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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.

They sell enough inventory in a year to earn something special for each of them: a Mexican cruise for Janet Leali; “fun money” for her sister; and a riding lawn mower for their mother. Jennie Leali is a homemaker, while her daughters are retired from clerical jobs with local city offices.

Crafting together is a time for bonding and an opportunity to create useful and decorative items. “We’ve always got a needle in our hand,” Jennie Leali said.

They use patterns from crafts books, work from kits and often come up with original designs and ideas.

“We do a lot of recycled stuff,” McCoy said.

A piece of nylon stockings from a pair of pantyhose can be found stuffed, stitched down the middle and glued into a paper mini-muffin cup with a tag reading, “Don’t let the holidays get you behind,” an example of the family’s sense of humor and creativity.

They have a following of regular customers who visit the “craft shack” each season or attend the craft fairs, but many passersby also discover their signs tacked to fences while visiting Tomales’ tiny downtown along Highway 1 or traveling along the rolling countryside near the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center at Two Rock.

The women were amused when 18 Ford Model T cars showed up at the dairy during a holiday boutique just before Halloween, many of the drivers and passengers in costumes.

Another time, a motorcyclist stopped by and purchased more items than the women thought he could possibly transport. He managed to fit everything into his saddlebags before riding away, impressing the trio with his packing skills.

The crafters enjoy interacting with shoppers, especially children who are intrigued by the dogs, cats, cows, birds, pigs, mice, gingerbread men, cowboys and countless other characters on display.

“Little kids love our stuff,” McCoy said. “Our stuff is like a magnet.”

Children sometimes can’t resist the temptation to sample a chocolate Hershey’s Kiss tucked into one of the most popular items: a “Kiss Bug.” Ranging from $3 to $3.50, the colorful plastic canvas cross-stitch bug opens when pinched at the “cheeks,” revealing the candy hidden within.

Other top sellers include dog and cat ornaments, as well as pint-sized Christmas stockings marked “Woof” and “Meow” and packed with dog and cat treats.

Items for pets and teachers “do really, really well,” Janet Leali said, as do farm items like tractor ornaments.

“Around this area, farm stuff seems to go,” she said.

The Tomales Crafty Critters, as they call themselves, have no desire to sell their creations online. “You don’t get the personal touch,” McCoy said.

They enjoy hosting their holiday boutiques and heading out to craft fairs (wearing identical sweatshirts), where they appreciate the feedback and many compliments.

“We just want people to be happy,” Janet Leali said.

Handicrafts unite the women and keep the holidays close at hand throughout the year. Jennie Leali can’t imagine anything better than working side-by-side with her daughters.

“They’re the joy of my life,” she said.

The trio also discovered a bonus: being creative is relaxing and rewarding, not just fun.

“It’s our therapy,” Jennie Leali said. “We love it.”

The Tomales Crafty Critters will participate from 6-9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday in the craft fair at Margaret Todd Senior Center, 1560 Hill Road, in Novato. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 15, they’ll be at Brookdale Senior Living, 4855 Snyder Lane, in Rohnert Park.

For more information, call the Tomales Crafty Critters at 707-878-2423.

You can reach Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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