Santa's little helper needs a little help.
December 17, 2010 4:41 AM   Subscribe

Like a lot of families, Christmas will be pretty small in our house this year. I am pretty crafty and I was hoping for some ideas of small, easy presents I can make for my kids.

We are lucky, my husband actually has a job. Unfortunately on a regular month we barely make ends meet, so extra expenses really can't happen. Last year there was some Holiday overtime, this year nothing. My husband got his last check before Christmas today and it is pretty puny.

I could go to the dollar store and buy some stuff, but I would rather spend the money on supplies than just buying junk that will break or fall apart.

Santa is bringing the kids a used Wii that comes with a few games, so their 'big' present is taken care of. I just need some smaller things to be from Mom and Dad.

I need projects that are pretty quick to whip up but that are still fun, especially for older kids. I have a 10 year old girl, a 7 year old boy, and a 2 1/2 year old boy.

I knit and crochet, but not very quickly. My yarn stash is very small, so things that work up in an afternoon that only take one color are preferred so that I'm not spending a ton on yarns.

I sew and have a lot of extra fabric that my MIL gave me so small, easy sewing projects would be great.

My kids like art supplies, normally something like homemade Play-Doh would be great but my daughter has Celiac Disease so stuff with flour is out (she'd have a reaction playing with wheat flour and gluten free flour is too expensive to use for anything but eating.)

It's really cold out here, so I'd like to avoid things that need to be done outside.

We're probably going to be buying the kids socks and underwear and wrapping those, so I really want to make toys and fun stuff. I think the kids will be disappointed if all they have to open under the tree turns out to be stuff they 'need' instead of fun things.

Please Hive, help me make Christmas not suck!
posted by TooFewShoes to Grab Bag (32 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
You might make them a gift of a promised day of fun in the near future.
Like a trip to a nearby state park to hike and watch birds, or a trip to the local big city to see some sights, or whatever.

Plan a day that does not cost much, then make a card about it. Kids usually like things like that.
posted by Flood at 4:54 AM on December 17, 2010 [4 favorites]

Are you familiar with the Crafty Crow kid's craft blog? I'm not a parent, but I'm a big fan. Perhaps you'll be able to use it in two ways - there are some things to make for kids, but also things you can make with kids. I wonder if you could instead of making things for them, you could make craft kits and a coupon for "alone time with mom" to do them.

Also, Sew Mama Sew did a series of "crafted gifts for..." that has some super cute stuff. I never plan ahead far enough to craft for the holidays, but I've got a ton of things bookmarked from her suggestions for future projects.
posted by librarianamy at 5:13 AM on December 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

My sister had a tight Christmas last year and one thing they gave my niece and nephew were two coupons, one each for a Mommy afternoon and a Daddy afternoon. With one week notice the kids could have an afternoon just with Mommy or Daddy to go out for lunch. It went over really well and the kids still tell me about THEIR day with their parents and the fun they had. It really made them feel special.

If you knit and crotchet one of my favorite small gifts from a neighbor were a few knit balls of different sizes stuffed with the cheap pillow fiber. They were so soft we could throw them around in the house and not worry about things too much, or hurt each other winging them around.

Or my knit scarf that was open at one end and a snake head at the other. So I could wear my snake puppet toy all winter. Could be a dragon or many other things.

With lots of fabric you could always take some of their drawings and bring them to life as a stuffed playset.
posted by Animus at 5:21 AM on December 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

My grandmother once sewed us grandkids throw pillows shaped in our initials and a fabric drawstring bag to keep special things in.
I, too, like the idea of making something with your children. You could wrap the supplies up and put a picture of the finished product in (at least for the older ones) and then schedule a time to make it with them. I did this for my niece with an art project for her wall that includes fabric, mod podge, tempera paint, and a canvas frame I got on sale. It's on Martha's website: ">Painted Fabric Silhouettes.
posted by LilBit at 5:54 AM on December 17, 2010

Sorry. Here:
posted by LilBit at 5:55 AM on December 17, 2010
posted by LilBit at 5:56 AM on December 17, 2010

I've never met a kid who didn't love polymer clay. That's the stuff that's sold in small blocks in craft stores that you bake in the oven. The resulting figurines will be hard and durable enough to be played with. It's like play-doh, but with a much larger target audience, and no gluten.

