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Greetings to all as we prepare ourselves for, and in some cases against, the impending holiday season. And as far as I am concerned, this is a year-round diary, as there are year-round reasons to bestow gifts upon loved ones. So, let’s go make some unique and hand-crafted gifts.

Your own innate creativity (yes, it’s in there) is far more valuable than any mass-manufactured thing that you can grab in a rush at the mega-store, and mainly because of that special added ingredient; Love. That’s right. Two years ago I crocheted a scarf for my new sister-in-law. She recently told me that she was bundled up in that very same scarf soon afterwards, and the realization washed over her; that feeling of love hooked into every loop of yarn. Now, that’s some extra warmth!

The one-of-a-kind gift you create is all the more special, because you put some of yourself into it. I, for one, would like to see the cultural demotion of brands and labels and so-called top designers, who, well, some are okay, but really, there is so much more talent and ability and originality out there, and you have some of it to offer. Not handy with your hands, but still want to give something of yourself? There will be a nice juicy paragraph for you further down below the break.

Creativity is the New Shop-Til-You-Drop

Don’t forget to think about color and style preferences of the person for whom you are creating the gift. The gift is for them, not for you, nor is it for how you would like to see the recipient. Pay attention to their style, ask them for their favorite colors, and think about the qualities of dark, light, subdued and bright. Still not sure? Almost everyone likes a medium blue, and everything goes with black. For anything listed in this diary, do an online search and you will most likely find further ideas and free patterns.

Time to pile on the ideas!

Holiday gift giving is traditionally for children, so we will start with gifts for the kids...
• Stuffed animals. You can buy patterns, or you can go patternless, and sew a free-form creature. You can even sew a rectangle of some fun fabric and add buttons for eyes and a pompom for a tail. Felt is a great material for stuffed critters, and easy to sew and cut. Do not stuff with feathers because of allergies. You can even use old clothes to create animals and other imaginary creatures. Embellish with anything age appropriate.
• Beanbags for juggling can be sewn or crocheted or knitted.
• Costumes for make-believe and dress-up. Many kids like to play make-believe. It doesn’t need to be Halloween.
• Fun and funny vehicles. Think about adding wheels to just about anything. You can make a trio of cars from another planet, a train set that looks like fishes for cars, or any sort of imaginary mode of transportation.
• Puppets! Let your imagination go wild for this one.
• Glued to your computer and good at Photoshop or Illustrator? Print out a coloring book, calendar to color, or paper dolls or paper dinosaurs. You can also create these items by hand. Include crayons or colored pencils or outfits as needed. Outfits for dinosaurs? Why not?
• Green thumb? Make a seedling kit for growing things.
• Put together a box full of their own arts and craft supplies like felt, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, pompoms; all the basics and then some.

Toys for fur critters:
• Catnip toys for cats, stuffed equally with catnip and stuffing/batting. A wonderful use for fabric scraps, preferably woven cotton material and sewn on a machine so pootie won’t take apart the stitches. If sewing by hand, use a heavy button thread and stitch tightly. The best catnip is from herb stores, if you are lucky enough to have one nearby. I’ve made these in fish shapes, but even a rectangle will do just fine. No button eyes here, absolutely nothing kitty can swallow.
• Scratching posts and cat furniture are relatively easy to build.
• Dog toys. I got nothing, but I found this great link for dog toys:

Presents for all featuring the fiber arts:

• Tote bags are the big thing for shopping now. Use sturdy cottons, canvases, denims. Everybody can use these. Trim, handles, shoulder straps can be in contrasting colors or patterns.
• Washable grocery bags. These would be inner bags for produce made of thinner washable cottons like calicos, that could be washed after use. No need for handles. Just a rectangle with one side open will do. I have heard this is an issue with shopping totes and fresh produce. Anyhoo, make a set of five to go inside a regular heavy-duty tote bag.
• Cut a scarf out of fleece yardage. No sewing. Just cut really straight. Or if you do sew, then all kinds of wonderful things can be made out of fleece. Winter is here!
• Nice sofa pillows are always welcome. Again, check the colors and patterns of the recipient’s decor. Embellish with buttons, fringe, ribbons, trim...
• Those door snake draft stopper things. Easy to sew. Can be fun to embellish or use plush fabric.
• Eyeglass cases, neckties, aprons... there are all kinds of quick-to-sew items that are very useful and can be made visually interesting.
• Into quilting? Create a wall or a window quilt - smaller than a bed quilt.
• More good sewing ideas link:

Knitting and crocheting:
• There is still time to make scarves and hats. Make a multi-color and texture scarf from all your scrap yarn. Keyhole and infinity (Mobius strip) scarves are shorter than regular scarves, and long skinny scarves are still in style too.
• Small and simple shoulder bags.
• Lap throws. Baby throws. Don’t throw the baby!
• Knit and crochet washcloths are popular and easy. Make a set of three or more. Use cotton yarn.
• Make creatures and flowers.
• Old cheap wool sweaters from thrift stores can make for good felting projects.

