Believe it or not, the holidays are right around the corner. That means gift preparation time is dwindling. Luckily for Times readers, our staff has come up with a few easy, homemade gifts ideas that are sure to please any of the loved ones on your list.
Hand painted store-bought, ceramic mugs
Being right out of college, I wanted to do Christmas on a budget this year. But, I didn’t want that to mean getting 10 five-dollar Starbucks gift cards for all of my friends. So, I did what any millennial-aged woman would do in this situation—I turned to Pinterest. Pinterest, I found, is a really great place to find an infinite number of meaningful and easy-to-make gifts. The one idea that stuck out to me was hand-painted coffee mugs. So, after ordering some mugs in bulk online (dollar stores are a great place to look for the mugs) and rounding up some multi-surface, dishwasher-safe paint, I was ready to create some thoughtful, inexpensive gifts for my friends.
Crafter note: I sketched out what I wanted to paint or write on each of the mugs on a piece of paper first. Pencil didn’t show up on the mugs I used, so I practiced my drawings first, before I used the permanent materials on the mug.
Paint (I used Martha Stewart All Surface paints and a multi-surface paint pen.)
Paint Brushes (Try to find stiff and skinny brushes if you plan on a detailed design.)
1. Wipe the mug with rubbing alcohol to make sure it’s clean and dry.
2. Paint the mug with desired design. (I used the paint pen to write on the mug, then I used the paint brushes to make the apple and pencil. Then, I used the cotton swabs to make the dots in different colors.
3. Let the mug dry for one hour.
4. Put the mugs in a cool oven. Then heat the up the oven to 325 degrees. Bake the mugs for 40 minutes. Then, turn off the oven and let the mugs cool inside.
Newspaper gift bag
I referred back to my Pinterest boards when thinking about how to package my gifts. A craft that I pinned a while ago caught my eye. What better way to save money than to “upcycle” and make my own gift bags instead of buying them. I don’t craft very often, so I wanted to be sure that this was a doable endeavor before getting in too over my head. With just a few supplies and with some strategic folding measurements, these bags come together in a snap.
Crafter note: The measurements I found on Pinterest make a very small bag (5 inches tall, 4.5 inches wide and 3 inches deep). For this story, I made the bag exactly as written out on the link I found, but for the rest of my gift bags I’m going to multiply the measurements each by two or three.
2 sheets of newspaper
1 piece of cardstock or paper board (I used a granola bar box.)
1 or 2 feet of cord (depending how long you want the handles)
Pair of scissors
1. Stack the two pieces of newspaper on top of each other. This bag will be two-ply for added sturdiness. Cut out a rectangle that is 15.5 inches wide and 8.25 inches long.
2. Lay the rectangle flat with the 15.5 inches side at the top. Make a 1.25-inch fold along the top. Make a fold 2 inches from the bottom. Then, starting from the left side, measure out 4.5 inches, then 3 inches, then 4.5 inches, and then 3 inches. Make vertical folds at each of those marks. From the right side, measure 0.5 inches, and make a vertical fold at the end.
3. Cut two 4.25 inches by 1 inch pieces of the cardstock or paper board. Glue these pieces to the widest two panels of your rectangle right under the top, 1.25-inch fold. This step will help reinforce the rim of the bag.
4. Glue the top fold down along the length of the bag. Because the bag is two-ply, you will have to glue each flap of the newspaper down one at a time.
5. Put glue on the 0.5-inch fold on the right side of the rectangle. Bring the left side over and press together with the 0.5-inch fold to form the body of the bag—align the cut edge of the left panel with the folded edge of the right panel. Add more glue to ensure the outer sheet of newspaper gets secured down.
6. Unfold the bottom 2-inch flap of the bag. Fold the short side inward—just like wrapping a present. Put glue on both triangular flaps. It may help to lay the bag on its side and press against a table to glue. Fold the flaps inward to form the bottom of the bag. Stand the bag upright and press from the inside to secure the bottom.
7. Glue a piece of 4-inch by 2.5-inch cardstock to the bottom of the bag to reinforce the bottom and hide the flaps.
8. Punch holes in the rim of the bag and add the eyelets through those holes. Cut a desired length of cord and string through the eyelets to form handles. Knot the ends of the cord on the inside of the bag so it would pull through the holes.
9. Pinch the top of the bag together, fold in the sides and bring up the bottom to allow the bag to lay flat for storage if needed.
1 Styrofoam wreath form
2 skeins of yarn in red and ivory
2 berry twigs from the floral department at your local craft store
1. Start by tying the yarn around the Styrofoam wreath form securely, keeping the knot on the back side. Wrap the yarn tightly around the wreath form, making sure the strings do not overlap.
