Christmas Planning: Make a Gift

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This morning I started thinking about Christmas. And when I start thinking about Christmas, my mind automatically goes to gift-making. I’ve always enjoyed making gifts and for several years, I made ALL of our gifts to give to family and close friends. (Yes, some would call me a glutton for punishment.)

But, I have always enjoyed the creative process and, hopefully, someone besides my mom was blessed by them.

I love to get new ideas, so I was especially pleased when I saw that Kisses of Sunshine is hosting Homemade with Love 2008. She’s got some great ideas of handmade gifts as well as Mr.Linky where you can share your ideas and pick up some new ones. Also, don’t forget to visit the Holidays by Hand round-ups. Go here for Simple Mom‘s collection of hand-sewn gifts as well as Small Notebook‘s compilation of paper craft ideas.

So here I am to shock and amaze you with my Amazingly Creative Gift Ideas of Christmases Past. But first some disclaimers:

* I am cheap. Cheap, cheap, cheap. Some, like my husband or mother, like to call me frugal. Isn’t that nice of them? Yes, generosity lurks in my heart, but when money is tight, I can rival Ebenezer Scrooge. I think it’s actually a battle between generosity and my “frugality”. I want to give gifts, but can’t necessarily come up with the cash to really do it right, so I search for a shortcut. Making all our Christmas gifts started the year we bought our first house. We really did not have the money to buy presents for our parents, siblings, nephews, etc. So, I had to be creative with what we had (scrapbook supplies) and made Christmas cards and calendars. It became a tradition of sorts. I honestly would have rather been able to buy what people really wanted, but that couldn’t happen. And most years, it can’t.

* I am not really that creative. I wish I were. But, God blessed my sister Jamie in that way. I read a lot, remember what I read, and try to execute. Sometimes, it works out. Other times, well, it really looks lame.

* I am semi-retired from giftmaking. Three years ago my husband wisely pointed out that my gift-making frenzy was costing our family something: peace in our home. I was frantic, working late at night, in addition to my regular load of childcare, homemaking, and schooling. I was not a fun person to be around and I wasn’t enjoying the season. Consequently, he insisted that I purchase gifts the next year and we saw that it was good.

Last year we found ourselves in a quandry. We were trying to be more responsible with our finances, and, therefore, quit using credit cards. No paying in January for the hamburgers today. Short on funds, we worked together on a gift. We tried not to let it sweep me away and in the end it was something we really enjoyed. So, let that be a lesson to ya! Let the giftmaking serve you, not the other way around.

And so after all that long-windedness, here are my ideas for fun and creative handmade gifts:

1. A DVD slideshow

We made this last year for our immediate family, all of whom lived far away. It was really fun to do and a great way to capture the year in photos. We used Windows Movie Maker and Roxio My DVD programs. The technical aspects were a little challenging. But our kids LOVE the end result, making it worth it. I would love to do another one this year. I may have to teach the kids the software so they can do it for me. Now we’re talking! Scroll down for the opening sequence. (I’ve been having problems getting this 2-minute clip to upload.) The entire video slideshow lasted about 20 minutes.

For more info on how to make a video, go here.

2. The At-Home Spa Kit.

One year I made lavendar milk bath and custom soaps to create an entire spa kit for all my lady friends and family. Everything was either handmade or purchased at the dollar store. Today I would try to score some deals at Walgreens and CVS. (Google soap making and lavendar milk bath if you want to make them yourself. There are a wealth of directions on the internet.) Here you can find my document that explains what to include and is a fun “how-to” to slip into your basket.

3. A Book of Days

This is an accordion folded calendar, embellished with photos and scrapbook accents that can be used year after year to record birthdays, anniversaries, etc. If you scrapbook or do paper crafts, you probably already have a lot of the needed supplies:


  • large art paper – I used Canson textured paper
  • photos
  • colored papers and other scrapbook embellishments
  • glue or other adhesive
  • all twelve months printed on long strips of card stock. I made these with the date and a line so the person could fill it in. For family I filled in the bdays and anniversaries (Let me know if you are interested, and I will send you the pdf so you don’t have to recreate the wheel.)
  • scissors
  • bone folder – a tool for making crisp creases in the paper.

Cut a long strip of art paper, 11 inches high. Fold it accordion style, so that there are 7 spaces. Make creases crisp with bone folder. Your 7 spaces on each side will allow for a cover, the 12 months, and a back. Decorate as desired. Tie closed with colorful ribbon.

4. Photo Names

Several years ago I read a blog that posted this fun photo idea. I set to work that fall snapping shots of “letters” everywhere we went so that I could make Christmas presents for the fam. Thankfully, I didn’t need every letter in the alphabet. But I found most. So, if you want to tackle this and are stumped for a letter, let me know. I just might have it. Take photos like this S:

To display the photos, you can crop, print, and get a custom matte to frame them. I could not afford that, though I think that would be best. I printed them at home in 1″squares and glued them to art paper and then framed them in thin narrow frames. For some gifts, I loaded the pics into Picture It! and created stationery.

