Amy Nelson doesn’t just refinish furniture, she revitalizes it.
When good pieces go bad, Nelson, owner of Upcycling by Amy, hauls them back to her Stoddard home and works her magic, sanding and staining dilapidated dressers and tables on their last legs.
“I want people to realize if a piece is old and outdated and ugly, don’t throw it out,” Nelson said. “If it has good bones to it, someone will love it.”
Nelson’s restored creations have received a lot of love over the past five years, with customers requesting custom refurbishing of worn-out family heirlooms, and she will introduce some of her own pieces at the La Crosse Center Holiday Fair, returning this week for the 54th year.
Some 10,000 people are expected to attend the four-day event, running Thursday through Sunday, which will feature 130 booths with artists and crafters from eight states who work in diverse media, including stained glass, doll clothes, dog toys and ornaments, the majority of them hand-crafted.
The venue will be decked out by Nelson Flags for the occasion, and Santa and Rudolph will be there for family photos.
“It’s the atmosphere that makes it special — and the history. It’s the time of year when families can come together and do some shopping,” said Sue Wieman, who has organized the Holiday Fair for almost two decades. “People come here looking for something unique, not something they can just buy online.”
Nelson and husband Jim specialize in the distinctive. Last year, the pair debuted Jim’s reclaimed wood decor at the Holiday Fair, selling all but five of their oversize snowflakes, made without a pattern so no two are alike, and twinkle-light-strung pallet trees.
“It was a great show for us last year. It really put us on the map,” Nelson said. “I really like that they take the time to screen every vendor that comes to the show so you know you’re getting high-quality, handmade items. Everything there is made with care and craftsmanship and all the money is staying local. I love that.”
This year, the couple is expanding to a double booth and adding Jim’s newest creation, patterned burlap-covered triangle shaped Christmas trees in assorted sizes, framed with wood salvaged from old barns and sheds, and Nelson’s “perfectly imperfect” rehabbed furnishings.
“My favorite are the distressed pieces. If you’re doing an old piece, it should look old,” Nelson said. “The look you get from reclaimed wood — you can’t duplicate that weathered look, that chippy paint. Even the nail holes with the rust on them, it adds so much character.”
Nelson and Jim spend around 40 hours a week each, on top of their full time jobs, working on their crafts, but Nelson says the finished product is always rewarding.
“This is my passion in life,” Neslon said.
Fellow Holiday Fair exhibitor Jill Colbert knows the best treasures take time. Returning to the show for her fifth year, Colbert will be armed with her handmade socks and scarves, which she sees through every step of the way. Owner of Five Hands Farm in La Crescent, Colbert uses the fibers shorn from her 26 sheep, alpacas and llamas to spin and dye her own yarn, which is transferred to the loom for scarves or the circular sock machine for stockings.
Colbert taught herself how to use a spinning wheel seven years ago, wanting to use the wool from her animals, and learned to use a carter machine to blend together various colors of roving into skeins of yarn. A single skein can take three hours to complete, with another hour dedicated to a single pair of socks.
“I think my craft or my art is very old-world in a sense,” Colbert said.
Indeed, sock knitting machines, a WWI era staple, are hard to come by. Powered by a crank, yarn is worked through a cylinder surrounded by dozens of needles that work rapidly, creating rows of stitches. The Red Cross distributed the machines to women in 1917 to keep up with the demand for clean, dry socks for soldiers serving in the trenches.
Colbert’s machine, a replica, never fails to stop Holiday Fair goers in their tracks. Colbert gives on site demonstrations, and watchers are quickly captivated by the bobbing needles and whirling threads.
“I like how fascinated people are at the old fashioned-ness of what I do,” Colbert said. “Oh my gosh, the little kids are so curious. They sit and watch ... they ask questions about everything.”
Customers also can’t help but touch the woolly wares, which are diverse in texture, color and weight due to the variations in breed. Colbert blends the wool with nylon or bamboo when making socks to give them stretch and memory, but her scarves are woven from pure fibers. Colbert also makes needle felted purses and woven bracelets which will be for sale at the Holiday Fair.
“I truly just have fun,” Colbert said. “My product isn’t perfect by any means, it’s truly just my creation. Unique, for sure.”