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Heartfelt and handmade

By Dennise Smith
Chip Ellis
Homemade gifts brighten the holidays: From the left are coffee liqueur, peppermint schnapps, handmade candle, wire-wrapped cocktail rings, infused vinegars with decorative trophy stoppers, rice-sock heating pads, rosemary-infused salt, handmade soap and cookies with a handwritten recipe.
Chip Ellis WV Style Team member Autumn D.F. Hopkins provides three examples of easy DIY bracelets. The two on the left can be made using the directions in the accompanying article; directions for the one on the right can be found at www.wvstyleteam.com.
Chip Ellis A framed printout from Wordle.net, submitted by Gazette-Mail staff writer Judy E. Hamilton, makes an easy and quick personalized gift. This "word cloud" features the gift recipient's favorite writers with added photographs.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The "do-it-yourself" movement has grown steadily over the past several years, but it has always had a place at the table during the holidays.

The DIY projects of today are far more sophisticated and less awkward than the handmade gifts of my youth. Gone are the macramé plant holders, silver-coated macaroni-encrusted picture frames and home-baked fruitcakes that have given handmade gifts an unfair bad rap (although I do hear macramé is making a comeback).

Now every major bookstore has an entire section devoted to DIY and craft projects. Particularly during this time of the year, a simple search on Google produces thousands of pages devoted to extraordinarily creative DIY Christmas gifts and holiday decoration ideas. Be warned! Googling this topic will lead you down the rabbit hole of time loss, devilishly disguised as Pinterest, which is rivaled only by a full-blown Facebook addiction.

Unfortunately for DIY-for-lifers, this addiction leads not to reunited friendships, but to shelves full of items such as Mod Podge adhesive spray, glass paint, sequined trims and forgotten half-completed craft projects. But, oh the joy of learning five different ways to make pendant lighting out of recycled bottles and glass jars!

The allure of the handmade gift is not that it is a cheaper way to do your holiday shopping -- while, generally, DIY gifts are more budget friendly, I can tell you from experience that it is easy to spend virtually the same amount of money in the ingredients, packaging and cost of your time.

No, the wonderful thing about a handmade gift is just that: It is made with your own hands, not mass-produced by an overseas manufacturing facility. Specifically, it is made by you for someone very special, the recipient.

Another benefit of your DIY gift is that you can spend less time fighting the crowds and being stuck in mall traffic and more time enjoying time with friends and family, which is what this season is all about. And finally, it is just plain fun!

The key to a great DIY gift versus one that will be stored away in the closet is making it thoughtful, personalized to the recipient and/or unique or luxurious. For those of you new to DIY, here are a few tips to make the experience fun and rewarding.

  • First, consider projects that require items you already have in the home or for which you have most of the ingredients or supplies. If none of those projects interest you, determine if the project you want is within your budget by costing it out ahead of time, including the packaging.
  • Be sure to consider the presentation of your gift. Unlike a store-bought item that has had an advertising executive (or even a team of them) design the best and most eye-catching way to package it for you, your handmade gift will not. Presentation can make the difference between a lovely handmade gift and a quaint or even homely one. Gift packaging is an area that continues to flummox me, so I rely heavily on the Internet. Online you can find many innovative ideas for wrapping and packaging, including ideas for using recycled items to cut down on the cost.
  • Another DIY trap is taking on a project that requires a skill level or an amount of time you do not have. Some people are naturally crafty and have the patience and persistence of a crafter, others do not. Some projects may not turn out well the first time and may require some practice. Know your limits and pick your project accordingly. The great thing is that there are plenty of DIY gift ideas out there, so there is something for every skill level and time commitment.
  • Similarly, start your DIY projects now. Don't start them the week before Christmas. As with most things in life, they may take longer to complete than you expected, and this season is notorious for unexpected distractions.
  • That said, there are many DIY items, such as those offered in this article, that make great last-minute gifts.

    Here are a number of budget-friendly DIY holiday gifts for you to try. Most all are very simple and quick to execute.