2. After approximately 5-6 inches of wrapping, tie off your first color of yarn and cut the string. Tie on your second color securely right next to the previous color’s last row, again making sure all knots are on the backside.
3. Align any remaining string horizontally. This will be covered as you wrap your yarn. Continue wrapping the yarn, in alternating colors, until the entire loop is covered.
4. Work the wire end of the berry twigs through your yarn wrapping so they are held securely to the wreath. Cut the excess wire from the bottom, being sure to leave enough to keep the twigs in place.
5. Finally, create the pom poms. Wrap your yarn around the four fingers of your hand, about 30 times, or until it has reached your desired thickness. Cut the yarn. Slip the loop of yarn off your fingers and tie it tightly across the middle, making a small bundle with loops at each end. Leave the ends of the strings used to tie the bundle long, to attach the pom pom to the wreath later.
6. Cut the loops of the bundle and ruffle it into a ball shape. Then trim the uneven pieces of yarn so the pom pom’s individual strings are largely the same length.
7. Create three of these pom poms and tie them around the wreath where the twigs are tucked into the wrapping yarn.
8. Hang from a door with a wreath hanger.
2 skeins chunky yarn
One pair of large knitting needles (I used size 50).
Crafter note: If you don’t know how to knit, don’t worry! This project is great for beginners. For those entirely new to knitting, newstitchaday.com offers very informative, easy-to-follow instructional videos.
1. Start by casting on 15. Cast on by tying the yarn around one knitting needle loosely, then looping the yarn around the needle 14 additional times. (There are instructional videos for casting on as well.)
2. To knit, insert the empty needle through the first loop from the bottom to the top, making an X behind the needle with yarn. Taking the loose end of yarn, wrap it around the empty needle so that it passes through the center of the x and rests just on top of the loop that is now on both needles.
3. Bring the empty needle down perpendicular to the yarn needle so that the string you just looped around catches on the tip of the empty needle. Slip this loop onto the empty needle and move the previous loop off the edge of the yarn needle.
4. Continue this, knitting loosely, until the scarf has reached the desired length.
5. To make a headband ear warmer, use smaller knitting needles and yarn. When the headband has reached the desired length, bind it off (see online videos) and sew both ends together with yarn. Attach an appliqué on top of the seam.
My sad soap addiction turned into a failed DIY project
Yes, I am one of the people who ordered premium French hand-milled soap for about $8, by the bar through Amazon Prime. (There are only a few brands that you can still order this way on Amazon.) So early in the history of the membership free delivery model, I learned that even Amazon has its limits. After a couple of times, you could get cut off. But showering and washing my hands with good soap has meant a lot to me over the years. For a period of almost 36 months I used nothing but Aveda’s Caribbean Therapy. (For a long time I comforted myself with the thought that Caribbean Therapy lasted longer than just about any other soap I had ever used. Not a lot of lather, but that never bothered me.) The $20+ sticker shock eventually got through to me somehow and weaned myself off of it through a judicious application of spa resort soap.
My next stop was Zum Bar Goat’s Milk Soap, which had a lower price tag ($6) and came in an alluring assortment of aromas, and even had exfoliating properties that I learned to depend on. But that melted unevenly and made kind of a mess and the supply needed replenishing frequently.
So that brought me to the point that I determined the do-it-yourself route was simply unavoidable. By that time, there were numerous items like Oatmeal Glycerin Soap-Making Kit from Growandmake.com for $39.95. The kits come with high-quality ingredients including lavender, sage, vanilla and other “essential oils,” molds and a very scary “thermometer.” But another faster and less complex way to learn about soap-making is to go on Pinterest where I found photo after intricate and beautiful photo of soap with recipes to match. There are a lot of folks out there who like soap that looks good enough to eat.
But then a miracle happened, just before I boiled the oil.
While visiting my daughter in New Orleans, we came upon a pop-up night market on Frenchmen street. And that’s where I found soap made by a woman named Kelsey Foreman who makes soap in Slidell, Louisiana and sells it in her first retail location, an occasional night market and on the web at Cake.FaceSoaping.com. I have since ordered kind of a lot of soap from Kelsey and it’s all good. Furthermore, I have tried her moisturizer, which has no scent but does a great job on my face as it dries out in the winter weather. So my do-it-yourself project turned out to be an Internet research project with a little bit of luck added on the side. Cake face soap is $7 a bar, but it lasts a long time, it melts evenly and there is a range of choices of scents and ex-foliating types of soap. There is even a deodorizing coffee soap to use in the kitchen that looks like a wedge of cheese. Click on cakefacesoaping.com if you don’t want to do it yourself either.