DIY Gifts for Any Occasion

This year, we decided to take shopping local one step further by giving handmade gifts. We did this for a number of reasons, including a tight budget and the fact that many of our friends and family have the means to go buy whatever they want anyway—Anything we could buy them would probably be less significant than what we could make them. Plus, I love making things and hate going shopping during the crazy holiday rush.

These gifts don’t have to just be for the Christmas season, though. People celebrate birthdays and other holidays or events all year, so don’t forget the handmade option for those occasions, too! This guide should help you figure out what is right for each person in your life. Some of the things pair together well to make a full gift bag—I put the sugar scrub, truffles & candle together for a pampering basket, and the survival bracelet, beer-pretzel caramels and etched pint glasses as a “manly” basket. I made up the instructions for some of the ideas, but others I will just provide a link to the tutorial I followed—There are a lot of creative people out there with great ideas!


For the Kids: Glove Stuffed Animals with Coloring Books

These stuffed animals don’t even require a sewing machine and are simple enough for anyone to create. Plus, they are adorable! To go with each animal, I illustrated a coloring book featuring the toy.

glove animals

Doug the dog, Paul the puppy and Bonnie the bunny.

Paul the Puppy

Paul the Puppy Coloring Page

What you’ll need for each stuffed animal:

  • 1 pair inexpensive knit gloves
  • stuffing (sometimes it is less expensive to buy a cheap pillow and cut it open than buy a bag of stuffing!)
  • 3 buttons
  • thread to match the gloves
  • felt for embellishments


You can find instructions for the glove animals from the book Sock & Glove here. I just cut & sewed felt instead of backstitching the borders for the ears and belly.

For the Adventurer: Survival Bracelet

Who doesn’t wish they had rope every once in a while? And in an emergency, a whistle can be a life-saving tool. These bracelets combine 10′ of rope with an emergency whistle buckle so that your favorite outdoorsy friend or relative will have the basics should an emergency arise! Once you get the cobra knot down, you’ll be able to whip these up in no time.

Survival Bracelet

Survival Bracelet

What you’ll need for each bracelet:

  • 10 feet 550 lb nylon paracord (available at army surplus stores)
  • dual side release buckle with whistle built in (I got mine here)
  • lighter, to melt the ends of the cord so they don’t fray


You can find great photograph-illustrated instructions here.

For the Beer Lover: Beer-Pretzel Caramels

These candies are scrumdiddliumptious, providing the perfect blend of salty and sweet, crunchy and soft. Just keep a close eye on the temperature or you’ll end up with caramel that’s way too hard! This was my first time making sugar candy, and I did have to redo one batch that got too hard, but it was totally worth the effort!

What you’ll need for 60-80 caramels:


I made two batches and photographed ingredients for both! DON'T DOUBLE THE RECIPE—Make two separate batches if you need twice the amount.

  • 1 bottle brown ale (I used Brooklyn Brown)
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 c. dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. light corn syrup
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 c. barely crushed mini pretzels


  1. Pour beer into glass and let it get flat, at least one hour. If you skip this step, the beer will majorly foam up as you cook it and you will have a huge sticky mess to clean up. (I learned from experience).
  2. Grease 11×7″ or 8×8″ baking dish.
  3. In small saucepan, boil half of the beer. Reduce heat to low and cook until reduced to 3 T. of syrup.
  4. Meanwhile, combine remaining beer, brown sugar, corn syrup, cream & butter in large saucepan (leave room for boiling expansion!).
  5. Bring ingredients to boil over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until candy thermometer reaches 235° or candy reaches soft ball stage. You can figure this out without a candy thermometer, but you have to watch closely.Also, don’t stir too often or the mixture won’t get hot enough.

    Boiling Caramel

    Boiling Caramel

  6. When mixture is hot enough, remove from heat and stir in beer syrup and broken pretzels.
  7. Spread in greased dish and chill for 45 minutes.

    Caramels Cooling

    Caramels Cooling

  8. Cut into 1″ squares and wrap in waxed paper. Store at room temperature.
Etched Glass

We presented our caramels in personalized pint glasses.

What you’ll need for the an etched pint glass:

  • Plain pint glass
  • Armour Etch cream (available at your craft store)
  • Armour Rub ‘n Etch stencils (several varieties available at your craft store, we bought scripty letters for initials)
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Masking Tape
  • Popsicle stick or paintbrush handle
  • Access to running water


  1. Wash and dry the pint glass.
  2. Cut stencil to size.
  3. Use popsicle stick to rub stencil on to glass.
  4. Place masking tape around outside of rubbed on stencil to protect glass.
  5. Wearing rubber gloves, use popsicle stick or paintbrush handle to spread etching cream over stencil area.
  6. Let set 60 seconds, then rinse cream off glass. (Make sure you double check specific instructions on your etching cream & stencils)
  7. Peel off stencil.
  8. Wash glass.

For the One Who Needs Pampering: Lemon Tea Sugar Scrub

I found inspiration for this gift in the Big Ass Book of Crafts. Before giving it as a gift, I whipped up a small batch for myself and was amazed at how soft it left my skin! Use organic ingredients here, since people will be rubbing this on themselves.

What you’ll need for a one-cup jar:


You can recognize all the ingredients in this body scrub!

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 3 T. Epsom salt
  • 10 tsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. honey
  • 3 green tea bags (rip open the bags and
  • zest of one lemon, dried for a few hours


  1. Combine sugar and Epsom salt in large bowl.
  2. Rip open tea bags and add to sugar mixture, stirring well.
  3. Stir in olive oil.
  4. Stir in honey.
  5. Stir in lemon zest.
  6. Pour into airtight container. Use a small palmful as face or body scrub.
Lemon Tea Scrub

Lemon Tea Scrub

For the One Who Loves Good Scents: Tea Cup Candle

We hit up the thrift store for awesome vintage tea cups and filled them up with tasty smelling candles. These were simple to make and rewarding to give. Ours smelled like apple spice (or some, like apple pie a la mode!)

