Thursday, December 23, 2010

I was a professional gift-wrapper.

No, really. During my year of underemployment in Austin, I had, as I think I've mentioned before, a job at Williams-Sonoma. It didn't take me long to figure out that if I volunteered (begged) to work the gift wrap station, I could hide in the stock room and not have to deal with any belligerent holiday shoppers.

Like so many lessons in life, I learned the benefits of hiding in the back of the store the hard way. My previous favorite job during the holiday timeframe was working the register, because I was super fast at it and always rang up more sales than anyone else working any of the other three registers. Yes, it was a competition. That all went fine until I checked a signature on a credit card once and it didn't match. Here's how that exchange went:

Me: "I'm sorry ma'am, your signature doesn't match the back of the card. Could I see your i.d., please?"
Belligerent Holiday Shopper: "That's because it's my sister's."
Me: "I'm sorry ma'am, do you have another card I can use? It's against store policy for me to accept this because your signature doesn't match."
BHS: "My sister is right over there."
Me: "Ok, could you ask her to come over? I just need to confirm her i.d. It's for her protection. I'm really sorry, I know this is an inconvenience."
BHS: "This is ridiculous. Are you doing this because I'm Asian?"
Me: (dumbfounded) "I'm sorry, what?"
Me: (Jaw on the floor.)

At which point I called over the manager and let him deal with it.

Shortly thereafter, I aggressively pursued the back-room gift wrapping role. It was delightful. Except for the one time the heat gun we use to shrink wrap gift baskets caught my shoe on fire. But that is a story for another time, and for OSHA.

Based on wrapping thousands of Christmas, wedding, shower, birthday, and other gifts, here are my best tips for gift wrapping.

Step 1: Gather your supplies. Supplies include the following:
  • Wrapping paper: My favorite source of wrapping paper is, oddly enough, The Container Store. They make great, high quality, not-too-thin, not-too-thick paper. Cheaper paper (from Walgreens, Target, etc.) is too thin and tears too easily; easily torn paper makes for an easily frustrated gift-wrapper. Paper Source has gorgeous prints but the paper stock is a bit heavy which makes it tough to get clean creases and corners without a bone folder. As someone who is clearly picky about gift wrapping, I can say affirmatively that a bone folder is totally unnecessary. There is no such thing as “perfect” in life and that goes doubly for gift wrapping. Get good paper and you'll be much less frustrated with the wrapping process. See the end of this post for a word on my favorite wrapping paper of all time.
  • Tape: Have more tape than you think you need. I really like the 3M Scotch Satin tape for gifts, but any clear tape will do. If you want to get fancy, you can also use double-sided tape for the external seams, but that’s really an advanced move.
  • Scissors: Sharp. Ideally only ever used to cut paper and non-wired ribbon.
  • Ribbon: I really think it is worth the splurge to use REAL ribbon. Not the curly stuff, and not those plastic stick-on bows. Real ribbon can be had for pretty cheap if you know where to look – both Michael's and Target have great holiday ribbon options, and if
  • Boxes: To fit your gifts, if they are not already in nice right-angled boxes of their own. Don't even try to wrap something that's not in a box. The thin white gift boxes that they sell (again, at the Container store) are worth every cent. If you have to, you can use a corrugated cardboard shipping box, but those tend to give a less crisp finished look.
  • Black Sharpie Marker: Great for marking out prices on tags you can't remove and for putting names on gift tags.
Step 2: Clear off a large space. I like the floor, but a big table can work, too. You will need more space than you think, so plan accordingly.
Step 3: Figure out where you're going to put trash. Do this before you start. Gift wrapping creates lots of little bits of paper and ribbon and tape and sticky price tags and they all have to go somewhere. The clean-as-you-go-process helps contain the inevitable wrapping mess.
Step 4. Now you can wrap your gift! Flip it upside down on the wrong side of the paper, measure to be sure you have enough paper to cover the box, and cut. (I am not explaining this part in detail - if you don't know how to do this, try here.) The secret here is to use LOTS of tape. Tape everything. Tape the wrap to the box (another benefit of using a box). Tape everytime you make a crease or join a seam. Tape liberally.
Step 5. Add a bow. The traditional way to do this is to lay the ribbon on the floor/table and center the box in the middle, then bring the ribbon up over the horizontal sides, twist it 90 degrees, flip the box back over, and bring it up the remaining sides, then tie at the top.
That method is for amateurs. Here's why: when you tie ribbon that way, the twist on the bottom creates a lump that makes your package wobble about. We like to save our wobbling for champagne overconsumption.
Here's how to professionally tie a bow on your gift, step by step:
1. Measure the ribbon. The easiest way to do this is to wrap it around the longest dimension of your box twice, then add about 6-8 inches.

Sidebar on this wrapping paper: it's from The Container Store, too. I love it for all occasion purposes as well as for Christmas. Faux bois is completely chic. The only reason I don't love this paper more than the green paisley is that it is twice as expensive and comes in two separate sheets instead of a continuous roll.

2. With the box right-side up, lay a short tail of ribbon off to the right from the center. This tail will make half of the bow, so you can make half a bow by looping it to make sure you have enough. Place your finger at the center of the box.

Why yes, I did get a manicure, thank you for noticing! You can't go wrong with Essie Wicked.
3. With the long tail of the ribbon on the left, loop this around the left side of the box and bring it back up the right side, to meet where your finger is in the center.
And yes, that is a new holiday plaid shirt I just got. It also has ruffles at the button placket. Very festive.

4. Hook the ribbon around itself so you form a joint, then take the long tail of the ribbon and loop it around the box from top to bottom and back to the center.

This is what hooking the ribbon around itself looks like. If you've tied bows the amateur way, then you have done this move before, just on the bottom of the box instead of the top.

When you have done this, the bottom of the box will look like this:
Flat ribbon on bottom of box. Good.
5. Now, take the long-tail end and hook the ribbon on itself once more to form a joint where the two tails are on opposite corners of the joint from each other. Make a single tie.

Bringing ribbon up from the bottom of the box and hooking it around the other twist.
A single knot is tied (like the first step in shoelace tying).

6. Now tie your bow. If necessary, cut the ribbon ends to 45 degree angles. And voila!
The final step is to label your package. I skip buying store-bought tags and labels in favor of recycling pretty paper from old cards and craft projects. My other favorite labeling device is plain white name labels, which I like because there's no danger of them coming unstuck from the gift and falling off.

Leftover paper finding a second life as a gift tag.

Pretty presents!
Merry Christmas!
End note: Yes, Virginia, there is a Best Wrapping Paper.

This is my all-time favorite wrapping paper. I buy multiple rolls at a time. I have yet to find a gift-giving occasion that I can't use it for, and it does particularly well in the Gift Occasion Holy Trinity of wedding, baby, and Christmas. It looks great with nearly every color of ribbon: bright red, orange, pale pink, hot pink, turquoise, baby blue, brown, navy, ivory, tan. Probably the only color I wouldn't put with it is...well, I was going to say kelly green, but I just looked at it again and that would in fact be a super cute way to wrap a St. Patrick's Day gift, if you had one.

In general, when selecting wrapping paper, my recommendation is to go with either a solid color paper or a graphic design with only two colors, max. This keeps your gift looking classy, and also, you're far more likely to be able to use the wrap for other occasions. I love efficiency.

This always gets compliments.


Lindy said...

Oh boy, it's for me!

Mellow Earth Mama said...

Love this post! Thanks for the tips! :)

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