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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Save money by making Christmas gifts that have special meaning

By Alicia Morgan
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — This holiday season, it’s about saving. And what better way to save this Christmas than by making your gifts instead of buying them?

“You don’t have to be someone who knits really well or sews really well to make gifts,” says Lorraine Schuchart of Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores.

It’s easy to get a little help. Jo-Ann Fabric offers projects online at Joann/create

christmas.com. Or for more hands-on, personal assistance, visit a Jo-Ann store.

“Readers can go into the Terre Haute store and say ‘I’m looking to make things – this is my budget,’” Schuchart said.

According to a recent study by the National Retail Federation, two-thirds of Americans – 65.3 percent – say the economy will effect holiday plans, and the majority – 84.2 percent – say they’re adjusting by spending less.

“We have seen the trend in the handmade gifts increase,” Schuchart said. According to the NRF study, 16.7 percent of U.S. consumers plan to make more gifts this year.

People may start creating their gifts to save money, but “what keeps them going is the fact that it’s fun,” Schuchart said.

There are many options for crafting your gifts, whether you want to spend no money, a little money or more.

An easy way to personalize a gift is by monogramming. Stitch names or initials on ties, napkins or towels. Does one of your friends love jewelry? All it takes is some beads, wire, pliers and a little imagination. Or try theme baskets. Pack a basket with a personalized coffee mug and your best friend’s favorite java; or load up a spa kit with homemade soaps, bath salts, face masks and scrubs. Instructions can be found by Googling “making spa products.”


Textile crafts are another option. This time of year, people think about knitting as a way to craft a warm and useful present.

Among the popular crafts at RiverWools … a knitting place, in downtown Terre Haute, are “hats and gloves and scarves and things like that for the cold weather,” said owner Martha Crossen.

People who come into Crossen’s shop are looking to create a gift that’s “a little more individual,” she said. “We do have people come in for supplies. Usually they want to make something fairly small or usually quick to do.”

The majority of knitters want to make something that will be colorful and unique. The shop offers many yarns to choose from, “everything from acrylics, blends of wools and some cashmere,” Crossen said.

She says creating a decoration also is popular this time of year, along with knitting socks, or “people might want to do some slippers.”

Crossen encourages people to come in for a visit. “We can help you get what you need,” she said.

If knitting isn’t your thing, maybe sewing, quilting or crocheting is.

University of Illinois Extension educator Patricia Hildebrand, consumer and family economics in Effingham, suggests quilting or crocheting coasters, or sewing tote bags or purses.

But what if you don’t like to sew?

Customers “can actually make a blanket just by cutting and tying the pieces,” with no-sew fleece kits from Jo-Ann, Schuchart said. Team fleece is big this year, along with the Disney brand.


Besides fabric, paper is a simple, inexpensive tool for creating. You can find cardstock in different colors and patterns at craft stores.

“A lot of people are making cards” this year, according to Schuchart.

Bookmarks are also a simple gift. Use pinking shears (craft stores sell them in different styles) to make edges fancy.

Use cards as a base for photo books. Make them special with rubber stamping, tiny ribbons and stickers. Pamphlet or accordion-style albums are popular.

Buy pillar candles and wrap them with paper and ribbons. Embellish or write a message on the paper.

Make gift coupon cards for a dessert a month, car wash, or baby/elder sitting, Hildebrand suggests.


Maybe your expertise lies in the kitchen and not in the craft room. An alternative to crafting is baking.

“Nothing warms the hearts of relatives and friends like a package of yummy home-baked goodies, so check with your local post office or parcel service to see when packages need to be sent to arrive on time,” Hildebrand instructed in a recent e-mail.

She says some unique options are food kits and mixes in jars, aprons, breads or individual “cup” cakes – cakes you bake in a tea cup.

“One of the things we did were cookies in a jar” in years past, said Clark County, Ill., Extension director Susan Guinnip.

“People are making food to give away, but what about the presentation? You still want that to be special,” Schuchart said. “Something new that is popular is treat boxes.”

Wrap your homemade goodies up in something festive at little to no cost. Jo-Ann offers Christmas-in-the-country or Christmas-in-the-city boxes for your kitchen creations.

The University of Illinois Extension suggests wrapping up individual treats or making fabric bags for your goodies. One idea is to bake your favorite Rice Krispie treats, and cut them into 2-inch-by-4-inch rectangles. Insert a craft stick into the center of the short side. Dip the treats in melted chocolate, decorate with piped-on frosting or sprinkles, and wrap.

Want to spend even less, yet make a big impact? Dip peppermint sticks in chocolate, roll in sprinkles and wrap them in pretty cellophane and ribbon.

Green crafting

While you’re saving money, save the planet by making old items new again.

“Don’t forget to look in your own home for bits and pieces of fabrics, buttons, bows,” Hildebrand instructs. “Anything that you have on hand to reuse and recycle – no waste, no cost.”

Reuse Christmas tins; fill them with baked goodies. Make coasters or pin cushions with fabric remnants and sand. Repurpose old ornaments. Decorate plain colored bulbs with glitter, or cover shaped ornaments with rhinestones or other embellishments.

