Handmade Holidays

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Last year it was my goal to give something handmade to everyone in my family. It was so inspiring and satisfying that we’re planning to do an entirely handmade Christmas season this year. I have given Rainer and the kids the option of doing Handmade or Second Hand, just as a bit of a buffer zone.

Maybe you’ve taken the Buy Handmade Pledge, maybe you want to handmake a few gifts for special people, maybe your kids drag you kicking and screaming into a world of holiday crafts, but whatever level of seasonal craftiness you’re aiming for, here’s a peek into how we’re trying to get a handle on it, with pictures of gifts the kids and I have made in past years.

Peppermint Cookies

First, we drew up a list of everyone to whom we give gifts. I have four columns: family (they get multiple gifts and stocking stuffers), friends, kids’ friends, and co-workers/mailman types. People in a column tend to get similar gifts or we are inspired by the list of gift ideas already in that column. We sometimes make a further list with hobbies, interests, and favourite colours for people that are a little harder to peg.

My father’s family has done a handmade gift exchange for years now.  We draw one name from a hat and make that person a gift.  Over the years we’ve seen a lot of incredible ideas, from whimsical bird houses to exquisite embroidered tablecloths to delicious handmade chocolates.  But we all agree that giving to the men is harder than giving to the women, so I’ve tried to include ideas that work well for guys, too.  BBQ spices, knitted hats, training books, and others.  Brainstorming their hobbies can help you link a craft type to a great idea: maybe his hobby or favorite TV show will give you a hook for freezer paper stenciling, for instance.

Second, we brainstormed a list of basic creative categories:kitchen, painting/drawing, polymer clay, jewelery, knitting, embroidery, sewing, photography, etc. That gave us a set of basic skills from which to rocket off on paths of brainstorming, paths I’ll share with you.


  • chocolates
  • candies
  • cookies and other baked treats
  • make ‘mixes in a jar’ – playdough, cookies, muffins
  • for enthusiastic BBQers – spice rubs for meat
  • fizzy bath bombs, bath salts, or other bathroom treats
  • flavoured oils
  • candied orange peels
  • interesting jams or other canned goods: jalapeno jam, lemon fig preserves, etc.
  • handmade soap
  • lip balm and many more recipes for lotions, scrubs, etc

Coffee or Tea?

  • framed art
  • a set of cards and envelopes
  • write and illustrate a storybook (either from your kids or from you to them – go on, unleash your inner first grader!)
  • decorated frames for art (see photo above – easily done with ribbon yarn)

Polymer Clay


tiny sweater ornaments... Knitting

  • hats
  • slippers or felted clogs
  • tiny sweater ornaments
  • mug cozies
  • quicker than scarves: cowls aka neckwarmers (this one uses those funky buttons you’ve been collecting and this one is simple, reversible, can be very manly, and uses up scraps if you want)
  • Pocket Creatures (either as written to warm the hands or stuffed and sewn shut as toys)
  • felted Mancala game(a good guys gift)
  • dishcloths/facecloths to go with the handmade soap

apron pocket embroidery Sewing/Embroidery

  • easy fleece hats
  • teddy bear
  • woodland creatures from Doodle Stitching
  • embroider clothes, hats, napkins or placemats, pockets for drawstring bags/totes (Pokemon motifs may figure heavily in gifts for friends this year)
  • draw and then embroider family portraits (inspired by the idea of using kid art as embroidery patterns in The Creative Family)
  • sew clothes (Sandra may be getting a version of the very simple but funky Built By You shirt, and Sew What: Skirts! is another source of ideas for gift ideas, particularly the forgiving wrap skirt)
  • library bags – when I was little, Mom made me a denim tote with flowers and my name embroidered in wool and a pocket for my library card. I still have it.
  • felt luggage ID tag ( Doodle Stitching again)
  • embroidered felt ornament
  • A Month of Gifts to Sew – a fabulous, rich collection of ideas.
  • A fabric scarf holder. Such a great idea, particularly if you know a knitter.
  • Don’t forget bags with rice or flax for heating in the microwave. Easy as pie using a nice dollar store dish towel.

Kids' freezer paper t-shirts

Freezer Paper Stenciling

a big hit with us this year, freezer paper stencils (or butcher paper, for us Canadians) are simple and stunning.

  • napkins, placemats, tablecloths
  • shirts
  • jackets
  • pants
  • wall-hangings
  • tote bags



  • mini scrapbook
  • altered book – a more artsy/edgy version of a scrapbook, or just a really fabulous way to mix art and words in an old book. (like the one I did for my sister last Christmas)
  • a photo collage, either digitally or with the glue stick in hand. If your kids have a camera, they might want to ‘go undercover’ and take pictures of loved ones for a few weeks and then use those to make the presents.

Fingerprint artMisc.

  • candles
  • coupons for chores or walks or dinner dates, etc.
  • Sandra’s thinking of making a puppet theater and puppets for a certain someone
  • hand-bound books: don’t just think about journals: runners need training logs, readers like book logs, and birders like their lists, too.
  • Contact people in your family and ask for a holiday recipe and a holiday memory. Make a booklet.
  • flower pot people
  • music mix CD (an oldie but a goldie)
  • yarn doll
  • kits: whether a small embroidery kit for a niece, a learn to knit box for your cousin, or a bag you’ve sewn with exotic food ingredients inside, these collections are always a big hit
  • paint/glue/embellish wooden shelves and pegboards
  • accordian envelope book
  • For the kid/crafter/scrapbooker/mail artist in your life: handcarve an eraser stamp set – super easy. I do mine with just erasers and an exacto knife.
  • Or, on a similar note, foam stamps.
  • A sweet organizer for necklaces and bracelets.


