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5 Amazingly Simple Earth-Friendly Gifts You Can Make

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Put your hands to work assembling these thoughtful and sustainable gifts.

By Nicole Faires Posted Nov 29, 2017

It’s that time of year again, when the sustainably-minded try to balance out a desire to give with the rampant consumerism of the holiday season. Not only are the following homemade gifts sustainable, your handiwork adds a valued personal touch.

1. Paperwhites Jar

paperwhite in a jar
This is possibly the simplest gift on the list, and requires very few materials. Paperwhites are a very easy bulb to grow indoors and bloom cheerily in the winter when forced, making them a wonderful Christmas gift. You can also plant them again if forced in soil, after the blooming period has passed, providing they are hardy to your area. If you live in a colder climate, or you prefer to force bulbs using water and pebbles, your gift recipient can compost the bulbs when finished and reuse the jar.

For this project you will need:

  • A shallow, wide-mouthed Mason jar
  • A paperwhite bulb (one per jar)
  • Small, clean pebbles or potting soil
  • Red or holiday ribbon

Fill each Mason jar half way with pebbles or potting soil. Create an indentation and “plant” the paperwhite bulb a few inches in with the root pointed down and the shoot pointed up. The top two-thirds of the bulb will be exposed. Tamp down the soil or pebbles around the bulb so they are firmly in place. Tie the holiday ribbon around the rim of the jar and voilà!

When you’re ready for your bulb to start growing, add a small amount of water to the jar so that it just touches the bottom of the bulb (or moistens the soil). Paperwhite bulbs need about a cup of water per week, and should be set in a sunny location to bloom.

Want an even easier gift? Check out this Paperwhite Grow Bottle, which includes everything you need to grow a paperwhite in a recycled wine bottle.

2. Monogrammed Organic Napkins

Help someone close to you ditch disposable napkins. These hand-embroidered, organic cloth napkins are both classic and personalized. Even better, they come together quickly without extensive materials. This lovely idea is not only sustainable in production, it’s sustainable in use and beautiful to boot.

Here’s what you need:

  • Organic cloth napkins
  • Embroidery floss
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Needle
  • Transfer paper
  • Printed or hand-drawn pattern (see instructions)
  • Ball-point pen

embroidered napkin
This is easier than it sounds, especially if you are familiar with simple embroidery. First, you will need to make a letter pattern. You can hand draw a name or a letter on a piece of paper, or you can print a letter out on the computer in your favorite font. Next, place the transfer paper on top of the napkin where you want the monogram. Put the pattern on top, and trace the letter with the pen. This will transfer the pattern to the fabric.

Place the napkin in the embroidery hoop and thread your needle. To make a split stitch, insert the needle through the wrong side of your fabric and make a straight stitch, coming back down through the top. Your needle should now be back on the underside of your fabric, beneath your hoop. Bring the needle up in the center of your previous stitch and make a second stitch the same length as your first. Continue coming up into the center of each previous stitch with every new stitch to create the ‘split stitch’ pattern. Finish your letter or name and press around stitching to flatten the napkin. You can use a different letter to denote family members’ first names, or create a whole set using the first letter of the last name.

3. DIY Natural Bath Gift Bowl Basket

Okay, this is a silly name for a gift basket that’s not delivered in a basket at all: it’s in a bowl instead. Why a bowl? Bowls are so much more durable and long lasting, not to mention useful for so many things. This is a great last-minute gift for someone who loves natural products and needs to spend more time in the tub.

gift basket

Maybe you know a busy mom who needs a special holiday gift? Or a man who could take better care of himself? Be creative. Here are some great suggestions:

Place in the bowl and top with a bow. Simple and useful!

4. DIY Terrarium

This is the gift that gives back, because it’s so much fun to make and lasts indefinitely. A terrarium is a tiny indoor garden that maintains itself if it’s sealed, and only requires minimal care if it isn’t. Terrariums look beautiful and interesting and make a great gift for someone who loves nature. They also help purify the air and have been shown to reduce anxiety and stress when placed in workspaces.

