For designer Jenni Kayne and her friends, crafting isn’t just a way to decorate their homes for the holidays. It’s a way to take a break from their harried schedules, catch up, and celebrate the season with their children and with one another.

December 01, 2015
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Happy Trails Amy Blessing, left; Jenni Kayne, right; and Kayne’s daughter, Ripley, foraged for crafts supplies.
Kathryn Barnard

For the past five years, Jenni Kayne, a designer and boutique owner, has been crafting with two close friends, Annie Campbell and Amy Blessing, in their homes in Los Angeles. But last winter, they decided to take their projects, along with their children, further north, to Kayne's cozy retreat in Lake Tahoe.

Branching Out Inspired by leaves that hang in unusual ways, Blessing and Kayne tied pinecones with twine and looped them over a fallen branch.
Kathryn Barnard

Whether it was embellishing a Christmas tree or making a gift tag, no project was too big or too small for their adventure. "The point was to find interesting materials and do something creative with them," says Kayne, who had her son, Tanner, 7, and her daughter, Ripley, 4, in tow.

Campfire Girls Ripley, Kayne, and Annie Campbell toasted marshmallows over a fire pit.
Kathryn Barnard

Many women have long cherished the "girlfriend getaway," but often underrated is the weekend escape in which mothers connect not only with one another but with their children too. It's a way to break from the everyday without those "missing" feelings that inevitably surface when you're apart from your kids. Toss crafting into the mix, and the weekend is especially ripe for relaxation and discovery.

All Hands on Deck The friends eagerly made wreaths at the kitchen table.
Kathryn Barnard

For Kayne, Campbell, and Blessing, that weekend agenda has evolved as their lives have. Now that they're mothers, the crafting has become pragmatic-assembly-line-style gifts for teachers and caregivers, for instance, and kid-friendly projects.

Small Wonder Kayne wanted an “earthy but still festive” look for the tree. Her five-foot find looks lovely with the kids’ ornaments. Inspired by twigs in vases she’d seen online, she used a bell jar as a giant tree stand.
Kathryn Barnard

For this particular weekend, the women chose a theme around bringing the outdoors in. And so, much to the children's delight, the weekend started with foraging the woods for supplies.

Kid CraftYarn and bakers’ twine turn pinecones and bright-white dough into ornaments. To make them, Blessing combined 1/2 cup cornstarch, 3/4 cup water, and 1 cup baking soda, then rolled the mixture out ¼ inch thick. The kids followed with a patterned rolling pin by Everlasting Doodle (etsy.com), to create texture, and cookie cutters (williams-sonoma.com), to stamp out letters and shapes. The mothers finished off by poking a hole in each with a skewer. Left to harden, the ornaments were ready to be strung and hung by the next morning.
Kathryn Barnard

Blessing's daughter, India, 4, and Ripley frolicked in the snow, while the grown-ups filled wagons with fallen branches and Tanner zealously scooped up pinecones. "We didn't have to go far," says Kayne. They gathered everything they needed in half an hour-while also enjoying the picnic Campbell (a caterer in Los Angeles) had set up for everyone.

Mothers’ HelpersRipley (in plaid), India, and Tanner were hard at work making dough ornaments in the kitchen nook.
Kathryn Barnard

Soon, the crafting began. The kids were put "in charge" of the cut-out-dough ornaments, as the mothers caught up on one another's lives and tackled the wreaths, all while keeping a watchful eye on the children. "It's meditative," says Kayne. But what she and her friends love most about crafting is the work-in-progress aspect. "All you usually see is the finished result of people's efforts, but to witness their approach is just as inspiring," says Blessing, a design consultant.

Into the WoodsThe giant pine trees that surround the area provided an abundant supply of crafting materials.
Kathryn Barnard Photographer

There was plenty of time for breaks, especially when snacks (including peppermint bark and maple-caramel popcorn) beckoned. And once the crafting was done, the women hung the wreaths and wrapped gifts. The little ones were over the moon, decorating the tree with the ornaments they had made themselves.

A Natural SparkA wonderful assembly-line-style gift, these fire starters were made almost entirely from things found in the woods. Thin hemp string, which burns cleanly, ties all the elements together.
Kathryn Barnard

"Deep down, we're perfectionists," says Kayne. "But with the kids around, you can't help but soften up." So, no, not all the patterns in the ornaments came out exactly right, and symmetry wasn't a priority. But letting it all be was precisely what made the day so much fun-and the finished tree, so fitting for the occasion.

Oh, What Fun!India, wrapped in a blanket from Kayne’s boutique, sipped hot cocoa in the designer’s childhood sled.
Kathryn Barnard
Food for ForagersA plate of citrus and Campbell’s hot cocoa and mescal-spiked hot toddies were toted along in a vintage crate.
Kathryn Barnard
These gifts were topped with bright yarns, along with the sprigs of evergreen leaves and pinecones left over from the firestarter kits.
Kathryn Barnard

Inspired Wrapping

Kayne and her friends love the look of ticking-a striped pattern typically found on mattress covers. They scanned their favorite patterns, printed them out, and used the paper to wrap gifts. (If you like the designs here, download our ticking clip art.)

Cotton gima yarn (#A-174), in Sky, Red, and Gray Taupe, $10 an oz.; cork chenille yarn (#A-25 cotton), in Deep Red, $15.50 an oz.; and silk wrap-paper yarn (#N-94), in Gray/Pink, $10.50 an oz., habutextiles.com

A Rustic WelcomeOn the front porch of Kayne’s Lake Tahoe home are the most important items for the weekend: sturdy boots, firewood, and extra pinecones and moss for the weekend projects. The lush wreath requires no complicated tools for assembly—just floral shears and wire.
Kathryn Barnard

Fragrant Fire Starters

To create the charming packages, use hemp twine to bundle small pine branches and cones with other items that dry well and smell great (such as dried orange slices, sage, lavender, and eucalyptus). Then slip it all into muslin gift bags with playful handmade tags that say "Burn me" or "Light my fire."

Muslin bags, 5" by 8", $12.50 for 25, celestialgifts.com

Get the Manzanita Wreath How-To
Divine PineKayne loves how a fallen evergreen branch wrapped around a grapevine wreath “looks as if it’s moving.”
Kathryn Barnard
Get the Pine Wreath How-To

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