Thursday, December 3, 2015

Homemade Gift Idea Roundup, 2014 Edition

Last November, I decided to encourage my friends and family to make more of their gifts. I hate the pressure we as a society put on people at Christmas! Spend more, more, more; go into debt. Give junk, just to say you gave something.

So starting around Thanksgiving, I posted links to lots of projects and tutorials on Facebook. Last year I excluded sewing, knitting, and crocheting projects, though I did link my crocheted Fluffy Tribble pattern after a friend asked about it specifically. Here's the full list; I'll post this year's finds soon, and update it as I go (hopefully!).

Happy crafting!

Food Gifts

Homemade Vanilla Extract, from The Kitchn
Red Wine Finishing Salt, from Well Preserved
Herb-Infused Honey from Crunch Betty
Infused Olive Oil from Country Cleaver
Custom Herbal Tea Blends from Straight from the Farm
Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix (No Milk) from Live Simply
Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix (Powdered Milk) from The Kitchn
DIY Tea Wreath from Kojo Designs


Bird's Nest Necklace from Sarah Ortega
Beaded Bobby Pins from Anna Kata

Health and Beauty

Honey Brown Sugar Scrub from my own blog
DIY Bath Jellly from Rookie Mag
Herbal Infused Oil video by Mountain Rose Herbs
Three Ingredient Lotion Bars from Essentially Eclectic
Homemade Bath Melts from Snap Guide
Honey Lavender Bath Melts from Happy Money Saver

"Guy" Friendly

Magnetic Wristband for Hardware
Bay Rum Aftershave from Art of Manliness
Beard Oil from Art of Manliness
How to Make a Slingshot from Art of Manliness
Handsome Wooden Bottle Opener from Art of Manliness

Kid Friendly

Marshmallow Blow Gun  from Frugal Fun 4 Boys
Monster Slime from Frugal Fun 4 Boys
How to Make a Superhero Cape (No Sew) from Racks and Mooby
Lightweight Cape Tutorial from The Pleated Poppy
Portable Lego Kit from Mama Papa Bubba
Silly Pencils from Crafts Unleashed

Office Supplies

Embroidered Pencil Cups from The Crafted Life
Pencil Flowers from JA Monkey
Cute Blooming Flower Pen from Family Crafts
DIY Arrow Pencils from Lena Sekine
T-Shirt Pom Pom Pencil from Reuseit
Paper Flower Pencil Topper from Papercrafts for Children
Retro Fuzzy Pencils from We-Made-That
Last Minute Washi Clip from Artsyville
Groundhog Pom Pom Pencil Topper from Artists Helping Children
Washi Tape Magnets from Crafts Unleashed
No-Sew Colored Pencil Roll from Small + Friendly

This and That

DIY Picture Tiles from Crunchy Betty
Mini Polaroid Magnets from Ambrosia Girl
DIY Sharpie Mug from The Cozy Old Farmhouse
Marble Magnets from Not Martha
DIY Altoid Tin Kits from Art of Manliness and others
The Fluffy Tribble from my blog
T-Shirt Dog Toy from Barkpost
Mason Jar Sewing Kit from The 3Rs Blog
Mason Jar Sewing Kit from Simply Striking Blog

Stocking Stuffers

Ribbon Hair Clips, by Jones Design Company
Homemade Flavored Toothpicks from Crunchy Betty
Full and Textured Fabric Flowers from Make It Love It


Ombre-Dyed Gift Tags from Postcards from a Hoarder
One-Sheet Origami Gift Box

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Homemade Coffee-Coconut Scrub

I've always had a weakness for nice bath and beauty products. Unfortunately, I've never really had the budget for them! Fortunately for me, I am quite handy at making, well, lots of things.

Consider the sugar and salt scrubs that have been all the rage for years. Once upon a time, I would wait for Bath and Body Works to put their sugar scrubs on sale for half price, then stock up. But I don't have to resort to such desperate tactics anymore. I also don't have to settle for the array of questionable ingredients that make up many of B&BW's products!

I came up with my recipe for coffee-coconut scrub after a fair amount of internet research and a bit of experimentation. It smells completely scrumptious, almost like a dessert. Technically it's edible (aside from the essential oils)—but with oils and all the salt, I bet it would taste horrid!

Did I mention sugar scrubs make great gifts?

