In our tech-savvy world, where gift giving often means putting a bow on sleek smartphones and tablets, we can forget that some of the best gifts of all are handmade.
Several Boston-area businesses offer do-it-yourself workshops sure to conjure creative and personal gifts. They also provide an afternoon away from the hustle of the holidays.
LETTERS BY LIZ
With the onslaught of e-mails, texts, and e-cards, there’s little time left for handwritten notes. And with store-bought holiday cards costing $3 to $5 or more, many people forgo notes altogether. But for those who want to make their lettering especially lovely, there’s Liz Roessler, calligraphy expert.
“Her class takes me back many years and brings back the importance of connecting to one another,” said Monica Truettner, a student who recently completed a beginner workshop.
Stepping into Roessler’s cozy studio in Boston’s Leather District is like walking into an artsy living room. On her walls are fine handcrafted cards, all whimsical words and letters. A long table in the center of the room is lavished with acrylic paints, glitter, and paper. Roessler plays the host greeting students with muffin bites, refreshments, and a furry blanket on your seat.
“I love welcoming students to a relaxed and interactive workshop filled with festive colors of ink, card stock, envelopes, and embellishments,” she says.
Roessler has worked as a professional calligrapher for 20 years and for the last two, she has been sharing her talent with others. She specializes in a dip pen style of the fine art. “It’s a sophisticated version of calligraphy,” she says.
The artist teaches beginner and intermediate sessions, as well as several holiday-inspired workshops through December. In the two-hour session, you’ll practice basic lettering, play with inspirational quotes, and take home a dip pen, acrylic ink, and alphabet sheets so you can practice at home. Classes cost $75 per person.
118 South St., Boston
WEAVE, BEAD, AND CROCHET
On a sunny day, the floor-to-ceiling windows at Bead + Fiber reveal the charm and warmth of SoWa, home to art galleries and open-air markets. In her glass enclave, owner Andrea Garr is surrounded by balls of yarn, bolts of material, and endless beads. Displays are strewn with bold colors and beautiful textures.
Garr opened her doors in 2008, but has had a studio in the South End neighborhood for 15 years. She offers classes in jewelry making, beading, crocheting, and weaving. You can learn to wire up a pair of drop earrings for mom, crochet an infinity scarf for a cousin, or weave a blanket for the new baby in the family.
“For the artist, the process of creating is rewarding and allows them to focus on the recipient,” Garr explains. “To the recipient, it says you have taken the time and given part of yourself to create a thoughtful and special gift.”
460 Harrison Ave., Boston
GO TO CHOCOLATE SCHOOL
For the chocolate connoisseurs on your list: learn how to roll and dip the sweet treat they love at Boston Chocolate School. Executive pastry chef Dorian McCarron teaches the art in a 2½-hour workshop that’s both educational and interactive.
You’ll practice piping, shaping, and coating truffles into candied perfection and dabbling with robust flavors such as milk chocolate, raspberry dark chocolate, and caramel dark chocolate. Depending on how many sweets you consume during class, you should walk away with approximately 20 chocolates.
“Artisan style gifting has been lost,” McCarron says. “You give someone your time when you give them a handmade gift.”
Whether she’s sipping on a mocha-infused beverage or snacking on dark cocoa, this self-proclaimed chocolate addict knows a thing or two about the treat. McCarron was a winner on the Food Network’s “Sweet Genius” cooking show and confesses he has eaten the confection every day for more than a decade. “Chocolate has been a good buddy of mine, and dark chocolate is actually a health food.”
In this month’s class (scheduled for Dec. 21), you’ll work with colorful sugar and peppermint just in time for Christmas. Workshops are held at the Elephant & Castle and cost $75 per person.
Elephant & Castle, 161 Devonshire St., Boston
WHIP UP SKINCARE PRODUCTS
If there are family and friends on your gift list who are fans of lotions and lip balms (especially in the winter months), then “Luscious Lotions, Simple Salves” is the hands-on workshop for you. Iris Weaver, an herbalist for decades, teaches the techniques needed to make natural skincare products, perfect for gift giving.
With step-by-step instructions, you’ll whip up a moisturizing lotion, healing herbal salve, and lip balm in this three-hour class. Don’t forget to add essential oils and natural flavors for an aromatic zest.
For those with sensitive skin, organic products are attractive alternatives to store brands as they’re free of many chemicals. And making products by hand ensures quality while adding a dollop of love. “When I get a gift that someone has handcrafted for me I am deeply touched,” Weaver says.
The class costs $58 and will take place on Dec. 8 at the Boston Center for Adult Education.
122 Arlington St., Boston
PAINT A MASTERPIECE
Channel your inner Degas into a gift-worthy masterpiece at The Paint Bar. Jill Kerner Schon and Jackie Schon are the mother-daughter duo behind this art oasis.
This month, you can choose to paint a number of holiday-inspired scenes. Paint a stack of presents or a cozy cat. Better yet, enjoy a glass of wine while painting a Tuscan vine. The instructors aren’t only professional artists, they aim to entertain.
“You feel like you’re at a party before class even starts,” Schon says.
This time of year, hitting the mall isn’t exactly relaxing. But spending a few hours creating can be. And a painting makes a lovely gift. “It is very personal and obviously one-of-a-kind,” Kerner Schon says.
Classes open to the public cost $35 per person and private parties cost $45 per person. Beer and wine can be purchased by the glass.
248 Newbury St., Boston
823 Washington St., Newtonville
THE GIFT OF GINGERBREAD
On weekends through Dec. 22, Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar in Medfield teaches kids how to design and decorate gingerbread houses.
Executive chef Brendan Pelley and his team assemble sheets of gingerbread into delicious dwellings. When apprentice pastry chefs arrive, with parents in tow, they select from an array of candies before the frosting and decorating begin.
“I love seeing the kids eat as much candy as they use to decorate,” Pelley says.
With holiday decor illuminating the room and festive music in the air, the space radiates tradition. “It just feels like Christmas,” Pelley says.
Classes cost $60 and include supplies for one child and one adult. This workshop is recommended for children 5 years and up.
21 North St., Medfield