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Easy Gifts to Make

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Gift Ideas

Warning: Although these gifts are intended to be made by children, some may require the use of a stove, microwave, sewing machine or other equipment or materials that might require help. Please check with an adult before starting any project you find on this site.

Paper Mache Glass Vases

Make a beautiful vase that can hold water too!

small glass jar (jam, olive or pickle jars work well)
old newspaper, torn into strips
paper mache paste
tempera or acrylic paint
white glue or clear varnish
optional: cardboard as from a cereal box
optional: tissue or toilet paper

Wash out the inside and outside of your jar. Spread a light coating of paper mache paste over the jar, then dip a strip of newspaper into the paste. Squeeze off the excess paste then apply to the jar so that it lays flat. Once you have a single layer, add any embellishments you desire. You can make textured shapes by using tissue or toilet paper and paste, or add "petals" and / or a base using shapes cut from cardboard. Continue coating with paper mache until the entire jar has two layers of paper. Take a strip of newspaper (or tissue) and fold it over the top edge to tidy it up. You may add textures or shapes to your vase by using tissue with paper mache and rolling it into "snakes" then add to the vase. Let it dry overnight.

Paint as desired and let dry. Paint a thin layer of glue or varnish over the paint and inside the lip of the vase to help protect it from water spills. Let dry, and if desired, repeat with a second coat.

I love this craft because it recycles and creates a truly beautiful and useful item.

Chocolate Dipped Spoons and Candy Canes

chocolate dipped candycanes

your choice of metal or heat-proof plastic spoons and/or standard-sized candy canes
pure semi-sweet and/or white chocolate (mini chips melt fastest, but any kind will work)
microwave safe bowl
baking sheet or tray lined with waxed paper
optional: a few drops of your choice of vanilla, cherry, orange, rum or mint extract
optional: cellophane candy bags and curling ribbon

Put desired amount of chocolate into bowl and melt by running the microwave on medium for 30 second at a time and stirring between each pass. Once melted, stir in extract as desired. Working quickly, dip spoons and canes into the chocolate letting the excess chocolate drip off the end. Lay dipper onto the waxed paper to let the chocolate harden at room temperature. Candy canes can be hung to dry on the lip of a tall glass. If desired, dip a second time into a different colour of chocolate. Once hardened, place dipped end into cellophane bag and tie off with curling ribbon.

For more holiday food gift ideas, try our favourite holiday recipes here.

For more homemade bath items, try the Lemonade plant experiment page.

Hand-Painted Soap

bar soap
acrylic paint
paraffin wax
disposable aluminum pie plate
pot of water
fine paint brushes and/or cotton swabs

Use the acrylic paint to decorate your soap as desired. Let it dry. Fill your pot with water and set it on the stove. Put your wax into the pie plate and set it on top of the pot (making it into a double-boiler). Heat the water until the wax melts. Use a brush or swab to spread a thin layer of wax over your painted design. Let it dry. The wax will help preserve your painted image as the soap gets used.

Soap on a Rope

white bar soap (Ivory or similar)
sturdy metal grater
large bowl
heavy yarn, string or thin rope
optional: essential oil
optional: food colouring

Cut the rope to 2.5 times the length your want your loop to be. Fold it in half and tie a knot. Grate soap into bowl. Add a small amount of water and mix with hands. If adding oil or coloring, make a small hole in the dough and fill with a few drops (a little goes a long way!) and work it in from the outside. Once it is mixed well, take a large handful of soap dough and form it around the knot and of the yarn. Let your finished sculpture dry overnight, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

Variation: Try hiding small plastic toys (dinosaurs, plastic gems, etc.) inside the soap for younger kids to excavate.

