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Christmas Wrapping was done very well by The Waitresses, who came out with that fun song in 1981. The back story isn’t as fun, but the back story isn’t what I hear on the radio every December. Christmas wrapping is not done very well by most adults. On the one hand, decorated presents are supposed to look pretty and the general U.S. sensibility is that pretty things come from women and gay men. On the other hand, I view putting together presents as a sort of Do-It-Yourself project, with certain guidelines to follow, tools to use, measurements to make, and an end result that does the job it was built to do.

As I was packing up my bag full of goodies for my friends, I thought about how so many people I know just don’t like wrapping presents. Maybe it’s because nobody has ever given them help to do it. Perhaps they get frustrated because their results are less than spectacular. In the spirit of hoping to make everyone’s season bright, let me describe how I put together one type of project: the decorated rigid hexahedron (like a cube, but the lengths of the three sides usually aren’t the same).

First, to make this simplest type of wrapped gift, get a box for whatever you want to present. If it already comes in a box, well done. If it doesn’t come in a box, it will save you some headaches to go to the Container Store or a greeting card store to get a box that fits the scarf or stuffed animal or whatever. While you are there, make sure you get some of these TOOLS (if you haven’t already got plenty at home):
– transparent satin gift wrapping tape (like scotch tape but not too shiny to blend in with wrapping paper)
– many different rolls of wrapping paper. If you’re not sure what looks good, try to stick with things that look like santa claus, snowflakes, christmas trees, or snowmen. Try to get papers where there’s an obvious major color scheme to them and make sure you have at least three different colors, unless you’re giving fewer than three presents. I do not recommend cheap paper, as it will tear easily. If you’re able to feel it before purchase, find something with a sturdiness between newspaper (too weak) and envelope paper (too rigid).
– tissue paper (not for nose-blowing, but for lining the inside of your box. if you’re not sure what kind you want, white is safe enough)
– ribbon (I recommend thin, flat ribbon for beginners, in solid colors like red, green, silver, or gold. By thin, I mean about the width of your pinkie finger nail.)
– gift wrap scissors. The kitchen scissors and the rusty scissors your desk or toolbox will all be much more likely to tear or serrate the paper, giving it that “this is a bomb” look that we should avoid. I prefer to use two types of cutting tools: 1) scissors that open and close as usual for detail work, and 2) pizza cutter type scissors so that you can run an easy straight line when you cut off the paper from the roll. I like Fiskars’ 45mm rotary cutter.

Now, the project itself. First, put your present in the box with the tissue paper. I like the look of tissue that has crumples in it, so I crumple first before I lay it flat on the bottom of the box. Then the gift goes on top. Then I crumple and lay more tissue paper on top of that. Then we close it up. Before we go any further, let me say: use the least amount of tape that you can, on every step of this project. Too much tape might make you feel secure that you won’t have a wrapping malfunction, but by the same logic will convey a sense of insecurity. Be confident in your work and you won’t need that sticky moral support. That being said, use a small amount of tape to ensure your box won’t fall open during the wrapping process. The tape doesn’t have to keep the box closed for transit — the paper will take care of that. For example, when wrapping a shirt box, I’ll use one thumbnail-sized piece of tape to hold closed the longest sides.

Second, we measure the paper. It’s best to have a large flat surface for this, like a table that’s longer in every direction than your roll of wrapping paper. I don’t have that, so I tend to clean and clear off floor space for it. With your gift nearby, unroll a couple of hand-widths of length of paper, decorated side down on the surface. Place the gift centered onto the unrolled paper so that the edge of the gift is within the paper’s space but not far from the border of it. As you look downward at the box, there will be a side closest to the edge of the paper, another side that’s closest to the roll of paper, one side face down, one side facing you, and then two sides perpendicular to the roll. Is the width of visible paper by the perpendicular sides enough that if you just pulled it straight up snug on those sides, more than half of the box side would be covered? If not, can the box be rotated in some fashion so that this situation occurs? If no, you need a wider roll of paper.

Once you are in this condition, you are going to need to unroll the paper while rolling the box four times — that’s why you needed to make sure the box wouldn’t fall open. Here’s how: Making sure that the far edge of the gift is near the edge of the paper, unroll enough paper so it appears that between the near edge of the gift and the roll, there’s enough paper to cover the side that’s facing the roll with a little extra room to spare. Be careful not to let your pivoting edge slip and rotate the gift box toward you so that the face that was toward the roll is now facing down on the paper. Repeat this process two more times. Now give yourself about a fist’s worth of margin between the box and the roll of paper. Use scissors or a rotary cutter to cut the paper just parallel to the roll. The roll here acts as your straight edge. Congratulations on having measured just the right amount!

