Handmade gifts have always been a good option for people who have big hearts and small budgets.
Those who also have zero crafting skills might have figured they'd have to wrap up an I.O.U. for their loved ones to redeem in better times.
But even people who don't know a crochet hook from a hot glue gun can make all kinds of cool stuff with minimal effort and expense - and we're not talkin' macaroni necklaces.
"I say everybody is talented in something," said Sharon Dunoski of Sylvania Township, who is president of the Toledo Craftsman's Guild.
Walk the aisles of a craft store and see what catches your eye, she suggested.
"What do you like? What do you like to receive? That will guide you," Mrs. Dunoski said. "At some level you'll have a knack ... Everybody has to start someplace."
More advice from Mrs. Dunoski: Ask store employees for help finding a project that fits your ability level. Be honest. You don't want to go home, get started, and be overwhelmed. Also, read through all the instructions, and allow yourself plenty of time for the project. Rushing usually means trouble.
It will be worth the effort, Mrs. Dunoski said. "If you're looking for that one-of-a-kind, unique gift, that homemade item is the thing to do."
Following are some ideas and estimated costs.
1. Fleece blanket
This idea isn't new but it remains popular, according to Carole Dee, manager of Hancock Fabrics at Starlite Plaza in Sylvania. "We've probably sold enough fleece here in this store to blanket Toledo six times," she said.
A handout with detailed instructions and diagrams is available at the store, but the idea is to take two same-size pieces of fleece, cut a five-inch square from the corners, then cut fringe five inches deep all the way around. Use those strips to tie the two big pieces together. You could make the blanket a single layer - less work but also less snuggly.
Another option: Place a cushion between the top and bottom pieces of fleece, then follow the same cut-and-tie process to create a soft, warm pad to take to a football game.
A third option: Make a fleece scarf. Buy a quarter-yard of fleece and cut fringe at both ends. That's it.
The fleece comes in solid colors and prints including some college logos, NFL, NBA, plaids, animals, and other patterns that would be suitable for children or adults, men or women.
Cost: Fleece is roughly $6.99 to $15.99 per yard, but is frequently on sale. Instructions for a blanket for an adult call for 2 yards of a solid color and 2 yards of a complimentary print.
2. Bath salts
Marian Emch of Monclova Township made these as favors for guests at her daughter's bridal shower earlier this year, based on directions at allfreecrafts.com/giftinajar/bath-salts.shtml. She mixed one cup Epsom salt, one-quarter cup sea salt, and two tablespoons baking soda in a glass bowl, then added two drops of glycerin and a few drops of essential oil (such as lavender, vanilla, or eucalyptus). Use more oil for a stronger scent, and add a little food coloring if you want color. A batch makes enough to fill four small jelly jars.
Mrs. Emch said she purchased the salts, baking soda, and glycerin at a grocery store and the oil at a bath and body shop.
"This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled depending how much someone wants to make," she added.
Cost: The price of the ingredients will vary with size and source, but should be about $20 or less and sufficient for more than one batch.
3. Ice candles
With a lacy, Swiss-cheese texture, these pretty candles look tricky to make or expensive to buy, but they're not either. Do an online search of the term "ice candle" and you'll find detailed instructions on numerous Web sites. Here is the oversimplified version: Stick a taper candle in the middle of a mold (something like a deli food container or juice carton you've cut down) and surround it with crushed ice. Pour melted wax into the mold. The wax hardens around the melting ice, creating little air pockets. Drain off the water. After the wax has hardened completely, carefully cut away the mold.
Cost: $10 would buy enough wax to make multiple candles.
Among Julia Robertson's regular customers at the busy Meant to Bead store on West Central Avenue is a 10-year-old boy who designs and makes earrings for his mother.
For people who aren't as clever or handy as he is, Mrs. Robertson sells kits with components to make earrings or pendants, and has work tables where she or an employee will assist the creative process.
"Earrings are fairly simple," she said. "We usually help people with their first pair."
Seasonal and holiday-themed kits include candy canes, snowmen, and angels. Prices for bead kits range from $3.25 to $12.20 for Swarovski crystals, but other kits are less expensive. You'll also need a headpin on which to stack the beads and an earwire (french hook, post, lever back, etc.); those cost 10 cents apiece and up, depending on the metal you choose.
