Christmas Crafting, Saudi Style

I’m very excited about Tuesday.

Do you see it? There’s a HUGE turndown. Partly cloudy (or “mostly sunny”–not sure of the difference) and right around 70 for THREE DAYS. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, eh?

Having none of the seasonal markers has made it a challenge to feel the Christmas mood. And I really LIKE the Christmas mood. (Glenn Miller. Get it.) It’s more than the weather, although it certainly didn’t help to find myself standing outside the gym yesterday in shorts and a tank top wishing “Happy Christmas” to a friend leaving for home on Sunday. No, the bigger problem is not having all those other crutches–malls and shops decorated for Christmas, holiday music piped into the grocery store, everybody around you involved in the same scurry, putting up the tree, getting out the decorations, cookie exchanges and planning my *sniff* annual wrapping party. When you bring suitcases rather than a shipping container to start a new life, you’re not bringing your Christmas baubles. Besides–I don’t want to have to store them for the rest of the year. So I’ve had to start from scratch in a country that doesn’t sell Christmas decorations. Desperate times lead to desperate measures, so I CRAFTED.

Stop. What?

I. Crafted.

My friend Landee, professional crafter and blogger and do-er extraordinaire, is reaching for her smelling salts about now. I should explain: I don’t craft. I’m not opposed to crafting, and I even own a craft or two of my own making, work products of ladies’ crafting evenings that were a ton of fun. But I’m an instant-gratification kind of gal, and multi-step processes will shut me down faster than a power switch. You know–one of those big lever-style switches like Igor flips to turn on Frankenstein. Now picture a bunch of pieces of wood, and sandpaper, and bottles of paint, foam brushes, and something in a spray can, and a design, and a ribbon, and…whump. Dead on the table.

So I started easy. Lights, thanks to the grocery and hardware stores that sell them in plain boxes, labeled just as “LED lights,” with a wink and a nod to western buyers from the Filipino checkout worker. There are more ways to make those lights flash than I can count, but I finally found the option for a steady burn. I put them in a philodendron:

Thanks, IKEA. And thanks as well for the candles, tray, and lanterns.

One of the all-IKEA furnishings in my furnished villa is an odd floating shelf, all by itself way too high on my living room wall. It would make a great decoratable mantle (I’ll be getting a couple of hefty shelf brackets when I’m home), but 220v power means monster cords and inconvenient outlets, so there’s no way to put little lamps or a nice bunch of those lights in some sort of garland up there. So, thanks to Pinterest, I scrounged up some Christmas printables and put them below it in frames that will hold family pictures after the holidays are over. Plug in the iPad playing a fireplace app and voila. Happy almighty holidays.

You have to keep staring into the fire to get the full effect, though, because just to the left, this is the view out the patio door:

Yes, those are petunias. And yes, that green surface is “grass.”

Finally, the tree. You can buy Christmas trees here if you’re determined. Departing expats are always selling them, or the shop inside the compound has small ones (flashing like crazy). I understand the two-story toy store near us has a few in a back corner of the shop, and if you look at them someone will sidle up, ask under his breath whether you want one, then slip you a photo price list. But I don’t want to store one all year. I like this whole living lightly thing. Pinterest, again, to the rescue:

Hmm. Two-dimensional trees. That board tree, in particular, seemed like something I could adapt. I didn’t want to mess with lumber for a variety of reasons (acquiring, painting, hanging, storing), but I thought I could work with foam core–you know, the stuff your kid makes his science fair displays on. Correction: The stuff YOU make your kid’s science fair displays on. Then glue decorative paper on it, which I knew I’d seen at the office/art supply store. Ta-da!

Problem: That decorative paper turned out to be a figment of my imagination. So how about printing my own Christmas paper from online designs? Great, but the mock-up I did in miniature looked a little too folksy-patchworky:

Fabric? Ah–the shopping bus had a scheduled trip to the fabric souk and haberdashery (as the Brits refer to the shop full of trims and notions and sewing supplies) after the Thanksgiving weekend. Perfect.

Saudi fabric stores are…different than American ones. Folks here don’t do crafts or home decorating projects. These shops sell dress fabrics, and by “dress” I mean “fancy dress.” The display windows have mannequins dressed in fabulous ball gowns that aren’t gowns at all, but draped and pinned designs. When I went shopping at the second-hand souk, none of the ballgowns I saw had a label inside. Though you certainly see plenty of ballgowns in mall shops, it’s typical for women go to dressmakers, choose a design (or make one up themselves, judging by many I saw), and then buy fabrics.

How else would you explain this?

Quite the treasure, eh? My friend Cecelia found this at the second-hand souk and let me try it on. (The purple is my workout top, not some weird liner. Heaven forbid there should be something weird.) Those are inexplicable little kerchiefs tacked around the hip (for twirling?), and with the right moves I was able to make a real sparkle show on the patio out of sunlight reflected from the jug-jewels.

The starting point for something like this is back in the fabric shops: pre-made jeweled bodice fronts. For beginners, start simple.

Then work your way up:

Now, time to match and build. For fabrics, there’s tulles and satins and velvets and laces… And if the bodice isn’t enough, here’s just one wall of beaded and gilded trims in a shop with rows and rows of them:

For me, making a plain ol’ tree, shades of green satin worked well. I cut the foam core into rows, the longest being the full width of one piece, then cut right triangles (your high school geometry at work!) off the ends of the shorter ones, taped them together, laid the satin here and there over the boards, taped it to the back, sticky-tacked it to the wall, and voila:

Pretty freaking proud of myself. Original concept, original design, AND actual execution. Not a box full of supplies. I CRAFTED. (How we doin’, Landee?) I don’t know about you, but when I put it all together, I’m feeling pretty Christmatastic.

I did pick up more trims. I have red pom-poms, a gold chain, a ruby-and-gold jeweled swag, strands of plastic pearls in ivory and celedon and red, but I kind of like it with just the thin swag of green-velvet-I-don’t-know-what. Edit, as they say to the bedazzlers on Project Runway.

So maybe I’ll save the sparkles and pom-poms for decking out my next princess dress.

4 thoughts on “Christmas Crafting, Saudi Style

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.