Ask An Expert: DIY Gift Ideas

December 16, 2014 6:00 AM

Gift-giving can be hard. We’ve all found ourselves at department stores or browsing online, lost in the eternal question of “What is the perfect gift?” This year, say goodbye to the throwaway stuff bought at Black Friday prices. Why not make this holiday season a little more personal? These ideas, from local expert Brittany Lepowsky, are simple, beautiful and will represent how much your loved ones mean to you, even if you only have a few bucks in your pocket.

Brittany Marie Lepowsky
Freelance craft master, gift maker, present builder extraordinaire

Helping us out with a few ideas is Brittany Lepowsky, a local girl who will go above and beyond when creating presents. She has, since childhood, spent time creating presents for holidays big and small, and, as her friends and family will attest, never fails to create something new and interesting. It doesn’t matter what holiday or special occasion is coming up, a great handmade gift is always something special. With Christmas just around the corner, get inspired and spend a little time making gifts this holiday season.

Brittany is all about salvaging and recycling goods and knows that you don’t have to spend much money at all to create a gift that will last a lifetime. Being thrifty is not the same as being cheap. Handmade gifts are the most special gifts.

For more gift ideas contact Brittany at:
(612) 961-4050

Holiday Gift Cards
Handmade cards make any occasion more special. No matter what the holiday, a beautiful card to open creates that sense of wonder we’ve felt since childhood.Here are a few ideas to get you started.First, think about audience and occasion. You’re obviously not going to create a colorful pop-up card for the funeral of someone’s favorite aunt. Knowing who the card is for, and for what holiday you’re making the card, will end up dictating style, color and textures. If it’s a Christmas card, red and green are an obvious choice, reds and pinks for Valentine’s Day, and so on.For your card, card stock is always a great base. Not only is it sturdy, but it can typically support whatever different media you’d like to add.

Start with a 12X12 (a standard piece) of card stock, and fold it in half.

Playing with negative space can add a lot to your card. Using a second piece of card stock in a different color (a complementary color that identifies the holiday or occasion, like red and green for Christmas, red and pink for Valentine’s Day, etc.), measure and cut half-inch borders and place, using all-purpose glue, onto your card.

All-purpose glue will be your best friend with this project. You can use it to glue cloth of all types, burlap, photos… whatever you feel like adding as a personal touch to your card. For a Christmas card, for example, add some wrapping paper and a bow, or a Christmas tree that pops up when you open the card.

Use things you have around the house. If you want to cut out a circle, use a plate or cup from the kitchen. Everything you need should already be in your home. You don’t need to buy anything for a project like this, and the joy it can bring is priceless.

Related: Best Places For Handmade Gifts In Minnesota

Handmade Christmas Gifts (Credit, Adrian Schramm)

Keepsake Picture BoxYou’ll need an old window frame. Many people have old window frames lying around in the basement or garage. If not, most antique stores and thrift shops have them for $5 or so.

First, pick your style and theme. Know your recipient and what they’re style is/what they might like to have hanging in their home.

Window with multiple panes (Credit, Adrian Schramm)

Find a window that best suits your needs. As you can see in the photos here, there are many panes in this window, allowing for many different pictures in each, as to be discussed in a moment.

Next, make sure the window is durable. Reinforce as necessary. Sand it down, getting rid of peeling paint and splinters.

Remove the panes of glass. You can use a hammer to smash them out. Make sure that all the glass is removed.

Now you’re ready to add colors and texture. What are you going to decorate the frame with? This is where knowing your recipient is extremely important.

Add flourishes using pieces of old “throwaway” items. Look through your closet or your basement. Everyone has keepsakes that probably could be thrown away, but should be repurposed instead. For example, old leather bags, burlap sacks, maybe pieces of shirts or other items of clothing you’re never going to wear again work great. These are items that add a personal touch to create something special.

If you haven’t kept a lot of old keepsakes, there are thrift shops, antique stores and rummage sales galore in the Twin Cities. For a few dollars, you can find awesome and unique additions for your project.

For each frame (now sans panes of glass), you can do something different. Each frame can be used for calendar boards if you nail some cork into the back. Keep it simple by just adding pictures to each square. If the piece is going to hang close to the front door, maybe install a chalkboard to write grocery lists or other reminders. Each square can be something different, or you can keep it consistent. It’s completely up to you. Get creative. Maybe add hooks for coats to the bottom of the window. Do whatever you think will most suit the piece and the person you’re giving it to.

To finish up, add a hook or hanger to the back so it can hang from the wall, make sure it looks the way you want it to and voila! There you have it: a personalized gift that is straight from the heart, not the shelves of Target.

Related: Best Unique Father’s Day Gifts

Adrian Schramm is a resident Saint Paul writer with a passion for all things local. Through his work with Saint Paul Almanac and Minneapolis Examiner at, as well as in the kitchens of bars and restaurants around town, he has discovered what truly makes the Twin Cities tick.