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Labor of love

 Lenore Lee, a fourth grade teacher at East Aurora's O'Donnell Elementary, sewed 458 holiday stockings — one for each student in her school. Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Homemade stockings decorated with students' names hung outside classrooms throughout O'Donnell Elementary on Friday, Dec. 20, the last day before winter break. Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Homemade stockings decorated with students' names hung outside classrooms throughout O'Donnell Elementary on Friday, Dec. 20, the last day before winter break. Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Homemade stockings decorated with students' names hung outside classrooms throughout O'Donnell Elementary on Friday, Dec. 20, the last day before winter break. Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media

Even for a woman who sewed her own wedding dress, it was a project of great proportions.

Naperville resident Lenore Lee took on the task this year of sewing one holiday stocking for every student in the school where she teaches, O’Donnell Elementary in Aurora. In all, she made a whopping total of 458 stockings.

Lee, who has worked at O’Donnell for 26 years and is retiring this school year, usually makes a set of stockings for her class each December.

When younger students would walk down the hallway and inquire about the stockings, Lee would tell them they’d have to wait until they had her as a teacher to receive one.

“This year, I thought well, I’ll make sure they don’t have to wait,” she said.

Lee started the project back in July when she bought the felt half-off at a fabric store and started cutting out the stocking shapes with a pattern she created.

Then came a marathon session on her sewing machine that wrapped up the second week of December, just before school let out for the winter break.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Lee, explaining that it has become something of a tradition in her Naperville house. “My son told me, ‘Mom, it’s not Christmas unless you’re crazy making stockings.’”

Lee started making stockings for her students back in 1978 when she taught preschool at St. Paul School in Aurora.

“I was insane [that first year] because I hand-sequined little holly beads on them,” she recalled. “And that was the last time I did that.”

Lee still spends plenty of time decoratively stitching the heel and toe of the stocking, affixing a colorful ribbon and varying the felt and thread colors so that each student receives a unique stocking.

She lets students pick their own stockings and decorate them. Then she stuffs the stockings with candy and school supplies.

This year, she said it was fun to see how other classes decorated the stockings, from marker drawings to scrawls in glue and glitter.

She teaches her students there is no mistake you can’t fix on a stocking. A glob of paint can become a cloud and a messed up snowman is just “melting.”

Sometimes she shows her students in class how she makes the stockings, because she said it’s important that they understand what it’s like to make a garment by hand.

Lee’s grandmother and mother sewed, she said, and she fell in love with the hobby when she took a sewing class in high school. She made her own clothes in high school, she said, and some of her children’s clothes as they grew up.

She hopes that next year she’ll sew for fun more often, because she doesn’t have time to do much of that right now. In fact, the only stocking kept in her Naperville house is one her husband hangs year-round on the door.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be more stockings in the future.

“I’d love to say I’ve made my last stocking,” Lee said, “but I don’t think I have.”

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