    Cocktail ring

    Items you'll need:

  • 18-gauge wire (I used copper, brass and sterling silver from Pile Hardware)
  • Bead or beads of your choice
  • Ring finger gauge (available at Jo-Ann Fabric) or the top of a nail polish bottle, which is a common ring size
  • Jewelry pliers or wire cutter and pliers from the toolbox
  • Directions:

    1. Cut a piece of 18-gauge soft wire 1 foot long.

    2. Place a bead in the middle of the wire. Bend the wire down.

    3. Place the wire with a bead around the ring mandrel at a half-size larger than needed (or nail polish top). Wrap the wire around the ring. There is one wire on either side of a bead.

    4. Wrap each wire twice around the bead, one side at a time and alternate sides. Your wires will end up in opposite directions.

    5. Use the wire end to wrap around the shank. Make 2 to 3 wraps. Cut the wire. Tuck the wire ends with chain nose pliers so they are not poking.

    6. Repeat step 5 with the other wire end. That's it.

    Play with different sizes and colors for your bead and wire for lots of different rings.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Rosemary sea salt

    Rosemary sea salt is great anytime you'd use regular salt.

    Ingredients:

  • 16 ounces of sea salt
  • 6 branches of fresh rosemary
  • Directions:

    1. Squeeze the rosemary and pull your fingers down the branch to pull off all the rosemary leaves. Repeat on all but two branches (those are for the rosemary garnish at the end).

    2. Dump all the sea salt into a pan or pot and then add the rosemary. Turn heat on to medium heat and keep watch, stirring for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, dump contents into a large bowl. Let cool without a cover for 10 minutes.

    3. Pour into airtight containers (I used recycled roasted red pepper and mustard jars) with sprigs of fresh rosemary down the sides. Screw on an airtight lid and you are done.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Herb vinegar

    Use herb vinegar in salad dressings, marinades or to deglaze pans. The most commonly used vinegars are red or white wine vinegars and cider vinegars, but rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar and other specialty vinegars may also be used.

    Ingredients:

  • Vinegar
  • Fresh herbs
  • Directions:

    1. Sterilize bottles or jars.

    2. Gather fresh herbs (from your yard, Kroger or Drug Emporium's Healthy Food Market). Wash and pat dry herbs.

    3. Put herbs in sterilized bottle or jar.

    4. Add vinegar to cover the herbs.

    5. Put a nonmetallic lid on jar and store in cool, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks for full flavor.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Vintage trophy wine bottle tops

    This idea is courtesy of Jamie Miller of Collage, 805 Quarrier St.

    Items you'll need:

  • Drill with a smaller bit
  • Trophy tops from thrift store or garage sales
  • Tapered corks from a wine or beer supply store (size 9 or 10)
  • Superglue
  • Directions:

    1. Take your trophy apart. They all have a nut at the bottom that holds on the long pole, which the actual statue is on. Unscrew that nut.

    2. Grab your drill with a 1/8-inch bit. It's smaller than the piece on the bottom of the trophy, but that is OK because you want it to fit in well. Drill gently about halfway into the cork.

    3. Put a bit of superglue on the screw and the underside of the trophy top and gently screw the cork onto the trophy until flush and a tight bond forms. Be careful to screw it on straight. Allow to dry at least one hour before using.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Rice sock heating pad

    Everyone on your list over age 30 (and some under 30) will enjoy this heating pad.

    Items you'll need:

  • Socks
  • Matching thread
  • Needle
  • Rice
  • Essential oils of eucalyptus, lavender or peppermint, depending on the desired aromatherapy effect
  • Directions:

    1. Purchase colorful socks, matching thread and a needle. Purchase one pair for every two pads you want to give. Make sure it is tightly woven. If it is not, you may insert a knee-high nylon stocking into it to keep the rice from coming through.

    2. Mix rice with oil of eucalyptus, lavender or peppermint. You will need 3 to 4 cups per pad. Mix in enough to make a pleasant smell but not enough for the rice to feel wet. Use eucalyptus oil if you want to induce energy, lavender oil if you want a peaceful sleep, peppermint oil to banish a headache.

    3. Fill the socks to 70 percent capacity with the rice mixture. (Do not fill it all the way so the user can wrap the pad around the neck or mold it to the back as needed.)

