My goal with crafts is usually to stay out of craft stores. Have you ever ended up spending more money to make hand-crafted gifts than you would have spent otherwise? I'm not just talking about my former room-mate who wound up in the emergency room with severe burns from her Christmas candle-making project. I'm talking about those times you went to the craft store and discovered all the cool things you needed to buy in order to make that perfect gift for someone. I'm also talking about those projects where the individual gift costs very little but the ingredients come in bulk. You only wanted five lip balms but now you've spent almost a hundred dollars and have the ingredients to make 200 lip balms. Here are my three favorite home-made gifts that will not involve an expensive trip to the craft store.
1. Paper Cut-Outs
When I was about eight years old, my mom brought home some pattern books and a tiny pair of scissors. She taught me how to trace the patterns onto plain paper and cut carefully along the lines to create little decorations. There began my lifelong love with Scherenshnitte, or the German art of paper cutting . A copy machine has replaced my careful pencil tracing, otherwise I still use many of the same original tools and patterns.
As I got a little older, I learned to use an x-acto knife in addition to scissors. This allowed me to make patterns that were increasingly complex. Now that I'm an adult, I still pull out my paper cutting supplies every year for Christmas. It's truly amazing what you can make out of paper. Click here for some of the patterns that I used. I've used the same patterns for at least ten years.
I especially love to do Christmas tree ornaments, but I've made a few framed pictures over the years as well. I'll never be able to do something like this, but even my seven year old daughter can make some pretty elegant looking ornaments. Glitter glue is optional, but can be added for flare. Click here for easy paper snowflake instructions.
Here are my tips for simple but elegant paper cuttings:
- Use a cutting mat or cutting board to protect your table.
- Cut out the inside parts of patterns first.
- Supervise and help kids as needed. Since my girl is only seven, I usually cut out the inside parts and let her do the outer parts with scissors. She is already learning to use an X-acto knife on simpler lines with my close supervision.
- Kids might enjoy painting the edges of ornaments with glitter glue or even coloring them in with water colors.
- Use any paper that inspires you. There are so many great papers that can go in your printer! We've used a wide variety, but plain white is still my favorite.
2. Re-Batched Soap
If you want to make pretty soaps but are more than a bit intimidated by working with lye, re-batched soaps might be a good option. You can start with any kind of soap you want. If you want to be really thrifty, ask your friends and family to save their little bars of soap that are getting small and annoying. You may also just buy a good, simple unscented soap. First, get out your crock pot and a cheese grater. I got an old metal cheese grater at a thrift store for less than a dollar.
Re-batched Soap Instructions
Have your kids grate the soap into a bowl. If they are young, you may be able to find a plastic grater that doesn't do as much damage to tiny fingers and knuckles.
Next, put the soap shavings into a crock pot with a small amount of water or milk. (Once I re-batched my home-made soap with breast milk. Breast milk soap is great for skin but probably not for gifts.) It's hard to say exactly how much liquid you will need because some soap starts out more wet or more dry. You don't want it to be sopping wet or floating. Just add enough to make it shiny and easy to stir. If you use too much liquid, it will just have to cure longer.
Let the mixture cook on low, mashing it around every hour or so with a spoon or potato masher, until it is soft and squishy. It will take a few hours. Set a timer to remind you to stir. You may add more liquid if the mixture seems dry and crumbly.
Turn off the heat and give it a good mix. At this point you can add any essential oils and other ingredients that inspire you. If you like, give your kids an assortment of items to choose from and divide the mixture up so that they can create a few different "gourmet" bars of soap. You might try oatmeal, poppy seeds, coffee grounds, dried herbs and even sea salt for a textured bar.
Help your kids squish the soap into your soap mold. If you don't have fancy molds, just use plastic storage containers or even cookie cutters. Finally, let the soap sit for at least a day to "cure" before popping it out of the mold and packaging it in pretty paper or fabric for gifts.
3. Bath Salts
Bath salts are made from inexpensive ingredients that you can find at the grocery store. If you have dried herbs or essential oils, they make a nice addition. Essential oils are one of those things that may seem expensive up front, but if you start using them regularly, you will find them to be cost effective. I use quite a few essential oils around the house, so adding a few drops to some plain soap or bath salts isn't a big deal.
- 3 cups Epsom Salts
- 2 cups baking soda
- 1 cup salt
- a few drops essential oils (optional)
- dried herbs, such as lavender or rosemary (optional)
Mix together baking soda, epsom salts and salt. If you can afford it, use unrefined sea salt. I usually use plain kosher salt. Let your kids mix everything together. Add your favorite essential oils and/or dried herbs. Kids can do this step as well, but make sure to supervise. Otherwise you may end up with some really strong bath salts. My daughter enjoys adding the essential oils to create her own custom blends for people on our gift list. It really only takes a few drops to scent a whole batch. Depending on the oil you use, it can take between 3 and 12 drops of oil.
Money saving tip: For those essential oil bottles that are nearly empty, add about a quarter to a half teaspoon of almond oil or other mild oil. Shake it up and add it to the bath salts. You will get that last little bit of scent along with some skin softening oils for your bath. Mix in the essential oils until they are well distributed. Finally, package the salts in jars or bags and let your kids help decorate the containers.
Stephanie Aegerter, a.k.a. Stepha-friendly, is a wife, mother, farmers' market manager, blogger and health coach in Janesville, Wisconsin. She has a seven-year-old daughter here on Earth and a baby boy in Heaven. She writes about a variety of topics at Stepha Friendly Foods, where she is attempting to create a more friendly life from the ground up. Allergy-friendly, kid-friendly, environmentally-friendly, budget-friendly and Stepha-friendly. She enjoys cooking, environmental education, gardening and, of course, writing. She is a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.