On Christmas morning, after we’ve opened up our presents and after my dog has sufficiently torn the wrapping paper into the tiniest pieces possible, we get out this massive garbage bag and throw away all the paper that spent weeks just hanging out under the tree. And every year, I can’t help but think about how wasteful it is. When you think about it, wrapping paper isn’t much more than really expensive toilet paper (and I hate buying toilet paper). I mean, what else do we throw away as soon as we use it?
This year, though, I’m not buying any wrapping paper. I’ve got all kinds of stuff around my house that’s going to be thrown away anyway, so why not use that? With a little bit of tape and some string, any package can look pretty. Wrapping presents creatively doesn’t even have to be a big thing, either. Choose a theme, wrap them all the same and change a decoration here or there. We’ve got three guides — one for boxes, one for paper and one for decorations — that’ll convince you to kick the wrapping paper habit once and for all.
Everything You Wrap In a Box To The Left
If your presents are shaped weird, you’re going to want to put them inside some kind of box situation before wrapping them. Otherwise you’re just making things harder than they need to be. But your box doesn’t have to be any old box, it can be just the right box.
a. Boxes from your pantry – Your kitchen is full of all different kinds of boxes that you usually just throw away. While most of these babies are easy to handle, cylindrical shaped stuff — like nutella jars and oatmeal containers — are tougher to handle. Here’s how to do it:
- Wrap a piece of paper around the cylinder and tape it. Since you’ve got two sides you’re going to be working on, hold the roll between your legs while you do the first side.
- Start by folding the inside bit of paper in to the middle of the circle.
- Crease it after about a centimeter and fold the next bit down to the middle.
- Continue making one centimeter folds the entire way around the circle.
- When you reach the end, tuck the ugly bit in.
- If you want to show off the top, make a circle of tape and hide it underneath the folds. Otherwise, tape that baby shut and throw a bow on it.
b. Origami boxes – If you don’t have something small enough to house your present or if you want to give something that’s reusable, fold your own box.
- If you’ve got origami paper, skip steps 1-3. If you don’t, you’ll need to make a square. Start by folding the short side against the long side.
- Fold the extra bit over.
- You can cut it, but I prefer licking the crease (did she say that? she might have?) and ripping it so that I’m sure I get a straight line. If you want to decorate the paper, now’s the time.
- Fold the paper in half diagonally both ways and then at a right angle both ways. This way you know exactly where the middle of the paper is.
- Fold each corner to the middle.
- Fold the sides into the middle. Unfold the sides and the corners should come along for the ride.
- Fold the other sides into the middle and unfold them.
- Pull two of the corners out.
- If you’ve made really awesome creases, your paper should be absolutely aching to become a box at this point. Help it along by folding one of the corners up, over, and into the box.
- Repeat with the other side and you’re done. To make the bottom of the box, make an ever-so-slightly smaller square to start.
c. Pop-up bags – This kind of bag is good for cookies and other not-so-secret gifts that just need to look cute until they’re ready to be given.
- You can use any size square or rectangular paper. Remember when you used to do hot dog folds and hamburger folds in elementary school? Well, we’re going to start by doing a hot dog fold.
- Unfold the paper and fold each side into the middle.
- Fold the paper in half hamburger-style.
- Fold the creased side in, then unfold it and fold it the other way. If the longest side of your paper is shorter than 12 inches, you don’t want the part folded over to be any more than an inch.
- Unfold until you’re back to step 2. You should have creases so that you paper looks like an M from the side.
- This part is trickier to explain than it is to do. You see the fold that makes one of the tops of the M in step 5? Well, you want to pull that over to the long side of the paper and create a diagonal crease so that it stays there.
- Do this with all four sides. As you can you, you’re basically just making a paper vagina.
- Bring the sides together and glue them or punch holes and string them together.
d. Toilet paper rolls – While you may not have empty pasta boxes or oodles of paper lying around, I can guarantee that you will have a toilet paper or paper towel roll free in the next 3 days. You can make a little box that’s perfect for a gift card or something else that’s tiny.
- Get a toilet paper roll. If you don’t have one, go drink a lot of water. I’ll be waiting.
- Flatten the roll.
- Fold down one of the sides in a U-ish shape. Look! It kind of looks like sad lips.
- Keep going, now. All the way around.
