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Christmas Gifts

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Extract

I started my vanilla extract last night using Bourbon Vanilla Beans from Beanilla.com and Svedka. Fresh vanilla beans are my new favorite. They’re so lush and fragrant. They ooze vanilla oil when I slice them open and smell just like vanilla pipe tobacco. It’s really magnificent.

Pics and cost information to follow. In the meantime, I went to the State Fair this week. We looked at all kinds of amazing quilts. I’m totally inspired.

Bitches Be Craftin’

Empirical evidence suggests it take 22 years to recover from trauma induced by junior high level home economics class.* At least that’s how long it took me to find my way back to the business end of a sewing machine. After winning the luck lottery this summer, my Aunt abandoned her sewing machine to my care. The cost of a new foot pedal (not unsubstantial), fabric, and a sewing class later – I had made the most expensive reusable grocery bag of all time.

Heady with my newly discovered power – the ability to cut out squares and sew relatively straight lines – my thoughts swung to Merry Thriftmas.  It was also around that time when I discovered buying fabric. I’m unlikely to become a great seamstress. But when it comes to buying fabric, I’m as passionate as they come. And if I have to keep sewing for that to make sense, so be it.

Last night, my sister and I checked out Mill End Textiles in Eden Prairie. Or, as I will be calling it from now on, Mecca. That place is just totally awesome. I bought the fabrics pictured for trying my hand at pillowcases. Squares? Check. Straight lines? Double check!

I have settled on a Roll It Up pillowcase (pattern) and it’s the only thing I have to do this weekend. The fabric is pre-washing as I type. Wish me luck!

*Research on recovery from junior high level industrial arts class is still pending but symptoms of PTTSS (post-traumatic table saw syndrome) have been observed throughout the sample.
 
 

Merry Thriftmas

My Grandmother was an antique dealer. The ultimate Second-Hand Sally, every thrift store was her favorite and every garage sale merited a visit. She had passions (dolls, toothpick holders, jewelry) but nothing was truly safe from the trunk of my Grandparent’s car. And let me tell you, seventies vintage Gran Tarinos have nice big trunks.

Grandma bought a lot and sold even more. Every item in her home (and I mean every item) had a price tag on it. With as much inventory as she had, she might have been mistaken for a hoarder. But nothing stuck around long. In my Grandmother’s opinion, everything worth buying was worth collecting; and everything worth collecting was worth selling. Grandma’s curios, packed to overflowing, were layovers not final destinations.

My Grandmother rocking her Bicentennial jumpsuit. Is your Grandma as cool as mine? I doubt it.

The very best part, though, about belonging to my particular Grandma was being on her gift list. Every Christmas, each family member received their own oversized box – the same box year after year. Ribbons were reused as well. The contents of the Christmas box were far less predictable. One year, I got entire Barbie rock band. Another year, I received a seven piece coordinating polyester leisure suit. I was eleven. Without a doubt, my Grandmother gave the greatest Christmas gifts of all time.

Many people, overwhelmed by consumer pressure, have forgone holiday gift giving altogether. That works for them, but it really doesn’t work for me. I love the holidays and giving is a joy to me. Even after scaling back, my naughty or nice list still has thirty names on it. Intellectually, I’ve come to terms with that. The problem is figuring out how to do it without a) breaking the bank and b) filling the world up with more crap.

This necessity led me to Merry Thriftmas. Merry Thriftmas is a movement geared toward changing the way I approach holiday giving. It centers on thoughtfulness, creativity, cost control and environmental responsibility. Thanks to my Grandmother, I grew up understanding that the most cherished treasures often come wrapped in old sewing patterns and smelling a bit like wet basement. That’s a lesson worth passing on, if you ask me.

As I prepare for Merry Thriftmas 2012, I hope to chronicle my adventures here on the blog. I’m starting early, since the only way to find a good present at the last-minute is to throw money around like a mad person. There’s bound to be a fair bit of stalking the local charity shops and some misguided attempts at crafting. Blessed with far more optimism than talent: I’m a whole lot more Lucille Ball than Martha Stewart.

Want to join me?

It’s All About the Benjamins

This won’t be much of a Merry Thriftmas blog if I don’t talk about money. I know, I know – it’s impolite. Tacky, even. I won’t lie and say I’m not nervous. What’s thrifty to me is going to seem stingy to some and positively ludicrous to others. I could defend my budget – talk about all the money I give to this charity or that –  but that’s not the point of the project. So, go ahead and judge me. I have made a decision, which is that I can tolerate a bit of ridicule and discomfort in order to add value, meaning and context to my Merry Thriftmas posts.