Third, (hardest part) we close up the paper. Start by centering the gift box on the measured paper you just cut. If the gift box has a “top side”, put that face down on the paper. Make sure that your roll of tape is within easy reach. Take the edge of the paper that was already cut and the edge that you just cut and bring them together over the box. Check to see which edge looks cleaner and make bring that edge over the other one. Gently pull the paper snug and just hold it in place. Do not make the rookie mistake of taping the paper to the gift. Avoid the shame. Instead, while you are holding the paper snugly closed against the box with one hand, use the other hand to examine the edges of the paper that you did not cut and are now overlapping. The overlapping paper should line up so that the top portion’s and bottom portion’s edges are flush. This should be the same on both sides. If it is not the case, loosen your hold and adjust the positioning of your box on the paper while re-‘snugging’ the paper until both sides do line up. At this point, apply a thumb-sized piece of tape to about the center of where the paper overlaps. Rub the back of fingernail over the tape until it pretty much disappears against the wrapping paper.

Whew, half-way done with the hardest part! Take a moment to contemplate a tube of toothpaste. You know that you’re supposed to squeeze a tube from the bottom so that the paste keeps moving toward the opening, right? Well, when you do that, you end up with a flat end to the tube which gets bigger toward the opening. If you look at the profile of a partially used tube, you see that it starts flat, then suddenly gets bigger in a triangular shape, and then is full sized again up to the end. Keep this image in mind.

Rotate the gift so that one open side of the paper faces you. Slowly bring the top of the opening together with the bottom of the opening and hold them together with one hand while you check the left and right side with the other hand. This situation should seem like that image of a partially used toothpaste tube. See the full height of the gift, then a triangular area that follows the paper sides coming together, and then a flat area that you are holding closed. If the triangular sides don’t look very regular, loosen your grip and ‘fluff’ the paper around the triangular parts a bit until it looks symmetrical to you. As we go through the process of folding and cutting the paper, resist any urge to purposefully make sharp creases — the edges of the paper should only be as smartly creased as results from the snugness of the wrapping and folding. Now, use scissors to cut the paper in the flat area just about where the triangular part starts. This is like cutting off the used-up part of the toothpaste tube. Try to use long strokes with the scissors to avoid serrated edges. Once this is done, release the paper and see if the top side of the section you were holding closed, the part where the paper overlaps itself, can be pressed down to cover the side of the gift. If it more than half covers the side, but isn’t longer than the side, well done. If that top portion of the paper is longer than the side, just repeat this process until it is not. If that top portion covers less than half of the box side, then reach into the paper and gently push the box back to give you a bit more room. This is something you couldn’t do if you had taped the paper to the box or forced creases.

At this point, we go origami on this thing! Do press the top part of the paper down so that it is snug against the box. If you flatten the paper out to the sides of this paper opening, this will cause the left and right sides of the opening to become triangular again, but this time they’ll fall parallel to the sides of the gift and come down to the flat bottom side of the paper opening. The side facing you should look a bit like a simple wall shelf at this point. Still no tape, unless the top portion of the folded paper just refuses to stay still against the box side where you just pressed it. If you must, use another thumbnail-sized piece of tape to hold that paper against the box. Now, slowly press those triangular left and right sides of the opening to be snug against the box side as well. If you do this gently, the side of paper still against the floor should develop triangular edges as well. Don’t tape yet! Finally, pull that floor side of the paper opening up to be snug against the box as well, and flatten all of the paper against that side to enable a tight closure. Now you can hold that last side closed against the gift with one hand while you use the other hand to apply thumbnail-sized pieces of tape at the top left and top right of the trapezoid of paper you just created.

That was tough stuff, but do it again to the other side of the gift. That’s right, you still have another side open.

Final steps are to add ribbon and accessories like a gift tag or bow. The gift tag is probably self-evident. The bow… I tend to avoid pre-tied bows these days and I don’t know how to tie those onion blossom shapes. I can tell you, however, how to tie the ribbon.

Decide which side of the gift is where you’d like to have the bow of the ribbon end up. Put that side face down. As you’re looking at the bottom of the gift, note that one dimension of that face is probably shorter than the other. Draw out enough ribbon to be a total length equal to four times the short dimension of this face plus two times the long dimension of this face. Figure out where the center of the ribbon’s length is, and put that under your gift. Pull the ribbon up over the gift to encircle it just once and then let the rest of the ribbon keep going to either side. If you could imagine the ribbon without the gift, it should appear to be a more or less straight ribbon with one loop in the middle. Where the ribbon goes past itself on the side facing you, pull both sides into the perpendicular direction to cross itself and then head away from itself. You should now see a crossed ribbon on the side facing you. Hold the ribbon against the box but with loose and accessible ends and flip the box over so that the crossed side is now face down. Bring the ribbon back up to cross itself on this face of the box and tie a knot at its self-intersection. Make the knot into a pretty bow if you know how. Whew. We’re done!

Wow, this makes the longest article I’ve written and it’s about how to wrap a gift. I hope this method is as useful to you as it is to me. I wish I’d had someone to show me how to do it when I’d started, but I’m afraid I had to learn the hard way. Yes, I was elf-taught. Anyway, maybe this will make you dread the gift-wrapping procedure a little less so you can enjoy Christmas a little more. After all, if this month of reflection and investigation has taught me anything, it’s that the true meaning of Christmas is… presents! Ho, ho, ho!

About Paul Roth

A vegetarian, agnostic, lindy-hopping, dog-loving tv-watcher who likes to read his own words.
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