Laurel’s Rachel Yang won the judges’ hearts with her stitched envelopes that hold children's letters to Santa. (Jonathan Newton/THE WASHINGTON POST)

When she was growing up in Rhinebeck, N.Y., Rachel Yang’s mother and sister were heavily into fiber arts. So much so that when the family relocated to Colorado, they opened a fiber arts store where they taught lace making, crocheting and knitting. But Yang, despite knowing how to sew, never caught the bug.

“I’m the only left-handed person in my family, so it was tough to keep up sometimes,” she said. “But I also don’t love sewing the way I love paint. When I found paper, I found my medium.”

For this year’s Holiday Crafts Contest, Yang submitted an envelope book to store children’s letters to Santa over the years. She made it using a Coptic stitch, a method of non-adhesive bookbinding. The judging panel, which consisted of Local Living editors and Nicholas Bell, a curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, chose Yang to win the grand prize of $500.

Yang discovered her love for paper arts when she and her husband, whom she met while teaching English in China after college, bought their first home in Colorado. She began by stenciling the walls and got hooked on DIY decorating and up-cycling. When they finally settled in Laurel, where Yang works as an information architect at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, she built a small crafts studio in their basement for felting, beading and bookbinding.

“I love paper,” she said. “You can do just about anything with it. You can get it wet, you can fold it, it’s malleable, it has memory. There are so many possibilities.”

The idea for the “Letters to Santa” book came while Yang was digging around her crafts studio for inspiration. Buried underneath a bin of supplies were her daughters’ old letters to Santa.

“I like crafts that have utility and longevity,” she said. “This book is something I will certainly use.”

Jaime and Maeline, now 11 and 15, might be too old to continue contributing to the file, but her 5-year-old son Adrian’s letter to Santa will go in the book this year.

Occasionally, Yang and her daughters volunteer at Scrap DC, a thrift shop for artists near Mount Vernon Square in the District, and participate in craft contests at The Queen’s Ink, her favorite crafts shop in Savage Mill. Although she doesn’t post regularly, she keeps a crafting blog called Immer Arts where she tracks projects, shares tutorials and writes about the importance of creating by hand.

The most important lesson, she said, came from her favorite blogger, Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, who reminds readers that in crafting, there are no mistakes.

“Perfectionism will handicap you,” Yang said. “It’s something I struggled with a lot. That, and being a neatnik. Balzer says you just have to sit down, get messy and see what you come up with. Don’t clean. Just do.”


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