Forget the gift card. We suggest the opposite approach — something that is one-of-a-kind and created locally. New England is chock-full of creative, cool, gift-worthy items. As Vermont glass artist Eve Passeltiner puts it, “I believe that the gift of something unique and handmade strengthens the bonds of friendship and brings more nourishment and life to our homes.” Plus, many artists sell their creations at local holiday fairs and markets, which makes shopping a festive event.
If you do happen to spend time in retail stores this season, you will find New England-made items there, too, like cult favorite Badger Balm (made in Gilsum, N.H.) and those cute sailboat-shaped chocolates by Harbor Sweets (made in Salem). Here is a look at some wares that caught our eye and where to find them.
FOR THE FOODIE
Sweet Sloops Out-of-towners appreciate a gift that says “New England,” and who
doesn’t love an indulgent edible? A box of chocolates made by Harbor Sweets works on both counts. The company makes its handcrafted chocolates in copper kettles, molding and dipping them by hand. They make several types of chocolate, but we’re partial to Sweet Sloops. These almond butter crunch sailboats are enrobed in white and dark chocolate, and packaged in red and gold with a coastal motif.
Twenty-piece assortment, $19.50, in gift and gourmet shops all over New England; for stores, visit www.harborsweets.com.
FOR THE HOME
Pillows by Sheri Sheri Levine has found a genius way to combine her passion for fabrics and her love of up-cycling: making decorative pillows. “Having been in the drapery business for the past 30 years, I have access to beautiful high-end fabrics that might otherwise be thrown away,” says Levine, who lives and works in Natick. “I love the challenge of creating a pillow around a small piece of fabric that could easily retail for $100 per yard.” Levine charges far less than that, selling directly to customers at marketplaces and through a few local shops. This is a great gift for a friend who lets you sleep on the couch now and then, or the person who is outfitting a new home.
$20 and up, at Urban Exchange, South Boston; the Garage Sale, the South End; Kalembar Dune, West Roxbury, and more. Also at craft shows; visit www.cantresistpillows.com for a list.
Eve Passeltiner, Glass “It’s like making a collage using layers of glass instead of paper, and then the glass is fused in a kiln,” says Eve Passeltiner of South Wheelock, Vt.,
describing the process of creating her vibrant kiln-formed glass items, including platters, coasters, and wine bottle stoppers. We love her sleek sushi sets, sold as a pair with a 10-by-5-inch serving dish and a 3½-inch-square sauce dish, a gift that definitely adds a little oomph to take-out sushi.
Sushi set $115 at Exeter Fine Crafts, Exeter, N.H.; Artisans’ Gallery, Waitsfield, Vt., and other galleries, www.evepasseltiner.com.
Mosaics by Ariel Tiny bits of broken glass become gem-like facets of a dazzling whole when Ariel Finelt Shoemaker of Needham works her magic on them. In Shoemaker’s hands, the ancient art of the mosaic feels brilliantly contemporary. You get the sense she could cover anything in tesserae (glass tiles) and make it look fabulous. One of Shoemaker’s mosaic mirrors would make a wow-worthy gift for someone with exquisite taste.
Mosaic mirrors, $180 and up, at the Celebrate Newton holiday crafts fair (www.celebratenewton.com)
Dec. 2, and at artist’s holiday show Dec. 8, www.mosaicsbyariel.com
PERSONAL AND PRACTICAL
Badger Balm Packaged in retro-looking tins (did someone say stocking stuffer?), Badger Balm is made using a traditional New England recipe. The ingredients would please the most eco-conscious soul on your gift list: Badger’s hand-and-body balms, lip balms, and sunscreens are made with certified organic extra-virgin olive oils, essential oils, butters, minerals, and beeswax. No wonder magazines like Vegetarian Times wax enthusiastically about products made by this family-owned business. Their original product, Badger Balm, has a lively, woodsy aroma and quenches dry skin amazingly well. It’s a thoughtful gift, because whose hands and feet couldn’t use a little love this winter?
$5.99 and up at Whole Foods, REI, and other retailers, www.badgerbalm.com
Plum Island Soap Co. At a tiny shop on Plum Island they make and sell 150 all-natural bath and body care products. New scents include tangerine-wintergreen and vanilla spice, but you won’t go wrong with Island Spice Soap, made with cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, with a nice, scrubby texture.
$4.75 and up, 205 Northern Blvd., Plum Island, www.plumislandsoap.com
FOR SPORTY TYPES
Grain Surfboards Mike LaVecchia started Grain Surfboards in a garage in York, Maine, hand-building hollow wooden surfboards using locally harvested, sustainable woods. Granted, a $1,750 surfboard is a major gift, but they also sell DIY surfboard kits (now there’s a winter project), and a product that really caught our eye: six-ply skateboard decks, using maple and leftover cedar from surfboard-making. The skateboards are environmentally-friendly, rugged, and they’ve got a great retro look — perfect for that super-cool, too-old-for-toys kid on your list.
Skateboards $250 with truck and wheels, $115 deck only at the shop at 74 Congress St., Portsmouth, N.H., www.grainsurfboards.com
Tater Wear Fleece Kiddie Hats
Yep, kids are cute as the Dickens — and cuter still when wearing a little fleece beanie topped with a flower, a moose, or a lobster. These soft, colorful, whimsical caps are designed by Lisa Segal of Rye, N.H. She makes the toppers, and works with a seamstress in Maine who makes the cap part. Hats come in four sizes, ranging from newborns to size 8 plus — the biggest ones might even fit a madcap grownup with a smallish head. The lobster hat is a bestseller, Segal says.
$20-$25 at craft fairs and festivals, and at G. Willikers Toy Shop in Portsmouth. www.taterwear.com
Vermont-based knitter Marianne Wakerlin started Solmate Socks in 2000, based on the premise that “life is too short for matching socks.” Hers — designed in Vermont but now made by a mill out of state — are multi-patterned, colorful, and purposely mismatched. We love the fact that the kids’ socks come in sets of three — a pair and a spare ($20.) They even offer a “sock of the month club.”
$20 at Firefly on Newbury Street, Crafty Yankee in Lexington, and other stores; www.socklady.com.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.