Cost: Even if you used the most expensive kit and wire parts, a pair of earrings would cost less than $20. It could be done for less than $5.
5. MEMENTO Shadow box OR FRAME
"One of my favorite personal and affordable gifts is right there in the bureau drawer, where all that memorabilia from someone's life has been gathering - photographs and letters and bits and pieces," said Bob Schira, owner of For the Love of Art, an art supply, studio class, and custom framing business in Sylvania Township.
He recalled a father who framed his son's grade school report cards to celebrate when the young man earned his bachelor's degree. "That's the kind of stuff that just disappears and you wonder whatever happened to it," Mr. Schira pointed out.
Another customer brought in a collection of her late mother's old tatting tools and pieces of lace, and put them in a shadow box for her aunt along with a poem she wrote "about things that tie us together," he said.
"It's an opportunity to take those things that would languish in the drawer and bring them out and make them part of your life together," Mr. Schira said.
"We can help them design it or they can do it themselves. It's just a matter of organizing the parts, and we can show them all the ways to attach the materials," he added.
Cost: A high-quality custom shadow box or frame starts at about $30 to $50, depending on size. You'll pay less at a craft or hobby shop, but you'll have to work with standard sizes and a limited selection of finishes.
6. DIY gift certificate
Give a gift of service: How about baby-sitting for a young family, computer coaching for the clueless, transportation service for someone who doesn't drive, a homemade dessert every month for a year for someone who doesn't bake, snow shoveling for those who'd otherwise have to do it themselves.
Cost: Your time and an envelope for your certificate.
7. Family recipe book
Make copies of Mom's or Grandma's best-loved recipes and present a set to each of the relatives.
Cost: Your time, paper, and whatever box or binder you choose to hold the recipes. Or you could just roll and tie them with a ribbon.
8. Custom calendar
Good for relatives. Get calendars with themes that fit each recipient's special interests, such as animals, nature, sports, or music. Go through the calendars and mark all the family birthdays, anniversaries, and other significant dates. Cost: Depends on how fancy a calendar you use. A lot of businesses give them away this time of year.
9. WEARABLE ART
Buy a plain T-shirt, sweatshirt, apron, or canvas bag and jazz it up with embellishments ranging from paint to rhinestones to a family photo.
It's not difficult, but you're more likely to be successful if you practice first on fabric that's similar to the one you're going to decorate, advised Savannah Mercurio, a sales associate at Michaels in Rossford.
"It's trial and error, like every craft project. Once you understand how it functions, you can very easily jump into it," she said.
If you're using tubes of fabric paint, for example, do a trial run to figure out how much pressure to apply to get the line you want, or how fast or slow to move the tube. If you're using an applique, select one of the letters or images from the set that you don't need for your project, and iron it on to determine the best temperature for the iron and see how the applique takes to the fabric.
If you're doing a transfer of a message or photo from your computer to fabric, use the practice sheet that comes in the package to see how it will print. Common mistakes, Ms. Mercurio said, are improper alignment (so the words or image run off the page) and printing on the wrong side of the sheet.
Be sure to read and heed instructions on this as well as any other craft project. Some require washing the T-shirt or other item before embellishing it.
Products for snazzing up a blank fabric surface include glue for adhering faux gems, studs, and glitter; iron-on letters, words, and images in materials ranging from embroidery to girly rhinestones; paints in neon, primary, and glow-in-the-dark colors; fabric markers, pens, and crayons; and stencils.
You don't need to be able to draw. A child's handprint on a sweatshirt makes a dandy gift for a grandparent.
Cost: $10 to $15 or less, depending on the materials you use.
10. HANDY STUFF
wCanister magnet for the refrigerator: Buy a two-pack for about $5 and decorate the canister side with something like gems or a photo. Little compartments in the canister hold safety pins, paper clips, changes, etc. "It's so easy, and you will use it," Ms. Mercurio said.
wRotating cube for desktop: For $3.99, you get an unfinished wood box with an optional top and a frame on each of the four sides. Paint the box, slip a photo in each side, and you're done.
Contact Ann Weber at: email@example.com