Forget Santa's Elves: Do It Yourself!

About the Author

Eleanor Levie is a needlework and crafts author, editor and designer. She designed the five gifts in this story. You can find out more about her work at eleanorlevie.com.

OK, so you can't knit a Nintendo. But otherwise, handmade gifts are a terrific alternative to store-bought stuff. They're affordable, they're personalized, they'll bring comfort and joy to the recipient — and they needn't bring discomfort or frustration to you.

We have five items that even a crafts newbie can make, with the aid of easy-to-find products sold in crafts or sewing stores.

A Touch of Class on Glass

Jars i

These glass jars are beautiful to look at; fill them with edible goodies, and they're a dual-purpose treat. Stephen Barth hide caption

itoggle caption Stephen Barth
Jars

These glass jars are beautiful to look at; fill them with edible goodies, and they're a dual-purpose treat.

Stephen Barth

A tube of pewter glass paint can turn a plain glass canister into a classy gift. Fill the jars with toppings for sundaes and bits of brownies — everybody's all-time favorite comfort foods. And the canisters are dishwasher safe and handsome enough to keep out on the counter long after the original goodies are gone.

What You'll Need:

Vitrea 160 by Pebeo, a transparent outliner, in pewter (from the craft store, or visit pebeo.com to locate a retailer), 1 tube for every 2-3 jars

Lidded glass jars or canisters, recycled and cleaned, or purchase new from retail or craft stores, or on the Web, i.e., target.com; michaels.com

What to Do:

1. Wash glass canister with soapy water and dry it completely.

Ye Olde Antique Baby Pictures

Photo Frame i

With a few easy steps, you can give a photo and its frame a "time-worn" look. hide caption

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Photo Frame

With a few easy steps, you can give a photo and its frame a "time-worn" look.

Even the biggest technophobe (yup, that's me) can turn a standard photo into a sepia keepsake. Take the shot you'd like to use — either a print or a digital file on a memory card or CD — to Target, Wal-Mart or any photo shop or retail store with a photo kiosk. At the kiosk, follow the directions on the monitor to scan, crop and convert the image to sepia tones. While you're at it, print multiple copies for folks on your gift list, from the great-grandparents on down. Add the patina of time in mere seconds to a ready-cut mat and a ready-made frame.

What You'll Need:

Photo

Wood frame

Optional: Sandpaper, bike chain, hammer, screwdriver, metallic paste, shoe polish, picture mat (sold at craft stores and photo shops that sell frames), beige tissue paper, glue stick, used tea bag, old coffee grounds

What to Do:

1. At the photo center kiosk, insert a CD with the photo image or a memory card from your digital camera into the designated slot. If you only have a print, place it in the scanning drawer and scan it in.

2. Hit "Select Photos," and choose your image to display it on the kiosk monitor.

3. Now for some playtime. Press "Sepia" or "Antique" (it's called different things on different kiosks). You can always hit "Undo" if you don't like it. You can also lighten, brighten and crop the photo to get up-close-and-personal. (Nobody has to see that rumpled bed in the background.) Just don't eliminate too much background if you plan on using a mat, because the mat will cover up the photo's edges.

4. When you're happy with the image, push the screen for the size — 4" x 6", 5" x 7" or 8" x 10" — and quantity of the image, and complete your order.

5. Options for antique-style framing:

Here are three techniques to give your frame an antique look. Mix and match if you wish.

* Sand down edges and surface areas of a painted wood frame.

* Distress a wood frame by gouging it with a hammer or screwdriver, or slapping it with an old, oily bike chain.

* For the look of old money, rub metallic paste (such as Rub 'n Buff) over a dark frame, or shoe polish over a too-shiny metallic frame.

Here are two ways to gussy up a picture mat.

* Dab a rag on a used tea bag or coffee grounds, and blot on the mat to age it.

Feels Like Team Spirit

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An easy-to-make fleece afghan will please any sports-loving friend or family member. hide caption

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Afghan

An easy-to-make fleece afghan will please any sports-loving friend or family member.

Do you live with a sports fanatic? An afghan emblazoned with a favorite team's logo and colors will warm both of you, in front of the TV or at the game. And no sewing is necessary. Talk about a fringe benefit!

What You'll Need:

Polar fleece, 2 yards each of team-logo print (about $10) and coordinating solid color (available at fabric stores like JoAnn's Fabric & Craft Stores; joann.com)

Large fabric scissors, yardstick, chalk or permanent marker that will show up on the solid-color fabric, and pins

Option #1: Stitch Witchery fusible tape (also sold at fabric stores), steam iron and plain fabric to use as a pressing cloth

Option #2: Sewing machine and sewing thread to match fleece

Tray Magnifique

Tray i

A personalized tray can be as easy or as complex as you like. You can use children's art, photos, postcards, stamps, paint and more to decorate a simple wood tray. hide caption

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Tray

A personalized tray can be as easy or as complex as you like. You can use children's art, photos, postcards, stamps, paint and more to decorate a simple wood tray.

If you can't afford to hire a butler, the next best thing is a personalized tray, suitable for breakfast in bed, tea by the fire or a late-night snack. You can use any image on paper: Think gift wrap, stamps, children's art, photos, postcards, ticket stubs, you name it. The process can be simple cut-and-paste, the kindergarten kind. Or you can have yourself a daring little craft project with glazing, decoupage and a faux crackle finish.

What You'll Need:

Unfinished wood tray from a crafts store or unfinished furniture store

Catalogs, magazines, photo prints, postcards and anything else you can find to cut up

Tacky glue

Paintbrush

Optional for sealing: 3/16" glass from the glass store, cut to fit your tray, plus clear sealant with applicator tip

Optional for finishes: Translucent glaze (such as Glaze Vernis) in a color that complements the cutouts you've selected, plus a rag; decoupage finish (such as Royal Coat), crackle mediums and antiquing medium or faux finish crackling kit (all from Plaid Enterprises, at craft stores or check out plaidonline.com)

What to Do:

Pretty and Perfect for Pampering

Wrap i

Give a nondescript aromatherapy neck wrap a vintage makeover. hide caption

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Wrap

Give a nondescript aromatherapy neck wrap a vintage makeover.

A vintage towel can turn the dull or ugly aromatherapy packs sold in bed-and-bath departments and stores (for about $10) into a retro-chic gift. Tell the giftee to stick the pack, in or out of its towel wrapper, in the microwave for a warm compress or the freezer for cold relief. So it's both the hottest and the coolest gift around.

What You'll Need:

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