A crafty Christmas

Sue Cowden doesn't make gifts and cards specifically to save money at Christmas; it's just a happy accident.

Sue Cowden doesn't make gifts and cards specifically to save money at Christmas; it's just a happy accident.

"I've been collecting paper since I was a little girl. I've got a lot things that I collect that I think I'm going to make something out of," the development manager at Australia for UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, says.

"I guess what I do is collage.

"Like I reuse old soap packets; old dictionaries are a lot of fun too, because you can pull out a funny old page from a dictionary and then put a witty picture with it that relates to the dictionary words." Those collages make great low-cost Christmas cards.

Often in the run-up to the festive season, Cowden will call together a group of friends for a "craftanoon" making gifts.

Most are soft furnishings, but she has given handmade clothes that have been very well received by her two boys - Louis and Billy, now 21 and 18. A seven-year old Louis once declared a hand-made shirt he was given by his mother "the best present he had ever got in his life".

Cowden makes about half her Christmas gifts each year, creating many from fabric hoarded over the years. While it saves her money at this time of year, the bigger factor is the pleasure she gets from creating something unique for her friends and family.

"It gives you the opportunity to think very carefully about what that person might like. Because you can make an individual present that is totally individually crafted to that person."

Christmas dinner is a low-key affair.

"I just like to think about the menu quite carefully and usually fish and then have a theme of some sort, in terms of it might be Moroccan or Turkish or something like that," she says.

Cowden is a big believer in the gift that gives twice and has just launched the Australia for UNHCR Christmas appeal (unrefugees.org.au), which is focusing on the many disasters around the world, including Typhoon Haiyan and the refugee crisis caused by the civil war in Syria.

She also shops at the WEFTshop (weftshop.com), which supports refugee women from Burma who live on that country's border with Thailand by selling their textile products.

" That's another thing I really like to support at Christmas. You're helping them out, you're supporting their work and you've got something really beautiful and handmade," she says.

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