Tell me about the best handmade gifts you've received
November 16, 2011 11:49 AM   Subscribe

What are the best handmade gifts you've received?

In the past we've done baked goods, bath/toiletries, ornaments and handmade cards, but we're wondering what you might have received and loved. Between my husband and I we can tackle almost anything within reason. We like to cook, sew, do light carpentry and most things in between.

Our gift recipients are adults who have the capacity to purchase for themselves anything they actually want. We have a toddler, so we can do framed photos for the grandparents, but it would be great to send something else. Last year we sent fudge, brandied cherries and little rice filled warmers for but didn't hear much response either way.

posted by Nickel Pickle to Shopping (37 answers total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, one of the best "handmade" gifts I ever got was a mix tape I got from a high school friend. I share a birthday with George Harrison, and one year for my birthday he made me a set of 2 mix tapes -- one with all of George's big hits from when he was in the Beatles, and one with all of his solo greatest-hits.

It was REALLY low on frills and probably cost him nothing. But it hit a sweetspot of "wow, he took time over this" and "damn, this was also kind of personalized, that's awesome."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:10 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The toddler years are the beginning of the kids'-art-projects-as-gifts years. This year your toddler's handprints make a great ornament, and in coming years you can hoard all of his/her preschool/daycare/school-made art to frame as gifts, use as frames, scan in to make personalized cards, etc.

For local people, I've made a fridge-dependent version of Bailey's Irish Cream and a version of orange creamsicle liqueur, both of which have been well-received.
posted by headnsouth at 12:12 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

2nding taking time and personalizing.

One time my brother literally gave me money for Christmas, and it was probably only about 15 dollars worth, but the beauty part was how he presented it - he had separated it out into 58 cent packages and taped them together with a little cutout of a doughnut on top (at that time doughnuts used to cost 58 cents), then put all the little doughnut coin stacks into a little container I could keep in my car, decorated with doughnut images that read "treehorn+bunny's Donut Fund". Still one of my favorite handmade gifts.

We also have done for the grandparents, a personalized calendar that has family photos suiting the season for each month (these can be made on sites like KodakGallery or SnapFish) and then family members' birthdays marked on it. They go over very well.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:22 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

This is weird but I'm a garlic-fiend and my boyfriend's sister gave me some home-jarred-and-pickled garlic last year and I was thrilled.
posted by lovableiago at 12:23 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

It makes me feel like a total boozer to say this, but: infused vodka, from something classic like limoncello to something weird like vodka infused with ginger. Like homemade food, it's nice because it's consumable and thus not another THING (that potentially doesn't match any of my other things) that I have to now hang onto for years or feel guilty about; however, unlike homemade food, it stores a heck of a lot longer--no small consideration in a season when you're getting cookies and goodies everywhere and can end up a little overloaded on sugar. Plus at the risk of sounding like Scrooge, sometimes it can be weird to receive food like home-made fudge because of an admittedly irrational fear about it not being made under super-sanitary conditions and that little nagging hesitation keeps you from eating the fudge until it's a fudge brick and you toss it.

It isn't necessarily as prohibitively expensive as you might think, either. First, you're probably going to end up buying bottles with the stoppers to pour the stuff into, and with nice liquor there's not an expectation that you're giving a whole lot so you can buy small but cute bottles and still have it feel like a high-end present. Second, at least according to Cooks Illustrated, you can buy cheaper vodka and strain it several times (at least 5) through a Brita to get closer to the high-end vodka taste before infusing it with cranberries/ginger/lemon/whatever. It's an especially cool present to get if you're a drinker because even you have a relatively spendy liquor cabinet there's a good chance you stick with classic stuff and don't spend money on flavored liquors, making something homemade a treat that you wouldn't buy yourself.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:38 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ugh, sorry, I love my nieces and nephews, but the last thing I would want from them is a kid's handprint ornament or a piece of their art made half-heartedly.

Now I'm a huge fan of the idea of personalized coupon books. If my little niece gave me a coupon for a free hug or for a night of pizza just the two of us, THAT I would probably start bawling at and love for the rest of my ever-living life.