To make the candles you’ll need:

  • Porcelain tea cups & saucers
  • Enough wax to fill the cups (see package for details)
  • Wax coloring (see package for amount necessary)
  • Scented oil (see package amount necessary)
  • Wicks


  1. Wash and dry tea cups.
  2. Melt wax and add color and scent according to product instructions.
  3. Place wicks upright in center of cups, then carefully pour hot wax around them. You may have to set a pencil across the top of the cup to prop up the wick straight until the wax sets. Make sure you reserve a little wax to add in later since the wax will shrink as it cools and require a refill.
  4. When wax in cups has cooled, top it off to level it out with remaining hot wax.
  5. Glue teacup to saucer with craft glue or epoxy.
Teacup Candle

I forgot to take a picture once we had glued the saucer on!

For the Chocoholic: Decadent Truffles

Truffles are way easier to make than you might think, although they can be a touch finicky (as we learned this time). Make sure you let the cream cool a little after it boils or your ganache may “break,” leaving you with grainy chocolate topped with liquid cocoa butter … Not exactly what you picture in a Lindt commercial. If your ganache does break, hope is not lost! See the bottom of this section for a tip.

What you’ll need to make 100 truffles:


Use quality chocolate for quality truffles.

  • 16 oz. dark chocolate (we used 70% cacoa)
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • coating options: sprinkles, cocoa powder, cocoa mixed with coffee powder, finely chopped nuts, coconut, anything else you can dream up!


  1. Coarsely chop the chocolate and place in large bowl.
  2. Bring cream to boil in small saucepan. Let cool 1 minute, then pour over chopped chocolate in bowl.
  3. Stir gently until smooth. You have made ganache!


    Ganache! While liquid, this can be drizzed on cake or whipped into rich filling. Chilled, it forms the base for rich truffles.

  4. Chill ganache for at least two hours.
  5. Use a spoon to scoop small portions of ganache and roll it into 3/4″ balls in your hands (your hands will get messy!).
  6. Place handfuls of truffle coatings on plates and roll each ball into your choice of coating.
  7. Store at room temperature.

We coated our truffles in chopped almonds, sprinkles and a coffee/cocoa.

For the Jewelry Fan: Zipper Jewlery

I came across a bag of zippers at a silent auction and won it for 25¢. For a couple of years, it has sat in my sewing table and I wondered what the heck I’d do with so many zippers. Finally, I thought of making jewelry from some of the pretty colored zippers. With a little glue and some creativity, you can make some great stuff!

What you’ll need to make zipper jewelry:

  • zipper
  • craft glue
  • jewelery findings like earring hooks and pin backs


You can find a great zipper flower tutorial here. For a pin, use a whole zipper length. For earrings, cut the zipper length in half. I made little loops from a green zipper for leaves and finished the back with a small circle of felt.

Zipper pulls can be easily attached to earring hooks for fun dangles.

If you cut right along the silver teeth of the zipper, then roll it into a spiral with glue, you can get some neat gem-like effects!

Zipper Jewelry

I made 2 brooches and 3 pairs of earrings.

For the Foodie: Tuscan Herb Salt

Creating your own special herb blend can be a great way to share a little taste of yourself with your friends. It’s very easy to make, and we were able to put our abundant herb harvest to good use! This blend goes well on poultry, seafood, vegetables and popcorn. I’ve been told by a recipient that it’s like crack.

What you’ll need to make 6 c. herb salt:



  • 6 c. coarse sea salt
  • zest of 3 lemons, dried
  • 3/4 c. dried thyme leaves
  • 3/4 c. dried rosemary needles
  • 3/4 c. dried sage leaves


  1. Pour half of the salt and the lemon zest and herbs into a food processor.
  2. Pulse the salt and herbs until finely chopped.
  3. Add remaining salt and pulse a couple of times until ingredients are well incorporated but second half of salt is still fairly coarse.
  4. Divide into jars. Sprinkle on poultry, seafood, veggies or popcorn.
Tuscan Herb Salt

Tuscan Herb Salt—We named our blend "Marsh Salt."

For the Girl Scout: Vintage Image Magnets & Trefoil Candles

Everyone knows a Girl Scout, and they looove collecting Girl Scout memorabilia. Since this is the 100th year of scouting, I made my scouting friends some vintage marble magnets and 100 year anniversary candles.

For a set of magnets:

  • 6 flat back clear glass marbles
  • 6 small vintage Girl Scout images (I used portions of this fabric image)
  • craft glue
  • magnet tape


  1. Trace a marble over an image and cut around the outline.
  2. Place a small dot of craft glue in the center of the front of the image and affix it to the marble back, pushing from the center out to evenly spread the glue. Wipe off any glue that oozes out the edge and let dry.
  3. Repeat with remaining images.
  4. Once dry, attach marble tape to the back of the magnet.
Girl Scout Magnets

Girl Scout Magnets

For a trefoil candle:

  • 1 6″ diameter green pillar candle
  • melted black wax or black wax pen (available at craft store)
  • green acrylic paint
  • 3″ diameter print out of trefoil (I used 100 year trefoil)
  • mechanical pencil
  • tape


  1. Tape trefoil image to candle.
  2. Use mechanical pencil, with lead retracted, to trace around the outline of the trefoil, pushing the shape into the candle wax.
  3. Use the melted wax to carefully paint an outline around the embossed shape.
  4. Paint in the black outline with green paint and let dry.
Girl Scout Candle

This is before I painted the outer part of the trefoil a darker green.


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