2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Crafts That Don't Suck

Crafty people! Gather around. We have to talk. It's important. Put down your hot glue guns, your yarn, and your glitter. Come. Gather. Listen.

Friends, I am one of you. I, too, like making clever little things out of sad little nothings. I, too, like to calm my analytical mind by engaging my creativity through handicrafts. And, friends, if we are honest with one another, we have to acknowledge the sad truth that sometimes we make sucky things.

We don't mean to, but we do. Sometimes our love of a project overreaches our grasp of practical utility or even basic aesthetic pleasure, and that's when things like crocheted toilet paper cozies appear. Or thematically packaged foods pretending to be whimsical poop. Or anything, and I mean anything, made from an old milk jug. (You know what makes a craft particularly awful? When it permanently reeks of sour milk. Just don't.)

Eat shit! No, really! (Image Source)

So, crafty crafters considering gluing things to other things and calling them holiday presents, I humbly offer up 4 good ideas of good craft projects. They are all fairly easy (one can only barely be called a craft project), all are budget-friendly, and all would actually be appreciated by most recipients. At least, those I gave these to acted like they appreciated them. But then maybe they were just grateful not to get a sack of chocolate-covered raisin "Reindeer Poop" from me. Again.

Let's cue up our theme music and begin!

1. Cross-Stitched Family Portraits

I made this a few years ago when Smartling-the-elder wore red cowgirl boots as often as possible and when Smartling-the-younger had her hair up in what we termed a "whale spout" ponytail every single day. Here's how I did it:

Step 1: Learn how to cross-stitch. My aunt taught me how when I was 11, and I've always liked the repetitive and predictable rendering of my hands into fleshy dot-matrix printers as I stitch up a picture row by row. If you can count and thread a needle, then you can cross-stitch.

Step 2: Let Martha Stewart be your guide. Smarties, if you're going to steal a project idea, steal from the best. This whole thing was sparked by an old Martha Stewart article I read years ago, linked to in the first sentence here. Follow her directions. She does not steer you wrong.

Step 3: Graph that shit. Mess up. Erase. Re-graph that shit. There. That's the stuff.

Step 4: Head to the craft store for some counted cross-stitch fabric, embroidery floss, needles, a hoop, and a good pair of sharp scissors. I brought my actual children with me to match their skin, hair, and eye color, which wound up being a mistake. Yes, the pale peachy skin color I used is accurate, but it doesn't offer enough contrast with the white fabric. Next time I'd test the floss colors against the fabric before using them.

Step 5: Start stitching.

Step 6: When finished stitching, snip off the extra fabric from around the hoop, turning the hoop into a frame.

Step 7. Gift and gloat. Aren't you the crafty genius?

2. Geeky Framed Poster

For this project idea, I owe all thanks to my favorite first-person, Standard Deviation of Deviation Obligatoire, from whom I ripped it off.

Step 1: Go to Paper Source and buy a sheet of the wrapping paper made from Jack Teagle's illustration "Heroines and Villainesses."

Here's a close-up and roll-call of the illustration:

Row 1, L to R: Bat Girl, Storm, Supergirl, Hawkgirl.

Row 2: Wicked Witch of the West, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Nyota Uhura.

Row 3: Elektra, Cheetara, April O'Neil, She-Ra.

Row 4: Evil-Lyn, Chun Li, Pink Ranger, Gogo Yubari.

Row 5: Hitgirl, Princess Leia, Dorothy Gale, Wonder Woman.*

Step 2: Buy a cheap frame smaller than the size of the sheet of wrapping paper.

Step 3: Cut the paper to fit the frame.

Step 4: Frame it.

Step 5: Congratulate yourself on how clever you are.


3. Geeky Homemade Bookmarks

7 of you are receiving these for Christmas once we finish them. Act surprised.

See how perfectly bookmark-sized those extra strips of images you just trimmed from your wrapping paper are? You do? Great! Now do the following. Waste not, want not.

Step 1: Trim your "Heroines and Villainesses" down to size.

Step 2: Glue the strips onto pretty paper. (This is double-sided scrapbook paper - kind of thick, like tagboard.) Leave a little extra room on the top if you plan to attach a ribbon or yarn marker there.

Step 3: Sandwich the bookmark strips between two sheets of clear Contact Paper.

Step 4: Smooth the contact paper with a straight edge to push out any bubbles (a library card works wonders here).

Step 5: Trim the contact paper to just outside the perimeter of the bookmark.

Step 6: Punch a hole in the top of the bookmark and tie a ribbon or some yarn to it.

It'll look like these, which I did with pictures of the Smartlings a couple years ago, but with your own heroine and villainess!

And don't get mad at me calling them a heroine and villainess. Remember: the Supergirl/Evil Queen Halloween dichotomy is REAL.

4. Song Lyric Wall Art

Feel conflicted about stealing craft ideas from Martha Stewart? Steal them from A Beautiful Mess instead! That's what Shannon and I did last year when we decided to make Song Lyric Wall Art for our Smartners for Christmas.

Step 1: Read the Song Lyric Wall Art instructions here.

Step 2: Buy a painting on canvas from a thrift store.

Step 3: Buy vinyl letter stickers.

Step 4: Using vinyl letter stickers, write a phrase, line of poetry, or song lyric onto your canvas.

Step 5: Paint over the whole dang thing in a color of your choosing. We robbed our extra house paint stash in the garage. Shannon's "Tell Me Something Good" canvas is in "Hallway Cream" and my "The Only Living Boy in New York" canvas is in "Living Room Gray."

Step 6: Let the canvases dry thoroughly. (We recommend watching Elf and drinking boozy cocoa while you do this.)

Step 7: If you are Shannon, carefully peel off the stickers to reveal the exposed canvas below, spelling out your song lyric. If you are Christina, COMPLETELY FREAK OUT about peeling off your stickers and ruining your artwork and have a minor nervous breakdown. Then, if you are Shannon, peel Christina's stickers off for her so that she can breathe again.

Voila! You are a fantastic, artistic gift-giver!

*Many thanks to Ray for the assistance in identifying some of these.