To put this together, you’ll need:

  • A glass jar, bowl, vase, or apothecary jar, any size
  • Rocks, pebbles, and/or glass rocks
  • Activated charcoal or activated carbon
  • Potting soil
  • Various small plants (see instructions below)
  • Spoon
  • Scissors
  • Moss
  • Sticks, figurines, decorative items (optional)

The plants can be anything that will fit inside the jar and won’t grow very tall. Succulents and cacti work well together, and ferns and tropical plants will do well together, but choose one or the other: dry plants or tropical/wet plants.

terrarium on desk

Start by washing the container. Next, add a layer of pebbles ½” to 2” deep. Follow with a layer of activated charcoal, just enough to cover the rocks. This will reduce bacteria and odors and keep things healthy. Now you can add your soil. Add enough soil that the plants will have room to grow, which is usually just a little bit deeper than the pot they came in.

Once you are ready to add your plants, remove all of the soil from the roots; if they are very long, you can trim them back a little bit. When you place your plants, try to keep them away from the edge of the container as much as possible. Using the spoon, dig a hole for the roots and place your plant, adding enough soil to cover a bit of the stem and tamping it down. Once done, add a layer of moss, and any decorative items.

Clean the dirt off the sides of the container and use a spray bottle to give the plants a little bit of water. To care for the terrarium, remove any dead leaves when they appear, and keep it out of direct sunlight. You won’t need to water very often, and never if there is a lid. If it is sealed, you might have to open it now and then to let extra moisture evaporate.

5. Fun Stencil Apron

This gift looks professional, yet you can create something that is very tailored to the person you are giving it to. All you are doing is creating a design and applying it to a ready-made apron. What makes this really unique is that the apron is dark and the design is white, rather than the traditional white baker apron with dark letters. This helps your chosen saying stand out and command attention.

Apron

You’ll need:

  • A good dark apron, like this Hemp Denim Apron
  • White fabric paint (NOT puff paint)
  • Paintbrush
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • Thin cardboard, boxboard, or cardstock
  • Pen
  • Pattern (see instructions)
  • X-ACTO knife
  • Ruler
  • Clips

Although you could draw a design out on a piece of paper to make the pattern, it’s much easier to print it out from the computer. There are a million ideas out there for geeks (“Time to bake some π”), short people (“I’m not short, I’m concentrated awesome”), or just a serious cook (“I’d tell you the recipe, but then I’d have to kill you”). You can even add something personal, like “Jim’s Kitchen.”

Once you have your design printed or drawn out, lay it out on your thin cardboard and cut it out using the X-ACTO knife and a ruler for straight lines. The holes are where the paint will be, so be careful where you cut.

Now lay the corrugated cardboard down and place the apron on top. Using clips, stretch the apron taut around the cardboard where the design will be so you have a nice, flat place to paint. Lay your template on top, and using the paintbrush, dab your fabric paint carefully onto the apron, keeping your template motionless. If you can clip it too, do it. The dabbing motion is important, as placing the paint straight down will prevent any from slipping under the edge of the template. Let it dry, and you’re done!

Homemade presents share something of you with the recipient. Taking the time to ensure they’re also sustainable gives you an opportunity to reduce the impacts of the holiday season while giving from your heart.

Pin for later:
5 Amazingly Simple Earth-Friendly Gifts You Can Make

Author photo
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Nicole Faires is an urban farmer and best-selling author of books on sustainable agriculture and food policy. Originally from Montana, she now lives with her family on the West Coast. Find out more at http://deliberatelife.ca or connect with her on LinkedIn.
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  • Shannon Cowan

    I love the idea that so many of these gifts are simple for kids to make, too. Thanks Nicole!

  • These ideas can also serve as parent/child projects during the holiday season when the kids are home from school.

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