Sunday, November 9, 2003



Christmas craft maker Tyler Suwa starts another project in his family's Mililani home.

Family project

The Suwa family works
and plays together making
holiday crafts

IF you stop by the Suwa family's home in mid-October, it's obvious that they're already in full holiday craft mode. Boxes of craft supplies, sewing machines and extra tables fill the living room. The organized clutter includes jars of paint, wood to be sanded, wood cutouts and some finished country-style crafts.

Family Tree Logo The family doesn't mind that their home has become a Santa-style workshop. In fact, they all pitch in to create the wares that will bring a smile to both friends and strangers.

Paulette Suwa began learning the art of tole painting about two years ago, and her hobby has turned into a small-business enterprise. Now her entire family shares the venture, helping her to make products for craft fairs and holiday gifts for family and friends. Their wood crafts include decorative storage boxes, "please remove your slippers" signs, children's art display boards and an array of wooden dolls and angels.

Micro mitts are something that the Suwa family just added to their list of gift items. The mitts, used to remove hot items from the microwave or stove, have risen to the top of the family's bestseller list.

The family is glad to help, having discovered that making their own gifts helps them avoid crowded malls, long store lines and to deliver personalized presents. Their advance preparation also alleviates the stress of the season.

Everyone participates, even little Lauryn Suwa, who works with mom Paulette Suwa to finish an oven mitt.

Eight-year-old Taylor helps with several tasks, including collecting money from customers and making change. "Taylor is learning about marketing ... the importance of display and pricing," said Suwa, who pays her daughter for her work.

"It also helps her learn to deal with adults and be able to relate well with other people," Suwa said. "I'll teach Taylor the tole painting techniques when she gets a little older."

Tole painting refers to painting on tin or metal, though now virtually any surface can become a canvas for this decorative art. For now, Taylor helps paint some of the backdrops for the projects, such as Christmas trees that will frame two friendly little snowmen.

"She's so proud to identify her mistakes that are integrated into the completed project," said Suwa, who's certain friends won't mind a stray dab of paint or two.

Taylor's artwork is also displayed with finished projects sold at the fairs because "she believes that her art is a great marketing tool to help sell the crafts," Suwa said.

Suwa's husband, Alan, helps with gluing, sanding and the household chores that often go neglected while she is caught up by the holiday spirit. Grandpa Jack even pitches in with sanding and preparing dinner when the family of crafters gets carried away and loses track of time. Often, three generations of Suwa men can be found in the garage sanding and perfecting the wood for future projects.

Grandpa Jack sands wood pieces the younger Suwas turn into crafts...

GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM the sign displayed by Taylor Suwa.

Neighbors also stop by and get involved in the work. "Everyone is always helping to sweep up the mess," Suwa said.

"Most of the time, I try to stay out of the way," Alan said.

The same can't be said of the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Lauryn, who, Suwa says, "spends time hanging on my back as I'm sewing, anxiously waiting to remove threads from sewing projects."

"This is precious time together as we converse about preschool and other funny things like, 'Why do 3-year-olds drool?'" Suwa said.

"My 11-year old son (Tyler) is known as 'Mr. Seam Ripper' in sewing class due to his abundance of mistakes," Suwa said. When helping his mom, he announces, "Mr. Seam Ripper is here," and then he helps remove basting stitches.

"Some parents are leery of sending their sons to sewing classes because they think it's a feminine thing," Suwa said, "but he loves it, and two of his friends take classes, too."

Another Suwa creation.

As the children get older, their attention span increases, and they start paying more attention to what's happening around their home, Suwa said. The craft season can be chaotic, but the Suwas feel that working together enables them to share family time together, which is what the season is supposed to be about.

"It's a time we spend talking, laughing, arguing, growing and learning," Suwa said. "Everyone contributes and knows that whatever little contribution was made, it was part of a family project, and that feels good."

The Suwa family's craft projects can be found at local craft fairs or by calling 722-7417. Items range in price from $12 to $75.

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