Handmade Gifts

This is the second part of my 3-part series on non-consumer holiday gift giving. Yesterday I talked about “experiential” gifts, tomorrow I’ll give you some ideas for super-frugal (under $10) gifts. Today we’ll talk about handmade gifts.
If the word handmade conjures up images of styrofoam animals or ceramic ashtrays gathering dust, those are not the kind of gifts I’m talking about. There are millions of crafty blogs where you can get that kind of thing. I haven’t done any needlepoint, crochet, or macrame since I was about ten, and I don’t think I’ll be starting anytime soon. So only a few of these gifts might entail a trip to a craft store, mostly I’ll be taking a different direction.
1. Mix CD. A great gift! If I had to get rid of all my CDs today, I would miss my mix CDs the most. I’ve held onto many of them for years. I love the creative combinations people come up with, putting me in a certain mood or frame of mind. Best of all, I always think of the person who made it for me while I’m listening. Making these can be time-consuming, but very creative and surprisingly fun. Books that celebrate and cherish the significance of the mix tape: High Fidelity (also made into a movie) and Love is a Mix Tape.
2. Herb garden. This is seasonal and weather-dependent, but a few herbs in a pretty pot makes a wonderful gift. My friend made this herb garden for me for my birthday this year, and I love the pretty bowl and have used the herbs countless times. And I think of her whenever I snip off a little thyme.
3. Jam/jelly/marmalade. I’ve never taken on this project, but I love receiving these gifts. If you want to give it a try, there are tutorials all over the Internet.
4. Baked goods. Since I love to bake, I give a lot of quickbreads and cookies at the holidays. People who work in offices tend to get overloaded with this kind of thing, so I limit it to the people I know really love that particular cookie or bread. Holiday favorites are pumpkin bread, gingerbread, shortbread cookies, and bourbon balls.
5. Other food. If you have an apple tree, a lemon tree, or an abundance of any other kind of fruit, it can make a lovely gift. Even a clipping of herbs can be added to a basket. Or get creative and make food other than baked goods, like candy. I used to make fudge for my grandpa when I was little, and I have a friend who makes beautiful chocolate-covered dried fruit.
6. Beaded bracelets. I love these bracelets that I saw on Compact by Design. I even met Leigh in person and she brought me her leftover beads and some crimps to get me started. So I’m making some of these simple bracelets for my niece, my husband, and a few friends. Michael’s or another craft store has everything you need: beads, elastic thread, crimps, and a crimping tool.
7. Other jewelry. It would be a stretch to say I “made” the necklace in the photo, but I did put it together from items at a bead store. And my friend is going to love it! You’d be surprised at the cool pendants and things you can find at bead stores, and even at Michael’s.
8. Framed photo or photo album. Digital photography has made a printed photo more exotic, and I love giving and receiving a photograph in a cool frame. The best is one of you and the recipient having a good time. And it’s a real labor of love to put together a photo album for someone. My mom did this for me one year and the album with all its notes and descriptions is one of my most treasured gifts ever.
9. Knit hats or scarves. Of course if you knit or crochet, you know that these are awesome gifts.
10. Board games. I once made a time-travel board game for my brother that involved meeting famous people in history and curing diseases, that type of thing. Time-consuming but fun, the possibilities are endless.
11. Ornaments. My parents still hang a little felt Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer that I made when I was about six on their tree every year. But handmade ornaments have gotten much more sophisticated since the 1970s. Check out this link for some great ideas.
12. Bath oils. My brother once had a girlfriend who put together marvelous concoctions in beautiful bottles. She added dried flowers and herbs to the oil and it made a thoughtful gift.
13. Gift tags or bookmarks. Click here to check out Alea’s cool designs. If you’re giving a book as a gift, make a bookmark to go along with it. And recycle paper with these creative gift tags.
I already mentioned the photo album my mom put together one year as being among my most treasured gifts ever. The other two are a quilt made by a friend and a collage my husband gave me. When you come up with an idea and sit down and put your hands together to make something for someone else, you’re giving them something that can’t be bought in a store for any price. And even when it doesn’t quite work out, they’ll still love it. I’ll never forget the sweaters my mother made for all of us when she learned to knit back in the 70s. They were different color combos, but they all had a lightning-bolt design on them and the yarn was really chunky so they really weren’t the most flattering items of clothing. But my dad wore his every winter for years.
Good luck with your projects! What are some of your favorite handmade gifts? Please share in a Comment.


  1. This Thrifted Life says

    Thanks for the fun ideas! I just flipped through the December issue of Real Simple, and it also contained some great homeamde gift ideas, like infused vodka turning thrifted sugar bowls into soy candles.

  2. Cate says

    These are great ideas! Making your own candles is easy, too. You can find instructions with a quick google search.

    As for my favorite homemade gifts:

    -For a wedding gift, my husband typed up the story of how we met and how we began our relationship, then made it into a little book by printing it out and binding it with construction paper and ribbon. It was so sweet–and free!

    -A beautiful baby quilt my mom made. She's making us a wedding quilt, too, but it's so big that she's still working on it!

    -My mother-in-law makes the BEST salsa, and she's gifted us with jars upon jars over the years. It's always appreciated!

    I really like your emphasis that homemade gifts don't translate to "ugly tacky crap." Because they really don't!

  3. Ahme says

    The jewelry you made is beautiful. How much did all the supplies end up costing you to make both pieces? They look very professional.

  4. Angela says

    Leah- Thanks for the great tip! I love bath products, I think I'll try that for a few of my baskets…

    This Thrifted Life- Real Simple is a cool magazine, although I tend to just look at it here and there, since I always have too many books and magazines piled up. That sounds like a very creative idea…

    Thanks Ellen! That's a compliment coming from you. Hope you can use some of them!

    Cate- Your favorite handmade gifts sound great- that is so sweet what your husband made.

    Ahme- Thanks for the compliment. Making it was more like designing it, since I bought that gorgeous leaf at the bead store. I was thrilled to find it, because I know my friend's taste so well and she is going to love this. The photos are both the same necklace. The leaf was $10, the suede was $3, and the clasp was $4, so $17 total.

    Thank you all for your comments and ideas!

  5. Julie says

    I always have my son (8) make presents for his grandma and aunt. Sometimes, when we've got more money than time or ideas, we go to the local "paint it yourself" ceramic shop. On other occasions, we've bought canvases from Michael's and he's painted or drawn a masterpiece. Most recently, he and I made a bunch of bookmarks together—the one he made me is something I will use, and treasure, every day. And his grandma and aunt LOVE those hand-made things more than any scarf or bottle of cologne we could ever buy.

  6. Leasmom says

    My daughter will probably be easier to persuade to try this next year than my mother who will be visiting with us for christmas. I once painted her a mother's day gift and she didn't want it because she said it looked like her mother! She also called me cheap for sending her a used dvd this year. My daughter was given $100 this year and she bought her own christmas gifts, most were from the thrift store and used cd's online, but a few things were new. Its my aim to get beyond the commericialism and get to the family part, so it won't be easy but I'm gonna try this for next year.

  7. Angela says

    Leasmom- Good for you! It sounds like you're influencing your daughter in a good direction. As far as your mom, not everyone understands or accepts the "non-commercial" motto. All you can do is try! Thanks for commenting, and good luck!


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