It's A Wrap

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

September 18, 2009 5 min read

Want the gift you give to be something to remember you by? Just wrap it up creatively!

It may be easier than you think.

"Embellish the package with items other than bows," suggests gift-wrap guru Ellen Timberlake, a Texas insurance exec and past winner of the highly competitive Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper contest, an annual event pitting some of the best and most creative amateur and professional gift-wrappers against one another. The winner gets a $10,000 cash prize.

Now a consultant to Scotch, the wrapping expert suggests that "if you are giving your mom a mixer, decorate the package with wooden spoons. If the recipient is a pet owner, add cat or dog toys to the package as a special treat for the pet. You can also use nontraditional items, such as scarves, belts and socks. An inexpensive way to decorate a package is to recycle the fronts of old holiday cards by taping them to the package."

Last year's contest winner, Alton DuLaney, director of visual and creative services at Kate's Paperie (, the New York-based retailer known worldwide for its stylish stationery and decorative paper and packaging, takes a similar approach. DuLaney, who beat out seven other finalists to earn the title, says one of his favorite ways to set a gift apart from the others is to add "a little something else to the outside of the package."

Tying ornaments on holiday packages is a favorite. "This makes the gift wrap an extra or bonus present, as the recipient can take the ornament and hang it on the tree or in a window. Also, related elements can be added that tie in to the gift," DuLaney says. "If you're giving a journal, tie a nice pen into the bow. If you are giving a book on gardening, use a packet of seeds as the gift tag, or make a ribbon bookmark" that's suitable for any gift of a book.

Timberlake has a wrapping routine. "Every time I come home from buying presents, I immediately separate the gifts, place them in boxes, add Post-it notes featuring the names of the recipients, and place them in the closet or spare room. That way, when it comes time to wrap them, part of the work is already finished, and you can focus on packaging them nicely."

If you have space to spare, it's best to work at a "gift-wrapping station," a permanent area providing a flat solid surface with tools and supplies in easy reach. If you lack that, use a kitchen table or card table, Timberlake says. "It's important to wrap on a solid surface. The carpet and the bed are not good surfaces because the paper gets crinkled, and it's easy to put your finger right through it."

Every January, Timberlake stashes leftover holiday wrap in a plastic bin, storing it in the attic with the holiday decorations. "That way, I do not waste it and I know where to find it for the following year."

Choosing the proper container may take some experimentation, thinks DuLaney. "In general, you want something which the gift can comfortably fit inside without too much excessive space," he says, but it's also OK "to think out of the box." For example, instead of placing a tie in a long skinny box, use a square one and roll up the tie inside. "Experiment with placing a square object inside a round hatbox, and then add a giant bow."

A gift doesn't always need a box, he adds. "You can use various types of gift packaging. If your gift has a travel theme, make it a gift basket by choosing several travel-related gifts. Then put it inside a paper suitcase. Wrap a bellyband around it with a world map, and use a luggage tag as a gift tag."

The average home is loaded with unique box alternatives, from empty kitchen coffee cans to bedroom pillowcases, says Timberlake, who sometimes likes to throw gift getters off-guard "by changing the dimensions and weight of the packages. I once suggested to a friend that he should hollow out a phone book to disguise a hammer he was giving to his brother!"

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