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Four easy gifts you can make yourself

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By Jennifer Forker
Associated Press
  • Text-talk embellished hand towels make fast gifts.

    Michele Beschen,

    Text-talk embellished hand towels make fast gifts.

  • The colorful felting on the soap is slightly abrasive and holds suds well.

    Leah Adams / Associated Press

    The colorful felting on the soap is slightly abrasive and holds suds well.

  • Craft delicate jewelry for holiday gifts with only a beading needle, select beads and thin ribbon or silk beading cord.

    Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc./Sang An

    Craft delicate jewelry for holiday gifts with only a beading needle, select beads and thin ribbon or silk beading cord.

The holidays can pose a challenge for crafters: What to make for friends and relatives that is useful, attractive and fast to churn out? Speed and simplicity are key this time of year.
These four projects capture the imagination and offer ample opportunity for improvising; put your creative twist on any of them for memorable gifts.
Felt soap
The first time Leah Adams of Seattle gave out felt soap for the holidays, one of her relatives cut the felt away, taking it for elaborate packaging. It wasn't. The colorful felting is slightly abrasive and holds suds well.
Five years later, Adams sells hundreds of felt soaps, including at her Etsy online shop, kneek, or SpiderFelt. But she always includes a tag that warns against cutting away the felt.
The whole family, including children as young as 4, can join in felting soap, she said.
Adams recommends viewing her Felt Soap Tutorial on YouTube for complete instructions, but it's basically wrapping a 2-ounce bar of soap in wool roving, adding water, and then gently agitating the wool until it shrinks tightly around the soap. Presto.
Not all wool will work; some is too coarse. Adams recommends sheep's wool, in particular Corriedale and Merino, which is finer but more costly.
Felted mittens
Scavenging for this craft is half the fun: Dig through unworn sweaters at home or at a local thrift store. They don't have to be wool, but wool is warmer, according to Stefanie Girard, the Burbank, Calif., author of "Sweater Surgery."
A wool sweater needs to be washed in hot water (with a cold rinse) with laundry detergent and a clean towel, then dried flat to block it. This shrinks and tightens the wool fibers, making the sweater appear felted.
If the sweater has a ribbed bottom edge, this is where the wrist of the mitten goes to give it a nice edge.
Make a mitten pattern tracing your own hand, adding ½ inch all the way around, larger or smaller depending on a gift recipient's hand size. Repeat, and cut out both tracings. Embellish the top side of the mitten, if desired, then machine sew it to the other tracing, right sides together. Clip a small slit at the inside of each thumb point, without cutting the stitching, to alleviate bulk before turning the mittens right sides out.
Simple beaded jewelry
The 2011 "Martha Stewart Holiday Handbook" shares instructions for how to make delicate, beaded necklaces with minimal parts. Its simplicity is the beauty of this project, said Marci McGoldrick, editorial director of Holiday & Crafts for Martha Stewart Living.
Using 20 inches of 5mm-wide ribbon and a beading needle, string assorted beads, from large to seed beads. Attach a clasp and a connector to the ribbon at each end, knotting them into place.
Another necklace: For a continuous strand of beads, use 20 inches of silk beading cord. Attach a connector to the end of the cord and thread with beads. At the midpoint, thread two jingle bells, and then continue beading. Affix the clasp to the other end by knotting it.
Embellish towels
H. Camille Smith, senior decorating and handmade editor at, says a towel can be embellished with iron-on decals and transfers. Or cut letters or designs out of fabric and sew them on. Add bling with adhesive crystals to items that won't get washed.
Jodi Kahn of Larchmont, N.Y., scans and prints wrapping-paper patterns onto T-shirt transfer paper and irons it onto white hand towels for a favorite hostess gift. She recommends using a pattern with a white background.

Story tags » HolidaysCrafting

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