So why not create a hand-made book of coupons individually created for each person? Free night of babysitting? A night at the movies? Breakfast on you? 5 dogwalks? Housesitting for a weekend?
posted by HeyAllie at 12:43 PM on November 16, 2011

A few years ago a friend made me an eye pillow (like these), filled with lavender, with my name embroidered on it. The material she chose is just my taste, and my name was embroidered in cursive, lower-case letters. It is a lovely little pillow and it's a gift I will always keep. If you didn't want to make eye pillows, you could make lavender sachets instead-- there are so many shapes and styles of sachets out there. Happy gift making!
posted by seriousmoonlight at 1:02 PM on November 16, 2011

I knitted a scarf for a friend and I smile every time I see him wear it. I only know how to knit/purl rectangles and his was my first project. I chose a good color and thick, really soft yarn.
posted by shoesietart at 1:07 PM on November 16, 2011

It sounds like you have given a wide variety of handmade gifts over several years - so, what were the gifts that did get some kind of response? This could help people narrow down their suggestions, staying away from the kind of stuff that is known not to have worked, and focusing on things you could try in a different way or entirely new things.

If the recipients have consistently not provided a response either way, it is possible that they're just not into handmade gifts, and it may not be the case that there's some fantastic handmade gift out there you haven't tried yet. I say this because I have family members for whom handmade gifts are simply out of the question, and we're all happier by my giving them a gift certificate.
posted by needled at 1:10 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can also tell you about handmade gifts that I've GIVEN that seemed to go over well; I think the key elements are a) time, and b) customization. You can get away with a little less time if it looks like you did more with the customization.

To wit: I worked on a play once that was stricken with all sorts of ridiculous mishaps in the rehearsal stage -- we had to fire an actor and replace him, two other actors got 24-hour bugs, we had two people suffer deaths in their families (I was one), one of the actors cut his hand during the final dress and we had to call 911 to get him was like Murphy's Law. So for the opening night gifts for everyone, I raided my office's first aid kit for a bunch of individual aspirin and antiacid packets and got some envelopes, got a goofy pack of Snoopy bandaids and some Ghiradelli chocolates from a drug store, and used it all to make "Official Backstage First Aid Kits" for the cast and crew. It took me all of five minutes and cost me all of seven bucks, but everyone loved them because it was a spin on the mayhem we'd all been through.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here are some gifts I've given that have been loved:
Scarves and hats made from old ("re-purposed") sweaters.
Screenprinted t-shirts.
Hand-sewn tea sachets, each with individual/selected-just-for-me blends
Wooden spoons, hand-carved.
Refillable journal bound in a scrap of leather.
Leather belts and cuffs made to fit the recipient
Ginger beer, root beer, cream soda.

Some gifts I've received and loved:
Lockpicks made from filed-down street sweeper blades
A few really charming items of clothing, mostly simple skirts.
Homemade firecrackers (handle with care)
Ginger beer, again!
Fantastic (but not personalized) hand-drawn year-in-review zines
posted by soviet sleepover at 1:21 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have really enjoyed:
  • honey-based lip balm
  • soap
  • any kind of knitted outerwear (scarf, hat, fingerless gloves, etc)
I would've loved to have received the oversized homemade buckwheat-filled heating pad (made of flannel, with extra long ties to go around the waist/torso for back pain) that one of my friends once got as a homemade gift.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:25 PM on November 16, 2011

Oh! soviet sleepover gave me another idea -- the "repurposed" thing also was something my aunt did. When my mother cleaned out our grandfather's house after he died, he gave my aunt Grandpa's bathrobe so she could maybe make a dog bed out of it -- but instead, my aunt used the fabric to make sachets for all the girl grandkids.

