Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DIY Christmas Gifts 2011

Well, it's September. That means I have a cold. (And I do - I'm at home, sick). But it also means that it's time to start planning for Christmastime, unless you enjoy a stressed-out, chaotic December. I don't - the more I can get done now, the better. The hard part for me is remembering what I made and squirreled away in the banker's box marked "Christmas" that sits in my closet!

Here's a few ideas to share with you, while we both wait patiently for SewMamaSew's Handmade Holidays list to come out for 2011!

Gifts to Make:


Admittedly, I'm not a terrarium fan. I was charged with coming up with projects for our kid's group, though, and this was one of the trials. For some inexplicable reason, terrariums have become trendy (again). I think it might be something as simple and as deeply sad as the disappearing greenways and gardens in urban areas, or that people just don't have much of a connection between themselves and the soil anymore.

Well, if you're no green-thumb, hate outdoor gardening, but you like miniatures and having 'greenery' inside, try a terrarium! This one cost me practically nothing - the container was sitting next to my neighbour's dumpster (I have no qualms about this!), and the aquarium rocks I bought, used, from the Salvation Army for craft purposes (they've been used by me previously to force paperwhite bulbs for Christmas, and as part of a tealight candle display after that). The rock on the top and all the moss and little plants came from the sidewalk. They came easily loose with a screwdriver blade on my Swiss Army knife. Easy peasy. Moss doesn't really need soil (it grew in the cement trough between sidewalk slabs after all - no soil there), so putting it as is on top of well-draining rocks with a bit of water in the bottom for moisture has made it pretty happy indeed.

Look! A little purple flower! Too bad my macro lens can't handle more...

Many people making these terrariums put in little miniature amanita mushrooms or gnomes or deer figurines. If that's your sort of bag, I say go for it! I've even seen Star Wars terrariums functioning as action-toy dioramas... I'm not sure how I feel about that. Entertained, I suppose.

At any rate, terrariums are dead easy to put together, and rather fun to arrange. All you need is a clear vessel of some sort (big empty pickle jar works great), with or without a lid (it doesn't matter - it'll just change how often you need to add a tablespoon of water to it), and some substrate like soil or rocks (rocks are often prettier). Then just prise the moss loose from the sidewalk (try to gather different types of moss and a few teeny tiny plants like the one flowering in my terrarium, pictured above) and arrange. (I cannot believe that "prise" is getting picked up by Blogger's spell-checker here. Let's say 'no' to dumbing down our language! If you're in need of some augmentation to your current vocabulary, try here on FreeRice, where some wealthy person will make a small donation of rice for each word you correctly define).

If you have a plastic Wookiee or miniature garden gnome you'd like to add, do that last. And voila - a tiny, secret garden of your own to marvel at like a sadistic, controlling giant from above!

Quilts, blankets, and throws.

I can't for certain say why it's taken me this long to finish my denim quilt, but this would have normally been a very quick project (apart from wearing out the jeans - that took a few years to accomplish).

My recycled-jeans denim quilt, finally completed!

This Christmas I'll be sewing together vintage tea towels depicting a particular country to make a tea towel quilt (I can't say more than this, or I'll potentially spoil a surprise). I was inspired by this:

http://www.madebymosey.com/blog/words/ - Not my image.

I hope they don't mind me sharing this photo without permission, but I absolutely must show it here because:
  1. Mine isn't finished (component pieces still in the mail....)
  2. It's utterly fantastic and I doubt mine will look as good anyway
  3. She's raffling it off if you make a monetary donation to UNICEF to help with the famine in Africa!
Unfortunately, the deadline was August 31st, so you'll have to make your own rather than enter to win this gorgeous quilt. Pity. Such a brilliant idea, though.

Now you see why I had to share it. It's green, it's handmade, and it's very, VERY ethical - well done, Madeleine Sargeant! You're an inspiration in so many ways!!! I might just borrow your philanthropic idea as well as the tea towel quilt idea!

Homemade Preserves

This was my first excursion into the world of 'canning', and I have to say that without a doubt it was a great success! It was also a perfect way to preserve some of 'summer' for the cold winter ahead.
"Tomato Chutney" - Bernadin Home Canning website recipe (I made it extra spicy with 6 Thai chillis!)
I didn't have a boiling rack, but a clean dish rag worked just fine during sterilization of the jars

The recipe was from the Bernardin website, as were the instructions for all the "how-to". Note that canning "high-acid" foods like jams, jellies and chutneys is relatively easy and doesn't require much in the way of dedicated equipment, and you can get a simple "basic canning equipment" pack at Canadian Tire for around $14 (boxes of jars with lids run about $7-8).

A 12-pack of jars typically costs less than $10, and can be reused.
Some basic supplies - all I needed, really!

