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8 ideas for DIY meaningful gifts for family and close friends

Updated on September 30, 2014
Baking tea-themed gingerbread for a tea-addict relative
Baking tea-themed gingerbread for a tea-addict relative


Everyone appreciates it when you put personal effort into hand-making them a gift. DIY gifts seem all the more thoughtful when they are relevant to the person's interests or hobbies, use their favourite colours, or otherwise demonstrate things you know about what they like and enjoy. In this hub I will describe ten DIY gift projects that I use regularly, which may be of use to you as ideas for gifts for family or close friends.

  1. Personalised cookies in shapes relevant to the person’s hobbies or interests, if possible in favourite flavours & packaged in theme
  2. Creating a family cookbook
  3. Making a Film diary of an ancestral home or property, or a learning experience based on a late relative’s interests or history
  4. Seed paper items cut into shapes or cards based on the person’s hobbies or interests
  5. Pressed flower calendar or family/friends calendar made from photos of seasonal events
  6. Origami decorations and gift tags
  7. Creating a character dress up kit
  8. DIY gift vouchers

A leaf cookie cutter I obtained from Etsy
A leaf cookie cutter I obtained from Etsy
TARDIS cookie for Father's Day which I cut out and imprinted with details using a small knife
TARDIS cookie for Father's Day which I cut out and imprinted with details using a small knife
Gingerbread mini hearts for Valentine's Day
Gingerbread mini hearts for Valentine's Day
Shamrock gingerbread for an Irish theme/Irish dancer/St Patrick's Day
Shamrock gingerbread for an Irish theme/Irish dancer/St Patrick's Day
Edible Christmas decorations
Edible Christmas decorations
Moustache gingerbread for fun family photos
Moustache gingerbread for fun family photos
Dalek cookies for Dad's birthday
Dalek cookies for Dad's birthday

Themed cookies

Most people enjoy some kind of treat cookie. If your friend or relative cannot eat regular gingerbread or shortbread, or doesn't like it, there are variations you could make that are sugar free, different flavoured, or made with adaptions or additions to ingredients that remove problematic foods. I have some roll out cookies doughs that are acceptable for my diabetic and sugar-free relatives in my recipe hubs.

To begin, you will need to do some preparation:

  1. Find or adapt a recipe for a roll-out cookie dough (if your friend or family member has favourite flavours, think about whether you can adapt your recipe to include them, rather than just going with a standard gingerbread or shortbread).
  2. Buy ingredients for your found or adapted recipe and decorations for your cookies.
  3. Think of a distinctive interest your friend or family member has, that you could use in your cookie shapes. For example, are they into a specific sport that you could shape and decorate your cookies to look like equipment for? Your cookies could be footballs, bicycles, hockey sticks, or normal gingerbread men moved around a bit to be in running or other athletics poses. If the person the gift is for in into nature or bush-walking, your cookies could be flower or leaf-shaped, or they could be in the shape of favourite animals or TV or movie characters or items.
  4. Work out how you will get your dough into the right shapes. You can adapt simple cutters to be lots of different things. For example, most ball sports balls can be made using an ordinary round cutter and a bit of imagination in imprinting designs on top with a knife or drawing with icing later. If the item is fairly angular you may be able to cut it out yourself with a knife - I affectively made my own TARDIS for Father's Day just by cutting and imprinting things with a sharp knife blade. However, there are lots of customised cookie cutters around for a few dollars which can be of great help - a search on Etsy for the shape you want usually turns up some results.
  5. Decide whether your cookies will need added decoration such as icing, choc chips, nuts, or other things stuck into the top to create the effect you want, and make sure you have those extra ingredients.

Now you are ready to bake your cookies. Gingerbread, if you are using it, lasts for an extended time and can be made well in advance of birthdays or other celebrations. Make sure you know how long you can keep your cookies fresh and don't try to make them too far in advance if they won't be at their best kept that long. Make up your dough and once rolled out, cut into your themed shapes. Some decoration may need to be added after the cookies are cooled such as icing, but other toppings such as nuts and some choc chips need to be pressed into the dough before baking. If you are cutting an intricate shape, make sure your knife or cutter and the surface your dough is rolled out on are well floured, and have an egg-slice or spatula handy to slide under the cookies to help lift them onto baking trays.

