My Friends Are the Gifts

I have decided that, for Christmas this year, I’m going to give only presents made by friends. I have so many friends with Etsy stores, small businesses, self-published books and music, artwork, and other things to sell, I figured why not support my pals (and self-employment) and share some of their amazing handiwork with family and my other friends?

I did a post on my Facebook wall sharing this idea and asking friends to list their wares in the comments. I got nearly 200 Likes and comments/listing of items for sale. I couldn’t list them all in this post, but here are some of my favorites, mainly products I already own or can vouch for.

Many people commented on how much they loved this idea. Half a dozen did similar posts on their FB pages. Consider doing so yourself and buying from your friends this year, or at least buying more handmade wares and self-published media. And if you do, I’d love to hear about it.


Borg Like Me (and other neat stuff) [Gareth Branwyn] Well, shameless as it is, I couldn’t sleep with myself if I didn’t first hawk my own self-published crap. My Sparks of Fire Press imprint sells my book, Borg Like Me, several chapbooks, rubber stamps that I’ve designed, mini bookmarks, and bookplates. From now until the end of 2014, buy one print book and get all additional books for half price. You also get issued a free Artistic License with every book ordered. Who doesn’t need artistic license?

garden gnomes
Combat Garden Gnomes Shawn Thorsson is a very talented props and costume maker who is a frequent favorite at Maker Faire, with his giant robots and genetically-engineered superhuman costumes. And these adorably deadly Combat Garden Gnomes! One year, I got my family “Poo Pets” (biodegradable animal statues pressed from animal poop) for their gardens. We may need to trade up in guardians of the garden lethality.

Cyberoptix Tie Lab My friend Bethany Shorb is an artisanal crazy-woman. I love seeing all of the amazing products (and fine art) she creates, and the passion and single-mindedness with which she pursues her muse. I own (and adore) several of her incredible (and spectacularly nerdy) neckties. Now she’s branched out into bowties, scarves, ascots, all kinds of gorgeous stuff. Bethany’s wares come in really lovely boxes (there’s even a wooden gift box option), making these a really special gift to give. And, as Bethany says, these are: “Ties that don’t suck.”

Goshdarnknit Notebooks For the past 11 years, I’ve kept all of my notes and (not so) big ideas in Moleskine Cahiers pocket notebooks. DC artist Rania Hassan prints her own lovely illustrations on blank Moleskines. I have several of Rania’s printed Cahier-sized books and they’re always a treat to pull from my pocket.

Zeichen Press I’ve had a mad crush on the boutique letterpress shop, Zeichen Press (OK, and maybe Fran Shea who co-owns it, along with Jen Shea), ever since I did an interview with them for a Maker Business series on MAKE. I was thrilled when they also agreed to do my Sparks of Fire Press bookplates. Zeichen does a lot of commission printing like that, but they also do an amazingly funny line of letterpress greeting cards. It’s Fran’s sharp-witted, funny, and just plain kooky sense of humor that brings out the toe-in-dirt schoolboy in me. I want to get some of those “No Soliciting Unless You’re Wrapped in Bacon” cards, laminate them, and give them out as door signs (after I snag one for myself).

TheBestCookies.Com The name of Marcia Flanigan’s company is no ideal boast. These are seriously crazy-fine cookies. One of her customers even argues that they’re so good, so satisfying, that unlike Lay’s, you CAN eat just one. But you won’t.

thingYourDoing Good Luck With That Thing You’re Doing: One Woman’s Adventures in Dating, Plumbing and Other Full Contact Sports [Karen Yankosky] Karen is a recent friend. When I saw she, an amateur writer, had self-published a book, I was supportive, and got a copy, but (and don’t tell her this), I never expected it to actually be this good! This is a very funny, charming, and well-executed book, about divorce, dating, family, home ownership, and yes, plumbing. I suspect there are bright things in Karen’s future as a writer.







gasp Tales from the San Francisco Cacophony Society [Carrie Galbraith, John Law, Kevin Evans, eds.] This item kills a lot of birds (kills a lot of friends?). My pals at Last Gasp published the book and many friends and acquaintances are in it (John Law, Rusty Blazenhoff, Stuart Mangrum, Jillian Northrup, Scott Beale, and others). The book is a beautifully designed scrapbook-like compilation of newsletters, articles, photos, screeds, and more from SF’s legendary Cacophony Society, a loose-knit group of artists, pranksters, and ne’er-do-wells who ventured out in search of “experiences beyond the pale.”






catalog-pyeNicholas & Sheila Pye Catalog [Curator’s Office] DC gallerist Andrea Pollan is an unmatched curator and DC (and beyond) arts impresario and cheerleader. Two artists that she represents are also two of my favorites, the widely acclaimed Nicholas & Sheila Pye. This catalog, published through Andrea’s Curator’s Office, features some of Nick and Sheila’s best collaborative work, along with text by Andrea and a piece by Anna Sansom of Eyemazing Magazine. This book is now on sale for $20.






Nick and Sheila Pye, Silent Flurry, Chromogenic print, 2006


Tom Haney 2015 Wall Calendar I have written about the work of Atlanta-based sculptor Tom Haney before (on and in DEVICE gallery catalogs). I love Tom’s whimsical, clever, and soulful kinetic sculptures. I may not be able to afford one of his pieces, but I can sure afford this calendar featuring his work.

Dust [John Bergin] John Bergin is one of my favorite multi-talented media artists – a comic artist, musician, filmmaker, graphic designer, and much more. This, his most recent book, is a collection of his short-form comics. I don’t have it yet, but I’m sure it’s impressive, as is most every thing this guy does.

coolToolsCool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities [Kevin Kelly] Kevin was the first writer friend of mine to get seriously into self-publishing/on-demand printing when he was already a well-known and successful author who didn’t need to go this route. His self-publishing was an inspiration to me in deciding to experiment with it myself for Borg Like Me.

Cool Tools is Kevin’s most recent self-published title and it’s a truly amazing and inspiring work. Before becoming a founding editor at Wired, Kevin worked on the Whole Earth Catalogs and Whole Earth Review. This outsized catalog is the same formfactor and format as those legendary “Access to Tools” catalogs. But this book is in full-color. I can still remember the thrill of getting my copies of the latest WECs for Christmas when I was a teen, and what a profound impact these books had on me (they unambiguously changed the course of my life). I can only hope that this similar “Catalog of Possibilities” will have a similar impact on young (or any age) recipients today.

tiny-mail-kit-2The World’s Smallest Post Office Tiny Mail Kits I’ve written about my friend Lea Redmond’s work on MAKE, Boing Boing, and in my book, Borg Like Me. Lea even contributed an original diorama photo illustration for my book. You haven’t lived until you’ve gotten one of Lea’s tiny letters (we’re talking serious charm-magick here). And now, you can make your own tiny snail mail with her Tiny Mail kits. I have one of the deluxe kits and it’s make-you-giggy awesome. Tiny stationary, tiny envelopes and mailers, tiny boxes, an 005 Micron pen, minuscule postage stamps, mailing stickers, rubber stamps and ink pads, there’s even tiny newsprint to wrap stuff you pack into your tiny parcels. Oh, and you get a magnifying loop to help you see the Lilliputian world you’re playing Post Office in.

Published by Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and "lazy person's memoir," called Borg Like Me.

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