- Decorate the little guy and make sure you put ribbon or string around the sides so it doesn’t open up accidentally.
e. DIY bags – Personally, I feel like giving someone a present in a bag is the absoute worst. First of all, bags are pretty fucking ugly. Whoever is in the sad business of bag making only makes bags for small children and incredibly stereotypically girly women, you know? When was the last time you saw a bag with a grill on it? Never, that’s when. Instead they’re all just Big Bird and high heels with actual feathers glued on them and shiny silver paper. Second, how do you know when you’re done? I mean, if you stop too soon, you risk accidentally throwing part of the present away but if you keep reaching in for more, you look like a greedy scoundrel. Third, “wrapping” in bags is just lazy. It takes all of 3 seconds to put something in a bag and but tissue paper on top. That’s a whole 2 seconds less than it takes to wrap a present. That being said, realizing I could make my own bags has totally changed my mind. You can make beautiful bags out of burlap and glitter and you can make them just the right side so that no one gets caught in a bag conundrum when they open up your present.
- Star with a rectangle of paper. I used an A4 sheet (8.3″ x 11.7″), so I folded the bottom in about 2 inches and the top in about half an inch. You can adjust based on the size of your paper, but don’t feel like you have to bust out a ruler or anything. Just feel it out.
- Fold the side in half an inch or so and then get out your ruler. You want the opposite sides to be the same length, but you can choose what that length is. I had 11 inches left, so I did 3.5″ and 2″. Measure these out and draw lines.
- Fold along the lines with the top and bottom still folded in. Unfold the bottom and fold again so that the bottom has been folded both ways.
- Glue the half inch piece to the side.
- Imagine that you’re wrapping an invisible present; fold the short side of the bottom down and make a diagonal crease along the long side.
- Do the same fold on all four sides.
- Glue the bottom together and let it dry. When it’s dry, bring the long sides together at a the top and crease the short sides so that your bag is collapsible.
- Punch holes in the top and tie a string through them.
f. Cigar boxes – I know I accused bag-wrappers of being lazy, but here’s the thing: I’m actually a zealous advocate of selective laziness. If you absolutely cannot bear the thought of wrapping a present, get a cigar box. Cigar boxes are so much prettier and sometimes they even smell nice. They’re also the kind of thing that you’re giftee will want to use to store jewelry or secrets or something important, so you’re pretty much securing yourself a spot in their thoughts by giving it to them.
Other ideas – lanterns take out boxes, teacups, morigami, jars, balsa wood boxes
Wrap Your Presents in Corduroy and Denim
When it comes to paper, simpler is usually better. Sticking with something relatively boring means you can play it up later with cards, bows and ribbons. Plus, unless you’re giving a present to my grandma, your giftee isn’t going to save the paper.
g. Plain Old White Paper – Seriously easy. The only downside to this is that sometimes you need more than one layer if you can see through it.
h. Fabric – Instead of using paper, wrap their present in something that’s truly sustainable. You can go ahead and wrap it like a normal box (forgoing tape for ribbon) or you can get fancy and try out some furoshiki.
i. Magazines – If you’re not a magazine reader, head to the mall and pick up catalogues from stores like Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. They’re always full of pictures, which makes it easy to find a whole page covered in something nice to look at.
j. Newpaper – The old standard. Bonus points if it’s from another country!
k. Cut Paper – Using papel picado or paper snowflakes to wrap your present can be cool if it’s not a surprise. If it is, you can lay your snowflake on top of white paper and spray paint (or spray glue and sprinkle with glitter) over it so that when you remove the snowflake, the design’s still there and use can use the paper normally once it’s dry.
l. Brown Paper Bags – Make your package look like mail! Or don’t. Brown craft paper looks good with almost everything.
Other ideas – graph paper doodles, coffee or tea stained paper, aluminum foil, tissue paper, watercolored paper, calendar pages
Deck The Halls With Boughs of Holly
Now that you’ve got everything nice and covered up, it’s time to decorate!
m. Pop-up bow – Remember how exciting pop-up books were when you were little? They’re just as fun when you’re an adult and the pop ups are perched on top of your package.
- Draw bubble letters onto a strip of 1″ wide thickish paper. If your letter has a whole in it (O, Q, A, D, B, P, R), do yourself a favor and use a hole punch.
- Cut around everything but the bottom of the letter and fold those puppies up. Fold the strip of paper into a circle and tape it together.
n. Magazine bow – Magazines are seriously so much more attractive than bows. You can use black print on white, a photo or find a series of pages in exactly the colors you want to make a gradient. If your package is small enough, you can use strips of magazine as ribbon and wrap them around the sides of the box as well.
