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How to Wrap Presents of Any Size, Shape, and Breakableness

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Day 21 of 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving: Package like a pro.

Despite one's best efforts—and the fact that gift-giving is a year-round activity, not just a holiday one—wrapping up presents can be flummoxing. The opposite of intuitive. Intolerably tedious.

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Photo by James Ransom

If you've ever felt any of the above, we hear you. Below is a list of tips and tricks, some brand new, and others from our archives, that'll make it easier to wrap great-looking gifts this holiday season (and all year!). Feel free to let Santa in on the secrets.

when possible, box

Once you get down a rhythm, boxes are the easiest shape to wrap. While it's tempting to re-purpose cardboard shipping boxes, they tend to be frustrating to wrap since their shapes don't hold perfectly after shipping (the clean edges and right angles of a good box are what make it easy to wrap in the first place). If cardboard is your jam, buy them new.

If you don't want to add any heft or weight (or cost), opt for thin-walled, collapsible boxes (like these, or even the ones that are used for packing up shirts and sweaters at the store). Here's how to wrap one with very few, mostly invisible seams:

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How to Gift-Wrap a Box with Invisible Seams
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How to Gift-Wrap a Box with Invisible Seams

For something heftier or breakable, get a proper gift box with rigid sides from a store like Paper Presentation. Just add a fluffy bow—they don't even need to be wrapped!

Stuff it accordingly

Is your gift soft?

Pamper it with a layer of tissue paper, the way they do at fancy department stores: Lay the whole sheet atop your open box, pinch it at the middle point of both sides, and fold that middle section over until the tissue paper's the height of your box. Press it down into the box, lay your gift on top, then fold the sides over to ensnare it.

How to make your tissue paper fit in the box, neatly.
How to make your tissue paper fit in the box, neatly. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Is your gift breakable?

Stuff the box with thick brown kraft paper, crumpled up lightly to fill all the ins and outs, and then work your gifts into the nooks. Be sure there's another layer of crumpled paper on the top layer, so the gifts don't touch the sides of the box: The rigidity of the paper will keep them safely suspended. (If your gift is especially fragile, wrap it up in bubble wrap before suspending in the kraft paper puddle.)

Kraft paper will keep breakables tucked neatly in.
Kraft paper will keep breakables tucked neatly in. Photo by Bobbi Lin

A third alternative would be to repurpose paper fluff from the shredder to prop up your gifty in its box, if you don't want to go the packing peanut route.

Be Bold with Your Bow

There are a billion kinds of ribbon proper out there: Under the category of silk, for example, you can go woven or bias cut, satin ribbon can be plain or wired on the edges—and that's just the start. Which one you use depends on the result you're going for, or how much you like to fuss with bows:

If you want a super fluffy bow...

Opt for a delicate ribbon: silk, wired satin, nylon organdy. Make a many-looped bow with a separate piece of it, and tie that to the ribbon around the present—like this.

How to Tie Better Bows (& 3 Great Ribbons to Use)
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How to Tie Better Bows (& 3 Great Ribbons to Use)

If you don't want to deal with a fussy bow...

Opt for a thicker, higher-impact ribbon: cotton, velvet, burlap, or anything with a pattern. Tie it like a shoelace bow, so that the two loops are on top and the loose ends fall out beneath them.

And if you'd really like to dress up your package...

Look for a vintage ribbons in velvet or silk on websites like Etsy (or if you're lucky enough to have a ribbon store in your city, ask if they stock vintage).

Wooden Stand with Pure Cotton Ribbons

Wooden Stand with Pure Cotton Ribbons

$106
Fabric Ribbon on Vintage Wooden Spools (Set of 3)

Fabric Ribbon on Vintage Wooden Spools (Set of 3)

$20

Here are some alternative materials to tie bows with, too:

Cast Iron Twine Holder & Baker's Twine

Cast Iron Twine Holder & Baker's Twine

From $40
Bakery Box, Ribbon & Tags

Bakery Box, Ribbon & Tags

$30

For the Oddly-Shaped Gifts

If you're up for the challenge (and not easily frustrated by senselessly complicated tasks—if you like origami, or Rubik's cubes, or quilting, for example), go forth and attempt to use wrapping paper to perfectly cover the surface of a weirdly-shaped object. The easiest way is to admit to yourself that it will be messy and taped-over everywhere; if you're really a masochist, attempt it using double-sided tape.

Guess... what it is!
Guess... what it is! Photo by James Ransom

But if you aren't, and if you don't have a box or a bag, you can wrap up any shape of object using a piece of cardboard and some tissue paper.

  • First, trace a large circle on a spare piece of cardboard (this is a good use of an old shipping box) and cut it out; it should be a few inches larger than your gift. Place the gift atop the round, securing it with a dab of museum wax, and set it in the middle of a stack of tissue paper.
  • Stagger the edges of the topmost pieces of tissue paper and gather them atop the gift, securing with a bow. The flat, round base will help this look balanced—and now your gift actually stands up on its own.
A round circle of cardboard will make tissue paper bundles more stable. Photos by Bobbi Lin

equip yourself with good tools

Will make your life easier:

  • A very, very sharp pair of scissors, for cutting ribbon on the bias and shearing off paper
  • Thick wrapping paper: The thinner it is, the more easily it will tear and make your hard work go to waste
  • Tape-dispensing bracelet—looks ridiculous, is ingenious (so you don't have to let go to grab a piece!)
Why Your Best Pair of Scissors Should Be Yours Alone—*Hands Off, Chicken-Carver!*
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Why Your Best Pair of Scissors Should Be Yours Alone—*Hands Off, Chicken-Carver!*
  • Crystal-clear—or decorative!—tape. Japanese washi tape, and even plain vanilla-colored masking tape, can be artful when it's left exposed. But otherwise, make sure it's crystal clear and not cloudy.
  • A hand. As in, a helping hand that's not yours: Sometimes tying a bow is infinitely easier when a friend can hold it steady while you knot! And wrapping is more enjoyable with friends.

Other Wrapping Techniques to Try

  • Use white wax paper over any wrapping paper—patterned or colorful or both—for a pastel effect, and tie up with matching ribbon.
  • Look for other things around the kitchen (and your house) to incorporate: Your kids' extra drawings, herbs tied onto the twine bow, the comics section of the newspaper.
  • Package the gift inside another gift—the way we did with our Staub cocottes this year. Other gifts that serve as wrapping paper: Floppy woven baskets, totes, glass jars of all shapes and sizes, cookie tins, hat boxes.
Vintage French Preserving Jar

Vintage French Preserving Jar

From $38
Handwoven Moroccan Basket

Handwoven Moroccan Basket

From $75

What are your best gift-wrapping tips and tricks? Tell us in the comments.

Tags: gift-wrapping, wrapping, 30 Days of Thoughtful Giving