Home & Garden

Homemade Christmas gifts: How to make presents with a personal touch

Fill a glass jar with colorful items such as M&Ms, chocolates, colored pasta or beans for a tasty and pretty gift.
Fill a glass jar with colorful items such as M&Ms, chocolates, colored pasta or beans for a tasty and pretty gift. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

You want to do your share to help the ailing economy, but you also don’t want to break the bank. At the same time, you want to give Christmas presents that mean something to your recipients.

So the best gifts — both for your loved ones and your pocketbooks — may be those personal items that require more effort than money.

Gifts like scrapbooks, music compilations and knitted sweaters suggest you were thinking about the recipient during the entire creation process — and that’s a good thing.

To give you some ideas, here are some of the personal gifts Tribune staffers have created for their friends and loved ones:

A sweet tradition

My mom and her friend Chris started the tradition of the candy-filled bell when I was an infant.

“Back when you were a baby, Chris’ parents bought you an ornament for Christmas,” my mom told me. “I of course was caught off guard and didn’t have anything for them.

“The next year for Christmas I gave Chris’ parents a glass bell full of M&Ms. The following year they returned it to me filled with red and white striped candy and, of course, you got another ornament.

“This continued until one Christmas her mother passed the bell on to Chris. Chris and I filled the bell with different candies over the years and even different colored beans and pasta.

“After moving to another state, I disposed of the bell thinking that we wouldn’t pay for shipping the thing back and forth. Well, last year, what did I get in the mail? Yup, a smaller glass bell filled with red and green M&Ms.”

This year I may start my own tradition, trading a candy-filled glass Christmas tree with my friend and her children.

— Jennifer VanderSmith

Directions: Fill a glass jar with colorful items such as M&Ms, chocolates, colored pasta or beans. Layer colorsfor a pleasing effect.

A treat with some kick

There was a time in my life when I sent homemade fruitcakes as holiday gifts.

Thankfully for the recipients, that trend lasted just a couple of years.

I’ve since found a far tastier food gift: bourbon balls with a kick.

For someone who grew up in Louisville, Ky., and worked many years there, it was a natural fit. Kentucky is home to 98 percent of the world’s bourbon production.

Besides this annual holiday treat, a few friends and I have found a way to give food year-round. We take turns cooking dinner for each other, simply by making enough for both families. Ideally we’d be organized enough to do this weekly, but we’re happy to share whenever the mood strikes.

— Sandra Duerr

Hodgenville Bourbon Balls

1 cup chopped pecans

3/4 cup bourbon

1 stick butter

2 pounds powdered sugar

1 box (8 squares) semi-sweet chocolate

1/3 cake paraffin

Soak pecans in bourbon overnight. Cream the butter with half box of powdered sugar. Add remaining sugar and wet mixture. You may need to add more powdered sugar.

Place mixture in refrigerator to chill slightly. Form into small balls and refrigerate one hour until firm. In top of double boiler, melt chocolate and paraffin. Lower balls into chocolate, then place on wax paper until coating is firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes 6 to 8 dozen.

A family history music video

Last year, I finally decided to do something with the Super-8 movies that had languished in my mom’s closet.

The movies, which once belonged to my late grandmother, contained lots of footage of our family — including lots of Christmas memories — through the years. The problem was, we didn’t have a projector.

Besides, as they were, the movies could be boring with long segments on Christmas dinner tables, present unveiling and the like.

So I took the reels to Gallagher Video in Paso Robles and had the owner transfer the raw footage to DVD. Then I used iMovie to edit the hour or so of material down to one 3-1/2-minute video. I originally set it to Ray Charles’ emotional cover of “Yesterday,” but I thought it was too sad, so I replaced that song with something more upbeat: Otis Redding singing “Merry Christmas, Baby.”

I named the project “Scattered Pictures” — after a line in the song “Memories” — and had my buddy Jay create a DVD box cover from some old family photos.

— Pat Pemberton

Handmade textile goods

As an avid sewer and knitter, I love sharing my skills with others.

That’s why I reach out to the wonderful women in my life — friends, relatives and former co-workers — each holiday season by showering them with handmade goodies.

Over the past few years, I’ve given my fabulous female friends warm, fuzzy scarves, cute kitchen aprons and breezy summer totes. (A lucky male friend received his own, more masculine sushi-themed apron.)

With so many designs, fabrics and fibers to choose from, it’s easy to personalize items to suit individual tastes. Each project takes only a few hours and requires a minimal amount of material — a couple skeins of yarn, a yard or two of printed cotton. Plus, the recipients are more than appreciative. If only they knew how quick and easy their gifts were to make!

— Sarah Linn

Ribbed scarf

2 skeins Brown Sheep Company’s Lamb’s Pride Bulky yarn, color #M38 Lotus Pink

1 pair size 10 (6 mm) straight knitting needles

Cast on 32 stitches.

Row 1: Knit 2, purl 2, repeat to end of row. (Your row should end with purl 2.)

Repeat pattern until both skeins of yarn have been used. Bind off in pattern. Finished scarf should be about 5 inches wide and 64-1/2 inches in length.

— “Stitch ‘N Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook” by Debbie Stoller

Framed photos

I used to do a lot of photography and darkroom work. But I left the job that had the darkroom, and then my camera broke.

Still, you don’t have to have expensive equipment to create nice photos with a personal touch. And if you get a decent shot, it can make a good gift if you frame it nicely.

In this case, I wanted to give my in-laws a nice gift that showed their daughter in California.

So I shot this at Cayucos Pier, not long after we moved here from the Midwest 10 years ago. It was originally shot in color, but I had it printed in black and white and enlarged it at Longs Drugs in San Luis Obispo. Then I found the mat/frame combo at Aaron Brothers Art & Framing.

Candi’s parents eventually moved out here, but the photo still occupies a spot on their wall, preserving memories of our move to SLO County.

— Pat Pemberton

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