Whimsical Santa Clauses of all shapes and sizes line the shelves of Diane Dykema’s craft room. Each handcrafted Santa is one of a kind and uniquely made for customized orders, online clients, and craft shows. An accomplished seamstress, Diane thoroughly enjoys each Santa she creates and loves the personalized orders often made from a client’s family heirlooms.
“I have loved getting to know my customers over the past 25 years and many return each year to add another Santa to their collection,” Diane shared. “I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have this outlet in my day.”
For the past 25 years, Diane has found delight creating and designing these collectible Santas. At one point, she was making over 200 in a year but now creates around 80.
“I started by making Porcelain dolls in the 1980s for my grandkids, a popular gift in the craft arena at the time,” she said.
These dolls led her to making her first Santa out of a kit, which Diane said she would never do again. “I really enjoy making my own patterns and adding my own ideas.”
Making a Whimsical Handcrafted Santa
An accomplished artist, Diane’s husband Dennis hand sculpts the Santa faces from Sculpey clay, even specializing eye color for an order. He has developed a series of face molds that allow for an eye opening. He bakes the mold for 15 minutes and then Diane adds makeup foundation.
Next, Dennis places the head onto a disk and adds two dowels for the body to form around. Lastly, he carves a beautiful wooden base from clear pine wood he purchases from Bomgaars, adding a stain for completion. The completed Santa is then attached to the wood.
This process has changed dramatically since Diane first started. In the 1990’s, she used porcelain heads which cost around $3. Now, they are much harder to find and are in the $25.99 range.
“This is why I can’t do this without Dennis’ help. We were looking for a solution and he said I can make them,” Diane shared. “It’s a wonderful partnership!”
Another difficult find is black vinyl boots, which once sold for 89 cents and are now in the $9 range. Depending on the Santa, her solution is to find leather pants at thrift stores and designs the boots from the clothing.
Diane uses patterns she has created out of newspaper to make the body and clothing. Each Santa is unique and often customized around a women’s wedding gown, baby blankets, an old quilt or a family fur coat.
Designing the Santas
This year Diane has created a new Santa line with white fur coats and flannel pants. She also has fancier Santas filled with sparkles and darker fur coats. There have been sports themed Santas, as well as fishermen, Santa's Woodland, and Old World Christmas options. The Santas can hold books, ornaments, or lanterns.
“I like to have a plan for each Santa before I start and take regular inventory every year, so I know what I have on hand. I love shopping the craft stores and finding new fabric, but many items are getting harder to find. This year I’m struggling to find hunter green – I’m really missing quilt stores that would be in each town,” she said.
A recent customization was a Santa made from a family’s Swedish tablecloth, while a customer from Des Moines asked for a music Santa complete with a sharpened wooden baton, as he had recently retired after teaching music.
“I really enjoy making Santas that help a family remember a loved one by,” Diane shared. “One recent Santa had a motorcycle theme, as the man had been in an accident. I made the Santa from his chambray shirt, and because of his passion for books, I included several of his favorites as accessories.”
Diane is gifted old sweaters or finds them at consignment stores. She will buy buckles to make belts, and fur coats are often made from family heirlooms or ones she may find while thrifting.
“It takes me longer to make a Santa with a fur coat, partly because it takes longer to recycle and take it apart. I have been known to repurpose some of Dennis’ clothes; most recently took the zip liner out of his London Fog Coat for an upcoming project,” she said with a smile.
She creates the beards from Mohair Wool. Coming right off the sheep, she combs and picks through each strand before forming the beard.
“None of the Santas look like much before they receive their beard,” Diane shared. “Each one is trimmed but always comes out differently.”
It’s easy to see the love and care Diane puts into the creation of her collectible handcrafted Santas.
"I just love making each Santa special" she added..
To view Diane’s current Santa collection, you can visit her Facebook page Whimsey - Handcrafted Santas or contact her at 712-339-9393 or firstname.lastname@example.org.