In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2004
Regional Report

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Here are two of the painted tiles I made last week.

Homemade Gifts

Every summer I have grand ideas about all the holiday gifts I'm going to make from the season's bounty. Then, time slips by and I realize I'm probably not going to make homemade soap and potpourri and dried flower wreaths and chili pepper ristras and garlic braids, and so on. However, even though the holidays are just six weeks away, there is still time to make some really nice homemade gifts. By planning ahead and working efficiently, you'd be surprised at how quickly you can turn out some great presents!

Painted Tiles
Inspired by the bare sheetrock behind our new kitchen countertop, I did some research on ways to paint tiles. Although there is a paint-your-own pottery studio nearby, the cost would have been prohibitive for me to go there to paint and fire the dozens of ceramic tiles I need. However, I discovered a "bakeable" paint, called Porcelaine 150, that you apply to ceramic, then bake in the oven at 300 degrees for half an hour. The surface appears to be very durable.

Now I'm creating hand-painted tiles for gifts, using inexpensive white tiles from the local home improvement store. After I paint and bake them, I'm putting little rubber bumpers on the backs to turn them into trivets. I'm also including an inexpensive, wire, plate hanger, in case recipients want to hang them on the wall.

Painting on the shiny tile surface is a bit frustrating at first, but by working in stages and allowing the paint to dry between coats, it's a little more manageable. If you are uncomfortable with freehand drawing, use homemade or purchased stencils. Mixing in an occasional dab of metallic paint adds some shimmer to the surface without looking gaudy.

Dried-Flower Wreaths
If you planned ahead, you have some flowers hanging up in the attic to dry. If not, then there are plenty of places to buy them. Gather dried flowers, a homemade or purchased twig or grapevine wreath, a hot glue gun, a raffia bow, and voila, a homemade gift. Add some lavender and the wreath will smell as good as it looks. Be creative! Try adding berries, pinecones, dried chili peppers, or even a few odds and ends that especially suit the recipient: colorful buttons for a seamstress, for example.

Homemade Soap
I always wanted to make soap from scratch until I read about the process. It's time-consuming, requires the use of caustic lye and special apparatus, and is anything but foolproof. So I opt instead to purchase soap bases -- usually glycerine or goat's milk -- then melt it down and "personalize" it with my own ingredients. Homemade herbal infusions, as well as purchased scented oils, ground oatmeal, and flower petals, are all good additives. Pour the melted soap into inexpensive decorative molds, allow it to cool, then wrap in attractive paper and label.

Salves
Salves are just as easy as soap. Many recipes start with a mix of olive oil and melted beeswax, then offer options of adding herbal oil infusions, essential oils, or cocoa butter, for example. Pour the melted mixture into decorative small tins. Creative labels add a nice touch. I made some basic salve, then modified the label to suit the recipients -- "Gardener's Salve" for my gardening friends, "Mechanic's Salve" for my "car guys," etc.

Enjoy the Process
This time of year can get hectic, and if making homemade gifts becomes just another chore, then don't do it. Wait until things settle down, then spend a few weekends in January making homemade Valentine's Day gifts for all your loved ones. A homemade gift is welcome any time of year!


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