    4. Take special care to sew the pad closed very well. Use tiny, close stitches to make sure the rice will not leak out.

    5. Attach a note with instructions for heating: Heat the rice sock in the microwave for a minute or two, depending on the power of the microwave. It will retain its heat for quite a while and may be used over and over again for years.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Wordle.net images

    Wordle.net is a free program that generates "word clouds" from text you provide. It is a fun and easy project for all ages. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends. You can also add photographs to your "word clouds" after they have been printed.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Ocean essence bath salts

    Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Epsom salts
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 4 or 5 drops blue food coloring
  • 4 drops jasmine essential oil
  • 3 drops vanilla extract
  • Directions:

    Mix Epsom salts and baking soda in a bowl using a mixing spoon. Add food coloring, essential oil and extract, and mix quickly to avoid clumps. More blue food coloring can be added, depending on how blue you would like your ocean to be. Put a note on the jar that states: Add 2 tablespoons to bathwater.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Holiday bath salts

    Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Epsom salts
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 4 or 5 drops red food coloring
  • 4 drops peppermint essential oil
  • Directions:

    Mix Epsom salts and baking soda in a bowl using a mixing spoon. Add the food coloring and oil and mix quickly to avoid clumps. For an added treat, make a separate batch without the food coloring, and layer the white and red salts in a jar for a candy-cane effect. Put a note on the jar that states: Add 2 tablespoons to bathwater.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    Energizing bath salts

    Ingredients:

  • 1 cup Epsom salts
  • 1 cup baking soda
  • 3 or 4 drops eucalyptus essential oil
  • Directions:

    Mix Epsom salts and baking soda in a bowl. Add essential oil and mix quickly to avoid clumps. Four to five drops of food coloring can be used to add a visual touch, but are not necessary. Any color that makes you feel energized would be perfect. Put a note on the jar that states: Add 2 tablespoons to bathwater.

    -- Judy E. Hamilton

    String bracelets on a budget

    I was shopping in the mall one afternoon when I stumbled on the updated version of a string bracelet. I was thrilled to see this modern version of one of my childhood favorites making a grown-up comeback. And I was horrified when I picked it up and saw it cost more than $40. What?! It was just string with a couple of little glass beads and a knotted adjustable clasp!

    As I shopped around, I realized almost every store had a version. The least expensive was $25 and the most expensive more than $200. No, thank you! For about what you spend on a cup of gourmet coffee, and a little imagination, you can make several of these bracelets as gifts for all the cool kids in your life.

    You'll just need a few things:

  • Thick thread or embroidery floss. This comes in every imaginable color. I like the six strand variety. It is durable but still thin enough to thread through most beads.
  • Beads of your choice; you can use anything you like as long as it isn't too heavy for the string. I chose some hematite beads I found at the local arts and crafts emporium. I like to use natural stones that some people believe lend some benefit to the wearer. Hematite is thought to ward off headaches and is mildly magnetic (so don't wear it with your watch!).
  • Eight to 10 crimp beads. You don't have to have these. I think they dress up the edges of the beads and help prevent fraying.
  • Directions:

    1. Measure your string to twice the circumference of your wrist, then add an additional 10-inch tail. You'll need two pieces.

    2. Loop the two in half and tie an overhand knot 10 inches from the loop.

    3. Hold the pieces, one in each hand, and tie two square knots (see photo of square knot).

    4. Slide on a bead. Tie two square knots. Repeat till you've added the desired number of beads. Tie two more square knots.

    5. To finish it, you can either tie it off or you can tie each loose end in an overhand knot on the opposite string. Holding all the strings together, tie one overhand knot at the end of the last two square knots. Leave a tail on each end and you can slide the knots to adjust to your wrist size.

    6. For a more finished look, you can separate the threads and add a crimp bead to each strand this will keep the edges from unraveling and will add a little weight to the ends to make it hang nicely.

    You can personalize these by using the recipient's favorite color or birthstone.