It wasn't just a big hit because "aww, sweet, a homemade sachet," it was a big hit because ", Grandpa's bathrobe!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best hand-made gift I ever received was a quilt. But that's probably more work than you are willing to put in this year, at least.
posted by lollusc at 2:14 PM on November 16, 2011

I haven't received too many handmade gifts but I gave my boyfriend a scarf a few years ago that went over really well. Actually, I gave him a coupon for a handmade scarf of his choosing and then showed him all my sewing books and told him what I was capable of making for him, what size the scarf would be, types of fabric that would work well with each scarf. Then we picked out material together and he wears the scarf all the time now! So I think customization is key.
posted by jabes at 2:18 PM on November 16, 2011

The toddler years are the beginning of the kids'-art-projects-as-gifts years. This year your toddler's handprints make a great ornament, and in coming years you can hoard all of his/her preschool/daycare/school-made art to frame as gifts, use as frames, scan in to make personalized cards, etc.

I'm going to veto this, and I'm a parent. You love your kids. Your relatives love your kids in small doses. A toddler's handprint ornament for your own tree is great, and you can certainly show it off to others, and keep it for your toddler to pass on when he/she grows up. But no one else is going to treasure that kind of thing in the same way you will. And if they don't use a frame, or throw it away, they will feel terribly guilty, and you might get offended. Keep those for yourself.

I like hand-sewn gifts, like aprons or embroidered hand towels--everyday things I would use anyway, just personalized. And I love home-made baked goods!
posted by misha at 2:20 PM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

If it contains chocolate, I'm in, big time. If it contains banana bread in any shape, form or fashion, I'm throwing up on you right now. Thanks for thinking of me.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2011

For Christmas this year, I'm going all handmade. Well, MOSTLY handmade. For my female family members/friends, I'm going with "Pamper Baskets". I'm including all sorts of homemade sugar scrubs, lip balms, bath poufs, candles, soaps, etc. I'm going to include a homemade scarf as well as handmade flower pins/hair things/accessories. Its something different and a bit more heartfelt than what I've done in the past.
posted by TurquoiseZebra at 2:31 PM on November 16, 2011

Here's another parent-of-young-children saying no, no, no, to their handmade gifts.

Unless you're amazingly good at what you do -- for example, you're an amazing quilter, or can blow your own glass ornaments -- the best handmade gifts are ones that go away. Food is great. Coupons are great. Things that I am expected to keep forever but that will add to the clutter or don't do their job as well as a nice machine-made item would... please don't.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:55 PM on November 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

My most successful gifts might stretch your definition of "handmade" and may not work for you, but they might give you inspiration for some out-of-the-box ideas.

The first was a customized crossword puzzle, complete with lots of in-jokes and personalized clues. I wrote this for my boyfriend just after he had introduced me to the world of competitive puzzling. The second was a short, but fully personalized, Zork-style, text adventure game I wrote for the same retro game-loving boyfriend several years later. I'm also a gamer, but I had roughly zero coding or game writing experience going in, so despite not costing me a dime, it was a huge labor of love. Even though both presents were riddled with flaws, the recipient was SUPER delighted in both instances, I assume because he recognized the amount of care and thought that went into them.

For a more easily replicable option, I'd heartily second EmpressCallipygos suggestion of a mix tape. About 15 years ago, I made a mix for my mother, and to this day, she still listens to it and occasionally calls me to let me know how much she appreciates it when she has it on.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:07 PM on November 16, 2011

Last Christmas my daughter-in-law made some beautiful chocolate truffles and put them in Ikea jars with a festive ribbon to give to family and friends. Not only were the truffles delicious, the jars have been stupidly useful throughout the year and I'll be dropping ginormous hints from now until December 24 that she repeat the gift. Every year.
posted by humph at 3:30 PM on November 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

Homemade gifts that we've been given or have made ourselves:
* English toffee
* Homemade caramels
* Personalized cookbook with favorite family recipes
* A hollow book "safe" like this one
* Clock made out of pretty tea tins or guava paste tins like this one. You can buy the clock kit online and drill a hole in a pretty tin...voila!

What I'm thinking to make this year:
* Tea towels with a design painted on by freezer stencil
* Homemade pickles
* 52 Things I Love About You deck of cards
posted by biscuits at 3:31 PM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

A good friend in high school was on a knitting/crocheting kick for a few years...the first Christmas, I got a scarf. The next year, it was a hat with the same yarn, and, the best best best of all was the last year, when she crocheted me a huge granny square blanket, with the same color yarn (and an offset).

