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November 30, 2008

Crafting a Creative Christmas

Crafting a Creative Christmas

by Holly Gault (aka hollygee to our faithful TLC backbloggers) who really knows how to show her crafty side to create a recession-proof Christmas.

I'm a craft-maniac. I used to buy the holiday magazines to see all the holiday crafts, but since the internet has come to town, I can download many, many, many ideas for what looks to be a very lean holiday season. I thought I would share my favorites.

Places where I found most of my ideas:

House gifts

A very practical start might be to make Draft dodger out of pretty fabrics – beginning machine sewing skills required. A fun way to make colorful fridge magnets, but I might fill them with packing peanuts or even popcorn so they will hold their shape a little longer. Two other ideas that requires beginning machine sewing skills, Bean Bag Chair [PDF pattern] and Rice (or flaxseed) heat therapy bag.

I saw a tangerine & pepper scented linen spray in a catalog and thought, "I can make that." And a little Google-time showed me that I could, although I will have to play some to get the scent right.  If you Google around, you can find recipes for making your own soap, solid perfume, bath salts, and bath bombs.

I saw this idea for test tube, compact spice collection and I'm putting this to work for me! I got a good deal on test tubes and cork stoppers. If I were buying for a gift, I would get spices from the bulk section of my natural foods store and even cheaper at a Mexican market.

Do you have any photos that you would like to give? Cheap photo frames from CD jewel cases -- and you could add magnets to the back to stick on the fridge. Works great for kids art work too.

Personal Gifts

Two things for the TLC crowd that I thought would be particularly appropriate: Easy origami bookmarks and, burn a CD of your (or Margie’s) favorite music, then make a custom CD envelope (I’m thinking a vintage Playboy or Playgirl for Margie’s music label).

Holiday Wrapping
Downloadable printable gift tags. Many others are available by Googling. For gift wrapping, try environmentally kind Furoshiki (Japanese fabric wraps). Your wrapping can be part of the gift: dish towels, baby blankets, tablecloths, scarves.

Holiday Décor
easy instructions
Paper favor packages that would look cute hanging on the tree or to use in the stocking:
Gift envelopes/Advent or Chanuka calendar
Garland ideas. I thought that this example needed some help:
    1. You can use those gold and silver gummed round stickers (the kind from the stationery store that             would be on a certificate) on a piece of red crochet thread.
    2. Cut out circles from old Holiday cards – either all the same size or of varying sizes. Just pair them             up with another of the same size for the back.
    3. Family photos to go on the tree.
    4. Have Fun with Fonts and print out large letters on pretty paper – nice because you can print your             circle pattern also for a border.
Pompom garland
Photo ornaments (you could cut up old National Geographics or Sierra Club calendars, too)
Christmas paper chain – no glue, tape, or staples needed, just scissor skills -- here is instructions:

Christmas chain

requiring some craftiness
Another Advent or Chanuka calendar. For knitters, here are some adorable little Tiny Sock ornaments and  Mitten ornaments. These lovely water balloon Luminarias would look great [on fire-proof dishes] on the deck or porch. I'm particularly interested in trying these beautiful Japanese folded flower bouquets – they do require a bit of precision. Here is a Chanuka (or Christmas or Kwanzaa) Oil Lamp – the presentation is ugly, but the physics work. Some ideas with no patterns, but fun for ideas: Gnomes and a Button Wreath.

Holiday Food

This Yule log refrigerator cake looks like it would be easier to construct than the rolled variety. And then the truly sinful and always popular Truffles.
All purpose pantry items that you can grab to make quick additions to your menu:
• Ajvar – a Bulgarian pepper-eggplant spread that can be used as a dip, pasta sauce, soup base, filling. https://www.eurofoodmart.net/Gradina_Hot_Ajavar_Vegetable_Spread_p/az0000197.htm
• Trader Joe’s Marinated Sun Dried Tomatoes – when I get a jar, I immediately but it in the food processor and grind it up into a granular paste. Then I use it as a flavor enhancer for any dish that I think needs a boost.

This is often what Santa's Workshop is like around my house. What crafty/penny-pinching tricks will you be using these holidays?

Check out Holly's webpage and her blog for further insights!


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Soooo....I inherited fabric this year. Boxes and boxes of it. I go through a lot of fabric so this gift was welcome. I finally sorted it this weekend into useful stacks of shepherd outfits for the living nativity (Just when you've got the kids covered they grow on you!) and brocades for the theatre group and future reference stacks. There is also a what were they thinking pile that no one, even the J C Penny catalogue people, would make clothes out of.
And then...red tartan plaid taffeta. One foot wide and 3 1/2 yard long pieces. Twenty of them. They jumped out of the box and cried "Christmas Table Runners" at me.
So now you know what everyone is getting. I'm adding gold braid trim on the edges and maybe a tassel or two. Always makes me happy to give something I made!
Leopard Christmas stockings with black marabou around the top are also on the to do list!
Just saying.

