The giving tree

Do-it-yourself or shop local for unique holiday gifts

From left, Sandie Marcacci, Janet Macy and Lynn Jenkins look at one section of Christmas supplies at the Going Batty quilt store.

From left, Sandie Marcacci, Janet Macy and Lynn Jenkins look at one section of Christmas supplies at the Going Batty quilt store.

photo by amy beck

The culture that surrounds holiday gift giving can be stressful, pressured and expensive. But families struggling to make ends meet still have options for finding thoughtful and unique gifts for one another. Rather than purchasing a toy-of-the-year, parents can find items for their children that are locally made, and can also try a hand at making gifts themselves. Aside from giving one-of-a-kind items, do-it-yourself gift-making can use old materials lying around the house—therefore saving you money and the time it takes to hunt around.

Time well spent

Even the busiest families can learn how to make presents, according to Cary McGhie of Going Batty quilt shop.

“I’ve been quilting for 13 years now,” she said. “One of the things I really like about it is that it’s relaxing, and there is always a memory attached to it.”

Going Batty is busy during the holiday season, and offers classes where novice quilters can learn the basics or can receive guidance through making an entire piece.

“An opportunity for education is a gift in itself,” said McGhie. “Once you learn how to make something, you can use those skills each year. You can make something your family can use for the rest of their lives.”

McGhie encourages the use of old materials to make new items. “We have a bit of everything. We have a young staff and they do more recycled type of things. They take jeans and make them into purses,” she said. “Our store manager does a series that’s called ‘outside the box.’ She’ll incorporate paper and metal and rusty objects to imprint on the fabric.”

A quilt can be made out of anything. “We have photographs you can print on special fabric, and you can create a memory quote,” McGhie said. “We also have this one particular pattern of a tree where each person can sign a leaf. I also made a quilt from some of my husband’s T-shirts.”

Sarah Hall’s hand-painted letters.

Photo By amy beck

While Going Batty specializes in quilts, people can also learn how to make items like bags and pillow cases. Smaller projects work well for those new to quilting. McGhie recommends investing in a sewing machine, which may be expensive up front but will allow for long term use.

“A quilt symbolizes comfort and a sense of artistry,” she said.


Sarah Hall, who owns Flutterby Creations in Minden and makes hand-painted wall hangings, has been an artist her whole life, but only recently started making items for the public.

“I made name hangings for my children, and my friends liked them so much I figured I could try to sell them,” Hall said. She has already received several orders for Christmas.

“Each name and word is painted specifically for each customer,” Hall said. You are able to customize in a variety of ways—size of letters, font style, colors, design, and ribbon. No two names are exactly the same.”

Wooden letters and paint can be found at a craft shop, often for less than $10. Hall uses unique brushes and sponges to make textures that differ on each piece. If you have a child who picks a new favorite color every week, the letters are a simple way to keep your kid’s room updated as often as their interests change.

Color block

Bright colors are the trend for the season, according to Ryrie Valdez, owner of Ryrie’s Art and Home. And one look at her shop shows that she believes it, too.

One section of Christmas supplies at the Going Batty quilt store.

Photo By amy beck

“I just find that there’s a trend for going for more color. It evokes a smile,” she said. “It makes you feel good, looking at these bright colors.”

Like Hall, Valdez is also an artist by trade. While art isn’t always a gift that comes to mind for parents with young children, Valdez’s store offers framing options for parents who want to make shadowboxes for their kid’s costumes or trophies.Valdez said her hot ticket items this year are the “solemate socks,” which are made from recycled cotton. Fused glass night lights, made by Bryn McCubbins of Reno, are also popular this year, which are a “fun and practical” addition to children’s rooms.

Valdez’s store has a gallery of recycled pine furniture designed and painted a Texas artist. While some of the pieces cost more than an item from Walmart probably would, each piece is unique and can withstand years of wear and tear. If anything, her shop serves as a source of inspiration for those looking to update their homes or children’s bedrooms.

“Handmade items can be more expensive,” said Ryrie. “But the quality is so much better. And you have pieces that can last a lifetime.

“Items that you can make yourself or find in your community have more meaning,” Valdez said. “Everything in my store has a story, so whatever you see, you’ll hear about the artist. Everything has meaning. It has history.”

Get personal

Hall, Ryrie and McGhie are artists by trade who saw potential in their own ideas, and encourage others to do the same.

“It takes time to plan, but once you have skills, you’ll save a lot of money and time in the long run, and your family benefits from it, too,” said McGhie.

In Reno, there are a number of scrapbooking stores and groups, and local garden shops and nurseries offer workshops about making spices or canning favorite recipes. Printing companies have options for making a book of photography or artwork, and consignment stores like Once Upon a Child or Plato’s Closet have specialty clothes and kid gear for prices significantly discounted from big box stores.

Sometimes, even the smallest of handmade gifts are the most meaningful.

“When you buy something from a store, it was most likely made from a machine without a specific customer in mind,” said Hall. “There is something special about knowing someone took the time to create something beautiful and unique just for you.”