DIY Gifts
November 1, 2010 6:27 PM   Subscribe

After seeing this blog post, I am now inspired to make all (or most) of my holiday gifts this year. Problem is, a lot of these projects are beyond my skills. Any ideas for simpler projects, or resources that feature simpler projects?

My crafting skills are not spectacular, but I'm not a totally newbie. I can do some basic hand sewing (and I do have a sewing machine, which I have used approx 3 times), and I can do the knit/purl stitches. I am interested in picking up some new skills though, so projects that are a little beyond what I've done would actually be great.

I would love to find some projects that are
(a) fairly quick, since I'm hoping to make about 8 of them;
(b) small enough/fixable so that if I mess up, I can start over without losing too much time;
(c) fairly inexpensive;
(d) varied -- I don't want to give everyone pot holders; and
(e) even though simple/quick/inexpensive, should look pretty great (if I do them well) -- I am, after all, supposed to be showing these people that I love them.

Most of the people I will be making things for are adults, though I have two nephews (2 and almost 6), and I am thinking a simple stuffed animal might be a good idea for the 2 year old. For the other one I probably will just have to pony up and buy something, since I figure 6 year olds probably aren't thrilled to open needlework projects on Christmas morning. And I'm trying to build up my credibility with that kid.

What fun resources are out there for simple projects like this? There's a ton of crafting info out there and it can be overwhelming -- can you guys help me whittle down the internet? Or do you have recommendations for specific projects that you've done yourself?

Thanks! I'm getting excited already :)
posted by imalaowai to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 89 users marked this as a favorite
Are you committed to knitting/sewing, as opposed to other forms of handmade gifts?
posted by decathecting at 6:34 PM on November 1, 2010

Response by poster: Nope, I am open to anything.

I was thinking it might be helpful if I told you what my family's/friends' hobbies are, as this might help narrow things down:

Cooking, Reading, Music, Gardening, Snowboarding, Bicycling, Travel

And probably a lot more, but that's a good beginning list.
posted by imalaowai at 6:39 PM on November 1, 2010

Girlfriend and I are making Vanilla Extract and Beer for quite a few people.

The vanilla extract is just a ton of vanilla beans and some mid level vodka. Let set 2 months. Buy the vanilla beans online, and it becomes cheap. Get some fancy bottles to put it in once it's extracted, and you're set.

The beer we're giving in 22oz bottles. I've done this a few years, and it always goes over smashingly. Brew a fancy, strong, beer make a fancy label and boom. It's easy enough that you can get it right the first time.
posted by piedmont at 6:45 PM on November 1, 2010

Ok, what tools/materials/equipment do you have around? Do you have money & room for any tooling up, plus learning time?

Other than the usual knitting and sewing, what about mixing up take & bake food? For example, apple pie in a jar is neat, as is dry mix for hot coco.

If you have a coffee lover, you can put a jar together of what Trader Joes has for their Winter Spice mix (I make my own copy - coffee beans, crushed cinnamon sticks, whole pepper corns, cloves).

Look at what Gooseberry Patch has, that might give you some ideas.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:48 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I make homemade peppermint bark every year and it's wonderful. It tastes amazing, is super simple to make and impresses everyone who gets it. Here's my favorite recipe.
posted by Mamapotomus at 6:53 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

You can make mixes for baked goods or soups in mason jars.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:56 PM on November 1, 2010

Best answer: Not Martha, specifically Glass Blob Magnets. Package them in Altoids tins.
posted by theora55 at 6:59 PM on November 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I have a sewing maching, lots of thread and most other basic sewing necessities. I don't really have a lot of tools myself but I could use my parents' tools. I don't want to spend too much money stocking up but I'm willing to buy a decent amount of small stuff.

I really like the take & bake and coffee ideas!
posted by imalaowai at 7:00 PM on November 1, 2010

Not to be completely grinchy, but I'd rather get nothing than an ineptly-made handcrafted something, at least from another adult. Kids--I love anything and everything. But if you're really not skilled yet, I'd suggest either bone-simple projects (aprons are easy) or the already suggested vanilla, spice mixes, etc. Lavender sachets or neck pillows, etc.

If you're making a 2 year old a toy, make sure it's incredibly sturdy. My SIL sews very, very well but even she was surprised at the strength of a determined toddler.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:01 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ideefixe -- I definitely understand what you're saying. I'm thinking it might be a good idea to give everyone a bunch of small things -- like the Magnets theora55 mentioned, and the take&bakes -- than try to undertake bigger projects for everyone.

And aprons sound like a good one.
posted by imalaowai at 7:08 PM on November 1, 2010

I haven't made these yet, but a few friends have made and gifted them, to rave reviews.
posted by lucysparrow at 7:14 PM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Olive oil or vinegar infusions for salads. Put them in pretty bottles and voila!
posted by Neekee at 7:15 PM on November 1, 2010

If you have water, rocks/marbles/glass blobs, 8 attractive, waterproof containers, & a sunny windowsill somewhere in your house, you could "force" bulbs for your family. Paperwhites, available at any garden center & most Lowes/Home Depots, are notoriously easy & fun for all maybe 2; I doubt 2 year olds would get the concept, although they might enjoy the flowers once they bloomed:

1) Take container, fill almost to brim with rocks/marbles.
2) Add water to just below the level of rocks.
3) Set bulbs on top, leave in sun, & ignore beyond occasionally replenishing water.