- Grab a magazine that you’ve already read or a catalogue you’ve already paged through.
- Find three pages that you really like, rip them out and cut off the jagged edge.
- Cut the sheets into strips. Depending on the size of the bow, your strips can be anywhere from 1/8″ to 1″.
- Cut the strips into different sizes. I has 12 that were half the length of the magazine, 12 that were about half an inch shorter, and 12 that were a third the length of the magazine. You don’t need to do any calculations, just cut reasonably-sized pieces. You’ll also need a circle for the base.
- Starting with the longest strip of paper, loop it around like a tear drop and secure it with a piece of tape, leaving about half a centimeter exposed so that the tape can stick to both pieces.
- Tape 5 or 6 of these loops to the base.
- Fill in the holes with more loops, progressively using smaller pieces until you have a bow.
- When you’re just about done, make two circles out of paper and tape them to the middle.
o. Pom poms – Don’t get stuck in the land of bows. You can use all kinds of other things to decorate your package. For example: pom poms! You can’t see it in these pictures, but I accidentally bought glittery yarn and my pom poms were magnificent. I would definitely recommend it if you can swing it.
- All you need is a fork and some yarn. Cut off a piece that’s about a foot long.
- Secure the piece so that it doesn’t get in the way while you wrap. First wrap one side around the handle and then weave the other side through the tines so that there’s a big space to wrap between them. If you’re doing it right, your fork should look like it’s into bondage.
- With the rest of the yarn, start wrapping in circles around the tines.
- Use to fingers to make sure you’re not wrapping around the tapered part of the fork because you want it to be easy to slide it off when you’re done. I wrapped about 100 times to make this pom pom.
- When you’re finished, unweave the short piece of yarn from the tines.
- Slide the wrapped ball of yarn off the fork and unwrap the other side of the short piece of yarn from the handle.
- Tie the short piece of yarn as tightly as you can.
- Start cutting through one side of the wrapped ball. It’s easier if you start with the top layer and cut the rest as they show up instead of going for it all at once.
- At this point, you’ll have an ugly thing that looks more like a mop or a muppet than a pompom. Give it a haircut.
- Once everything’s all evened out, you have a pom pom with a string that you can attach to anything.
p. Stamp name tags -Instead of getting those little stickers, make your own gift tags shaped like stamps. I made a template that you can print out so that you can draw your own stamps and another that you can download if you’d rather design them on your computer.
q. Finger-knitted ribbon – As much as I like crafts, I have no idea how to big-kid knit. I’m pretty nifty with my fingers, though, and so finger knitting a ribbon takes ten minutes or less.
- Holding the beginning of the yarn against your hand with your thumb and wrap the rest around your fingers. Start by going in front of your index finger, behind your middle finger, in front of your ring finger and behind your pinky. On the way back, go in front of your pinky, behind your ring finger, etc. Now let go of that little part you were holding with your thumb. It’ll be fine.
- Bring the yarn in front of your hand, from your index finger to your pinky.
- Take the loop of yarn wrapped around your index finger and lift it over the yarn lying across your hand and over your finger. Do this with each finger across your hand.
- Bring the yarn in front of your hand, from your pinky to your index finger. Repeat step 3, going from pinky to index finger.
- As you continue “knitting,” a chain will form down the back of your hand. Pull on the end to help it grow.
- When you’re all finished, snip the yarn from the skein and bring the end through each finger loop. Pull on each end and your ribbon will stay securely knitted.
r. Paper flowers – December doesn’t necessarily mean winter. Think of the Australians! Sometimes a flower is just what a package needs.
- Remember how I said I hate buying toilet paper? Well this is the part where I bring it all back around. Take 6 squares of toilet paper and stack them together.
- Accordion fold along the long side of the rectangle.
- If you’ve got a bobby pin, this part is easier, but don’t fret about it if you don’t. Take your pin and clip it on the middle of the accordion so it looks like a bow tie. This will create a cinch so that it’s easier to tie a string around the tissue.
- Remove the bobby pin and tie a string tightly around the middle. Double knot it!
- Carefully separate the first layer from the rest of the folds and bring it towards the middle.
- Do the same with each layer.
- Once each layer has been separated, fluff your flower up and trim off any edges that are too square.
- I like adding a center to each of my flowers with markers so that no one confuses them with snowballs. Voila! You’ve got a flower.
Other ideas – thumb print cards, painted bottle caps, paint chips, doilies, heart envelopes, pasta, cookie cutters, boughs of holly or other fresh greenery