The blocks look pretty puny at first, but the figurines should only be an inch or so in thickness, maximum, so a few can go a long way. I would buy a few blocks and make a figurine for each kid and put it in their stocking along with a few of their own so they can make their own stuff. I know a few kids about the same age as your older two who use the clay to make their own action figures, decorations for their backpacks, and accessories.

Michael's makes a house brand that is cheap and just as good as the name brand stuff. For a few dollars you should be able to buy enough to keep them occupied for hours or days.
posted by Alison at 6:04 AM on December 17, 2010

If you can get a chocolate mould and good quality chocolate (I use Green and Blacks which is about £2 per bar in the UK, or the supermarket 'finest' equivalent which is cheaper - you can use cheap chocolate but you'd have to temper it which sounds scary) you can make shaped chocolates for them. Or you can package together chocolates and moulds and make them together in January.

A small tote for a girl would be good - something with long strap so she can carry her book or paints or whatever she likes doing. If you drive, it can be something she takes in the car with her to keep her busy - you could fill it with something relevant.
posted by mippy at 6:07 AM on December 17, 2010

I don't remember where this idea originally came from but it was a big hit for my daughter and nieces one Christmas. Buy the super cheap (2 for $1) marble copybooks at the drugstore or Walmart. Get a remnant of some printed, colorful fleece fabric (or maybe you have some). Hot glue the fabric around the notebook, then trim the excess with an exacto knife. Now they have a cool journal or doodle book. I think this could actually work for all 3 kids.

We also made bookmarks one year with photos of the kids doing things during the year, printed and covered with clear contact paper to give as gifts to people in the family.

My grandmother crocheted my son a soccer ball pillow that he loved.
posted by maxg94 at 6:12 AM on December 17, 2010

Bandana Tote Bag

Their own Snuggie

Children's toolbelt

Whammy Diddle

Rose Barrettes

Hooded Bath towel

Does your 10 year old know how to knit/crochet? If not, perhaps you could bundle a little of that yarn up, get her her own knitting/crochet needles and present it with a coupon for a knitting/crocheting lesson from you.

Scour the house for extra scrap paper, or start saving paper now. Package it up with a bow and include instructions on how to make paper using the scrap. Alternatively, package up scrap paper and present it with some crayons and pencils.

One year I printed off a bunch of coloring pages from the internet. My daughter was really into horses so I printed off a lot of horse coloring pages.

Make them each an ornament - perhaps using a pinecone and some glitter.

Get them their own cup/glass or use ones you already have to relegate to the cause. Get that etching stuff and etch their names into the cups.

Jewelry - do have you a piece of jewelry that you no longer use that your daughter might like?

Make them some GOO! No flour needed. Our kids LOVE it.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:13 AM on December 17, 2010

Kid sized aprons and capes are very quick to sew. I made my son a toddler-sized apron (free pattern in the sidebar), and I'm sure you could find larger ones around. Super hero capes have been popular with my nephews and I made my niece a Little Red Riding Hood cape this year for her birthday (based on this pattern).

There are lots of things you can sew with thrifted, felted, wool sweaters.

I also love giving craft kits that I put together as gifts. One of my nephews is getting a plain, unadorned plush robot packaged with a bunch of little shapes cut from felt and a bottle of fabric glue so that he can "build" his own robot. I think this would make a great craft kit for older kids (Kool-aid is dirt cheap and the silk scarves are surprisingly inexpensive. I've dyed yarn using this method and it's really fun.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 6:24 AM on December 17, 2010

If you knit and crotchet one of my favorite small gifts from a neighbor were a few knit balls of different sizes stuffed with the cheap pillow fiber. They were so soft we could throw them around in the house and not worry about things too much, or hurt each other winging them around.

OK, I'm a full-grown adult and those sound AWESOME. Also great for potentially learning to juggle!

Also, maybe making each of them a batch of cookies? Or rice krispie treats?
posted by kpht at 6:49 AM on December 17, 2010

I find a lot of great ideas on Dollar Store Crafts.

