What non-food consumables can I make for holiday gifts?
November 6, 2009 5:07 AM   Subscribe

I want to make lots of neat little gifts to give friends for Christmas. I'd like these gifts to be useable, elegant, consumable, and grown-up (not decorative, artsy-fartsy crafty crap). My recipients are Pragmatic New Englanders, and would be irked receiving potpourri, eye pillows, embroidered towels, door-hangings, pine-cone-bird feeders, or anything of that ilk. Hence: consumables. In the past I've had past successes making figgy pudding with brandy butter and a collection of homemade ketchups, relishes, mustards, and chutneys, but this year I want to move out of the kitchen. Blow me away with millions of amazing little home-made gift suggestions.

Trio of caveats:

1) Soap initially seemed like a good idea, but now feels expensive to start, if I want to do anything but melt-&-pour.

2) Not into making fabric/textile art. I'm okay doing crafts, but I'm not – 29 year old male – gonna learn to embroider/knit/needlepoint. Also not consumable.

3) I have no access to a woodshop, specialty tools, nor lots of $ to spend on these projects. My kitchen, however, is loaded to the gills with specialty equipment I could commandeer in the name of the holidays.
posted by mr. remy to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (also: no alcohol)
posted by mr. remy at 5:09 AM on November 6, 2009

Would you consider things like bath salts, sugar scrubs and other homemade "bath and body treatment" things to be "artsy-fartsy crafty crap"? It's kind of on the fence sometimes, I'll grant, but I have a number of ideas in that vein.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:26 AM on November 6, 2009

Note pads? If you could come up with an interesting design, you can print it en masse and get it cut and glued into notepads. Not sure how easy that is to do at home, especially the cutting part.
posted by cabingirl at 5:37 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am going to go against what you said and recommend buckwheat pillows. Just the ticket for supporting the old Yankee bones and muscles.

This Yankee loves hers!
posted by jgirl at 5:42 AM on November 6, 2009

I love cabingirl's suggestion of the note pads. Here is a site that that describes an easy way to make note pads with photo covers. I think the finished product looks grown up.

If you have friends who are dedicated coffee drinkers, you could make them coffee cozies. Although you said you don't like fabric art, there are versions of this project that are no-sew and use felt and are more crafty than sewy.

Good luck!
posted by mmmbacon at 6:01 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a note on the no soap caveat- If you get goat's milk melt & pour, the result is very nice. It doesn't melt as fast as glycerin-only, and it has the same creamy feel that lye-based soaps have.
posted by headspace at 6:04 AM on November 6, 2009

To go along with the notepad idea - hand-stitched planners. You could always use blank paper on the inside, to make simple notebooks.

Fire starters, although they may be a little too artsy-craftsy for you.

Lavender Room Spray (scroll down for the room spray recipe) or sachets.
posted by faineant at 6:25 AM on November 6, 2009

Candles. Lip balm. Maybe try some kind of cleaning product in a nice container? Essentially vinegar in a spray bottle, but the design makes it elegant.
posted by libraryhead at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2009

Homemade laundry detergent or other cleaning solutions. With amusing labels that you print out on the computer. Handy and funny.

Because nothing says Yankee like good ol' Fels Naptha Soap and Borax.
posted by jeanmari at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

2nding candles. Particularly in glass jars, which you could paint on or decoupage with sheer papers.

I'd also enjoy getting potted herbs, particularly a small collection in one pot.
posted by xo at 6:51 AM on November 6, 2009

Bookmarks. Print a few nice photos/graphics/drawings on good paper. Cut to about 4cm x 15cm so the images become intriguing or abstract patterns. Optional: glue onto heavy card stock of different colors. Some examples of what I mean.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:57 AM on November 6, 2009

Wooden spoons. A very basic woodcarving kit will be all you need. I carved a couple of kitchen spoons out of Spanish olive several years ago, and they are the go-to stirring and tasting spoons in my kitchen. And if anything, they're in better shape now than they were when they were made—olive wood is amazing.
posted by bricoleur at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd also enjoy getting potted herbs, particularly a small collection in one pot.

This is a fine idea, with the caveat that you know they have proper space in which they can keep them.

For the record: rosemary, oregano, and sage all require similar conditions (so they can share a pot), are pretty easy to grow, and actually do quite well if you are a bit lazy about remembering to water them; plus they all work well together culinarily. So this'd be a good choice -- but if you're putting them all in one pot, it'd need to be a pretty big pot. They also need a lot of sun, so save it for friends with very sunny windows.

Those with shadier windows aren't out of the loop, though -- mint works okay in shadier conditions. It does need more water -- but it's pretty hardy (it will absolutely run rampant in the pot, though, so it may need its own little space otherwise it may choke out whatever else you put in it).

I mentioned salt and sugar scrubs earlier -- there are loads of recipes for these online, but the basic formula is about a cup or two of either coarse salt or brown sugar mixed with about a cup or two of some kind of oil. Mix, add scent if you like, spoon into a jar. Voila. Bath salts you can make by just combining epsom salts with scented oil (and food coloring if you like), or you can powder some kind of dried herb and throw that in too. Or a milk bath -- powdered milk + a little scent + maybe a powdered dried herb or some ground-up oatmeal = milk bath.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:24 AM on November 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

I've been collecting ideas like this. Here are some of my favorites that I've picked out:

Turn a shadow box into a key holder
DIY Ladderball (not consumable, but something that would get used and enjoyed)
Make your own PVC storage system (I thought it looked useful and modern)
Make a DIY Reed Difuser

Something I already made is bath bombs as gifts for some of the older women I know who enjoy baths. They are a BLAST to make and there's lots of science and creativity involved. It wasn't too expensive for me to get the supplies, but it depends on your access to some of the ingredients like citric acid. I've done a lot of research on bath bombs and if you want to know more, you can MeMail me.
posted by bristolcat at 7:34 AM on November 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

This is what I'm planning on doing for gifts this year: Personalized liquid soap dispensers accompanied with a small hand towel. Instructions to clean hands soap pump.

