Handmade Gifts

       Giving is my favorite part of the holidays. I love the process — the decision, the secret, the wrapping, the unwrapping and the smiles … or tears. Last year I even sent my boyfriend on a scavenger hunt to search for his Christmas present. Gifting is a sport to me, but thoughtful giving is tough on a bartender’s salary of tips.

       To give my wallet a reprieve, I often give handmade gifts. My skills have improved since the days of glitter and Mod Podge, but the gifts are made from the heart all the same.

      Grandparents love handmade presents. Every year I try to show each one how special they are to me. 

       Last year, I puzzled over this until my puzzler was sore. So, I put on Harry Potter for inspiration. Before long, I noticed the crests that represent each Hogwarts house. I had an idea.

      That idea led me to make my favorite present thus far in my gift-giving career. For each grandparent, I made a family crest based on his or her heritage and personality. I adorned each crest with an animal that I felt embodied them and got to work on filling the shields. 

      I drew a crashing wave on the shield for my Grandaddy, who helped many of my cousins learn to cross the breakers. I penned a blooming ­Scottish thistle for my Pop-pop. For my Grandma I added Viking symbols, and for my Mimi I merged a four-leaf clover with a cross.

      The crests have no historic value. I didn’t dig deep into family records. I didn’t try to find family overseas. I just added details I knew and loved about each grandparent. 

      If you, like me, are panicking about those gifts you still need to buy, go for handmade this year. There’s even an unofficial holiday for it — Make A Gift Day on December 3. 

      You don’t have to be an artist to make gifts yourself, there’s plenty of inspiration online and in do-it-yourself tutorials. You can even pick up a new hobby. One year in college, funds were low but I had time to spare, so I learned how to knit. Using big yarn and my arms instead of knitting needles, voila, I had a blanket to give. 

      Our very own editor at Bay Weekly, Sandra Martin, used to give hand-knitted caps to loved ones for the holidays — some even with earflaps.

      The late and great Bay Gardener, Dr. Francis Gouin, was famous for giving beautiful handmade wreaths and swags made from his own evergreens.

      Framed or mounted gifts are easy and inexpensive. Staff writer Krista Boughey has some hanging in her kitchen. “My aunt found some antique citrus labels from my old home in California and mounted them for me,” Boughey recalls. 

       You don’t have to be crafty to get creative. Make your handmade gifts in the kitchen this year, and give the coveted gift of baked goods. 

      If you want to give a gift full of memories but don’t have the materials you need, create a photo book or calendar online for cheap and have it shipped.

     Encouraging the kids to make gifts may bring the best rewards of all. Senior staff writer Kathy Knotts reports, with laughter and tears, that childhood gifts she made for her parents — a little hand-painted ceramic pig and duck — are still on display in her childhood home.

      Whatever you make, you’ll have the advantage of gifts that are not only special because they’re one of a kind, but also — and that’s the best part — unexpected.