Watch their roots slink down to slurp up the water & the tops start to sprout! Or, for the younger set, send it as a "kit" (all the bits & instructions, but no water added), & let them learn about how plants grow.

Anyway, right about now is probably the right time to start them, if you want them ready to bloom when you give them out. Consult with an expert to be sure.

Couple of caveats:

1) not all bulbs force well, & a lot of bulbs require some time in the freezer to bloom right if they are not pre-prepped for forcing. (I have some chillin' right now) The store selling them will know if they are sold ready-to-force or not, although a big hint is if they have started to sprout on their own.
2) This is not a gift that takes well to shipping. I have done it in the past, by sending it as a kit, rather than getting them going myself, but mailing rocks can get costly.
posted by Ys at 7:23 PM on November 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Preserved lemons are a great present for friends who like to cook, and if you start this week they'll be ready just in time! (These + the pies in a jar mentioned above are the presents I'm making this year.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 7:25 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Super easy knitted armwarmers: Cast on about 9" of stitches (this might be around 36 stitches if you're using a worsted weight yarn, but knit a swatch to see how many stitches you need). Work in any kind of pattern you like for about 8". (k2, p2 ribbing is nice.) Bind off. Sew up the edge, just two or three stitches at the top, then leave a 2" thumb hole, then sew up the rest of the edge.

If you know how to knit in the round, the hat on the Purl site looks very quick and easy; but then, it's hard to go wrong when you start with cashmere. Or you can try the Fetching/Dashing fingerless gloves if you're up to learning some cabling; they're fun, fast knits.
posted by Jeanne at 7:27 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did a variety of confectionery last Crimbo and it went down so well that I'm doing it again.

I made turkish delight (shameless self link) which was fiddly but not very hard to do, peanut brittle (I've used macadamia nuts and also pistachios), butter caramels and chocolate fudge. Of these, the fudge was the easiest (equal parts dark chocolate and condensed milk with a few drops of flavour essence like mint or orange), melt, mix, chill, cut into squares and dust with cocoa). You can use white chocolate and add colouring as well as flavouring - green mint, orange orange, pink rose etc etc. I did a small quantity of chilli chocolate fudge for the adults and people loved it (add cayenne to taste, cinnamon, and vanilla, and use a bitter chocolate).

Speaking of vanilla, you can often get vanilla beans of middling quality cheap on ebay - buy some, find some decorative sauce bottles and put in a couple of beans with plenty of cheap vodka and set in a warm dark place. You'll have vanilla essence come Christmas and it sure is pretty.
posted by ninazer0 at 7:35 PM on November 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

I just started making soap and it's so fun! You don't have to go the whole cold-process (I personally do not trust myself with lye) if you don't want - you can do a lot of cool stuff with melt and pour. I made really cute skull soaps for party favors at a Halloween event this year.

You can get some starter stuff at Michael's, but apparently the best stuff is at Brambleberry. I've also gotten a lot of info from their sister sites teachsoap and Soap Queen.

Also Brambleberry has stuff for making candles which sounds fun too.
posted by radioamy at 7:49 PM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Children's Tool Belt. (both nephews might love this!)

Cute knit mouse.

Homemade chess set - made out of nuts and bolts.

Giant Tinkertoys.

Homemade snuggies (you can personalize them, pick out a personal type fabric, etc) I made one for each of my children last year - including my six year-old son. A big hit!

Almond Maple Granola.

A whammy diddle. An easy "musical" instrument made out of two sticks.

Necklaces made out of washers.

Washer necklaces using a steel stamping set.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:50 PM on November 1, 2010

Best answer: Sew Mama Sew does a Handmade Holidays post every day in November. If you're a slow crafter like me, you can go through their archives and find something you can start on right away.
posted by stefanie at 8:03 PM on November 1, 2010

Oh, and a personalized hand soap pump. I did this for everyone last year.

And here's a somewhat recent AskMe with a lot of ideas for projects.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:06 PM on November 1, 2010

Best answer: Keep in mind that knitting takes FOREVER. An experienced knitter might bang out a bulky-yarn hat in an evening; it may take a newbie three or four evenings to knit the same hat. Someone who knows how to use a sewing machine (which it sound like you do) could produce several polarfleece hats in that time.

Also, if you are just starting out knitting, I'd steer clear of anything you have to make two of (mittens, armwarmers, gloves, socks, etc). Not only does it take twice as long to cross a single person off the gift list, but it can be a real pain in the neck to produce two items that look exactly the same. I had to make five booties the first time I did them in order to get two that I was comfortable gifting as a pair!

Joelle Hoverson (who owns the shop you linked to) wrote Last Minute Knitted Gifts, which has pretty simple projects arranged by how long it takes to complete them. Flipping through it will give you an idea of the time commitment for a whole holiday's worth of handknit presents. If you are just learning to knit, figure at least 2-3x the time she estimates.

