With the economic downturn cinching financial belts, this holiday season is a good time to adopt a DIY ethic and consider some gifting alternatives.

Not to fret if you’re a novice crafter or even a beginner, because there are ideas for all skill levels. All you need is an afternoon and a little creative determination.

Here are some tips from an expert crafter, Austen Gilliland, senior craft editor of Canadian Living magazine:

Food gifts

“I think food gifts are a really good idea because you can put in an afternoon worth of effort but you can get a dozen gifts out of it. Something like a cookie mix or a jam or a jelly or something like spiced nuts.”

Without spending too much money, you can get big volumes out of food gifts. Like a typical batch of jam, you’ll get anywhere between six to 18 jars, she says.

Also, “you know that they’re going to use it or they’ll be able to re-gift it,” she jokes.

Presentation
There are simple ways to make a gift look great. And you don’t really need a lot of special material to do a nice job with wrapping, Gilliland says.

“Even if you pick up brown paper bags — that you would use for a lunch bag — you can get 50 of those for under $3 at the grocery store. And then if you go to the fabric store, you can usually find a nice ribbon and you can get metres of that for $2 or $3.”

Small details can add a nice touch without costing much.

When Gilliland is making gifts, she says she will often choose one idea and make variations on that idea for a half-dozen people.

“Once you do the first one, you know what you’re doing and you can get into a rhythm and get a mini-production line going. You really want to maximize your time and resources, and that’s one way to do it.”

Monograms
You can take a nice notebook — a moleskin notebook for example — and make a cover. Everyone’s notebook cover is basically the same but it will have their initials on it, says Gilliland. And monograms are a great way to do that.

“On the Internet, you can find instructions on everything. You can learn how to screen print, monogram something — you can learn how to paint china. You can download fonts and get a cool font for the letters,” she says.

So a great go-to idea is to monogram something, whether it’s a pillowcase or a coffee mug.

Themed calendar
If you’re a photographer, it doesn’t take a long time to put a calendar together. Pick a fun theme, like ‘Year of weird stuff,’” says Gilliland.

Many computer programs will have a basic template that you can use to personalize it however way you want. Run it down to your local print shop and it will put it together for you, she says.

Plan ahead
It’s a good idea before you get yourself into a frenzy of Christmas present-making to sit down and make an extensive list. Write down everybody you want a present for and decide what you’re making ahead of time. When it’s time to shop for supplies, take a list with you.

Making your own gifts is a great way to save money but you really need to do the planning ahead of time, Gilliland says. “And that’s where the variations on a theme comes in, because often — like the moleskin notebooks — you can get three in a pack.”

One-of-a-kind

The best things about homemade gifts is that it is unique and personal.

“I think it means more when you get something that somebody made with their two hands,” Gilliland says.

“It sounds kind of fanciful to say the heart and soul of the maker is present in the gift that they made with their hands, but I do believe that there is something to be said for that idea.”

For more DIY tips and gift ideas, go to Gilliland’s Make and Do craft blog at www.canadianliving.com.