Christmas joy isn’t limited to December for the Tomales Crafty Critters. The talented trio dedicates nearly every day of the year to creating Christmas cheer.
Sisters Janet Leali, 59, and Mar McCoy, 62, operate their home-based holiday crafts business with their 85-year-old mother, Jennie Leali, who decades ago taught her daughters the fine art of handicrafts. They’ve been crafting together for 38 years, with no desire to stop.
They use their skills in knitting, crocheting, cross-stitching, embroidery, sewing and painting to create more than 250 different types of Christmas tree ornaments, from needlepoint snowmen and Santas to angels assembled from wine corks and lace, with chenille-stem halos.
What once was an occasional pastime soon grew to the point where the Leali family built a 1,000-square-foot “craft shack” in 1990 at their rural Tomales dairy. Every fall, they host a holiday boutique for several weekends at their crafts building — more like a country store — before packing up their goods and participating in North Bay holiday craft fairs.
They aren’t getting rich, they said, but the rewards are immeasurable. The women don’t calculate the time they spend on any individual item, but agree their work is a labor of love.
“There are so many steps,” Janet Leali said. “People don’t realize how work-intensive these are. They’re all labor-intensive.”
One item, a skiing muskrat, features a hand-knit hat, a body sewn from old denim and stuffed with polyester fiberfill, pompom arms, and a head made from thistle gathered near the picturesque dairy. Plastic googly eyes bring to life the muskrat, which has tiny skis and poles attached with glue.
Another ornament, a nurse, is crafted from heavy-duty art paper painted to resemble a Band-Aid. A sweet face is painted on a flat wooden plug, with curly “hair” and a nurse’s cap designed from craft foam sheets glued in place. A tag reads “Nurses Call the Shots.”
An Oreo cookie ornament is crocheted, a perfect Christmas gift for someone with a sweet tooth but mindful of their waistline. “These,” quipped Jennie Leali, “are not fattening.”
A whimsical reindeer ornament is assembled from wooden shapes, while an old-fashioned Christmas bulb acts as the head and two cacti angled as antlers. It’s painted and then adorned with a diminutive string of decorative Christmas lights.
The women work as a team, often crafting together at night while watching their favorite TV shows, usually medical or crime series.
“We like our cop shows,” McCoy said. “We craft faster when they’re exciting.”
They make Christmas tree ornaments, stockings, wreaths and candy favors, as well as bookmarks, magnets, novelty jewelry, purses, Mason jar piggy banks, floral displays, tabletop decorations and knitted and crocheted hats, caps, baby booties, scarves and headbands. The items often reflect the talents of all three women.
“A lot of these crafts touches each of our hands,” Janet Leali said.
McCoy added, “And if one of us doesn’t make it, we put the price tag on it.”
The trio tries to keep prices affordable, with many ornaments and stocking stuffers offered for less than $5. They watch for sales and discounts at craft stores and online and repurpose items — like the muskrat’s thistle head — to keep costs down.