T-minus 23 days until the New Castle County Festival of Trees opens Nov. 17, and Kris Hable is calmly gluing berries on a tiny wreath in the basement of a Parkwood home.
The chairman of the festival’s Marketplace, which offers wreaths, decor and gifts for sale, Hable is one of a handful of designers and crafters who make the bulk of the items for the store.
“We are without question the best Christmas decorations secret anywhere because we try to make everything as original as we can,” said Hable, who’s surrounded by piles of holiday materials waiting to be made into another wreath lining the walls of the basement.
“Don’t even try to organize anything,” she said. “It just doesn’t work.”
In addition to supporting the Delaware Hospice, shoppers get a bonus in that each item is individually made and almost all are one of a kind.
“So you’re not going to see these wreaths and decorations in any store,” she said. “You’re not going to see 50 of the same thing or anything of that nature. And quite frankly, our prices are fantastic.”
The most popular size for wreaths, she said, is 24 inches. Those will fit well on doors and over fireplaces and go for $30 to $50, she said.
Marketplace sales account for about a quarter of the festival’s total profits, with the majority coming from its decorated trees. Most of those are sponsored by businesses or philanthropists, and decorated by volunteers before they go to those companies or a nonprofit for the holidays.
This year’s New Castle County festival will take place Friday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 19 at the Brantwyn Estate. Admission is free.
In addition to shopping, the weekend features musical entertainment and the fun of seeing all the trees.
Hable got involved with the Festival of Trees about a decade ago helping create gift baskets for the Marketplace.
“A friend of mine said, ‘Kris is good at putting baskets together,’ so I went to help them,” Hable said.
She liked the operation, the people and the cause and gradually became more involved.
In the last decade, she said, the number of crafters supporting the event has fallen, mostly because of attrition.
Now a core group of about six, mostly retired, starts meeting in March to create the majority of the wreaths in the basement of Tom and Linda Brennan Jones’ home.
Linda, a social worker, is one of the avid crafters.
“I have volunteered now for 25 years and believe Delaware Hospice offers families the best supportive services,” Brennan Jones said. “I am finding that out now first hand as they are caring for my husband. It’s way different when you are the one asking for services.”
Festival of Trees cycle
The crafters try to make items in a variety of holiday styles, so everyone who walks in can find something they like, Hable said.
“Every year we start the day after Thanksgiving, right after the festival ends and we go everywhere and start purchasing our supplies for next year.”
That’s when Christmas decorations, ribbon and other materials start doing on sale for 50% off.
“We buy right through February,” she said. “Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get bulk items because the store purchases too many of them or something of that nature.”
The materials are stored in the Jones’ basement, and when the group starts meeting in March to create wreaths, the first order of business is to clean up from the previous year.
The crafters include Linda Bradford, Donna Gordon, Susan Dobraniecki, Gale Heath, Mary Lou Cannatelli, Debbie Yacyshyn, Sammi Madanat and Maryanne Arcidiaccono.
“The best times that we have are when there are several of us down here working at the same time because we bounce the ideas off of one another,” Hable said. “You know we hold it up and we say, ‘What do you think it needs: should I put this on it or this on it?’ And all of our work gets better when we do that.”
Different crafters have different skills, like making beautiful bows or how to wrap a garland.
“So if if you’re having trouble with something, there’s always somebody else there who can give you an idea of what to do,” Hable said.
She raises her voice just enough that Linda and Tom can hear her upstairs.
“That’s also not as lonely and you don’t feel like a prisoner,” she announces. “They don’t even feed me.”
She spends about 12 hours a week in the basement workshop from March until the Festival starts. Many of the women continue working on items for the Marketplace at home.
Hable estimates that her core group of crafters probably spends about $1,000 each just buying supplies, most of it from sales and then a chunk from the extras, like glue sticks, or items they realize they need to finish a piece.
“And that doesn’t count time, money, gas, hauling things back and forth, tipping the kids to carry the stuff up and down the stairs. Because we’re getting too old to do that,” she said.
She points to a large wreath boasting lime green, crystal and pale blue balls with a lime green and pale blue ribbon running through it.
“I went through 11 glue sticks creating that one,” she said.
A package of about 100 of the large sticks costs about $15, and she said she can’t begin to guess how many the women go through.
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It’s worth it to watch people come into the Marketplace and ooh and ahh, and then grab something.
“We have people that bought wreaths at the Festival maybe five or six years ago and they’ve decided it’s time to trade out and they will bring us our old wreaths,” she said.
That allows the group to refurbish them and sell them again, or cannibalize them and reuse the parts to create something different, like a centerpiece.
“They just keep recycling through,” she said.
The crafters hope to attract more people and will hold workshops in the spring so people can come in and learn how to make wreaths and other items.
“We hope we can pick up some talent,” she said.
If you go: The 2023 New Castle County Festival of Trees will be at Brantwyn Estate, 600 Rockland Road, Wilmington; noon to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 18; and Sunday, Nov. 19; for more information, go here.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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