eco-friendly handmade gifts collage

Eco-friendly handmade gifts: difficulty, time and material, cost

I love arts and crafts. I am not particularly good at any of them, but it entertains me and I love to make gifts for my family and friends. Over the years, I have made many gifts and used different techniques to make them. 

I want to give you a list of ideas of what you can make. I will tell you how difficult each project is, how much time it might take you, what materials will you need, and whether each project is low, medium, or high cost. Moreover, I will also explain why I consider each of these gifts eco-friendly. You won’t find specific tutorials here, pick a project, and search for a tutorial that will suit your specific needs.

These items are eco-friendly for different reasons, some will prevent you from using single-use items in the future, some will help you upcycle old clothes, some are made from eco-friendly materials, some will diminish substantially the trash you are sending to the landfills every day. 

If you want to learn in-depth about what to do to become more eco-friendly, I have a series of articles on how to make your house more eco-friendly.
Start with making your kitchen eco-friendly here!
Continue with your bathroom here.
Learn how to green your bedroom and home office here.
Lastly, save energy and the planet!

The list contains these eco-friendly handmade gifts ideas:

  1. Textile napkins, and textile towels
  2. Set of textile placemats
  3. Crochet a blanket or other item
  4. Worm bin / Vermicomposter
  5. Homemade soap
  6. Upcycled bathroom rug

Textile napkins, and textile towels

Difficulty level: EASY
Time: SHORT 
Materials needed: Eco-friendly fabric (hemp, linen), matching thread, sewing machine, or needle, pins, scissors, iron. 
Cost: $
Extras: Fabric paint to decorate. 

eco-friendly handmade gifts: fabric napkins
Eco-friendly handmade gifts: napkins to reveal we were expecting a baby

How is this eco-friendly

I strongly encourage replacing single-use paper items from home use whenever possible. You need two napkins per person in the household, plus some extra for guests, to replace the use of paper napkins forever. This is why I made my own napkins, and cloth kitchen towels a long time ago. We haven’t bought paper napkins or paper towels in years.

I also gave them as a gift on a few occasions, and always got a great reactions from the receiver. We made napkins for our family members to give them as a gift when we told them we were expecting a baby.

I mark the name on each napkin, so they are personal. Alternatively, I have used different images painted over it to distinguish the owner of the napkin. 

To chose the fabric, read my article on eco-friendly fabric here.

The process

These napkins are easy to make, the material needed is easily purchased and inexpensive, and they do not take a long time to make. It’s best if you have a sewing machine, but these items could be sewn by hand as well. 

As for materials, I always use hemp or linen for these home projects, both fabrics are strong and resistant and will get softer with washing. You can find many colors and patterns available, I usually choose darker colors as the napkins will get dirty. If this is a gift, you can decorate them painting over them with fabric paint.

You can make really basic napkins, where you cut the desired size square, fold the edges twice, use the iron to help you with this, and sew the edges. If you want a more advanced model, you can sew mitered corners, it will take you a bit more work and time, but still fairly easy. Double-sided napkins can look very nice with matching fabrics and won’t take you much more time either. Pick your style and look for a tutorial if you need one.

Set of textile placemats

Difficulty level: MEDIUM
Time: LONG
Materials needed: Eco-friendly fabrics (hemp, linen), thread, sewing machine, pins, scissors, iron.
Cost: $

eco-friendly handmade gifts: Linen placemats

How is this eco-friendly

Many households have plastic placemats or placemats from materials that will deteriorate fast, so they will replace them often. Fabric placemats will last for decades if taken care of properly. Also, you can choose hemp or linen for the fabric and they will even be compostable at the end of the lifecycle. 

The process 

This project is placed in a long project category because you want to make a minimum of four placemats to give as a gift. Usually, the sets will come in six, so to make the whole set it will take you time. 

Making a set of placemat could be sewn by hand for sure, but it would require a lot of time and dedication, so for this one, I would recommend using a sewing machine. 

There are many designs and patterns to use. Pick your style from really easy double-sided placemats to quilted placemats designed from several pieces sewn together. 

The style I made for my mom and my mother in law as a gift is made of 2 contrasting color rectangles (one bigger than the other), both mitered and then joined with a decorative zig-zag stitch which looks just like a thick line.   

Crochet a blanket or other useful item

Difficulty level: EASY
Time: LONG
Materials needed: Crochet hook, eco-friendly yarn 
Cost: $

Crochet project I am working on: baby blanket
I am working on a baby blanket right now

How is this eco-friendly

If you make a blanket (or another item) from eco-friendly material, you are decreasing the chances that new items from not eco-friendly materials will be purchased for the same item. 

To make this project eco-friendly I am using organic cotton yarn, and for future projects, I want to use recycled yarn made of old clothes from a local company that I recently discovered. They are recycling old clothes and fabrics in bad shape into yarn. 

Some other options for eco-friendly yarns are raffia, which is a plant-based yarn made of the wood fiber. It is biodegradable and vegan.

Upcycled t-shirt yarn is usually made from fabric offcuts from the factories, and you can even make it at home using old shirts that you are no longer using.

You could choose to use ethically sourced wool if you don’t mind the animal sources. 

The other option is to reuse old yarn. You might have items made of yarn that you are no longer using, instead of throwing them away, you can frog them (undo them), wash the yarn, and use it in new projects.

To read more about eco-friendly yarn, specific brand, pros and cons, read this in-depth article.

