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Do-it-yourself gifts cost less, mean more

If ever there has been a year to give a homemade holiday gift, this is it. The economy's in the dumps and budgets are tight. Gift-givers have to be more creative than ever if they want to delight their friends and family with something unusual.

Meanwhile, business is booming in the world of homemade crafts. Not only has scrapbooking launched an industry of its own, but the notion of do-it-yourself has produced thousands of new products, services, classes, and ideas that now jostle for space on the Web and in stores.

With all these choices, the question remains: What to give? Here are some ideas:

Aprons are big this year, according to Kathy Rogers of Oak Park, Calif. These kitchen cover-ups are useful and they're easy to sew, even for novices.

"People are having fun with it; I've seen a lot of aprons with retro patterns," said Rogers, a fiber artist and teacher who is president of the California Art Education Association. "That seriously seems to be a very hot item."

Can't sew at all? Order a white cotton twill apron from the Bay Area-based Dharma Trading Company, http:www.dharmatrading.com/. They start at around $7.00 and can be dressed up with tie-dye, buttons, decals, fabric paint and just about anything else.

If you like to give your gifts early, try a wreath. Jenny Bosben, a Madison, Wis., art teacher, estimates she spends about $3 per wreath for a metal frame and some craft wire. Then she heads into her backyard to chop off a few pieces of Arbor Vitae, an evergreen shrub. If you don't have access to evergreens, boughs are available to buy at Christmas time.

Just wrap the boughs securely onto the frame with the wire, overlapping so the stems don't show.

"You can add whatever you want: holly berries, dried flowers from the backyard," said Bosben. "It's something people really enjoy because it's real and it smells good."

Homemade cards are also popular this year, according to craft store buyers. Molly Heyn-DeVinaspre, a sculptor, photographer and art teacher in Boise, Idaho, created the following instructions to create stationary from crayons:

Materials: Electric fry pan, foil, original crayons (not washable), card stock, envelopes, paper towels, hot pad or oven mitts.

Line pan with foil.

Turn on pan until hot enough to melt crayons.

Peel paper off crayons. (If working with kids have them use oven mitts to avoid burns.)

Melt or draw with the crayons on the foil until desired look is achieved; thick pools of melted crayons end up creating interesting shapes.

Place paper on top of melted wax.

Gently blot with paper towel to stick the wax onto the paper.

Lift paper off and allow cooling time.

Fold in half to create card.

Wipe excess wax off foil with paper towel and create another! Package all the cards with envelopes and tie a piece of yarn around everything.

If you're making gifts with children, try baked goods, said Laurie Nagus, who runs playgroups at the Madison Waldorf School in Madison, Wis.

Nagus likes to give homemade fudge as a gift. She also makes shortbread every year for neighbors and friends. "We give it with a candle and a tiny bottle of wine," she said.

Bosben also makes ornaments from a salt clay recipe that her mother used. Baked hard, the ornaments can be painted and decorated. Salt clay renders the ornaments both rock-hard and unappetizing to the family dog.

"The ones my mom made, they lasted forever," Bosben said.

Bosben's holiday ornament recipe:

1 cup flour

¾ cup salt

1/2; cup water

1/4 cup cooking oil

Mix flour, salt and oil with wooden spoon. Add water gradually. Shape, add hook for hanging from tree, and then bake pieces at 300 degrees for 1 to 2 hours, until hard. Paint and decorate.