By Brenda Winter Hansen
When the winter holidays roll around, I have to constantly fight my Charlie Brown tendency to get all excited only to be let down by how vacuous and fraught it can all seem, especially when the budget is tight. I’ve found the best defense (besides sharing food with friends!) is carving out a little time to help the kids make thoughtful and easily completed crafts for keeping or giving. I’ve collected some worthy standards and a couple new ones to share, so have a look and be inspired to make a little mess with your kids this season.
Handmade gift tags/bookmarks-Colorful card stock plus string (think yarn, embroidery thread, or something sparkly) is the basic recipe for speedy gratification. You’ll also need cookie cutters, a hole-puncher, scissors, markers, and quite possibly glitter glue. I know it’s so cheap to buy stickers made in China to slap on your gifts, but why not let the younger set make and decorate gift tags with a more personal touch? Colorful card stock is easy to come by from a local craft/paper shop, as is embroidery thread, decorative string, or yarn. Trace cookie cutters onto the card stock and cut them out. Be careful not to punch a hole too close to the edge of your tag or the string will rip through. Cut lengths of string about 10 inches long and attach each one to a tag. One side can be decorated and the other can be the To/From side, resulting in an ornament worth hanging! Cut the cardstock into long rectangles and you have lovely bookmarks.
Felt ornaments- These are great for giving and keeping. You’ll need several sheets of colored felt, depending on how many ornaments you’d like to make, string/yarn/embroidery thread, pillow fill (optional), a basic sewing kit, glitter glue and decorations are optional but nice. Use cookie cutters as stencils for shapes. Don’t bother to punch a hole for the thread, just use a large-eyed needle for pulling string through to hang it. Ornaments can be a single layer of felt or, if you cut two pieces of the same shape, you can make a tiny pillow ornament by sewing the two pieces mostly together, stuffing them with pillow fill (from fabric store) and finish sewing up the rest. Sequins, glitter glue, and sewn-on scraps of felt are great for decorating the ornaments, just make sure all glue is thoroughly dried before packing these up as gifts or hanging them up. Here’s a link to a free template for felt mushrooms. http://thelongthread.com/?p=5237
Back in the Stone Age, when I was a kid, my parents did the Yule tree decorating in the dead of night while all six of us were asleep. We’d wake up to the magical beauty of a tree that stretched from floor to ceiling and was covered with enough bling to weigh down an LA pimp. In retrospect, I think it was their version of “date night” during the busy and penny-pinched holiday season. My mom explained once that they each had favorite ornaments to hang, but there were two homemade painted cookie ornaments that waited until last. Dad would hang up “hers” (an angel), and Mom would hang up “his” (a tin soldier), and then they kissed. Not kidding. And you know what? Those cookies lasted forever! What I’m saying is, make these cookies, but do not eat them. Make them into a memorable tradition whether you have a tree or not. Make one for each child and creature in your household. Hang them on the mantle, in a doorway, on the wall. Have fun and be hopelessly romantic. Oh, and it would probably be a good idea to make some edible dough too, or you’ll never hear the end of it.
Inedible Cookie Ornaments–
300F for 1 ½ hours
3 Cups Flour
1 Cup Salt
1 1/2 Cups Warm Water
-Mix flour and salt and then add water gradually and knead dough. If the dough is too dry, add water. If it is too sticky, add flour.
-With flour to reduce sticking, roll out dough onto baking paper until the dough is about 1/4″ to 3/4″ thick. The thicker the dough, the longer they will need to bake.
-Use cookie cutters or hand shape each ornament and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Don’t forget to make a hole in each ornament before baking.
-Bake at 300F for about 1½ hours. Flip ornaments half way through. Cool completely before decorating with paint, glitter glue, beads, etc. Make sure to use newspaper or parchment paper underneath the decorating station, because it is guaranteed to get messy!
Linocut holiday cards– This project requires a little more time and money investment, but you’ll be able to use the tools for ages. It’s a great project for the whole family. Some parts of it are suited for an older, steadier hand, and others can be done by the youngsters. You’ll need a linoleum cut set (from a craft store) a couple sheets of linoleum (good to have one to practice on), transfer paper (optional but very helpful), ink roller, bright card stock, and ink. Watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kE3Uuhylur0 for a quick demo. If you’ve never done this before, then pick a simple image for your card, like a snowflake or a star. Adults and older children are better suited for using the sharp cutting tools, but smaller kids should be able to help inking the roller and applying it to the cut linoleum. You’re the best judge of your child’s ability, so make sure their task is one they won’t get frustrated with and can be proud of as well.
Here’s another card idea (low-tech & less expensive) for the older ambitious child: http://extremecards.blogspot.com/2012/01/easy-pop-up-snowflake-cards.html
Everybody who knows them loves holiday noise crackers– So this year, finish your crafting with a bang and make your own. Fill them with silly things or goody jokes to surprise friends. It’s pretty easy to do these on the cheap and well ahead of time, so they’re perfect for bringing to a party or having them ready for a post-dinner pre-dessert treat. The snaps can be found quite inexpensively online at Old English Crackers. Have a blast!
HOW TO ASSEMBLE YOUR PARTY CRACKER
Either use our pre-sized Cracker Tubes (105 x 50mm) or make your own by preparing 3 rolls of card, each 10cm wide x a suggested 30cm, rolled and taped to form a tube of diameter to suit the gift to be included.
The first roll will be left in the cracker, the other two are for use as temporary end formers and will be removed once the cracker is made.
Cut crepe paper 35cm x 35cm per cracker (or larger if you wish). You may also use tissue paper, cake board paper, or fancy gift wrap for colour effect. NOTE: THE PAPER YOU USE MUST BE ABLE TO BE TORN EASILY.
Arrange the rolls on the crepe paper along the grain of the paper. Lay a Cracker Snap between roll and paper, then roll the paper to cover.
Gently withdraw one end roll approx 2cm (1 inch) then twist and gently (but firmly) tie the crepe paper between the centre and one end roll. Tie the crepe paper securely with narrow ribbon.
Fill the centre roll with novelties, personal gift, jokes, paper hats, lollies, etc.
Similarly gather and tie the second end with narrow ribbon.
Decorate your own special party crackers with ribbons, transfers, stickers, glitter etc. The choices and variety possible is endless.
The two end cardboard rolls have been used to maintain the shape throughout the assembly process. They may now be removed to use again on your next cracker.
With a friend, each hold the snap, then give it a quick sharp pull for the BANG. http://www.goldingcraft.com/cracker.htm