Trades, gift exchanges, and swaps can be quite addictive. I should know. I've done the Lucky 7 Charm Swap at Ornamentea, Bead Soup Party at Pretty Things, and a mixed media pendant swap sponsored by the magazine Cloth Paper Scissors. I even hosted a button swap here a few years ago.
These events are a chance to get a new item, make a new friend, or learn something new. If you're interested, check out past exchanges and follow all the rules, especially the deadlines. Missing a deadline or not following the rules will typically get you banned from future participation. Think of how disappointed you'd be if you sent a gift to your partner and didn't get one in return.
Gift Exchanges, Swaps, Secret Santas
In addition to online swaps, check out bead shows, craft clubs, weekend workshops, or themed events (comics, mysteries, steampunk, etc.) for possible in-person swaps. During the Christmas holidays, many bloggers host their own gift exchanges, but there's no need to wait. Here are several year-round sites to check out:
Craftaholics Anonymous Gift Exchanges
The next Gift Exchange starts June 1, 2015. This online event happens twice a year. I have not tried this one, but I like that you can see what's been given in the past to get an idea of what kinds of gifts are exchanged. See the 2014 Winter Exchange and the one from Summer 2014 as examples.
This forum for crafters offers member swaps based on crafting technique or other theme. Some current themes include ATCs (artist trading cards), "the darker side of Disney," and tiny stuffies.
If you're the do-it-yourself type, this site lets you set up a wish list to share with friends and family or start your own gift exchange. The site has all sorts of useful administrative features: making sure spouses don't draw each other, asking the person whose name you drew about their gift preferences (and staying anonymous), and how to handle adding children to the gift exchange.
These exchanges are all organized by theme: cookbooks, dinosaurs, bookmarks, umbrellas, Game of Thrones. They do not require handmade gifts, but some participants do choose to buy handmade. Earlier this year I had someone purchase one of my handmade luggage tags for a special "luggage tag" gift theme. I enjoyed writing the note from the "secret Santa" on a little card I included in the package. It was fun to be in on the secret!
Started in 2005, this trading site boasts that it has about 500 swaps going on at the same time. (They hosted their 200,000th swap in May 2015.) It helps you organize and match up participants. It includes email-only swaps (for trading items like e-cards), flat mail (mostly postcards and letters), and crafts/packages that require more time to create and larger packaging. These swaps are not one-to-one trades with specific individuals, which is a little different than other swaps.
If you don't like surprises, consider a trade. At craft shows or fairs you may find other vendors who are happy to trade their handcrafted work for yours. Not everyone will—after all, cash (not handmade soap) is needed to pay bills—but you may be pleasantly surprised.
Etsy Trade Official Rules
I've had multiple people over the years ask me to trade and I've only done it once. For me, there needs something in the shop that I love and could give as a gift. Plus, it has to be something I don't already sell. The numbers have to match up, too. If we each have a $10 item with similar shipping costs, that makes it easy. It doesn't hurt to contact a shop that is not on one of the 250+ Etsy trade teams, but don't be surprised if the answer is no. Trading is a bit of a risk; you check out using "other" as payment and have to trust that the other person will follow through on their end. New sellers sometimes like doing trades as it's a way to get feedback for their shop.
All this talk about gift exchanges has started me thinking about hosting a possible handmade exchange in late summer or early fall. It could be a lot of fun! If I decide to go ahead with it, I'll announce it here on the blog and in my newsletter. Have you participated in any swaps or trades? Do you have any tips or links to share?