Coconut Coffee Scrub

  • .5 cup sugar
  • .5  cup brown sugar
  • .5  cup salt or sea salt
  • .375 cup ground coffee*
  • .25 cup shredded coconut*
  • .25 cup oil of your choice†
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5-10 drops essential oil(s) (optional)


  1. Mix together dry ingredients. 
  2. In a separate container, combine oil, honey, and vanilla; add essential oil if desired. 
  3. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry, stirring well. Add more oil if desired.

For ease of use, store in a wide-mouthed container. Stir before use to redistribute liquid as needed.

*For a finer texture, make sure your coffee is finely ground, and pulse your coconut in a food processor, blender, or spice grinder.

† The choice of oil is up to you. There are a wide variety of skin-friendly oils: grape seed, olive, jojoba, hazelnut, pumpkin seed, coconut, sweet almond… Go with what you like, what you can afford, or what you have on hand. Do keep in mind that the scent of the oil could affect the scent of the scrub; some oils have a strong fragrance, while others are nearly unscented.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Herbalism: Practical Crafting

Herbalism time! Made a batch of my favorite cough syrup: fresh ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, raw honey, vinegar. Should have been taking this all week; bet I would have my singing voice back by now! (Pharmaceutical cough syrup never worked for me!)
Cough syrup: ginger, garlic, vinegar, honey, and cayenne.
I just love making things; I always have. But so much stuff I can make doesn't really contribute much to my quality of life. (My art journal and ATCs do not qualify – they are pure art for art's sake.) Herbalism, though, makes my life better in so many ways.

First, making things allows me to control some aspects of my environmental exposure to toxins. (Do you know what's in your Softsoap? Did you sign up for a formaldehyde releaser? It's not in my homemade soap!)

Second, it improves my health. An example: since I discovered fresh ginger tea with cayenne, honey, and lime, I've been able to ward off some of the colds my husband brings home! When my husband got food poisoning, I remembered reading about apple cider vinegar. It worked immediately, fortunately; Atlanta was practically shut down by snow and ice all week.

It saves me money, too; I made my own "hot cloth cleanser", AKA "waterless cleanser" for a fraction of the cost of equivalent store-bought products. And mine is perfectly balanced for my skin. And it contains frankincense essential oil, which is awesome for my rosacea-prone skin. (Seriously, I made about two ounces for less than five dollars, including the cost of the jar!) My friends and family love my homemade sugar scrubs, which are very inexpensive to make but high quality and effective.

Harvesting aloe from my houseplant. 
I've also reduced my environmental impact. I buy the raw ingredients – oils, honey, beeswax, herbs and spices – and make it myself. Much of it I can buy from the bulk department, like the spices and olive oil I get from my local natural foods store. Honey and beeswax I buy from a local beekeeper; my honey comes in mason jars, which I reuse, and he puts the beeswax chunks in my cloth bag. Garlic and ginger come from the local international market, without packaging. Even the stuff that gets shipped is better; minimal packaging and minimal processing translate to less trash produced by the manufacturer. (Check out The Story of Stuff for an explanation of how that works.) I'm pretty sure I produce a lot less waste making a salve than Johnson & Johnson creates for a tube of Neosporin. Much of the packaging of my ingredients is reusable or recyclable. The containers I use (mostly mason jars and tins) are safely reusable long term.

I can choose ethical and sustainable sources. I've been able to make a lot of replacements. Local raw honey and sustainably-produced coconut sugar instead GMO beet sugar. Homemade vinegar made from fruit scraps replaces Windex. Small-producer, ethically sourced coconut oil has eliminated the need for Crisco shortening or a lotion like Jergens. If I choose to, I can grow many of the herbs in my yard.

Natural soap made with a friend.
Most of all, I have learned an important skill that is satisfying to practice. I can take care of my husband, my extended family, and my friends. I have options; I am not entirely dependent on the medical or beauty industries to take care of me. I can try simpler treatments first – an herbal steam, a neti pot, or an epsom salt soak. If I decide I really need to, I can head to the doctor then. As for rosacea, my all-homemade beauty regimen has worked far better than the Metro gel a dermatologist prescribed (once upon a time). Is there an ice storm? Is it a holiday? I have options, which are right in my house or yard.

How's that for an improved quality of life?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All-Natural Honey Brown Sugar Scrub

Years ago, I fell in love with sugar scrubs from Bath and Body Works. They left my hands feeling fabulous, and even my husband used them every time we went in the store, but boy were they expensive!

