Holiday Gifts on a Budget

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This season, make gifts with your hands so they’ll come from your heart
By Laura Schlereth

It’s the season for giving, but sometimes “giving” can be stressful; buying presents can get expensive. However, the best gifts are not from the store but from the heart. Have you considered making presents for your friends and family instead of buying them?

Get Crafty
Don’t be intimidated. Tina Coleman, who co-authored The Hipster Librarian’s Guide to Teen Craft Projects with Peggie Llanes, says that most crafting techniques can be learned quickly.

“I picked up knitting in a week,” she says. “It just takes the time that you’re watching TV. And sewing is pretty straightforward, so long as you can get the sense of how a straight stitch works.”

Coleman emphasizes the importance of finding the material you’re most comfortable working with. For example, if you don’t have the focus required in sewing, you might enjoy working with molding clay, which Coleman says is a great for making ornaments.

Stacey Sanford, a library assistant at the Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library in Mississippi, teaches monthly craft classes where her students have made a variety of creative objects including scarves, reusable lunch bags, hair accessories and a variety of jewelry—all with supplies costing less than a dollar per person. Not only are they inexpensive to make, but Sanford's friends also find her homemade gifts more personable.

“People appreciate the time that goes into it,” she says.

Feeling inspired? Here are some tips on how to get started making your own gifts!

Check out “How-to” Resources at Your Library
There’s no need to buy books on crafting because your library likely has a plethora of reading materials for how to best exercise your artistic muscle. Books are great for learning because they show descriptive pictures with step-by-step directions, and you can learn and do the project at your own pace. The best part—most “how-to” books come in beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

To see how you can use old materials to make a crafty gift, check out AlternaCrafts by Jessica Vitkus. If you would like a more comprehensive guide, look for Martha Stewart’s Encyclopedia of Crafts.

Another idea is to look at your library’s collection of magazines for extra inspiration. Sanford says she gets many of her ideas from items she sees featured in such magazines as Teen Vogue.

Look Into Classes
If you’re more of a visual learner, taking a class is the best way to go. Sometimes it’s easier to figure out a certain technique when you have an instructor walk you through the steps. Sanford says many students from a nearby high school come to her class for an entertaining after-school activity.

Many libraries offer craft classes for free. Check to see if your local library offers one, and if they don’t, feel free to suggest it for the upcoming holiday season. Librarians love suggestions!

Check Online for Project Ideas
The possibilities are endless when it comes to getting ideas from the Internet. Coleman and Llane’s Web site features a picture gallery of crafts they have made as well as directions to projects you can make yourself. Check out how to make a MP3 player cover.

Another great Web site to visit is Disney’s Crafts For Teens where you can find out how to make a variety of items such as a CD clock, a vacation map picture frame or a suncatcher. Or consider joining CRAFT magazine’s online Instructables Community where you can share your own projects and learn from other community members.

If you want to look for other crafty Web sites, ask your librarian for help on navigating the Internet.

Where the Heart Is
When it comes to homemade gifts, it doesn’t matter what you make as much as the meaning that goes into making it.

“If it’s a heartfelt gift, making it is so much better than buying it from the store—even if you have the money,” says Coleman.

She also emphasizes that you shouldn’t be hard on yourself when exploring your artistic flair; the best way to approach crafting is with an open mind and to have fun.

“What you’re making is art, so it can be free-formed,” says Coleman. “There’s no wrong way to do something.”

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