Lakewood Ranch’s Don McMillan is resigned to the fact he will be alone when he goes to the movie theater.
He married a crafter.
“She won’t go to the movies with me because she can’t sit for two hours in the dark,” Don McMillan said of his wife, Linda. “She can’t do anything.”
Sitting in her Polo Run home, Linda McMillan looked over at her husband and laughed. Of course, he was right.
When she sits in front of the television, she often has three or four projects going on. At this particular time, she is making gnomes for the fifth annual Spring Art Show and Sale, which will be held March 19 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. McMillan is also making a black dress for their upcoming cruise, a blanket for the Blankets for Babies program run by the Lakewood Ranch Women’s Club, and she’s knitting a shawl for herself.
Perhaps six months from now, it will be four different projects.
“I get bored,” she said. “I like variety.”
Although variety might be the spice of life, gnomes are the trend of the season.
McMillan is always looking through home decoration stores, checking the shelves and noting what is being shown. She said 10 years ago, it was snowmen and Santa Claus knickknacks. Today, it’s gnomes.
“When I pick something up, I generally know how to re-create it,” she said. “I understand basics, and I know how to work with material. I take ideas from other crafts I’ve done, and it all comes together. It takes three or four bad ones first. A lot of stuff ends up in the trash can. . “
Growing up in Michigan, she began to learn crafting from her grandmother, Lillian Verpooten, who lived next door. Unfortunately, she said, her grandmother ran through the instructions too fast for a 9-year-old.
“I wasn’t getting it,” she said.
She needed to get it because she said, lovingly, that her dad, Verne Verpooten, was cheap. If she wanted new clothes, he would point to the sewing machine.
Fortunately, she had an older sister, Diana, who was involved in sewing and knitting, and she followed her example.
She eventually became an art major in college, and because she wanted to be an art teacher, she figured she should learn a lot of art forms, as opposed to specializing in one thing. It was perfect for her in terms of getting bored easily.
McMillan worked as an elementary teacher until she moved to Pennsylvania and spent 20 years as a college elementary education professor at Kutztown University. Linda and Don, who had a career in marketing with Enersys, moved to Lakewood Ranch from Redding, Pennsylvania four years ago to enjoy their retirement. Originally, they lived in the Country Club, but they moved to Polo Run to be across the street from their son Brian; his wife, Heather; and their four granddaughters.
They have one other son, Scott, who still lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison.
About four years before she left Pennsylvania, McMillan decided to take her crafting skills to market.
“A crafter at some point has to have an outlet to get rid of things,” she said. “You can only put so much in your house.”
As she got involved with other women who would bring their crafts to shows, she came into demand as a teacher. When she arrived in Lakewood Ranch, McMillan became involved with other local residents who wanted her to teach them crafts.
With one particular group, she was seeking something simple to teach them, and she went to Cooper’s Hawk to ask for corks. Among them were about 40 Champagne corks, and she thought they would be perfect for miniature gnomes. They were an immediate hit, so she will be stocked with them at the Spring Art Show and Sale.
Then McMillan started making bigger gnomes in September, selling about 40 of them at a December show.
She will bring about 50 to Lakewood Ranch Town Hall and sell them for $ 20 each.
“It’s fun because they all are different,” she said. “Mine are like little people.”
She knew she could make them because in the 1980s, she remembered, one Christmas when Cabbage Patch Dolls were popular and she couldn’t find any to buy for her nieces. She made 14 of them herself. In 2003, a relative died, and when McMillan went to the home, the closet contained mink coats. No one was buying mink coats at the time, so she used them to make Teddy bears.
Making gnomes would be no big deal. She filled the bases with rice and made the predominant nose on each by stuffing pieces of pantyhose with fiber. She cut material and wrapped the gnome’s head to make the hat.
“They don’t cost much to make,” she said. “And anyone who can do basic sewing can make them.”
McMillan has a hard time defining the time it takes to make a gnome because she often multitasks with other projects. Her husband notes that she gets somewhat of a production line going, making several of one part at a time, and then assembling each later.
Even so, she said each gnome is, indeed, unique.
“A true crafter creates things are different and unique,” she said. “You are not just buying things and assembling it. Your style is something that is part of you.”
She joined the Creative Arts Association of Lakewood Ranch, which is hosting the show and sale, because she wanted that sales outlet.
“I sell things to support my (crafting) habit,” McMillan said.
Although Don McMillan said her craft pieces usually are confined to her work room, the gnomes are occupying many tabletops with the upcoming show. They are cute in their own way, which could be a bad omen for future gnomes.
“When I get fairly good at something, I look for the next (craft),” he said. “There’s always another craft out there.”