While your cookies are in the oven, prepare an air-tight container to store them in if needed, and work out how you will package them when giving them as a gift. You might want to find out your friend or family member's favourite colour, or create packaging that fits in with the theme of your cookies.

Making the family Christmas cake from Grandma's recipe in the 2009 cookbook
Making the family Christmas cake from Grandma's recipe in the 2009 cookbook

Creating a Family Cookbook

This is relatively simple to do but means a lot to all involved. First, send out a request to all your extended family members to nominate their favourite recipes made by members of their immediate family. They may be able to get the recipes from their family members and return them to you, but alternatively you could make a point of visiting family members for meals as part of the process, allowing you to get pictures of their favourite dishes for the book.

Next, type up all the family recipes, organise them into categories or contributor sections, and format your cookbook to look special. Get copies printed at a local print and copy shop where you can choose the paper, and have it printed in colour. When I did this the first time I simply bound the books myself by stapling or tying with thread, but for an even more special family gift you could get the books bound properly at a binder, and design a nice cover with a collage of some of the best pictures or the year and a list of contributors.

Creating a family cookbook is a great way to keep hold of recipes passed down the generations and ensure the next generation still know how to prepare the beloved Christmas pudding or favourite comforting soup.

Creating a video diary on DVD of a family property or other relevant family activity

Do you have an ancestral farm, or a home that has been in the family several generations? Or did your ancestors have a skill or interest that you are interested in learning? A video diary showing the turn of seasons and activity on an ancestral property or detailing your experience learning a skill your great-grandparents had or tracing family history is a great thing to put on DVD for family members as a gift. In the link you can see my progress on a diary of the garden at my Grandmother's house which she loved and nurtured all of her married years. A similar project could involve finding out what your great-grandfather's work would have been like and filming as you find out the kinds of jobs your ancestors might have done or go to visit the house where family members lived many generations ago. Most extended families are interested in learning about your common ancestors or enjoy sharing memories about a loved one which can be recorded in this kind of project.

Easter eggs made from seed paper for family members who do not eat chocolate or sweets to plant and grow poppies and cornflowers.
Easter eggs made from seed paper for family members who do not eat chocolate or sweets to plant and grow poppies and cornflowers.
Mother's Day card made entirely from seed paper full of wildflower seeds and inset with pressed flowers.
Mother's Day card made entirely from seed paper full of wildflower seeds and inset with pressed flowers.

Seed paper, recycling and your friends and family

I first came across this concept on Pinterest and was fascinated to learn whether I could make my own seed paper creations to give as gifts. As it turns out, this project is quite easy, and has the added benefit of recycling paper you might otherwise throw away. If you don't mind the odd bit of old text appearing in your finished paper, you can recycle all kinds of old papers and even some junk mail, but take care with glossy paper as it is harder to break down into pulp. You can learn to create your own seed paper at the link at the bottom of this section. Some hints I would add are:

  • Find out your friend or family member's favourite colour, and get some food colouring to colour you finished paper appropriately
  • Find out the kinds of plants that would appeal to your friend of family member, and choose the seeds you add to your paper accordingly: Some people may prefer herb or vegetable seeds to pretty but less practical flowers.
  • If you are adding seeds that will grow into edible plants, be careful not to use papers with any unhealthy chemicals used in the ink that colours them or is used for text.
  • Choose the shapes you cut your finished paper into to fit a theme relevant to your loved one. Paper can be made into any shape you like and therefore can be adapted to suit anybody. Cut out cars, flowers, ballet shoes, footballs, or anything else that suits the person the gift is for.
  • You could make these seed paper cutouts as gift tags or cards, or make a whole bag of them to give as a gift in their own right. They could even be made small and used as confetti.
  • Make sure you tell the person you are making the seed paper for what it is. They may never have seen anything like it before, so they might not understand that it will grow into plants for them. It can be helpful to attach the seed paper onto an ordinary cardboard backing that you can write on to explain how it works.

