Wrapping presents in cloth for the complete klutz
December 12, 2019 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I would love to wrap my presents in fabric this year (and then re-use the fabric next year). I do not have scraps but found some fabric in a local store that looks lovely. Thought I'd cut a length of fabric into squares and then use each square to wrap a few items. Is this doable? How do I know how much fabric to buy? Is there a simpler way to do this?

I have eight people on my list including five kids. The kids love crafts and I imagine they would enjoy the wrapping as much as the gifts themselves. Almost all of the gifts are books. Like, 95%. The rest are box-shaped as well. Four to five books per person (I feel guilty just typing this).

I don't know how to sew. A friend who can offered to help but I do not want to impose on their time. It would be great to just find ready-made pieces but I imagine it would be very expensive (or maybe not?)
Any ideas? Am I nuts to even try this?

Possibly relevant - I am not in the US.
posted by M. to Grab Bag (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am a BIG fan of this. I wrapped someone’s birthday present like this and she was delighted, particularly when I firmly instructed her that she was not to save the fabric but to pass it on to the next gift she presents to someone.

Google “furoshiki” which is the Japanese practice of this to get an idea of sizes and techniques. There’s a lot of YouTube videos too!
posted by like_neon at 1:17 PM on December 12, 2019 [6 favorites]

When I was little, my mom made big cloth drawstring bags (not advanced sewing for someone in the know) that our presents went into every year. They wouldn’t even have to be drawstring, really, which is even easier! Bags for presents from parents and from Santa were color coded.
posted by centrifugal at 1:19 PM on December 12, 2019

Just to clarify, I am not looking for ideas on how to actually wrap the presents and I know the term "furoshiki" (hence the tag) :)

I am looking for advice about logistics - given X number of items with Y measurements, how much fabric do I buy and how do I cut up the fabric to minimize waste? What fabric is best if I don't want to do any hemming? The fabric is 170 cm wide.
posted by M. at 1:21 PM on December 12, 2019

I'd get on some graph paper and draw a page or pages to represent the bolt of fabric. Maybe say 58 squares wide where each square is 3cm?

Then cut out rectangular parcels of the required size from another sheet of graph paper (again, 1sq =3cm, or whatever scale you used in the first part) and fit them as compactly as you can-- it's tetris! Narrow, long parcels of fabric should if possible run the width of the fabric bolt, while more squarish packages should run the length (in general). Those are rules of thumb; what I would avoid if possible is diagonal placement, but if you are giving pre-assembled pool-cues or something else with an extreme L:W ratio, well, it's for the best to go diagonal to save some dough.

After that, add 10% of the bare minimum length to allow a screwup or two, and head to the fabric store.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:30 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pretty much any fabric except felt (too heavy) will ravel when cut with straight scissors. You can use pinking shears to prevent this. Or you can try using fusible bonding tape or fabric glue to hold a folded hem. I haven't used the last two so I don't know how well they work.
posted by Botanizer at 1:38 PM on December 12, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think this would be so cute! A simple cotton quilting-weight fabric should work just fine. Some fabrics can be kind of thin, so you can take one of the books to the store to see what's opaque enough. With cotton, pinking shears should be good enough to prevent raveling at the edges. If you go with something that's more likely to ravel, like satin, the hem tape will be your best bet. If you get a polyester, you could probably melt the edges with a lighter or candle to finish them off, though that is tricky and can look a mess if something goes wrong.
posted by little king trashmouth at 1:46 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do this! I use ready-made thrift store scarves. Be sure to ask the store if they have ends/remnants for cheap; usually they have a discounted bin somewhere and you might luck into something fun like velvets.

