I got into the habit of making Christmas gifts by hand during my penurious graduate school days, when dollars were few and relatives were many. My father in law, who liked to encourage my domestic side, which he saw threatened by my academic leanings, had given me a sewing machine, and it became my weapon in the annual battle to produce tangible objects without spending money.
The Christmas after I got the sewing machine I made him a shirt. Intended to be worn outside the pants, the shirt was rust-colored and Nehru-collared, with a generously wide trim around the collar and cuffs. Granted, this was in the early seventies, but what was I thinking, giving such a garment to a strait-laced engineer in his late forties? Needless to say, I never saw him wear it.
A more successful DIY gift was a reclining Snoopy-type dog that I made for my older daughter\’s first Christmas. The pattern was complicated, and the fur-like material wreaked havoc on the sewing machine, but somehow I pieced it together, and my husband stuffed it with cotton until it was as firm as a rock. This dog, which was as large as the baby herself, was much loved, and grew gray and dull with age, but the seams held to the end.
The days when I could sit up half the night making gifts are long gone. But every summer, when the lavender and the roses and the many mints are in full glory, I pick masses of them, tie them in bunches and hang them by the windows to dry, thinking what fabulous potpourri they will make for Christmas.
In the fall, when I should be stripping the dried leaves and flowers from the stems and mixing them with essential oils so they will have a good two months to ripen before the holidays, I am too busy dealing with the garden produce to even think about potpourri. I usually forget about it until a couple of weeks before Christmas, and then in a panic I strip and blend and oil, and hope for the best.
This year, I\’m making sachets. Yesterday I got my sewing machine out of the deep recesses of the closet where it lives and made a bunch of little bags out of bits of leftover fabric. At the last possible moment, I will fill these bags with the half-ripened potpourri, tie a ribbon around the opening, and present them with a flourish.
The recipient will thank me, sniff the little bag, close her eyes in appreciation. Then, probably, she will sneeze. And I will bow my head and smile self-deprecatingly, as I inwardly congratulate myself on my thrift and industry.