10 great ways to make your own special Christmas presents this year

Christmas tree button decorations from Bunyip Craft. Photo: Bunyip Craft

Christmas tree button decorations from Bunyip Craft. Photo: Bunyip Craft - Credit: Archant

Devon experts give their top tips on thrifty gift-making for 2020

Sue Stoneman's Cookie Jacks. Photo: Sue Stoneman

Sue Stoneman's Cookie Jacks. Photo: Sue Stoneman - Credit: Archant

Devon prepared for the festivities of 1940 against a backdrop of the Blitz and a full year of food rationing. Wartime was beginning to take its toll; everyday foodstuffs were in short supply and clothes rationing was introduced the following year. Soap was the most popular Christmas present and practical, inexpensive gifts like gardening tools, books and bottling jars were all the rage.

Local historian Dr Todd Gray says the Make Do & Mend campaign had a serious following among ‘maiden ladies’ in Devon by 1943: “Newspaper articles tell us that there were lectures and competitions held in market towns across Devon, encouraging women to make smaller garments from larger, worn-out ones. For example, women competed to make slippers with fancy stitching to show off their needlework skills. These activities continued until the end of the war.”

This year, the outlook for the festive season is different to what most of us have ever known. The battle against Covid-19 has affected every single one of us - emotionally, financially, or both. And we’re all in need of a festive pick-me-up. So, how do you have a happy ‘Make Do & Mend’ Christmas 2020? I asked a home cook, a crafter and an upcycler for their tips on how to inject some fun without straining the budget.

Mattie Richardson, who runs independent craft shop Bunyip in Exeter’s Fore Street, told me, “Here at Bunyip, we’re a bit obsessed with make do and mend and reusing what we have.

Hand-made jewellery by Bunyip Craft. Photo: Bunyip Craft

Hand-made jewellery by Bunyip Craft. Photo: Bunyip Craft - Credit: Archant

“A homemade bracelet or necklace makes a thoughtful gift. Dig through your jewellery collection for beads you don’t wear anymore, or hunt for pretty beads at a charity shop. Then create your own designs with new thread or elastic and clasps.

“When we sell jewellery we pop it into a hand-made box, but you can easily make your own with old wrapping paper or magazines. There are lots of simple tutorials online.

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Home chef Sue Stoneman baking. Photo: Sue Stoneman

Home chef Sue Stoneman baking. Photo: Sue Stoneman - Credit: Archant

“Alternatively, sew a simple purse in felt or fabric for the children - or grown-ups - in your life who like to keep little treasures safe. Cut a strip of fabric and fold ?together, leaving ? as the top of the envelope. Sew the edges together. Cut the top in the shape you’d like, and sew on a popper or button to attach.”

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Foodie blogger Sue Stoneman, two-time winner of South West Home Cook of the Year, says, “I like to make foodie treats to give to family and friends. Start by collecting glass jars and bottles. The jars are great for jams and preserves like marmalade, lemon curd and chutneys; the bottles for flavoured oils, vinegars and sauces.

“Save empty tuna or small baked bean tins so you can make individual Christmas cakes. A light fruit cake will be lighter on your purse! Or you can make an easy bake like my delicious Cookie Jacks. Decorate your homemade treats with material and ribbon and add a hand-written label.”

There's always a chance to find an upcyled bargain via the ReSTORE is a charitable projec. Photo: Ge

There's always a chance to find an upcyled bargain via the ReSTORE is a charitable projec. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

When it comes to cooking the festive feast, Sue’s advice is “Make a list and stick to it! Plan what you want to eat. It doesn’t have to be traditional turkey - a good quality chicken will be just as tasty.

“Shop locally and try to support your local businesses. Buy only what you need, maybe just a little more so you can enjoy leftovers. ‘Leftover pie’ is a favourite in our house!

“If you’re not a fan of Christmas pudding, make a yule log, pavlova or even chocolate brownies. Stack them high and dust with icing sugar. Anything goes this year. Make the things you love and share them with the people you love.”

The ReSTORE is a charitable project which combines the skills of volunteers and upcycling specialists to rejuvenate items of donated furniture and furnishings from its shop and workshop in Dartington. Revamped during lockdown, the new-look store has gone down well with customers.

Staff member Sue Steart says: “As a result of the pandemic, a lot of people seem to be rethinking how they shop and how they give. They are keen to buy restored or repurposed secondhand goods and want to seek out something a bit different, affordable items you can’t find online or on the high street.

“We have lots of quirky, upcycled homewares and small items of furniture which make great gifts and our stock is frequently refreshed.”

Items I spotted on their Facebook page included table legs repurposed as candlesticks and old vinyl records made into a clock and a three-tier cake stand!

The ReSTORE and many other upcycling projects across Devon run workshops (online or socially distanced) where you can learn new skills to create such inventive gifts for friends and family this Christmas. Have festive fun making and mending!


A colourful fabric wreath is simple to make and fun for kids. Use a metal coat hanger to make a circle with a hook. Cut old t-shirts, ribbons or fabric into strips and knot onto the metal circle until it’s full.

Make paper chains from old cards, pretty paper and magazines. Cut strips and glue together in loops for a decoration that’s unique to you.

Use your button collection to make tree decorations. To make a mini Christmas Tree, thread buttons onto a piece of wire, biggest to smallest and pop a little star bead or bell on top. Shape the remaining wire into a loop to hang on the tree.


This Christmas Sue Stoneman will be making several batches of her delicious ‘Cookie Jacks’, a cross between a cookie and a flapjack. These keep for a few days, so you can make them in the run-up to Christmas. They won’t stay around for long! Happy Christmas and happy cooking!


175g self-raising flour

75g porridge oats

150g granulated sugar

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp baking powder

175g butter

2tbsp golden syrup

150g dried cranberries (or a mix of chopped nuts, dried apricots, dates and dried fruits)


Heat the oven to 180C (or 160C fan)

Line baking trays with parchment paper

Put the butter and golden syrup into a pan and gently melt.

Into a bowl, put the flour, bicarbonate of soda, oats, sugar, baking powder, dried cranberries and other dried fruits and nuts. Tip it all into the pan with the melted butter and syrup.

Mix well to thoroughly combine. It should be a soft, wet mixture.

Scoop out spoonfuls (use a tablespoon measure for large cookies, or teaspoon for smaller ones) and roll it into a ball. Place on the baking paper not too close together. Flatten the balls slightly with the back of a fork.

Bake for ten minutes (keep an eye on them!) until golden brown. Leave to cool slightly on the tray then using a fish slice transfer to a wire rack.

Once cold, put into clear bags and tie with ribbon.

Eat the rest!

You can follow Sue on Twitter @Sue_Stoneman and Instagram sue_stoneman

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