Take a stand against consumerism with a handmade holiday

By Ellie Rulon-Miller

A big part of the Do-It-Yourself movement lies in anti-consumerism ideals. For a lot of DIYers, it’s the main reason they choose to change their buying habits. The holidays are often seen as a crafter’s greatest challenge: they take on the task of making gifts for all of their loved ones by hand. It’s an arduous mission that must often begin months before the holidays roll around.

For those of you who are less inclined to create than these hardcore crafters, but would still like to give someone a special gift this holiday season, have no fear. There are a lot of websites where you can buy handmade gifts at reasonable prices and even more websites that offer easy-to-follow tutorials for small gifts that are inexpensive to make.

One of my favorite DIY websites, Instructables, is loaded with unique, kitschy gift ideas. Most of them are easy to personalize and even easier to make. My personal favorite is the “Personalized Guess Who” game. All you have to do is purchase Guess Who from almost any toy store and get photos of 24 people (two photos of each person means you will need 48 photos). If you don’t have Photoshop like the instructions suggest, you can take the easy way out and simply cut out your friends’ faces and glue them over the images on the actual game cards. To make your project a little neater, try gluing your faces (very carefully!) to pieces of different colored card stock cut down to the same size as the game cards and laminating them.

Among the most common holiday gifts is perhaps the most truly divine creation ever to grace humankind: chocolate. Instead of running to CVS at the last minute and buying the same overpriced sampler box of chocolate that so many others have, you can find simple recipes for chocolate treats to make at home (and for you vegans, there are also a lot of equally-delicious, milk-and-egg-free dessert recipes out there).

“The Tamra Davis Cooking Show,” a Web show released weekly on the website Hungry Nation, offers a lot of kid-friendly recipes for the holidays. This week’s episode features a simple recipe for gingerbread men and simple decorations. Although the recipe is geared towards young children, it can be easily altered to cater to the older crowd. It’s also fun for when you get into one of those five-year-old moods. You can use any cookie cutter shape for the cookie and almost anything as a topping. Any craft store will sell different shaped cookie cutters. Decorate cookies to resemble your friends and family members for a really unique take on a traditional recipe.

The first thing that your family and friends will see when you give them their gifts is yet another chance to be creative this season: the wrapping paper. Whenever my family runs out of wrapping paper, my parents will typically resort to newspaper. Last year, I spread two layers of newspaper out on my floor and splatter painted on it, a la Andy Warhol, and used that instead of generic wrapping paper. For small gifts, you can use pages from a magazine as wrapping. You can use any kind of paper – road maps, book covers or the pages of a textbook. Or you can buy a roll of plain white paper and design your own.

If you’re looking to buy quality, handmade gifts online, your first stop should be Etsy. There, you can find not only handmade goods, but also antique and vintage toys and clothing. There is also ArtFire, which was built on the same foundations as Etsy but seems to be comprised of only the highest quality handmade items (keep in mind, though, that ArtFire’s prices are significantly steeper than Etsy’s).

Buying gifts from independent sellers is a great way to support the crafting movement that has been spreading like wildfire in the last few years. If you’re really interested in those handcrafting gifts, take the Handmade Pledge at buyhandmade.org.

To all of the DIYers, happy crafting! And to the Pioneer Valley, have a great holiday season. Even if you don’t buy your gifts handmade.

Ellie Rulon-Miller can be reached at [email protected]