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Gifts: Shopping-Free Gift Guide 2020

Each year, I think I’m going to be too busy to craft handmade gifts for the holidays. And each year, I end up doing it anyway. The idea of running around stores to the tune of holiday muzak and pouring money into stuff made thousands of miles away feels ultimately much more overwhelming.

This year, we have added incentive to be more intentional about gift-giving. First of all, many of us can’t physically be together for the holidays because of Covid. So we can be present for our loved ones through our creativity and the work of our hands, with truly unique gifts. Or, if we do buy gifts, let’s direct our patronage to local small businesses or small-scale artisans on platforms like Etsy, rather than the big chain stores and tech giants. Covid has hit small business owners especially hard. The online giants will be just fine.

For those of us who take the DIY route, the question always creeps up in September, October, or at the latest in November: “What to make this year?” Here are 12 of my favorite ideas from past years. There’s something for everyone and for all skill levels: knitting, crochet, sewing, body care, jewelry, and food gifts… And as I’m quite picky about gift projects — I don’t want to add more junk into the lives and homes of my loved ones — the crafts profiled here are all either beautiful, useful, or both. (I hope my giftees think so too!)

 

Lavender sachets for the linen closet

This is a quick knit from More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson. These pyramid-shaped sachets take just over an hour each to knit, and are filled with oh-so-fragrant lavender buds to protect linens, yarns, and hand-knits from moths.

 

Pointy elf hat

…also from More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. A couple of years ago, I knitted one for each of my nephews, nieces and godchildren. That may sound like a lot, but these are incredibly fast and satisfying to knit, especially when working with bulky yarns in lovely bright colors.

 

Wool socks

A couple of years ago, I made a pair for just about everyone in the family. The pattern — “Rye” by Tin Can Knits — is available for free on Ravelry, and just lovely to make.

 

Firewood carrier

I made this firewood carrying tote a couple of years ago for Dan, and we’ve been carrying our firewood in style ever since. I actually used a canvas painting drop cloth that we already had, so the only material I had to buy was a 3/4″ wooden dowel from the hardware store! You’ll want to use canvas or other similarly sturdy fabric for this one. See tutorial here.

 

Vanilla brown sugar body scrub

…for pampering a loved one. I followed this recipe, but used dark brown sugar instead of light.

Lavender massage oil

This massage oil is really quick and easy to make, and will definitely be a welcome gift — especially with calming lavender, which is perfect for relaxing massages. This would make a sweet gift for a friend, or for your sweetheart for future date nights. It can also be used as body oil after a warm bath.

  • 4 oz grapeseed or almond oil (or combination)
  • 1.5 oz dried lavender blossoms
  • 5-10 drops lavender essential oil

Put the lavender buds in a jar and pour oil over them. Close the lid and let sit on a warm windowsill for 2-3 weeks. (To accelerate the process, you can gently warm the mixture in a double boiler for about 1 hour.) Strain the buds from the oil and add the essential oil. Bottle and store in a cool, dark place. Adding a sprig or two of dried lavender to the bottle adds a nice touch.

 

Handmade beeswax candles

You knew this one was coming, right? I make candles every fall and they make a gift that I love to give — and people seem to love to receive. I have a full tutorial for you, for making both taper candles and pillar candles, here.

 

Bird’s Nest necklace

I made these for my nieces, but I ended up liking them so much that I kept a couple for myself! See tutorial here.

 

 

Jar of home-made granola

— with recipe attached so that the lucky recipient won’t be forced to come knocking on your door when the goods run out.

 

Fingerless mitts

for the outdoorsy, wood-chopping kinda guys in my life (Ravelry link)

 

Pine cone key chains

After all of these knitting projects, here’s a crochet craft for you! These little woolen pine cones turned out so sweet. There are several patterns available on Ravelry — I ended up going with this one, as it has 6 different size options. The stitch pattern is easy to memorize and you can soon whip out one in an hour or so. I made key chains, but these would also make lovely Christmas tree ornaments.

 

Sleeve for laptop, tablet, or journal

by Maya Donenfeld — see the free tutorial here.

 

DIY Natural Household Cleaners

I’m probably not the only one who’s become much more conscious about cleaning my home these days.

But what to do when you run out of basic household cleaners, and are trying to avoid going to the store?

