Party bags full of swag should reflect the theme of your celebration or provide something thoughtful for guests. They don't have to be elaborate or expensive, and one way to ensure you stay within budget is to make them yourself. If you're all thumbs or completely slammed for time, try a craft store for very small gift bags in party colors. But the DIY approach lets you customize simple bags to go with the gifts.
Gardener's Gift Bag
Stage that summer birthday in the backyard and get some help planting the flower beds. A garden-themed party for little kids should be a messy, hands-on encounter with soil and spades, and the take-home gift bag can be part of the fun. Help the guests press their hands on a paper plate of washable paint, and then "stamp" a bright flower on a plain canvas sack. A circle of handprints makes a spectacular blossom; older sibling "helpers" can paint a green stem and leaf and a contrasting color center circle on each bag. Tuck their spades and gardening gloves from the party into the bag, along with a packet of seeds.
Out-of-Town Wedding Guests' Goodies
Leave a welcome bag in the hotel room for guests who have traveled to your wedding. A cloth or string shopping bag, hand-dyed in wedding colors, might hold an individual bottle of water; a tourist guide for the area; passes to a museum or local attraction; a healthy snack; travel-size packs of tissues, bandages and aspirin; and a tube of flavored lip gloss. If the weather is inhospitable or the stay is a brief one, a drawstring burlap bag, stamped with the bridal couple's names and a "Thank You!" could contain a good bottle of wine, some crackers and cheeses, artisanal chocolates or another sweet treat, and a small, easy-to-pack regional or wedding artifact: a sports team key chain or cap; a monogrammed picture frame you will fill with a wedding photo; or a CD of the reception playlist.
Bridal Shower Booty
A shabby-chic bridal shower is charming, with mismatched china and silver, lots of hand-gathered garden blooms, and gift bags that don't require much fuss or a big investment. Cut gingham, flowered and polka-dotted cotton fabric into bag-sized lengths to fuse together with press-on fusible tape. Pink the open edge and rip strips of the fabric to tie the bags closed -- use strips that don't match the bags, or tie the bags with lace hem binding. Fill the not-so-shabby bags with flavored or tinted lip gloss, nail polish, a travel nail kit, a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer, a small tin of peppermints, and some tinsel-wrapped chocolates or a miniature box holding two truffles.
Take-home art supplies last longer than candy, provide a fun activity for restless kids, and avoid the sugar high and crash of more conventional goody bags. Pack travel-sized crayons, colored pencils, markers or paints with a small sketch pad, colored chalk, stickers and a mini-sticker book -- whatever the age and ability of the partygoers dictate. Collect the gifts in muslin drawstring bags stamped in a different color for each guest, with their names and a simple, unique design for each bag. Alphabet letter stamps, patterned woodblocks, leaves with prominent veins or serrated edges -- anything that will make an impression when dipped in paint and pressed repeatedly against the front of the bag will do.