5. Photo Tote Bags

This was one of my favorite gifts to make. I made 13 of these babies (yes, 13!) right before FishBoy7 was born. Since he was born in early Nov. it was the first time in my life when December wasn’t crazy — the presents were already done. It’s probably why I have fond memories of this project. It was so fun to see them all lined up on the couch. I used McCall’s pattern 2545 which was pretty easy to sew, though learning to sew vinyl was a little tricky at first. It was fun to customize the fabrice to suit the person.

That time I actually made one for myself. We use ours as a library bag during the school year and as a pool bag in the summer. I stick the pool passes in the photo slots so I never have to mess with pulling them out and showing them individually.

Well, at least the lifeguards are impressed….

Do you have a fun handcrafted gift idea? I’m in the market for an idea that the kids can help with. Share it here!

Related: Making Gifts

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  1. These are some great money saving ideas! Thanks for sharing. I like the letter one, especially. I think I’ll give it a try.

  2. I’ve done scrapbooky type gifts before and I make my own reusable gift “bags” that are actually a metal pail from Target’s dollar spot, wrapped in scrapbook paper and ribbon (I always have too much scrapbook stuff anyways!). I’ll have fun checking out all the links you shared. Thanks!

  3. What a cute video! I love the one of your boys with pillow in the jammies! So funny!

    For some of my ideas. I am a crafty/scrapbooking type of person so my gifts tend to go that way. Love to make items that go with a purchased item becasue I think it makes it more personal — photo bookmarks for books, napkin rings for napkins. Always make the scrapbook type calendar for the grandparents. At the end of the year they can cut off the binding and put in a book — instant scrapbook!

  5. Those are some great, creative ideas!

    A couple years ago when we simply had next to no money to spend on Christmas (and large families!), I crocheted scarves and hair bands for all my nieces, friends, and SILs our of fun, pretty yarns. This year, I’ve crocheted dish cloths out of cotton yarn and tucked them in mugs with mini dish soaps and hand lotions.

    Since my kids are 2 and 3, most of their helping involves choosing colors, decorating tags, putting sticker lables on the dish soap, etc. I look forward to more involvement in the future! 😉

    My 3-year old threads beads on pipe cleaners to make key-rings and has even made rosaries. He’s quite a patient, focused child though…

  6. Like any good Jew, I give gifts of food. 🙂

    Google this phrase: “oreo truffle”. Delicious beyond words, and you can mix it up by using mint oreos, or peanut butter oreos. Our family still loves the plain oreos the best, though.

  7. I love love love the video making idea. I can’t beleive I did not think of this myself! My husband is known by many in our community as the person to come to for making those cool videos you see at weddings. Displaying the bride and groom from birth up to when they met. He makes them constantly for weddings and even a few for funerals. I never thought of making them of our family through the year.

    I think for 2009 I could even be more prepared and take pics for the year in pics…spring, summer, fall scenes. etc.

    Thanks so much for this great idea!

  8. Last year we scanned in about 100 old photos from my parents and made it into a slide show for them. They loved it. They keep hinting that they would like an update.

  9. Wow, can’t believe how much your girls look alike. CUTE video! And YES, you are creative, crafty, all that. For those of us who truly have Zero talent in that area, it really means nada, nothing, big void in that area of the brain. Anyhow, your ideas are great, and I think it at least inspires me to TRY and see if I can accomplish something doable one for me. Great post!

  10. Found you on kissesofsunshine and love the idea of the birthday calendar. I’ve done something similar (ring bound) but would love to have your template to try another version.

    My email raje4 at yahoo dot com – thanks!

  11. Can I just say … for someone who doesn’t think she’s terribly crafty, you totally rock! I LOVE your ideas! Wonderful… and personal… and creative.


    Thank you for participating!!!

  12. i used to make a lasagna to freeze for each of Mac Daddy’s siblings + parents, but it took a lot of time. recently we just give money to a charity like Heifer Intl. in their name and give them a card saying that. even $5 per family is a big deal to someone in a place where they need water, a goat, etc. girl, i’m not only “frugal” but i’m a bit lazy and noncreative, too!

  13. wow! some neat ideas! this year i’m making scrabble jewelry (actually have it on my blog already! lol)

  14. I found you through Simple Mom. I love the idea of the birthday calendar. I would love to have your template to try.


    Secretmomthoughts (at) yahoo (dot) com

  15. I love so many of your ideas!!! Especially the accordian folded date book! Is there any chance you can send the file to me? I have adobe acrobat and ms word.
    Thanks so much!
    And happy crafting!!!

    1. Thanks. I will have to look in my files. I’ve switched computers since then.

  16. This year, I’m scanning my grandmothers recipes and saving them on a cd for my mom and printing a few to make cookbooks for my siblings. How pretty they look will depend on how long the scanning takes!