Holiday Guide: Do it yourself holiday gifts
By Heather Lyn Wood
It’s okay to admit it: When you hear “handmade holiday gift,” you’re not so sure. Is the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) movement just a sly repackaging of gifts we’d all rather forget? When your 4-year old hands you a Play Doh sculpture of your face, you are filled with gratitude. But the same gift from your boss? At a time of year when holiday cheer collides with budget anxiety and time constraints, the average gift giver can use a little guidance. Thankfully, Alameda offers plenty of options for creative holiday gifts along the DIY spectrum, none of which involve a hot glue gun or bag of macaroni.
Some DIY gifts are those made “from scratch” by the gift giver – think fabric, thread, handmade paper and woodworking. While these kinds of projects are not for everyone, they can be rewarding to make and give. Beverly’s Fabric and Crafts (2230 South Shore Center; 864-4222) stocks thousands of items that can be used for scrapbooking, floral arranging, soapmaking, and most other craft hobbies. Options range from basic materials like paper mache or wood to pre-made craft kits, rubber stamps and cake decorating equipment. Beverly Sing, supervisor at the chain’s Alameda store, says that many of the store’s customers are beginners who come in with little more than an idea. “People can picture in their minds what they want to make, but they’re not sure how to get there,” Sing said. “So we walk them through all the steps until they’re more comfortable.”
Needle in a Haystack (1734 Clement Avenue; 522-0404), specializes in hard-to-find needlework supplies for embroidery, needlepoint, and cross-stitch. The store carries linens, needlework fabrics, blank and painted canvases, an extensive thread collection, instructional books and accessories. It also offers classes in the lesser known arts of crewel embroidery, blackwork, hardanger, silk gauze work, and pulled thread. Owner Cathe Ray and her staff of seven needlework experts share advice with shoppers of all experience levels and budgets.
Quilt Fans (2205 Harbor Bay Parkway 749-6717), a quilt specialty shop on Bay Farm Island, offers a wide range of fabric and quilting supplies and sells gift certificates for beginner and expert quilting classes. Another locally owned shop, Alameda Yarn Company (2002 Encinal Avenue; 523-9003), offers more than 30 kinds of yarn for those interested in making hand-knitted clothing and scarves this holiday season. It also features a community table where knitters can gather and socialize while they work on their projects.
If crafting is not your forte, you can still have a DIY holiday. One obvious potential source of meaningful, memorable gifts is your kitchen. Fruitcake jokes aside, it is hard to go wrong with homemade baked goods like brownies, rum cake, fudge, cookies or fresh bread (or a recipe book pre-filled with heirloom family recipes for such delicacies).
Another unique gift idea for grandparents and children is to re-create a long-lost family recipe or prepare a holiday meal that would have been enjoyed by your family’s ancestors. If you do decide to tackle an heirloom dish, ethnic and specialty markets are excellent places to find ingredients and products not carried by the larger supermarkets. In Alameda, Aria Super Market and Bakery (1552 Webster Street; 337-9831) sells a diverse selection of Eastern European foods, and on the Oakland side of High Street, Mi Pueblo (1630 High Street, Oakland; 532-2654) carries a full range of ingredients commonly found in Mexican and Latin American markets.
Finally, a culinary gift basket (filled with gourmet ingredients, condiments or kitchen equipment) is an alternative that can be shaped to fit most budgets. Patricia’s Pantry (1650 Park Street #B; 769-5424) in the Alameda Marketplace building offers a sizable collection of kitchen gadgets and cookware.
If you get a little panicky at the thought of knitting and cooking – or you just don’t have that kind of time – consider DIY Light. These are gifts that start with pre-made components but are enhanced and personalized by the gift giver. If you expand your definition of “do-it-yourself” to include any gift not purchased in its final form, your options increase.
Framed artwork is a sentimental gift that lasts for years with little to no work on the part of the gift giver. At Alameda Custom Framing (2445 Santa Clara Avenue; 522-1514), Tom and Helen Chai work with customers to select frames for photographs, paintings and special documents. Tom Chai says that most of his sales are to repeat customers. His professed goals, “to do my professional best and offer reasonable prices” have served him well: The shop has been on the Island for 36 years, drawing consistently positive feedback. Helen Chai is a recognized artist in Korea, and her husband attributes his technical skill in framing to her patient instruction. “We raised our two sons in Alameda and have kept our business here,” says Chai. “It’s not about the money, for me. I am here to take care of my customers.”
