Kits & Misses

May 28, 2000|By Dawn Fallik | Dawn Fallik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I lost patience with the dragonfly lamp shade after three hours. The make-your-own honey mustard tasted more like cider vinegar than honey. When the snow globe exploded in my hands, I decided that "make-your-own" crafts might mean "at your own risk."

But the lip balm project restored my confidence. More than 20 tubes of tint and peppermint pots later, I was proud enough of my "Pucker Up, Buttercup" product to share it with friends. I kept the snow globe fiasco to myself.

These were my forays into the increasingly sophisticated world of crafts. Make-your-own kits used to be about creating simple things, such as candles and macrame plant holders. They were intended to entertain homemaker moms or children at birthday parties. Nowadays, catalogs, stores and Web sites are selling higher-end products to Martha Stewart wannabes who want a greater challenge and an impressive result.

Sure, you can still make your basic candle. But you can also make a more elaborate version with three wicks and rosemary sprigs melted into the mold. Beer-making kits were hot for a while, but now root beer and cream soda are popular with the make-your-own-beverage crowd. Children's products have seen an upgrade as well -- forget the woven oven mitt; think homemade bubble gum.

Duane Butts, store manager of Michael's craft store in Towson, says, "The standard kits are being taken to a new level."

Geoffrey Godbey, professor of leisure studies at Pennsylvania State University, says the make-your-own trend will become even more popular. "Cooking for fun or making something from scratch does represent a way of engaging yourself more completely in an activity and refusing to let the rest of the world in," says Godbey, who spends his free time working on an organic garden. "It's an opposition to daily life, ... a way of giving yourself to something fully."

No one knows that better than Martha Stewart, who built an empire on do-it-yourself projects. Her catalog, Martha by Mail, offers kits, including make-your-own snow globes and stuffed barnyard animals. The idea to put together kits came in response to customer demand, says Fritz Karch, product director for Martha by Mail. Readers would see a project in Martha Stewart Living magazine and want to know where they could get the materials.

"We try and put together all the things you need and are hard to find," he says. "You get to do the fun part."

People are demanding more challenging products because it's a way of increasing their own skill level, says Godbey. "The challenge might be: Can you make strudel from scratch? So you go from buying the strudel at the store to buying just the ready-made dough to higher and higher levels of skill so that you are eventually making the whole thing," he says.

"By gaining more skills, lots of elements of life become more enjoyable: what you eat, what you grow, the quilt you put over you when it's a little chilly outside."

Leener's Brew Works, in Northfield, Ohio, offers more than 15 different make-your-own kits online. Owner Eileen Leverentz says when the store first opened in 1996, it mainly offered supplies for home-brewed beer. Then winemaking came and went. Now the store has branched out into make-your-own bubble gum, root beer, hot sauce and more.

"You see people going back to what their grandmother or grandfather did," says Leverentz. "People will come in the door and look around and say, 'My grandfather used to make his own beer, maybe it's not as hard as I thought.' "

Knitting and crocheting are the next hot kits, says Karch. But some of us less nimble-fingered will stick to the lips. Handing out a tube of "Pucker Up, Buttercup" tangerine-scented lip balm impressed my friends a lot more than the Band-Aids from my snow globe incident.

Next time, I think I'll try the make-your-own chocolate bar kit. Then at least even the mistakes will taste good.

Lip balm

Place of purchase: Martha by Mail catalog (also available online at

Phone: 800-950-7130

Cost: $38 (shipping $7.95)

Craft level: Beginner-intermediate

Kid doable? With adult supervision

Supplies/tools needed: A pot for the boiling water, lipstick shavings for color

Time elapsed: Two to three hours for 24 tubes/pots.

Good points: Easy to make and impressive to give. The kit includes enough ingredients for 12 pots and 12 tubes of lip balm, including four scents.

Bad points: It took me a few tries before I was able to get the wax into the pot without spilling it over the stove.

Other: The kit comes with suggestions for those who want more of a challenge -- I tried the stripes and the bulls-eye designs with some success.

Snow globes

Place of purchase: Martha by Mail catalog (also available online at

Phone: 800-950-7130

Cost: $32 (shipping $7.95)

Craft level: Intermediate-advanced

Kid doable? Filling the globes and making the shapes is fine, but an adult needs to put the globe together because the glass is fragile.

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