I f there is ever a time to think about giving, for so many of us it is as Christmas grows ever nearer. But one of the biggest worries for an increasing number of people, is how to afford what we would like to give. The pleasure we feel when we know we have found the perfect gift for a loved one used to be enough for me to justify that empty purse feeling in January, but I’m not so sure that’s a wise route to take any more.
I have always encouraged my children to make something for their relatives – my Mum and Dad particularly have always enjoyed a handmade gift from their grandchildren, rather than something I gave them the money to buy. The time and effort invested in making something yourself, plus the fact that you were thinking of the person it’s intended for as you create it, make the offering so much more personal.
Mum still has the tissue box cover that Charlie crafted for her at least 12 years ago in her downstairs loo, and Rebecca made a delightful papier mache trinket dish, painted in beautiful shades of blue, silver and purple.
Billy, now that he is older, uses technology to make the best ever cards – he takes a photo of the recipient from Facebook and incorporates it into a humorous design of his own, guaranteed to raise a smile – or several.
Mum herself has always been talented with fabric and a sewing machine, particularly using patchwork techniques. She has made some stunning Christmas decorations over the years, but most impressive are her patchwork quilts.
Each of her four offspring and their partners, and her nine grandchildren, are proud owners of quilts to mark special events in their life. Whether it’s a birth or birthday, marriage or gap year – Mum finds a way to put special meaning into a work of textile art. Olley and I celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary a couple of months ago, and Mum presented us with the most incredible quilt.
It contains hundreds of pieces of fabric all joined together and then Mum handquilted it – thousands of individual stitches to create the textured pattern that makes it unique – it will become a family heirloom. Large enough to drape across our superking size bed, Mum had to make it in two halves and then join them at the end as it was too huge and heavy to handle. It obviously took many, many hours to make, and means so much more to me than anything she could have bought us.
Something of that scale needs too much time and preparation to undertake for someone this Christmas, (not to mention the cost of buying the fabric) but there are lots of ways to make a special gift for someone and save money at the same time. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed myself making salted caramel sweets to give to friends and family.
I had to spend a few pounds on a sugar thermometer but then it was mainly sugar and butter (and a little salt!) so it didn’t exactly break the bank. I found the recipe on the internet. A couple of years earlier, I bought some garden containers and planted them up with spring bulbs, so the initial present looked like a pot with soil in it, but soon the green shoots and then gorgeous blooms appeared.
Another idea I was particularly pleased with was giving flavoured vodka to my 20-something niece. I experimented with small volumes first, steeping anything from fresh lemon and limes, chilli peppers, Skittles (the sweets!) or nutmeg and cinnamon in the spirit for a couple of weeks, then straining the flavoured vodka into pretty bottles. She (and her university friends) were very appreciative, although I suppose Aunty Katharine shouldn’t really be encouraging them to drink!! You could use the same idea to make tasty oils and vinegars for a keen chef.
If you feel less than creative, a good idea is to make your own hampers. Last week Pipa and I both bought a ‘try me’ sample of seven individual Cartmel puddings (item number 801389) – which could be spread between a number of gift boxes with, perhaps, a Yankee candle and something from a collection of mini sizes from Liz Earle, for example. Cover a shoe box in wrapping paper to put everything in, rather than buying a traditional wicker hamper.
There must be so many ideas for giving a gift that doesn’t cost the earth, and with still enough time to get organised, I’d love some of yours. Have you found a way to tick off some of your present list without having to dig too deeply into your wallet? Maybe it's an offer of your time or expertise – whether it's babysitting for a 'run off her feet' mum, knocking up a pair of curtains for your 'two left handed' relative or tidying the garden to save your poor old uncle's knees!
Share your inspirations here, and maybe help someone else who is feeling the pressure – we want to put smiles on the faces of our loved ones this Christmas, but not at the cost of putting tea on the table come the New Year!
Take care – and have fun!