It's a risky business. Choosing a handcrafted gift isn't as safe as giving a best-selling book or the world's most popular perfume. You're putting your taste on the line when you select something one of a kind.
But a special item, made by hand, can be the ideal solution if you're tired of giving the predictable gifts this holiday season -- you know, the same boxed scarf or slippers that you can find in every store.
Handcrafted gifts with a fashion flavor can be unearthed at craft galleries, museums and at the many holiday bazaars and sales. Even mass market stores and malls vary their usual fare this time of year by adding such specialty items.
Jewelry is the largest category of handmade gifts in the fashion and beauty area. And the selection is vast.
Priced to sell: Prices range from under $10 for a pair of brass earrings up into the thousands for a necklace wrought in precious metals and stone -- sometimes in the same store.
At the lower end of the price scale are whimsical laminated paper jewelry pieces that can be found at Both Ends Ltd., 900 Cathedral St. The selection includes holiday earrings and pins, such as a bright blue pickup truck carrying a Christmas tree, which is priced at $7.50.
Tomlinson's Craft Collection, at 516 N. Charles St. and in the Rotunda at 711 W. 40 St., features some very expensive jewelry, but also some in the mid and lower range, such as brass cutout earrings for $10 and porcelain earrings priced at $7.50.
Heavy cardboard painted with colorful enamel is the basis for inexpensive and lightweight earrings at Zyzyx, a new arts, craft and jewelry store recently opened at 6 Woodholme Village Court. Priced at $16, these earrings feature brightly painted abstract faces -- a gift equally appropriate for a teen-ager or a light-hearted adult.
At Zyzyx you can also find unusual mechanical geometric earrings by artist Eve Kaplan that can change shape according to your whim. Prices are from $20 to $25.
For the environmentalist on your list, you'll find brushed metal earrings and pins that come complete with sayings like "cherish the earth" and "listen for the birds," from $36 to $46.
Hometown charm: When your gift happens to be the work of a local Baltimore artist, an extra element of charm is added. But you may have to ask the sales staff which jewelry is local, since the origin of a piece is not always indicated.
The recycled jewelry of artist Regina Smith will be showcased along with that of other local craftspeople at a special shop called Christmas at the Waterfront, which opens tomorrow at 1610 Thames St. in Fells Point and will remain open until the end of the year. (Call (410) 675-8560 for hours.)
Ms. Smith uses unusual materials such as old watch parts and bits of costume jewelry found at flea markets to make such one-of-a-kind items as bolo ties, jewelry boxes and picture frames. Her prices range from about $20 for a barrette.
If you have something of sentimental value, like some English coins from a trip or a piece of family jewelry, she'll even create something just for the person you have in mind.
Other local artists can be found at such places as Femme in Brown's Arcade in downtown Baltimore. Here you can find hand-painted molded clay and bead earrings by Terri Kernan between $15 and $25 and the sterling silver wire and glass tube work of Barbara Levy, priced around $30.
One of the newest area artists to be found at Tomlinson's is Rebecca Hanna, who makes assemblage jewelry in which she might incorporate something like a hand-painted photo into a beaded Victorian locket. Pins are from $30-$40 and necklaces $150.
Craft Concepts in Greenspring Station recently began carrying the silver animal jewelry of Flannery Design of Baltimore. A copper cat with a quizzical expression sports sterling silver wire whiskers and is priced between $36 and $52 depending on size.
Here and at other craft galleries in town, you'll also find the work of some of the area's most established artists. Among them are Mary Kay Dilli, who makes beaded and woven bracelets and necklaces, and painter Joan Erbe, who creates colorful pins with eccentric faces.
If you're unsure about the taste of the people on your list, you might ask store owners about items that have been popular.
The work of Kevin and Kate Plunkett has been so successful at Tomlinson's that owner Ginny Tomlinson has carried it continuously since she first began buying crafts in 1973.
She describes the work as a "pure, simple Scandinavian look -- very classic. The Plunketts make lovely little pendants in silver or gold, and each is individually set with maybe an amethyst, a garnet, pearl or opal. They make a great present for a man to buy for his teen-age daughter, because they're not too adult, but they last. And 20 years from now it will still be a beautiful piece of jewelry for her to wear." Prices are between $36-$150.