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They're not just socks anymore

The Christmas stocking doesn't have to be a stocking at all. How about a hat? Or a bowl?

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF, Times Correspondent
Published December 7, 2007

Glenn David Cryer is known for his artsy garden planters and fountains, such as the one above. He has even covered the side of his house in his concrete artistry. But he's not just an artist; he's also a cook. He's known for his crepes.
[Special to the Times]
[Special to the Times]

The best part of holiday gift-giving might just be the Christmas stocking. Stuffed with inexpensive trinkets, it looks great under the tree, hanging from a mantel or propped in a favorite chair.

The Christmas stocking tradition traces its roots to Germany, but American children may have started hanging woolen socks by the hearth after illustrator Thomas Nast drew stockings on a mantel for an 1886 Christmas story.

In recent years, stockings have transformed into a grownup folly, inspiring a vast selection of artisan-crafted adult stockings from bejeweled, high-heeled shoe stockings to personalized needlepoint stockings depicting wildlife art.

But why not think out of the box - or traditional sock - this year and try something different?

Interior decorator Carmen Natschke, based in Harbour Island and Satellite Beach, owns the Decorating Diva, a Web site that teaches the basics of style, design and decor. She says that you can really use just about "any kind of container" to create an offbeat and attractive version of a traditional stocking.

Natschke's suggestions?

Think of the person's hobbies or interests and go with a theme.

For a cook, consider filling a good-looking mixing bowl with pancake mix, a whisk or other cooking supplies. Take a trip to a cooking store, such as Williams- Sonoma, for ideas.

Take a fishing hat and stuff it with small, angler-inspired goodies and pin fishing lures to the outside. See Bass Pro Shops' Web site for inspiration,

For the beach girl in your life, stuff a beach bag or beach hat with thoughtful gifts for a day of sand and surf: sun block, lip balm, can huggies, a beach pillow, flip-flops and Frisbee.

Whoever said a magazine subscription is a boring gift? Natschke's sister loves magazines "but I don't just give her a gift card," she says. Instead, she suggests buying multiple magazines (of the subscriptions you're giving) and filling a pretty magazine rack. You can find them new or vintage, like the $3 1950s rattan rack spotted at a local Salvation Army store.

Explore the world of storage containers. There are entire Web sites devoted to them. Natschke suggests "going green" and lining whatever container you choose with vintage fabric picked up at a thrift store. Or, if you opt to go with a traditional stocking, trim it with that faux fur from a jacket you're no longer wearing.

For the artist who loves to paint outdoors, consider swapping a stocking for a small wagon and filling it with brushes, tubes of paint and good paper. "My husband did this for me," Natschke says. "He actually bought an artist donkey (a portable bench and easel) and filled it with all kinds of supplies that would inspire me. When I walked into the room, it all really looked great. It really wowed me."

What gardener wouldn't like a lovely pot or planter filled with horticulture-related treats? "I like to cater to the people I give to - just think what you could fill a beautiful garden pot with." Consider gardening gloves, seed packets, plastic clogs, gardeners' soap, a garden-inspired Christmas ornament, even a book to inspire, like Kate Greenway's Language of Flowers.

The Web site, an award-winning San Francisco-based small business, is closing down this year but is sharing its truly clever stocking-stuffing secrets with the world. It offers tips on stuffing your stocking of choice, whether it's traditional or offbeat.

For example, too many large stocking stuffers will cram your container of choice, so vary the sizes of your goodies. They suggest one to two large items, four to six medium items and 10 or more very small gifts. When putting together a stocking, they advise that you consider the recipient's favorite things: their hobbies, favorite foods and colors, favorite sport, and perhaps a favorite collection, such as vintage salt and pepper shakers or antique hat pins.

Other ideas to steal include creating a "tea lover's" stocking. Consider filling a large teapot or kettle with gourmet teas, a sugar spoon stirrer, a tea towel and shortbread cookies.

A practical, nontraditional stocking might include note pads, pens, pencils, candles, a magnifier, a letter opener, stamps, stationery and bookmarks.

Of course, a gift certificate to a favorite bookstore is always nice, too. Package it all up in a useful basket or a practical book bag from your Friends of the Library or local museum, tie a beautiful bow around the handles and, voila, a stocking that's different, handy and nice to have around the house, even when the holidays are over.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at

[Last modified December 6, 2007, 07:30:07]

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