Scented Bath Salts

scented bath salts to make

2 parts epsom salts
1 part baking soda
1 part sea salt
optional: 1 part cornstarch
your choice essential oil (lavender, peppermint, orange, eucalyptus, and vanilla all work well--but not together!)
large mixing bowl
optional: food colouring

Combine salts, baking soda and cornstarch until well mixed. Add essential oil one drop at a time until desired strength is reached. If you wish to add colour, you may want to leave some white to layer the salts in a clear container. Add colour, if desired, one drop at a time. Store in an airtight container.

For more homemade bath items, try this herbology page.

Painted Mug and Hot Chocolate

hand painting mugs

Materials for mug:
plain ceramic mug (glazed as you would find at a $ store)
ceramic paint (there are several brands on the market; most require baking to set; paint pens allow for best control)
fine brushes or cotton swabs if not using pens
scrap paper
rubbing alcohol
tissue or cotton ball

Use the rubbing alcohol and tissue or cotton to wipe down the surface of the mug. Test out your design on a piece of paper first, then paint it on the mug. Follow the paint manufacturer's directions for setting/curing requirements.

Recipe for hot chocolate:
2 cups instant skim milk powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white or superfine sugar
1/2 cup powdered cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
large mixing bowl
optional: mini marshmallows
                mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
                cellophane candy bags and curling ribbon
                candy cane

Combine powdered ingredients in bowl and mix until well combined. If packaging as a gift with the mugs, measure out three heaping tablespoons into each cellophane bag. Add a tablespoon of mini chocolate chips and 6-8 mini marshmallows if desired, then tie off the bag with curling ribbon. Tuck bag into the mug along with a candy cane if desired. This mix can be made with boiling water or hot milk of your choice.
This recipe avoids the hydrogenated oils that are present in most commercial brands of hot chocolate mix (and recipes that call for the use of artificial coffee whiteners). It also tastes great!

For more holiday food gift ideas, try our favourite holiday recipes here.

Easy-Knit Coasters

bulky weight yarn (1 100 g ball will make about 6 coasters) *coarser fibres are better as they will make a less-slippery coaster
a pair of 6 mm knitting needles
large-eyed needle for sewing in loose ends

Cast on (or have an adult cast on) 12 stitches. Knit 16 rows. Cast off, or have an adult cast off for you. Use the needle to weave the loose ends into the edge of the square. Repeat for additional coasters.

Variation 1: Add different coloured stripes to your coaster. Be sure to tie in all the loose ends when you are done.

Variation 2: for felting the coasters, use 100% natural wool. Cast on 18 stitches and knit 24 rows. Follow your favourite felting method.

Variation 3: To knit on the diagonal, cast on 3 stitches. Add a new stitch at the start of each row by knitting in the back of the first stitch, then in the front. Once you have reached your ideal diagonal width, begin decreasing at the start of each row by slipping the first stitch (unknit) onto the empty needle, knit the second stitch, then slip the first stitch over the one you just knit. Continue until there are two stitches left, then slip the end of your yarn through those loops and pull tight.

Picture Frames

plain wooden picture frame
photo that fits in your frame
acrylic paints
acrylic varnish
paint brushes
Alternative: polymer clay (Fimo, Sculpey, etc.) in various colours
                 dedicated clay tools (use a work surface and tools that will never be used for food)
Optional: fun foam shapes to match the theme of the photo
                white craft or school glue

For a painted frame, choose the colours that will go well with your photo and plan your pattern or design.

For a candy cane-style frame, choose white, red and green paint. You may wish to paint the entire frame with a base coat of white so your colours will stand out better. Let that dry. Start at the corner joins where there is a 45 degree angle and paint stripes alternating as follows: one thick stripe of white, a thick stripe of red and a thin strip of green. Be sure to wrap your lines around the side of the frame as well. Continue around the frame with these lines at a 45 degree angle until the frame is covered.
Let the paint dry, then coat with acrylic varnish. Once the varnish is dry, glue on a red or green fun-foam bow at the top or bottom of the frame to finish.

decorate a picture frame with funfoam

To make a personalised frame, choose fun foam letters to make your message and set aside. Paint the frame your choice of background colour, and let dry. Arrange your letters then glue them one at a time to the frame.

