They come in as many shapes, colors and materials as you can imagine, but they're all made with love.

Handmade Christmas ornaments are the big buzz among crafters and in craft stores this time of year.

Workshops are being held, YouTube videos are being watched, patterns are being bought - all with an eye to creating decorations both festive and personally made. Recycled materials are not looked down upon; they're even encouraged.

A lagging economy may be a reason to get creative, but crafters see it as no reason to be plain. Here is a roundup of tips and ideas from local artists on how you can make the holiday festive with an outlay heavier on love than money. For the late starters among our readers, there are ideas here for you, too.

Make a Reindeer from devil's claws

Here are step-by-step instructions on making a devil's-claw reindeer ornament for your tree, courtesy of Tohono Chul Park's assistant curator of exhibitions, Edie Wageman.


• 4 devil's claws (similar sizes)

• Scissors

• Box cutter or small saw

• Cotton ball

• Hot glue

• Ribbons, bells, et cetera


1. Trim excess fibers from two devil's claws similar in size. These will be used for the body and legs.

2. Using a box cutter, cut one of the devil's claw in half lengthwise, splitting the "body" into two symmetrical halves.

3. Position the split claw "bodies" on either side of the solid claw "body" so that there are two legs in front and two legs in back. Make sure the front and back legs of the reindeer are even.

4. Using the hot-glue gun, glue these pieces together and hold until stable. Set the body and legs aside.

5. Using a box cutter, cut the "claw" pieces entirely off a slightly smaller devil's claw, leaving only with the seedpod "body" of the claw.

6. Trim excess fibers away from this piece.

7. Position it on the front part of the reindeer body and hot glue. Hold until stable.

8. Trim any excess fibers from the last devil's claw. This will be used for the head and antlers.

9. Position the head on the neck to your liking, with antlers pointing up and slightly forward. Glue the head to the neck and hold until stable.

10. Glue a cotton ball (or a smaller piece of one) for the tail and tie a ribbon around the neck. Add any other decorations you like.


Decorated gourds can make beautiful - and very Southwestern - ornaments.

The first step in making ornaments using gourds is to select the type to be used, says Bonnie Gibson, a local gourd artist and workshop teacher. There are two types: hard-shelled and ornamental.

Coyote gourds are the type most commonly found in Tucson, and they are ornamental, which crafters should note because the walls are thin and fragile.

To paint or otherwise decorate gourds, it's necessary to first remove the gourd's skin. Gibson recommends soaking gourds in wet towels to soften the outside layer. The skin can then be scraped off using a paring knife or scrubbed off with a copper pot scrubber.

After that, have at it, Gibson says. "I can't speak to generalities of all ornaments - that's the beauty of them, that there is an infinite variety that may be created. Anything goes."

She often uses Pitt pens with an India ink base to decorate gourd ornaments and then coats them in an epoxy resin to add strength and give them a high gloss.


At Tucson Yarn Co., Christmas has taken over. Knitters are feverishly at work finishing holiday gifts and decorations.

Cyd Engel, one of the store's owners, says many knitters have been taken with Norwegian YouTube sensations Arne Nerjordet and Carlos Zachrison, who knit ball-shaped ornaments with designs inspired by Norwegian sweaters. They recently published a book, "55 Christmas Balls to Knit." Engel calls the balls "an adventure in knitting," beautiful, but not for the faint at heart. The store also carries patterns for less complicated Christmas balls.

For those with less time to knit their decorations, Engel recommends thicker yarns, especially a yarn called Flounce that she says is perfect for beginning knitters. With "six-stitch rows and one good movie," knitters will have a scarf that looks something like a boa. Or perhaps a garland.

The store is holding twice-a-week Secret Santa sales, and among the items up for sale are how-to books. Popular this year, Engel says, are Interweave Knit's Holiday Gifts magazine and "Last-Minute Knitted Gifts" by Joelle Hoverson.


Tile is another fun way to add color and quirkiness to a tree.

At Santa Theresa Tile Works, the store's limited-edition Christmas tiles are so popular it created an Ornament Club. Members get first dibs on the eight or so signature Christmas designs the store puts out each year. Members join the club for free at the company's website,

Santa Theresa holds about a dozen workshops a year, including Christmas-ornament workshops, which are among the most popular. Students learn to cut fine clay into star shapes, decorate them with glaze and then fire them in the kiln, said Leslie Gamble, the store's office manager.

While the Christmas workshops are over for the year, Gamble says the signature ornaments are still on sale, as are mosaic supplies. Tips on how to create a 6-by-6-inch mosaic using hand-cut tile are posted on the website.

Recycled materials

Other local artist-owned stores specialize in using recycled materials to make beautiful objects. Jennifer Radler, one of the owners of Pop-Cycle, says she asked at least 20 artists to make ornaments using recycled materials. Among the items used in the creations were felts made from recycled plastics, poker chips and children's wood blocks, each given a little extra Christmas cheer by adding holiday images.


Beads add some sparkle to the holidays.

Jay's of Tucson offers weekend workshops to help those looking for a little inspiration and help with the basics of beadwork.

"We have several ornaments that you can make," says Linda Pennington, the store's owner. "We've been selling a lot of patterns."

The workshops, which cost $20 for a two-hour session, come with a free pattern of the bead-worker's choice. The patterns involve seed beads and sometimes bugle beads, and needle and thread, and participants are encouraged to customize their creations with teardrops, crystals and other eye-catching tidbits.

Shelia Vinson teaches the classes at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. most Saturdays, but on Dec. 10, she will teach only the afternoon session. Pennington asks that participants call 323-1123 at least 24 hours before the class to reserve a spot.


• Arizona Gourds, Bonnie Gibson teaches workshops and sells tutorials on gourd decoration for $4-$10 on her website. She also sells her book, "Gourds: Southwestern Gourd Techniques and Projects from Simple to Sophisticated," and recommends other how-to guides.

• Tucson Yarn Co., 6330 N. Oracle Road, No. D-242, 229-9276, The store sells yarn and other knitting and crocheting supplies, as well as how-to books. It also hosts "knit-ins" and classes, and provides technical assistance to knitters.

• Jay's of Tucson, 4627 E. Speedway, 323-1123, The store sells jewelry, beads, tools and supplies, and how-to books. Weekend workshops are also offered.

• Santa Theresa Tile Works, 440 N. Sixth Ave., 623-8640, The store sells one-of-a-kind, hand-cut tiles. It does custom tile work, as well as selling the supplies for others to use the tiles to make mosaics on their own, with or without staff guidance. Workshops are also offered.

• Pop-Cycle, 422 N. Fourth Ave., 622-3297, The store sells handcrafted items made by local artists from sustainable, organic and recycled materials.

• MAST, 299 S. Park Ave., 720-0299, The store sells handmade goods of all kinds by local artists.

• ScoutieGirl, a popular craft website that published a tutorial on making Christmas ball ornaments from recycled Christmas cards,

• The Creative Place, a popular craft website that published an inspiring roundup of do-it-yourself Christmas ornaments,

• Crafty Chica, the website of Phoenix-based artist and author Kathy Cano-Murillo, who among other things, publishes tutorials on Mexico-flavored crafts,

Carli Brosseau is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact her at