A gift-giver's thoughtfulness is as apparent in how a gift is wrapped as in what's inside.
"In our world of ubiquitous merchandise, wrapping can make a gift distinctive," says Wanda Wen, author of The Art of Gift Wrapping (Potter Craft, 2010) and owner of Soolip, a gift-wrap shop in West Hollywood, Calif. "When you wrap a gift, do it with grace and consciousness."
Make it personal
Wen approaches every gift she wraps with two things is mind: She is honoring the recipient, and giving a little piece of herself. Select things that speak to you, she says, and consider the person receiving the gift.
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For a nature lover, for instance, wrap a gift in a big, beautiful leaf, or use a bundle of twigs for the topper instead of a ribbon.
"Be resourceful," Wen says. "Create your own wrapping paper by stitching or taping photos on craft paper, or even on a brown grocery bag."
The best-wrapped present that Leslie Carola, author of Wrapped with Style (Universe Publishing, 2009), ever received was one from her husband wrapped in paper decorated with their children's fingerprints. The best-wrapped gift she ever gave was when she was 8 and wrapped a gift to her mother in her mitten.
Reuse and recycle
Being mindful of the earth's resources, as well as your own, can lead to inspired gift wrapping.
"Think Green -- reuse and recycle," Carola advises. "Keep your gift wraps out of the trash. Use the tissue paper from the dry cleaners, pretty tea containers, recycle a beautiful ribbon presented to you."
Go outside and look for pine cones, pebbles, stalks and twigs. Particularly after a storm, you may find all sorts of beautiful leaves and twigs on the ground. Wen says you can "turn any object into a gift topper using thin wire and a little ingenuity."
In her book, she gives step-by-step instructions for creating toppers with wire, or by putting pressed flowers and herbs under clear packing tape.
Susan Swan, an illustrator and paper crafter whose designs are included in Carola's book, suggests, "Make the wrapping part of the gift."
"A beautifully collaged card or tag can be part of the gift, and may be framed afterward as a memento," she said.
Keep it simple
"Use your imagination and your heart, and don't overdo your wrapping," Carola advises.
Wen likes to create "high and low" juxtapositions, such as topping a gift wrapped in an imported $32 sheet of paper with a bunch of twigs, or using a rock as a topper for a colorful box. "In our highly digital world, people want tactile things," she says.
To make even a simple gift wrap look professional, Wen suggests folding in all the edges and using double-edged tape so it doesn't show. When you're finished, she says, pinch the corners for a crisp look. "It's like architecture for the gift," she says.
With inspiration from surrealist artist Salvador Dali, Kaaren Gray of New York created a big, black cardboard telephone with a bright pink ribbon for a friend convalescing from a broken leg. Attached was a gift certificate for a dozen dinners from a neighborhood caterer, "Call Cuisine."
For a special birthday present, Gray -- a former editor at House and Garden, Elle Decor and other magazines -- devised a box with half a dozen collages, each representing a gift from which the recipient could choose.
For her father's birthday, Gray took inspiration from the artist Jim Dine to make a box that looked like the gift inside: a striped robe.
Celebrate the season
"Red berries make a perfect holiday gift topper," Wen says.
Or create seasonal ribbons using plastic wrap filled with rows of red-and-white peppermint candies.
Gray likes to use knotted, clear cellophane bows instead of ribbon for Christmas presents.
For gift cards or cash, Swan suggests a handmade envelope.
You can download a template from the internet (thepapermillstore.com has some), cut or tear the shape out of festive paper, insert a card coordinated with the envelope, and seal it with a holiday sticker.
"Keep a stash of things you love to use for your gift wraps," Wen says. "If you are short on space, keep your gift wrapping supplies in an under-bed storage box with wheels, which you can find at Target or The Container Store. When you use things you love, it becomes a joy rather than a chore."
* On the net: www.callcuisinecaterers, www.soolip.com, www.susan swan.com, www.thepapermillstore.com/envelopes-templates