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Letter from the Editor: Homemade for the Holidays Answered

It seems obvious that I'll be making the majority of my Christmas presents this year.  But I'm learning that's not something to take for granted.  I'm discovering how rare a talent it is considered to be able to make things, and how few people believe they could too!

Often I find myself socializing with a group of professionals – people in finance, medicine, law, education. When they ask me What Do You Do, I find it hard to explain. “Well, I make stuff. And then I take pictures of it, and write about it and tell you how you can make it too. And I help other people who want to do the same.”
The amount of admiration I receive for knowing how to “make stuff,” overwhelms me. It seems like basic life skills to me, nothing too impressive. The fact that people whose work I admire could be envious of mine is not just flattering, it’s telling. While DIY is a natural way of life for me, there are still millions out there (loose estimate), who have yet to discover their own hidden hand-crafting talents.

For example, I was recently scouring Chinatown for some interesting feathers to use in my Feathered Headband Instructable, when I struck up an interesting conversation with a shop owner. She didn’t know where to find feathers for sale, and was wondering what I needed them for. When I explained the project, she expressed amazement at my ability to make something. By myself. With my hands. Maybe this comes from spending all day peddling cheap merchandise direct from China (which is an accurate portrayal of this particular shop), but she was so impressed with the idea of hand-crafting things, that she invited me into the back of her shop, served me tea, and even gave me a tiny jade dragon to keep (since Dragon is my Chinese zodiac sign). What a turn of events!

I finally realized just how impressive hand-crafting is when I learned from my mother that she and her friends are exchanging only hand-made gifts this year. It suddenly struck me how big a deal that really is! Not only is DIY a way to overcome feeling beaten down by the economy, it’s a way to share something personal with the people you love. It’s a challenge to yourself to stretch your imagination and learn new skills. The value of the gifts you make will far exceed anything you might have bought in a shop (even with Black Friday sales!). And you know what? It’s not hard. It doesn’t have to be. Make cookies, or candy, or cake in a jar! Make a lovely zippered case with no sewing experience needed! Write a letter – by hand. Make a coupon book redeemable for chores and errands. You know what your skills are.

But how do you convince someone who doesn’t think of themselves as handy or crafty or creative that they really are? How do you let them know how much more treasured a hand-made gift is than something store-bought? My question for you is: How will we spread the DIY movement this season? Who can you convince to make their gifts this year?  

And, oh yeah, what are you gonna make?



7 years ago

I rather receive a hand-made gift than a bought one, even if the handmade one is a bit dodgy or ill-conceived. The idea that someone made time for me to sit down, think about an idea and actually made it, gives me a warmer feeling than unwrapping another CD, or book or whatever someone gives me.

When I tell people that I can repair something for them, they often look at me in disbelieve. In the first place because repairing isn't something that pops up in their mind and in the secondplace because lots of people doesn't know anymore how stuff work.
They often complain about how expensive life has become but they have to call a 50euro plumber to replace a 0.50euro rubber ring in their tap because it leaks.
A lot of people also can't undestand that making stuff in your freetime can be very relaxing even if it involves a lot of maths or hard manuel labour. For them it is the same as working.

Thats why I love instructables so much. Here people understand what it's like to make something. They like nicely cafted and goodlooking projects but they can also look behind the looks of an object and just appreciate the fact that it is handmade, personal and made with a certain kind of love for "making'

Best comment ever. Made me smile. Thanks :D

I'm glad that it make you smile. It is just how I feel about it and I do believe that there are more instructable members who feel the same.

"Thats why I love instructables so much. Here people understand what it's like to make something."

The doers, the risk-takers, the makers of things. It took a while, but our (I'm in the U.S.) current President recognized the value of what we do.

From the moment that you realize that you can make things, an entire world opens up. You begin with a little project, but already you are thinking about impementing it ( what you have learned from it) into a bigger or more complicated project.
You start to see how stuff is made and how to replicate, repair or improve it and you wonder why everything seemed so complicated before.

Its asif everything gets possible. Doers, thinkers, makers: the world is ours. We can really build our own dreams and the best thing is that we are also willing to share it so that everyone can enoy it.

This is an excellent letter. We so desperately need to ditch the mere consumerism and give love instead. I am familiar with that experience of having people amazed at the idea that one can make things. Last weekend I invited my DIL's over and we made ornaments. They were amazed at what they created with their own hands, at their own inspiration. All I did was provide the materials. (and I got to keep the babies--sneaky, huh?)
Something you made says "I love you". That's all there is to it. Please continue your worthy crusade.

I plan on making a nice queen-size comforter with a custom design sewn on the front.

Done! (It was for someone special)
I broke soooo many needles... I probably should have taken some pictures before I gave it away.

P.S. I also made the Umbrella Corporation pillow next to it.