(whether they’re little enough to need help or you’ve realized that making together is more than twice the satisfaction)

  • embroidering the kids’ drawings onto fabric – either as framed art or as part of a functional piece like a bag or a quilt (see The Creative Family for ideas and tips)
  • freezer paper stencils are perfect – find a piece of your kids’ art that has a bold outline and turn it into a gift. Wearing the green shirt with Tias’ orange dino on it makes me all warm and giddy.
  • hand-dyed yarn – using KoolAid or other food colourings, you can make the knitter or crocheter in your life very happy with solids or multicolour.

Shhh, he's sleeping

Inspiring and Helpful Websites:

Katie's fingerless mitts

Happy Making! (and don’t forget to share your links and ideas)


44 thoughts on “Handmade Holidays

  1. tracey says:

    WOW…I can’t wait to get back to this list and find some inspiration. These really are the best kind of gifts…for the giver and the giftee. I have purposed to also buy more from Etsy this Christmas. THANKS.

  2. Lisa says:

    So many great ideas!!! I LOVE your little sweater ornaments and tag ornaments in the photos. I will be coming back to this list for more ideas as we get closer to Christmas! Thanks, Poppins! Once again–You Rock!

  3. Julie says:

    What a fantastic inspiring list!
    You could put the handmade cards into the accordian envelope book with a blank birthday reminder page for each month – then the recipient would have birthday cards at hand with a checklist each month.
    Thanks for the great ideas.

  4. Denise says:

    Oooh, awesome list! I’m feeling behind this year as I’m just getting started on list-making and figuring out what we need to start on so we are on top of things for the holidays. Very inspiring… 🙂

  5. Schwester K says:

    I went back and looked through the picture set of the book you made for me. It was interesting to see the comments (and I added some of my own).

    What a list!! It’s amazing, comprehensive, and… intimidating!! 😉

    Can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

  6. lolly says:

    What a fabulous list! I love these ideas! the one that particularly intrigues me is the polymer clay drawer pulls – I never would have thought of that 🙂 thanks also for linking to my knitting pattern.

  7. Wanda says:

    Thank you! The kids and I will have to read through your post and make a list of what they want to try. Maybe are families could get together for a Christmas craft fest.

  8. Cateepoo says:

    Thanks for getting me excited. We always try to make gifts for our family too but we haven’t started yet. I am excited to show my kids your list for inspiration. Cathy

  9. Krista says:

    This is a great list. I’ve been planning a handmade christmas this year as well. I’ve already made about 9-10 things, but I’ve been struggling with some of the men on my list. Thanks for all the ideas!

  10. Bev Q says:

    My eldest son sent me this page and I am so thrilled he did! I try to make one handmade item for each of my 5 children every year… especially ornaments for their trees. They have had a box of their own since they were born, and each year I added a new ornament (usually handmade) to that box.

    By the time they leave home they have a whole boxful of ornaments to start their own trees.

    I have many of those ornaments on my Christmas pages, and lots of gift ideas to make:


    Hope this helps even more of you take on this fabulous handmade challenge!! GREAT ARTICLE– THANKS!

  11. Aimee says:

    This is such a great resource!! I just sent the link to a bunch of friends and family and will definitely link to you on my blog. This will help my gift-planning immensely!

  12. Jessie says:

    This is a great list! Thanks so much for putting this together! Last year I made homemade hot chocolate mix and a Christmas-themed CD for a bunch of people. It was so much fun!

  13. Annie says:

    This is a great resource! Thank you. I have ambitions, but to get from point A (one handmade gift– usually a quilt that ends up way too big and elaborate) to point B (all handmade) is daunting. Thanks for a roadmap!

  14. Wendy says:

    I just found you from Craftzine and love this. I will definitely be bookmarking this post!

    We homeschool too, for just under a year now. Thanks for all your wise words about it. I’ll be back.

  15. Butterflygirl says:

    I always get excited about the holidays once I read your blog and get all those great ideas and inspiration! Handmade is the best! Thanks (once again) for sharing.
    Ooo…and the cookies look scrumptious!

  16. Adrian says:

    Just wondering, how do you get your images in photo style borders? Is there a special program you use?

    Thanks in Advance.

  17. prairiepoppins says:

    Adrian, my blog host WordPress adds it automatically, but there’s a free source, too. Big Huge Labs has oodles of things to do with digital photos and it’s free. I love using it for making grids of photos. Here’s a link to their page for adding borders:


    Hope that’s what you’re looking for!

  18. Steph @ Problem Solvin Mom says:

    Loving your list!! I am planning several homemade gifts this year, and I love how you made lists by category, what a great brainstorming method.

    I have a fun craft idea posted today that I’m planning to make for my niece’s Christmas present, if you’re interested please stop by!

    Take care,

  19. thegurlfrommars says:

    I had a homemade holiday last season. It was heaps of fun, and well received.

    You’ve got some great ideas…will try them out for this coming season.

  20. allena says:

    thanks for the links!
    and the great Ideas! i alway try to make things for gifts.
    i’ve also made calendars with photos of the family for the grandparents. they enjoyed them

  21. Julie says:

    Thank you so much for these awesome ideas. I am verklempt over the book you made for your sister (I have two sisters) – what an amazing, one-of-a-kind, heartfelt gift!

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