Homemade Gift Ideas

Oatmeal Bath Bags

Make little drawstring bags from calico, cotton, muslin or scraps of natural fiber fabric. The bags should be about the size of a bar of soap — or you can just cheat, cut 10 centimeter squares of fabric with pinking shears, spoon the scented oatmeal in the middle and tie in a tight bundle.

Place some oatmeal in a glass jar and add a few drops of an essential oil of your choice. Just a few drops — enough to scent the oatmeal but not make it wet. Seal the jar and leave for a day or so, shaking several times, to let the scent mature and permeate all the oatmeal. Then fill the bags and pull drawstrings, and tie tightly.

Don't put too much oatmeal in, or the bags will be too wet to dry out and will go moldy so they can't be re-used.

One bag should be added to the bath as it fills and squeezed thoroughly to release the scented oat milk — they may last for a couple of uses, and can be refilled. Bags should be hung to dry thoroughly between uses.

The oatmeal is soothing and softening. A selection of these bags made from different scrap fabrics and presented in a basket would be a lovely idea. Some nice essential oils to use would be lavender, lemon, orange, grapefruit, sandalwood, rose geranium, neroli or ylang ylang.

Bath Salts

Here are a few recipes for bath salts. The manufacture is the same; crush the crystals to uniform size (if they aren't already) and add a drop of coloring. Believe me, one drop will color a cupful of bath salts! You want a pastel shade, not an intense color, if only to make sure you don't stain your bathtub. (It's never happened to me, but apparently it has to others). Then add essential oils drop by drop until the scent is sufficient. Put in a pretty jar, or a recycled one you've decorated yourself.

Recipe 1: 2/3 cup sea salt, 1/3 cup Epsom salts, ½ teaspoon glycerin.

Recipe 2: Epsom salts with a few drops glycerin

Recipe 3: Bicarbonate of soda

Recipe 4: Washing soda crystals ground small

Plain sea salt with ½ to 1 teaspoon glycerin per cup of salt is also a good formula, one of my favorites. I generally mix the coloring in with the glycerin first, and then add it to the salt. This gives a more even coloration.

Effervescent Bath Salts

Combine several drops essential oil with ½ cup cornstarch. Add ½ cup citric acid and 1 cup bicarbonate of soda. This mixture will froth and bubble when added to water.

Bath Salt Scents

I usually find it's better to mix just one essential oil per batch of salts — I've tried more complicated formulas but they often end up smelling far too heavy. However, here are a few simple blends I've formulated which turned out very well.

South Sea Spice: 8 drops vanilla oil, 1 drop ginger or cinnamon oil (Warning: cinnamon oil may irritate skins, be extremely cautious in its use!)

Orange Sherbet: 6 drops orange oil, 2 drops bergamot or grapefruit oil, 1 drop vanilla oil. (Since bergamot can cause sun sensitivity, you may want to put a warning that this one is not to be used before going out in the sun).

Exotic Nights: 5 drops jasmine oil, 2 drops neroli oil.

Personalized Baskets

Get a basket (often can be bought at second-hand or thrift shops very cheaply) or a large cardboard box (which you can decorate appropriately) and fill with a selection of small items with a theme appropriate to the person you're giving them to. You can make them look professional by covering the whole lot with cellophane, gathered at the top and tied with a ribbon. Here are a few examples to get you going!

Themed Basket

Need a present for someone who loves cats, frogs, chocolate violets or Star Wars? Instead of buying one large present, try a whole variety of small items. The cat person could be given cat notepaper, a mug with a cat on it, a cat keyring, little book of cat poetry, perhaps a cat eraser or pencil sharpener.

The advantage of a basket like this is that many of the items can be bought cheaply at seconds stores or sales (try them especially for things like mugs) and you can collect the items gradually over a period of time, which means you won't be faced with losing a big chunk of money at once — and there's bound to be at least one item in your basket which the person thinks is absolutely great!

Cider Basket

Write out the following recipe on nice card or paper and place in a basket together with brown sugar, cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, an orange and a mug or two (again, thrift shops can provide some great bargains).

Mulled Cider: Steep 1 gallon of apple cider with ¼ cup brown sugar, 14 whole cloves, 10 allspice berries and 6 broken cinnamon sticks. Simmer over a very low heat for 20 minutes. Stir in 1 cup light rum and ladle into mugs each containing 1 slice orange. Garnish servings with a cinnamon stick.

Bath Basket

Fill basket with a selection of soaps, bath salts and bath bags (homemade), and add a pretty flannel (face washer) and a loofah or bath puff.

Gourmet Tea Basket

Buy a selection of different tea sampler packs and put in a basket with a cup and saucer set bought second-hand — you can pick up some lovely old pieces quite cheaply if the rest of the set is missing.

Sweet Tooth Basket

Get a variety of jars — you can wash and re-use household ones — and fill with home-made biscuits (cookies) and sweets. Pack into a basket with recipes attached, if desired. You can also simply pack the biscuits and lollies into cellophane bags tied at the top.

Gardening Basket

Fill with a trowel or small fork, gardening gloves, seed packets — and you can make plastic plant tags by cutting up an ice-cream container, or other plastic container. Add the tags to the basket, along with an indelible pen to write on them with.

Mystery-Lover's (or Romance-Lover's) Basket

Get a selection of books, all with the same theme, from a second-hand bookstore or charity shop (which is often cheaper). Package up with the preferred nibble or tipple of the gift recipient.

Kids' Basket

All sorts of small things can amuse kids, although of course it has to be customized depending on age and tastes.

For a girl, try a little doll, beads, sparkly pencil or glitter glue, Barbie clothes if she has a Barbie, a headband or hair scrunchie, a miniature teddy bear or other small cuddly toy.

