Repurpose Family Treasures into Heirloom Ornaments

By Sunny Jane Morton Premium

Learn how to turn your family's precious memories into new heirloom ornaments

My stepmother-in-law, Jeanne Morton, has a special gift for turning old family treasures into new heirloom ornaments and keepsakes. She prizes family artifacts but is practical about what’s worth keeping. Brilliant with paper and fabric crafting herself, she also sometimes hires others to make just the perfect “new heirloom.” For example, check out this custom heirloom framing project she ordered for her father-in-law’s World War II photo.

A few years ago, Jeanne considered two special family textiles: her own First Communion dress and a piece of her mother’s embroidery work. They are both beautiful and have great sentimental value, but aren’t easily displayed or shared among several relatives.

A daring solution: heirloom ornaments

Her solution was creative, and to a preservation-minded genealogist such as myself, a little daring. She decided to cut them up to make new and beautiful heirloom ornaments for herself and her two granddaughters. She loved the vintage-themed lace hearts she saw on the Sweet Inspirations Etsy shop run by Shannon Bolanowski in Flushing, Michigan. Jeanne sent Bolanowski the little dress, her First Communion photo and the embroidery, with a request that she make three custom memory heart ornaments from them.

Bolanowski thinks of the memory hearts she makes as a way “to remember someone that has passed on or to remember someone special or a special date. I have created them when babies are born, for weddings and I have just a bit ago created one for a family of a young teenage girl who died in a car accident (that was hard!).”

However, when she got the order from Jeanne, Bolanowski remembers resisting it. “I just did not want to cut up that precious dress! I showed my husband the dress when it arrived and he said, ‘You can’t cut that up!'” But she says the resulting ornaments were worth it. “It was a pleasure to make the hearts for Jeanne and she had such lovely items to work with. I enjoyed that project so much.”

A worthy result

The memory heart Shannon created for my daughter Seneca is about 7 inches tall. On one side is Jeanne’s First Communion photo, framed with fabric and trimmings from the dress she wore in the picture as well as some new embellishments. The other side displays the embroidery work, also partially covered with more lace from the dress. The ornament hangs from Seneca’s vanity mirror in her bedroom.

embroidered memory hearts

Shannon has done other projects that repurpose her customers’ heirloom textiles. “I create the heirloom items usually on request,” she says. “I have done a boy’s Christmas stocking out of little onesies for a first stocking and I have done some tattered ornaments from flannel shirts of a lady’s father. She had me do the ornaments for her siblings for Christmas.”

I love these ideas for repurposing old family fabrics that deserve remembering and creating heirloom ornaments that easily transfer to the next generation. Inspire yourself with 13 more heritage craft and display ideas from Family Tree Magazine contributor Dana McCullough. They’re gorgeous!

If your focus is on preserving and archiving old family photos, you’ll love the How to Archive Family Photos collection.