Pinking shears are a great idea. Basting tape is fine for single use but if you intend these to last multiple years I'd hem. If you baste them first with the tape, your friend can do the batch very quickly with a machine (like a minute per piece).
posted by veery at 1:47 PM on December 12, 2019 [8 favorites]

I also use thrift store scarves and dishcloths. Thrift store pillow cases/cushion covers are often even cheaper and do half the job for you!
posted by slightlybewildered at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you have a sense of how much wrapping paper you usually use in a year, I would buy 50-100% more fabric than that, because the ends will be overlapping a lot more. My instinct as someone who does mostly wrap with fabric is that about 5 yards will give you plenty to work with and not much waste. As mentioned, pinking shears and plain weave cotton fabric minimize any problems with fabric shredding.

But really, I would buy much less—maybe two yards or a couple of “fat quarters” (which are usually in neat prepackaged amounts along the cotton fabric racks at big box craft stores.) That’s enough to play with but not an amount that leads to an overwhelming amount of new project. I would use this year as a test run with a few gifts the new way to see how you like to wrap with loose fabric. You may end up having different preferences than you expect and if you buy all the fabric this year you may need to totally rebuy next year.

Personally, my technique is to sew very plain gift bags out of fabric, and I tie the tops with yarn or ribbon. It is really lovely to have a big Christmas morning and end up with two handfuls of waste at the end of it, and in my local culture a gift in a bag is a more familiar form factor than furoshiki. It would take you and your friend about an hour to make a dozen very plain bags. Might be worth putting some time in after the holidays to try it.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Furoshiki are most reusable when they're close to square, IME, so you can only efficiently make furoshiki in a few sizes -- I would say only full width or quarters off 110cm cloth, maybe nine 50cm squares out of 1.5m of 150cm cloth. So I'd lay out the presents and figure out how many of those sizes you need.

Hemming straight sides is not necessarily very hard, esp. if you'll do the ironing, or the seamstress has a hemming foot or a serger, and if you aren't fussy about mitered corners. (You aren't!) Take your friend a nice snack and enjoy.

tchemgrrl's bags are nice too, or sometimes I sew a tube of the cloth and tie a ribbon around each end, like a giant.... taffy?
posted by clew at 6:26 PM on December 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm doing the same thing this year! Without a sewing machine, pinking shears are your friend, and they are super fun and useful for fabric. DO NOT USE THEM ON PAPER. Get a basic pair (the cheapest brand you can, Fiskars if they're on sale) and go wild. Backstitch by hand if you want to sew with fairly long stitches and you will get nice bags fairly fast. If your friend is willing to sew them, it is really easy plain sewing on a machine, as tchemgrrl says. Drawstring bags are super-useful for everything.

Christmas fabric that is year-round like with little stars on it but not too seasonal is your best bet.

Another option is felt. You can blanket stitch two pieces of felt together around three sides with embroidery floss and it looks suuuuper cute, leaving the top open for a simple cut and button enclosure, or just tied together with a ribbon if it's narrow. Here's a tutorial for a long rectangular one for a wine bottle that's actually a box shape. Simplifying that to two sides for smaller gifts, or an envelope like this tutorial (use hand running stitch in floss instead of a sewing machine) would be even easier. Felt is lovely and colourful for gifts. You can add tags by cutting a felt circle out and an initial in an other colour and using craft glue to put the initial on the circle and then just tying it on as a little monogram, and it looks adorable.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:29 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

We do this and I don’t think there’s a great solution to what’s the best size. We have a variety of sizes and used to have anxiety about cutting the bigger pieces, but in the end, If comes down to some common sizes and some variety. Having a bunch that could wrap your typical hard cover book and a few bigger ones is probably a great start.
posted by advicepig at 6:37 PM on December 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pinking shears work fine, but a rotary cutter will make quicker work of cutting the fabric into nice, neat squares. You would need a cutting mat for a rotary cutter. If you know a quilter, a cutting mat will be in their arsenal of tools and you could ask to borrow it. Pinking shears do prevent some fraying, though, but it's up to you how much potential fraying bothers you.

You can also get seam tape where you apply the tape slightly in from the edge, then fold the edge of the fabric over the seam tape, and iron it. This gives you a more finished look without sewing.

