14 Inexpensive Homemade Gifts That Feel Extra Special

homemade-gifts
Photo: CHRISTOPHER BAKER

If you have the time (and the talent), homemade gifts are a wonderful way to make your favorite people feel cherished and loved. But you don't have to be a pro-level baker or crafter to make a wonderful DIY gift. Try these ideas and recipes to help you make a homemade gift they'll treasure, long after they've fully savored it.

01 of 14

Manchego Twists

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Manchego Twists
Christopher Baker

Makes: 3 gifts (24 twists in all)
Total time: 25 minutes

  • 1 thawed sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce box)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1¼ cups finely grated Manchego cheese (about 5 ounces)
  1. Heat oven to 400° F. Brush the pastry with the egg, and sprinkle with the paprika, salt, and 1 cup of the cheese.
  2. Cut the pastry into 12 ¾-inch-wide strips, then halve the strips crosswise.
  3. Twist the strips and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of cheese and bake until golden and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Keep at room temperature for up to 1 week.
  1. Divide the twists among parchment-lined boxes. Wrap with decorative paper or fabric that is cut slightly narrower than the width of each box, leaving the ends open; secure with ribbon.
02 of 14

Homemade Mulled-Cider Sachets

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Mulled-Cider Sachets
Christopher Baker

Makes: 2 gifts (6 sachets in all)
Total time: 10 minutes

  • 12 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 pieces star anise
  • 1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 6 spice bags

Divide the cinnamon, star anise, allspice, and cloves among the bags. Keep at room temperature for up to 6 months.

  1. Divide the sachets between 2 small boxes lined with decorative foil or paper.
  2. Handwrite or download the following instructions on a gift tag or label to include with your gift: "Simmer 1 sachet in 2 quarts apple cider for 15 minutes. Serves 8."
  3. Tuck gift tags with instructions into the boxes; wrap with decorative wrapping paper or fabric that is cut to the width of each box, leaving the ends open. Secure each with a ribbon and finish by tying on a cinnamon stick and a star anise piece.
03 of 14

Monogrammed Journal

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Monogrammed Journal
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift
Total time: 15 minutes

  • hardback journal
  • set of alphabet stamps
  • stamp pad
  • rubber band
  • large binder clip
  • acid-free paper
  • ruler
  • pencil
  • adhesive, such as Tombow Mono Permanent Adhesive
  1. Use a rubber band to secure 3 letter stamps together in monogram order. Practice stamping on a piece of scrap paper.
  2. Open the journal covers flat on the table. With the clip, clamp all the pages together. Stamp the edges of the stacked pages one side at a time, moving the clip as needed.
  3. To make endpapers, fold a piece of acid-free paper in half, lay it inside the existing front cover, and trim to fit. Do the same for the inside back cover.
  4. Draw light horizontal (or, for a looser motif, diagonal) lines across the paper. Stamp along the lines and let dry for 15 minutes. Erase the pencil marks.
  5. Apply adhesive to the existing endpaper, including the spine. Place the stamped paper on top. Press gently. Repeat for the inside back cover.
04 of 14

Chocolate Nut Bark

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Chocolate Nut Bark
Christopher Baker

Makes: 2 gifts (22 ounces in all)
Total time: 45 minutes

  • 12 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate
  • 2½ cups mixed nuts
  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over (but not in) a saucepan of gently simmering water, stirring occasionally.
  2. Spread the chocolate evenly on a parchment-lined 9-by-13-inch baking pan and sprinkle with the nuts. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes.
  3. Break the bark into pieces. Keep at room temperature for up to 1 week.
  1. Line two tins with wax paper or food-safe colored tissue. Place the bark inside.
05 of 14

Sugar-Bowl Candles

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Sugar-Bowl Candles
Christopher Baker

Makes: 2 gifts
Total time: 25 minutes

  • 2 flea-market sugar bowls
  • 1 1-pound bag of soy wax
  • microwave-safe container with pouring spout
  • dye
  • candle-fragrance oil
  • scissors
  • wicking
  • wick tabs
  • wood skewers or chopsticks
  1. Follow the instructions on the soy-wax package for heating the wax and adding dye and fragrance.
  2. Cut the wicking so that it's about three inches taller than the bowl.
  3. Thread the wicking through a wick tab and knot it at one end. Slide the wick tab down to the knot. Dip the wick tab into the melted wax to coat, then press down firmly in the center of the bowl to make it adhere.
  4. Tie the loose end of the wicking to a skewer (so that it won't get caught in the wax), then rest the skewer across the lip of the bowl. Repeat the wick-tab process for the second bowl.
  5. Slowly pour the wax into the bowls and allow it to harden.
  6. Cut the wicks right below the skewers; they should stick up about a quarter inch from the wax.
06 of 14

