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I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who turns the corner after Halloween with a solid plan for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m not talking about food (for once) or travel or money. I’m talking about crafting.

If you’re like me, you’ll see great ideas in Real Simple or Martha Stewart Living or on my new favorite time-suck, Pinterest, and you’ll think, “Oh, [insert name here] would love a [insert name of adorable hand-made gift here] for Christmas!” And if you’re also like me, that’s as far as that thought would go. Amid the chaos of everyday life, that thought would float away like a balloon you let go in a parking lot, fading until hours later, you’ve forgotten you ever had a balloon/thought.

And so it goes.

But not this year! One of the most common pieces of advice a military spouse (or at least, this military spouse) gets when their other half is away for training is to stay busy. And since Amanda has been out to sea for the past few weeks, I’ve been staying busy with making gifts.

I took home economics in high school, during which I made a rather decent-looking baby quilt, a pillow, an apron that my mom still has, and a pair of boxer shorts that was such a catastrophe of stitches and tangled thread that my teacher sat down with my work in her hands and began tearing at it with her seam-ripper, shaking her head and muttering under her breath the whole time. Ever the patient woman, she sat down at the machine and quickly transformed the mess into functional boxer shorts. I have no idea what happened to said shorts, and that was the end of my sewing career.

But recently, I bought my first sewing machine, which now sits atop the sewing table I inherited from my Grandma. And with that acquisition has come my greatest shame/guilty pleasure:  the fabric store.

The closest one to me is Joann’s, which draws me in with their shelves upon shelves of fabric and ribbon. And y’all:  I love this store. I love that all the little tools that help you sew are called notions. When I think of notions, I think of ideas. How lovely that creativity and inspiration are built right into the name of the tools you use.

I also love the coupons. Holy crap. And Joann’s showers you with coupons, making it hard to stay away. I think I’m only a visit or two away from the employees starting to recognize me.

This weekend, I started on making gifts for my nieces. I found a great template and tutorial for Black Apple dolls (care of Martha Stewart), and though it’s a little time-consuming, this project is perfect for beginner sewing. The stitches are straight-forward, and if you end up getting machine-weary, it’s easy to just stitch the doll by hand (though it will take longer). The other great thing is that these dolls are easy to customize. I made the purple one tailored to my older niece’s favorite colors, (my younger niece is not even a year old and therefore is pre-verbal and has not yet communicated favorite colors to anyone), and I went for fun, funky fabrics. You can add flourishes, accessories, and paint their little faces however you like.

I’ve included some photos of the process below, as well as the link to the tutorial on Martha Stewart’s website. If you like, hop on over to Pinterest and follow me there to stay up to date on the projects I’m working on.

Pick cute fabrics for the body, and then something contrasting for the legs.

Pick cute fabrics for the body, and then something contrasting for the legs.

When cutting the legs, fold your fabric like so, creating four layers. This is important. (You'll see why.)

When cutting the legs, fold your fabric like so, creating four layers. This is important. (You’ll see why.) (I’ve used body fabric here because I ran out of leg fabric. (Again, see below.)

If you don't fold them in layers like that, you end up with a bunch of the same foot. If I ever decide to do a kiddie Rockette line-up, I'm in business.

If you don’t fold them in layers like that, you end up with a bunch of the same foot. If I ever decide to do a kiddie Rockette line-up, I’m in business.

The video recommends using a chopstick to turn fabric right-side-out, but an unsharpened pencil works great, too, and helps with stuffing.

The video recommends using a chopstick to turn fabric right-side-out, but an unsharpened pencil works great, too, and helps with stuffing.

Scrap piles are pretty.

Scrap piles are pretty.

Otis supervised the whole operation.

Otis supervised the whole operation.

Voila, the almost-finished product! She needs a face, but I have yet to find the fabric paint I need.

Voila, the almost-finished product! She needs a face, but I have yet to find the fabric paint I need.

These dolls are soft, huggable, easy to customize, and best of all, hand-made with love, perfect for a unique, personal gift.

The tutorial and template are available on Martha Stewart’s website, and I highly recommend watching the video a time or two before starting. Partly because the creator of these dolls provides simple, helpful instructions for making the dolls. Partly because it is an unsurpassed joy watching Martha Stewart awkwardly interview someone who is attempting to teach her how to make something. Painful, but entertaining.

It’s only the middle of November, and these dolls are easy enough that they can be broken down into smaller blocks of time, or done from start to finish on a Saturday, which gives you ample time to make them, wrap them, and get them ready to go for the kiddos in your life.

I can be the person I always wanted to be! I can get my act together and make some gifts! It’s a pre-Christmas miracle! I’ll keep you updated as I make a few more gifts for Christmas, including kids’ toys, home goods, and delicious treats. I’d love to know if anyone else tries the Black Apple dolls and how it turns out, so feel free to leave me a note and let me know how they turn out!