Do they have their own stockings? I made a really cute stocking for my Secret Quonsee and it wasn't expensive. You could take as little or as much time as you want.
- Rather than buying fabric, go to Walmart or the like and get two cheap fleece throw ($3-$5). One for the main color and one for the "cuff." At first it feels weird cutting a blanket but it's so much more economical!
- Make a pattern out of cardboard for the stocking, then one for the cuff (which should be a little wider than the stocking width).
- I like to sew the pieces together with embroidery thread and the buttonhole/blanket stitch but you could also use a sewing machine.
- Embellish however you like! For my Quonsee I cut out little bird shapes from felt (she likes songbirds) and appliqued them on with a whip stitch. However you could embroider their names, or use iron-on letters or whatever you want! Felt is really cheap (you can buy packs at Dollar Tree, or letter-sized sheets are like 50-cents at Michael's) and it's pretty easy to cut out letters, shapes, etc. I bet your kids will love having their own personalized stockings!
posted by radioamy at 6:57 AM on December 17, 2010

Oh if you're looking for crafts online for your leftover fabric, search for 'stashbusting.'
posted by radioamy at 6:59 AM on December 17, 2010

For the little one, you could write/illustrate a children's book featuring him or her -- just write it on copy paper, draw funny/odd pictures, slip the pages into plastic oversheets and bind it together with brads. My older sister did some of these for me when I was small and I remember enjoying them.
posted by frobozz at 7:09 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

Have you taught your daughter (or older son) how to knit or crochet yet? If they've ever shown any interest, what about a pair of needles or a hook, a fresh ball of yarn all their own, and the promise to spend some quality time teaching them the skill?

(Just taught my 8-year-old how to knit, and she's delighted with herself, plus the time spent snuggled next to each other on the couch for lessons was more snuggle-time than she's been willing to give me for a while, so it was kind of a gift to myself!)
posted by padraigin at 7:29 AM on December 17, 2010

One thing I have never forgotten from my poverty stricken childhood: for kids in the extended family age 1.5 to 3, my mom would usually buy an extraordinarily cheap flashlight from the dollar store. I remember as a kid totally rolling my eyes at her but eating crow while watching a delighted toddler inspect the underside of the couch.

And for the older kids how about a shadow puppet theater and associated puppets? The toddler can get in on the act with his flashlight.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:30 AM on December 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

How about buying an inexpensive pillow case for each of the older children and using some fabric paint to personalize each case.

I did this for my sisters when I was in high school and working after school at a minimum- wage job. My sisters (now 25, 27 and 32) still talk about how much they loved their pillow cases.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 7:33 AM on December 17, 2010

Mix up ingredients for meals (sort of like those cookies-in-jar things) and then let them play Chef?

I love the idea of a cape for the boys.

I have four little ones, and I know hard hard any ideas are, much less cheap ones. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 7:35 AM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: You guys are awesome! I've already found a few things that I think will work really well.

Anybody have a link to a tutorial for the superhero capes?
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:57 AM on December 17, 2010

This Christmas, for my little cousins, I'm getting them each a bucket filled with art supplies. I found good prices on Googly eyes, glue dots, lots and lots of pipe cleaners, beads, string, construction paper.

I also considered getting them this origami kit.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:06 AM on December 17, 2010

You could make an 'I spy' bag for the 2.5 year old - it's basically a fabric bean bag with a clear view window, filled with little toys for the player to find. You could pick up an assortment of little toys at the dollar store, or I'm sure could find random trinkets around the house.

Flourless play goo:

Do your kids have an assortment of older, broken crayons? They can be melted together in a muffin tin to make rainbow crayons.