I actually find it a little disconcerting that more people can't make & do. When I was a kid we used to make things as gifts all the time it was something we grew up with, my sister & I still do.
This year for example the better half & I made rather a lot of https://www.instructables.com/id/Grans-Green-Tomato-Chutney/ so we shall be giving it to friends & family I am also planning to make some https://www.instructables.com/id/Drink-Can-Tinwork/https://www.instructables.com/id/Entwined-hearts/ among many other things.
My parents made gifts as did my grandmother & most of my aunts & uncles, maybe I just came from one of those families I don't know.
Getting back to my point though it seems that people are far less inclined to do things for themselves these days, when I talk with people about things I make & do they seem to be amazed that I am able to do these things & I personally find it a bit worrying.
I grew up believing that there is nothing I can't do just things I haven't learned yet, as a result I have become fairly well skilled in most of the usual areas of DIY such as carpentry, building, decorating, plumbing, motorcycle mechanics etc.
I also make & repair leather work, make & alter my own clothes I have learned copper beating, pyrography, furniture restoration & upholstery & much much more besides this.
I am by no means an expert in all of these things & have made my fair share of mistakes but I see this as part of the learning process as well as part of the fun of it all.
As a result I have become the go to guy for any of my friends & family who want something made or repaired.
Given the opportunity I would love to spend the rest of my days learning then passing on some of the crafts which modern society seems to be losing touch with, unfortunately short of a lottery win all I can do is hope that some of what I do has rubbed off on my kids & hopefully my better halves grandsons & we carry on our tradition of "men (and women) in sheds"

Nice forum topic! I always make my gifts. It seems that people enjoy it more and it makes you happy that people actually like what you've made. I think the largest thing I've ever made was a golf ball carrier. I love make gifts out of clay but I've never thought about baking something as a gift. Well then guess who's family's going to get cookies in their stocking? :)

A couple years ago I made everyone in my family rice bags with felt covers because they're awesome. You heat them up in the microwave and use them to keep your feet warm in bed, get rid of cramps/sore muscles, stay warm waiting for the car to heat up, etc. You can also put them in the freezer and use them as ice packs. Very useful present, but a couple people didn't realize I made all 50 something of these rice bags and thought it was weird. Once they found out was exactly like what you're talking about, it didn't occur to them that someone could make these things but they really appreciated it once they knew.

My new plan is to can things throughout the year and give those away, this year it's TRG Friday's Jack Daniels Grill Glaze. You can get it off the top secret recipes website.

I'm knitting a Doctor Who scarf for my stepdad, a custom set of convertible mittens for my mom, and a Psych hat and scarf for my brother. Since they have nearby birthdays as well, I'm making my mom a recipe organizer that looks like a set of books on a shelf, and a stuffed Adipose and Sonic Screwdriver prop (from Doctor Who) for my brother.

I found patterns online for most of them (the Doctor Who stuff and the mittens), but I will be writing up instructables for the others!

I personally am going to be providing kits, of the raw materials, and the printed instructable, as well as the website address, as gifts this year. That way they can make their own gifts.

A: Promotes the idea of making things
B: I am lazy
C: I see "Baking" kits all the time... why not apply it to more things

The weird thing is that I had already started doing this earlier this year, and when i read your article, asking for suggestions on how to illustrate that people could indeed make things themselves; well my plan falls right in line with that.

Out of curiosity (and if it won't spoil the surprise), what projects are you going to turn into kits?


With some hand painted "Hooks" and a layout design - for my mother



Now bare in mind, neither of these people are scared to DIY

For some of my friends, and others that are not as apt to go out and make something themselves some very simple ones to get them started (and introduce the site)


Fun easy, and they pick the colors out of the arrangmeent i am sending them to do with as they was

One I sent out earlier, was several rolls of different colored duct tape an exacto knife and pair of scissors. (All inexpensive versions and the print outs)
and the choose your own design kit,

Including 5 printed duct tape instructables including

That's a great set of ideas!

LOVE THIS IDEA! wow, got my brain percolating of what to get for the neices.

Thanks, perchance I shall write an instructable on the subject ;)

This is great! Thanks for you reply. I'd love to hear how the gifts go over!

I wish i could favorite this post.

Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards men. Lovely letter, I think some people are just builders, (not just assemblers, but real designers and creators in their minds) and alas, some are not. People who can make things know who they are, and people who cannot, seek them out. But I love the kits idea, sure saves a lot of trouble, I have my doubts about how much it would be appreciated by some though. Some just don’t want to learn. Actually putting it together, with your own hands and time, is the beauty and love part of it. And not to sound too selfish, don’t forget to love yourself as well. Don’t you treasure those things you made (and came out really nice) for yourself too? Among many items like this, I have this tote bag with a jukebox on it; I made it from a printed pattern on a bolt. But I sewed it together myself, on my machine, and I made it myself, for me and nobody else. 30 years later I still have, and cherish, that tote bag. I love the instructables site, while not everything is something I would endeavor to make, even those things are interesting to people like me who CAN make things. There are different levels and capacities and interests in making things, some may just sew, and some may just tinker with circuitry. It’s still interesting to peer into someone else’s mindset and see what they made.

