Patchwork Placemat and Napkin: Simple gifts for kids.






Lupine turns five in just a few days. Which means she wants a party, with three of her closest girl-friends ("Just the friends who like to dress up really, really fancy, like me." It's a very short list.) I took a bold step this year, penning on the three party invitations: "Lupine requests a small friend-made gift or simple craft supplies (glitter, ribbon, etc.)." What will the parents think? I was a little nervous but felt it was a good way to approach her birthday celebration in a way that would meet everyone's desires.

The point of a gift is to bring joy, but a year later if the gift is relegated to the back of the closet, the local thrift-store, or the landfill, why bother? So I found my courage and asked for something specific. And it was well received, by parents from all walks of life. No one raised an eyebrow, at least not openly. And Lupine will get gifts she treasures, that are open-ended, and nourish her creativity. I think it's a win-win.

This weekend we attended the birthday of another five-year-old friend. As Sage, Lupine and I discussed what to make, buy, or gift from our own collections Lupine said, "But mama, does he really need any toys?" She was right. He didn't. So Sage decided to share a plant start from his favorite houseplant (filling a pot with soil, cutting a branch, dipping it in rooting hormone, and planting the branch) and Lupine and I made him a special placemat and napkin. Because it is special, but useful. It doesn't feel like just more stuff.

Do you need to give kids flashy toys from a big box store? I don't think so. This little guy's eyes lit up when he saw the gnome fabric (Gnomes!) and he used if for his birthday dinner. I suspect it will get plenty of use without becoming one-more-thing to pick up off the playroom floor. It was a quick and affordable gift (simple patchwork from fabric from my stash), and I would love one for each of my kids too. But I think I'll wait. I'll save it for a gift some day down the road. 

29 thoughts on “Patchwork Placemat and Napkin: Simple gifts for kids.

  1. nannergirl says:

    I love this idea Rachel. Good for you for asking for things Lupine will actually use and love. I have tried this with family but we still get too much. The girls and I take some things to the local women’s shelter. And my mother in law, who actually takes things out of packages and cuts off tags, well a lot of her gifts end up being donated. Hope your girl’s birthday is wonderful 🙂

  2. Robyn says:

    We struggle with this too. We get so much, no matter how many times i say “she really doesn’t need anything.” i’ve started to give the close family members, who want a specific list, a list of higher quality, and usually more expensive gifts, in the hopes that they will give her less volume of stuff. we’re also going to tell some extended family that we are no longer exchanging Christmas gifts and are not having a large birthday party this year, to try and cut back. i know some feelings will be hurt, and that really bothers me, but i have to do something. it’s getting ridiculous.

  3. Sandy says:

    A couple of years ago, being short on funds, I baked my grandson a lunch bag of cookies for his 7th B-day. To my amazement, he was thrilled. This year, he even requested them! I love the fact that he actually remembered my gift. Now, for Xmas, I’m going to use your idea. Thank you!

  4. Stacy Levenhagen says:

    My son had his 4th birthday party this past Saturday. Although he did receive a game and some Legos he also got a lot of new clothes (we don’t usually ever buy new clothing-only used). Many of the clothes have gift receipts and I will probably return them for in store credit. The only problem is that I have no idea what to do w the credit…

    I am looking forward to seeing family over Christmas but I am nervous about the unnecessary showering of gifts my children will receive. At home we try to keep gifts very limited but once we get to grandma’s house the idea of valuing relationships over things gets pretty skewed.

  5. Heather MK says:

    I just have to say, I love the gnomes! My boy and I were out cleaning up the yard this weekend, getting ready for the coming winter, and he carried one of our little gnomes around with him like it was his new best friend. 🙂

    I also really like the idea of requesting more meaningful, simpler, handmade gifts for Lupine’s birthday!! It seems fitting and I know I would feel excited about the opportunity for this kind of gift-giving!

  6. Lauren says:

    I am the same way about birthdays! I never buy other children toys for their birthday anymore, I usually sew them a pair of pants or simple skirt gender pending, and the parents always get so giddy over it lol. The kids like it too! I decided with my 3rd sons first birthday that I was gonna request natural toys that nourish learning creativity and less obnoxious blinking lights and for the most part everybody did well except for a few. I felt insecure about making a gift requests but down here, the gifts can get crazy and I am no stranger to the thrift store, I even threatened my mother that if she loaded them down with crap to not be surprised when she never saw it. Harsh? yes. Necessary? yes.

  7. Cassandra says:

    Hallelujah! Love this post! I feel exactly the same way about gifts that end up being stuck at the back of the closet in a few weeks. I wish everyone had this philosophy when giving or getting gifts. I have found a trick to minimize the gifts that my mother buys my boys. I tell her that they need a bookcase for their rooms or a beautiful little wood table and chair set for crafting. This way she spends her money in one lump on something fabulous instead of on ridiculous amounts of blinky electronic toys.

