This is for everyone who’s wondered why their packages don’t come out looking as nice as their sister-in-law’s.
There are two important but inobvious principles of package-wrapping technology: First, keep the paper and the package straight and square in relation to each other. Second, keep the paper slightly under tension as you wrap it around the package. That’s how you get that sleek, tidy look: pull it tight, keep it square.
You can see this inadvertently illustrated on this site. The woman does demonstrate basic wrapping procedures, but she doesn’t pull her paper snug as she goes. See the photo of the finished package at the top of the page? Her wrapping paper buckled when she tied the ribbon on. Loose paper is the commonest way to screw up gift wrapping.
Further useful principles:
Before you do anything else, take the price tags off the gifts. Do them all at once, right at the beginning. You won’t remember to check when you’re wrapping your fifth package and you’re up to your elbows in ribbons and gift cards.
Have a large flat clear area to work. If it’s the floor, sweep it and give it a quick swipe with a wet paper towel before getting down to work. Little bits of grit can do a surprising amount of damage to wrapping paper.
Have some bits of tape already torn off the roll and stuck down lightly by one corner on a hard, smooth object. You don’t want to be messing around with a roll of tape at crucial moments, because you need your hands for the paper.
(Note: most novice wrappers use too much tape. Wily old wrappers use all kinds of fastenings; for instance, hot glue guns and contact cement. For added geek value, you can either get great effects or get yourself into a whole lot of trouble with 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.)
Secure your package first. It will make things a lot easier. Fasten cardboard boxes together with bits of tape. Consider wrapping some kind of padding around unboxed irregular objects. Newsprint never killed anyone, though tissue paper looks nicer. Bubble wrap is also fine, though you’ll want to tape it down tidily and trim off any excess.
Folding over your edges before taping gives you a bulky edge if you’re using heavy papers, but it’s a very good idea if you’re using soft, fragile, or very lightweight wrapping materials. If you’re using translucent tissue-weight wrapping paper, you’ll have to first wrap the package in an underlayer of tissue paper or plain white paper, or it’ll look crappy.
An industrial-size roll of shiny metallic mylar covers all bets. Saving the Sunday funny pages is good too. Plain brown wrapping paper can make a fine-looking package if you use large bold ribbons and bows in congenial colors.
How to actually do it:
I could write out the full description, but others have already done it. All hail the web. The best and clearest version I’ve seen is this video demonstration by Santa Claus. He needs to clear off that tabletop so he can see what he’s doing, but he’s rock solid on important stuff like a snug, tight wrap and sharply creased corners.
If you want a non-video version, eHow’s How to Wrap a Gift has good, clear instructions and some thoughtful warnings. Avoid the WikiHow entry on the subject.
If you’re very clever or very desperate:
Onward to more exotic techniques. The method demonstrated by Santa and at eHow is called a seam line wrapping. You can find an additional explanation of it, plus instructions for diagonal wrapping and furoshiki-style wrapping, and various ways of tying ribbons, at the Shimojima gift wrapping page. Just click on a picture and you’ll get a step-by-step how-to. Shimojima’s been in the wrapping-paper business since 1920. Trust that they know what they’re doing.
Wrap Art is a page after my own heart. It shows how to put together gift wrappings that give the impression that You Meant It To Look That Way when all you have to work with are too-small scraps and pieces of several different kinds of paper and maybe some old markers. Click through their gallery to get an idea of your options.
There are only two tricks I can see that they’ve missed. One is using the food coloring out of your kitchen to paint watery stripes (or other patterns) onto plain paper. The other is to wrap a package in paper of one color, then take paper of a contrasting color, pleat it, and snip shapes out of it as though you were making a paper snowflake. When you’re done, carefully unfold it and smooth it out, then wrap a single layer of this paper lace around your contrasting package. It’s tricky, but can look quite impressive.
Furoshiki: this is one of those wrapping techniques that’s either very special or an act of last-minute desperation. Furoshiki are hemmed squares of fabric you wrap and tie in different ways to accommodate parcels of different sizes and shapes. It’s very Japanese. Want to give someone a bowling ball, or two bottles of wine, or a poster in a tube? There’s a furoshiki wrapping technique that’ll handle it. Here’s a how-to page. (Thank you, Erin Kissane.) You probably don’t have spare furoshiki lying around, so use a square scarf, or a bandana if the package is small, or an inherited bridge cloth you’ve never particularly liked.