform clay from a lump into a beautiful or useful object, sanctification—transforming people into the image of Christ—takes a while, too. In fact, it takes a lifetime.

But it’s worth it because each day, each year, we are closer to being what God designed us to be from the beginning. The key is to stay on the wheel. It’s only there, under the hands of The Potter, that we can be transformed into what He wants us to be. And when you feel like the pressure of His hands is too much, or He’s stretching you too thin in one area or another, or the wheel is making you more than a little dizzy, remember that He sees what you’re becoming. He has a plan to finish His work with you. He won’t leave you lumpy and deformed on His wheel! Trust Him and lean on these words of Paul to the Philippians (1:6): “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

What are you fishing for?

"Fishing with My Dad" wire and paper sculpture

As the summer winds down, school has started, or will soon start for students and families everywhere. There’s a rhythm to a new school year, isn’t there? The relatively relaxed pace of summer seems to reluctantly give way to the regimen of academic and athletic schedules. New books to read, new project deadlines, practices and games, and of course, the ever-quickening march toward Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and Christmas all take the place of slow, long days of sleeping in and staying up late. All of which can cause us to rush to squeeze in that last experience of summer freedom around this time of year.

Patti’s sculpture, Fishing with my Dad, part of her Wire People series, reminds me of this. Fishing just goes with lazy summer days like peanut butter goes with jelly. I’ve fished a little and I know there are those who take the sport quite seriously, but to my mind, there’s not a more low-key, relaxed activity that lets you still claim to actually be accomplishing something, or at least trying to. That probably doesn’t apply when you’re reeling one in, as the characters in this sculpture are doing.

And this time of year, a time of transition, finds many of us anticipating something. In a way, we’re all fishing. We’re standing at the water’s edge. You know the water’s edge? Where the land ends and the water and all that’s unknown under its surface, begins. That’s where we are in this season. We’re standing at autumn’s edge, where the summer ends and the autumn begins—autumn, and all that’s unknown, and yet to come in the course of its days. And we’re fishing. We’re looking, hoping for something.

Maybe it’s that last celebration of summer. Maybe we feel that summer slipped by too fast and we want to get the family away just one more time. We want to catch one more big one for the scrapbook, or Facebook, or Instagram feed, if you prefer.

Perhaps we’re looking ahead, casting out in front of us. Students might be fishing for a better school year. Teachers may be dropping in their lines hoping to pull up an engaged, motivated class. Parents may be angling for some balance between academics, extracurricular activities, and family time. Newly minted sixteen-year-olds may be casting about for a job, or their first car. But we’re all standing here, at the edge, fishing, hoping for something. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

We’re all standing here, at the edge, fishing, hoping for something.

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible, and for good reason. It’s full of encouragement for those fishing for hope. It’s been cross-stitched on pillows and engraved on plaques and signs. And without a single survey to back up this statement, I’d speculate that it’s nearly as well known to a Christian audience as John 3:16.

But the backdrop of the verse is one of pain and suffering. It’s actually part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the Jews who had been taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar and who were now living as exiles in Babylon. God was using their defeat and captivity at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians to punish them for their rebellion and their many years of worshipping false gods. And yet, even in the midst of disciplining His own people, God gave them a promise and a reason for hope. They were told to live their lives in their new city, to grow their families, and to pray for and help their city to prosper. Then in verse 10, Jeremiah wrote these words of The Lord, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill My good promise to bring you back to this place.” His next sentence was the encouraging verse 11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares The Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

Fishing for, and finding, hope in the midst of trials and despair was (and still is) possible because it’s The Lord Himself who promises good things for our future.

No matter what we’ve experienced in the past year, we stand at the edge of autumn and all the unknown that lies before us. And we’re fishing—and hoping, and trusting, or at least trying to.

A generation or two before Jeremiah, the prophet Isaiah looked around and saw that no one was as powerful and as caring as The Lord. So he wrote these words, which will be my mantra as I stand at this autumn’s edge. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too. “But those who trust in The Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 NLT).

Tight lines and a great catch to you!

A precious gift

Photo of a hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti.

Recently I was given a very precious gift. My dear friend, Mrs. Emmaline Davis, gifted me with a handmade pine needle basket given to her many, many years ago. Knowing that I make pine needle baskets, she knew I would appreciate the workmanship and love that went into making that little treasure. It is so delicately constructed with just single needles and thread! I was so touched. I love Mrs. Emmaline and cherish her friendship, and I know this is a special basket that she has given to me. My “thank you” seems so insufficient.

Photo of Patti Jones and our good friend, Emmaline.
Patti and our good friend, Emmaline, during a recent visit. Emmaline shares a deep appreciation of the creative arts and a good story.
Photo of a hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti.
The delightful hand-woven pine needle basket that Emmaline gifted to Patti. Shown with the top in place.

Maybe creativity and the arts are put to the noblest use when they serve to encourage others and deepen the relationships that bless our lives. In our world of plastic and prefabricated assembly line creations, a gift of creativity, time, and vision is increasingly rare and that much more to be appreciated.

For our readers in a sharing mood this week, drop us a note about a gift that has meant something special to you. It can be something you made and gave, or something someone else gave to you. Just use the box below. And let us know if we can share it with the rest of the Inspiring Handmade family!