The process

I have started to learn how to crochet 3 days ago. So, I am only at the begging of the journey, but the basic single crochet stitch is easy enough. I only watched a 7-minute Youtube video, and now I am in the process of making a baby blanket. In total this will take me a few weeks to finish in the afternoons, but I find it relaxing and easy enough to do while watching a movie. If I can learn this so easily, you can too. There are millions of patterns, tutorials,  books, videos for learning how to crochet, so go ahead and try it. 

Worm bin / Vermicomposter

Difficulty level: MEDIUM
Materials needed: wood boards, screws, steel mesh, electric drill, a container for liquids
Cost: $$

Worm bin / vermicomposter

I gave our worm bin to my husband for Christmas one year as a building project. I purchased all the materials and gave him a step-by-step guide on how to build it. He loved it! In my opinion, this is the best eco-friendly handmade gift!

How is this eco-friendly

This project has significantly helped our household to become eco-friendlier. Now, almost all our food scraps go to the bin and we create much less trash than before. We save tons of waste from going to landfill every year. Maintaining the worm bin isn’t difficult or much work at all. I personally became a passionate advocate for a home worm bin (even in a small apartment).

I wrote an article about having a worm bin in an apartment, where I explain everything about it. It is a guide for complete beginners. Please read it and get inspired!

The process

We made our own worm bin around 5 years ago. It is still in good condition, I expect it to work at least for another 5 years until we might need to fix it a bit. We made 3 trays, but you could be fine with just 2 trays. We always use one or two trays at the same time, never three. 

To purchase all the materials, cut the boards, cut the steel mesh, put everything together it was a full day of work for us. Maybe if you have more experience, it could be faster.

It is fairly easy, you make the trays out of 4 boards to make a rectangle of your chosen size, you put the steel mesh on the bottom and make a lid to cover the bin. We additionally purchased a plastic (unfortunately) container to collect the liquid.

Homemade soap

Difficulty level: HARD
Time: LONG
Materials needed: oils, lye, water, essential oils, a good recipe, plastic, glass, or stainless steel container (for measuring lye), another plastic, glass, or stainless steel container (for mixing lye and water), digital kitchen scale, silicone spatulas (only used for soapmaking), immersion blender (with stainless steel shaft, only used for soapmaking), silicone loaf mold (or individual molds, only used for soapmaking), knife or cutter, safety goggles, safety gloves.
Cost: $$$
Extras: micas, colorants, decorations

eco-friendly handmade gifts: Home made soap

How is this eco-friendly

You choose the ingredients that go into your soap, so you choose the best ingredients, excluding ingredients that you might consider not eco-friendly (palm oil or others). No packaging or transportation will be necessary for the final product.

The soap will be easier on your skin and on the environment. The ingredients used in homemade soaps will degrade over time in nature, so it is biodegradable. The lye is not present in the final soap, it is saponified during the process. 

The process

Making soap at home is wonderful. I always have quality soap at hand, and it makes a great present for everyone. It’s such a simple gift, but people get really excited about homemade soaps. It does require a bit of research and preparation, I think it is the most difficult one of the list.

I put difficulty level at hard for one reason. Soapmaking requires that you educate yourself. You might need to spend a few hours researching the topic. Read about the process, and understand the underlying chemical reactions. I would definitely recommend watching some instruction videos. As you have to use lye for making soap, read carefully about safety while making soap. 

If you have never made soap before, I encourage you to find a foolproof recipe on the internet and follow it carefully, measure each ingredient to match the recipe exactly. If you keep making more soap, you can learn how to make your own recipes later.

The process of making the soap itself will take around 1-2 hours. After you cut it the next day, you need to leave the finished bar to cure for around 6 weeks, the more the better. That is why for this gift, you really need to plan ahead. 

You need equipment that you will exclusively use for soapmaking so the start-up investment might be higher. However, the ingredients for the soap are not very expensive.

Upcycled bathroom rug

Difficulty level: EASY
Materials needed: non-slip rug mat, old T-shirts or even towels, crochet hook, scissors
Cost: $

upcycled rug made from T-shirts
Work in progress

How is this eco-friendly

Old clothes get a chance at one more use. They do not end up in the landfill (at least not yet) and you are prolonging their life. Also, you don’t need to buy a brand new bathroom rug, so no new items are purchased. 

The process

You need some old clothes (T-shirts work great). I asked my family and friends if they had old clothes they needed to get rid of, and some happily gave me their old or unused T-shirts. You can try and combine the colors into a pattern. Draw the desired pattern directly on the non-slip rug mat with a sharpie, so you can easily follow it when tying the stripes on it. Cut the clothes into small stripes and then tie them on the rug using the crochet hook. In the end, give your rug a nice cut if the pieces are not the same length to make it more visually appealing.

The same technique can be used to make rugs for the bedroom or any other place where you might need it. 

Have you picked what gift will you make yet? I think you can have fun with any of these projects and you can easily choose the best project for you based on your time availability and level of difficulty of the project.

After you have chosen the best gift, you might need to wrap and decorate it. I have written a whole article on eco-friendly ways to wrap a gift. Read it and get inspired so you don’t mess your green gift with plastic wrapping. In this article, I cover how to reuse what you already have in your house for wrapping, some non-traditional ways of wrapping including a Japanese traditional way of wrapping called Furoshiki. Moreover, I give tips on how to tie and decorate the gift.

If you want to learn more about what does it mean to be eco-friendly, check out this article where I cover everything from the product stages, materials, to certifications, and much more.