polymer clay frame

To make a polymer clay frame, decide on your base colour. Work the clay in your hands until it is pliable, then roll out a very thin (1-2 mm) thick sheet of clay. Cut the sheet into strips the same width as the frame, and press onto the wooden frame. Work the strips onto the frame until the entire front is covered.
*Depending on the wood, you may find it helpful to first coat the frame in white glue and let that dry before adding the clay.
With contrasting colours, make shapes you will use to embellish the frame. Try using canes and slices, letters and numbers, etc. Bake these according to the manufacturer's instructions and let cool. Arrange your shapes on the frame and bake the entire frame according to manufacturer's instructions.

Easy-Sew Buddy Bag

(aka Heating Pad)

.3 m cotton fabric
3-6 cups of uncooked rice
sewing machine
straight pins (4 or so)
heavy paper or paperboard (like from a cereal box) or a paper towel tube
optional: dried herbs such as rosemary, chamomile or lavender

Fold your fabric in half right sides together. Decide how long and wide you would like it to end up, then add 3 cm to those measurements and cut your fabric to that shape, being careful not to cut off the folded edge. The folded edge should be on one of the longer sides if your bag is not square shaped.
Starting at a folded corner, sew two edges together, being sure to lift the presser foot to turn at the corner and lower it again once you are lined up past the corner. Leave one side open. Clip the two finished corners and turn the bag inside out. Now find the centre line parallel to the folded edge. Starting at the closed end, sew a line down the centre, stopping 2 cm from the open edge.
Now comes the tricky part.
Pour in the rice (and herbs if you are using them). Fill the pockets such that when the bag is held upright, they appear half full. Do not overfill. If the opening is too small to do this easily by hand, try tucking in the paper tube, or making a tube that fits and use that to guide the rice (and herbs). We found a kitchen funnel to have too small an opening for the rice mixture to flow through.
Now tuck in the top fabric all the way around the bag. Pin it into place. Continue sewing the middle line up to the top of the bag. Clip thread and sew along tucked in seam to seal off the bag.
To use the bag: heat on high in the microwave for 1-3 minutes. Enjoy!

Hand-Dipped Beeswax Candles

hand-dipped beeswax candle

about 2-4 pounds of quality beeswax (buy a little more than you expect to use and reserve some to top up the levels as the wax is used up)
as much natural wicking as you plan to use (1 metre =about 4 candles)
2 large, thin empty can (juice tins work well)--remember that the candles will only be as long as the depth of the wax, so choose your container with that in mind!
old pot or other heatproof container that is wider than the can
a heat source strong enough to boil water; preferable a portable one you can use outdoors as there will be wax drips!
optional: a small stick to tie the wicking to, such as a pencil or small ruler

Cover any surfaces near you that need protection from wax drips (this is a great outdoor activity!). Place your wax into the can, then set your can into the pot. Fill the pot with water; this will be similar to a double boiler. Heat the pot with the can of wax in it. While that is heating (and keeping a close eye on it), cut your wicking to the desired candle length, plus about 3-4" or 10 cm for tying and knotting. For double candles, double your candle length and add about 5-6" or about 15-20 cm. Tie the bottom end with a simple knot, then tie the top to your stick if you are using one, or for double candles, fold your wick in half.

Once the wax is melted, turn down your heat source so that you can maintain the temperature without increasing it. Dip your candle then pull the knot slightly to keep it straight for the first few dips. Between each dip you need to let the candle cool; we generally set up a chair to walk around a little ways away for this purpose. Do not leave the candle in the melted wax for long or the wax you have accumulated will melt away. This is a great lesson in patience for younger children! Remember to top up the level of the wax as it gets used or you will end up with taper candles that are much wider at the bottom. Using 2 cans makes topping up easier as you can preheat the new wax and not have to wait for it to melt. Continue dipping until your candle(s) are the desired thickness. Any leftover wax can be saved and remelted for further projects.