Wow - so many fabulous ideas! If only there was more time ... I'd love to try almost all of these.

If anyone wants to make a heat therapy bag but doesn't have a sewing machine, I made one using a big old tube sock. Just fill it most of the way with rice (the weight will make it stretch & sag a bit), add some scernt if you'd like (I didn't have essential oil, so I tossed in some dried lemon peel), tie it off, and voila. I like the sock because the long tubular shape makes it easy to drape around your neck, over a shoulder, etc.

And, because I'm a sick person, I drew a face on my rice bag and named it Condaleeza.

I love these ideas, Holly. I just went through my box of holiday rubber stamps yesterday to plan out the Christmas cards I'm making for this year. I need to get going on them.

I like to give homemade gifts to friends and co-workers, so I'm eyeing those truffles for this year, and perhaps the origami bookmarks as well!

I cross-stitched my daughter a Christmas stocking last year - it came out nice, and hopefully she'll have it for years to come.

My Christmas decorations include a hand-made tree skirt from my sister, and a hanging fabric Santa from another sister. So obviously, we are into the crafty thing in my family. I've made cross-stitch ornaments and birthday-month bookmarks (given in a Christmas-themed book) for family in years past.

Thanks for the new ideas!

Wow, you guys are inspiring!

My lone creative act this weekend has been taking the yard clippings my husband generated and making Christmas displays in the big urns that flank my garage. Hemlock trimmings dripping down make the bottom layer, some bright yellow and green euyonmous clippings standing upright for the middle layer, and then some long red stalks cut from the varietated dogwood standing tall in the middle. For a lot of junk that would have gone into the mulch pile, the results are quite elegant!

As for my writing being creative this weekend? Not so much.

Thanks for being our guest today, Holly! I'm in awe!

Oooo, Xena, am I envious of that box of fabric -- although if I had it, Stephen and I wouldn't have a place to live.
Kris, I love the tube sock idea. I bet you could use a knee-hi stocking inside the tube sock if you wanted to use a finer seed -- flax seeds.
I love stamped cards, Laura. Those and [restrained use of] micro glitter make a celebration. I sometimes forget to restrain myself.
Yard trimmings into Holiday trimmings -- great idea! Hmmmm, what do I have around here. Get's you thinking, doesn't it.

Very cool ideas!

When I was in school, I did major needle work, and I still have most of it. These days, I can't even find crewel patterns, but now I have lots of other ideas.

Thanks for the inspiration, Holly! Back to the kitchen for me - we are having our "Family of the Heart" Thanksgiving today.

The test tubes for my spice cabinet have worked out fairly well. I got the 17mm width which are fine for herbs or spices that are used in smaller amounts. When I order again, I'm going to get the larger 25mm widths for spices like cinnamon and ginger -- right now, the spices for a pumpkin pie reduce the spices by a third.

Kathy, you're right -- I haven't seen crewel patterns forever and I thought that they were beautiful.

I've got to leave for a few hours but will be back to comment.

Not for nothing are you named Holly!

I too am a Christmas fiend, but ah, those 5 little words: "beginning machine sewing skills required" -- i broke down and bought a cheap sewing machine (Overstock.com) but haven't yet taken it out of the box because I'm afraid of threading it. I used to sew, but it's been too many years. Once I'm over that hump (maybe next year) I'll jump into the crafts fray!

I have NO artist talent at all BUT even I can do some of these. Thanks Holly. I wanted to do something for the members of my local RWA chapter and frankly the cost was stopping me. Now, no way. The book markers are perfect. And then the homemade linen spray? I am so going to do this!

thanks. I can't wait to get started.

Speaking of test tubes -- my great-nieces and nephews and their friends filled test tubes to varying levels and played tunes by pulling out the stoppers. Cute!
I've put out Christmas pretties and now I'm ready to give away a couple of boxes of unused decorations . . ;-)

My family actually likes fruitcake . . . and I think I'm the only one with Great Aunt Louise's recipe . . . I'm a little late getting started, though, as Aunt Louise (or was it Aunt Ruth?) was a great believer in letting the rum soak in Very Well. When I lived in Wisconsin in the '70s and only thought I was on a budget (I didn't understand 'recession' at the time), I used to give family needlework or hand-made pillows (so did my sister), or bottles of homemade jam, jellies, preserves, with homemade breads or cookies, etc. for Christmas, and to my recollection, they were received with just as much respect and appreciation as anything 'storebought.'

