From ribbons to wrapping paper, a beautifully wrapped package is a gift in itself. We associate gift-wrapped presents with happy occasions like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. But why wrap presents at all? Why, to heighten anticipation and add an element of mystery to the surprise waiting inside, of course! A thoughtfully wrapped present sends the recipient a message that you care.
(Top row left) A tea canister is covered with white Kraft paper. It is decorated with a folded origami paper flower (using small squares of holiday giftwrap) and a strip of green paper ribbon. On the right is a folded origami paper box. (Middle row) Left is a Japanese furoshiki scarf pulled up and tied at the top to enclose an oddly-shaped gift. On the right is a brown recycled box with the lid partially covered in a wide strip of washi paper, ribbon and a small Asian fan. (Bottom) A recycled gold box. The lid is partially covered with a wide strip of washi paper and paper ribbon.
The Paper Chase
The outer skin, usually paper, is the most important element of a wrapped present. The word paper is derived from papyrus, a material produced from an aquatic grass grown in ancient Egypt along the banks of the Nile. We are more familiar with the paper later invented in China during the Eastern Han Dynasty (202-220 AD). Its use spread slowly through the Arab world to Medieval Europe, where the first water-powered paper mills sprang up. White paper was the most desirable but by the 17th century, wealthy Europeans dressed their presents in sheets of patterned wallpaper.
The gift-wrap tradition flourished in Victorian England. The upper class used fine tissue papers and imported Florentine and French-marbled papers. Crepe paper, socks, paper baskets and cornucopias were also popular for enclosing gifts. Elaborate gift-wrap paper from the period featured charming images of St. Nicholas, cherubs, animals, flowers and birds. Presents were secured with ribbons, lace, sealing wax and gummed paper labels since scotch tape wasn’t invented until 1930.
“When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best”
Victorian-era holiday cards were a catalyst for the creation of gift-wrapping paper in America. The Kansas City post card store Hall Brothers, Inc. popularized its use in the early 20th century. Entrepreneur siblings J.C. and Rollie Hall started the company, now called Hallmark Cards, Inc., an industry leader. In 1915, fire destroyed the fledgling company’s card inventory. The brothers salvaged the company safe and started over. With the decline of post card sales, they recognized the consumer’s desire for more privacy and began pairing cards with envelopes. During the 1917 holiday season, the store’s supply of tissue paper stock sold out so Rollie Hall substituted fancy French envelope linings at 10 cents per sheet. They were a hit and soon led to the development of custom wrapping paper. Noted artists like Norman Rockwell and amateur painters Winston Churchill and Jackie Kennedy produced artwork for the popular company. Today, Hallmark’s beautiful gift-wrap supplies, with more than 1,000 paper designs, are treasured as much as the gifts they hold.
Packaging with Purpose
Paper is a favorite art material. In addition to the wrapping paper designs from companies like Hallmark, an endless variety of non-traditional wrapping papers are available. Consider using exquisite sheets of European or Asian handcrafted paper or American-made eco-friendly, recycled or sustainable papers. For the perfect presentation, always choose papers and embellishments that speak to you; they will also warm the hearts of the receivers.
“Giving a gift is like wrapping one’s heart” – Japanese saying
In Japan, gift-wrapping (tsutsumi) embodies the “art of gentle concealment” and is as important as the gift itself. From day to day, items purchased in Japan – from the simple bouquet of flowers to a stack of precious porcelain bowls – are wrapped with thoughtful attention to detail. The attractive utilitarian wrappings seem to enhance each item’s shape and purpose.
The Japanese art of gift-wrapping is rich with symbolism, ritual and design. Rules of etiquette were established during the Muromachi period (1338-1573), including standards for gift-wrapping that are in use today. Washi (Japanese paper) can be used for gift wrap, gift cards, envelopes, unique boxes, baskets and flower vase covers. The beautiful papers come in a kaleidoscope of colorful designs, some inspired by kimono fabrics and wood block patterns. Others are tie-dyed, crumpled for texture or designed with subtle ink swirls resembling water.
The fukusa, a ceremonial gift covering, and furoshiki, a larger Edo-style (1603-1867) textile for toting goods, are reusable and ecologically-friendly alternatives to wrapping paper. Especially handy for wrapping large, unusual items, these beautiful textile squares are worth seeking out; if they are unavailable, substitute textiles like a large silk scarf, linen napkin, bandana or seasonal tea towel – the wrapping becomes a gift too. Create an easy wrap by centering the gift item on an appropriate-size textile square (with the design out) then pull up the edges and tie in an attractive knot. Or fold the gift inside the fabric and tie with Japanese misuhiki cords or complementary ribbons.
(Top) Box wrapped in pink tissue paper with a paper lace doily on top. The “vintage” photo was reproduced at a copy shop. Decorative paper borders and stickers frame the photo. (Second from top) Box wrapped in gold paper then covered with a wide strip of decorative paper photocopied from a sheet of author’s grandmother’s vintage WWI sheet music. Paper ribbon decorates each side of the strip. (Large middle gift) Mama’s boy package is a gift box wrapped in a large piece of decorative paper photocopied from a sheet of author’s grandmother’s vintage WWI sheet music. A red glittery star tag embellishes the top. (Bottom) The little girl gift box is wrapped in a sheet of decorative paper made by photocopying a family photograph multiple times on plain paper. To make the gift tag, photocopy the photo on heavier card stock; cut it out, punch a hole and tie on a ribbon.
Wrapped presents signify more than just a way to conceal items. Beautiful yet understated, they are symbolic and show respect and caring for the recipient. Draw inspiration from Japanese packaging and create your own unique gifts using a few basic wrapping techniques and materials at hand. Books on the art of Japan’s textile and paper wrapping can be found in libraries and bookstores. Supplies are available in specialty paper shops, craft and art stores or online.
