Whether you purchased perfect holiday gifts months ago or you are palming off household bric-a-brac as presents this year, keep this in mind: the way the item is wrapped matters.
In fact, the cheaper the item, the more important it is to show that time and care was considered with the packaging.
"When you give a gift, it is more than handing something to someone and saying 'I spent money on you,' " says Melanie Nerenberg, marketing director at Kate's Paperie, a New York-based paper boutique.
"The fact is that the gift is diminished if the wrapping is lacking. You haven't really given something if you haven't seen it all the way through."
But how does one achieve the proper amount of style? We solicited suggestions from Jodi Ceglia of Ellicott City, founder of Wit and Whimsey Designs, a Web-based wrapping paper design company, and Ellen Timberlake-Volz, who estimates that she wrapped roughly 22,000 gifts when she owned a store in Arlington, Texas that was dedicated to wrapped gifts. Both are past winners of 3M's Most Gifted Wrapper contest.
Find beautiful paper. Master gift wrappers will be able to turn butcher's paper into a splendid creation. But, for the rest of us, stunning, handmade paper does the trick nicely. Look in local art stores, use scrapbook paper or order paper online (see sources below).
Tie a nice bow. For those of us who can hardly tie our shoes, the experts suggest wire-edged ribbon. Even the clumsy can make a fluffy cascading bow out of this stuff. Raffia is also pretty, but it can be tricky.
Accessorize. Dress up the bow with surprising accoutrements. Examples include pinecones, partially inflated balloons, fake fur and even live flowers. Use accessories to hint at the contents of the package, for example tie a pair of wooden spoons to a kitchen-related gift, or stick a plastic rattle on the outside of a baby gift. These extra trinkets can be found anywhere from the Dollar Store to Pier 1.
Create a surprise. Even if you use the wrapping to hint at the contents of a package, wrapping is still about anticipation. Disguise a wine bottle with more than a gift sack -- put it in a flat box stuffed with tissue paper. Timberlake-Volz famously created a giant aluminum candy cane as wrapping for a set of golf clubs. She shops for wrapping ideas at Home Depot -- particularly for large items.
Recycle. "Re-gifting" is a no-no, but re-gift-wrapping is a different story. Even if the actual paper is too crinkled to reuse, it is fine to snag the ribbon and bow or reuse a fabulous gift bag with fresh tissue paper.
Get organized. A gift wrapping kit should include a pair of sharp scissors, double-sided tape, a glue gun and a long piece of string in addition to the paper and bows. The string is a helpful way to measure the size of the package so that you can cut paper to the correct size the first time. Start wrapping only after you have gathered all of the tools and have a clean, firm surface for your work.
Be happy. Be in a good mood when you get ready to wrap. Prepare a cup of tea. Savor it. Put on some music. Those who attempt to pull a gift together 10 minutes before leaving the house will be sloppier and more disorganized. This shows.
Create crisp corners. The trick to clean corners is cutting the paper to the correct size. This way, excess paper won't get in the way of a clean line when the sides are folded down.
Tape paper to the box. Do this for each fold. This way, the paper can be pulled tight and the package will look crisp and starched.
Plan ahead for next year. Stores put wrapping paper on sale after the holiday season. This won't help much for Christmas 2004 ... but there is always next year.
The Pleasure of Your Company, 2360 West Joppa Road, Suite 221 in Lutherville. Call 410-821-6369. Jeweled gift bags cost $6 to $7.
Plaza Artist Materials, 1009 Cathedral St. Call 410-625-9000 or visit www.plazaart.com. Paper ranges in price from $2 to $9 a sheet.
Sideshow (The American Visionary Art Museum's gift shop), 800 Key Highway. Call 410-244-1900 ext. 236. Paper costs $2 to $4 a sheet.
Kate's Paperie, locations in New York City and Greenwich, Conn. To order by mail, call 1-888-941-9169 or visit www.katespaperie.com.
Wit and Whimsy Designs, call 410-303-5674 or visit www.witandwhimsydesigns.com. Gift wrapping set -- including handmade paper, tulle ribbon and stick-on embellishments -- costs $24.99.
For the more advanced, raffia provides an earthy, funky look.
Wire-edged ribbon like this can help the clumsiest gift wrapper create a full, fluffy bow.
Or, forgo commercial wrapping paper all together. This parcel is cloaked in the pages ripped from a book.
Select paper with tiny patterns; it makes matching the seams less important.
Consider holiday ornaments to spruce up ordinary silver paper.