For a boy, perhaps get some marbles, pencils, stickers from whatever movie or TV show he's currently into, maybe a keyring from the same show, compass, magnifying glass or (if he's old and responsible enough) penknife.

Both boys and girls should enjoy pens, pencils or markers (especially the novelty kind), coloring books, collector cards, novelty erasers, and of course a paperback book or two.

Low-Income Basket

For anyone you know who's out of work or living on a very low income — fill your basket with the little things everybody needs, like soap, stamps, matches, pens, paper towels, hand towels, etc. Add a few more luxurious items to give it a more festive air. If you have some free samples of shampoo, toothpaste, etc, lying around, add them too!

Student Basket

A few notebooks, pens, some stamps and envelopes if you want them to write home, a small sewing kit perhaps. Fill a small film canister with some coins for the launderette. A phone card is also a nice addition.

Show-Off-Your-Skill Basket

If you can knit or crochet, you can fill a basket with small hand-made items (and I'm sure you can do this with other crafts too). A knit basket could contain a knitted facecloth or dishcloth, a warm hat or pair of mittens, a doll if the recipient is a child (or the mother of a baby), a scarf, a little knitted fancy pouch or bag, perhaps even a pair of socks! A crochet basket could include a potholder, bookmark, doily, potpourri sachet, coasters, little ornaments. I'm sure other crafters can think of other great items to include.

Other basket ideas: A herb-and-spice basket is very economical if you grow your own herbs: a pasta basket with different pastas, sun-dried tomatoes and homemade pesto: a craft basket for a sewer filled with remnant laces, braids and beads, or for a scrap quilter, a basket filled with pretty scraps and remnants.

Emergency Candle Box

Find a large paper-mâché, cardboard or wooden box, long and deep enough to hold at least half a dozen taper candles (shoe-boxes are a good size). Decorate the box with paint, paper, fabric, decoupage, etc. Fill the box with half a dozen or so plain household candles and a lighter or box of matches. This is a useful gift for almost anyone — after all, everybody, at some time, has been caught in a power failure and had no idea where their candles or matches were.

Fabric Scraps

You can do a lot with fabric scraps or remnants. Make bath bags, potpourri sachets, fancy pillowcases (use an old one as a pattern), jewelry bags, pincushions or scarves. You can also cover notebooks, diaries and photograph albums with fabric — remnants of velvet or brocade are good here. All items can be decorated to truly personalize them.

Very Low-Cost Gifts

I have access to cable TV, but my dad lives in a country area without access to it. This year his present will be a few videotapes on which I've taped several movies and shows which I know would interest him, but which he simply isn't able to see.

A gift of time is particularly valuable. Give vouchers for a certain amount of your time to be spent baby-sitting, gardening, taking elderly relatives shopping, car-washing, etc.

If you have a talent (fixing things, sewing, knitting, reading cards, etc) try giving vouchers for one object fixed, one session, one reading, one garment knitted or sewn, etc. Listening vouchers are also good — a voucher in which you promise to listen to someone's problems and talk it over with them. I have a friend who gives cake-and-coffee vouchers, which are another nice idea.

Wrapping It Up

Buying new wrapping paper, especially for Christmas, is incredibly costly, not to mention a waste of the earth's resources. Here are a few ways to lessen the cost and the waste.

Try wrapping presents in fabric instead of paper. Very pretty fabrics can be bought much cheaper than wrapping paper, or you can use remnants from sewing. Trim the edges with pinking shears, or overlock (serge) them.

Fabric gift bags and pouches are easily made, and can be re-used for storage, or for wrapping gifts next year. Simply make a drawstring bag of appropriate size to the gift and use a pretty ribbon, cord or braid as the drawstring. Bags can be decorated with beads, fabric flowers, buttons, appliqué, ribbons, lace, old doilies, scrap quilting — the sky's the limit! It would be nice to make a whole range of these for family gift giving — they could become the heirlooms of the future!

Make your own personalized wrapping paper, or get the kids to do it. Use a roll of brown packing paper, or keep and iron flat the big pieces of butcher's paper used in shops and supermarkets. The paper can be decorated with stencils or paint. Try cutting little shapes such as stars on the end of a cork and using as a stamp, or cut shapes out of kitchen sponges and use as paint stamps.

Plain brown paper also works nicely when tied with raffia or string, and decorated with tiny gum-nuts, feathers, etc. You can make little gift tags from this cinnamon recipe and use them to label your gifts — they smell wonderful and look great and very professional with plain paper.

Cinnamon Dough

Mix applesauce and cinnamon until you have a stiff dough that is neither sticky nor wet — add a little white glue if you want to make very thin tags. Roll out on a piece of waxed paper and cut to the shapes you desire with a cookie cutter or knife. Pierce with a straw to make a hole for tying or hanging and let dry on a sheet of waxed paper until hard.

Save wrapping paper throughout the year, and re-use it. Unwrapping your gifts carefully is more fun anyway — it heightens the anticipation! Wrinkles and Fold lines can be ironed out at a very cool temperature. Just be sure that there are no gift tags still attached, or your gift might end up in the wrong hands!

Gift bags can be made from plain brown paper lunch sacks. Decorate in one of the ways already described, punch two holes in the top of each side to thread ribbon or string handles through, and voila!

Pack presents into cardboard boxes and paint or otherwise decorate them.

You can also wrap smaller gifts in a pretty scarf. The wrapping then becomes part of the gift.

Save your old Christmas cards and cut the patterned covers into pieces for gift tags. Or cut tags from a plain manila folder and decorate with painted or stamped shapes, glitter, stickers, etc.

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