DIY Infused Vodka

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Infused Vodka
Christopher Baker

Makes: 2 gifts (1 liter in all)
Total time: 5 minutes (plus 1 week for infusing)

  • 1 liter vodka
  • flavorings, such as 1½ cups fresh pineapple chunks, 4 vanilla beans, or 3 halved and seeded jalapeños
  • glass bottles with tight seals
  1. Divide the vodka and desired flavorings among the bottles.
  2. Refrigerate until the vodka reaches the desired level of infusion, at least 3 days and up to 1 week. Remove the flavorings after 1 week or instruct the recipient to do so. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 months.
  1. Divide the vodka among glass bottles with tight seals.
  2. Tie a ribbon around the neck of each and attach a gift tag.
07 of 14

Gold-Leaf Bud-Vase Trio

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Gold-Leaf Bud-Vase Trio
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift
Total time: 15 minutes (plus 1½ hours drying time)

  • 3 glass bud vases of different shapes
  • gold-leaf kit
  • scissors
  • 2 small, soft paintbrushes
  1. Dip a paintbrush in the adhesive (from the gold-leaf kit) and paint loose, slightly irregular upward strokes to cover the outer rims of the vases. Set aside for an hour while the adhesive becomes tacky (it will turn clear).
  2. Cut sheets of gold leaf into 1- to 2-inch strips. Press the gold leaf onto the adhesive. Peel off the paper backing. Dust away any excess gold leaf with the clean paintbrush.
  3. Apply the sealer and let dry for 30 minutes.
08 of 14

Tiny, Snarky Chain Stitch

Tiny, Snarky Chain Stitch
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift
Total time: 1 to 2 hours, depending on your experience

  • ornate picture frame (3 by 5 inches or 4 by 6 inches; prowl your thrift shop for options)
  • needlepoint fabric
  • embroidery hoop
  • fabric pen
  • needle
  • festive metallic thread
  • scissors
  • your own best line
  1. Place the picture frame on top of the fabric. Using the pen, trace around the outside of the frame.
  2. Write the above message―or your own unexpected statement―across the center of the traced fabric and fill the corners, or sides, with stars or other sweet designs.
  3. Secure the fabric on an embroidery hoop.
  4. Embroider a chain stitch to cover the message.
  5. Remove the hoop and cut the fabric around the frame tracing. Then insert the chain stitch into the frame.
09 of 14

Mini Succulent Garden

Mini Succulent Garden
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift
Total time: 15 minutes

  • ceramic bowl (at least 3 inches deep and 5 inches wide)
  • small pebbles
  • dishwashing gloves (to keep fingers nimble and offer some protection)
  • soup spoon
  • cactus potting soil
  • 5 or 7 small cactus and succulent plants of different heights and shapes (an odd number will look better; the festive plant with the red top, shown here, is a ruby ball cactus). All supplies are available at your local garden center or Home Depot
  1. Cover the bottom of the bowl with a 1-inch layer of pebbles.
  2. Add a thin layer of soil over the pebbles.
  3. Wearing gloves, gently remove each little cactus from its pot. Group the tallest plants together and fill the remaining space with the others, allowing a half inch between each. Use the spoon to surround each plant with soil; the root ball should be completely covered.
  4. Level the top of the potting soil at the base of each plant. Cover the surface with pebbles. To water, start with a half cup and continue to add until the topsoil is damp.
  5. When gifting, tell the recipient to let the soil dry out between waterings.
10 of 14

Homemade Family Recipe Book

What to Do on a Rainy Day: Make a Family Recipe Book
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift
Total time: 20 minutes (once you have collected and color-copied your memorabilia)

  • unlined journal
  • recipe cards (the more sauce-splattered, the better)
  • wine or Champagne labels
  • photos from family meals
  • adhesive
  • photo corners
  • ruler
  • shimmery alphabet stickers (available at crafts stores)
  • ribbon
  1. Color-copy all recipe cards, photos, and labels if you want to preserve the originals or make more than one gift book.
  2. Compile the memorabilia by time period, holiday, or any other theme that inspires you.
  3. Affix the items horizontally in the journal. Use photo corners for pictures and recipe cards and adhesive for labels and clippings.
  4. Stick a title on the front of the journal with alphabet stickers (using a ruler helps), and finish off with a ribbon.
11 of 14

