Christmas Made in the South festival to feature area crafters' and artisans' handiwork

eshaw@islandpacket.comNovember 21, 2013 

Photo by Gini Steele.



    WHAT: Christmas Made in the South craft and artisan festival

    WHEN: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 22, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 23 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 24

    WHERE: Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, 1 International Drive, Savannah

    COST: Adult admission is $7. Children 12 and under are free. One admission is good for all three days.

    DETAILS: or 704-847-9480.

Local crafters are hard at work preparing for the 25th annual Christmas Made in the South show. Gini Steele of Beaufort has spent hour after hour matting and framing her restored photographs. Rachel Loomis, also of Beaufort, has been up late steaming her boutique girls clothing line. Dave Neidel of Savannah has buffed and re-buffed his handmade, antique jewelry into a show-worthy shine.

The show, running Nov. 22, 23 and 24 at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, features more than 300 artists and craftsmen selling everything from ornaments to pottery to handbags. Around 18,000 attendees are expected this year, according to Russ Hunt, the show's director.

Christmas Made in the South is a juried show: Each artist's work is judged beforehand by a panel to ensure quality.

"You will also not find any commercial booths here," Hunt said. Only handcrafted baubles and unique curios allowed.

Because the show is so large, many crafters feel the pressure to produce enough items to fill their booths.

Steele has been putting in 15-hour days matting and framing her restored photos to sell at the show. She takes old negatives of Beaufort, Hilton Head Island and Savannah and revitalizes them to their original state.

Most of her photos date from the 1880s to 1920s, but some go into the '40s and '50s.

"I just really enjoy sharing the old images with people," Steele said. "So many people are interested in the history of the area."

She works on the photos first in the darkroom, then by hand with pencil, then with digital effects after scanning it into a computer.

Each process lends itself to a certain type of restoration. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for a single image, Steele said.

An 18-year veteran of the Christmas Made in the South show, Steele said she still feels the crunch to produce enough photos to display in her booth, but that the long days are worth it.

"It's a great show. It gets people in the mood for Christmas," she said.

Loomis still has a lot of steaming to do. Creator of Fabulous Girl Clothing, a boutique girls clothing line, Loomis starts preparing for Christmas shows six months in advance.

Her home workspace is bursting with brightly patterned fabrics, spools of thread in every color and racks and racks of tiny dresses, pants and skirts.

As a mother of six, five of them girls, Loomis' sewing is self-explanatory. She started sewing dresses and Halloween costumes for her little ones and it gradually snowballed into her Fabulous Girl business, she said.

"I use my youngest girls, who are 9, 7 and 5, and ask them what they would like to see mommy make when I'm picking out fabrics," Loomis said. "I definitely use them as a kind of thermometer."

Any minute or hour that's not devoted to children or family is spent working, Loomis said.

In preparation for the Savannah show, which she has done for the past five years, Loomis still has to steam, trim and organize the items she'll be selling at her booth. She used to steam clothes in her office, but she was doing so much of it that it started making water stains on her ceiling. Now she does it in her front yard.

"Some of my neighbors probably think I'm cuckoo," she said. But like any crafter passionate about her work, the effort is worth it.

"I'll stay up nights, get up really early; especially if there's a big push before a show," Loomis said. "It really is fun, but a lot of hours go into it."

For Neidel, the production push doesn't happen right before a show, but in the summer, when he makes large batches of jewelry out of antique flatware.

Neidel, now retired, has a background in metal work and has repurposed some of his old tools for his jewelry-making work.

He collects sterling silver flatware and transforms spoons, knives and forks into delicate bracelets, rings and necklaces.

Most of the patterns date from early the 1800s up to 1950.

"This one was German; it dates from 1880," Neidel said, pointing to a filigreed pendant. "This one is Norwegian from the 1930s."

Neidel also takes custom orders, usually from customers who have their grandmother's old silverware and want to put it to use.

"Even if you only had two teaspoons, I can make a bracelet or a watchband. A lot of people have me do that," he said.

Neidel and his wife, Judy, have been going to the Christmas Made in the South show in Savannah for 10 or so years. Neidel said he only goes to juried shows, where "all your better crafters are."

"The economy has really hurt the quality crafters," he said, "but it's coming back now."

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