Find a nice recipe for skin toner. These are easy to make with few ingredients. Put them in small pretty jars and affix your own label. Perhaps present the toner with a washcloth.

How about Recipes in a Jar? Although that keeps you in the kitchen.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:56 AM on November 6, 2009

OK - I'm going to also move away from consumables but this seems just the thing for New Englanders - not to mention, it's a great way to recycle/reuse. Hand warmers made from recycled old wool sweaters.

1. Throw the sweaters in the washer and dryer to felt them (throw a pair of jeans in too for an agitator).

2. Cut rectangles out of the fulled wool about twice the length of your palm (2.5" x 5").

3. Face right sides together and sew around three sides plus some of the fourth.

4. Use a funnel to fill with rice or buckwheat.

5. hand sew up the final edge

Package with instructions to warm in the microwave for a few seconds (test this!)

This is awesome if you have any fair isle sweaters with moth holes or can get some from a thrift store.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:29 AM on November 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

If any of them have cats, you can take some denim (or whatever sturdy fabric you have handy) and sew it up with catnip filled inside.
posted by aniola at 8:41 AM on November 6, 2009

Fruit cake is a non-food consumable right?

I love book arts, and think it's a unique (and properly manly) craft that's going out of style. I think it also fits with the New England sensibilities. It's practical, and it's value is directly related to the quality of its substrates. Don't go cheap on paper.

Stab binding is easy for a beginner. Or how about simple saddle stitched memo book (think moleskine) with a nice creamy stock. You'll need an awl, x-actos, needle, linen thread, beeswax, and text and cover stock. A book cradle will help with signature/saddle stitching. Perhaps my google-fu is failing, but I haven't been able to find many resources online. A great book is Cover to Cover by Shereen LaPlantz.
posted by fontophilic at 8:53 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Have a looksie through here, if you haven't already.
posted by greta simone at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The wooden spoon idea sounds great.

Notebooks or notepads are what I came in to suggest, but seeing that ground has been covered, what about sets of postcards with your art/photos/designs? Include a stamp on each, or a book of stamps for extra functionality.
posted by itesser at 10:29 AM on November 6, 2009

How about homemade fire starters? I always made the sawdust and wax variety myself, though this list describes many possible compositions. You could get creative with your assembly/presentation to make a cool gift of them (unless they all have gas log fireplaces!). Also good for camping fans!
posted by FuzzyVerde at 12:25 PM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

You could also add color to your firestarters or make your own packets of flame colorant with information like this (fun with chemistry)!
posted by FuzzyVerde at 12:32 PM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you would need a soldering iron for this, but my s.o. has gotten great reactions from making and giving out useful little electronic things like these.

(probably cheaper if you buy the individual parts rather than a kit)
posted by audacity at 2:19 PM on November 6, 2009

Maybe you could put together little emergency kits. Candles, matches, some kind of non-perishable snack, and a deck of cards? So when the power goes out during a nasty winter storm they have something to do. You can make the candles yourself, and if you wanted you could print the rules to some different card games and have it laminated.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:28 PM on November 6, 2009

This requires a bit more planning and customization, but one much-appreciated category of consumables might be supplies for the giftee's craft of choice. So, for a knitter, hand-dyed yarn. For a jewelry-maker, some handmade beads. For a quilter or sewer, some hand-printed, -dyed, or -woven fabric. (Some great ideas above, too. I'm totally making TooFewShoes' emergency kits.)
posted by libraryhead at 5:56 PM on November 6, 2009

Kitchen, but not cooking, could you get (or in some places like where I live, gather?) herbs and make tea blends: bedtime, lavender mint, and morning tea. Then you could buy teabags in bulk and fill them. I liked the herb planter idea, but hard to mail if that's a requirement.

Still on the seeds kick, you could make wildflower seed mixes, or a veggie-garden-in-a-box (seeds plus fertilizer and maybe a tool?). This being consummable depends on the recipient and it being affordable depends on your access to compost materials.
posted by salvia at 10:50 PM on November 6, 2009

maybe a rice hot pad? I took a five pound bag of rice, put it in the leg of a pair of nylons, tied it off and then pulled it through the rest, and tied it again. I use it when I've strained my neck or a muscle elsewhere - I just pop it in the microwave to warm it up and it is FANTASTIC. If I were making them for others (and I'm thinking I might this christmas) I would add some dried lavender to the rice to give it a nice smell, and make a sleeve to slip it into to use, maybe out of fleece.
posted by lemniskate at 1:53 PM on November 7, 2009

This year I got some mini Moo cards printed up, on the front I've used my own photos and on the back simply had printed To: and From:

I'll add ribbon and package them up in lots of 5 or 10 and ta da! simple gift cards for people to use throughout the year.
posted by WayOutWest at 5:56 PM on November 9, 2009

I'm counting on this cute, clever, useful USB drive hack. It looks easy enough for a feeb like me. USB drives embedded into stuff your pals think have deep pal-like meaning... a pez dispenser, legos... actually I'm thinking about using some of those Lego people. Yah, it's basically crappy schwag, but YOU MADE IT with love. How to mod a USB Flash Drive
posted by Lindax at 12:26 AM on November 13, 2009

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