November 24, 2009

Crafty Christmas

I've always liked making things with my hands.*

I'm not one of those people that makes it a full time hobby, but mostly because I don't have the discipline to really see those types of projects through, and I haven't really had the right conducive environment (college was sort of a crazy time, and in Italy there are like zero craft supply stores that aren't ridiculously expensive), so my lack of will/materials/time is sort of a hindrance. But every once in a while, I manage to throw something together. Remember my Halloween costume? I totally downloaded that pattern online and then sewed that cape myself, in one afternoon. Which was pretty snazzy, if I may say so myself. And I've made some pretty sweet earrings on occasion. I even made whipped coconut body lotion once. And those moments just serve to make me think of all the other amazing things I could be making.

My mother is a sculptor, so I grew up in a super artsy household - always taking art classes, having all kinds of craft and art supplies at my disposal, making Christmas cards, Halloween costumes, and all kinds of other fun things from scratch. It was tons of fun. But I never really missed it until I started coming across the dozens of amazing craft/fashion/vintage blogs, and of course, Etsy, and I started seeing all the amazing things I wanted that people were making... with their own two hands... at home. And then I started thinking, "Hey if they can do it, I can do it too."

Pretty Things On Etsy That I Want
(earrings here, headband here, wallet here, bracelet here)

Thanks to the combination of my parents - my mom the artist and my dad the crazy eccentric Italian scientist/professor who insists on fixing/making everything himself - I was raised thinking "why buy something when you can make it yourself?"

Ok, before you let your imagination get carried away, let me just clarify that we weren't that crazy family you're thinking of that uses cloth diapers and makes its own soap and grinds its own organic almond butter at home in a mortar and pestle. No dice. I had whatever awesome cartoon character diapers were in style in 1985, I've had a life-long obsession with store-bought beauty products - no home-made hemp soap for me, and on the odd occasion that we did grind our own organic peanut butter, it was totally in that awesome peanut grinding machine they have at Whole Foods. Rather, the theory applied to things like greeting cards, or Christmas ornaments (or fixing VCRs). Why spend $12.95 on 8 identical generic holiday cards, when for about $4 of supplies you can make 20 unique Christmas cards that are so much cooler? Why buy those tacky, glittery, green and red Christmas balls, when you can make delicious peanut butter cookie ornaments (that your dog will totally eat off the tree, littering the house with the little gold threads)? (Or why buy a new VCR when you have eight old broken ones sitting around that you can take apart for pieces?) Well, aside from the fact that the end product is much nicer, and the original supplies are cheaper, the process is more fun!

The only downside to this is that now I generally assume I'm capable of making anything. Ok, not anything. There are a lot of lovely things on esty that I'm perfectly aware of being unable to recreate (like the pretty things I showed you before). But still. That doesn't mean I can't at least try. Worst case scenario I'll make a crappy change purse which I'll try to pass off as a coaster, and no one will ever have to know how badly I failed...

"Why yes, there is an explanation for why you have a zippered compartment under your wine glass, Sir..."

Best case scenario I'll end up making some pretty awesome stuff that I can give away as Christmas gifts - also because this holiday season my finances are a little "economically challenged," so to speak,  so necessity, and not just unbridled enthusiasm for all things hand-made, is the deciding factor in my decision to try for a crafty Christmas.

I already have some ideas, like this adorable Buttercup Bag:

(original pattern by Made by Rae)
(which I actually found at Whims and Inconsistencies)

And this only requires me to learn to use a sewing machine, which, let's be honest here, with my inherent crafty skill? Pshhh, easy. as. pie. (I hope). And I can mix it up for different people using different fabric.

Or I could knit some stuff. One time I knit my friend Molly a 10 foot long fuzzy orange scarf that ended up being used as a sort of wall hanging - when she wasn't using it as a full-body wrap to fend off those icy Chicago winter winds (note to self: versatility is good). (By the way, I'm really sorry I don't have a photo of it - it was pretty awesome). But that means I have to remember how to knit.

