D.I.Y. gift guide

Forget the maddening crowds. Why not stay home and knit with Kelley Deal?

By Amy Benfer

Published November 28, 2008 3:37PM (EST)

According to the New York Times, this season’s holiday steals include diamond earrings for $249 and a Marc Jacobs bag for $248.45. As Dan de Grandpre, editor-in-chief of Dealnews.com, puts it: “This kind of heavy discounting will continue until we see some retailers start to fail, until they start to go out of business.” Happy holidays!

But I never planned to leave home today anyway. At our house, we tend to spend most weekends with circular saws and circular knitting needles. So even before the economy tanked, we planned to make most of our holiday gifts at home. While we at Broadsheet aren’t big on inundating our readers with helpful household hints, it is that time of year, and well, I happen to know a thing or two about crafting on the cheap (I swear, it’s some sort of requirement for every Brooklyn woman of a certain age). Be warned: It’s entirely possible to spend way more on, say, Japanese imported fabric or hand-dyed silks and cashmere than you ever would on a sweater or a bag in a boutique. But if you stick to basic materials, you can make bags and jewelry for all your friends for the same price as those fancy earrings -- or even less.

By far the coolest book on the market this season is Kelley Deal’s “Bags That Rock.” Yes, apparently the lead guitarist for the Breeders got pretty good with the knitting needles while fending off boredom on tour (according to the book, she once substituted a set of drum sticks in a pinch. How rock star is that?) Most bags take minimal shaping, so even beginners should be able to figure out some of the simpler patterns, provided you can snag a friend to teach you the basics of knit and purl. More complicated designs include a graffiti-patterned intarsia design and a bag with an embroidered drum kit. Kitschy rock-star embellishments abound -- including drum sticks, guitar strings and telephone cords used as straps.

If you’ve got access to a sewing machine, you can try some of the patterns in Megan Avery’s “Bag Bazaar”, most of which can be made in a single afternoon. And you seriously need no real skills or special equipment at all to make the bags in Jodi Kahn’s “Simply Sublime Bags.”  The bag in the cover shot is made from a silk placemat. Other projects are made with shower curtains, rain ponchos and duct tape. We’re talking projects for under 20 bucks here. Maybe 10. Heck, maybe five.

Gem stones, on the other hand, are hardly cheap, but making a set of peridot earrings or a tourmaline bracelet is still way cheaper than buying one. A beginner could figure out how to do so from Mia Sato-Flores’s “Wrapped in Gems”. If you want something you can make from the detritus on your kitchen counter, try the bottle-cap locket in Jessica Vitkus’s “AlternaCrafts” . Other crafts from recycled objects include hats made from cut-up sweaters, a rug made from old T-shirts, and a very cool-looking place mat made from plain wooden chopsticks. In fact, you couldn’t find gifts any cheaper in the Wal-Mart Dumpster.

But if you want a super-easy, all-purpose gift, try booze. Get a bottle of liquor (vodka, tequila, gin). Add spices and other stuff you like. Vanilla beans, peppers, cut-up fruit, whatever. Put it away for four weeks, strain and serve. It’s really that simple. You want a recipe? OK, fine, try this book.

Broadsheet will return after the holiday, with more stuff and way less fluff. I swear this is the girliest you will ever see me.

Amy Benfer

Amy Benfer is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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