How to Wrap a Present — You Know, the Right Way — with Brendan McCaskey

It’s a classic holiday tale: You make your list (and maybe check it twice,) brave the hectic stores, and find the perfect gifts. But then, you start wrangling with the paper, the tape, and ribbon and suddenly, those previously perfect gifts look like Krampus.

But this year, we put a stop to this holiday cycle and conferred with crafting wizard Brendan McCaskey of Jar of Buttons and For The People to learn the tips and tricks for making a present almost too pretty to open.

Let’s start with the basic materials needed.

“I’m a purist,” McCaskey says.

He prefers to use either white or brown kraft paper for wrapping. It’s easy to work with and provides a blank canvas so you can jazz up the gifts with neat ribbon, string, or washi tape. You’ll also need clear tape and scissors. And since it’s the holidays, McCaskey likes to decorate his packages with ornaments or buttons to make them a little more special.

Obviously, gifts come in all shapes and sizes. So McCaskey demonstrated how to wrap a standard box and, for those of you who decided to follow Emma Stone, Aidy Bryant, and Kate McKinnon’s advice and give The Christmas Candle, a round object.

For a standard box shape, place the box near one corner of the paper so the longest side of the box is parallel to the shortest edge of the roll of paper. Measure out the paper you’ll need so there’s enough to go around the box once and enough on each short side to cover the box once the paper’s folded over.

McCaskey suggests folding the paper over the edge of the box and making a crease, so you know where to cut.

Place a piece of tape on the paper and the box, so you can pull the paper snug. Then wrap the paper around the package, so the outer seam lands on one of the long edges on the bottom of the box. Secure the paper with three pieces of tape — one in the middle, and then an additional one a few inches apart on either side. Run your fingers along the edges of the box to crease more defined corners in the paper.

"It makes it more finished," McCaskey says.

With the package still facing down on the table, fold in the two vertical sides of paper on one of the shorter sides of the box. This will create two flaps of paper along the top and bottom of the gift. Crease the edges of these flaps to make them easier to work with.

Fold the upper flap down so it lies flat against the side of the box and create a crease along the bottom edge. Fold the lower flap up and crease the extra paper over the side of the box facing up. Pull that flap of paper back, and tuck the extra paper in against the box so the fold lines up with the top of the package. Again, secure with three pieces of tape.

Repeat this on the other side.

Now, it’s time for ribbon.

As far as choosing what ribbon to use, McCaskey encourages wrappers to “think proportionally.”

If it’s a bigger package, use a thicker ribbon and a thinner ribbon or string for smaller gifts.

McCaskey suggests that you cut a ribbon about six times the longest length of the box. That might seem like a lot, but “better safe than sorry,” McCaskey says.

Find the middle of the ribbon and lay that flat against the top of the box. Flip the box over and lay the ribbon flat. Grab the two ends of the ribbon and twist the about 90 degrees so they securely wrap around each other and can be pulled around the opposite side of the box.

Flip the box over so it’s once again facing right side up, and make the ribbon meet in the middle. McCaskey likes to tuck the two ends of the ribbon under the piece already laying flat against the box.

Then, cross the ends over each other and begin to tie a bow. It’s at this point, that McCaskey puts an ornament around one end of the ribbon and then finishes tying the bow, making sure the loops are even.

Cut the extra ribbon off at a slanted angle, and your gift is complete.

Of course, some gifts aren’t as easy to wrap as a box and require a technique that’s a little different.

“This’ll make people go, ‘What the hell is that?’” McCaskey says. “But in a good way!”

For our Christmas candle, McCaskey starts by rolling the object in full sheets of tissue paper to provide some padding.

Tape the tissue once in the middle and then once on near either end of the object. Then, roll the candle in paper so the paper just goes around the object once. Trim off the extra, and secure with three pieces of tape.

Feel where the edge of the object is and begin to pinch the paper in around the edge on both sides. This will make it easier to tie ribbon around that paper.

Make sure the seam of the paper is facing down, and tie ribbon around each end of the object.

Trim the paper and tissue paper to whatever length you like by starting at the seam and slowly turning the package as you cut. Once trimmed, reach in and separate the sheets of tissue paper to make the ends of the package look fluffy.

Feel free to add a sticker to the top of the package or pin a button on the center of each bow to add a finishing touch to the gift.

“People can always be creative,” McCaskey says about what paper and ribbon people use. If you want to use a “crazy” wrapping paper, pair it with a simple ribbon, or liven up plain paper with colorful ribbon.

But McCaskey says there’s one combination to always avoid.

“Never pattern on pattern,” McCaskey says with a laugh. “Blegh!”

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Evie Carpenter is a visual journalist. Using photography, videography, design, and sometimes words, she tells stories she hopes make a bit of difference in the world, even if those stories are in list form and include GIFs.
Contact: Evie Carpenter