Technique Tuesdays: Handmade Holiday Gifts

With the holidays in full swing, no doubt you’re thinking about what to get those special people on your list. If you’re like me, you love making those gifts special. And by special I mean artful. And by artful I mean I made them.

Now, it’s perfectly fine to give someone a piece of your artwork—a collage, painting, assemblage, etc. But if you’re not 100 percent sure that artwork is going to be appreciated the way you would like it to be, I recommend making handmade holiday gifts that are functional. I love giving these types of gifts because they’re unique and also tailored to the person I’m giving them to—and of course, they’re useful. Here are 10 ideas for practical handmade gifts that you can put your own spin on for the people you care about:

1. Art Up an Apron: Every artist needs an apron, but who wants to wear a plain, boring canvas apron? Julie Fei-Fan Balzer suggests layering fabric, paint, and even screen printed designs to create a one-of-a kind piece. In the article “Fabric Collage Apron” in the May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, she starts by stitching fabric scraps to an apron (you can use a pre-made or handmade one), then painting it and adding some paint splatters and basic patterns like circles, Xs, and dashes. For a final layer, try stenciling and printing more designs. Julie used a Thermofax screen, sort of a mini-screen printing tool that is fast and easy. The result is a wearable art journal page—and how cool is that?

Apron by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, photo by Sharon White photography

This mixed-media apron incorporates art journaling techniques (Art by Julie Fei-Fan Balzer, photo by Sharon White Photography)(

2. Beautiful shade: For those who love to nest, make a mandala paper parasol to brighten any room. Kathryn Costa incorporated easy paint marker techniques in her article, “Mandala Parasol,” in the Fall 2016 issue of Zen Doodle Workshop. Starting with an inexpensive white paper parasol, she charted a design in pencil, using the spokes of the umbrella as stations for the pattern. The design was completed using paint markers, and then design elements were added, including dots and spirals. A few things to note: To prevent the marker from streaking, move it side to side in rows, adding color until the shape is filled. Also, stay away from 3-D paint—its tackiness, even when dry, may cause the parasol to stick or tear when opened.

3. Stash It: Danielle Donaldson says that a daily creative practice is a must in her life, and to help her stay organized so she can make art, she creates “stash stations” of art materials around her house. In her book Creative Girl, she shows how to create one-of-a-kind folders, where she stores the loose papers she uses in her artwork. Of course, these aren’t just any folders—Danielle makes them special with a few simple techniques. Start with a plain or pre-decorated folder, or paint or embellish one yourself. Then, punch two holes at the edge of both sides of the folder and add a metal file fastener; this allows papers to easily be added or taken away. Use a variety of scraps from your stash, along with any printed or hand-lettered words to identify the folder, and layer and adhere the elements to the tabs. Add other decorative details to the folders; Danielle sewed scraps of paper and attached a hand-painted paper flower. Make a bunch of these for your artful friends who could benefit from their own stash stations—you can even include some special ephemera you know they’ll love.

4. Bowl them over: Cast a beautiful bowl using paper clay and an orange, a technique devised by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Patricia Chapman from their book, Mixed Media in Clay. Wrap a sheet of clay around an orange, and stamp into it to give the outside some texture and pattern. Allow the clay to dry, gently take out the orange, and form a flattened coil at the bottom to create a base. Then stain and paint the bowl to your heart’s content. The orange peel gives the inside of the bowl a cool texture; if you want it smooth, cover the orange with plastic wrap before applying the clay.

Bowl by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Patricia Chapman, photo by Christine Polomsky

This bowl, made out of paper clay, would make a great handmade holiday gift (Art by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Patricia Chapman, photo by Christine Polomsky).

5. Totes Amazing Bag: You can never have enough tote bags, so why not give one that’s hand lettered with the recipient’s favorite quote? In the 2016 Lettering Lesson Vol. 10: Lettering a Quote on a Tote Bag, Emily Cromwell uses a pre-made canvas tote bag and paint markers and recommends trying out some different lettering styles on paper first to determine what you want to use for the bag. Play with line weight, creating curls on the letters—whatever you choose to make the lettering yours. Then, place a couple of layers of cardboard inside the bag to prevent the markers from bleeding through. Visually map out where you want the lettering to appear on the bag (or plan it on scrap paper), and write the quote with the markers, using ones with different sized tips. Emily has one more terrific tip: Use a disappearing fabric pen to outline your lettering first.

Hand-lettered tote by Emily Cromwell

Create a hand-lettered tote with the recipient’s favorite quote (Art and photo by Emily Cromwell).

