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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Dreaming of a homemade Christmas


I recently finished reading Little House on the Prairie to my 5-year-old daughter. There’s something strangely liberating about the thought of traveling across country in a covered wagon with the barest necessities, not bothering to move any furniture, figuring Pa will just make it all when you get there (Oh, how I wish we coulda done that!). And there’s something awe-inspiring about two little girls being thrilled to receive their own shiny new tin cups from Santa. Nowadays it seems we’re caught up in acquiring that new state-of-the-art gadget or a hulking-plastic-something-or-other.

In an effort to shake off the acquisition bug (something my kiddos have in spades) and to appreciate the simpler things in life (a financial necessity for us these days), we’re putting the emphasis on homemade this year. There was a time when all the gifts we gave were homemade, but as our household grew…ahem, I found I had less and less of that precious time on my hands. My homemade stuff tended to be elaborate and time-intensive, from homemade Candied Orange Peel to hand-knitted socks. But, alas, my hands ache and the kiddos clamber for constant attention…what to do? Include the kiddos in the making, of course!


Way back in the 70’s my thrifty Grandma used to wrap all the Christmas gifts in the “Funnies.” That can be a real mess, as the ink rubs off and turns everything black, not to mention the somewhat less innocent nature of the comics in the new millennium, so here’s an idea: Check with your local newspaper office and see if they have newsprint end-rolls available. These are the ends of the huge rolls they use which are too small for a newspaper run, but big enough for your kiddos to decorate and use as wrapping paper. Decorate with crayons, markers, rubber stamps, sponge stamps (and paint), handprints, stickers, let your imagination run wild.

For Foodies:

It’s a little time-consuming and the kiddos might eat all your labors, but you really can’t beat making Candied Orange Peel for tightwadiness, it uses something you would normally throw away (orange peels, you can use grapefruit peel, too), and there’s no waste (you can boil down the syrup and use it on your pancakes). The recipe I use comes from the Tightwad Gazette, but there are others that don’t call for the corn syrup if you’re allergic to corn or don’t happen to have any. I peel the oranges as we use them, putting the peels into a plastic bag in the fridge to keep them from drying out…they should keep for a few days that way until you are ready to make your candy.

Take your candied orange peel and make Chocolate-Dipped Orange Peel Cookies. These are fabulous! I stumbled onto this recipe last year and made them for hubby to take to work…rave reviews! And yes, we do use real butter around here, it’s healthier and tastes better than margarine…some things are worth the extra money.

For the Grandparents:

One year I did a 8” x 8” scrapbook of the kiddos with the year in review for each set of grandparents, that was a real hit. I haven’t stumbled onto the perfect gift this year yet, but here are some ideas I’m mulling over in my OCD brain:

  • A single, framed scrapbook page of the kiddos
  • A group portrait of the kiddos in some sort of unexpected location or pose (framed, of course)
  • A video Christmas greeting (this is something I should have done when we lived 1200 miles away:-)
  • A coupon book with a coupon for each month for a different activity to do with the kids or to a special dinner at our house
  • A Christmas table runner with kiddo hand prints in fabric paint
  • A photo tote bag
  • Hand-bound books made by the kiddos

For the Man:

I used to make ties for my hubby. Here’s a free pattern from Burdastyle. They’re not that difficult sew (even though it’s on the bias) and only take about a yard of fabric. In fact, you could totally hand-sew a tie (how would that be for a one-of-a-kind gift?). A plain fabric with decorate stitching (machine or hand) could be quite striking.

I’ve also made linen handkerchiefs (who can afford to buy those?), but it is more than a little time-consuming to sew all those narrow hems. You could even just buy plain white cotton handkerchiefs and cross-stitch or embroider his monogram for that personal touch. Or get the kiddos in on the act and have them “graffiti” them with fabric pens.

For the Hostess:

Recently my Mom and her friend came to visit us and Mom wondered what the special occasion was when I put the cloth napkins on the table. We use cloth napkins every day! Paper napkins are pathetic in comparison in terms of absorption (how many paper napkins does it take to clean up a milk spill?) and I really hate buying something my kiddos wipe their mouth on once and then throw away. My cloth napkins are homemade of a medium cotton homespuny plaid that washes beautifully. I don’t iron them (they don’t need it if I take them out of the dryer right away), they don’t stain (or maybe you just can’t see the stains because of their color?), they were super easy to make, and you can choose fancy or plain fabric.

  • Buy a medium-weight 100% cotton woven fabric (not shirting weight, but not heavy upholstery weight, either). You want the type that will make a nice fringe if you unravel it.
  • Wash it to remove the sizing (they’ll be more absorbent the more times you wash them). Do not use fabric softener!
  • Cut approximately 18” squares. You can make them bigger than that if you want. If it’s a plaid, follow the lines, and always follow the same lines so the napkins will be identical. If it’s a solid or print, “pull a thread” and cut along that thread so they will be totally straight.
  • Do a multiple step zigzag on your machine about 1/4” to 1/2” in from the edge all the way around each napkin. You want to have a narrow margin at the edge where there is no stitching, this will be your fringe.
  • Pull the cross threads from the raw edge up to the zigzag. The zigzag will keep it from fraying further. Note: The first few washings may loosen a few threads where your zigzag was not totally straight, but after that they should be just fine. These will last for YEARS!

Ok, so now I’m going to turn it over to y’all, please leave a comment with your homemade Christmas ideas.

For other unique gift-giving ideas, head on over to this week’s edition of Works-For-Me-Wednesday at We are THAT Family.


  1. I love your idea! We've been talking about a homemade Christmas too! I have three little ones, so we'd like to start the tradition now while they're young!

    Great idea with the Table Runner! I may have to borrow it! :)

  2. It's hard not to long for a simpler time when reading the Little House books, isn't it? My husband and I have both found ourselves doing that while we've read them to the kids.

    Love your Christmas ideas!

  3. Cookies! I'm doing lots of cookie gifts this year. They're practical, affordable, and loads of fun. Plus, there's no danger of disappointing a recipient when they're being handed a sweet treat, right? Obviously, I'm taking great care to avoid using allergy triggers in some people's cookies.

  4. Great ideas! My husband loves to wrap some gifts in the funnies. He gets a kick out of it.

    I'm posting a lot of frugal hand made gift-giving ideas at my holiday blog. Come check it out:

  5. We do the homemade wrapping paper too. I actually just wrote a post on that a few days ago. We used butcher paper from the local school supply store.
    You've got great ideas.

  6. Thanks all. Yes, simple gets two thumbs up from me. I like gifts with special meaning, don't you?


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