GIFT GUIDE: Gifts with a personal touch

Handmade crafts make for great gifts, whether purchased online or in person

By Sally Stang, Special Writer
Ho ho, oh humbug! You have more shopping to do and you are stuck somewhere between frenzy and mind-numbing exhaustion.
   In some stores, the tension is high. As wide-eyed clusters of humanity jostle frantically for presents, it feels like pillaging might break out any minute now, requiring a lot of cleanup on aisle 9.
   In other stores, things are moving slow. You do a chain-gang shuffle in long lines much like the lame-and-halt at Lourdes waiting to purchase a miracle cure — that is, the latest doll, toy or techno-gadget.
   This sort of madness sucks all the fun out of the holiday, doesn’t it? No wonder so many of us just buy a gift card or give out cash!
   But, the truth is that there are some special people on our gift lists who deserve exceptional, thoughtful gifts. Something with a personal touch, like a gift made by hand, not in a factory.
   In my own effort to avoid the craziness of malls and carefully select out-of-the-ordinary handmade gifts, I scouted out several online sources, as well as local venues, who specialize in handicrafts.
   Here are a few options for you to check out:
   I saw woodturner Bernard Hohlfeld at a local craft show in Hopewell. He has a wide selection of bowls and platters that are beautiful and practical, but also very affordable. (roundwoodstudio.com),
   Ten Thousand Villages is nationally recognized for Fair Trade principles and their green practices. When you walk in their shop, you immediately find dozens of cool things — that you want to buy for yourself! They always have a wide array of jewelry, accessories (bags, scarves, hats), home goods (table cloths, dishes) and trinkets. This time of year, they have some delightful ornaments, too. (Princeton Shopping Center, 301 N. Harrison St., Princeton, 609-683-4464; tenthousandvillages.com )
   The Sojourner, in Lambertville, leans mostly toward exotic imports from the East. It has a bohemian, “bizarre bazaar” atmosphere, which includes everything from Chinese gongs to embroidered shoes to spangly ethnic clothing. Since they are famous for their beads, a gift certificate would be a nifty idea for any beadaholic. (26 Bridge Street, 609-397-8847; sojourner.biz)
   A Mano, also in Lambertville, represents an unusual group of artists, some who have been selling their wares there for decades. Selected as a top 100 Retailer of American Crafts, A Mano specializes in jewelry, home accessories, glass, clay and furniture. Their kaleidoscope selection is quite impressive! (42 N.Union Street, 609-397-0063;amanogalleries.com)
   The Stangl Factory Farmer’s Market in Flemington has some interesting options for gifts, especially for the foodies on your list. A quirky gift might be a gift certificate from Neil’s Knife Sharpening. The market has lots of food gifts (fudge, cookies, chocolate bars) as well as handmade crafts, like soap, hand dyed spun yarn, aromatherapy essences. My favorite find was Martha Dreswick’s traditional baskets (she weaves without looking!). Impeccable and, best of all, affordable! Open Saturday from 9 to 3. (51 Stangl Road, Flemington)
   One more thought for late shoppers: Sauce for the Goose, the annual craft show at the Arts Council of Princeton, is open until Dec. 21. Over the years, this show always has something refreshing and original to offer! (102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, 609-924 8777; artscouncilofprinceton.org)
   Etsy is an online craft marketplace where individuals create their own small craft “stores.” You can spend hours searching hundreds of shops (and I have!), so it’s impossible not to find something clever or cute for someone on your list.
   There’s a charming Etsy shop called Bubbley and Buttony Shop which offers cheerful children’s dress-up accessories for play time. My young nieces would love these fairy headbands, as well as the felt crowns, capes and head gear which are impeccably made. (etsy.com/bubblyandbuttonyshop)
   Another appealing store on Etsy is Holiday Cat. Owner Cat Bachman creates ornaments using images of cat and dog heads, adding felt clothing and teeny-tiny accessories, like shopping bags, hats, jewelry. It sounds kooky, but they are rather amusing, especially when she uses your own pets’ face. (etsy.com/shop/holidaycat)
   If you have someone in your life who practices yoga, Nine Tomatoes creates an eye-catching selection of mandalas as prints, wall hangings (there’s a colorful one with the seven chakras), T-shirts and table runners. You can also have a personal mandala made for you using your own photos or drawings. (ninetomatoes.com)
   Nutmeg Designs creates lovely, glass tile mosaic mirrors, garden steppingstones and jewelry. They also make a practical gift (which could be ordered to deliver after the holiday) of your house number, which will class up your house porch or front stoop. (nutmegdesignsart.com)
   The craftsmanship of the artisans at the Novica website is superb! This company, associated with National Geographic, helps artisans (many living in very rural places) to sell in an international market. The site is set up so that you can read profiles of the individual artisans who make these exquisite, high-quality items, even interacting with them by mail. (novica.com)