When finances are running low, try crafting gifts from scratch. There's a sense of accomplishment and a satisfying smirk that can't be diminished by stinging paper cuts, Super Glued fingers or the sweat invested in massive cleanups. With Valentine's Day approaching, we looked for Web sites that provide inspiration as well as easy-to-follow instructions for this holiday or any other gift-swapping event.
The crafts section of Kaboose (http://crafts.kaboose.com), a family-oriented site, includes crafts organized primarily by season and holiday. Projects are geared toward younger kids who would find making a simple love-bug pin or a pompom polar bear worthwhile. To make sure neither parents nor children get in over their heads, each tutorial is labeled with a difficulty level and a recommended starting age.
Craftster (http://www.craftster.org) bills itself as the hip, alternative crafting site. Here you can browse through member forums about anti-Valentine's Day crafts and DIY home furnishings, such as a hanging light fixture made from empty yogurt containers. All projects are user-created, and threads can grow lengthy with members' comments. This can make piecing together instructions somewhat tedious if the original poster didn't include them. But you can always add a comment or question if you can't find information.
Craft (http://www.craftzine.com), a sister publication of techno DIY magazine Make, takes on a range of projects. On the site, you can learn to sew baby booties decorated with fireflies that glow with LED lights or the basics of silk-screening. Written instructions and photos are provided with each craft. You can also download and print patterns if applicable, and some tutorials include video. Plus, a blog points readers to other online tutorials and crafting blogs.
Cut Out + Keep
Eight years ago, Cut Out + Keep (http://www.cutoutandkeep.net) was just a blog of personal crafts. It has evolved into a community-based multimedia site that includes a webzine, podcasts, message boards and more than 5,000 user-generated project tutorials. Each tutorial, labeled "How-To," includes a supply list, an estimate of how much time the craft takes and its difficulty level. The poster may include photos and brief step-by-step instructions. Once you become a member, you can collect projects on your personal page, make friends, leave comments and share your own finished projects.
For the more techno-savvy among us, there's Instructables (http://www.instructables.com). Some projects are targeted to those with certain knowledge and skills, such as converting an old radio amplifier so it can be used by an iPod and building a honey extractor from an antique washing machine. Each tutorial includes detailed instructions, images and a comments field. If the high-level projects scare you, don't worry. There are also easier ones, such as creating PVC flutes and duct-tape wallets.