Morning, Noon, and Night Bath Salts

Morning, Noon, and Night Bath Salts
Christopher Baker

Makes: 3 gifts
Total time: 35 minutes (includes 15 minutes drying time)

  • glass jars with a lid (think mason jars or cork-top bottles)
  • salts (one salt per bottle; kosher and Epsom salts are available at supermarkets)
  • essential oils (available at a health-food store)
  • 3 one-gallon plastic resealable bags
  • measuring cup
  • small funnel
  • watercolor paper
  • watercolor paint and brush
  • ruler
  • scissors
  • metallic pen
  • metallic cord.
  1. For a stimulating "morning" concoction, use Himalayan salts (which are reputed to have detoxifying qualities) that have been scented with an energizing citrus oil like neroli or petitgrain. For "noon," use Epsom salts and a warming oil, like rosemary (which is nice for muscles after a run or any kind of exercise). For relaxing "night" salts, use any kosher sea salt, combined with a teaspoon of powdered milk, which can soften skin, and soothing clary-sage, lavender, or chamomile oil.
  2. Pour 5 ounces of each salt into a resealable bag (this is a great gift to make in multiples, so double or triple the amounts as desired). To each, add 8 to 12 drops of essential oil (depending on whether you want a subtle or slightly stronger fragrance). Gently shake to mix the contents. With the funnel, pour the salt into a container almost to the top; wash and thoroughly dry the funnel between salts to keep the scents separate and moisture out of the jars. Seal the jars.
  3. Choose a hue to reflect each time of day and paint a sheet of paper in each color (you'll have enough paper for several labels). Let dry for 10 minutes.
  4. Cut 1-by-3-inch labels. Mark each with the metallic pen, and tie them to the bottles with the metallic cord.
12 of 14

Coconut-Pecan Muffin Mix

Coconut Pecan Muffin Mix
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift (4½ cups in all)
Total time: 5 minutes

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 7-ounce package sweetened shredded coconut (2 2/3 cups)
  • ¾ cup pecans (chopped)
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugars, and salt. Mix in the coconut and pecans. Keep at room temperature for up to 1 month.
  2. Handwrite or download the following instructions on a gift tag or label to include with your gift: "Heat oven to 350º F. In a large bowl, whisk together 3 large eggs and ¾ cup canola oil. Add the muffin mix and stir just until combined. Divide among the cups of a 12-cup muffin tin lined with paper liners. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Makes 12 muffins."

Transfer the mix to a resealable paper bag. Wrap with ribbon and affix with a label and a gift tag with the baking instructions.

13 of 14

Fabric-Mounted Family Photo

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Fabric-Mounted Family Photo
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift
Total time: 10 minutes (plus 10 minutes drying time)

  • a great picture
  • a brightly colored frame (use an 8-by-10-inch frame for a 5-by-7-inch shot, or a 5-by-7-inch frame for a 4-by-6-inch shot)
  • textured but thin fabric (a remnant from a sewing store is perfect, as long as it is a couple of inches bigger than the frame)
  • scissors
  • fabric glue
  • archival photo tape
  1. Upload a few photos (so you have some choice) to a site that produces great-quality prints.
  2. Order copies in black-and-white or color on matte paper, which has a sophisticated look.
  3. To make the mounting, cut the fabric slightly larger than the cardboard backing of the frame.
  4. Apply glue to the edges of the backing and wrap the fabric tautly around each side. Press firmly. Dry under a heavy book for about 10 minutes.
  5. Using a ruler, center the photo, then secure it with photo tape. Carefully slip the mounted picture into the frame.
14 of 14

Chocolate Chunk Hot Cocoa Mix

DIY Christmas gifts, homemade holiday present ideas - Chocolate Chunk Hot Cocoa Mix
Christopher Baker

Makes: 1 gift (4 cups in all)
Total time: 10 minutes

  • 2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 8 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate

In a bowl, combine the cocoa, sugar, and chocolate. Store in an airtight container. Keep at room temperature for up to 4 months.

  1. Transfer the cocoa mix to a resealable airtight container, such as a mason jar.
  2. Handwrite or download the following instructions on a gift tag or label to include with your gift: "In a small saucepan, whisk ¼ cup cocoa mix with ¾ cup milk. Bring to a bare simmer. Serves 1."
  3. Tie a ribbon around the container, looping it through a measuring scoop and the gift tag with the instructions.
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