Lastly, I found I am much happier giving handmade gifts to people on their birthdays rather than Christmas -- that way I don't have to have thirteen items done at the same time.
posted by apparently at 8:20 PM on November 1, 2010

I have gifted baking mixes in the past, packaged in neat containers. The brownie mix always goes over well, and you can print a nice recipe card to go with it, or a silly holiday themed spatula. Target will often carry something like this in the dollar section.

I have also done a homemade version of bisquick, with a few recipes included.

Some friends have given me homemade books, personalized with poetry, pictures, etc. This is easy with a small ring binder One was a book of family holiday recipes and memories. You could put together a little recipe collection. Someone once gave me a gift basket with warm socks and a favorite (for them) well read book.

This blog had some great, mostly sewing, ideas last year, and will be posting a lot more this year. You can look at their archives for some good ideas.

I have also made cold-process soap, though you could do a melt and pour version. Cold process needs a few weeks to mellow, so it would need to be done before Thanksgiving. Along these lines, you could make a salt or sugar scrub, lip gloss, or bath bombs.

You can google for most of these recipes, but memail me if you want some specific information.
posted by annsunny at 8:30 PM on November 1, 2010

The hooded towels for kids look very easy to make and are very cute. My cousin made some for his kids with their names on them. His kids looked like they loved them (just saw the pics).
posted by stray thoughts at 9:18 PM on November 1, 2010

I am making handmade soap for my family and friends. It's not hard...but I have to use lye (gulp) and that kind of scares me a bit.
posted by cobain_angel at 9:44 PM on November 1, 2010

I'm going to make caramel sauce and vanilla extract, put them in jars and mail them to people.

The caramel sauce is really easy to make and is dirt cheap:

1/4 cup corn syrup - heat until boiling in a narrow sided sauce pan
Gradually add 2 cups white sugar
Stir with wooden spoon

When mixture melts and becomes caramel colored, CAREFULLY add 2 1/2 cups
heavy cream (MIXTURE WILL STEAM AND SPUTTER and can burn your arm - but
if you heat the cream in the microwave first, it sputters less)
When mixture is smooth and medium brown remove from heat.
Add a few grains salt, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a few drops almond

Store in the refrigerator in a glass jar (I use a clean jam jar)
posted by Aizkolari at 2:22 AM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I made beanbags for my niece & nephew a couple years ago, using fabric scraps I had laying around.
posted by belladonna at 6:22 AM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: As someone who always gets hot in the biscuit to 'make stuff!' for her friends (especially around holidays), and who very quickly burns out over her lack of skill/time and then ends up running to the store to buy something at the last minute, my biggest advice would be to make a list and prioritize it.

Using knitting as an example, many projects take a lot of time and there are a lot of people out there who have no concept of that amount of time. Your scarf will end up in the back of the closet, after they're finished rolling their eyes, and it's hard not to have hurt feelings as a result. Decide who will most enjoy, appreciate and 'get' your handmade gift - and put them at the top of your list.

Having said that, I like to make those little cloth bags filled with rice/beans/lentils that are warmed in the microwave. I also like baking, so my husband and I make multiple batches of cookies, mix 'em up, and package them. The glass magnets are fun. You can make personalized notepads with pretty paper, rubber stamps or your printer, and some silicone glue. Do some simple embroidered tea towels (personalized!) or a small cross stitch sampler (from Subversive Cross Stitch, perhaps?). Make up little packets of your favourite recipes, on cute cards, if you're known for your cooking/baking. For the kids, you can make stuffed animals from old sweaters or create your own weird patterns and sew them out of felt. Another option is to head to your local craft store and see if they have any upcoming one-day classes (for making a bracelet, say, or painting a wooden box) that would teach you a new skill and end with you taking home something great for a gift.
posted by VioletU at 6:29 AM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I do handmade gifts for grown-ups I like to pair them with something else, or package them in a pretty way. It just makes it seem special, and not so much "look ma, I made this at school!"
For example, for Mother's day this year I knitted several organic cotton washcloths, paired them with handmade soap (purchased), and some relaxing blends of tea or a lavender sachet. Each little grouping went into a cellophane bag and was tied with raffia and ribbon.

It doesn't take a whole lot of extra time, and if you're doing several of the same thing it doesn't really cost much extra to buy a large bag of tea and break it up.
posted by purpletangerine at 7:37 AM on November 2, 2010

I sewed personalized Halloween bags out of felt for my nieces one year, and my sister-in-law specifically asked me to make one for the nephew for Christmas. So anything personalized for kids that might be used or sentimental might be good. Maybe Christmas stockings with their names on them?
posted by LilBit at 3:02 PM on November 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions! I did a search prior to posting and didn't find that September mefi . . . fail. I think what I will do will be something along the lines of what purpletangerine suggested -- make small things that complement small purchased gifts.
posted by imalaowai at 5:30 PM on November 2, 2010

Browse through Etsy. You'll see some disasters, and get some ideas.
posted by talldean at 2:42 PM on November 3, 2010

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