Same time, next Christmas: Jigsaw puzzles turn into pieceful pastime for college chums

ARLINGTON – Suzie Nelson of Arlington and Sonya Shipley of Chimacum built an “out of the box” friendship that grew piece by piece 35 years ago and began an annual holiday tradition.

It started in 1985 when the two met in college in Sacramento, Calif. Nelson was putting together a 500-piece Christmas-themed puzzle titled “Heavenly Glass,” depicting a stainglass window in the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco. Her friend, Sonya, took a seat at the table and stayed until it was done.

“Little did we know then that we were establishing a holiday tradition of working jigsaw puzzles,” Nelson said.

Both women moved away, but they got together again to work on another holiday puzzle. Christmas puzzle-building became an annual excuse to get together, and before they knew it, 35 years passed.

Other than the year the friends met, they never lived in the same city at the same time. For a time, they were separated between Washington and California, but closed the distance gap once Shipley moved to Chimicum on the Olympic Peninsula.

In that time, they assembled over 110 puzzles featuring Christmas scenes, wintery landscapes and iconic images of the holiday, usually in boxes of between 500 and 2,000 pieces.

Nelson said with so many puzzles, it was time reclaim space in her home.

“Storing them was becoming overwhelming,” she said. “We decided, let’s show off our puzzles.”

This year they’re celebrating their 35th annual with a “Pieceful Pastime” presentation of their treasured puzzles at City Hall during Hometown Holidays Nov. 30 from 4–7 p.m.

Nelson said they’re taking that idea a step further. Visitors can buy the puzzles for a suggested donation of $10 or more, with all proceeds being donated to Arlington Kids Closet. If unable to attend, people can prepay online on a Facebook page under “Pieceful Pastime benefitting Arlington Kids’ Kloset.” Indicate the puzzle number from the images on the page, and it will be reserved.

Every puzzle comes fully assembled. It can be taken home on the cardboard as displayed or completely disassembled to go into its original box, Nelson said.

The puzzle builders are hoping to raise at least $2,000.00 for Arlington Kids’ Kloset.

“Almost every puzzle has its own story – who gave it to us, why they chose it or something memorable that happened while they were together,” Nelson said.

She called Shipley “the border queen” because after they have sorted out the border pieces, she’s quick and efficient.

That’s unlike Nelson, who takes on the easiest parts of the puzzle. “I go for what’s shiny or easy.”

Both said building the puzzles is still as fun and social as it was the first time they did it. They plan to piece their way to a 50th anniversary.

“We get some really good chuckles just being next to each other,” Nelson said.

Their family members’ reaction to the “crazy puzzle ladies” is mixed.

“My daughter used to think it was weird, and she wanted nothing to do with the puzzles,” Nelson said.

What do the spouses think of their hobby?

“We joke that when our husbands said ‘I do,’ they also take Suzie and Sonya during the holiday.”

Puzzle image of a stainglass window in the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, in a Christmas-themed puzzle titled, “Heavenly Glass.”

Puzzle image of a stainglass window in the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco, in a Christmas-themed puzzle titled, “Heavenly Glass.”

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