Six Ideas for Handmade Gifts Your Family Will Actually Love

Hey, guys!

The older I get (and I’m 30 so I’m not that old) the more I realize that gift giving is not necessarily about finding the most expensive thing you can purchase.  With Christmas coming up around the corner (and yes, I realize we’re still pre-Thanksgiving) I wanted to write this article for people who are looking for a more meaningful way to give gifts this season that won’t break the bank.

For me, that means handmade items.

Now, three caveats here:

  1. This applies to adults.  The children in my life are fine with toys that cost ~$5.  They won’t appreciate homemade items and they’ll probably stop using them sooner than they would stop playing with toys anyways so don’t waste your time, money and effort.
  2. These need to be nice items and that means you probably need to start earlier rather than later which is why I’m writing this article now.
  3. Handmade doesn’t necessarily mean super cheap.  In some cases, handmade can get far pricier than something you can just buy from a store (here’s looking at you knitters/crocheters).  But you’re an adult now and are past the stage of writing ‘I Love You’ on a piece of paper and folding it in half.

The best part about handmade gifts is how sentimental they can be.  For me, when I crochet a blanket for my mom, I like to think that I’m keeping her warm with something I took the time and effort to make for her.  When I give my dad a framed photograph of somewhere awesome that I visited, it’s because I look at him as my inspiration to go places and try new things (my dad is amazing and did some crazy cool stuff in his day).

And when I look around my house, it is the sentimental things that I keep.  Not going to lie, I throw a lot of things away because the maintenance and clutter are something that I just can’t manage.  But the sweet things, the thoughtful things and the quality handmade things are items that I keep.  Because they actually mean something.

So here are some ideas for you that you can maybe start working on now that will hopefully inspire you to create something beautiful for your family members this holiday season, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, these still work for birthday or whenever presents.

1. Crocheting/Knitting

First off, these are not the same thing.  Most people just assume that when you work with yarn you are knitting but while crocheting is also done with yarn the difference is that you use a singular hook instead of two needles.

I like to make big ticket items for people when I crochet and, to me, that means blankets.  If I give you a blanket (which easily takes months to complete) it is because I value you and I value our friendship.  I don’t give blankets to just anyone because it can be fairly expensive (you’re looking at around $6 per skein, more if you’re using high quality wool, and 7 to 8 skeins per blanket…) and extremely time consuming (seriously, three months minimum depending on my schedule).

You can also make scarves (extremely useful), hats, gloves, socks, arm warmers, pillows, sweaters, dresses, tops, cowls, pretty much any item of clothing really.  If you are just starting out crocheting or knitting now and hope to have something done by Christmas, I’d suggest a scarf.  There are tons of YouTube tutorials and really active subreddits – r/crochet as well as r/knitting

 

2. Photography

A really great gift, especially if you have been taking photos for awhile and have gotten good at it (a lot of people are really good at pushing buttons, but not taking photos).  In order for a photo to be a good gift, you need to give it in a suitable frame.  Just handing someone a printed photo is cheap and lazy.   Bonus points if it is of something very personal to the receiver such as a photo of family or a place they grew up or something they love.

 

3. Clay Modeling/Ceramics

I just recently discovered the awesome world of clay.  I didn’t realize how cool it was to take a lump of what is essentially mud, form it into something, wait a few weeks, fire it, glaze it, wait a few weeks and come back to see your amazing item.  And you can make anything – mugs, bowls, plates, figurines, cups, vases, etc.  Clay is extremely versatile and beautiful.  Plus there is just something primal about molding mud into a useful object.

This year I made my mother a serving bowl.  I attended a class which was essentially a freeform class where people could make what they wanted with a teacher’s help.  I don’t want to go into further detail because I’m not sure if my mom reads this (I don’t think so) but just in case, I’m going to wait until after Christmas to post pictures.

I’ve since gone back to the studio for what is called studio time where you essentially just do whatever you want and pay by the hour (only $9!) and pound of clay ($5 per pound!).

Doing quality work with clay is actually much more difficult than it seems so if you’re interested in going this route, I would start with a class or two so that you have an experienced person there to show you how to do things correctly.  There are actually a LOT of techniques when it comes to working with clay and if you don’t do it properly your piece will crack, break apart, fall apart or just cave in on itself.