I'd grab a pillowcase from your home for comparison purposes. Will the gift fit inside the the pillowcase? It takes about 1 yard of standard 45-inch-wide fabric to make a pillowcase, so that gives you a good frame of reference.
posted by Ostara at 6:39 PM on December 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

I do this too, and totally recommend leaning into frayed fabric edges. No sewing required. I love the look. I just get all of my gifts together, eyeball sizes and how I plan on wrapping them, and then cut my fabric, and then run it through the washing machine and dryer along with a regular laundry. I use linen and cotton, and love thrifting for them (tablecloths, sheets, shawls, etc.) Natural fabrics fray best. Last year I found a whole box of mid century white linen tablecloths in different sizes and shapes, they were amazing, some had jacquard and damask work like fruit or flowers printed white-on-white into the fabric. I frayed the cut edges and tied everything up with roping, like gold metallic rope, or sisal. Most people really like keeping this kind of thing and reusing it, win win.

Edited to add: I forgot, I just basically wrap things with a dollop on top, and that wrapped in rope. Like a Hershey's Kiss. No intricate folds. I think the way I do it makes the frayed edges look really nice. Sort of like this (just a random image I found online, not mine) but of course fabric instead of paper.
posted by the webmistress at 7:31 PM on December 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Here's a fabric calculator for box cushions that ought to work with anything square/rectangular. I don't entirely understand all the cushion options, but that one includes width, length and depth, so that ought to work to get a base idea of yardage. I'd round it up a bit, since you'll want enough extra fabric to knot, tie or fold it closed.

I don't know how it is outside the U.S. but my fabric store has had some pretty decent sales lately, and the holiday-themed fabric was something like 70% off the other day. Given that you'll be able to re-use it for years to come, this makes financial sense even if this year it's a bit more expensive than the wrapping paper you might normally buy.

I would take advantage of your friend's skills and offer to run some errands for her or give her a nice gift card to her preferred sewing shop, because in general people with sewing machines like buying new fabric, thread, machine accessories, etc. (I have a machine and doing something like this for a friend would make me really happy even if they didn't do anything in return).

(The main page of the linked website has options for other shapes.)

4-5 books for every person? You are a rare gem.
posted by bunderful at 4:54 AM on December 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

We have done this for almost 20 years now. I honestly never have ravelling problems because the fabric doesn't get washed and gets handled very little, and some pieces were cut with pinking shears. I usually wrap things "envelope style" and then put a piece of cloth or ribbon around it to hold it closed. One of the things I loved when the kids were little was how q-u-i-e-t it was. No tearing paper and huge trash bags.
posted by SinAesthetic at 10:34 AM on December 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I did it! It was a TON of work but so enjoyable!
No duct tape. I had no idea how much I disliked duct tape until I didn't have to spend an entire day cutting off small bits of duct tape off the roll.
Cute AF.
Bragging rights.

I have no real working space. My kitchen table is covered with stuff.

Things I learned:
SQUARES. For furoshiki, squares work best. I ended up cutting the fabric into squares that were either one half or one fourth of the original fabric width.
Rotary cutter. The most genius tool ever. Thanks to Ostara for introducing this magic thing into my life.
Fat quarters are a thing. Who knew?
Ribbons are great when the fabric is too stiff or too wonky and you need to resort to using fabric as you would paper (instead of making knots).
If the fabric is stiff and the square too small, the knots become ugly and it's better to just wrap and use ribbons.

I learned a lot from this thread and your great advice. Will post pictures tomorrow - posting this on my phone and stuff won't upload.

Happy holidays everyone!
posted by M. at 12:12 PM on December 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

I hope the link works.
posted by M. at 11:58 AM on December 26, 2019

I'm not sure if I linked to just my two pictures or the entire front page of imgur. Here's the second one.
posted by M. at 12:06 PM on December 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

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