In the photo on page 98, note the attractive Western gift boxes wrapped with a decorative overlay of washi in the origata style. Unlike traditional gift-wrapping, the item should not be completely covered. The color and design of the washi showcases the box, making a big impact.
Whatever style of gift-wrap you prefer, customize it to fit the recipient, the sentiment and the occasion. Almost anything can be used as a package decoration. A digital camera, computer and printer are useful tools for making custom papers and gift tags. Download wrapping paper and gift tag samples from countless sites around the Internet.
Keep basic wrap supplies close at hand: scissors, glue, glue gun, gift-wrap papers, ribbons, measuring tape or string, straight edge ruler, a pen for gift tags and double-sided tape in a handy dispenser.
If tissue or other delicate papers seem too thin when placed over a gift box, first wrap the box in solid white paper. For a professional looking wrap, crease the paper with sharp folds, especially if you’re using medium or heavy weight, and press out the air bubbles from between the paper and the box.
Listed below are several categories of wrapping materials to inspire you beyond generic paper and bows. The packages in the photograph will also give you ideas. Let your imagination run wild and seek inspiration from everyday items in your home, from your travels, hobbies, collections, vintage ephemera and nature. People adore gifts that include an element of surprise; the joy is always in the details.
“Each day comes bearing its own gifts. Untie the ribbons.”
Ruth Ann Schabacker
Specialty Gift Wrap
Look for high-quality light or medium weight wrapping papers that will maintain a crisp fold. Unique materials to consider: katazome-shi (bold prints based on kimono printing techniques), yuzen (based on textile designs) washi lace paper, Nepalese lokta paper, Thai unryu (mulberry paper) Japanese rice paper, Florentine marbled paper, glitter paper, sparkle tissue paper, angel hair tissue, watermark lace tissue, crepe paper, brown kraft paper, parchment or waxed paper, corrugated paper, uncut sheets of paper money and handcrafted art papers embedded with petals, grass and leaves.
Outside the Basic Box
Turn cereal and cracker boxes inside out; embellish and add ribbon or raffia handles. Milk cartons and new paint cans can be sprayed and decorated. Other container ideas: hat boxes, potato chip cans, tea canisters, coffee tins and Chinese take-out cartons. Clean up the repurposed item and cover the outside with patterned holiday paper or self-stick paper. Use colorful tissue paper to secure the gift in the container, add the cover then embellish the top.
Repurposed Gift Wrap
These items make unique wrappings for gifts: old maps, attractive art from calendar pages, sheets of fine stationery, wallpaper samples, sheet music, old sewing patterns, shopping bags, scrapbook paper, quilt and textile and kimono squares, bamboo sushi mats or placemats.
Almost-Free Gift Wrap
Visit the print shop and get large sheets of paper that can be covered with stencil designs, children’s drawings, favorite photos, heirloom letters or documents. Decorate plain brown or white paper with stamped sponge shapes, rubber stamps, gyotaku fish rubbings or your kids’ hands or feet dipped into acrylic or tempura paint. Recycle suitable junk mail and glossy flyers with colorful holiday designs, foreign language newspapers, the Sunday comics or enlarged pages from glossy magazines, dictionaries and old discarded books.
No Time For Gift Wrap
Attractive paper gift bags are the quickest, most popular way to present gifts today. Or use a basket, a cellophane gift bag with tissue, or a large, whimsical decorated holiday stocking from the craft store. Fill a brand new decorative tote, beach bag or attractive cosmetic bag. Send an interactive e-card or gift card online, enclosed in virtual holiday wrap.
The Ties That Bind
Pick your favorites: ribbons, raffia, masking tape or washi paper tape, cords, silk chenille, knitting yarns, rick rack, vintage seam binding, color-striped or waxed string, red baker’s twine, candy strings/ribbons, French cotton and linen passementerie, cute ponytail holders, shoelaces, jump ropes, neck ties and strings of beads.
Cut-outs from recycled greeting cards, wax seals, candies, decorative stickers, holiday ornaments, gift tags from clip art, craft punches, speech bubbles (for tags), costume jewelry brooches, shells, beads, trinkets, doilies, lace, glitter spray, bells, tassels, small pine cones, evergreen sprigs, dried fruit and flowers, leaves, seed pods, bark, handmade paper flowers, plain or gold-sprayed silk flowers and greenery. If appropriate, lightly mist gift with perfume or cologne for a fabulous final touch.
Many gift-wrap supplies used in this article came from local stores like Hallmark, Michaels, Jo-Ann and World Market. Thanks to Carmen at the Print Shack on Two Notch (across from Sesqui State Park) who assisted in creating the photo and sheet music gift-wraps. Numerous online stores offer unique wrapping papers, ribbons and embellishments. Here are a few favorites.
From the monks of Abby Press Printing, charming, environmentally friendly wrapping papers and paper goods that meet the principles set forth by the Forest Stewardship Council. 100 percent US-made.
Little Kay Gardens
Plant seeded paper made from 100 percent recycled paper. Grow flowers like corn poppy, black-eyed Susan, baby snapdragon, red coreopsis.
Fish Lips Paper Designs
Colorful gift-wrap. 100 percent post consumer recycled papers. Soy based, chemical free dyes.
Gift wrapping paper, tissue, gift bags and boxes, fine imported Japanese, French, Italian wrapping papers.
Decorative and artists papers. Earthy natural and handmade papers: washi, marbled, hand decorated, Florentine, silkscreened, cave paper, corkskin, amate bark.
Holiday Gift tags free for download.