Christmas In July! DIY gifts for family & friends
July 3, 2014 11:53 AM   Subscribe

Due to family tragedy, last Christmas felt more like a never-ending marathon than a fun and meaningful holiday. I resolved that Christmas 2014 would be a more mellow, loving holiday that didn't involve hundreds of dollars flushed down the drain on disposable gifts. What are your ideas for meaningful Christmas gifts for family that take some time to make (or not!), don't cost much and might be actually appreciated and used?

I've seen the AskMe questions for DIY Christmas edibles and may incorporate those, but I'm curious about your ideas for crafts, photos, websites, experiences and other off-the-beaten-path gifts that don't cost much and could be planned in advance and don't scream "I only wanted to spend $10 on you". For example, I have a new baby niece and I'm planning on making her a doll that looks like her.

The ideas could involve thrift stores, urban foraging, internet research and time... just not oodles of $$. Thanks in advance!
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto to Human Relations (20 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Oh and if it helps: the recipients would be musicians, semi-outdoorsy adults, baby, elementary-school-age nieces/nephews.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2014

Gifts that clearly take a long time or required a lot of thought are fantastic. Like picking up a postcard/tchotchke in every city you go to, if you travel. Taking a beautiful photograph of someone's loved ones/children and having it photographed. Learning how to make a fancy dinner and cooking it for them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:03 PM on July 3, 2014

Are any of the little kids collector-types? A lot of kids would love a starter collection of seashells, foreign coins, etc.
posted by radioamy at 12:08 PM on July 3, 2014

Photo albums (either traditional ones where you stick the pictures in yourself or the printed "photo books") are great for families with small kids. We had a nice one where each page was themed - one with all pics of the kid with grandparents, one with them with aunts & uncles, one with pics of them on holiday, one with pics of them eating (messily), etc. It's nice because we tend to take tons of pics but most stay on our phones, and some go on Facebook but those are fairly transient. A nice photo album is a more permanent record of the previous year.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2014

One year I had a crapton more time than I did money, but I also had a sizeable stash of yarn. I think I started in September; I knit up a huge pile of hats, all in different sizes, colors, and styles, and just had them all in a big bag. And then when the whole family was there and we were getting to the unwrapping, I gathered everyone around, dumped them all out onto a table and said that everyone could pick whichever one they wanted. There were enough for some people to go back for seconds, and it actually got fun seeing who went for which hat (my uncle surprised the hell out of me by going for the pointy elf hat, but everyone agreed my wacky cousin should be the one to get the fish hat).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:10 PM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Assuming you're in the northern hemisphere, this is the best time of year to start canning! I like Food in Jars.
posted by pie ninja at 12:10 PM on July 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

Younger school-aged kids love to have new art supplies and you will be able to get them for cheap at the back to school sales.
posted by Flacka at 12:16 PM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm definitely in the "its the thought that counts" school as far as gift giving is concerned, though find that digging into the deeper recesses of people for Christmas presents is often rather a challenge; so my own taxonomy of gifting is as follows:

One of the best gifts are the most thoughtful ones; personally chosen books, framed photographs of yourselves together or gifts based on memories you both share are some of the best ones I've given and received.

Though if nothing else springs to mind and I'm forced into shopping for people I either tend to go for longevity and try to buy the classic example / platonic ideal of something that the recipient will appreciate; a steiff teddybear for a new baby, a hand thrown coffee mug, or a great pair of socks.

While if none of those appeal I tend to go with things people can use, use up and throw away, things like fancy toiletries, scented candles, potted plants, notebooks, interesting drinks or exotic foods.
posted by Middlemarch at 12:25 PM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

We make all our Xmas gifts. I've found that swanky packaging ups the perceived effort of the gift. I totally cheat at this and order custom packaging in October, but since it's handmade it looks like I made it and if asked, I flat out lie. I stuff the fortune cookie containers with handbaked treats, handmade soaps, glass ornaments, etc, none of which are costly to make.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

My SIL makes everyone awesome gift baskets for Christmas. Jars of candied walnuts, preserves, apple butter, BBQ sauce, cookies etc. Plus she throws in personalized stuff for everyone. Mine had a candle in a vintage teacup last year. Everything is really cutely packaged with little decorated tags.

Some of the more perishable stuff you couldn't do too far in advance, but you could certainly gather all the supplies - baskets, jars, etc. - and test recipes throughout the year.

Oh also if you've never made soaps and candles that can be fun. I made melt-and-pour soaps one year as gfits for my office. You can get basic stuff at Michaels, but the good stuff is at Brambleberry. Basically anything heat-safe can be a soap mould. I used silicone ice cube trays shaped like Christmas trees.
posted by radioamy at 1:34 PM on July 3, 2014

Fabric blocks for the baby. A quiet book would work for the baby or younger children. Maybe homemade playdough for the kids? There are tons of recipes for it online, scented, glittery, etc. You could gift it in a mason jar with a cookie cutter or other playdough tool attached. The actual dough couldn't be made too far in advance but it's quick and easy to make.

