Look for the bargains, trim the list, or make it yourself. Those are choices consumers are weighing during this holiday season of gift giving in uncertain economic times.
“People are going the old-fashioned way [this year],” said Shirley Jones, owner of Shirley’s Yarns and Crafts in Hancock. She said her customers are knitting and crocheting sweaters, hats, scarves and socks of natural fibers to give as presents. “I’m not seeing a decrease in the popularity of yarn. I’m happy to see people getting back to handmade. They are concentrating more on handmade [gifts], whether it’s knitting, sewing or cooking. It’s more of a family affair.”
Indeed, the trend Jones is seeing in her shop is supported by a survey that Michael’s, a craft store chain based in Texas with a store in Augusta, recently conducted. The online poll revealed that 58 percent of 1,000 respondents said they were more likely to make gifts this year and 41 percent said handmade gifts were the best way to use the holiday shopping budget. The survey also said that 59 percent would cut back on holiday travel, 57 percent said they would spend less on electronics and 41 percent said they would spend less on toys.
The Craft and Hobby Association estimates that 42 million households in the United States make gifts and holiday decor items during November and December, according to association CEO Steve Berger. To capitalize on that fact, Michael’s launched a holiday campaign with an instructional Web site, www.wherecreativityhappens.com, featuring how-to “webisodes” where do-it-yourselfers can learn how to craft gifts costing less than $5 in materials. The chain also will feature in-store gift-crafting workshops. Workshops schedules and locations are posted at the Web site.
Vicki Ballard of Hampden said she would sew as gifts six tote bags from upholstery fabrics she acquired for free a year ago. “I have some relatives who really appreciate handmade gifts,” she said. “Most of my family have said they want to cut back this year. I’m for that because we all have what we need.” However, she will purchase one gift for each of the 12 members of her family. She suggests drawing names to help keep holiday spending in line.
“As crazy at it sounds, I’m seeing more people buying luxury fibers, such as cashmere. They want to ramp it up a bit, but still want to make something affordable,” said Michele Goldman of Fiberphilia yarn shop in Orono. “A handmade gift is given twice — the first time is when you knit it and the second time is when you give it away.” Knitters, she said, are the sort of people who frequently make gifts.
Jo-Ann Stores, based in Hudson, Ohio, also is advocating handmades for the holiday. The company’s Web site, www.joann.com has free instructions available for 144 Christmas-related crafts. A call to the Bangor Jo-Ann store to ask about local holiday handcrafting trends yielded no information, since store policy does not al-low managers to comment on such things.
Evelyn Caruso, co-owner of The Cotton Cupboard quilt shop in Bangor, said that despite the economic turndown, she is “not seeing any lessening in her shop of those who are drawn to quilting.” Nor does she think her customers are spending any less on fabric and quilting supplies. She said some of her customers are making wall hangings, table runners and other small quilted items that can be finished in time for Christmas.
Caruso gave as an example of the continuing interest in quilting the fact that her store’s beginning quilting classes are full, with a waiting list of 15.
Kathleen Mailman, owner of Sticks and Stones Bead Shop in Brewer, said she is seeing an “increase in demand” for the basic skills she teaches free to those who want to learn beading. “In spite of the economic downturn, business is stable,” Mailman said. “There’s always an influx of people looking to learn new beading skills.”
The trend to make gifts is accompanied by a push to buy handmade gifts if you don’t have time, inclination or patience to make your own. That trend transcends the local network of churches and organizations that hold holiday fairs and bazaars where handmade items may be purchased. It has morphed into a Web-based “take the pledge to buy handmade” Web site at www.buyhandmade.com. More than 30,000 people from all over the world have signed on, leaving their names, towns, states, countries and brief messages, including a few from Maine — “Mandy” from Lisbon, an artisan who sells her handmades at www.etsy.com as many of the pledge-takers do, Emily Noel of Friendship, “Christina” of Gorham, Becca Mileof of Machias, Dawnalyse of Fairfield, Marjorie Rogers of Berwick and Holly Marble of Hope all have taken the pledge.
“In spite of the economy, people were buying,” Alex Turallo of Hampden, a member of the Bangor chapter of Zonta International, said at her organization’s MarketPlace holiday fair in November. “The vendors did very well. A lot of people worked hard to make the MarketPlace a fun place people wanted to attend.”
Perhaps Molly Lizotte of Maine (no town given), one of the buyhandmade.com pledge takers, best summed up the trend to making gifts this holiday season. She wrote, “Mom and Gram did it for me, why can’t I keep up the tradition?”
Easy gifts to make for $20 or less
• Knit or crochet a scarf, mittens, socks or cap. The yarn can cost as little or as much as you want to spend.
• Tree ornaments. The cost can range from pennies to sev-eral dollars, depending on what materials, such as felt, beads, buttons, embroidery floss, glitter, glue, etc. you already have on hand. Use your imagination and have fun with the family.
• Sew a holiday-themed table runner.
• Embellish a purchased T-shirt with lace or other trims at the neckline.
• Sew pillows stitched from fleece fabric. Or make pillows using the slashed edges and tied method — no sewing needed.
• Hand-crochet small acces-sory bags.
• Use your sewing machine to convert purchased fingertip towels or washcloths into baby bibs, using bias-fold tape to finish the neckline.
• Knit or crochet cotton dish-cloths.
• Embroider a purchased white dish towel with Maine motifs, such as pine trees and cones, sailboats, blueberries and seashells.
• Sew a set of holiday-themed napkins.
• Embroider purchased nap-kins with a single-flower motif or beaded motif in each corner.
• Sew a pair of flannel pillow slips or purchase a pair and trim with lace or other trims.
• Embroider plain white baby T-shirts.
• Sew potholders.
• Crochet snowflake tree or-naments.
• Sew flannel “dorm” pants.
• Make simple necklaces with a single bead knotted on a leather cord.