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Crafting with the Collections: Ideas for the Holidays

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This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, visitor services specialist at the Library. 

It’s getting to that pre-holiday crunch period, when you suddenly realize that it’s not enough just to have collected gifts for everyone on your list. You have to parcel up and prettify them too, ready to hand out or to look fabulous under the tree and by the menorah. If you are limiting shopping excursions at the moment and have eager, creative – or simply bored – family members at home, why not make your own wrapping supplies? Yes, you could virtually chose and buy paper and gift tags or bags, but do-it-yourself versions are fun, keep kids busy, and it’s definitely gratifying to look at the finished products. Any quirks or idiosyncrasies will only add to their charm and delight the recipients!

You probably already have many of the supplies to hand; anything else can be easily sourced online. It’s possible to create cards and gift tags completely electronically, of course, but there’s something particularly satisfying and rather whimsical about using paper, glue and scissors to indulge in some old-fashioned, literal cutting and pasting.

Images of presents wrapped with tags using images from the Library
Gift tags with initials, and farm animals, inspired by the Library’s collections

Depending on what you choose to make, you’ll need some of the following:

  • Paper and cardstock
  • Scissors (pinking shears and a hole punch too, if you want to get fancy)
  • Glue
  • Pens, pencils and markers
  • Paint and a paintbrush
  • Potatoes, or a stamp kit and ink pad
  • A roll of kraft, easel, or drawing paper
  • Thin ribbon, cord, or string
  • Access to the Library of Congress website and a printer

The Library has a veritable goldmine of designs and ideas to inspire you – so many, in fact, that it can be a bit bewildering to decide just where to begin. A collection of Free to Use and Reuse sets showcases just a small sample of the Library’s digital collections, all out of copyright or in the public domain. They are divided by theme; for holiday crafting I found the sets on classic children’s books and holidays particularly useful. There are also hundreds of suitable images in the Prints and Photographs digitized collections. Refine your search by looking specifically for photos, prints and drawings, using key words such as “winter,” “gifts,” “New Year’s,” or even “cows,” as I did for the barnyard-inspired gift tags above. Over 900 colorful posters, conveniently categorized by subject, are available here. Whatever takes your fancy, do make sure to check the Rights Advisory information attached to each image; if it says “No known restrictions on publication” you are good to go.

What to make once you’ve identified images you’d like to use?

Bookplates made with items from the Library
Bookplates created from images in the Library’s collections.


Books are always a great gift, so creating customized bookplates to go with them is a nice touch. Bookplates were once common; it’s a charming custom that we should consider reviving! The Library’s collection includes some attractive examples such as a wolf and snowshoes image used by author Jack London, and two delightful children’s bookplates from the 1920s, one designed for a family of brothers and another for a young boy.

Gift Wrap

Those books and bookplates will need wrapping up, so how about some home-made gift wrap? This is a great project for all ages, simply use a length of kraft or drawing paper and go to town with markers, pens or crayons. Old-fashioned potato-printing is a good option for this activity. It’s a method that lends itself particularly well to geometric or regular patterns such as this chevron and dots combo or a printed and freehand mix similar to this design. If, like me, you haven’t done potato-printing in years, an online tutorial will quickly refresh your memory.

Holiday Cards

Holiday cards are another tradition that seems especially important this year, given that we’ve been so deprived of meeting and mixing as much as we would normally do. Homemade cards will add an extra, personal touch to seasonal greetings. It’s lovely to look back on children’s early attempts at handwriting; a wobbly and misspelled “love to Grandma and Grandpa” will surely become a treasured keepsake.

Holiday cards using collections from the Library
Cards for Christmas, Hanukah, and New Year’s, ready for a personalized message.

If last-minute handicrafts are too much for this year and will just add more angst to your holiday prep at this stage, no worries! Consider getting ahead for other celebrations – birthdays, Valentine’s Day, or any other event on your 2021 calendar.  There’s a long, locked-down winter ahead of us, and at some point some craft activities might be just what is needed. The more your family members hone their skills now, the more expert they will become at whipping up gorgeous wrappings and trimmings for themselves and others. It will stand them in good stead for years to come. Happy crafting, and happy holidays!         

This blog has suggestions for more ways to use and enjoy the Library’s Free to and Reuse sets and the digitized collection of classic children’s books here, and here. A virtual story time would be lovely way to connect with distant relatives over the holidays!

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