An alternative, if you still want to do ceramics but don’t really want to make something with clay (which, why not?!?!?!) is to just go to a pottery painting place and paint something nice.  Done correctly, you can make some beautiful things.  Good pottery painting studios will have a knowledgable staff, plenty of glazes and idea books for you to look through.

 

4. Drawing/Painting

I realize these are not the same thing but I’m putting them into the same category because they are learned skills that take a lot of time to really excel at.  If you want to draw or paint something for someone in your life and you’ve never done it before, two weeks before Christmas is not the best time to start and hope for a good quality product.

The good news, however, is that you can learn how to do these things and you can learn how to do them well if you will put the time and effort into it.  Drawing is actually something I want to be able to do so I’m going to start sketching every day (starting soon, hopefully) so that maybe next year I’ll be much better at it and will be able to produce some beautiful art that my family will appreciate as opposed to glorified scribbles.

YOU HEARD ME – GLORIFIED SCRIBBLES.

Do not give your family glorified scribbles for Christmas.  Do this right!

And as with photography, present your final piece in a nice frame (unless it is a painting on a stretched canvas in which case…..you’re done).

One thing I would say to be wary of here is those wine + paint places where you essentially socialize while drinking alcohol and everyone paints the same thing.  I realize that you will have painted an object by the end of the evening but that painting will be neither original nor sentimental and therefore will not have any meaning to the receiver other than “oh look, they’re giving me this thing I don’t know what to do with”.

 

5. Glassblowing

Glassblowing is actually quite accessible to everyone, you just need to know what you’re looking for.  In Baltimore (about a half hour away) we have a glassblowing studio that holds classes for people who are interested in learning how to properly blow glass.  You can make little figurines, glasses, vases, paper weights, ornaments, plates, etc.  The people who run it are awesome and walk you through everything.  The class runs for a few weeks and then I believe after that you can come back for some studio time (where you pay for your time + materials used).

I only know this because, when my family all lived in Maryland, we would go there every December to make glass ornaments which were unique to the individual creating them.  So now my mom has a medium-sized collection of handmade ornaments that are extremely special to her (so much so that I’m pretty sure she displays them year-round).

 

6. Woodturning

Woodturning is an amazing art.  It looks much easier than it actually is.  To create beautiful bowls (or anything) out of wood you have to have patience, skill and experience.  For the sake of this post I attended a woodturning class (also because I really, really wanted to) and managed to make two little quirky bowls.

I love them.  And I know if I gave them to my mother she would love them as well.  I’m not very happy with them (because I’m a perfectionist, but I do love them) however they aren’t terrible and I have to admit that.  Plus it was a really cool thing to see these chunks of tree become a useful object that I can tell a story about.

A lot of woodturners will give classes for people in their shops so if this is something you’re interested in trying to make for gifts this year, sign up for one!  You’ll walk away with at least one bowl and an interesting learning experience!

 

I realize that this list is fairly short but the idea is to get you thinking.  Are there other forms of art out there – heck yes!  Are there other skills that produce useful items – absolutely!

If you don’t take anything else away from this post, at least take this – giving a gift is not just about the action of handing someone something you bought for them.  Yes, that is technically ‘gift giving’ but if there is no thought behind it, if there is no sentiment, if there is nothing of any value, all you’ve done is spent some money to give someone something that they may or may not enjoy.  In order to give good gifts (and they don’t have to be expensive!!!) they have to mean something to the person receiving them.

Case in point – I love my sister dearly but she kind of sucks at giving gifts.  She asks for a list of things that you want (yay Amazon Wish Lists!) and then deviates from it so severely that I don’t even know why I gave her the list.  Then, the things she does give you are obviously last minute things that she looked at and thought “yeah, Liz might at some point think she maybe could possibly use this”.  Again, love her to death, but her gifts are very difficult to understand.

My dad gave me the best gift giving advice ever one time.  He said, “Often, the best gift to give someone is something that they want but will not buy for themselves.”  We all have things like that, you just need to listen to what the people around you are saying.

Leave a comment below if you have a skill that you think would create a good quality, sentimental handmade gift for someone in your family.  Have you ever made someone a gift?  What did you make?  How would you suggest someone go about obtaining that skill?  Are you making anything for your family this year?  Have you received any really awesome handmade gifts in the past?  Let me know!!

Thanks for reading!

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