Perhaps it's the smells of cinnamon and pine, the carols on the radio, colorful wrapping paper that hint at pleasures to come, memories of Christmases past. Or perhaps it's the crowd at the mall and the bank Christmas Club check in the mail.
Whatever the reason, the sudden desire to welcome the holidays with a touch of personal, ornamental style has taken root - but holding it back is a shortage of free time. Fortunately, a wealth of ideas for quick and easy projects is available in craft shops, magazines and books. Some projects requiring little experience or time (although they could actually lead a person to forget about time) are described below.
Modeled ornaments: Although some dough ornaments are edible, Coffee Dough, from MaryAnn F. Kohl's "Mudworks," is not.
Mix 2 cups flour with 1 cup salt in a bowl. In a cup, stir together 1/4 cup instant coffee and 3/4 cup to 1 cup warm water. Pour coffee into the bowl and stir to form a ball. Add more flour or water if needed. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board until smooth, about 5 minutes.
Shape figures or roll dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with cookie cutters. Cut a hole if you want to hang your ornaments. Place creations on foil-lined cookie sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 1-1/2 hours, until hard. When cool, ornaments may be varnished or coated with a mixture of white glue and water. To keep leftover dough, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
To prolong the life of a dough creation, books suggest a brief sojourn in a warm oven.
Creations made from Fimo, Sculpey and similar polymer clays available at craft and stationery shops, last much longer than dough when baked properly, and their colors are vivid. The relative drawbacks to dough are expense and a need to heed the manufacturer's instructions. Polymer clay releases a toxic gas when it burns. Nan Roche's book, "The New Clay" explores the diverse ways artists work the clay.
Icing snowflakes: Lay out a piece of wax paper, about 5 inches square. In a small bowl, beat together 1 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 egg white and 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar until the mixture thickens. (Add a few drops of flavoring extract - vanilla, orange, etc. - if you plan to eat them.)
Spoon icing into one corner of a plastic bag, snip off the end and design your snowflake. If the mixture does not seem stiff enough, add more confectioners' sugar. For Technicolor snowflakes, add food coloring. Try sugar sprinkles. Let snowflakes harden overnight.
Felt ornaments: Cut shapes out freehand or begin with a paper pattern. The paper may be folded in half for a more symmetrical shape. Look to cookie cutters for inspiration.
The front and back pieces can be joined by a running stitch or the blanket or buttonhole stitch. You may want to decorate the front and back before joining them, with beads, sequins, lace or ribbons. Stuff the ornament with cotton balls, fabric or leftover felt, then stitch it closed.
Shiny stars: Instructions for these folded-paper ornaments can be found in Gay Merrill Gross' "The Art of Origami."
Loop a long, narrow strip of paper, about 1/2-inch by 10 inches, into a flat, pentagon-shaped knot at one end. Wrap the strip around the knot, with soft creases at the edges, and tuck the tail under an edge. Holding the pentagon by two sides, push in gently at the middle of another side to form the inner angle of the star.
Stars may also be formed from ribbon with a slight stiffness.
Eraser folk: A felt-dressed Santa was inspired by an article in Family Fun magazine, in turn adapted from "Expanding Creative Imagination" from Human Potential Press. Make Rudolph too from erasers, with paper clip antlers and tail. The goal is to see what creatures might arise from such common objects as erasers, paper clips, pins and thumbtacks.
Cross-stitch crafts: Kits are available at craft stores, with projects sized 1-inch and up. Incorporate your work into magnets, pillows, pot holders or bags.