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By : Zoey Walls

7 min read

I love giving gifts, but I don’t like shopping for the sake of finding stuff. I work at Make & Mend, a second hand art and craft supply store, and last year our company Secret Santa had two important rules: handmade only, no money allowed! Make & Mend’s mission is to make crafting and art-making more sustainable and accessible by making supplies available at a discount to both seasoned makers and to beginners who want to try something new. Handmade gifts don’t have to be big to be meaningful: for Secret Santa, my coworkers and I exchanged a painted tote bag, a collage, a cross-stitched pincushion, a mini quilt, clay magnets, and a loaf of bread.

Making gifts forces you to think more creatively about your resources and about the person you’re giving to, and results in more sustainable gift-giving. By giving a gift you made yourself or a unique item you found, you’re expressing that you put time and energy into finding or making something special, rather than something generic or mass-produced. Ultimately, gift-giving is an expression of care and thoughtfulness. This is true even if you’re not someone who thinks of themselves as crafty or good at art! Try not to be too critical of your handmade gifts, as it’s easy to see imperfections in your own work. Handmade gifts don’t need to be perfect, and that’s part of their charm!

If you’d prefer that your early efforts don’t go on view too often, ornaments are a small gift that only come out once a year. You can fill empty ornament balls, use Shrinky Dinks or other shrinkable plastic, or use oven-bake or air-dry clay. You can also transfer printed images to wood, which can be turned into ornaments or wall hangings with just some small holes and some twine.

If you have plants, propagating them to give as gifts is a great way to share things you love with others! You can also paint or decorate flower pots as gifts for loved ones who like caring for plants. Decorating flower pots is possible even if you’re not a crafty person. You can use stencils to paint designs, or painters’s tape to create geometric designs that you can fill in with paint. These can easily be made with terra cotta pots and basic acrylic craft paint.

For people who already have a lot of small treasures, boxes and containers are easy to decorate and are always nice to store things in. Wooden, paper, or cigar boxes can be painted or collaged to create a one-of-a-kind gifts that are also functional. Be sure to coat your painted pots or collaged boxes with a layer of Mod Podge or other varnish to ensure that it will stand the test of time.

Of course, you don’t have to make everything. Supplement your handmade gifts with other unique items, whether they’re vintage or made by local artists, to make your present exchanges this holiday season more thoughtful and meaningful.

—Zoey Walls

Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #164 December 2023


Check out all the art and columns of December's Boston Compass at



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