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She Has a Knack for Making Knickknacks

October 22, 1992|ZAN DUBIN | Zan Dubin covers the arts for The Times Orange County Edition. This column appears regularly in OC Live! and

It's entirely possible that one of the first things a slew of Irvine newborns will see this Christmas season is crafter Debbie Morines' handiwork.

Every year, the labor, delivery and postpartum nurses at UCI Medical Center in Orange make holiday pins for themselves. This year, some 180 nurses will decorate wooden pins that Morines designed at the request of a friend who is one of the nurses.

"You know the bundle the stork carries? Well, the pin is just a bundle with a little head peaking out," Morines said. The nurses will paint on their own names and the medical center's, and a sprig of holly if they wish.

"It's nice to think that all the people in the hospital will see it and that these gals will be able to make it themselves," said Morines, who typically spends her crafting hours painting, gluing and sewing, rather than dreaming up projects for others. She plans to set up shop at Piecemakers Country Store craft fair Saturday and Sunday.

Morines, a fan of countrified wares, creates such whimsical, folksy knickknacks as hand-painted wooden cows, ears of corn or mom-and-pop pilgrims. She adorns ready-made clothes and pillows with antique quilt swatches, embroidered handkerchiefs or doilies, sews seed packages and tiny tools onto gardening hats, and, among other things, makes seasonal goods, such as wooden witches with Spanish moss hair or cheery orange pumpkins.

She paints messages on some pieces, such as a perky chicken with a barn-red base. It bears the statement, "Kitchen's closed, this chick's had it." She's never even thought about whether the phrase might be sexist, and the piece is one of her best sellers, she said.

Not one to boast, Morines said that nothing she makes is "too difficult" to construct but that she tries to come up with items that are functional and affordable.

"People are really watching their dollars and want to buy something that has a function to it," she said.

Items that can become part of family tradition also have popular appeal, she said. For instance, women who own one of her personalized Christmas plates--painted with a child's name--return to her after having a second child, asking that she paint in the new baby's name.

A message to St. Nick is painted on the sturdy red plastic plates: "Dear Santa, here's a cookie for you and a carrot for your reindeer. Love, (the child's name here). P.S., I've been good."

"Moms and grandmoms eat 'em up," said Morines, who has two young daughters.

Ideas pop into her head on the freeway or come from her daughters or friends, she said, and bringing an idea to fruition doesn't always mean sticky fingers, needle pricks or hours spent bent over a table. Sometimes her projects take her to garage sales or flea markets to find the antique fabrics she machine-sews onto ready-made dresses, sweaters and other clothes.

"It's a big treasure hunt," she said with a smile.

Friends and others help her gauge the success of new creations.

"You can tell by the look on their faces if they like it or not, and if you put it out at a craft fair and people don't buy it, you have to (ask yourself): 'Is it not made well? Are the colors not appropriate? Is it priced too high?' If it is doing well, then don't change it.

"I really think people like to buy from the artists themselves," she added, perhaps because crafters' "excitement over making that little thing" makes them best at selling it. "Also, people know when they're buying something at a fair, they're helping to support the artist's family."

The Piecemakers Harvest Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25, will feature about 135 craft booths, live music and food at Piecemakers Country Store, 1720 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa. Admission is free. Information: (714) 641-3112.

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