Holiday Crafts

This is the second part of my holiday gift giving series. A little late, but better than never. Part 2 is about fabric crafts. Sewing, stitching, crochet, knitting, whatever it is as long is it has to do with some type of textile.

Much like my previous post, this  is not for everyone and should be approached with caution. I understand that you want to give a hand made gift. These types of gifts aren’t necessarily cheap or easy to make.

Let’s start with my trifecta. Time, cost, item. If it’s December 19th and you were bored at work and Pintresting I am going to tell you to put the breaks on this plan right now.

Time. How many home made textile gifts do you want to make and how much time do you actually have? I decided one year to crochet my family hats, scarves, and gloves for Christmas. It was September, I had never crocheted a day in my life, and I had 30 people I wanted to make something for. I was also working full-time and trying to maintain my apartment. Lucky for me I  had time! Almost four months of it to dedicate to learning how to crochet and actually making the items. I had also picked some pretty basic items to make. This was to my benefit. I planned what I thought was an adequate amount of time. By the way, I cut it very close.

Cost. Every buy a nice ball of yarn, or a yard of fabric? It’s not cheap. Each of my homemade gifts used about 4 balls or yarn to complete the set. Four balls costing $6 each equals $24 on each person. That seems to be reasonable, right? Some balls cost more than others, some a little less. I would normally spend this much on a person. But, considering the time I put into my gifts, and my job and a nurse pays a decent wage per hour, the cost of each item was roughly $40-$60.

Why does that matter at all? Because of the ITEM I made. While everyone was appreciative at the time, really, another scarf? Hat? Fingerless gloves in Ohio? My items were a dime a dozen. Considering time and cost I put into each gift, I could have spent a similar initial amount on similar items at sale prices, which were also much better produced since I was so green at crocheting, and been done in September without much hassle. Ah, hindsight being 20/20.

So, for some finishing thoughts. If you have an active hobby in textiles and currently have a stock of handmade gifts that you can give out, by all means, use them. If you have a hobby that you enjoy and its early in the year, by all means make gifts for everyone, but pick an item that is not so generic and will be used much more frequently. Not only that, but customize it to the person you are making it for. Otherwise, what’s the point? Finally, plan,  plan, plan appropriately. Gifts are supposed to be fun both to give and to get. If what you are doing is stressing you out, either because you did not plan enough time, money,  or the right item, then stop! Buy a gift that they will enjoy and try again next  year with your handmade craft. It will be better.

Let me know what kind of handmade gifts  you like to give, the stories of successes and failures, and any helpful ideas for those who really want to be unique next holiday season.

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Holiday Giving

It’s that time of the year again. We spend too much, eat too much, and drink too much. For some of us, we try to be a little thrifty and give home made gifts. This may seem like quite the money saver, but any crafter can tell you that this can be a money sink. This week I am going to tackle a few of the home made gifts of choice, and why you might be better off buying it. If, however, your money is worth more than your time, then I can also give a few pointers on saving yourself.

 

First, I am a professional chocolatier, so I am going to tackle the most obvious, and likely most wasted, home made gift of choice. Sweets! I strongly urge you to only do this if you love spending excessive amounts of time in the kitchen. If you do not, save your pennies and buy something that will likely be more appreciated… booze.

My first tip is to plan accordingly. More is not necessarily better. With the excess of sweets available this season, you really have to stand out in a crowd or you tasty treats are going to find their way on the fast track to the garbage can, especially when the purge happens after New Year’s Day.

If cookies and brownies are your thing, pick 3 to 4 treats that you know you make really well and people have commented on before hand. These should be unique to you. Sorry, but sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and others like that, will be so abundant that yours will need to be laced with ambrosia. If cookies or brownies are the direction you are going to go, make them special cookies that you make, not Pillsbury.

For my fudge and caramel makers, make sure it is out of this world and packaged appropriately. A brick of caramel is hard to eat and dried out fudge is gross. Again, make this something you are very familiar with. Not really the time to test new recipes.

Lastly, for my bread people. Little loaves are best for this. Pick 3 or 4 different types and make mini, easy to freeze, breads. I prefer pumpkin, banana, and zucchini bread myself, but I have made some good apple bread too.

