A holiday themed putz house is a great holiday craft activity to take on this year.

A holiday themed putz house is a great holiday craft activity to take on this year.

Holiday crafting is a way to bring families and friends together, creating decorations that brighten our lives during the darkest days of winter. However, if you feel like you may be falling into a crafting rut around the holidays, check out some of these ideas for new and interesting projects to try.    

Putz Houses

These models homes, often crafted with improvised or recycled materials, were brought to the United States by primarily German immigrants in the late 1800s. Also known as ‘glitter houses’, these charming holiday-themed houses take their name from German-American vernacular usage of “putz”, which roughly translates to “to putter around”, referring to how putz house crafters continually make improvements and tweaks to their creations during the holiday season.

Construction of a putz house is easy, requiring only an X-Acto knife or rotary blade, something to hold it together with, and a bit of patience. Any sort of construction material can be used with recycled cereal boxes being a favorite among many builders, though matboard and other thinner cardboard will work well. All sorts of plans are just a Google search away.

Traditional holiday village styles are by far the most common but, for something a bit different, check out these retro-style, Mid Century designs from Retro Renovation. After you’ve built the structure, it is time to decorate. While wintery motifs are by far the most common, there aren't any hard and fast rules to speak of.

If you live in, say, Florida, why not add palm trees and other tropical touches? ‘Found’ materials with interesting textures and patterns (think packaging and shipping materials) can make for clever fences, walkways, or simulated roofing shingles. Lighting of the putz house interiors is common and enhances the holiday feel. A single eight watt lightbulb is more than enough -- just be mindful of the heat it generates. Small LED bulbs are not only vastly more efficient but generate little if any heat, alleviating safety concerns.

Furoshiki and Alternative Gift Wrappings

Estimates vary but most sources agree that somewhere between four and five million tons of wrapping paper are discarded on an annual basis, much of it unable to be recycled due to the inks and reflective materials used in creating the bright and festive patterns. While it’s undeniable that the sight of a child excitedly tearing through wrapping paper to unveil a prized gift is part of the magic of the holiday season, reusable wrappings make for not only an environmentally conscious, but creative and easy crafting project for the holiday season.

First, you’ll need some fabric. Even the most modest fabric or crafts store will have a wealth of festive holiday prints, or you could take the more seasonally neutral route, selecting plush fabrics with decadent colors - think gold, green, and rich blues and reds.

For a more unique approach, look for vintage printed fabrics. There are loads of vendors on Etsy selling reclaimed and vintage prints. Alternatively, thrift stores can be a gold mine as well - look especially for children’s sheet sets that often feature fun and bright patterns. Drawstring bags are easy to make and can be used beyond the holiday season.

This handy guide makes this an approachable project to even novice seamsters/seamstresses. If you can tie your shoes and fold your laundry, you have all of the skills needed to practice the centuries-long Japanese art of Furoshiki, a fabric folding technique that is most often used for simple yet elegant gift presentation. There are plenty of tutorials online and this chart from the Japanese Ministry of the Environment provides examples of how to wrap all sorts of items, from the simple to the awkwardly shaped. You can even create your own fabric wrappings or use a store bought bandana or handkerchief.

DIY Snow Scenes and Snow Globes

Unless you’re among the lucky few who live in parts of the country with year-round warmth, the holiday season brings cold weather and, in many cases, plenty of snow. DIY snow globes and snow scenes are a great way to enjoy a winter wonderland without having to actually go out into the cold.

Building them is a fun DIY project that’s easy to do and perfect for involving the grandkids. Table top snow scenes are especially trendy now and require only a minimal amount of supplies. With a few tufts of cotton or other faux snow, perhaps some glitter, a few model evergreen tops, and a glass container, you have all that’s needed for a charming winter scene. Your imagination is your only limit in where to go from there.

Check antique or resale shops for unusual and unique glass jars or visit a hobby shop for an extensive selection of miniatures or, if you really want a huge selection, visit a model railroad supply website for just about any type of miniature foliage, automobile, people, or building you could imagine. Much of the same design and technique can easily be applied to making your own snow globe, albeit with some extra materials. Glitter, especially blues and silvers, make for ideal “snow”.

For the liquid, be sure to use distilled water, as the minerals present in tap (even filtered) water can leave unsightly deposits on the inside of the container. Add a few drops of glycerin, which is usually inexpensive and available at pharmacies and natural food grocers, to add viscosity to the water, creating the desired effect of gently falling snow. Jars are ideal here as the decorative elements can be easily glued on the inside of the jar lid - just be sure to use an oil-based adhesive or marine-grade epoxy that will not degrade when in contact with water.