Christmas is coming soon. i know some people groan when they hear that – they think its flipping October and too soon to be thinking about Christmas but.. when you handmake your presents, then its not too soon to be thinking about it at all. And if you handmake things like christmas cake or pudding then both of those could do with being made this month… so, its not too soon at all.

I handmake most of my presents. i have done for several years, although it saves money, that’s not the primary reason i do it. I also do it because i enjoy crafting, the process of making something, and i find that Christmas, having a deadline to get something done for, lights a fire under me, gets me moving. Its no accident that the period between the end of August and New Year is, each year, the happiest time of year for me, i’m kept busy. January is a dangerous time for me: i get the post christmas blues, it starts out as a rest from the pressure of having Christmas to get ready for, then slides into depression – having nothing to aim for, no projects to work on.. i know now that it happens so before christmas i come up with some kind of project i can work on to try to ride through that period, but still, it is hard – taking down the decorations and the long cold winter nights of January and February don’t help either.

But that’s not what i wanted to write about today πŸ™‚ I don’t know if other crafters feel the same way but when it comes to making my own presents, i have doubts on two levels.

1) the pressure of comparing your present to a commercially bought one. The pressure of having to spend on christmas. The awareness that no matter how your loved ones feel about home made gifts, unless they are also doing home made gifts, the likelihood is that they’ve spent more on you than you have on them. Much of this is down to the commercialisation of Christmas, there are some great articles out there written about this, about returning to the real meaning of Christmas gifts (especially for children) and i’ll link to some of these at the end of this post. But the most effective way of countering this, i think, is to actually try to work out how much it would cost to buy your home made items – with the added cachet that hand made usually adds – and then that helps you to feel considerably better. Another way to do it is to work out what your time is “worth” in a monetary value and then apply that to your christmas present, so you know your jar of jam, although it might only have cost a few quid for the fruit and sugar, is actually worth X amount if you had to pay for the time used to make it, or for something similar bought in a shop. (although it can be said that thinking of your gifts in these monetary terms is buying into the commercialisation of christmas as well and somewhat self defeating.. i just know it helps me to feel that little bit less guilty when someone has bought me something that i think must have been terrifically expensive.)

2) the pressure of having to make your home made present as *good* as a commercial equivalent, if not better. I think the sole exception to this one is children’s gifts – grandparents are never going to expect a work of art from a 5 year old, and would often far rather have a picture for their fridge than a box of chocolates that disappears (except for the evidence on the hips!) in no time at all. Otherwise, though, i know i sometimes worry that my presents just aren’t good enough. It doesn’t happen often with food: i know i’m a good cook, and while something i bake may not look as perfect as a shop bought one, it invariably tastes good. A case in point would be a christmas cake i made last year – i used ready made royal icing, rolled it out, and in a few cases i had to use patches. I covered them up, smoothed them out, but i could still tell they were there, so it wasn’t as perfect as a shopbought one, to look at. but – especially with the amount of booze in it – i’m pretty sure it tasted a LOT better!!!

At the same time though, what if someone comments that your present fell apart after they had it? i don’t know about anyone else, but i feel very guilty, and it does feed back in the following year. I worry a lot that my gifts just won’t be good enough. that i don’t have the skill or the equipment to make it quite as good as i would want it to be….. but then, i am a worrywart.