I list those three categories first because they are not my specialty, but my sister is quite the accomplished baker, so we tag teamed our traditional family baskets. My forte is chocolates. I am going to state this now. THIS IS NOT EASY OR QUICK. If you are not willing to commit to the right amount of time and money to make good chocolates do yourself, and your loved ones, a favor and go to a local chocolate shop. Please do not waste your time otherwise.

If, however, you are willing to plan, spend money, and spend time making quality home made chocolates, then I have some good tips for you.

  1. Plan appropriately. You need to know how many people you are going to make for so you can scale recipes accordingly. You will also need to know for packaging purposes. Think candy boxes, candy cups, and stickers at least. Ribbon is also nice, but to save time I would buy little pre-made bows.This can get expensive quickly, but you can buy bulk if you buy ahead and plan, plan, plan.
  2. Buy quality ingredients. You can fudge on centers a bit, but your candies will stand out if you buy quality. Most people would rather get a 6 piece box of nice chocolates than 16 pieces of mediocre chocolates. The number one thing you should splurge on is chocolate. You can find plenty of quality chocolate online, and I highly encourage this. Please, for the love of all that is, do not try to use chocolate chips for the majority of your chocolate work. You, and your loved ones, will be highly disappointed, and it isn’t really that much cheaper in the long run.
  3. Learn how to properly temper chocolate. That will be a good Google search for you. If you are going to spend the time and money on good chocolate, then you need to understand the basics of working it, and tempering is the very basics. It is also why chocolate chips don’t work. The cocoa solids to cocoa fat and sugar ratios are off and make chocolate chips a mess to try and dip with.
  4. DO NOT PUT WAX IN YOUR CHOCOLATE. We yell at children for eating candles and there you go grating one into their chocolate. Stop it. You were being cheap, trying to do this with chocolate chips, and your grandma told you to make them smooth and shiny you needed to put paraffin wax in it. PFFT. Go back to tip 3. Properly tempered chocolate has the shine and snap you are looking for, without the wax. Bonus, you can temper and retemper chocolate, over and over again. Practice the technique. Its a fancy trick to know and can be really impressive for all your dessert making adventures.
  5. Buy some good equipment. A digital scale, a digital thermometer, a double boiler or tempering machine, parchment paper, and a cutting mat (I use a fondant cutting mat I bought from Michael’s) are the minimum, as I assume you have cookie sheets and bowls. You save time with the tempering machine, you save money with the double boiler.
  6. Put aside the proper amount of time to make these. Making chocolate candies can be time consuming. You have to make the centers, roll or cut the centers, then dip them. Cupping and packaging can also take a bit of time. If you are doing all of this by hand, then be sure you have the time to enjoy the process. My best advice is to make all your centers first. You can make a good portion of these up during the week and use the weekend for dipping and packaging. Starting with a clean kitchen Saturday morning, choose your chocolate that you want to dip with first. I like working from white to dark, but the choice is yours. Start tempering your first batch of chocolate. While this process is started, choose all the centers that you will be dipping in that chocolate. Measure and roll, or cut your centers while tempering the chocolate. This is where that scale comes in handy, as you can make your centers all the same weight. You can have everything set up and ready to go when your chocolate is ready. If you don’t, that’s okay. You will likely have to temper several batches of chocolate, which will give you plenty of time to finish cutting and rolling.
  7. Finally, if you want, you can use dipping forks for your candies. I, personally, do not as I like the little bit thicker coat I get when I use my fingers. I also haven’t included anything about molded chocolates. That is more advanced than the dipping. This can be a messy process. Keep your nails clean and short or use gloves while dipping if you want to save your manicure.

If you do this correctly, you could have a wonderful gift by the end of the weekend without a huge mess. It costs time and money to do though! If your time is worth more to you, spend the money at a chocolate shop. If your money is worth more to you, spend it a chocolate shop instead of cheap ingredients. If you want a stellar gift for friends and family and are willing to plunk down the time and money to say you made it, please feel free to follow the above steps!

I’ll post some of my chocolates next week, as I only just started making my centers today. Please, feel free to share your home made gifts, and don’t cheat yourself. Your time and money are important. If the gift isn’t going to be appreciated the way a hand made gift should be, don’t waste the effort!

Until Wednesday, Ciao!