Make new Christmas cards out of old ones. Cut words out to paste on new backgrounds, or cut shapes out to form new designs. You can even punch holes in the cutouts, attach a string and hang them as ornaments on branches of large or small trees.

A lot of people make their ornaments instead of buying them, Schuchart said.

For a tried-and-true idea, help your children make a clothespin reindeer out of Popsicle sticks. Or for the bigger kids, take wire and beads and make a wreath ornament. Or, Guinnip suggests using a jingle bell as a base for an ornament; add ribbon or other embellishments.

Hildebrand also advises using scarves, handkerchiefs, old posters, maps, pages from a child’s coloring book, old sheet music or wallpaper scraps for wrapping alternatives.

With the economy being at the front of consumers’ minds this holiday season, these ideas serve a double purpose – a way to cut back on spending and waste.

Whatever the motivation, crafting is not only an inexpensive option, it’s a way to give something meaningful.

Customers initially come into Crossen’s shop for an experience. “You get the entertainment of doing it and they’re giving something that they care about,” she says. Crafters can “make choices that will make it special.”

Schuchart echoes that sentiment. “That’s really what a handmade holiday is all about; it’s about making things special.”

Alicia Morgan can be reached at 812-231-4298 or alicia.morgan@tribstar.com.

Creating Christmas tips

To guide people who want to create Christmas this year, the inspiration specialists at Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores have a few tips:

• Make it fashionable. When crafting décor items, consider the home’s overall style and color palette. Incorporate jewels, velvets and bright trims if the home has either a very contemporary or a very old-world feel; use softer, more natural materials for a country- or cottage-style house.

• Make it personal. Scrapbooks remain a favorite gift, but there are many other uses for scrapbook paper. Cover a frame with the perfect paper to correspond with a photo of a special occasion. Cover treat boxes filled with the special cookies you make each year.

• Make it lasting. A knitted or no-sew fleece blanket can be used year-round and is sure to be a reminder of the person who gave it.

• Make it memorable. Consider involving the entire family. Help children make gifts for family members and friends. It’s quality time you will remember and talk about for years to come.

Wrap it in fabric bags

Marla Wilkins of the University of Illinois Extension, Effingham Center, offers instructions on making fabric bags.

• Determine the finished width and length of bag needed, then add 1/2 inch to width size. Double the length and add 2 inches. Example: To make a bag 6 inches long by 4 inches wide, cut fabric 14 inches long by 41/2 inches wide.

• Fold bag in half, right sides of fabric together, matching short edges. Press folded end.

• Stitch side seams, using a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

• Finish open end by pressing under fabric edge 1/4 inch. Turn fabric under again, this time 1/2 inch. Stitch.

• For a flat bag bottom, match side seam with fold line on bag bottom. Stitch across each corner about 1/2 to 1 inch, depending on bag size.

• Turn bag. Use string or ribbon to tie shut.

SOURCE: University of Illinois Extension

Shipping food

• Bake and completely cool cookies just before packing. Send cutout cookies with rounded edges instead of those with points that break off easily.

• Wrap dense cookies like brownies and breads individually.

• Don’t pack crisp and soft cookies together — the moisture from the soft cookies will seep into the crisp cookies, making them lose their delightful crunch.

• Don’t overstuff your container. Your cookies may be damaged. Likewise, don’t under-pack your container. The cookies should fit snugly. If you have too much space, crumple up a bit of tissue paper to fill the holes.

• Pack cookies in a sturdy tin or airtight container. On the bottom of the container, place a piece of bubble wrap, then line the container with parchment paper or cellophane, leaving enough to tuck over the top once the container is fully packed. Place one layer of cookies in the container. Cover with parchment paper. Arrange another layer of cookies, followed with more parchment paper, and continue this layering until the container is full. Tuck the cellophane or parchment paper over the top, then place another piece of bubble wrap on top, and seal your container.

Packing materials

• Air-popped popcorn is an inexpensive and environmentally sound material that creates an ideal cushion. Toss a scoop or two of popcorn (air-popped, with no oil) at the bottom of the box. Set the cookie tin on top, and surround it with more popcorn. Don’t use the popcorn directly in contact with the food item since it could draw moisture from the food and then the popcorn itself would become soggy.

• Bubble wrap is a good choice. Line the inside of your cookie tin with two layers of bubble wrap, one underneath the cookies and one on top. Pack the tin in a box neatly lined with lengths of bubble wrap, then fold the bubble wrap back into the margins between the tin and box to form a double cushion.

• Eco Foam is the environmentally-friendly cousin of foam peanuts. It is a biodegradable cornstarch product that provides excellent cushioning for fragile cookies. Its only drawback is that it melts when wet, so don’t use it to pack any containers that may leak.

Anytime you can do anything yourself using items you have will save money as well as the environment. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, household waste increases by more than 25 percent because of the food waste, shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons.

SOURCE: Patricia Hildebrand, Extension Educator, Consumer and Family Economics, Effingham, Ill., Extension Center

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