DIY Gift Ideas

Looking for some DIY gift ideas? Learn how to make your own vanilla and much more…


DIY Gift Ideas

As the holiday season approaches, if you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or another tradition, you are probably starting to think about gift-giving. In our household, we have struggled with the idea of purchasing gifts that may not be either sustainable nor necessary for our loved ones who seem to have more than enough “stuff” in their homes. When do buy gifts, we focus on buying local, spending at least one weekend patronizing local businesses. I find it’s one of the few times I actually enjoy shopping!


However, the best tradition that has come out of this struggle is do-it-yourself (DIY) gifts. Growing up, my siblings and I were encouraged to make gifts for teachers, friends, and family members, but this was time-consuming so tapered off. As an adult, I’m fortunate that my in-laws have inspired a DIY gift-giving tradition. I have received amazing goodies over the years including jam, paper flowers made from maps, hot sauce, and granola. The following is a recipe for DIY gift I did last year along with other DIY options that not only do not take much time, but are also consumable, reducing the amount of waste that is a result of most holiday gift-giving. In fact, you will discover that recipients beg to be kept on your holiday list for future DIY gifts.

Vanilla Extract
If you’ve ever experienced pure vanilla extract, you will never go back to the imitation stuff. This is super easy to make and provides a gorgeous and welcome gift. It takes about two months to extract the vanilla flavor, so if you give it as a gift before it’s ready, just make sure the recipient knows when it can be used. Also, providing the recipe and other instructions is a way to inspire DIY habits in the recipient’s home.

Photo credit: Natalie Thompson, member-owner

The ingredients are vanilla beans and vodka (bourbon, rum, and brandy also work, and you can go with the cheap stuff for this project – suggested proof is 70 or 35% alcohol). You will need a glass bottle with a stopper or a jar with a lid. Use 4 to 5 beans per 8 oz. of liquid. Some recipes suggest more, but it’s not necessary and these beans are not cheap. I’ve done it with 4 and it tastes great.

Find a nice jar or bottle that will show off the caramel-colored liquid. Slice each bean lengthwise up the middle, leaving about ½ inch intact. This allows them to release flavor. Put them in the container, cover with the liquor, close tightly and shake well. Beans need to be submerged to allow extraction to occur. Shake well once or twice a week. After 8 weeks, you should have good flavor and color, but this can sit with the beans in the liquid much longer as long as the beans are submerged in the alcohol. Once the liquid gets too low, remove the beans.


Laundry Detergent

I make this for myself, but putting it into a nice container with the recipe included would be a practical gift that save money in the long haul, as the ingredients are super cheap and the recipe is easy. All you need is a bar of soap, washing soda, and borax. I use pure castile soap with a scent, but unscented is fine; just use basic soap without lye or too much fat. Chop the soap into chunks and throw into a food processor or blender until it is finely chopped. Put the soap particles into a sealed container with 1 cup of washing soda and 1 cup of borax. Shake well. Use between 2 tablespoons and ¼ cup per load, depending on the size.


Experimenting with DIY projects is half of the fun, and there are countless homemade items that people will love. Bottle your own hot sauce, mustard, or any other condiment. Make lip balm, bath salts, or other body-pampering items. Your local library and the internet are great sources for DIY projects. And please shop locally for your ingredients if possible – I just called business partner, Green Fields and found out they have shea butter for a soap recipe I’ll be trying next. If you have a favorite DIY recipe to share, send it to me at We’ll post some on our Facebook page in the coming weeks. Thanks and happy gift-giving!


Melanie Drake, Outreach Coordinator

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