The Homemade Mac #1: Personalized Presents

The holidays are truly a magical time of the year. As proof, I offer the following:

For eleven months out of the year my mailbox resembles a rusting, metal black hole from which only free AOL CD-ROMs and overdue credit card bills emerge. Then, every December, something strange begins to happen... I actually get mail. And not just a letter or two. I'm talking about a flood of postcards and newsletters that would have Noah running for his rain slicker. That's right, it's the annual mass mailing of children's photos. I don't even think I know some of these people; nevertheless there they are, staring back at me every time I go to my fridge.

Well, enough already. Forget photo Christmas cards. This year, with some help from your Mac and a little creativity, you can send the holiday greeting that will really stand out on Granny's mantle. (I mean, it's only fair--your child is the cutest.)

A great way to show off the many sides of your toddler this season is with a Photo Cube. To start, take your toddler's picture from every angle (yes, including the top of her head and the bottom of her feet). Don't worry about catching her in the same position--or even the same room--for each picture; the variety of shots will show off her unique personality. For a natural look, please-- please! --resist the urge to pose your child. Instead, try photographing her while she's playing or crawling after a toy.

Once the photos are developed, choose the best one for the front, back, top, bottom and both sides of your child, and scan these into your Mac--better yet, have your film processor put them all on a CD-ROM or floppy disc for you. Then, using your favorite image-editing program (Adobe's PhotoDeluxe and Photoshop LE are relatively inexpensive possibilities), size and crop each of the photos into a square. It is important that all of the images be the same size.

The trickiest part of this project is making sure that you arrange the images correctly before printing. (To see a cube template image, click here.) As a general rule, the top image for the lid should be placed upside-down. All sides of the box should fit on the same sheet of card-stock paper when printed. Make sure you leave extra tabs on the ends of the panels for gluing. To finish, cut and fold the printout into a cube. For a sturdier box with a separate lid, another option is to print out the photos and glue them onto a small ready-made box. ( See an example of a box template in action.) In this case, you will print your photos on two sheets of thin, photo-quality paper--one for the main body of the box and another for the lid. After you have attached the photos, cut off any excess paper and paint a thin coat of shellac over the photos to protect the edges against curling. (On tight boxes, you may need to forego the layer of shellac on areas where the box and lid overlap.)

When finished, Christmas cubes can be given as 3-D photographs or used as gift boxes. Glue a ribbon on top and you have a personalized ornament commemorating your child's 1999 Christmas.

Supplies: Photo-quality paper, extra ink for your color printer, glue, undecorated box with detachable lid (optional)

If you are looking for an inexpensive yet personal gift to send to family and friends, consider dusting off your cookbooks and whipping up something from your kitchen (or your favorite bakery's kitchen). Homemade fudge, for example, travels well through the mail and is always a crowd pleaser. (After all, it's a well-known fact that sweets lose all of their calories during the holiday season.)

To add a unique touch to your edible goodies, turn your child's photograph into your own private gift label. You can purchase packages of large blank labels at almost any office supply store. Then, in a page layout or image editing program, combine your favorite photo and holiday greeting into an attractive nameplate. Positioning your design perfectly onto your sheet of labels may take some experimentation; to conserve ink, be sure to use the lowest image quality setting on your printer until you have it just right. Next, pack the fudge into an attractive tin or sturdy, decorative box, wrap a ribbon around it, and affix your label to the top. Now the recipients will get to glimpse your favorite tyke each time they sample your sweets. (And after a box of fudge, your child may become their favorite tyke as well!)

A nice variation on this project is to send out personalized bottles of wine. You can remove a bottle's store label with a little soap and hot water. Then dry the bottle and attach your own label. It's a good idea to include the name of the wine on your label so the recipients will know what to expect. For grandparents you may want to send two bottles--one to enjoy during the holidays and another to save.

Supplies: Extra ink for your color printer, large mailing labels, wine or homemade treats.

If you're more talented than I am with a needle and thread and have the time to devote to this next project, consider commemorating your children's holiday with a gift that will warm more than the heart. Turn your family photographs into a quilt.

To start, scan your family photographs into your computer. Choose images from a variety of places and times. If you have other sentimental objects around the house such as ribbons, diplomas, or drawings, scan these in as well. To get your images onto the fabric, you will need to purchase specialty transfer paper. This can be tricky to find, so you may want to call around first. If all else fails, you can purchase transfer paper online from paper supply stores such as EDPS Warehouse. Before you print your images onto the transfer paper, you will have to flip them so they appear backward on your computer using an image-editing program. Once they are printed, cut out the images, going as close the graphic's edge as possible.

For best results, choose light-colored fabrics that are 100 percent cotton. You will apply the image to your cloth using a hot iron. All papers are slightly different, so follow the instructions with your packaging for ironing duration and tips. Do not wash the cloth for at least 24 hours and do not re-iron. You are now ready to make your quilt.

If a whole quilt seems a little daunting (and this is no reflection on your worth as a human), you can easily scale this project down into a pillow.

Supplies: Transfer paper, extra ink for your color printer, light-colored cotton fabric, iron, sewing materials

And that's just the beginning. For more gift ideas, be sure to check out " Crafty Creations " in the December 1999 issue of Macworld!

KATHRYN LUNSFORD is an assistant editor for Macworld's How-To section. She discovered her first hot glue gun at the age of nine. Her mother was able to repair most of the damage. Send your suggestions or tips for future creative projects to klunsford@macworld.com.

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