Sure, you could go to your friendly neighborhood chain store and buy a boatload of stuff to deck your halls and tree. But why get something everyone else has when you could do it yourself with a little help from local art studios and galleries?
Making your own festive adornments or gifts is fun and a great holiday bonding activity if you're taking the family or friends, and it's a boon for local businesses and the planet. Not only are you supporting local artists and galleries by spending time and money in their studios, but you're also being eco-friendly as well.
You can also save a few bucks by getting handmade items without the handmade cost - sweat equity, after all, works on more than just home improvements.
Whether you're a beginner or a pro, here are four places to go to add a personalized touch to items to trim the tree, decorate your home, or present as gifts this holiday season.
Even if you've never sewn a button back on your coat, you can make DIY holiday ornaments at the Needlepoint Boutique. This Collingswood spot is both shop and studio, so you can pick up your Santa, angel or hot-air-balloon ornament pattern, or you can get help in starting a project.
"A lot of the time people don't know how to do needlepoint, but they like something in my store, and I sit down with them and give them a private lesson on how to do it," says owner Stacey Chakov. The shop hosts a group session from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, when crafters of all skill levels come together to work on projects, help one another, and gab. The group brings its own wine to sip, and new needlepointers are always welcome.
If the finer points of sewing aren't your thing, give the brush a try at the Expressive Hand, a paint-your-own-pottery studio. "You pick your own piece, paint it, leave it for a week, come back, and pick it up," says owner Abby Longo.
The Expressive Hand offers a range of holiday ornaments, including reindeer, angels, pet paws, snowmen, stars, stockings and Christmas trees, along with menorahs and dreidels. Give yourself time - the last day to paint for Hanukkah is Thursday; for Christmas, it's Dec. 21 for your ornament or gift to be finished in time for the holiday.
For a truly DIY gift, head down to Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center in Millville, N.J., to make your own glass item. You can take molten glass and shape it into a paperweight, vase, bead or bowl with the help of a master glass artist at the Glass Studio, which is a replica of the T.C. Wheaton Glass Factory. The class is open to people ages 16 and older.
If you're looking for inspiration, be there Sunday or on Dec. 21, when artist Deborah Czeresko will be making oversize, seasonal objects from hot molten glass. Czeresko and her team of elves offer three public showings on those days, at 11 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.
If the idea of DIY glass is too daunting, check out Hudson Beach Glass, where you can pick the color and pattern you want in a glass ornament, and owner Sean Gilvey (a third-generation glass blower, pictured here) will help you make the item come to life.
"You get to spin the blow pipe, and Sean molds it for you," says Emily Gilvey, who runs the studio with her husband. "You blow it up with your own breath."
It's not just for grown-ups, either - children ages 7 and older can make their own ornaments. With a little help, of course.