Most holiday seasons are chock-full of joyful anticipation, with a little stress mixed in. But in this year's economic crunch, buying gifts probably adds to the stress. One way to save money and increase the joy factor is to make your own gifts.
Many people already have caught on to the do-it-yourself, or DIY, approach to Christmas, according to Jo Pearson, creative expert at Michaels.
"Michaels conducted a survey last year that said 58 percent of people were more likely to make gifts compared with previous years because of the economy," Pearson says. "We've seen that trend continue through this year with the popularity of our in-store workshops and how-to webisodes."
In addition to keeping expenses low, DIY gifts have added bonuses for the giver and recipient.
"When you give a handmade gift, you're giving a gift from the heart, your creativity and your time," Pearson says. "It's more personal. I'll bet every mom out there has some treasured gift that her child made for her that she wouldn't trade for anything."
For those whose artistic abilities flourish more in the kitchen, baked goods are another option.
Pastry chef Cruz Caudillo says giving food items is a longtime tradition.
"Before everyone could afford lavish gifts, what we had to give we would make in our own homes," says Caudillo, who serves as executive pastry chef at The Bridges restaurant in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. "The fruitcake was actually created to preserve summer fruits. In the winter, when nothing was growing and there was snow on the ground, the cakes were given to remind their loved ones that spring was right around the corner. Today we look forward to baking all kinds of sweets and sharing the wealth."
Bakers who are afraid their culinary masterpieces will arrive crushed or stale need not worry.
"Preventing your baked goods from going stale is easy. Because they are so widely available, I would first and foremost suggest using a vacuum sealer," Caudillo advises. "Remember all you want to do is seal the bag; if you put it under full vacuum, then you run the risk of crushing your baked goods. If you don't have one handy, wrapping your baked goods in plastic wrap then foil (an oxygen barrier) and then putting them in a freezer bag will work just fine. Be sure to pack them very well for shipping, and don't forget to label the box 'Fragile, do not drop.'"
Whether edible, practical or artsy, the magic of DIY gifts is the personal touch.
"There are a million ways to personalize your finished projects," Pearson says. "Dimensional fabric paint is a great way to add a name to a stocking; it comes in several colors and, my personal favorite, GLITTER! Paint pens will work on wood, glass, metal, stone and other surfaces. (Just a quick note: Mom needs to use these, because use by small children is not recommended.) Alphabet letters come in fabric iron-ons, sticky paper, plastic and foam. They are easy to use and come in many colors and fonts."
Pearson adds that Michaels' Web sites offer a variety of ideas at different skill levels: http://www.TheKnackKids.com, http://www.michaels.com and http://www.WhereCreativityHappens.com. Michaels also has new how-to webisodes this holiday season, as well as free in-store workshops where people can learn to create their own gifts.
Among the most popular DIY gifts, Pearson says, are greeting cards, personalized aprons and other apparel, decorative candles, stationery, picture frames and wine charms. Pearson herself loves to make jewelry.
"Necklaces, bracelets and rings are my favorites to make and give," she says. "Wine charms make great hostess gifts and are so easy to create and personalize. You can also add some beaded ornaments into the mix."
The economic advantage of making your own gifts is no Christmas fable. It really does help keep your holiday budget low.
"Knitting a scarf, for instance, can be done for less than $5, much less than buying new in a department store," Pearson says. "With a little creativity and inspiration, you can make some cool and unique gifts for those important people in your life."
*Wine Glass Charms
Individualize your wine glasses at your next party or send as personalized gifts. Designed by Julia Bernstein courtesy of Halcraft USA Inc., these pretty items can be made in about an hour and are rated a 3 on a skill level from 1-5. Michaels offers the instructions free on its site, at http://www.michaels.com/art/online/projectsheet?pid=e07246.
6 ounces egg whites
10 ounces granulated sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
Place egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a mixer bowl.
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water.
Whisk until the mixture reaches 120 degrees, or until the sugar is melted and there is no grainy texture.
Whip the egg white mixture with the whisk attachment until you have achieved stiff peaks.
Fold in the toasted pistachios, and use a small ice-cream scooper or spoon to place dollops on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
Dust with powdered sugar.
Dry in a 150-degree oven until crunchy.
(Recipe from Cruz Caudillo.)
8 ounces raw pistachios
2 teaspoons vegetable oil (or pistachio oil, if you can get it)
Salt and pepper, to taste (nutmeg or cinnamon optional)
Toss the nuts with the oil and seasonings in a large bowl.
Spread out on a sheet pan, making sure not to overlap.
Toast them in a 300-degree oven until they are nice and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Let them cool completely.
(Recipe from Cruz Caudillo.)