I’m a long-time devotee of hand-made gifts. Especially at Christmas. There are two main reasons:
(1) Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco (before I had kids), I did some last minute Christmas shopping on Chestnut Street – one of the City’s most popular shopping districts. It was December 24, late afternoon. I lived within walking distance, so I didn’t have to hassle the traffic and parking. On a busy corner near Williams-Sonoma, I witnessed two guys jump out of their idling cars and get into a shouting match, and yes, even commence to trade punches.
(2) Flash forward four or five years. Sir Empath is two years old, and I have his Christmas haul stashed in the back of the car, figuring he will never notice. But he’s no dummy. He sees the nerf football peeking out of a plastic bag. He wants it, bad. He starts trying to climb out of the car seat, howling in desire and frustration. He wears me down, and I pull over, get out of the front seat, open the door to the back seat where he’s sitting, reach over his head and pull the box out. OPEN IT, he yells, so I do. I hand him the football, which he briefly examines. WANT THAT, he demands, pointing at the box. OK, here you go. The he pitches the football over my shoulder out into the street, and occupies himself with the box. The football bumps along the gutter and down the sewer, into oblivion. The toddler Sir Empath never again thinks of the football itself (as far as I know), but he does not let the box out of his sight for the next three weeks. It is his favorite Christmas present.
These two incidents convinced me that Christmas is (1) too stressful; (2) too commercial; and (3) focused on the wrong thing. Duh. And as a result, my children don’t expect gifts for Christmas. They want a tree, and they like having stockings to unpack, but they don’t get involved in the urgent cravings most kids suffer this time of year. And for my part, I pretty much restrict myself to giving hand-made gifts.
Forthwith, then, 8 great hand-made gift ideas that you can probably get done before Christmas Eve.
1. Knitted, felted hat. This is by far the chic-est most beautiful thing I’ve ever made for someone, and it took me about three hours all told to knit it. You make it on huge needles using worsted weight wool yarn held double. When you’re done, it’s a big floppy shapeless thing. Run it through the washer and dryer once or twice and voila: an extremely fashionable bucket hat. Adorable.
2. Coasters. Needs no link, because it’s so simple. Go to the back of your closet or the bottom of your most ignored dresser drawer and pull out a 100% wool sweater, one you will never wear again. Throw it in a hot water machine wash and then in the dryer. When it comes out, it’s felted. That means you can cut it into squares or circles and it will not ravel. For decoration, get some embroidery floss in a contrasting color and run a blanket stitch around the edge. Useful and hip.
3. Vanilla sugar. Vanilla beans are extremely expensive if you buy them in the grocery store spice section. But you can get them much cheaper in bulk from an online supplier like Beanilla. To make vanilla sugar, just split one or two beans in half lengthwise and put them in a plastic or glass container with a couple cups of superfine sugar. (It doesn’t have to be superfine sugar, that’s just my personal favorite. Regular works just as well.) Put a fancy label and a bow on it, and voila. Vanilla sugar adds an extra dimension of flavor to baked goods and your morning oatmeal, and if your recipient likes tea or coffee sweetened – yum!
4. Scented bath salts or body sugar. There’s something luxurious and even a little bit sinful about receiving a pretty container with a hand-made bath concoction inside. For about 10 minutes of effort on your part, someone will have hours of relaxation and enjoyment.
5. A Blurb book. If you’re an artist or a photographer, you can easily make a limited edition book at Blurb.com. Download the easy-to-use software, and you can choose to make anything from a cookbook to a journal to a decorated notebook. You could even make a keepsake book containing memories and news from the year 2012. Tons of creative opportunities!
6. Teacup Candles. My boys and I did this one year as gifts for their teachers, and it was so fun and a big hit. You can get charming chipped teacups at almost any consignment or second-hand store, usually for less than $2. Use beeswax or soy, and add scent or not.
7. Hot Chocolate on a Stick. These are a bit more involved and you might want to set aside a Saturday. But what a great idea, and good for anyone from co-workers to neighbors to your kids’ schoolmates.
8. Coffee Cozies. A friend of mine made these by the gross for a fundraiser, and it was a regular scene from Barney’s bargain basement at her booth. I mean, people were wild for them. She made them out of fabric scraps, but if you don’t have a collection of scraps already on hand, most fabric stores carry “fat quarters” used by quilters at reasonable cost. Pick up some whimsical buttons and you’re all set!
So there you have it, Dreamers. My collection of 8 hand-made gift ideas for this holiday season. And you know what the best part is? Getting your hands on a few projects like these is downright festive and makes you feel like you’re creating your own holiday spirit instead of trying to keep up with everyone else’s. Merry merry!