The blanket was/is incredible, because I know how time consuming it must have been, and every time I use it, I think of her.

*Also depends who you are giving it to. Last year I knitted scarves in different colors for the different people in my office. Some were super "meh, another scarf" about it, but some were moved practically to tears.
posted by firei at 3:57 PM on November 16, 2011

I'm a teetotal now, but back in the day we used to mix up a huge batch of spirited egg nog, and tart up the bottles with ribbons and tags and give them out to friends. The recipe was delicious!

Gather approx 18 liter bottles (or equiv) to store. You can use the empty bottles from the ingredients to start. Make sure you've got a huge (sanitized) party tub to mix this in and a funnel to help bottle it up.

1 liter bottle light rum
1 liter bottle dark rum
1 bottle brandy (not fruit flavored)
1 bottle sherry (like a cream sherry)
3 gallons egg nog
6 eggs, beaten
1 gallon vanilla ice cream

Mix all the liquids, then add the eggs, then let the ice cream melt in the eggnog. Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg over all and bottle it. Store in the fridge. It tastes even better after several days. (If I were to do this today, I'd let the recipient know about the raw eggs in the ingredients, though I doubt any kind of bacteria could survive for very long in this stuff!)
posted by anemone at 4:18 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mrs. Methods makes these great homemade Christmas stockings. It's a simple sewing job, plus maybe some gluing and/or fabric painting. She decorates them with the name of the recipient plus a bunch of little decorations that are personalized for the recipient (referencing their interests, hobbies, favorite things/colors, etc). Then she stuffs them full of little gifts. Mostly just little things, but usually one nicer item. Well-received by kids and adults both, and of course the stockings then get re-used year to year.
posted by madmethods at 4:30 PM on November 16, 2011

I really liked a jar of homemade caramel sauce that I received as a teacher gift. You could do a selection of similar sauces in small jars and use your woodworking skills to package them in little made-to-size crates.

Similarly, +1 on the homemade pickles.
posted by lakeroon at 5:22 PM on November 16, 2011

About 15 years ago, I made a mix for my mother, and to this day, she still listens to it and occasionally calls me to let me know how much she appreciates it when she has it on.

*snerk* Actually, you've reminded me of another "mix tape" data point -- I sent my Bo Diddley-fan father a CD mix of songs that all use the Bo Diddley riff as a father's day lagniappe; about two days later, I got a call from my mother to inform me that he had immediately ripped it open, popped it into a boom box and went out to the back porch with one of his cigars to enjoy it properly. I could hear it blasting in the background as well (Dad briefly came on to rave about it, but then Bowie's "Panic In Detroit" came on and he wanted to go listen to it and gave the phone back to mom.)

If you know your audience the mix tape can REALLY work well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is more of a given gift that got good reviews, but Pie in a jar. Adorable, disposable (this matters to a lot of the people I gift to) and they have a handy jar afterwards. Plus if you are able to gift them frozen, the recipient has a stash of (somewhat) instant pick me up for dreary days (nothing makes me feel better like apple pie does).

I've also done cross-stitched table runners, (I wanted to stitch a set of matching table linen, but ran out of time), but that's a bit time intensive :)
posted by platypus of the universe at 6:06 PM on November 16, 2011

bacon caramels
glass blob magnets, presented in altoids tins
One year, I scanned a bunch of family photos, named the files accurately - Jane, ca. 1986 - put them in folders by decade, and made copies. Packaged in a personalized cd jewelcase. Tons of work, but a great way to share old family pictures.
posted by theora55 at 7:02 PM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

One year I bought some lazertran paper, which can be used to bake images onto stuff like metal or ceramics or glass (read instructions carefully before using! Can't remember if you need a laser or inkjet printer. Don't take to a copy shop to do the printing - it melts with the intense heat and they won't do it for you.)