Or I could make some more jewelry. I made these last Christmas (as a little gift for yours truly):

Earrings with cut crystal beads
Necklace with milky glass beads

Cute, yes, but there's room for improvement. (I also have a new found respect for people who photograph their own creations and do it well, because this photo sucks).

But those aren't enough ideas. And it's no guarantee that I'll successfully sew a Buttercup Bag my first time seriously using a sewing machine. And what about the men? They can't wear pretty earrings or use pretty purses.

So this is where you come in. Have any ideas or suggestions for me? What gifts have you made in the past that have been well received? Not a crafter? How about just answering this question: if you were to receive a handmade gift, what would you want it to be, and what would you definitely not want it to be? This way I focus on things people actually want/need,

"You crocheted me potholders again? Oh you... you shouldn't have. Really."

And steer clear of presents that are easy to make, but make crappy presents,

"How did you know? Of course I needed a painted rock that doubles as a paperweight!"

So there you have it. You have your homework, I have mine, and together, we can make my Crafty Christmas a success! And maybe, when I finally get my act together (which probably means not before I leave Italy), I'll actually do that giveaway I talked about! Maybe I'll even give away something I made myself! Aren't you just the luckiest readers...

*Kate - I know what you're thinking, and no, I don't plan on making "working with my hands" my livelihood, and no, I don't think you're a "leech" on society. (Can you believe the number of ridiculous conversations we were part of? Oh man. Good times.)


Desiree said...

I just found your blog from Allie at Hyperbole and a Half and I love your blog design! I also love that you live in Italy, which is only the coolest thing in the WORLD! I love that you teach children and work for UNICEF, two things that I so wish I could do.

So yeah, you're pretty much my hero. :-)

Seriously, who did your blog design? I'm bored with mine and want something new.

Have a great day!

Julia said...

Thank you, what a lovely comment :) Btw, I commented back on your blog, on your most recent post, with an explanation of how I did my design.

JenniferBirge said...

thanks so much for featuring my headband :D i will have lots of new stuff this week so keep checking back :)

my name is lauren. said...

i did a post on my blog a week ago (or so) about these satin blooch/hair pins that i made and there's instructions. if you look through the labels it's under DIY i think or craftiness, or you could just peruse.

last year i made all of our gifts:

*teacup candles (goodwill teacups, and i bought wax/wicks to fill them)

*photo spelling (i framed pictures for my brother to spell out "love". each picture had a different letter, and my husband and i had a date where we took photos of random letters we found around the city)

*hubcap clocks (using old mercedes hubcaps & bought an $8 clock kit @ the craft store and attached it to the middle).

*mason jar candles

hmmmmm....that's all i've got for now. i'm sure you'll come up with some great ideas.

Julia said...

Ooh those are good ideas! Thanks lauren! I think I saw that post about the satin flowers. I think I'll try those as hair pins. I actually started doing some photo spelling myself, with photos of things that look like letters. So far I only have four letters of my own name though :) But I never thought to do it as a gift.

Kate said...

dear julia - it's funny you mention it! as soon as i saw 'i like making things with my hands' i went straight back to that wonderful conversation! also, i wanted to add that we made other christmas ornaments when we got our tree. they were very inappropriate controversial leaders, but they made our tree look beautiful from afar. apparently i like making things with my hands too!

At least I'm skinny said...

I convinced myself after this season of project runway that I could make a sweater dress with only preknit sweater fabric and a dress manequin thingy. Thankfully I vetoed that idea before I actually tried it.

My next project though is learning to crochet & knit blankets.

I've definitely given crafty presents that were NOT big hits such as the decoupage picture frame year. I handpainted some margarita glasses with limes for a friend's wedding present and she loves them (or at least says she does).

Julia said...

kate - haha it's true! i forgot about kim jong il and ahmadinijad gracing our tree. and i sewed up that saltwater taffy to make ornaments...we totally were crafty!

skinny - the important thing is that they say they like the present. after they accept it it's no longer your problem :)

Christina said...

I'm not crafty, though I still think I am thanks to an upbringing similar to yours. Even though I don't make, I do read. May I suggest,, and for ideas?

Hope that helps!

ColeImperi said...

This is a great post! I bookmarked it for future reference. <3