Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and several University of Connecticut students and local businesses are relying on their DIY talents to come up with special craft and gift ideas for the holiday.
Cayleigh O’Connell, eighth-semester political science and French double major here at UConn, is one student who has decided to enlist her knitting talents to create special, handmade gifts.
O’Connell has her own Etsy shop she started around May, and said she decided to start making Valentine’s Day items because she knows the past year has been hard on people unable to see their loved ones, and small businesses have started to get a lot of support.
“I started my shop because I realized how many people out there find the beauty in handmade items. I thoroughly enjoy crocheting, and can quite literally spend days doing it if I have the time,” says O’Connell. “Of course, it is helpful to have this as a side business because it helps to have the extra income, especially when I wasn’t able to find work before school came back in the fall.”
O’Connell said she recognizes her prices are higher than places like Amazon or Walmart, but believes that the promise of a product that is handmade and customized is worth it.
“[It’s] something that has to be taken into consideration when customers look at my shop, so your significant other will know that you felt they were deserving of an item that is handmade, not machine made, and that you were willing to spend a little more on them because of that,” said O’Connell.
On her Etsy page, you can find handmade hearts, a Valentine’s Day set of velvet scrunchies, and custom order velvet bralettes.
While O’Connell puts her knit-work on the market, another local business owner is using her baking expertise to craft some sweet holiday treats.
Renee Rebecca Stearns, who manages Stearns Farm Stand in Storrs, said the store is offering a multitude of Valentine’s themed baked goods for the upcoming holiday. Most of the items are hand-baked by Stearns herself.
The stand, which was purchased in 2015 by Renee and her husband Jason, offer a Valentine’s Day box which includes a slice of cake (with a few different options), chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate Oreo cookies, chocolate potato chips and a lollipop and popcorn, which Stearns said beats the generic Valentine’s Day box-of-chocolates.
According to Stearns, the Valentine’s Day box is a popular item. “I already have a dozen orders, and I just put them out yesterday,” she said
Anyone who is interested in one of the stand’s Valentine’s boxes should call ahead to reserve one, but customers can also come into the store and have it assembled at the stand, said Stearns.
Bette Day Hill Stern, a Mansfield resident, is breaking out the sewing machine for this upcoming Valentine’s Day, using her thread skills to create custom heart-patterned masks.
Stern has been making masks since the middle of March, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the country to shut down.
“I guess technically it’s a business, but I just started making masks because people needed them back in the day, and then after they started to become [more widely] available people were asking if they could still buy them so I’ve been just doing it locally,” said Stern. “I don’t have a store. I don’t have a shop. I don’t have anything. I just have what you saw on Facebook.”
Still, Stern said she has made and sold about 4,400 masks. All her masks, including the heart masks that are available this Valentine’s Day, are made one at a time.
As for the idea of giving a heart mask as a gift, “It’s not very romantic, but it’s certainly fun,” said Stern, laughing.