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Guest Blogger: Shopping Stores for Handmade Gifts

August 9, 2010

Recently, I sent my friend Kelly an email with a few questions about why she likes to give handmade gifts.  Her response to one of the questions really opened my eyes to a way to participate in Handmade Christmas that I hadn’t yet explored and was eager to learn more about. 

While visiting Danielle in the twin cities, she brought me to a great little store called I Like You, which features all local and handmade products.  I knew that stores such as these existed, but I had never considered that some other small businesses, who offer merchandise from larger companies, may offer some products that are handmade as well.  I thought you might be interested in learning more as well, so I asked Kelly, who is a manager of a Madison toy store,  to write a guest post for THS.  Take it away, Kelly!


When Heather posed the question, “Are handmade gifts purchased from other individuals more valuable/better than purchasing a gift in a store?”, I had a hard time answering.

My background lends me to have opinions about this that are different from most people.  Let me tell you a bit more.  I am a buyer for a locally owned children’s store in Madison, WI called Playthings.  I have been working there for about the last five years and a buyer for about the last two.  For those of you who don’t know about our store, I’ll tell you a little bit more.

Located in Hilldale Mall, we are a locally owned, one of a kind, kids store that has been in business for almost 25 years.  We have four different buyers, and between the four of us, we try to incorporate a variety of different products for all ages.  We are always looking for unique items, and always try to help out smaller companies, and local vendors in the community. 

Madison is such a great city, and there are many small businesses that are similar to us in ideals and values.  Besides other children’s stores, there are many stationery stores, gift shops, clothing stores, bakeries, and more, that are locally owned and value their customers. Each one offers unique items, and many of the items that they sell are locally and/or hand made.

When Heather asked me that question, the buyer in me came out.  Many of the products that we sell ARE hand made.  But you might not know it if you don’t see my end.  Our store is not like Target, or Toys R Us.  We have buyers that really care about what we offer our customers AND we have customers who care about buying local, handmade, organic, etc. 

We offer handmade gifts at our store, and many people probably don’t even know it.  Now, I suppose it depends on how far you take this “handmade” assignment.  If you are planning on physically making all of your gifts – then bravo!  Obviously you won’t be buying already handmade gifts.  But, if you are looking for something a little bit more special than a Starbucks gift card, or a college t-shirt, and don’t have the time/skills/materials to physically make something yourself, don’t forget about your local shops. 

Let me give you a couple examples of things that we carry that are handmade and would make very good gifts: 

Hopscotch Designs

image from Hopscotch Designs

This is a line of mostly dresses (and some boys clothing also) that is designed and made by two wonderful women.  They use vintage dress patterns and incorporate different modern and vintage fabrics to make the dresses.  They are all handmade in the USA.  I have met Jenn and Michelle – the ladies behind the business – and they are fabulous.  They put a lot of love and fun into each dress – and it shows!  This is what buying handmade is all about.  The specialness is what is put into each item, not where it is bought.



image from Artterro

It might be a bit controversial to call this one “handmade,”  because it is not a “thing.”  It is to me.  It is an art kit.  The woman who started this business – now co-owner – is a Madison, WI local Mom.  These kits were born out of love, creativity and a need for more open-ended, and sustainable art kits.  Forrest, the co-owner, has worked very hard on these kits, and I have had the privilege of working with her from the beginning.  She is always looking for my opinions on ways to improve the kits to make them even better.  Through the few years that it has been in business, this company has grown tremendously.  It has won multiple awards, and even had a booth at the International Toy Fair in New York this year!  AND, each kit is assembled by the people at Goodwill Industries in Milwaukee, WI.  This company is a huge winner in my book – local, sustainable, and handmade.


To me, buying handmade, can be more than just making your own Christmas cards.  If you don’t feel like you are the crafty type, it’s ok!  In my opinion, buying handmade can extend itself to buying things that are made locally and/or bought at a local independent store. 

The most important thing that counts when you are buying or making gifts is the effort and energy that goes into it.  It doesn’t matter if you spend two dollars or two hundred dollars.  Whoever is receiving your gift will be impressed that the gift doesn’t look like every other little knick knack sitting on their fireplace, or another DVD added to their rack.  They will see that you spent the extra time to find/make something extra special.

How do you find out what local options you have? 

-Check out your local farmers market.  Often times the farmers market is more there than just produce stands.  At many markets you can find local bakers, crafters, soap makers and more!  

-Check out The 3/50 Project. This is a project dedicated to keeping your local brick and mortar stores alive.  You can search this site to find independent retailers near you.  *Not every local business is listed on this site.  They need to apply to be listed, so don’t let this be your final check as weather a place is local or not*

-If you have a favorite local shop that you already frequent, ask them.  More often than not, local stores will recommend other local stores.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Danielle permalink
    August 9, 2010 1:45 pm

    I would also like to recommend Ten Thousand Villages-in Styvantsant Plaza. It is a store run by volunteers and everything they sell is made in villages in third world countries. 100% of the the money you pay is given back to the people who make that item. They have a lot of unique and beautiful things-check them out!!

  2. August 9, 2010 3:16 pm

    I don’t have any recommendations, but I do love the items you posted! Super cute!

  3. August 10, 2010 11:15 am

    I may have to check out Playthings next time I’m back in WI. I need something cute for A to wear for her 6 month pictures.

    • August 15, 2010 8:41 pm

      We have SO many cute things I would love to show you for that cute little girl that Heather always shares pictures of!


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