Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Making Presents

And I'm not talking about the kind my filthy little monkey makes for me every day (and, boy, should you be happy about that). I have often toyed with the idea of making my own Christmas presents. It rarely works out due to a number of factors (lack of preplanning and thinking about it soon enough are just the top of the list). This year I started early enough and had a enough quick-and-yet-not-cheesy-looking ideas that I actually made presents for a few friends.

My first idea for a homemade gift was based on a gift I remember receiving as a young child. I believe my grandmother bought it for me from Avon or some other door-to-door affordable beauty supply. It was a lovely smelling solid perfume. Do any of you remember that? It's a perfume that is in a compact that is a little harder than lip balm. It doesn't spill and it's very hard to over-apply it. If you have had any girls discover the spray perfume on your vanity, then you will understand why that is an important bonus. I wanted to buy it, but I could only find it on-line and the cost with shipping and handling was much more than I wanted to spend. I found this recipe and these containers.

Some of the boxes had little coils on the top that seemed incomplete so I made tassels to put on them. I made most of the tassels out of decorative gold thread that I happened to have. The one above is just deep yellow embroidery thread wrapped about 100 times.

Here are some alternate containers (much smaller) for additional gifts. I used standard floral essential oils of rose, lily of the valley, and honeysuckle. So a run down of cost:

$5 of beeswax
$10 jojoba oil
$14 essential oils
$30 for 9 fancy containers
$5 10 tin containers
$5 shipping and handling

This amount made about 15 gifts (counting two tins as one gift since they hold so much less and aren't nearly as cool looking and useful after the contents are exhausted as the jeweled boxes). So about $5 for each gift. The largest amount of time was spent waiting for the beeswax to melt. To use multiple scents, I made different batches for each.

Since I was ordering from this place anyway, I decided to add lip balm to the homemade present list. They had a recipe for lip balm that was recommended but complicated. However, they also sell the lip balm base itself--everything in one container and you add any flavor oils or color you want and decide on the type of container. I happen to like lanolin because it is similar to our natural oils so I ordered the Lip Solutions with lanolin. I also included some castor oil for a bit more slip and shine for the girls' lip balm and included the ultrafine glitter for some shimmer. I used cherry flavor oil. It smelled like cherry but did not taste like much of anything. I'm fine with that. The unadulterated solution had a slight odor, but it was not like Chapstick, so I am glad I masked it. Obviously, from the pictures below, I also added color. It does not really show up on the lips so it is definitely OK for little girls. I wanted to use both types of containers. I like the sticks because they are mess free, but the tins are more fun to label. The tins can hold twice as much as the sticks, but I did not fill them all the way, so they are about the same.

Cost-wise, here's the breakdown:

$8 lip solutions (used about 1/2)
$5 10 tin containers
$4 10 tube containers
$3 cherry flavor oil
$4 castor oil
$4 ruby colorant
$4 ultrafine glitter
$1 8 small transfer pipettes
$1 5 large transfer pipettes
$8 shipping and handling

I have enough of this stuff to make lip balm/gloss forever. Really! I'm sure that I could give lip balm as presents for every occassion for the next two years and may only need to buy more containers. I could make 50 tubes of lip balm for about $1 a tube, including shipping. I will not be making 50 tubes, at least not any time soon, so I probably spent about $2.50 per container for the amount I will be making for gifts. For guys, I would leave out the stronger color, the castor oil, and the glitter, but I would still include the flavor oil. By the way, I also bought vanilla flavor. That absolutely requires sweetness (which can also be bought as a flavor oil). The vanilla flavor oil made the lip balm incredibly bitter. So no vanilla this year.

The next homemade present I decided on was actually something I saw at the checkout line in Borders. They are called book thongs, but ribbon book mark or beaded book mark would probably also be used. They were so cute, that I bought one for our book club secret santa. Along with the ribbon book marks, I also made some cell phone charms and key chains. Hanover decided to make some earrings for her friends, too.

I happened to have some jewelry making tools (small, toothless pliers, round-nose pliers for making circles), so I figured these book marks would not be difficult to make. I wouldn't call them difficult, and I really enjoyed picking out beads, and ribbon, and deciding how best to combine the different shapes, textures, and colors. This was a craft my kids loved to participate in as well--they did the beading of the gifts for their friends. I wanted to use good quality beads, so this homemade project probably cost me more to make than it would have to buy them pre-made. The reason is that when you buy beads, you are buying one style of one type at a single price--so medium sized round beads of jasper or clear crystal cubes. So if you want a variety of beads on one book mark (and who wouldn't?), you need to buy a number of different beads. As you can see from the above picture, I wanted a lot of different colors and styles. Since I gave the cost of the previous projects, I'll bite the bullet and list the costs for the book marks (To make a single type of book mark and assuming you get decent sale prices):

$3 ribbon
$3 end crimps with holes
$3 2" head pins
$3 various sliver-tone spacer beads
$2 seed beads (for starting the head pins to make sure the large beads don't fall off and sometimes for spacing)
$3 bead type 1
$3 bead type 2
$4 bead type 3

The cell phone charm straps ($3 for 6) key chains ($3 for 20) would replace the ribbon and the end crimps. You could probably make 6 or 7 ribbon book marks from the above list at about $4 each, as long as you don't mind that they use the same beads and look very similar. I chose quite a variety and may have made just over 16 altogether. Some of the photos also show book marks made using beading wire (approximately 26 gauge) and crimping beads in place of the head pins (the white ribbon with clear crystal beads, the cell phone charm with three strands of beads are examples). Using the beading wire allowed many more beads. I think the bookmarks are beautiful and I hope that anyone who receives one uses it often!

I also made some candy this year. I tried, ultimately unsuccessfully after three attempts, to make fudge from scratch (now I know why the recipe on the back of the fluff container advertises itself as 'no fail'). I also botched my first two caramel batches--the butter seperated out of the first and the second was filling-removing hard). The last batch of caramel worked out just fine. The English toffee was crazy easy to make and absolutely delicious. After allowing it to cool, I cut it into bite-sized pieces and drizzled chocolate on some and coated others like mini candy bars. Hanover single-handedly made the rum balls (how funny that she could make the one treat that she wouldn't be allowed to eat). Hanover and Flurpee both were instrumental in the peanut butter ball success. They were about twice as productive as I was in terms of measurable final product. I also made some cookie press cookies. They were very cute, but two batches were lost to an ill-rinsed baking sheet (soap flavored cookies, anyone?). The kids used a green colored egg wash to paint the Christmas trees green before they were baked and used star-shaped decorations and green sugar.

Sorry, no pictures of the toffee or caramels. After the 150 or so little pieces were individually wrapped in hand-cut wax paper squares, I just couldn't stand to spend any more time with them. They were really delicious though. I had to send them out soon after making them, or there wouldn't have been enough!