At the estate sale on Sunday, I found a funky old paperback edition of Hoyle’s card game rules and a completely untouched vintage gin rummy score pad. I picked up both for $1 (no tax, no shipping), and supplemented the gift with a deck of custom playing cards from Printer’s Studio for $7.99 (no tax, no shipping) featuring 52 of my favorite family photos. Total gift cost for my uncle of $8.99.

Whomever hosted the estate sale stuck prices tags on both book covers which in turn tore when I was trying to remove them. Not cool, yo!

I also got some thrifting / crafting done toward a gift for a young cousin. My plan is to give her a covered cork board and a jewelry box filled with “dress-up” jewelry. So far, I have spent $5.31 on cork board (thrifted at Goodwill), $.93 at Michaels (for paint and a new brush), and $4.81 at Jo-Ann Fabrics for fabric and trim. The cork board is complete and the total cost was $11.05. I had fabric glue and spray mount on hand, so I did not include those numbers in the cost. The next cream-colored cork board recipient will benefit from this weekend’s purchase of trim paint and brush. I’m comfortable with that type of accounting for this particular project since I’m aiming for averages. As for the costume jewelry, I grabbed a cameo at the Estate Sale of Win for $1.

I read that the key to great craft photography is lots of natural light. Did it work? With all that natural light, I can see that there’s a small area in the upper right corner of my board where the fabric looks wrinkled. >:-(

Did I tell you about the Estate Sale of Win? It was a crazy. Dude had like 300 metal files. I wonder if he kept all his files in files? Did he have to categorize them by genus and file-um? And really, what do you call a person with so many files? A fileophile? I sure hope they managed to sell them all. That would be a lot of file-o dough.

I have also purchased the following, which we are considering capital investments at this point. These items haven’t been applied to gifts yet, so they’re totally going to skew my average. The idea, however, is that it should all work out in the end. Right? Right.

  • Glass & Tile Pliers, Estate Sale, $2
  • Wreath stamp and Fimo (gift tags), Estate Sale and Michael’s, $1.50
  • Vintage Xmas Tin, Saver’s, approximately $3
  • Reptile Skins, Saver’s, approximately $10
  • Vintage Document Box, Saver’s, approximately $4

Woof! That’s a whole lot of ching for a Thriftmas! Should balance out soonish, though.

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Crappy Homemade Gifts™

About a decade ago, I learned to knit. I did so mostly because I was flat broke and could only afford to knit scarves for Christmas presents. They were big bulky things knit on tremendous size 15 needles, but I gave them with embarrassed pride. One or two of them even got worn.

The following Christmas, I knit again. Anxious to give wanted, useful gifts – I attempted wash cloths. To liven things up a bit, I coordinated with a friend and fellow crafter to create knit wash cloths and embroidered dish cloth packages. They were cute. Fun was had. Crappy Homemade Gifts™ was born.

Since then, I have attempted dozens of Crappy Homemade Gifts™ with varying degrees of success. Knitting, bundt cake, home cooked TV dinners, and ginormous plates of Christmas cookies. I’ve also made jam, infused vodkas, peppermint schnapps and handmade jewelry. I’d like to say they were all well received – wrapped in adorableness and deeply appreciated – but I would be lying. For one, my raspberry jelly – despite being lovingly made with homegrown raspberries – was hard as a rock. And the homemade schnapps were really just bad. I relabeled them “Garden Waste Schnapps” and soldiered on.

So, as I approach the 2012 giving season, I have started to reflect on the lessons I’ve learned.

The first three indisputable truths about homemade gifts:

  • If what you are giving someone is not something that they would like, it’s a bad gift whether or not it is homemade.
  • If you are unsure of what a person would like, it’s best to error on the side of useful. A slightly unwelcome bottle of vanilla will eventually end up in cookies. A slightly unwelcome knickknack ends up at the Goodwill.
  • Before giving something away, try it.

With the above goals in mind, I’m reworking my Merry Thriftmas philosophy this year. For the most part, I hope to make my gifts and / or cobble them together through thrift store finds. However, I’m opening up the idea of making crafts to sell on Etsy to raise some money for gifts the finicky on my list. You can’t really give a 15-year-old boy homemade anything. Also, I’m starting early. Way, way early.

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