Presents for all featuring other crafts and materials:

• Almost everyone can use a good wooden box of any size. Embellish it. Stain the lid a different color, or use different wood for the lid.
• Make frames for your 2-D artist friends (turn us sideways, we disappear). We love frames.
• Make a small step stool. Paint or stain a fun color.
• There are more woodworking ideas here:

• Into clay? Make practical things out of ceramics such as bowls, mugs, platters; all are welcome. Make peculiar and interesting ceramic creatures if you prefer to be impractical.

• Are you into beads, and really, who isn’t? There is jewelry of all kinds, with and without wire-work, eyeglass holders, strange and interesting beaded objects, or something colorful to hang in the window and catch the sun. Good beading idea link here:

More miscellaneous ideas:
• Make ornaments, which can be created from anything. These are good for casual gifts.
• Sachets; hanging and otherwise. Lavender and cedar are anti-moth, which is good for winter woolens.
• Press leaves and petals, mount them on nice paper, and then frame. Same for anything 2-D.
• Flower pots. Those inexpensive terra cotta flower pots you can get anywhere, or maybe even already have a stash of — these take acrylic paints really well. Use three to five colors of paint, and get  loose and brushy with it. Choose one of the colors and paint the rim solid. Use metallic paint. Embellish with glass stones or tiny mirrors. Fill with anything, even cut branches from your yard, if you have a yard.
• Same with a good pen and pencil holder. Glass and ceramic containers can be had for almost nothing at a thrift store. Paint and embellish away!

Need inspiration? Go to any craft store, art supply store, hardware store to get ideas. Wander around. Open your mind, empty it out and see what fills in. The muses abhor an empty mind. They will show up if you allow them.

And then there is etsy at
Someday, when I am selling lots of my own paintings, I am going to turn around and spend lots of money at etsy. This is a great place for inspiration, and a great place for buying handmade gifts when you don’t have the time to make your own. Prices are very very good. I don’t know a soul at etsy. I am just very impressed by what I see over there.

Cooking, baking and growing yummies

As crafty and as much of an artist as I am, this year I am giving baked goods. Now that I have a whopping 27 inch wide kitchen counter (seriously), I have become a baker again. I’m a wheat-free spelt eater, and it was out of frustration, and frugality, that I turned to baking my own baked goods. The boyfriend also gets the benefits, lucky him. A few months ago I began making my own yeast breads by hand (kneading is poetic, and if you’re going to eat calories, you may as well burn a few in the process), and it’s a lot easier than initially feared. A lot easier!

Know the dietary restrictions, if any, of the food gift recipient first. I’ve only written a few ideas here to get you started, but a stroll through any gourmet food store, farmers’ market, bakery, etc. will get your creative motor going.

• Bake anything! Breads, both sweet and savory. Cookies, brownies, fudge, anything! Is fudge baked?
• Made some stupid looking, but still tasty, bread? Cut it into cubes, bake for 20 minutes or so, and there you will have homemade croutons.
• Granola or trail mix. Easy to bake, easy to mix. Wrap nicely in a jar with a ribbon.
• Cooking - You can’t easily wrap a meal, but you can make gift certificates for homemade meals.
• Herb infused vinegars.
• Plants, seedlings, cuttings; especially for herbs.

A few ideas for musicians, writers, dancers

• Are you a writer? Make little poetry books, hand bound with yarn, ribbons, twine. Use heavier paper for the cover. Same for short stories and fables.
• Write a special song for someone.
• Record an album of lullabies for a child.
• Offer an hour or a full evening of music performance, good for anytime, any event.
• Offer music or dance lessons.

Not So Handy? Services You Can Offer

Make gift certificates, so that what you are offering in time and service is clearly spelled-out.
• Tutoring and teaching anything for any age.
• If you have a car and they don’t - offer to help run a full day of errands, or a few afternoons.
• Repairing, gardening, snow shoveling, baby/elder/pet sitting, and housecleaning.
• Organize a disaster of a closet.
• Are you computer savvy? Type papers for a student, teach skills, research or design something, post a web page for someone. Offer to organize photos, music, their crazy cluttered desktop.

Best Frugal Shopping Practices

Even if you make your own presents, you still need parts and ingredients and supplies. And here it’s all about sales and coupons and thrift stores. Pay attention to those annoying sale flyers before recycling them. Get on emailing lists for coupons and online sales and free patterns. Buy jars at dollar stores. Wrap things in cloth. Dish towels can be found at discount stores for about $1 each and they are nice for wrapping, and are useful too. Buy fabric on sale or as remnants or at thrift stores, yard sales. Reconfigure old clothes. Trade unused craft materials with friends. Frugal is not cheap. It is shopping and living smart. It’s all about being creative.

And for you — This diary is my gift to the Kos Community, who has given me so much ever since that fateful morning immediately following the close of the DNC in 2008. Happy hollerdays, and never give up the good fight!

Originally posted to asterkitty on Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 12:09 PM PST.

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