Harley, I'll have to show you my kind of 'sewing.' Sure I was taught how to do it right, but I get bored and impatient, so now I have a new approach. It's not for the faint of heart.
Cyndi -- thank you -- that is what I was aiming for. Not so involved that the unhandy can't attempt them and yet makes a gift or decoration that is quite nice as well as a little different.
ST Mary (wow! that elevates you, yes?) -- cute use of test tubes, clever nieces and nephews.
Laraine, I adore fruitcake and mincemeat (soused in rum or not). Stephen not so much. When we got together and I was trying to find out his food tastes, fruitcake and mincemeat rated at the bottom.

I saw these in the Sundance catalog - hats and scarves for wine bottles, in holiday colors. I was able to crochet a pretty good imitation, but if you have one of those knitting mushrooms that would work even better. I thought it would be cute for a hostess gift. Could be done in team colors, or to fit other types of bottles.


I love those wine containers, Anna! We call them wine mittens. Everyone can use those thingies.

Holly, you've been busy collecting all those ideas. I especially like how varied they are. Good job!

My massage therapist one year wanted to give all her clients a gift, so I made two or three dozen silk flaxseed eye pillows, along with holiday gift sacks to give them in for her. In addition to the flax seeds (which have a nice weight on the eyes), I added a heaping tablespoonful of lavender buds. When heated, the pillows were truly soothing, and good for headache comforting.

My fruitcakes are made, and have already been given to those who appreciate them. The rest can go hang, if they can't savor true deliciousness, especially those who make fun of us fruitcake aficionados.

>My fruitcakes are made, and have already been given to those who appreciate them.
Well done, and too bad for the scoffers! A good fruitcake is a thing of beauty.
My mom and I used to share fruitcake from Assumption Abbey, and I haven't had fruitcake for a long time, so this year I called to order some . . .but they wear latex gloves while fixing them. Who would have thought monks would wear those terrible gloves?

If you have Dollar Tree stores, check there.
Last year they had lame' wine bags with satin tassels for $1 apiece. They also had wired fabric wrapping & ribbon sets for $1.
P.S. those wine bags also make fancy wrapping for paperback books!

>ST Mary (wow! that elevates you, yes?)
Holly, bless you, my child . . .

Mary, would you like my recipe? It's an old one; I've been using it for 25 years. However, it's based on a Pillsbury QuickBread mix, which someday I'd like to figure out how to replace with my own quickbread recipe, because some day they will no longer sell those, I fear.

Karen, I would like your recipe. I have a copy of Granny Sue's, but it might be too advanced for me, at least for now.
I have no objection to a mix, but I'll bet someone smart might have a substitute for the mix (if only as backup) if we ask nicely . . .

Here's the recipe, which I've also seen called "Stained Glass Fruitcake":

Dark Sweet Fruitcake 350°

1 egg
1/8 C oil
1 C water
1 pkg. Pillsbury Date or Nut Quick Bread Mix
1 C chopped pecans
1 pound fruitcake mix (I like to use at least a half pound of just candied cherries)
1 cup raisins

Grease and flour bottoms and sides of pan(s). In large bowl, combine egg and water. Add remaining ingredients. By hand, stir until combined. Pour into pan.

Bake as directed below, until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes; loosen and remove from pan. Cool completely. To store (in fridge) wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap.

If desired, glaze with warm corn syrup (I add brandy or rum at this stage); decorate with reserved candied fruit and nuts.

8 x 4 loaf pan – 70-80 minutes
9 x 5 loaf pan – 60-70 minutes
10" Bundt or tube pan – 65-75 minutes (double recipe)
6-8 C ring mold – 40-50 minutes
5 soup cans 4/5 full – 35-45 minutes
18-24 muffin cups 2/3 full – 20-25 minutes

The recipe makes a very moist cake. You can also wrap it in cheesecloth and soak it with rum (or brandy) several times over the course of a couple of weeks. Even though the recipe says to refrigerate it, I've never had one go bad, although I must say that we usually devour it pretty quickly.

To all my fruitcake-loving friends, enjoy!

Thanks! It looks delicious!!
Who need monks when you have girlfriends!

You know it, Mary!

Thanks for the prod to type this up. For Christmas, MY homemade gift to my daughters is a "family cookbook", with all the recipes of dishes they grew up with, or that we have all cooked together. I wrestled with using a notebook or recipe cards/box, and decided to use a three-ring binder. This way every recipe can be inserted into a plastic sleeve to protect it from the inevitable spills, and we can add to it indefinitely. Since no one is coming home for Christmas, I've already given them their binders, along with some indispensable kitchen items: silicone spoonulas, garlic mincers, and balsamic vinegars, among other things.

What a great idea! I think they will love it.
A friend made little bound "chap books" of family recipes, memories, and photos after her mother passed on, as a way preserving a bit of their family traditions. So much family love is expressed through food.

The middle daughter wants to start her spice collection. I'm thinking the test tube idea is just right for her, since she can buy spices at the health food store for less.

The youngest wants a Dutch oven. I'm getting a big kick out of this, I can tell you.

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