Many other canned goods, however, require a pressure-cooker for canning purposes, to prevent deadly Botulinum contamination (where botulism comes from - yes, if you eat Botulinum toxin, the most potent neurotoxin ever discovered, you will seize up and die. Best to avoid this, ne pas?!).

But chutneys, jams and jellies are all safe and easy (easy, provided you follow all canning recipes exactly - no substitutions or inaccurate measurements!). This one was also very tasty! See the recipe for Tomato Chutney here on Bernardin's website. For more information on canning, see here.

Gifts to Buy, that are Green, Ethical and Relatively Inexpensive:

Used books - amass a Collection of Classics.

I love old books. Used books have more character than new ones!

Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dumas... Wodehouse, Wilde, Adams... Kipling, Kingsley, Tolkien, Lewis, Carroll.... Go for the acclaimed works of fiction, or humour, or story-telling, and put together a half-dozen or so books that everyone should read.

Don't know your literature? Not to worry. The Guardian has that covered - here's the list of 1000 (I've read 2.5% of this. Yikes). Not to be outdone, here's another list from the Daily Telegraph that outlines just 100 novels everyone should read (here I've finished 9%. Eep). There are other lists like these online - have a look and cross-reference them if you want a more manageable listing!

The beauty of a gift like this is that it gives refinement, sophistication, education and entertainment all at once. And it puts to good reuse all of those old novels your English teacher made you despise (in my case, virtually anything by Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities seemed much too long for my liking . . . and then I found out that it was originally published as a serial. Harumph. It was that generations' version of "Lost", where writers keep making money without any conclusion in sight. At least Dickens wrote well enough to not be lynched by an angry mob of let-down fans . . . wait, JJ Abrams hasn't been beaten to a bloody pulp?! Why not?!).

Slowly but surely attempting to amass the complete works of Wodehouse!

What if your recipient doesn't like classic literature? Ha, not a problem! Here's a few other ideas:
  • Collect the complete works, or as much of it as you can, of their favourite author
  • Find the first edition hardcover of their favourite book
  • For a child, give your favourite childhood books and novels
  • Go for a particular genre, i.e. true crime or mystery, romance, humour, etc. The Guardian's top 1000 books list breaks down the recommended titles into specific genres
  • Give books that the receiver is already familiar with / loves / owns, but in a language that they are trying to learn (for example, give the Spanish version of "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy"). Look online for these - they'll likely be harder to find
  • Non-fiction subjects also work - perhaps the recipient is obsessed with "Storm Chasers" (like I am!) and would like to read about tornadoes and severe weather phenomena? Or perhaps they are an artist - there are many art books featuring famous works and the geniuses who created them
Now, where to get them!
Here are some local booksellers that I highly recommend:
Canterbury Tales (West 4th at Maple) - James is awesome; ask him for recommendations.
Brigid's Books (West Broadway at Bayswater)
Tanglewood Books (West Broadway, between Fir and Granville)
Kestrel Books (West 4th between Alma and Dunbar)
MacLeod's Books (Downtown: West Pender at Richards)

Online, I always liked Abebooks, but my husband discovered The Book Depository - free shipping! (I'm not sure if he used the American or British site. The ".ca" version does not appear to be affiliated with the other two - I can't vouch for it's veracity. Steer clear is my advice!). However, it has been recently purchased by Amazon, so who knows when it'll cease to be a bargain.

But the best deal for used books BY FAR is . . . . 

The Vancouver Public Library Book Sale!

This year it's October 27-30, at the Central Library on Georgia Street. Books range from $0.75 (that's seventy-five cents!!!!) to $2.50 - note that the majority of the books are just $0.75 each! There is also a "Friends of the VPL" book sale that runs in adjoining rooms. Prices here can be higher, but it's still an absolute steal!

GET THERE EARLY AND BRING CASH AND A CARRY BAG! Also, new books are added each day, so go more than once if possible, and join forces with a friend for the best success (Laura & Allie - let's team up!). This is a great opportunity to get Christmas gifts for very cheap. The effort you put in to finding them (and in some cases, fighting off others to get them!) goes into the value of the gift. It's not as easy as walking into a store and thinking, "Huh, what would ____ want?", but it is much, much cheaper and, in my mind, infinitely more meaningful.


  1. Another awesome used bookshop online is thriftbooks.com! I get most of the books I can't find locally here in thrift shops.

    Funny story - I bought a harry potter book that was shipped in from Portland, and inside it was a campsite map from Sasquatch Park (up by Harrison)! Weeeeird!

  2. Oh, right! I've seen ThriftBooks.com but never used it - thanks, A'son! ;)

    The only interesting thing I've found in a used book is a pressed rose - I think the Sasquatch Map wins for weirdest! :)