If you could spare a few eggs (or use the innards for eating) you could make confetti eggs, which while generally an Easter thing, would be great fun any time of year:
posted by noxetlux at 8:24 AM on December 17, 2010

sigh, links:

i spy bags:


confetti eggs:
posted by noxetlux at 8:26 AM on December 17, 2010

For the older one, stuff to make their own chess set, the figures can be anything you can find cheap/free in quantity.
posted by saucysault at 9:14 AM on December 17, 2010

We didn't have much money when I was a kid, and my mom always did a great job making us things as presents. A couple I really remember fondly: a small, heart-shaped pillow with lace around the edges, infused with a peppermint scent (she told me it was to put in my dresser drawer to make my clothing smell nice); also, a colorful crocheted hat and scarf set. One other thing: she made my little brother and I each a duffle bag with designs embroidered on. My brother's was brown with spiders and webs, and mine was blue with butterflies. Making a tote like others have suggested above would be a great gift, I think.
posted by JenMarie at 9:54 AM on December 17, 2010

I make capes with leftover fabric and kids love them -- even 10 year olds can pretend to be Harry Potter (or Hermione). We always have extras lying around, and let visiting kids take them home. No big deal -- just decide the length you want and gather the top, or cut a half circle for a swooshier cape. Make the neck with some double sided bias tape, and attach ties or a decorative hook closure. My daughter likes to color on her capes -- fabric pens work, but so do plain old Sharpies.
posted by Malla at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2010

Sorry if any of these are duplicates. I haven't clicked through every link above.

Monster Art Totes with some inexpensive markers/colored pencils and paper in it (it says preschoolers but I think older kids would enjoy it too!)

Locker Caddy for the ones in school

Art Case (I love this one) (add supplies)

Sewing/Embroidery Kit (you could make something really creative here I think -- VERY quick and easy and inexpensive)

If you have any oilcloth or vinyl, these project keepers might be really cute, especially as a set of multiples.

Good luck!! I think you'll have a beautiful handcrafted holiday :)
posted by hansbrough at 3:33 PM on December 17, 2010

When I was about your daughter's age, my big present one year was to choose a paint color for my room. My dad helped me paint and I was so excited to have power and control like that over my space. Could be a good gift for your two older kids!
posted by paddingtonb at 3:41 PM on December 17, 2010

Monsters! I love these guys (although I don't have any). It should be easy to come up with a design and make them. Any imperfections just add to the charm. They are mostly made of felt or fleece, but any fabric will do.
posted by deborah at 3:59 PM on December 17, 2010

As stocking stuffers this year, we bought our 2 girls (aged 5 & 3) pocket flashlights and magnifying glasses. They also love rolls of tickets so they can play games like Zoo Train (line up chairs, put stuffed animals and siblings in chairs, take turns being engineer and caboose).

I made them tutus for Halloween -- bought a roll of 6-inch-wide, 100-yard tulle ribbon for each tutu, wound it round a chair, and made one cut -- you end up with a bunch of strips of tulle and you just do a fast slipknot with each strip over either elastic sewn at the end, or a long strip of ribbon (which you can tie in a bow for the skirt waist). Each one took about half an hour, and the tulle ribbon was 10 bucks a roll on amazon. They make BIG puffy tutus! More ribbon wound on something longer would make a larger tutu for an older kid.

I also love the My Little Hen craft blog and am making little stuffed denim bunnies from her Homemade book.

I should add that I am not at all a sewer and only dabble in crafts... these are so easy!

A woman in my Bible study came one day with a little printout of a retro robot -- she glanced at it and freehanded some robot embroidery on one of her son's sweatshirts. It was mostly boxes, very easy to do.

Merry Christmas -- hope you have a wonderful loving one with your family this year.
posted by mdiskin at 5:01 PM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: I don't want to mark any best answers because they are all great! The links to blogs with huge lists of lots of projects have been the most helpful.

I found quite a few projects from librarianamy's Sew Mama Sew link, one of which I was able to whip up while the big kids were at school yesterday

I also really like the hooded towels that Sassyfras linked to. If I can manage it I'm going to try to make those too.

I did find a tutorial for the super hero capes. My older two kids already have them, but I might make one for the youngest.
posted by TooFewShoes at 6:01 AM on December 18, 2010

Response by poster: Update:

Christmas was wonderful! Thank you guys so much!

The Sew Mama Sew site was really the most helpful, so a great big Thank You goes to Librarianamy!

Two MeFites (who shall remain nameless for their privacy) sent me things at their own expense to add to my kids' Christmas. One sent children's books and another sent a box full of art supplies that Santa used to fill the kids' stockings. A huge, immensely grateful Thank You goes to them! I had my own Christmas Miracle!
posted by TooFewShoes at 5:44 AM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]

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