5 do-it-yourself gifts they’ll love

What’s not to love about a homemade gift? Even when budget isn’t an issue, handcrafted gifts have a personal touch you can’t find in a store.

However, you don’t have to be a master craftsperson or have tons of free time in your schedule. Try one of these easy and creative ideas.

Mixes or recipes in a jar

Know someone who loves to cook, or who is looking for a quick recipe to throw together? Mixes are as easy to prepare as they are easy on the budget when you shop at the bulk food store.

Soups and cookies are always popular, but there’s no end to the options. Mixes for drinks, teas, muffins, cakes, flavoured coffee creamers and hot cereals make tasty stand-alone gifts or play well with other items in a gift basket. Simply layer ingredients in a clear jar, print up a label and decorate with fabric and ribbons. For gourmet tea mixes, include a package of do-it-yourself tea bags to go along with the loose tea, or package them up yourself.

Need an idea for the gentlemen in your life? Try a barbeque rub or spice mix for meat and veggies. Kids of all ages will enjoy a little extra something on their popcorn for movie night. These smaller sized ideas make great stocking stuffers too.

For example, try this Southwest Spice Mix Recipe.
2 ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons whole cumin
2 tablespoons whole coriander
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon sweet paprika

Put the ancho chilies, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick, and paprika into a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, and toast the spices just until they begin to smell, about 1 minute.

Empty into a spice mill and grind to a powder.

(Source: CDKitchen.com)

Any mix can be as easy or involved as you like — there are many good recipe sources online. Some can involve several steps, like toasting or grinding ingredients, or they can be as simple as adding a secret ingredient to an existing mix — like dried fruits, nuts, chocolate or candies.

One must have: Don’t forget the label including ingredients and directions. Design and print your own custom tags or labels at home, or use a service like StickerYou.com.

For more recipe ideas, see:
About.com: Spice Mix Recipes
Gifts From Your Kitchen: Food Gifts in a Jar or Bag

Gourmet goody baskets

Had enough of chocolates and cookies? Time to go a little more upscale. Homemade foods have an edge over store-bought, and you can customize recipes according to your recipients’ preferences and dietary needs.

Don’t worry — you don’t need to slave over a hot oven for hours. Many gifts are hands-off — like flavoured oils and vinegars, homemade vanilla extract and infused liqueurs, but you’ll need to plan a few weeks ahead.

Other goodies don’t require much prep time or ingredients to make — like chocolate dipped strawberries. Some items are worth some effort — like jams, sauces, salsas, fresh bread and baked goods — especially if they’re a family favourite or your signature specialty. A big batch will make multiple gifts.

Homemade goodies can also pair up or partner with store-bought fare to create a themed gift basket or bag. For instance, pair homemade preserves with your favourite muffin or scone recipe, or gourmet breadsticks with a salsa or antipasto.

Here’s an easy flavoured vinegar recipe you can pair with a bottle of grapeseed oil for a salad-themed gift:

Raspberry vinegar
6 cups white vinegar
1 pint red raspberries

Wash raspberries carefully. Place raspberries in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid large enough to contain both raspberries and vinegar. In a non-reactive pan (glass or stainless steel) heat vinegar but do not boil. When hot, pour over raspberries; close jar and place in a cool dark place for one week, giving jar a shake each morning and evening.

After one week, strain contents through a sieve into a large non-reactive bowl. Next, line sieve with a coffee filter, and pour vinegar slowly back through filter into another jar, or directly into decorative containers.

For more ideas, see Heart smart gifts from your kitchen.

Bath and beauty items

Many people enjoy a little pampering, and making your own products lets you control the ingredients and customize the scents. Create your own scented Epsom salts, hand made soaps, sugar scrubs or hot oil hair treatments using holiday-inspired scents like peppermint, gingerbread, vanilla and cinnamon, or have a holiday spa day with the girls. For the purposes of gift giving, opt for recipes that don’t require refrigeration or use perishable ingredients.

For instance, here’s an easy recipe you can try at home:

Spa Index Bath cookies
2 cups finely ground sea salt
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 tbsp light oil
1 tsp vitamin E oil
2 eggs
5-6 drops essential oil of your choice

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Combine all the listed ingredients and form into a dough. Using a teaspoon or so of dough at a time, roll it gently in the palm of your hand until it forms a ball. Form all dough into one teaspoon balls, and gently place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. Consider sprinkling the bath balls with herbs, flower petals, cloves, citrus zest and similar aromatic ingredients.

Bake your bath cookies for 10 minutes, until they are lightly browned. Do not over bake. Allow the bath cookies to cool completely.

To use, drop 1 or 2 cookies into a warm bath and allow to dissolve. Yield: 24 cookies, enough for 12 baths.

(Source: SpaIndex.com)

Need more ideas? Try handmade soaps, massage oils and bath tea bags for a start. See The do-it-yourself spa, SpaIndex.com and MakeYourOwnCosmetics.com for some recipe ideas.

How to give them? Simple jars decorated with ribbon and fabric will work for most products, and bath fizzies and cookies look extra special in organza baggies. (Make your own or find them in the bridal section of your craft store.)

Custom gift cards and stationary

Who doesn’t need to send cards now and then? Whether you’re a scrapbooker, photographer or a whiz at desktop publishing, you can create unique cards at home.

If you’re a scrapbooking fan, let your creativity have free reign to make creative and personal cards for loved ones, or make more simple cards to box up as a stationary set. If you don’t have a wide variety of supplies or tools, host a card making day with friends to pool your resources.

Another option: use your favourite photos to create custom cards. To keep the costs down, watch for promotions at your local photo centre and print up your favourite scenic vistas, flower photos, pets or still-life shots.

While you can buy photo frame cards from craft stores, an inexpensive and attractive option is to do a little pasting yourself. Purchase some card stock and trim it to size (for instance, 6 1/4″ x 8.5″ for a 4″ x 6″ photograph). Carefully fold the card and use rubber cement, photo tabs or double sided tape to secure the picture.

If you’re feeling ambitious, customize the card with your name and date on the back or a message inside. Create a template in your word processor to fit the size card that you’re making and include the message.

What about envelopes? You can make your own or purchase a box at your local business supply store. Give the cards individually or tie up groups of five or 10 with a holiday themed ribbon.

Easy placemats

If you’ve got basic sewing skills, you can easily dress up the table. Holiday or seasonal themed placements are easy to make and work well with decorative napkins and table runners. Some easy options include:

– Reversible placemats with one print on each side. You can switch things up by using two holiday prints — one on each side. It doesn’t have to be the same holiday — like Halloween, Christmas, Easter or Valentine’s Day — as no one will see the back.

– Strip-pieced placemats. Quilters, use up those scarps with an easy flip-and-sew set of placemats.

– A central print with complementary borders on the side (and top too, if you prefer.)

To complete these projects, you’ll need enough placemat padding to make the size and number of placemats you want. A 20″ x 12″ rectangle works well, but you can make them any shape and size you like. Look for quilting or craft fabrics that are 100 per cent cotton — they’ve be easier to work with and will hold a press well.

To keep things simple, the “pillow turn” method saves a lot of time. If you have the time and want a pretty border, use piping or bind the placemats instead.

Want to make matching napkins? Cut squares to the desired size (14″ by 14″, for instance) and hem the edges. Try the rolled hem foot on your sewing machine to speed things along.

For a simple wrapping idea, simply roll the placemats up and tie with a ribbon or matching cloth napkin and add decorative touches like a sprig of holly.

What homemade gifts are your favourites? Share your ideas in the comments!