Not Your Grandma's Craftmas

This year, why not frustrate the marketers who want you to buy their mass-produced Christmas junk, and make something yourself? And no, a homemade gift doesn’t have to be a lopsided brown clay mug or a paperweight, like you might have made in second grade arts and crafts. Influenced by the do-it-yourself ethic of punk culture, people of a younger and hipper type are beginning to craft. As a result, it’s easier than ever to find tons of ideas and instructions, on Web sites and in books and magazines, that will help you produce things that are actually unbelievably cool.

Why else should you go the DIY route this December? “It’s nice to let friends know that they’re worth more than an afternoon at the mall,” says Sophie Tusler, 20, who “comes from a very DIY family” and consequently has been knitting and doing needlepoint “since I was old enough not to poke my eye out with a knitting needle.” Beth Falkof, 23, agrees: “Knowing that someone had you in mind during the entire inception of the idea and throughout the process is pretty personal.” A bonus, and super-practical, reason to craft gifts, according to Sophie: “You can be sure you won’t be returning things, post-holiday, because of double-gifting.”

So once you’re convinced that a crafty holiday is the way to go, where do you get your ideas? Maggie Turner, 22, says that craft ideas come to her before she falls asleep. She gave her sister, who had a run-in with a supermodel’s dog on her trendy Brooklyn street, a set of laminated placemats with magazine pictures of the model in question and pretty pieces of paper. (You could take this idea and bend it to fit your own inside joke.) This year, for Christmas presents, Maggie plans to take a bunch of scrap paper and make it into little pads tied together with ribbon or raffia, “for people to jot notes down, or write grocery lists on.”

Beth’s ideas tend to come from her background as a fine arts major and her photographic training. She gives photographs or paintings, matted or framed, or gets even more creative: “I sew photos onto water color paper or muslin and make small books and cards, or wall hangings.” I found a sort of similar project, a journal made out of a hardcover book, at

Sophie says she tends to knit or bake something for holidays or birthdays. She adds that a good way to get around expensive yarn store prices (which can make DIY-ing as financially impossible as going the corporate-gift route) is to look for yarn in “thrift stores around elderly communities.” It's also possible to find cheap yarn at yard sales, but if you’re under a deadline, thrift stores might be the way to go. And basic instructions for a ton of knitted projects, including wristbands with skulls and crossbones and a scarf that’s supposed to be super easy and take only 2-3 hours, can be found in Debbie Stoller’s excellent book, "Stitch and Bitch: The Knitters’ Handbook." (Debbie is the editor of Bust magazine, which usually runs a few DIY project ideas each month.)

Another avid crafter, Jocelyn Harris, 19, says of the expense issue, “Oh, cheap DIY projects are easy. There are only 35,000 of them. T-shirt panties, D-ring belts/arm cuffs, guitar pick jewelry, photo magnets, melt-n-pour soap, embellished photo frames, stenciled t-shirts, etched shot glasses/candle holders, bulletin boards, no-sew pillows, sugar scrubs.” (I would add these felt flower pins, which you could make for literally about a dollar each.) I found a couple of sites with instructions for these projects, but if you go to, or and browse the boards, you’re sure to find more.

What if this all sounds great, but you’re in the middle of finals and just don’t have time? Buying original items from DIY businesspeople is the next best thing. I’m totally slammed this holiday season, so I went to a craft fair in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was held in an art gallery and brought together by my friend Andrea. There were all sorts of appliquéd shirts, handbags made by our other friend Teeter and her sisters, knitted items, and jewelry. Find craft fairs by looking in local alternative weeklies or by posting on the sites below. If you don’t know of a craft fair in your area, Bust, Venus and Bitch magazines list Web sites of independent designers. By getting my gifts at the fair, I got to help people who want to be creative full-time live their dream, which is about ten times better than supporting Wal-Mart.

Resource Section: Has a special crafters’ blog section, where crafters reveal their secrets. Links to forums and idea swaps. More forums and ideas for hip projects. Easy-to-use visual menu of new projects on the front page. Their motto: “No Tea Cozies.” Organization in New York, San Francisco, and other cities that brings people together to craft. Gift memberships for Christmas are available.

Crafting magazines
(if you’re feeling super-thrifty, don’t buy; go to your local library and photocopy projects instead): This magazine is extremely fun to read. Its holiday issue features ideas for turning stuff you have around the house into presents. Examples: a Xerox transfer technique to make pictures into wall art; how to build a house of cards with old snapshots; and recipes for a homemade spa day. Not nearly as dorky as it sounds. They’ve always got a DIY project section. A recent issue shows how to make an old board game board into a wall shelf. Cool for many reasons, Venus, which covers women who are active in arts and music and writing, also has a DIY section with projects and interviews with designers. Most recent issue includes a recipe for homemade massage bars. Go ahead, laugh. The incarcerated one’s henchmen and women are still cooking up projects, and they’re pretty cool. There’s a section on the website where you can get ideas for free, if you don’t feel like subscribing to the incredibly pastel mag.

Other links featuring alternative Christmas gifts: Take Buy Nothing Day (that’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, by the way) one step further. This site has a page on Christmas gifts that can be made without purchasing anything. Grist Magazine, a neat Seattle mag that’s focused on environmental issues, provides a rundown of what you should and should not give if you want to stay green. Gift ideas from Angela Hoy, of Writers’ Weekly, that put writing skills to use.

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