The Best Handmade Gift Ideas from Martha's Farm
Each year, around September, I start to think seriously about my personal Christmas gifts for family members and close friends, and every year it is a challenge to create something new, something different, something meaningful from my own world. I spend most of my free time at my farm in Bedford, gardening, cooking, raising small livestock, and conjuring many of the creative ideas that become articles, books, and products for Martha Stewart Living. As these free moments become scarcer (Alexis's new babies now take up lots of time), I find that the gifts have become simpler but no less evocative—I hope—of nature and the goodness of the homemade and the handmade.
In the past, I have steamed countless plum puddings in handmade crockery bowls, made pâtés in French pâté dishes I've collected, baked hundreds of stollen and cookies, and jarred even more hundreds of jams and jellies from the berries I've grown. This year, I decided to make gifts that would show off some of the products from the farm. Mind you, nothing is commercially made at Bedford, but with inventive labels and packaging and a little bit of spin, a small idea can appear more thoughtful. And I've learned that so many who receive these gifts actually do eat or wear or use what I make.
I divided the gifts into groups—edible, wearable, decorative, and practical—and the list of recipients into human and animal. I always find the edible gifts easy to conceive and relatively easy to make. I searched online for pretty jars for honey, lemon curd, and preserved lemons. Using a woodcut I had made for Cantitoe Corners several years ago by Michael McCurdy, I enlisted crafts editor Marcie McGoldrick to fabricate beautiful labels, which include the logo, contents, and date for each of the items. We printed them easily on a home-office printer. I found shapely squarish jars for the honey and the curd and larger French canning jars for the preserved lemons.
Smaller labels were made as hang tags for the begonia plants, which I potted in Guy Wolff Pottery planters especially sized for begonias: wide and shallow. I purchased quilted-paper boxes, lined their lids with some shredded paper, and wrapped the plants in shrouds of clear cellophane. I grow masses of catmint (Nepeta cataria), and this year, instead of making cat toys, I made soft, fluffy pillows that tie right on top of the cats' regular beds.
For the first time, the horses contributed their coarse black hair for braided bracelets and large tassels, perfect for drawer pulls, shade pulls, and key chains. And the two black Welsh sheep offered their gorgeous wool, which—after shearing, washing, carding, and spinning—was knitted into simple vests for my grandchildren, Jude and Truman.
I hope you'll be inspired to handcraft a few gifts this holiday season and share the things you love with your friends and family.
I love propagating rare plants from cuttings and do so often. Many friends ask for homemade specimens of some of my greenhouse plants. They make great gifts when presented in artisanal decorative pots. These were custom made by Guy Wolff Pottery.
I harvest Cantitoe Corners honey from my hives every autumn. This year, I packaged it in beautiful lidded jars with graphic labels and gilded-paper lid covers. I used waxed twine to hold wooden honey spoons in place. I packaged homemade lemon curd the same way.
I used lemons grown on trees at the farm and eggs from my prolific hens to make lemon curd. In this recipe, 40 to 50 large lemons (about 10 pounds), will yield about four 4-ounce jars.
Preserved lemons add brightness and complexity to all sorts of dishes, and I made a dozen or so jars for friends who cook a lot. Note: Let recipients know to rinse lemons well before using (to remove excess salt) and to use only the rinds.
A Mille Fleur hen in the chicken yard, one of dozens that lay gorgeous eggs.
Tassels and bracelets made from braided and twisted horsehair were packaged in jewelry boxes wrapped in burnished gold paper and finished with a ribbon and a wax seal of a Cantitoe Corners sycamore tree.
Shop Now: Box and Wrap Jewelry Boxes, in Matte Black, from $7.80 for 10, boxandwrap.com. Nashville Wraps Antique Gold Tissue Paper, $2.75 for 24 sheets, nashvillewraps.com. J. Herbin Traditional Sealing Wax, in Dark Green, $8, letterseals.com.
This is a great gift to make in bulk for all your stylish friends. Start with 12 inches of horsehair. Take a grouping of hair, and tie tightly at center point with waxed twine. Fold hair in half, and tie off tightly about 1 1/2 inches down from the fold; remove hairs that have escaped. Trim the tassel to desired length. Cover the waxed twine around body of tassel with a piece of leather trim. Dab glue to secure as you wrap. Stitch the trim closed. To finish, add a leather tie to the top of the tassel.
Shop Now: Nantahala Trading Post Horsehair, in Black, 13" to 15", $34.75 per lb., nantahalatradingpost.com. The Caning Shop Waxed Linen Twine, in Black, $17 for 100 yd., caning.com. Barge High Strength All-Purpose Cement, $7 for 2 oz., acehardware.com.
The bracelets are made with a four-part braid. Braid a long section of horsehair, and tie tightly with twine at ends, every 6 to 8 inches. Cut between 2 ties to create the pieces for your bracelet. Dab glue cement onto both snipped ends of horsehair and inside the end caps. Insert hair into blackened end caps. Use pliers to attach a jump ring to each end cap before attaching the clasp. (Note: I used metal blackener on our brass and silver findings. Follow manufacturer's instructions.)
Shop Now: Eurotool Round-Nose Pliers, $13.81, firemountaingems.com. JAX Silver Blackener, $16 per pint, jaxchemical.com. JAX Brown-Black Brass, Bronze, & Copper Darkener, $15 per pint, jaxchemical.com. Metalliferous Machined End Cap, in Brass, 1/4", $1.30, metalliferous.com. Metalliferous Brass Lobster Clasp, 7.3 mm by 12.9 mm, $1.50, metalliferous.com. Bead Landing Silver Split Rings, 6 mm, $3.31 for 175, michaels.com. Silver Enchantments Plain Bell Caps, 6 mm opening, $1.29 each, silverenchantments.com.
Rutger, pictured here, is one of my five Friesian horses that contributed tail hair for the horsehair projects. Tassels and bracelets made from braided and twisted horsehair were packaged in jewelry boxes wrapped in burnished gold paper and finished with a ribbon and a wax seal of a Cantitoe Corners sycamore tree.
This vest is made using a seed stitch: For row 1, knit 1, purl 1, and repeat across row. You'll need 2 skeins for the smaller vest and 3 skeins for the larger vest. "Sheepish" tags are cut from paper hint at what's inside.
Warm and Woolly
Babaa and Black Sheep, my two black Welsh sheep, provided the wool for the vests.
A Cozy, Fragrant Corner
Bartók, pictured here, loves his new pillow top filled with catmint. Using a fine cotton fabric, I made pillow slips, which I filled loosely with dried homegrown catmint.
Catnip Cat Bed
To make one like it, make a zipper pillow cover. Add a 1-inch seam allowance, substituting the measurement of the cat bed for the measurement of the pillow insert. (The zipper makes it easy to remove the catmint before washing the cover.) Sew ties to the corners and center point of the pillow cover. Place the pillow on top of the cat bed, and attach by sewing the ties to the corners of the bed. In place of pillow inserts, fill the bed with catmint.
Shop Now: Whisker City Organic Catnip, $8 for 2oz., petsmart.com.