At night, when her children are in bed and her husband is watching television, Beth Whiteacre opens her craft closet and hauls out all the supplies she needs to turn her kitchen table into Santa's workshop.
Rather than spend her time and money shopping for the perfect Christmas gifts, Mrs. Whiteacre is making most of them at home. In July, she began making cross-stitched ornaments for relatives and close friends, and now she is working on 55 homemade greeting cards.
Like snowflakes and fingerprints, every card is unique. Each card begins with a rubber-stamped image, and Mrs. Whiteacre colors some with chalk, sometimes adding liquid applique to make puffy snow. She uses glitter and embossing powder to give the cards dimension and adds other decorative edges using parchment paper and pinking shears.
"I'm putting a lot of time into them, but it's also fun for me," said Mrs. Whiteacre, who moved to Augusta from Alaska in April. "I think the cards will mean a lot to (people) because they're designed especially for them."
For givers and receivers alike, there's something especially gratifying about a homemade present. It puts the thought that counts back into gift giving.
"It just depends on the personality and the talents of the person, but you can certainly go to antique stores and flea markets and turn something that may not look like much now into something beautiful with a minimal amount of work," said Betty English, Richmond County extension agent. "You just have to use your imagination and your creativity."
For example, this year Mary Anne Teague is making fabric-lined baskets filled with sweet snacks, floral topiaries and cross-stitched gifts for some close friends.
"It's cheaper than a shrink but it keeps me sane," said Ms. Teague, craft manager for the Old America store in North Augusta. "I can have a bad day here (at work), and I can go home and pick up my stitching and pour a cup of coffee and within an hour I'm tranquil."
Christmas puts a deadline on handiwork, sometimes making a normally relaxing hobby downright stressful.
Mary Taylor, who is making outfits for nine family members, expects to spend Christmas Eve at her sewing machine, putting the finishing touches on projects she should have started early in the fall.
Even professional crafters procrastinate.
"I have been known more than once to give a work in progress wrapped up in a box with a note saying it will have to be finished at a later date," admitted Nancy Bailey, who owns Counted Stitches in Belvedere, S.C. "But if it's something hand-done, then most people don't mind waiting a little while to get it."
Unlike Ms. Taylor and Ms. Bailey, Sonia Jones was finished with her Christmas crafts before the leaves started changing this fall.
In November, she gave eight friends decorated, cardigan-style sweatshirts to wear through the holiday season.
"I made everybody a sweatshirt, wrapped them up and said Merry Christmas," said Ms. Jones, a teaching assistant at Peter H. Craig Elementary School. "I think the whole thing, including $5 for the shirts, each shirt came out to be about $9.
Ms. Jones used sale items to make her gifts, but many crafters say handmade items aren't always the bargains they seem.
Supplies cost money, and often there's a hefty investment of time.
"It doesn't really save money because you can't put a price on your time," Ms. Teague said. "I just feel like people really appreciate a gift that comes from the heart rather than something that just comes off the shelf," she said. "And it makes me feel as special as they do because I know it's handmade. It's a good feeling to walk into somebody's home and see something you've done for them there."
Here are some Christmas gifts you can craft yourself for the men, women and children in your life. You'll find all the supplies you need in your cupboards, or at flea markets, craft stores or grocery stores.
Put the homemade gloss in a tiny glass jar or small decorative tin and package with a lipstick brush.
If you're especially handy, you can make your own beeswax, using wax crystals and a flat, honeycomb mold, also available at craft stores.
KOOSH BALL: Make your own version of a Koosh ball, which can be used in the bath tub or as a safe alternative to basketball in the house.
Find three soft, colorful rectangular sponges. Cut each sponge lengthwise into three strips. Stack sponges together. Cinch in the middle, twist and secure with a heavy duty cable tie, packaged with most heavy duty garbage bags.
Pick a fork, knife or spoon with a nice pattern. Using pliers, bend the blade of the knife into a hook. Crisscross the fork and spoon on top of the knife and secure with hot glue or floral wire.
Glue dried flowers or old buttons or anything else decorative you can find over the place where the knife, fork and spoon cross. Hot glue a loop of ribbon to the back of the knife handle to hang the hook.
Attach a wall-mount toothbrush holder to one side of the ladder, creating a convenient storage place for screw drivers. Put a cup in the middle of the toothbrush holder to keep nails and screws handy.
Attach a strip of self-adhesive Velcro along the top shelf of the ladder. Loop smaller strips of Velcro through the handles of a hammer, wrench or other tools, and attach to the ladder.
Put a strip of Velcro on one of the legs of the ladder and attach a ruler or yard stick.
Using elastic cables to attach a wire basket to the paint rack on the ladder. Use the basket to hold paint, brushes, even a cordless telephone. Finally, collapse the ladder and attach a screen door handle to the side to make carrying it easier.
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