DIY eco-friendly household cleaners to the rescue!

I’ve been making my own all-purpose cleaning spray for almost a decade, and occasionally make a batch of laundry soap. But this week, out of necessity, I added a new project to my repertoire: homemade dishwasher tablets. My daughter and I made them together, and I must say they make for a great homeschooling project. We were both giddy watching our mixture bubble up and become a marshmallow-like foam — and with the most heavenly citrus scent imaginable (and you know how I love citrus).

Even though I’ve always avoided toxic commercial cleaners with unpronounceable ingredients lists, I’ve noticed that even the “eco-friendly” options in stores tend to get sustainability ratings of orange and yellow, as opposed to green. I’ve never felt great about using them. If you make your own cleaning products, you always know exactly what ingredients have been used. The ingredients are household items that you might already have at hand, such as vinegar and baking soda.

Check out the recipes below!

 

 

ALL-PURPOSE CLEANING SPRAY

I use this all-purpose spray on most surfaces. It’s effective, incredibly easy to make, and so nice-smelling that I probably clean up more than I otherwise would… Give it a try!

Get a 32 oz (about 1 liter) plastic spray bottle and fill it with 2 cups of water. Add:

  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 tsp Dr. Bronner’s liquid pure castile soap
  • ¾ cup hydrogen peroxide
  • 20 drops tea tree oil
  • 20 drops essential oil (lavender or peppermint are my favorites)

 

CITRUS-SCENTED DISHWASHER TABS

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 1/3 cup Epsom salt
  • ½ cup citric acid
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 30 drops of citrus essential oil (this is what I used)
  • silicone ice cube tray

Instructions:

  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice into a cup and add the essential oil. Add the lemon juice and essential oil mix to the dry ingredients. Do this one drop at a time, because the mixture will foam up. Mix well until the mixture feels like grainy wet sand.
  2. Scoop the mix into silicone ice cube trays and let dry at least 48 hours. Store in a glass jar or other airtight container.
  3. Use one tab per dishwasher load.

DIY Laundry soap

Ingredients:

  • 1 bar (4.5 oz.) bar soap, such as Dr. Bronner’s or Fels-Naphtha
  • 14 oz. borax
  • 14 oz. Arm & Hammer washing soda

Instructions:

Grate the bar soap with a cheese grater. Add the borax and the washing soda and mix well. Store in a glass jar or other airtight container.

 

Happy cleaning!!

Homemade Ginger Beer

DIY bubbly drinks!

Who doesn’t like the refreshing, popping sensation of fizzy drinks? We don’t drink a lot of soda in our house, but we do have a fondness… and a sometimes-addiction… to ginger ale.

Homemade ginger beer is a really easy DIY version — and you can adjust that ginger-y bite to your liking if you experiment a bit. It’s a non-alcoholic, effervescent delight that kids love too.

All you need is ginger, sugar, lemon, water — and time (2-3 weeks). My go-to resource with all fermentation processes is Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation, and you can find this recipe there.

Start by making the “ginger bug”: 2 teaspoons grated ginger and 2 teaspoons sugar mixed in 1 cup of water. Leave it in a warm spot and “feed” the mix with the same amount of ginger and sugar once a day until the mixture starts bubbling (within a week). Then you’re ready to make the ginger beer: you add another 2-6 inches of grated ginger (less for milder ginger flavor, more for a real punch) and 1.5 cups of sugar to 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil for 15 minutes, and cool. Then add the ginger bug and the juice of 2 lemons and mix.

Strain and bottle in sealable bottles. I admit that this is one of my favorite parts: getting to line up nice shiny bottles and put caps on them with a bottle capper.

Keep in mind some basic precautions about bottling carbonated drinks. With carbonation, pressure does build up in the bottles, so if you are using glass bottles you’ll want to be safe and minimize the possibility of a bottle exploding. I follow the advice of Sandor Katz’ The Art of Fermentation: brewing the ginger beer inside a box in the closet, keeping track of the timing, and opening a “test” bottle every few days after 2 weeks, and I’ve never had issues.

AAANNDDD with homemade fizzy drinks, you’re not supporting the big soft drink corporations that are sucking dry communities’ groundwater around the world and are responsible for a bulk of the world’s plastic pollution. Just sayin’.