See this link for a great tutorial on making seed paper:

Make a family or friendship circle calendar

There are a number of ways you could make a family calendar; if your family enjoy family photos and get together relatively often, you could have a photo from a family event from each month, and place a funny quote from the day or an anecdote from the month underneath. If your family aren't so much into having their photo taken, you could still produce your own beautiful flower calendar with pictures of seasonal flowers from a family garden, of even press flowers from the different months of the year to adhere to each month and draw your own simple background images, or even funny family or friend-related cartoons depicting amusing occasions. If you are using photos, many online print and copy stores have calendar templates which you can use to create and order your calendar relatively easily. However if the gift is not for too many people, most people will appreciate you putting in the time and effort to hand-make them something, especially if it contains your own hand-pressed flowers or your own drawings or cartoons.

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Origami box for Christmas cookiesA modular origami Christmas decoration.Modular origami Christmas ball for a friend's tree
Origami box for Christmas cookies
Origami box for Christmas cookies
A modular origami Christmas decoration.
A modular origami Christmas decoration.
Modular origami Christmas ball for a friend's tree
Modular origami Christmas ball for a friend's tree

Origami decorations and gift tags

It's amazing the variety of different ornaments, creatures and other pretty additions for gifts that you can make by learning some origami skills. A simple gift can be made very special to a person by including a hand-made finishing touch such as their favourite animal folded and attached as the name tag. At Christmas time, extended friendship circles can all be covered by folding colourful and unique ornaments for their Christmas trees to go with their cards instead of candy canes or other sugary options that many other people are likely to give them. You can also make origami boxes to contain your home-baked goodies. You can learn how to do a fancy origami box here:

(base for box):

(lid for box):

You can also made great-looking Christmas balls by learning some modular origami like this: and choosing nice papers.

My Dad in some of the pieces of his Rick Wakeman (keyboard player from the 70s progressive rock band YES) dress up kit.
My Dad in some of the pieces of his Rick Wakeman (keyboard player from the 70s progressive rock band YES) dress up kit.

Creating a character dress-up kit

Do you sew or does someone else in your family? Could the purchase of a wig or other single item, plus some contribution from your family seamstress, result in a dress-up set for someone who loves a certain character or celebrity? This makes a unique gift tailored to that person's interest in the character. You could team up with other family members and each make a different component for the outfit, so that each gift the person receives adds a new element to the costume. Then you can dress them up in their costume and do a photoshoot of them as the character, from which they will get a whole lot of great pictures to keep. To get started make a list of distinctive features of the person or character your friend of family member is into. Then decide which ones you can create and whether there is anything you will need to buy to complete to costume. Make sure you allow plenty of time before the day of gift-giving for everyone to finish their contributions and items to arrive in the post, and think of some good excuses for measuring up your friend or family member for parts of the outfit, so you can still keep it a secret.

Tea and coffee making voucher included in Mother's Day cards
Tea and coffee making voucher included in Mother's Day cards

DIY gift vouchers

Are there things you do for your loved ones, perhaps a little reluctantly, that they would like you to do more often? You can donate your time and efforts to doing those things as a gift to that person, by making them some hand-made gift vouchers for the 'service'. You can create tear-off tabs for a series of vouchers by perforating the paper. Why not combine this idea with the seed paper concept so that each time a voucher is used up, it can then be planted to grow more flowers or herbs? Take the time to make your vouchers in the person's favourite colours and shapes relating to hobbies, and to think of a series of different things they would like the power to demand of you. You can also use this idea for extended family who may use you as a baby-sitter, garden helper, etc, by making them vouchers for those tasks.

Let me know if this was helpful!

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    • PhDancer profile imageAUTHOR

      Sarah Fletcher 

      5 years ago from Adelaide

      Thanks Emi Sue, I'm glad you found some things you liked!

    • emi sue profile image

      Emily Lantry 

      5 years ago from Tennessee

      I love the creating a family cookbook idea. I want to do that for my mom. This hub has some great ideas. I enjoyed it.


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