If any of the musicians have kids maybe a nice gift certificate for a night of babysitting so they could go out an enjoy a concert.

Nthing perishable items like food, candles and soaps for the adults.

What kind of skills do you have, i.e knitting, woodworking etc?
posted by Lay Off The Books at 2:20 PM on July 3, 2014

My go-to cheap, unique gift is logs of frozen cookie dough. You can go as gourmet as you like, and it's not necessary to spend a lot to make something really delicious.

The appeal of this over already-made cookies is that these can be made slice-and-bake style by the recipient whenever they're in the mood for fresh, hot cookies. It's really the gift of your time and effort, plus a couple bucks' worth of sugar and butter.

Any drop-style cookie works fine like this (for ease of slicing, avoid oatmeal and big chunky ingredients, although smaller bits like sliced almonds, smallish dried fruit, and mini chocolate chips work fine). Make dough, form into logs, wrap in plastic, freeze in ziplocs with baking instructions written on.

This recipe allows for a ton of variations and has always worked perfectly for me and never failed to make the recipient super happy. I recommend almond chocolate, chocolate cherry, and lemon poppyseed!
posted by jessicapierce at 2:26 PM on July 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

If having to make a LOT of gifts each year is a thing, maybe suggest drawing names or doing a Yankee gift swap? They don't have to be crappy gifts for that (we always fight over the tin of Godiva chocolate my brother in law tends to put in).

Like you might do it for the adults (i.e. people who already have Lots of Stuff) but everyone still gives to those under, say, 16.

(I am going to bookmark this though, because I am also tired of cheap plastic gifts destined for the landfill. Soaps and food for everyone!)
posted by emjaybee at 3:09 PM on July 3, 2014

Clove apples are my go-to hostessy type gift. Take whole cloves, stick into apple like ALL over, type ribbon around it. Classical Christmas ornament, potpourri in a convenient form... I start making them at Halloween and just do it while watching TV.
posted by RainyJay at 4:42 PM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Herb vinegars and homemade vanilla extract have been popular with my extended family. There are lots of options, particularly with vinegars, for including specific ingredients you know that the person likes, e.g. my father likes oregano and basil in salad dressings, while my partner's dad is really into spicy food so we made him a jalapeno and cilantro vinegar. You might have to spend a bit of $ for bottles, but even that could be creatively reused.
posted by brackish.line at 7:17 PM on July 3, 2014

I really want to make a family cookbook with recipes from my great grandmother, grandmother, mother, and myself, with scanned photos of the old faded handwritten recipes and/or food photos. Whenever I think about it as a holiday gift it's invariably too late to begin such a big project.

You can do this with the photo books on shutterfly and there are always cheap coupon codes etc so it isn't very expensive.
posted by gatorae at 8:20 PM on July 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

No-sew fleece blankets! Easy to make, not super expensive, and definitely usable.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:43 AM on July 4, 2014

One year my mother made some awesome puppets for all the kids in our extended family. They had painted papier-mache heads and cloth bodies made out of fabric scraps she had left from other projects. I remember that going down pretty well.
posted by shattersock at 2:45 AM on July 5, 2014

Oh! An idea for the younger kids - I've done this for baby gifts sometimes, but it'd work for toddlers as well (or, well, anyone, but it may start getting expensive) -

Get a simple set of acryllic paints in funky colors (even, like, a kids' set) and a simple pair of canvas sneakers. Then - paint the sneakers! You don't even have to do pictures or anything, just fun and funky colorblock design kind of things would work (the tongue is one color, the toe is another, the sides are another, etc.). You can get baby canvas sneakers for about ten bucks, and a set of paints can be used for more than one pair of sneakers.

Or, you can also use a set of Sharpie markers to decorate the sneakers; the Sharpies would be even cheaper.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:07 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Light up snowmen (snowpeople?)

Go to dollar store.

Purchase (per gift):
2 clear bowls (vases? candle holders?)
1 pair of fluffy socks
1 short strand of twinkle lights
Some felt (black and orange)

Go to home improvement store.

One can of spray glitter
One diamond-tipped drill bit

Go to thrift store:
Get as many scarves as you'll need

Spray inside of vases with glitter
Drill hole in the bottom of each vase
Run twinkle lights through two vases and place one on top of other
Cut off and place top of one fluffy sock and tie with yarn to make jaunty hat
Wrap section of scarf around neck of snowman (snowperson?)
Add eyes, nose & mouth with felt

posted by BeBoth at 6:33 PM on July 7, 2014

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