Sunday, December 20, 2009



Here are some tips for gift-wrapping for the holiday season and beyond. Tips that can keep your wallet from deflating while inflating your standing among your gift giving peers.

Here’s what you’ll need:
Grocery store paper bags or craft paper (the kind the post office recommends for mailing packages)
Tape (optional if you’re very dexterous and can fold and hold your wrapping while tying it up with your string, twine or ribbon)
String, twine, ribbon or anything else you can find to tie up your package
Rubber stamps and inkpad (optional for the pricier wrappers) – A potato and some coloring agent (food coloring, tempera paint, or anything that will make a stain. This is for the less financially solvent among us)
Colored pencils, watercolors, anything you can draw with (this is also optional and should only be used by those who are artistically inclined or have a very adventurous bent)
Just about anything you can collect from nature (nuts, pinecones, twigs, flowers, etc)
A hot glue gun (optional for the Martha Stewarts out there)
A scissors (again optional but the torn paper technique is not for amateurs and biting your ribbon or string into the desired lengths is not the most efficient way of getting the job done).

First assess the gift you need to wrap. How big is it? Does it need a box and if it does do you have one? Is it an odd shape that will take some mathematical calculations to figure out how much paper will be needed? Trouble shoot before you take yourself down a one way path to a dead end.

Next gather your supplies and keep them close at hand. A clean hard surface is best for wrapping but I frequently end up on the carpeted floor. I like to spread out. If I relegate myself to the dining table my paper either rolls off or I’m knocking the scissors or the tape onto the floor. Most times I just have to let go of the orderly, under control part of wrapping.

If you’re an impoverished wrapper, like I am this season, when asked at your local grocery store “paper or plastic”, say “paper”. You can collect these bags and then unfold them along the glue line. One bag will wrap a normal sized shirt box. If your gift is larger you can tape several bags together or you can buy some craft paper. It’s cheap and one roll will wrap a whole bunch of stuff.

Now to the actual wrapping. Cut the paper as close as you can to the size you need. I wrap the paper around the gift before I actually cut the paper. Most people leave too much extra at the ends so when it comes to closing up the wrapping they end up with these big bulky corners and a big dose of defeat. I personally think a little irregularity is a good thing but if this isn’t your thing then after you’ve wrapped the paper in the first direction look to see how much paper you have to fold at the ends. If the paper exceeds more than two-thirds the length…wait, just stop with the calculations and trim off as much as you need to make a fold without having to double the paper back on itself.

Now, as to folding the paper, always crease whenever you can. Use your thumbs and index fingers to run along any edge. For the neat freaks this will give the cleanest package possible. This is the biggest secret of wrapping: always crease every time you bend your paper or traverse an edge.

Now, like I mentioned in the supplies, you can either use tape or your own ingenuity. I rely on tape. I haven’t reached black belt wrapping status where I can manage without it. I’ve been able to do some small boxes and I’ve done a couple of larger ones without the aid of tape but not without the help of an extra pair of hands.

Now back to the paper. Another reason for the paper bags or the craft paper or even white butcher paper for that matter is it’s plain. If you’re going to move on to the next step, decorating, you best start out with a clean surface. Using a patterned background is only for the pros and then only those with a degree in Matisse. Those with the power to lay pattern over pattern are few and far between. As a side note, if you use a lightweight craft paper or the white butcher paper you may have to use two layers to completely disguise your gift from the snoopy eyes of those friends and relatives looking for a sneak peek.

Now that you’ve mastered the technique of wrapping the decorating part should be fun. You’ve got a blank canvas so get out your rubber stamps, cut a design on the end of a potato or pull out your drawing tools. Wherever your imagination leads you, go with it.

Rubber stamps are the easiest most elegant path to take but you have to go to a craft store and you have to make an initial investment in something you probably won’t be able to find come next year. The effect will be as subtle or bold as the ink you use and the amount of stamps you apply.

Potato prints are the messiest but cheapest way route to take. Keep your shapes simple. Don’t worry about being sloppy sometimes the drips of too much ink or the scratchiness of too dry an ink can have it’s own sort of charm. I made my own paint out of flour, salt and water. You can add food coloring to make a more dramatic statement.

The drawing method, my personal choice, can be as sophisticated or wonderfully childlike as you want or are capable of doing. I like to freehand my designs but if you are uncomfortable with that, trace a tin can bottom and make it into an ornament or draw a triangle and let it represent a tree. It's really easy. The big trick here is always use more than one color on each object you draw. It gives it dimension and lifts it off the paper.

Now you’re ready to tie the masterpiece up with ribbon, twine or whatever you can find. Add a sprig of pine, but only if your giving the gift within the next twenty-four hours, before the pine dries out and the needles fall off. I personally don’t mind just using the bare twig but some people might not see the beauty in this. If you possess the Martha gene then here is where you can get out your glue gun and start attaching your nuts. For all you traditionalists out there you can use the clich├ęd candy cane and make it novel and new. But the gift I most enjoyed and envied this season is the one my daughter made. It’s like a perfect patchwork of incredibly misfit perfection with bits and pieces of paper and string. Then she left part of the box unwrapped in defiance of convention. It showed real spunk and exquisite beauty. 

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