I was able to complete three of the smaller Mystery Objects yesterday, and to begin one more of them plus the London Beanie. The London Beanie doesn’t have to be a Mystery Object, because I am quite confident that the recipient does not read this blog. I got about one third of the housework done, and none of the music practice (oops!), but after all in this life we cannot do everything, can we? I should be able to fit in some practice before this afternoon’s performance.

Back when I worked as Education Director in a museum, I read a thesis someone had written back in the ’20s for a Home Economics degree. The writer had interviewed the old pioneer ladies still living at the time, in an effort to determine whether they continued to make their own stuff as a “thrift practice” or not. She had focussed particularly on quilting, which was at that time about to experience a revival. Younger women, however, tended to take advantage of the opportunity to buy ready-made blankets and such. The older women continued to make their own quilts, mattresses, clothing, soap, baskets, and pretty well everything else they owned. The thesis concluded that the homemade things did cost less, but that the thriftiness wasn’t the whole story. The social value and the sense of pride in their abilities were equally important.

If you read this blog, then you know the quasi-philosophical reasons I have for making my own stuff, and I won’t repeat them. But at this time of year there is a lot of discussion about whether making your own gifts is a thrift practice or not — we don’t use that term any more, of course. But does it save money to make gifts?

The answer is a resounding “yes and no.” In a store yesterday I saw one of those cookie-in-a-jar mixes, which is a decorated canning jar with cookie ingredients layered prettily in it, selling for $14.95. Obviously, the ingredients for this gift don’t cost anywhere near that much, and anyone at all can make such a thing in just a few minutes. Sure, it’s cheaper to make your own. You can also buy a hat very like the London Beanie in a Dollar Store. A neophyte knitter who had to go buy needles, pattern, and yarn would be lucky to spend less than ten times that much. And then the time must be factored in, on top of the materials and tools. So no, it isn’t cheaper at all. And, without getting down to specifics at all, we all know that there are many things sold in stores nowadays the price of which is not enough to cover the cost of the materials — and also things whose price is hundreds of times more than the materials, and based more on the cost of advertising. The value of items has become so divorced from the price that it is hardly possible to say what an item is worth. And handmade gifts in particular are all about saying “You are worth my time and effort” which is always worth more than money.

But suppose you want to make gifts for people in the most economical way? Suppose you intend to use your skills to give people the most value you can for the funds you have budgeted for holiday gifts?

The first thing is to use what you already have the skills and equipment for. I own very large quantities of needles and patterns for knitting, so my cost for a knitted gift is only the cost of the yarn. I also own lots of molds and scents for soap and spa things, tools for paper crafts, and equipment for sewing. If I decided to make ceramics, on the other hand, I would have to start from scratch and make quite an investment.

The second, and related, thing is to make multiples of whatever it is you make. I don’t go so far as to make the exact same thing for everyone, but those who do are sensible. The trial-and-error and decision-making get done with the first thing, and then you can just keep going smoothly on, getting faster as you go. You can also use up all your materials, rather than having leftovers from many different projects. Better yet, pick something that you can not only give to everyone, but give to them afresh each year. Everyone in the Northern Hemisphere could enjoy a new pair of hand-made socks each year, after all, because they wear out. Give it to your friends in the Southern Hemisphere for Midsummer’s Night, and you’re set. People will begin to look forward to that gift, and feel disappointed if they don’t receive it.

The third thing is to present your stuff really well. That jar of cookie ingredients cost $14.95 because it looked like a present. Zip-lock bags of cookie ingredients thrown into a paper sack would not have the same effect. So make snazzy labels for your scarves and wrap your socks in clever ways. I think Martha Stewart is the best source for ideas for this. Hand-made things in her magazine are always presented in ways that make you completely forget that they are made out of pipe cleaners and paper. Last year I made spiral socks out of Polar Spun yarn for all my favorite females and made tags for them that said “Polar Bear Paws.” Using a pattern from Martha Stewart Living, I cut little polar bears from flocked paper and put them on the tags. Tuck those slipper-substitutes into a basket with homemade cookies and hot chocolate mix, and you have a gift that shows the lavishness of your fondness for the recipient.