    -- Autumn D.F. Hopkins

    Traditions from the kitchen

    It's been years since I baked cookies and holiday treats with my aunt to give as gifts. As I get older, I realize how important traditions and memories are. So, my goal this holiday season is to remember and honor the past and to make new memories. I will share some of my most valued recipes with the loved ones in my life.

    The times I spent in the kitchen with my aunt and grandmother are among my fondest memories. My grandmother loves to tell how I learned to read as a young girl by skimming cookbooks with her and my aunt. It was a weekend ritual, and it is still how we spend time together during my visits.

    One of my favorite cookbooks through the years has been "Hallelujah! The Welcome Table" by Maya Angelou. She told a story about each one of the recipes in the book. That's what I plan to do -- tell the stories of the wonderful people who have passed these treasures to me. I want the recipient of these gifts to know how special they, and these recipes, are to me.

    Directions:

    Write or print recipes on fun paper. Use craft scissors to cut them out and glue to pretty paper. You can either insert these pages into a binder or a photo album, which can be purchased at a discount store. It might be a good idea to laminate these pages or put them in page protectors. (I'm messy in the kitchen, and your gift recipients might be too.)

    This is an inexpensive DIY gift that is both thoughtful and practical. For multiple recipients, scan the recipe pages to your computer and print them off at home or through the photo print services in town, such as Walgreens or Target. You can even lay out your recipe book electronically using Snapfish or a similar photo print service and print multiple copies at the same time.

    -- Jen Wood Cunningham

    Homemade liqueurs

    My No. 1 DIY obsession this year has been homemade liqueurs, schnapps and cordials. The first two I learned to do, coffee liqueur and peppermint schnapps, are among my favorites thus far. The added benefit of both is that they do not require a two- to three-month "sit time" that homemade fruit cordials do.

    When I give these liqueurs as gifts, I like to use flip-top glass bottles that I order from the Internet. However, you could also use large Mason jars and decorate the lids with fabric and trim.

    The only problem with these recipes is keeping oneself away from the finished product before Christmastime arrives!

    Coffee liqueur:

    This liqueur has been the hands-down favorite of family and friends. It goes great in White Russians, over vanilla ice cream, in lattes or just straight up.

    Ingredients:

  • 1 8-ounce jar of instant espresso or instant coffee
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 to 3 cups of sugar, depending on your preference
  • 1 750 ml bottle of brandy
  • 1 750 ml bottle of golden rum
  • 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • Directions:

    In a large saucepan, make simple syrup: Heat water and sugar over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the coffee and let the mixture cool completely, about 10 minutes. Add the vanilla.

    In a large, sterile pitcher or sun tea jar with a tight-fitting lid, pour the brandy and rum. Add the coffee mixture to the pitcher and stir well. This is ready to drink once it cools, but I find it tastes better if you give it a week or two in a cool, dark place to let the flavors marry, stirring a few times each day.

    When you add a gift tag to your coffee liqueur, be sure to include the instruction to shake well before each use.

    You can also cover with plastic wrap and secure with a large rubber band.

    Candy-cane schnapps:

    This is a great in hot cocoa or used as a base for candy-cane martinis. My favorite way to have this schnapps is as a revitalizing and stomach-soothing after-dinner drink.

    Ingredients:

  • 1/2 to 1 cup sugar (your preference)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 750 ml 80 proof vodka
  • 3 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract; I like to use instead 1 cup of vanilla flavored vodka (or 2 to 3 airplane bottles of vanilla vodka) to keep the schnapps crystal-clear.
  • Directions:

    In a large saucepan, make simple syrup: Heat water and sugar over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. Let the mixture cool completely.

    Into a sterile pitcher or sun tea jar with a tight-fitting lid, pour vodka, sugar syrup and peppermint oil or extract. Stir well.

    Store in a dark place away from heat for two weeks. Stir every two to three days to mix. I prefer a particularly bracing peppermint flavor, so I usually sample the schnapps after a week to see if more peppermint is needed. Then sometimes I sample it a few more times just to be sure.

    -- Dennise Smith

    Dennise Smith is a Charleston lawyer, fashion designer and co-founder of the local arts group Nomadic Tribes Collective.


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