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REGION LIFE: Handmade gifting from a non-cheapskate
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REGION LIFE: Handmade gifting from a non-cheapskate

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Sorry in advance. Many of you on my Christmas list are getting a handmade gift this year.

Abandon any hope of scoring an electric unicycle or a heated shaving cream dispenser from Sharper Image, the latter of which — at $39.99 — is reasonably priced for something that will go from the store to under the tree to the local Goodwill in a week's time.

I have a Christmas box that I stock year round with stuff I find a good deal on that would make great gifts. It's usually toys for kids and costume jewelry, along with candles, decorative pillows and whatnot.

As Christmas nears, I compare my hoard to the gift list and figure out where I need to make up the difference. This year is different because it was also a year in which I attempted to start new hobbies.

Like sewing.

In sixth-grade sewing class at Grimmer Middle School, we all sewed a pillow. I made a shark. My friend Amanda made a chocolate chip cookie, and my friend Megan made a whale. Based on that experience, I assumed I could still sew and embroider, despite the fact that I don't have a sewing machine.

I cranked out a few pillows by hand and embroidered them. Then I lost interest. Those supplies are now buried in a craft bag next to a craft box in a closet that is becoming a graveyard for craft supplies. One day, I will open the door to find needle-pierced swatches of fabric rising from glittery ashes, demanding I finish them.

After the embroidery and sewing phase cooled, I moved on to the wood burning phase. I have no recollection how or why I decided it would be a good idea to start this hobby. It was probably a 1 a.m. skimming of Pinterest and a bold, "I could do that," attitude.

I woke up to find I'd covered my virtual bulletin board with burn-able stuff—wooden coasters, wooden blocks, wooden spoons, wooden bowls. The basic wood burning kit cost less than $15 after a trip to a craft store and some coupons. It's essentially a metal stick that reaches the temperature of Hell's flames. You rest it on a "stand" that was a paper clip in a former life.

The kit came with a few interchangeable tips for different markings. But no tool in the world can fix an unsteady hand and annoyance when the letters and designs in the picture don't look like the ones you're etching on the decades-old Pampered Chef wooden spoon from the bottom drawer. "STIR" ended up looking like "STIB." Into the craft supply graveyard they went.

Just as the superficial burns on my fingertips nearly healed, I had an epiphany: letters.

"I bet they make letters you can screw into the tip of the wood-burning thing," I thought.

They do. I ordered some and since they arrived, I've been a burning machine. My dog and husband have had a wary look in their eyes, for fear I'll lose control and start branding everything and everyone in my path.

So if you visit my house this holiday season, the smell of burning wood isn't coming from fireplace logs ablaze. It could be your Christmas gift in the making.

Merry Christmas.

Vanessa Renderman is a features writer for The Times. You can reach her at vanessa.renderman@nwi.com.

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