What if they hate what you made them? home made presents are fraught with tension in that sense, particularly things like embroidered items. When i was about 14 or so i made a rectangular piece of linen type cloth, all nicely finished, and embroidered a lovely pattern onto it. It was intended to go over the back of a comfy chair, to keep the back of the chair from being stained by hair (you don’t see it much these days), and gave it to my grandmother. It had taken me months to do it, the pattern was all picked out with satin stitch, which is intensive in any case, but there was a lot of it. She opened the present and i was all excited to see what she would think of it. i explained what it was for, she said she loved it, and she put it over the back of the chair she was sitting in at the time. Now.. my grandparents, at the time, lived in the old village schoolhouse, which was attached to the building that used to serve as the village school. A large, hall type room, with a large open fireplace in one end (by large, i mean, you could walk into it) and a stove at the other end. Christmases were celebrated in there – Grandpa would light a large fire in there, there would be comfy chairs arranged in a horseshoe around the fire, and the stove would keep the other end, where the large dining table was, warm too. Otherwise, apart from special occasions or the occasional village event, it didn’t really get used. And that’s where Grannie put her new bit of embroidery – across the back of the chair where she was sitting at the time, in the school. And it stayed there. it was still there when i visited that house for the last time with Michiel, 20 years later. And i have no idea if she left it in there because she was proud of it and wanted the village to see it, or if she hated it and that was the only place she could put it without causing offence to me. After all, its not like a home made gift can be returned to the shops, is it?

So one’s choice of home made gift needs careful thought. Not only *what* you make them, but the style in which you make it. No point making something trinkety out of Laura Ashley type fabric if they have a minimalist home, for example. And then you have to make sure your idea of what looks great matches theirs, especially if you’re making something that’s meant to be on display, like a picture, or a cushion.

Then there’s the issue of making something “large” enough, i suppose is the only way to describe it. A single jar of jam might be enough for a work colleague, but not for your mum or best friend. The Christmas Hamper is your friend for this – collecting or making small items, putting them into a nice container, wrapping in cellophane.. the whole thing can look quite wonderful and much better than the overpriced hampers the shops offer. Plus you can be inventive about the actual container – and they needn’t cost much money. Last year i gave food hampers with home made jams and booze, that kind of thing, in wooden vegetable boxes filled with straw and topped with some christmassy tissue paper – i got the boxes from my veggie man on the market for nothing. they looked fantastic though, all wrapped in cellophane. You do need to be inventive, however, if you need a largeish box then trying to buy a basket large enough can be expensive, and can scupper your whole budget.

Then there’s presentation. you buy something in a shop, its often boxed up nicely, and you don’t have to do much more than wrap it. or even if its not boxed up nicely, you can’t do much more than wrap it (like a book, or a jumper). but your home made item? you’ll get more oohs and aaaaahs if you give some thought to the presentation. A jar of jam looks better with a little material top, even if its got a proper lid, and a nice label.

home made presents can be a minefield, and i will probably worry about mine not being good enough until after the presents are opened and there are smiles on faces. And even then, I might worry, for years afterwards, or feel guilty (yes, i have a complex, yes, i am messed up.. if you didn’t know this already then you’ve probably not read very much of my blog so far!). but i have to say, i wouldn’t go back to shop bought for the world. i love the process of crafting presents. It forces me to learn new things. There’s a new technique i learned about the other day, for example, when i was looking for how to do something at home, and its something that’s stunningly beautiful (sorry to be mysterious, but Mum reads this blog and i can’t give away too much!) and i’m itching to try it out for myself. i love it when i get a gift right, the joy and pleasure on the recipient’s face. THAT is what gift giving is about. Last christmas is case in point: i gave Grannie a sort of home made book with the details of my research into her family background. I also made a family “tree” – literally, a tree, wires holding the names of her ancestors and descendents, one wire for each person, bound into a tree at the base, and attached to a frame. She loves the book – when i was there last she got it out again and we sat there, looking through it, talking about the people i’d researched, people she’d known. And that made all my hard work worth it (although, to be fair, its something i would have done anyway, for me, if not for her).

Why not make a christmas present for someone this year? see that look of love and appreciation on your loved one’s face?

Christmas presents – breaking the cycle

A home made Christmas

Reducing your Christmas Stress

Ideas for hand made Christmas presents

Huge thread with ideas for crafty Christmas Presents on MSE

Thinking about Presents, Ecology and Hard Times

handmade holidays

google search is your friend!

[Edit: when and if i see links that will fit in here, i’ll keep adding them, so do keep checking back to this post.. particularly pages that have lots of links to ideas!]