Handmade Christmas: fun for the whole family.

By Lance Gardner (Lance) on November 16, 2011

Thanksgiving is coming with Christmas right around the corner. I always appreciate hand-made gifts and my son and I have fun making something different to give as holiday presents every year. One of the benefits of hand-made items is that it does not matter what culture or holiday you celebrate, they are almost always appreciated as the thoughtful gift they are. Start planning now so there is plenty of time to have fun with your project and not feel rushed.

The holiday season is almost upon us, so now is the time to start thinking about some fun family activities that can be shared with your friends and extended family.  Thinking about these activities now will help alleviate the feeling of overwhelming stress that comes as we get closer to celebrating the holiday.  After all, this is supposed to be a festive and fun time, so make sure you take the time to have fun with it.  I personally would rather make and receive limited thoughtful gifts than feel anxious about not having enough time to get everything done, get all the shopping finished and decorate the house with every decoration I have.  We often decide not to put up all our decorations and have fun with what we do put up instead.

I may need to thank my Mother for this, but I have always appreciated handmade items much more than something pre-packaged and purchased from a store.  My Mother has always been very crafty and I have received many hand knit sweaters, some blankets, hats, cross-stitch pictures, and other items over the years.  Every year, she also makes a new Christmas ornament.  I also like to use my hands to make things – woodworking, sewing, gardening and of course Holiday items. 

In keeping with the family tradition, my son and I have been making Christmas decorations or gifts for the past several years, essentially since he was old enough to wave a paint brush around and hit the decoration with some paint.  Since we do a lot of outdoor exploring, these projects often center around natural found objects such as shells or grown items like gourds.  This has the benefits of limiting the cost, giving us a purpose for some of our walks or gardening activities and we don’t feel bad if it does not come out perfect – no big loss of money or time because we had fun finding and growing as well as making.  Besides, handmade can almost never be bad as long as it is planned out for the abilities present; it really should be the thought that counts. 


One of the first projects we did was to decorate seashells.  One year while visiting my parents we went for a walk along a beach and found a huge number of small conch shells.  We both thought about what we would do with them and he came up with the idea of painting them with glitter glue.  Take some diluted white glue, add glitter and paint the shells with it.  You can also sprinkle more glitter on top while the glue is still wet.  My part was to take a small rotary tool with a grinder tip to make holes in the shells for hanging.  I also hung up all these shells outside and sprayed with a clear fixative to keep the glitter intact.


Another year we made spinning tops.  I took wooden wheels, glued a wooden dowel in the center and my son painted them with various colors and glitter.  He also used a pencil sharpener to put a point on the dowel for the spinning end.  It makes little difference how the paint job looks as when the top is spun it always looks cool.  Overlapping colors like red and blue will also have the top change color to purple when spinning.  We poked the pointy end into a Styrofoam egg carton to hold the tops for drying, making for a very simple and fun project. 

Two summers ago we grew Tennessee spinner gourds.  These vines were very prolific with six vines producing over 300 little gourds.  We both thought about what to do with them and came up with the idea of snowmen.  We also gave away huge amounts of these gourds as there was no way we were going to use them all!  This was our most involved project so far and took quite a bit of time from both of us, but he was ready for it and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The Gourds Cubit has some good articles on how to grow, prepare and decorate gourds so I will not go into a lot of detail here, but I will go over what we did for this project. 


Since these are small gourds they dry out much faster than larger ones so were able to have them dried out in a few months; plenty of time for decorating for Christmas.  After they are dried the gourds always develop various fungi growths on the hard shell.  To clean this off I found it was easiest to soak them in plain water for an hour so then use a small rotary tool with a soft wire brush to whizz off this growth down to the original hard shell.  Various hand brushes can also work but make sure the wire is not so hard it scratches the shell.  I did find out that brass bristles are actually too soft, though.  This part can be time intensive as we did a lot of snowmen and every little gourd needed to be cleaned.


Next I took a small Japanese hand saw and cut the top off a lot of the gourds.  This saw needs to be fine toothed and sharp so it does not rip the shell.  We also tried to choose relatively larger gourds as these parts were the snowmen bottoms.  I then sanded the cut smooth so it would fit together better with the tops.  Now comes the planning ahead part:  We painted the bottoms of these gourds white so they could be put on the cut end to dry out.  We found that two coats of paint worked best, otherwise there was too much effort to try and get it all bright white the first time – it actually saved time to paint them twice. 


After this first painting was dry, we picked out top gourds that looked like they would fit together well with the bottom section.  These were glued into place, tops facing up to make hats, with waterproof wood glue; polyurethane glue like Gorilla or Boulder Bond might also work (these foam and expand so smooth them out as they cure).  After the glue dried we went back to painting the rest of our little snowmen white with two layers again.  We found egg crates worked very well to hold these little guys for drying. 


Now came the really fun part, painting on the decorations.  My son did almost all of this part, I think I did the hats and he did the buttons, scarves and faces.  We also tried Bendaroos for scarves and if you want to be really industrious you could probably attach little beads or other decorations, although I am not sure if the paint would come off.  After everything was dry I drilled small holes in the tops and threaded some green craft wire into them for hanging.  These little guys were given to all the children in his class, all our closer relatives (we have many), many friends and we still had some left to decorate our own tree. 


What are some of your favorite family crafts?  Have you done something that you enjoyed making and giving as gifts?  Share your own experiences and maybe you will give me an idea for this year’s craft project. 


Related articles:
Christmas, decorations, hand made, holiday, home made

About Lance Gardner
I have an interest in just about anything that gets me outside, as well as anything that is alive or grows, and in making things. So my hobbies include gardening, outdoors, photography, dogs, woodworking, and most importantly raising my son.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Delightful little snowmen MaryE Dec 6, 2011 11:05 PM 10
Love the snowmen SongofJoy Nov 26, 2011 6:34 AM 2
Little Gourds LaVonne Nov 17, 2011 12:26 PM 2

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