Fast forward a few years. They had discontinued my beloved bergamot coriander fragrance (a very unpopular move, according to every B&BW clerk I ever spoke to). Besides, I wear high-quality, natural, artisan-made perfume oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab; Bath and Body Works simply smells too artificial now. (Thinking back on it, I cringe, knowing what I know about the stuff I was putting on my skin.) I was pretty much out of my stockpiled sugar scrubs, and besides, I wanted to give some as gifts.

So began my semi-obsessive research on sugar scrubs, which led to brown sugar scrubs. And THAT led to my playing around with sugars, honey, fragrances, and oil. The recipe that made the cut got packaged up in mason jars (so very handy!) and given as Christmas gifts.

Years later, I still get friends asking me how I made them. I've posted my recipe before for friends, but now I'm putting my recipe out in the wild. (After all, I relied heavily on recipes other people had posted to come up with mine!) If the list of oils is too long, just use 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil; it will still feel great.

So here it is, a traditional oil-rich sugar scrub.

Honey Brown Sugar Scrub
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
1 tablespoon honey
perfume oil, natural fragrance oil, or essential oils of your choice

1. In a small bowl, combine the sugars.

2. In a larger bowl, combine the oils and the honey.

3. Add your fragrance source of choice to the liquids. Start with a very tiny amount and add a bit more at a time, until the scent is a bit stronger than you want. (Depending on whether you're using perfume oil, fragrance oils, or essential oils, or even which scent you're using, the amount will vary wildly!)

4. Add the sugars to the liquids a little at a time, stirring to make sure the oil is evenly absorbed.

This amount of scrub will fill a half-pint (8 oz) mason jar. I usually use regular-mouth quilted crystal jelly jars, but it's easier to use in a wide-mouth half-pint jar, if you can find them. Or put them in a small half-cup (4 oz) mason jar; this recipe will fill two.

When you get to the bottom of the jar, you'll probably find there's oil left. Add in more sugar and keep using it until it's gone!

Recently, I've been seeing lots of "dry sugar scrubs," particularly at Whole Foods. These aren't actually dry, but all the oils are absorbed. I found that my basic recipe works great with only a small change: more sugars!

Honey Brown Sugar Dry Scrub
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
1 tablespoon honey
perfume oil, natural fragrance oil, or essential oils of your choice*

Mix as for the traditional scrub. Keep adding the sugar mixture until pretty much all of the oil is absorbed; you may have to mix up more sugar.

*It may take more fragrance to create the same intensity of scent. Remember, you've got a lot more sugar now!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Embroidered Metal Mesh Pencil Cups

When we were at Ikea buying a pencil cup for my office desk, my husband mentioned he needed a pencil holder for school. He's an elementary school media specialist, and teaches some classes in the library.

I mentioned that all the teachers were posting "sharp" and "dull" pencil cups to Pinterest. He immediately grasped the classroom management principles, so I offered to make a pair for him. He liked the price of Ikea's Dokument pencil cups ($2.99 for 2), so I told him about the embroidered metal mesh pencil cups I had seen on Ikea Hackers.

A week later, he had a pair of pencil cups in the school colors, and I had a new pencil cup for my desk.

At the bottom of the cup, I embroidered a line of heavy chain stitch. At the top, I made two lines of back stitch three rows apart, working over two openings. In between, I worked a row of herringbone stitch, which I planned out to follow the lines of the mesh.

If you're going to work with the Ikea Dokument cups, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. It's a diamond mesh, so ditch any pattern that relies on a rectangular grid. These cups flare out. The spacing between the rows is a bit irregular. It may not be absolutely straight, either. Also, there are a pair of big raised dots or bumps on each side. (If you look closely at the center of the photo, between the two cups, you can see it a bit on the sides.) And finally, there's an overlap on one side; this is the seam. I was able to work around all of this, but some embroidery designs may not work as well.

When using metal mesh for embroidery, keep in mind that it's very open. Knots may show through if you're using floss instead of thicker yarn, especially if you're using a very open stitch (like the herringbone stitch). I put up with the inconvenience of very long threads just so I could avoid knots, on the herringbone. Instead, I tied the starting end to the finishing end once I completed the round.

The cardstock label is sewn to the mesh at the corners, carrying the thread behind the label so it's invisible from the front.

By the way, my husband is very happy with his new pencil cups, and claims they'll be the coolest in the school. And I realized metallic embroidery floss is evil.