Maybe it's different in the UK - we have a long tradition of Men in Sheds - but when I tell people I Make Stuff as a hobby, they're all meh, but when I show them something I've made, their interest rises, and then when I tell them it is also on the internet, they're like, all "wow, I can touch something that's on the internet".

I just re-read that - I can't believe that I actually used those phrases...


Wow, you sounded all, like, cool, and Gen-Y, and Web-2.0, and so full of shizzit! That's like totally groovy, man!

Hmmm....I'm going to have to work harder to get more decades into my slang...

I blame the children - spend two hours just talking to them in a discussion, using "mirroring" to connect, and it sort of... sticks.

Ew! I think I caught yoof!

I was secretly blaming my writing method for infecting yours. . .

Your writing is good. A genuinely enjoyable read.

I've reread it like 4 times and don't see what you're talking about?

(Oh, wait - you mean "meh"?)

I'm all... impressed.
ps i went on an allotment tour in Nottingham. Full of men in sheds w/ little pot belly stoves, no power... adorable..

I know what you mean, my better halves sons friends were really impressed when he typed "unused fireplace into a candle nook" into Google clicked on the first link that came up & the next thing they knew a picture of our living room wall was on the screen.
It was somewhat akin to the expression I imagine was on the caveman’s face when he first made fire :-)

This is why "Atlas Shrugged" is my favorite book, the moochers seem to run the world today, through no hard work of their own but your site makes me think that yes there are people out there that use their minds and hands to make things rather than mooching off others.
There is a nice feeling I get coming daily to look over your site, not everything is my speed but there is so much hard work done by others, shared with others with no demand of recognition or reward that its worth the look
The holidays are upon us and I wish everyone the best of Christmas or whatever you subscribe to (haha no pun intended)
Keep up the good work everyone

I do a lot of hand crafting with a variety of materials. However, I sew a lot of things and it tends to impress people. When I tell them I sewed something, you'd swear from their reactions that I just docked a minivan with the International Space Station. It's a skill that, until recently, seemed to be fading from the population.

My mother sewed very occasionally, when she couldn't buy what she wanted. However, she never taught me. I desperately wanted to learn after I started having kids. So bought a machine, found a few simple patterns, and figured it out. Now I can make just about anything I want including complicated costumes and home decor items. Figuring out how to make something for which I have no pattern is a challenge that I really enjoy. Knowing that I can make a pirate jacket, a complicated valance, wizard robes, or steampunk fingerless gloves is liberating when it comes to gift giving. It means I'm no longer beholding to what's available but enjoying the world of what's possible.

Sewing, like many DIY skills, has faded into the background of buying cheap JapaneseChinese name-your-country disposable garments.

My wife and I both made custom cushions as part of our living-room remodel several years ago. She can use a sewing machine; I can't. I made an awesome rectangular bench cushion, complete with zipper, completely by hand. She was appalled that I didn't use our $250 sewing machine; my friends were stunned that I did it at all.

Completely awesome... except for your use of the word, "Can't". With the right motovation, patience and common sense, "Can't" can be excised from your vocabulary. Go ahead, give it a try. Heck, give your WIFE the chance to teach YOU something; I bet she'd love it.

I've spent about 20 years trying to use a sewing machine successfully. I "can" use it in the sense of having two sheets of material end up held together with stitches. What I have been entirely unsuccessful at (with multiple teachers, machines and techniques) is keeping the fabric going through the machine at a uniform rate and in a straight line. So, my "can't" was more about the aesthetic of good looking stitchery, not the mechanics.

I would love to see a photo of your living room cushions, etc.

Thank you for asking! You can see a few of them in my slideshow , and here are a few more. In addition to the cushions, several of the pillows were also done by my wife, with materials used as part of the remodel.


Thanks for the letter, and its sentiments. Making gifts is one of the things I enjoy doing most - and that's the kind of gift I enjoy most, too!

While on the topic of non-commercialism, is this a good time to say it seems a shame to me how much advertising has taken over the general appearance and visual space of instructables.com?

I think instructibles is incredible, and I realise that advertising probably helps make it viable, and support you to keep doing it, but it's starting to feel quite intrusive.

Hope you don't mind me coming in with a negative note - it's been on my mind for a while and seemed relevant to this topic. I really value this website/community - hence the concern.

Wishing everybody a creative winter!

The other day I was telling my friend about what I do trying to figure out what my title would be if I needed to tell people what I did and she decided to just call me a Renaissance Woman. So if people ask you can just say you're a Renaissance Woman!!!

When people ask me, I simply say, "I'm a Maker". The list of spesifics would be way to long. Sculptor, artist, wood-worker, metal worker, RadioControll enthusiast, thinker, Tinker and arrogant (sure I can fix that) user of tools.

"Oh, what's my hobby?" says I, "being renaissance, of course!"