6. Wear it well: Jewelry is one of the best handmade holiday gifts, and Rebecca Ringquist has a project that doesn’t involve any beads, findings, or chains. In her article “Texture and Style” in the November/December 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, she shows how to make a gorgeous necklace from fabric and stitch. Starting with a scrap of fabric, she embellishes it with simple hand embroidery stitches. You can combine hand and machine stitching, or just use machine stitching. Then, leather lacing is whipstitched onto cotton cording, and the fabric piece is stitched around that piece. Stitch on some ribbon at either end, and you have a beautiful piece—one that you might be tempted to keep for yourself!

Fabric and stitch necklace by Rebecca Ringquist, photo by Sharon White photography

Unique jewelry can be created from fabric and stitch (Art by Rebecca Ringquist, photo by Sharon White photography).

7. Make it shine: For the book lover on your list, make a standout bookmark using easy foiling techniques, courtesy of Christine Adolph and her new book, Shimmer and Shine Workshop. The technique starts with magazine pages trimmed to size. Next, die cut or punch designs out of a double-sided adhesive sheet. Peel off one side of the sheet, adhere it to the magazine page, and peel off the other layer. Burnish a sheet of transfer foil on top, and peel the second sheet off. Bonus tip: Use the cut-out shapes for another bookmark.

Bookmark by Christine Adolph, photo by Christine Polomsky

What book lover wouldn’t like this handmade bookmark embellished with shimmering designs? (Art by Christine Adolph, photo by Christine Polomsky).

8. Sketchy Ideas: Most artists love using sketchbooks and art journals, and a custom handmade journal is bound to be a treasured gift. Making one is easy; in her book Printmaking Unleashed, Traci Bautista suggests using a manila envelope for the cover, and stitching up one side to create a pocket. To decorate the cover, use your favorite mixed-media techniques, such as painting, or fabric or ephemera collage. For pages, use maps, blue prints, graph paper, and music sheets, and attach art journal cards or inspirational photos with staples, stapes, or stitching. To bind the pages, Traci recommends wrapping the center of the pages with twine, hemp, or yarn.

Handmade journals by Traci Bautista

Unique journals with covers made from collage and stitch make great handmade holiday gifts (Art by Traci Bautista).

9. Clothes Minded: Make a mixed-media garment bag tailored for that person on your list who loves clothes. In the article “My Threads Garment Bag” in the May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Kelli Nina Perkins incorporates cotton duck or muslin for the garment bag base, and embellishes it with hand-painted designs printed on inkjet printable fabric and sewn on. You can even print out words and sew them on as well. Add extras like simple hand-embroidered stitches, buttons, and free-motion stitching. You can even cut a window in the bag and sew a clear vinyl pattern, so you can see what’s inside.

Mixed-media garment bag by Kelli Nina Perkins, photo by Sharon White Photography

Special clothes need a special garment bag, like this mixed-media one (Art by Kelli Nina Perkins, photo by Sharon White Photography).

10. That’s a Wrap: You’re going to need something to wrap all of these in, yes? Why not make that wrap also handmade? In the November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, Elizabeth St. Hilaire has an easy and fun way to decorate found papers such as maps and blueprints, using a monoprinting technique. She first prints blocks of color on the paper with a silicon printing plate, then creates a layer of patterned prints, using stencils and found objects like string and leaves. The effect is stunning—the fluid acrylic paint that Elizabeth recommends using allows the original pattern to show through, creating even more complexity. Bonus tip: Save your painted paper scraps for a collaged holiday card!

Monoprinted giftwrap by Elizabeth St. Hilaire, photo by Sharon White Photography

Wrap your handmade holiday gifts in this monoprinted gift wrap (Art by Elizabeth St. Hilaire, photo by Sharon White Photography).

Ready to get started on your holiday gift giving? Take a look through these resources from the North Light and Interweave shops to find even more ideas!

November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors

Learn how to print your own gift wrap in the November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.

Shimmer and Shine Workshop by Christine Adolph

Find great techniques for adding sparkle in Shimmer and Shine Workshop by Christine Adolph.

May/June 2015 Cloth Paper Scissors

The May/June 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors is filled with projects that are perfect for holiday gift giving.

Lettering Lesson Vol. 10 by Emily Cromwell

Learn how to hand letter a tote bag in this Lettering Lesson by Emily Cromwell.

Mixed Media in Clay by Darlene McElroy and Patricia Chapman

Mixed Media in Clay by Darlene McElroy and Patricia Chapman is packed with techniques and projects for working with clay.

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