Tip: for buying the wax, it will cost less to buy directly from a local beekeeper, and you may be able to purchase the wicking there as well. Alternatively, you can buy it online or at a local craft store, but it will cost more and may be of lesser quality.

Painted Candles

peeled crayons (this is a great way to use up old broken crayon bits)
paper muffin cups (2 -3 per section) and silicone muffin tray OR paper cups
microwave oven
beeswax candle(s); tapers or pillars work best
cotton swabs

Sort the crayons into the containers by colour. Melt them by microwaving them on medium high for small bursts (about 20-30 seconds at a time) until they begin to melt. Using a separate cotton swab for each colour, paint a picture, pattern or design with the melted crayons onto the candle(s). If the crayons start to harden, microwave them again for another short burst. Let dry before wrapping for a gift or burning.

You can also melt the crayons in a regular oven using a metal muffin tray and paper liners. Set the oven to 300 F and keep a close eye on the crayons. Remove them from the oven as soon as they are shiny and begin to lose their shape.

Plant in Decorated Pot

small, healthy houseplant
potting soil
terra cotta pot to fit the plant
acrylic craft paints
paint brushes
several small pebbles
optional: plant underplate

Decide on how you will paint your pot, then paint it as desired. Once the pot has dried, place the pebbles in the bottom of the pot, and fill the bottom 1/5 to 1/4 of the pot with soil. Gently loosen the plant from its container and place into pot. Add more soil around the roots and water gently. Be sure to provide care instructions for the plant you have chosen to the recipient.

Plaster And Marble Drink Coasters

shallow plastic containers (we use spreadable cream cheese containers)
plaster of Paris
an assortment of half-marbles (flat on one side) and/or pieces of ceramic tile and/or small decorative pebbles
waterproof varnish
brush to apply the varnish
popsicle stick or plastic spoon
spare plastic yogurt or similar tub for mixing

Decide on the pattern you want your marbles / ceramic pieces to make on your finished coasters and have the pieces ready to go. Prepare plaster as directed on the box. Pour or spoon into the plastic containers to fill each about 1 cm deep. Arrange the marbles/ceramic on top, pressing just enough so that they are the desired depth (and don't sink beneath the surface). Let set for 3-4 days.

This next part might be best left to an adult, depending on the varnish you use.

Unmould the coasters and coat with 2-3 layers of varnish, letting the varnish dry completely between layers.

Old-Fashioned Citrus Pomander

clove and citrus pomander

a large handful of whole cloves
a piece of citrus fruit (oranges, lemons and limes work best)
a wooden skewer or toothpick
ribbon (enough to wrap around your fruit and tie a bow)
optional: an adult wielding a glue gun (to help keep the ribbon in place)

Bring home the wonderful smells of Christmas with this classic pomander your grandparents likely made when they were children.

Plan a pattern for your fruit, being careful to leave space to tie your ribbon. Use the skewer or toothpick to poke 3-4 holes in your pattern on the fruit. Try and keep at least 1 cm between holes to keep the skin from tearing. Fill those holes with cloves, then repeat until your desired pattern is complete.
Once all the cloves are in place, wrap your ribbon around the fruit and tie into a bow.

These will be too heavy to hang on most Christmas trees, but look nice when arranged in a bowl or hung from a doorway or mantle.

Decoupage Photo Box

paper mache photo box

This wrapping also serves as the gift itself and is sure to be treasured by every grandparent.

assorted photos
access to a photocopier
a shoebox
decoupage medium: try paper mache paste or use non-toxic wallpaper paste or a commercial decoupage medium
optional: acrylic varnish

First make photocopies of your chosen photos. Don't be shy about cropping, enlarging and shrinking the images. We use black and white copies, but colour can also be effective. Make enough copies that you will have enough material, when trimmed, to cover both the box and lid.
Cut out and trim your photocopies.

