Ahhhh, early September. Summer’s trying to hang on by its fingernails, but autumn is showing itself more and more every day. The leaves are starting to turn, there’s a chill in the morning air, the days are getting shorter. It’s the perfect time to start thinking about making gifts for your friends and families for the winter holidays!
Before you accuse me of joining the commercialism bandwagon, remember that I’m talking about making gifts. I’m as annoyed as anyone when WalMart starts putting out Christmas trees before they stock the Halloween candy. But for the crafty geek, this is the time to start making plans for making gifts.
Making things with your own two hands takes time – much more time than a trip to the mall to buy gift cards for everyone – and if you don’t start now, you may find yourself taking a week off from work in early December, crocheting and sewing for 16 hours a day, not enjoying a bit of it and refusing to touch your crafts again for months afterwards. (Yes, I speak from experience.)
People who know me in real life know I’m as big a procrastinator as they come, but even I have been known to make a plan from time to time. And I have one for making gifts for the important people in my life for whatever holiday they celebrate at the end of the year. Even if you’ve never made anything before in your life, there’s still time to do it, if you follow this timeline.
September: Make A Game Plan
Make a list, check it twice. Think about who you want to make gifts for this year. Write down their names, then come back to it in a day and see if you forgot anyone. Then, add a couple of empty slots to the list to account for the unexpected that can happen between now and the holidays: the old friend you reconnect with, the new friend you make, the person you somehow completely forgot about. Now you know how many gifts you need to make.
Pick a project. In my experience, it’s easiest to make everyone the same thing, or at least similar things. Doing so means less stress, because you only have one supply stash to worry about, and you can get a rhythm going and maybe even make an assembly line, depending on what you’re making.
When picking a project, be realistic with yourself about the cost of the supplies and the time involved. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Here are some examples of things you can easily make for everyone between now and the holidays: a hand-painted mini representing their character, a dice bag, a simple hat or scarf, a piece of jewelry, homemade goodies. Things you might be able to make, if you really work at it: a full jewelry set, a cosplay-appropriate Hogwarts or Dr. Who scarf, a drawing or painting of their character. Things you should probably go ahead and make your plan for next year: a full cosplay outfit, a full-sized afghan/blanket, an embroidered family crest for their character.
Money, money, money. If you already have a lot of craft supplies on hand, making gifts can be very cost-effective! If you have to buy everything new, it can add up quickly. And don’t forget about shipping costs! That’s what often bites people in the ass – they have the money to make the gifts, but not enough to send them (this has happened to me a couple times). Start budgeting now.
Have a back-up plan. Life has a funny way of happening while we’re busy making other plans. Something as simple as coming down with a bad case of con crud can leave you scrambling for time to make all the gifts you had planned. Decide now what you’re going to do if you get in a bind, whether it’s making cool I.O.U. cards to give your friends (with promises of the finished gift to come!) or putting the minis away for another time and making cookies instead.
October: Get Things Rolling
Learn your craft. If you’ve never knitted or baked before, learn as early as possible (you may even want to do this in September, if time allows). Buy an instructional book, look up videos on YouTube, or find someone to teach you. Sometimes crafts come easily to a person, and you’ll pick it up right away. Sometimes you struggle. If you’re having a hard time learning how to crochet, this may not be the year to make everyone a hat. Don’t feel bad – remember, you have a back-up plan to fall back on!
Do a practice run. So you think you’ve found the perfect jewelry project/knitting pattern/fudge recipe for making the most awesome gifts EVAR. Great! Now, make one of those necklaces or pairs of socks, or a batch of fudge, for yourself. Is it as great as it looked on paper? If you’re not happy with it for yourself, you won’t feel good about giving it as a gift. This is also a great way to judge the time involved. If making that necklace turns out to have a lot more time-consuming fiddly bits than you expected, you need to either reschedule your time or pick a simpler project.
Gather supplies. This time of year, craft stores have sales and coupons galore. Check the Sunday paper, or better yet, sign up for their e-mail newsletters to get coupons delivered right to your inbox. Grocery stores also start having baking supplies on sale around this time, and most of the ingredients for your holiday goodies can be bought a couple months in advance with no problems – even butter can be bought early when it’s on sale, and stored in the freezer.
Get to crafting! Start making all those awesome gifts. Figure out how long each one takes, and make a plan for how you’re going to get them all done in time. Make the gifts that need to be shipped first.
Early November: In The Home Stretch
Craft, craft, craft. You’ve got a lot of gifts to make, and the holidays will be here sooner than you think. Don’t procrastinate! It’s much better to get everything done early than to be panicking in December.
Buy wrapping/shipping supplies. The stores are full of gift bags, boxes, and wrapping paper in November – buy it now for the best selection. If you’re giving homemade goodies this year, pick up some holiday tins, or even better, the reusable Ziploc containers, and consider the container to be part of the gift. Stop by the post office to pick up some of their free Priority Mail boxes, and buy the tape, bubble wrap, and tissue paper you need to make sure everything reaches its destination safe and sound.
Late November/Early December: Wrap It Up!
Bake those goodies for shipment. The post office gets crazy busy the closer we get to the holidays, and you really don’t want your cookies and fudge getting lost in the shuffle. If I’m shipping goodies, I try to bake them on Thanksgiving weekend or in the first week of December, and mail them ASAP. Always use Priority Mail for goodies, and make sure the boxes are marked “perishable”.
If you want to go ahead and bake the treats for local delivery at the same time, go ahead! You can either deliver them early (why wait for Yule? I want cookies NOW!) or pack them up in their containers and pop them in the freezer until the gift exchange party.
Ship everything else. Strive to have everything in the mail by the second week of December.
Get out the wrapping paper. Once you have everything made for your local deliveries, make a wrapping assembly line and get everything tied up pretty with a bow. Don’t forget to put a gift tag on each one as you go! Then stack them by the Festivus pole and relax with some hot cider. Your work here is done!
Play Santa! Give out those awesome gifts and enjoy the warm fuzzies you get from seeing your hard work delight your friends and family.
Making gifts for the holidays can be a lot of work, but it’s also very rewarding and a lot of fun. Just start thinking about it now, pace yourself, and remember – if it becomes more stressful than you think it’s worth, you’re defeating the purpose of the holidays. There’s no shame in buying everyone a book instead of making them a bookmark if that makes your life easier. But if you have the time, the supplies, and the inclination, give it a try. It just might make this holiday season the best one EVER.
What are you making for gifts this year? Have you received a handmade gift that meant a lot to you?