Anyways, I took photos I had of a couple and their kids, took just the heads of each person and stylized them into sort of a sketched/outline look with photoshop so they looked really cool and baked the images onto small basic white tiles you get at the hardware store. Make holes; now they can go on the walls. Looks neat if there are four so you can hang them in a square. Also decorated an Ikea lamp with recipient's favorite poem this way.

- Husband got and loved a framed picture of the country road leading to his childhood/family home in the fall. So, picture of sentimental place.

- My sister painted a picture to go in my then 6-month-old daughter's room. It said "You're Fired!" - inside joke. Best thing ever.

- She also painted and framed a sort of family tree bird where the last name goes on the bottom and the family member names go on the feathers. Kind of like this. I love it.
posted by kitcat at 8:04 PM on November 16, 2011

Well, you know your family best -- but for everyone else? FOOD. Wonderful, unique, special and blessedly gone. Even if the people you give the candied ginger to don't like candied ginger (or pickles, or chutney, or whatever) they'll have something to pass along to others.

My Dad's friend brings over a bag of homemade peanut brittle every Christmas.

Shortbread. Make it now, and let it sit. Dip some in dark chocolate. Or fudge. Or gingerbread. Or whatever you make that's wonderful.

My uncle made homemade jam every year, and shipped jars to everyone.
posted by jrochest at 12:39 AM on November 17, 2011

A hot cup of tea and a lie-in.
posted by pracowity at 3:36 AM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

This website has great roundups of DIY gift ideas:

I am nithing the no-kiddie-gift idea. I love my kids, but only their grandparents would appreciate crap they made.

I love receiving gifts that are usable/edible/etc.
We've done birdseed wreathes, bath salts, infused vodkas, liqueurs like limoncello, spoons dipped in chocolate, rum balls, cookie assortments.
posted by LittleMy at 5:42 AM on November 17, 2011

My fiance's sister made us wine-glass markers a couple years ago that we use frequently and absolutely love! They are similar in kind to these from Amazon, but it was very special that they had taken the time to choose charms that had meaning for us (a guitar, a motorcycle, etc.), and I'm sure they were pretty cheap to make. It would also be a fun project for children of the right age.
posted by angab at 10:17 AM on November 17, 2011

Last year, I cured my own bacon and gave out about a pound each to people as gifts.

It may sound intimidating, but it's pretty simple: You mix the spices together, rub them into a pork belly, leave it in the fridge for a week, rinse it, bake it, then slice & cook. The hardest part is finding the ingredients (curing salt can be found at Williams Sonoma or for cheap on Ebay) and slicing the bacon (I've read that a meat market may let you use their slicer, but haven't tried.) One pork belly is roughly 15 pounds, so you'll have enough bacon for at least a dozen people.

Everyone loved it, and the bacon is significantly better than anything store-bought. Seriously. MeMail me if you want more details.
posted by Turkey Glue at 1:43 PM on November 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

My friend made me a blanket once that I really love -- I think its just a big piece of felt or fleece or something, with a trim in a different color. (My impression is that he bought the fleece, glued or sewed on the trim, then did some decorative stitching with wool.) I use it all the time, and it's totally cozy, and I love that he made it for me.
posted by cider at 5:07 PM on November 17, 2011

With the kid stuff, it really depends on your audience. Handmade kid-made ornaments have been a bit hit in my family with Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and one set of friends in particular. We've never done handprints but I have done felt shapes (circles, diamonds, stocking shapes) that I let him glue decorations to. A big hit every year.

I'm not sure if this counts as "home made" but I do a calendar every year for that same audience that has photos of my kid (January 2012 will show photos from Jan 2011, for example) -- I have them printed through Winkflash. They take some time to put together, but they've been a big hit and now I have *friends* asking if they too will get a calendar this year. They're about $10 each.

I've also been known to by small tins at the dollar store or fancy/amusing drinking glasses at resale and make candles in them. Candlemaking takes some work, but if you learn to do it well you can make some really terrific gifts.

Also, homemade vanilla. Super simple, but you have to start pretty far in advance.
posted by anastasiav at 10:01 AM on November 19, 2011

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