Mix your chosen decoupage medium, and coat your copies one at a time and apply to the box. Overlap the images slightly. Continue until the box is covered, being sure to cover the rim of the box, then repeat with the lid. Let dry, then apply an extra thin coat of your medium to the entire project. Let dry, then if desired, add a coat of acrylic varnish.

Once dry, fill with photos of the previous year and tie with a colourful ribbon and bow.

Marbled Paper makes great stationery, bookmarks and cards. You can make a stationery set to give as a gift by marbling a few sheets of copy paper. Roll them together and tie with a ribbon. Add a bookmark or two and a couple of notecards to complete the set.
To make a card, fold your cardstock in half and marble the front only, or marble a thin sheet of paper and cut to size, then glue to the front of the card. To make a bookmark, use cardstock or other heavy paper, cut to shape after marbling and punch a hole in the top. String a tassle through the top to finish it off.

Below are two different marbling methods. Be sure to protect your clothing whichever method you choose!

Marbled Paper--Food Colouring

liquid laundry starch
various colours of liquid food colouring
large shallow pan or tub
tools: hair picks, large forks, etc. to create patterns
blank paper--copy paper weight works well, as does card stock

Protect your work surface. Fill the pan about 1" deep with liquid starch. Drip food colouring randomly over top and use the tools to swirl a pattern on the surface. Be careful not to mix it too much or you will end up with a greyish sludge. Gently lay a piece of paper on the surface patting it to ensure the entire surface makes contact. Remove the paper and let set face-up for a couple of minutes. After a couple of minutes, rinse the paper in cold water to remove excess starch, then let dry completely.

Marbled Paper--Oil Paint

various colours of oil paint
large shallow pan or tub filled about 1" deep with water
tools: hair picks, large forks, etc. to create patterns *Note: the oil paint will not wash off the tools or pan without the use of paint thinner, so plan accordingly
blank paper--copy paper weight works well, as does card stock
rubber gloves

Protect all work surfaces. Add a few drops of various colours of oil paint to the surface of the water. Use the tools to spread the paint into an interesting pattern, but be careful not to stir it so much that you create a muddy sludge. Wearing gloves, gently lay a sheet of paper on the surface of the paint. Remove from the pan and lay face-up to dry. Repeat with another sheet of paper, adding more paint and swirling as needed.

For instructions on how to make your own homemade paper, click here (instructions are on the right hand side of the page).

Beautiful Bookmarks

Great as gifts on their own or accompanied by a book, these are the perfect gift for a librarian, teacher or bookworm.

1. Beaded Bookmark

A 10"-14" (~28-36 cm) length of thin ribbon or cord--hemp, leather or metallic cords work well
several fancy beads of interesting shapes, colours, textures and varied sizes, with holes only slightly larger than your cord (or use lettered beads to personalize it)

Plan a pattern for your beads at either ends of the cord. It can be the same or different at each end of the cord. Remember that you will need to leave the centre section (at least 8"/20 cm, depending on the size of books read) empty of beads. Tie a knot at one end of the cord and thread you beads on in your desired order. Tie a knot at the bottom of your pattern. Measure off your book space (8" to 10") and tie another knot. Thread your remaining beads on, then tie another knot in the end of the cord.

2. Homemade Paper Bookmark

Read the directions for homemade paper here. For bookmarks, you will need to use a somewhat thicker layer of mulch than for ordinary paper. This a great project to experiment with various fibres, colours and textures in your papermaking.
For a rough edge: while the mulch is still wet on the screen, use a toothpick to gently make your edges pulling the fibres out as you make your outline. If you want straight edges, wait until the paper is dry, then cut with scissors to desired shape. You can add a tassle to the top by punching a hole in the top and looping it through. Decorate, or leave as is.

Still uninspired? Give a gift that will make a difference. Buy a gift certificate from Kiva. The recipient can use it to provide a small loan to a struggling entrepreneur of their choice in a poor country and change a life in the process.
Or browse through the World Vision catalogue here. More meaningful gift ideas can be found here.