Buy less gift guide: Arts and crafts gifts that aren’t expensive

Handmade holiday gifts can be “found art”. Here are project ideas using recycled and low cost art supplies.

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Isabel Brown

By creating arts and crafts, you can make great holiday gifts for loved ones that require neither much money nor much reliance on the supply chain. Many of these gifts can be “found art.” According to New York’s world-famous Museum of Modern Art, a “found object” is “an object—often utilitarian, manufactured, or naturally occurring—that was not originally designed for an artistic purpose, but has been repurposed in an artistic context.”

Found objects you can use to create your masterpiece

Reclaimed canvas

Canvases for painting can be really expensive. Instead of heading to the craft store, you can check your local thrift store for ugly paintings to paint over. Many of these come with a custom-fit frame as well, which you can also clean up or repaint. When searching for ugly pieces to paint over, look for paintings where the paint lays flat on the canvas. Textured brush strokes can be difficult to cover up without sanding them down first.

Potato stamps

If wrapping paper is in short supply, try making your own. All you need is a potato, a knife, some paint, and some butcher paper. Carve the potato into a shape or design that you like. Then dip it into the paint and stamp it on the paper. You can also use this technique to make personalized stationary with that recycled paper you made, or even holiday cards. This is a great craft to do with kids or family members of all ages. Here’s an online tutorial for stationary.

Macrame plant hangers

These are very in-style these days. A plant can be a great holiday gift for someone who might want to take care of something living that doesn’t require as much effort as a fish or a dog. If you’ve propagated a plant and put it in a fun hand-painted flower pot, you can jazz it up even more by adding a macrame plant hanger. These are beautiful hanging in a window or outside on the front porch. There are endless patterns you can follow with varying degrees of difficulty. This online tutorial is for beginners. You can find rope at a craft store or you can see if there’s any laying around in your garage.


Speaking from personal experience, crochet is easier than knitting. Here are some decorative pillows I made using reclaimed yarn that I bought at a thrift store. Although it can be a  bit  tedious, one hack for getting nice yarn for cheap is to buy a sweater second hand and unravel it. You want to look for a sweater that isn’t too matted and will unravel easily. Some of the yarn used in these pillows is high-quality merino wool, which can cost up to $20 a skein if you buy it new. Here’s a video tutorial for how to unravel a sweater.


Jewelry is always a popular holiday gift. Here are some easy ways you can make something beautiful and unique without breaking your budget.

Shrinky Dinks

These have been popular among kids for generations, but they’re also great for making jewelry, especially earrings or bracelet charms, for people of any age. You can buy Shrinky Dinks and jewelry-making supplies at your local craft store. You can also try revamping some earrings you already own. Shrinky Dinks are great for tracing an image from a photo. Because the plastic is a bit transparent, you can set it on top of a picture pulled up on your phone and trace it to make something beautiful. Here’s a video tutorial.

Wire wrapping

Like macrame, wire wrapping can be simple or much more intricate. This video tutorial shows an easy way to make a pendant out of a stone. All you need is wire, a stone, and some pliers. Rather than buying a stone, look around your home or neighborhood to see what pretty rocks you can find.

Support local artists

If you don’t have time to make a unique piece of art as a holiday gift, consider supporting a local artist or artisan instead of buying a gift online. This is a great way to avoid delays or shortages in online orders and support one of your neighbors instead. You can find them at your local farmer’s market or in your town. A set of one-of-a-kind hand-blown glass ornaments or a portrait of a beloved pet can be really meaningful.

Buy less gift guide

Return to Buy Less, Give More main page for other gift ideas



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Isabel Brown