  8. Spalva says:

    Those are beautiful!

    My little one turned six a few weeks ago. Her friends’ parents have vastly different values. I considered asking for paper or fabric, but I didn’t have the guts. I was so worried about the kinds of things that were going to enter our home. It turned out all right. Not great, but not horrible. Mostly she was given crafty things, though all plastic. She did get some Pet Shop animals, though. Sigh. I knit her a shawl, and had a nature bag made for her.

    I’d like to make these placemats…and I may try by hand…or I may just wait and cross my fingers that Santa hears my plea for a sewing machine!

  9. Rachel Wolf says:

    What about using the store credit to buy supplies or clothes for a shelter or charity? Your kids might get a kick out of it and it would be a way to do good and teach paying it forward to your little ones. It could become a post-holiday tradition!

    ~ Rachel

  10. Rachel Wolf says:

    Lupines friends are a mixed lot of wonderful children from wonderful families. Some live in very different worlds than we do though. Last year she received – and loved – a Barbie. When she accidentally broke off its legs in a crazy ballet pose I didnt try to fix it. We passed it on… So this year I wanted to be proactive. Craft supplies didnt seem to hippie-dippie for her more main-stream friends and will be something well love to have here, too. 🙂 (Have you tried asking around for a used sewing machine? I asked and one appeared on my door within two days. Just an idea!)

  11. Rachel Wolf says:

    Lauren, This is so sticky. And it was with my parents when I was small, too. I have vivid memories of a tree piled with gifts for my sister and I at my grandparents house. Because of this experience my parents are extremely respectful. I am blessed. Good luck!

  12. Rachel Wolf says:

    Great idea, Cassandra. We do money for lessons or an event (say ballet tickets or a road trip with the grandparents) too. That they love because they share the experience with the child.

  13. Marlo says:

    I love this idea. I want to do it, but my husband is worried people will think it is weird. We’ll see. I just *really* don’t like all the junk people give and my kids never even play with it. I have tried to request no presents before, but somehow that NEVER works. Sigh. My two oldest have birthdays coming up in the next 2 months, so wish me luck. I keep making gifts for other kids and I think that maybe someday people will follow my lead.

  14. Denise says:

    Rachel, the placemat/napkin set has been more than *loved* over here. It has been used at every meal since it arrived and I have to place his plate just so that he can see the gnomie. It is still much too special to share – in fact, Cedar requested that I make Amara her own so that she stops wiping her sticky fingers on his!

  15. Cheryl says:

    Really lovely! I recently saw someone, somewhere (how’s that for credit) talking about how they don’t really remember what they got for any given christmas or birthday but the out of the blue gifts on the other hand were hard to forget. Thinking it over I really must agree. Overdone that too would lose it’s magic I’m sure. We still make sure there is a little something to open on the big occasions but
    I think I’ll save larger gifts (like the pully system we have planned for getting books and such to the top bunk)for some day just because.
    p.s. partially on your recommendation I got a tune up for my old hand-me-down sewing machine. Turned out the needle was installed backwards causing all the weirdness that gave me pause in spending tune up money in the first place. Works like a charm now! Just finished shades for the boys room, first sewing machine project since high school – maybe looks like it a bit too but better than the blanket we had nailed up before 🙂 Thanks for the nudge!

  16. Spalva says:

    Yes, we had the disappearing broken-after-one-day Barbie (a fake one, actually) on her 5th birthday. 🙂

    Oh, I wished I lived in the States where I could just go to a thrift shop or ask around, but I live in eastern Europe and don’t speak the language. But perhaps I’ll ask around at school.

  17. Gypsy Forest says:

    Such a perfect and wonderful idea and an inspiring bit to read. We live away from family & move every three years or so…. this lifestyle has made it so we typically have very small birthdays, usually just with our own selves. We miss family, but the simplicity of this is so perfect. A few years back we made a similar request for our kids during the holiday time of year. It was well received by most….. but after doing it the relief I felt in at least being honest with everyone was SO good. We request a simple handmade item, art supplies or books. Now our holidays are so much simpler and contain a lot less “stuff”. It’s so good 🙂

  18. Mikaela says:

    A problem definitely worth of of thought, for adults and children alike, because it doesn’t go away when we stop having birthday parties! When I was young, my mom invented the “recipe gift”: for years we gave our friends a book that featured a food or recipe, and all of the ingredients for that recipe (to be opened food first, book last, to build suspense). “Thundercake” by Patricia Polacco and “Anna’s Summer Songs” were two of our favorites, along with the eggs, butter, flour, sugar, etc. to make the recipe.

  19. Pamela R says:

    My kiddos love their placemats and napkins. They couldn’t have been more thrilled with those gifts. Plus, they are practical and sweet and SO EASY to launder. 🙂

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