It was really a financial decision to make my holiday gifts this year.

Last year's presents were mostly on credit. My little brother: fun socks, a puffy vest. My stepdad: slippers, pajama pants. My mom: a cute dress, fun leggings. These were heartfelt purchases, all I lovingly envisioned my family wearing.

But this year was going to be different. I hadn't planned ahead on the saving front, and I didn't want holiday debt. So, I opted to make homemade gifts in the hope of gifting myself with post-holiday relief.

It started in early November. I picked out yarn to knit a scarf for my friend, Lisa. It was nice to ask her favorite color so early because it threw her off the holiday scent, I told myself. I got the bulk of her scarf finished during a long weekend of traveling and finished in the middle of the month. But as the days passed, my life turned into a knitting frenzy.

I knitted my way through two holiday potlucks, coming up in between hotdish and peanut butter bars to make the occasional eye contact. Making my own gifts meant knitting in line at Pita Pit, at a sit-down dinner and maybe even at a long red light. It meant traveling everywhere with two projects in tow and staying up until 3 a.m. so I could take advantage of Saturday shipping before the holiday.

When I wasn't knitting, I was burning the midnight oil, my easel in use for the second time since I bought it last year. For my paintings, I got a head-start when my friend Jean and I did a paint night event last month. We chose to do a cat holding a cup of coffee. The feline looked like my Mom's/my former cat, Tinsley, and my Mom drinks coffee - a perfect fit.

Through the guidance of an instructor, I crafted an orange and white kitty. In the coffee floated a foamy heart. On the cat's face rested eyeglasses that resemble a pair I own. It was the best thing I'd ever painted. (Thanks, instructor.)

I used my rudimentary skills and painted original rudimentary works for my little brother and stepdad, all including hearts like the coffee cat's. Here, going homemade meant taking PTO to get started on lil bro's painting so it could ship in time. It meant staying up past midnight on a "school night" with paint on my cheek and forearms, blow-drying a glossy purple ocean.

It also meant loving every minute of it because I was given so many gifts in the process.

So, I'm not skilled at painting or knitting. I specialize in knitted squares only. I actually throw my yarn incorrectly, and I've been self-conscious about it until I went to Yarn Harbor for help on one of my gifts. I confessed my yarn-throwing shame to the woman helping me fix a shawl.

"Does it work for you?" she asked.

"Yeah," I said. "I've made a lot of scarves this way."

"Then, you're doing it right," she said.

That was a gift.

Lisa received her scarf last weekend and left me a voicemail. I listened to it twice. That was a gift. Now there's the bonus of the internal buzzing for when the others will receive theirs. Another gift.

In the end, I made my goal of avoiding holiday debt. I saved spending on presents but not necessarily on time or worry. I had some regret, walking bulky packages into the post office, that I didn't utilize online shopping and shipping this year. But in the tizzy of all the anxiety, there was release in the playtime of creating.

I lost myself in teals, greens and purples, to gliding the paintbrush on canvas or maneuvering soft, cushy yarn around my fingertips. That was a gift.

I wonder now about self-expectation and if I'll be able to repeat my efforts. Next year, I may have a pet or the start of a family or way more commitments that call for attention. But this year, going homemade was a gift of love and self-expression that showed me things about myself that I didn't know before.

This past weekend, I picked up more yarn, two canvasses and a paintbrush that made me feel fancy. The next day, I had a flash of an idea for another painting. I have my eye on an acrylic class. With that, maybe I can get a jump-start on next year.

Melinda Lavine is features editor at the DNT. Reach her at mlavine@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5346.