At Bead Inspirations (1544 Park Street; 337-1203), DIY jewelry makers choose from an impressive array of beads and related supplies. Beads range from tiny and sparkly to large carved pieces made from earthy materials like rose quartz and clay. The store also carries everything beaders need to craft necklaces, bracelets and other gifts. A short trip away, Color Me Mine (Alameda Towne Centre; 521-8893) and The Magic Paintbrush (943 Marina Village Parkway; 523-6244) offer make-it-yourself pottery and other projects.
This year might be one of the best to buy a handmade gift. It is hard to deny that we are in the midst of what some are calling a “handmade revolution.” Etsy, the eBay of handmade items, has caught on fast among people interested in crafting and conscious consumption. The company’s mission is “to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers.” Etsy’s motto is “Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.” It is one of the largest marketplaces to buy handmade gifts from … well, people who know how to make things. The only visible disadvantage to buying from an online marketplace like Etsy is that, like with any Internet purchase, none of the money spent stays in your local community. (One way around this is to use the company’s Geolocator feature, which allows shoppers to search for Etsy artisans located in a specific zip code.)
If you are committed to purchasing your gifts in person, Alameda has several sources of one-of-a-kind items. Tucked in among larger chain stores at Alameda Towne Centre is Eleen Hsu Agustin’s Modern Mouse (2228 South Shore Center Unit A; 814-8830), a boutique collection of clothing, accessories and decor made by local artists.
Reagan Jones and Christina Chen assist customers at Modern Mouse and are proud of what the store brings to Alameda. “There are limited opportunities to buy high quality, handmade gifts, especially when you do not want to shop online. Modern Mouse is a place where you can come in and touch and feel what has been made by our artists,” Chen says. Jones adds that the store has a close working relationship with its artists, and points to a corkboard map where shoppers can see where in the Bay Area items are being made.
Antique and Vintage
Some of the best gifts are those that have been given before. (And no, I’m not talking about the Chia Pet that sat miserably in your closet for a year before you re-gifted it to your least favorite cousin.) Antique and vintage gifts are more popular every year, for several reasons. First, secondhand gifts are often less expensive than their brand-new counterparts. Items of high quality and vintage appeal can often be found for less than $50 at flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores. Second, recycling gifts is often better for the environment because of the energy cost associated with production of new goods. Few people buy everything secondhand, but it is a viable and creative option for items like fine china, books and furniture. Finally, antiquing provides one of the only opportunities to find a gift that is truly one-of-a-kind.
Anyone interested in a vintage holiday close to home must visit the Holy Grail of antique shows – the Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire (Alameda Point; 522-7500). The Faire is arguably the West Coast’s best source for vintage goods, with more than 800 vendors and several football fields’ worth of merchandise. The sheer volume of items can be overwhelming at first, but a few minutes of strolling reveals well-ordered booths and plenty of room to peruse the inventory. From mid-century modern dishware to 19th-century textiles, there are thousands of bits of history for the taking (not to mention a miniature fried donut truck).
For shoppers seeking to avoid crowds, a quieter antiquing experience can be found at Pauline’s Antiques (1427 Park Street; 523-9941), Park Street Antiques & Collectibles (1519 Park Street; 523-0895), Lynn’s of Alameda (2807 Encinal Avenue; 523-2383) and Good Better Best (2723 Encinal Avenue; 749-9258).
Be confident in your decision to go retro on holiday gifts: For every person who raises an eyebrow at the idea of a “pre-owned” gift is one thrilled that you took the time to find him that original set of Marvel comic books.
Wrapping It Up
Hanko Designs (875 Island Drive #A; 523-5603) and 3 Wishes Cards & Gifts (1428 Park Street; 523-4438) are local purveyors of paper-related craft products that can assist with stationery, wrapping, and gifts that require special paper.
Whichever kind of DIY (or DIY variant) appeals to you most, congratulate yourself for bringing creativity and care to the age-old practice of gift giving. And after all that brainstorming and shopping, don’t forget to knit an extra scarf or brew a pot of apple cider for yourself.