After prowling the summer craft fair circuit, haunting the fall art shows, and visiting numerous shops selling locally-made this and regionally-made that, we’re hear to tell you: New Englanders are a crafty bunch. Talented folks put their hearts and souls into making cool things, so why not support them? Plus, your gift-giving street cred spikes when you give something unique, thoughtful, and artisan-made. (Bonus: no China tariffs that we know of.) Here’s a look at a few of our favorite finds.
Recycled sweaters made fabulous: Jack & Mary Designs, York, Maine
“(Old) sweaters talk to me. I can look at a sweater and instantly know from its weight, texture, pattern, and shape what product we should make,” says Marilyn Robertson, founder and designer of Jack & Mary Designs. The team takes donated and recycled sweaters from local thrift stores and up-cycles them into “bun warmer” mini skirts ($50), cashmere circle scarves ($70), mittens with buttons ($44), and our favorite, jaunty women’s hats made of sweater fabric and lined with fleece ($36). No two of anything are alike. They also create “memory mittens” — send them a sweater from a late friend or family member, and they’ll turn it into a pair of mittens ($50 adult-size/$40 kid-size) that you can keep forever. Now that’s warm and fuzzy. Available at Wild Goose Chase, Brookline; Joy Street Home, Concord; and online at www.jackandmarydesigns.com.
Toy trucks for earth-friendly tots: Luke’s Toy Factory, Danbury, Conn.
Colorful toy vehicles are a perennial kid-pleaser. We love the preschooler-friendly, 3-D stacking puzzle trucks designed by toymaker Luke Barber. Parts can be mixed and matched by little hands, making the trucks a more creative plaything than the usual roll-it-around model. Made in the USA, the trucks use 30 percent less plastic than traditional toys, replacing that 30 percent with sawdust collected from furniture mills and window factories. The trucks are smooth to the touch, but you can see the wood fibers. The rest of the toy is made with polypropylene. Colors are molded in, not painted on. Choices include a cargo truck, fire truck, dump truck, and more. $19.95; Four-pack of trucks, $69.95. Available at Massachusetts Bay Trading Co., Weston; Joy Street, West Concord, and online. www.lukestoyfactory.com.
At home with Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Jennie Blue Ceramics, Belfast, Maine
At an art show in Camden this summer, the Jennie Blue booth was a-bustle. And why not: Jennifer Connor’s work is whimsical and unique. The artist adds water to glaze to create washes for bisque, and then works with a fine brush to create the look of pencil drawings. Her subjects include skeletons, sea creatures, farm animals, and pitchforks. Super-hot right now: Tea towels emblazoned with a portrait of certain Supreme Court Justice with her distinctive “I dissent” gaze. The Notorious RBG rules, even in the kitchen. “Usable art can be a vehicle for discourse,” Connor says, “and my admiration for her is endless.” For each towel sold, the artist donates one dollar to a local women’s crisis center. Connor also makes an RBG platter. Tea towels, $34 for set of two; pottery, $20 to $225. Available online at www.jennieblue.com.
Peace, love & caramels: McCrea’s Candies Advent Calendar, Hyde Park
By now, you probably know McCrea’s handcrafted, small-batch caramels — even the caramel-averse swoon after that first taste of sea salt-sprinkled, buttery-sweet perfection. For 2019, they teamed up with New Hampshire artist Cindy Hendrick and Franklin Printing in Maine to create a caramel-stuffed advent calendar: A box of caramels opens up to reveal a charming kitchen scene populated with woodland creatures who are making (you guessed it) caramels. Behind the 24 doors are wrapped caramels in a dozen flavors, including cinnamon clove, café noir, and single malt scotch, along with the classic vanilla, chocolate, and maple. So maybe this is a family share-me gift? $35; available at Beacon Hill Chocolates and Eataly Boston, and online. www.mccreascandies.com.)
The more (maple), the merrier: Mount Mansfield Maple, Winooski, Vt.
Maple is having a moment, and the best way to give the gift of maple-y deliciousness — so New England — is with a little something from this 1,000-acre family farm. Go the stocking-stuffer route, with a 3.4-ounce bottle of organic granulated maple sugar ($8), or spring for barrel-aged maple syrup ($7 to $25), or maybe maple syrup with added oomph, infused with organic coffee beans, vanilla beans, or cinnamon stick (from $7.) Available at Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe in Cambridge; Debra’s Natural Gourmet, Concord; and online, www.vermontpuremaple.com.
For that Ocean State of mind: Tees by Bit & Little Bit, Providence
For a small state, Rhode Island has a lot of attitude, as reflected in the statement tees made by artist Hilary Treadwell (Bit & Little Bit), available at Craftland in Providence. We love “Don’t Mess with Rhode Island, Either,” featuring a map of Texas with its (so, so tiny) inset of Rhode Island. (You could fit more than 200 Rhode Islands into the state of Texas, we’re told.) And there’s this: “Rhode Island: 3 Percent Bigger At Low Tide.” They’re available for men, women, and children, but these tees say “guy gift” to us. Men’s and women’s tees, $34; available at Craftland and online at www.shop.craftlandshop.com.
Put a ring on it, or an oyster in it: Liza Curtis Studio, Natick
Because who can’t use a snazzy little dish to hold bits and bobs (as the Brits would say)? Ceramicist Liza Curtis creates large and small ceramic vessels inspired by gemstones and the ocean, she says. Curtis uses stoneware clay fused with glaze, glass, resin, and 22-karat gold luster to create food-safe pieces designed to hold your treasures. “I love that the elements come from the earth and can be transformed by water, fire, and air to create something lasting and functional,” Curtis says. Every step of the process of making these dishes brings me joy.”$38 for one; $58/pair; available at Five Crows, Natick; and Salem Holiday Market, Salem (Dec. 21); and online; www.lizacurtis.com.
For that fresh feeling: Cap City Soap Co., Concord, N.H.
Remember the scene in “Annie Hall,” when Alvy complained about Annie’s black soap? Maybe she was onto something; Diane Keaton looks amazing. New England has a bazillion purveyors of handmade, small-batch soaps, but Cap City Soap Co. caught our eye (nose?), thanks to unique, essential oil-blended scents such as Frankincense & Fir, a body bar made with cacao, alfalfa, hemp oil, and shea butter; Tomato and Sea Salt (it’s white, made with yellow tomatoes); Lavender and Kombucha; and Charcoal & Clay, a black facial bar made with activated charcoal. Soap queen Bridget Overson also makes a coconut shave cream ($6; a good stocking stuffer), with hints of cedarwood, clove, and vetiver. Soap bars, $7.50 each. Available at Manchester Craft Market at the Mall of New Hampshire and online at www.capcitysoapco.com.
Because who doesn’t like pizza: Taste of New Haven Pizza Lover’s Tour, New Haven
Yes, this one’s an experience, not an actual thing, but someone does make the pizzas. And they make ‘em mighty good down in New Haven. The best, they’d argue. If there’s a pizza lover on your list, this is the perfect gift: A six-hour pizza-themed walking tour that hits the city’s most acclaimed pizzerias. They’ll cover the classics, like Modern Apizza, as well as some lesser-known pie purveyors, plus local beer to wash it down. “You’ll get a belly full of food and an ear full of local history,” says owner/tour guide Colin Caplan. The tour covers four miles and samples 12 different pizzas. Need we say it: Wear your fat pants. $75 per person; offered monthly in winter, and more frequently in warmer months. www.TasteofNewHaven.com.