It’s a Wrap: Reusable Gift Wrap Tutorial

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

Two of the most consistently popular topics from my Pinterest boards lately have been sustainable packaging and furoshiki, so I thought I’d combine those two topics with a timely twist and explore sustainable gift wrap.

You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted statistic that if every American family wrapped three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. That statistic is kind of overwhelming when you think about it, but just like with anything else, you do what you can with what you have where you are. For me, that starts with using re-usable gift wrapping whenever possible.

A couple years ago I switched from using wrapping paper for most of our holiday gifts to using cloth wrapping, and while we’re not perfect about it, it does feel really good not to be throwing away bags of barely-used wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

The simplest way to wrap gifts using fabric is just to use a square or rectangle of fabric, either hemmed or cut with pinking shears, which you can use pretty much the same way you’d use a piece of paper to wrap a gift, and then tie it up with ribbon (or get fancy with furoshiki).

The first year we used fabric wrapping, I made simple bags (basically just a piece of fabric folded in half and hemmed on two sides) that can be tied off with ribbon. They sew up fast, work great and are still going strong. If you want to get fancier, try making a bag with an attached ribbon, a drawstring bag or this cute fabric gift bag with a built-in ribbon from A Quilter’s Table – it’s next on my list of ideas to try.

This year I decided to try to make some wrapping with the ribbon built-in, to make wrapping extra simple. It’s very simple – just a square of fabric with ribbons attached at two opposite corners – but it wraps up into a pretty official-looking gift.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

My first attempt started with a 36×36″ (about 91.5 cm square) piece of fabric, which would be great for bigger gifts, but kind of overwhelmed a book, which is a pretty common gift from me. So on version 2.0, I started with a 20×20″ (about 51 cm square) piece of fabric, which was much more manageable (and, if you’re starting with a yard of fabric, leaves you with a 16″ wide strip you can turn into a gift bag). You can scale the square up or down depending on what you’re wrapping.

For each wrap, you’ll need:
– 20″x20″ piece of fabric (or size of your choice)
– 4 feet of matching ribbon
– thread

A note on fabric: I used regular old cotton, because that’s what I had on hand, but it might be nice to use a fabric with a little sheen to it, like Spoonflower’s Organic Cotton Sateen – just don’t use anything too thick or it will be hard to wrap.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

A note on ribbon: I used 1.5″ and 2″ wide satin ribbon, because it has a nice shine and it’s what they had at the fabric outlet I frequent. To keep the ribbon from fraying, you can melt the ends ever-so-slightly with a flame – now, normally putting me and a flame together is a bad idea, but I managed to seal up the ends of the ribbons without incinerating anything – the trick is to put the ribbon near the flame but not in it, and keep it moving. WikiHow (scroll down to the third option) has pretty clear instructions. Whatever method you choose, start with sharp sewing scissors so you get a clean cut, and cut at a 45-degree angle, either across the ribbon or with the ribbon folded in half to make a notch. (Btw, if you need tips for tying a pretty bow with that ribbon, check out this video.)

Here’s what you do:

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

1. Trim off any selvage (side note: The British “selvedge” just makes so much more sense than the American spelling, doesn’t it?) and cut your fabric into a square.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

2. With the right-side of the fabric down, press up 1/2″ all the way around.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

3. Because I wanted to practice mitred corners, I took the extra step and sewed mitred corners. I could try to explain to you how to sew a mitred corner, but By Hand London does it much better. If you find mitred corners daunting or fussy, skip it and just make square corners. Most people will be so impressed that you made wraps that they won’t care about the corners. If you’re not doing mitred corners, just fold and press another 1/2″ all the way around to give it a nice finished edge.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

4. Fold one corner toward the wrong side if the fabric, making a little triangle, until the base of the triangle you’re creating matches the width of your ribbon (just look at the picture; I can’t explain it).

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

5. Pin the ribbon on top of your corner/triangle, folding the raw edges of the ribbon under. Make sure if your ribbon has a wrong side that the wrong side is facing up (so your fabric wrong-side and your ribbon wrong-side are the same direction).

6. Repeat on the opposite corner.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

7. Whether you’ve mitred or not, sew all the way around the hem, ducking in on the ribbon corners to follow the edge of the ribbon.

That’s it! It took me about an hour to make one wrap, but that time included figuring out what I was doing as I went along, setting up my Spotify playlist to accompany my sewing, burning myself on an iron, discovering the machine was threaded wrong and having to rip out my seam and start over…so, really just a typical day sewing for me, but I think it would get faster with each iteration.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

To wrap, lay your item diagonally in the middle of the cloth. Fold in the top and bottom (the non-ribbon corners). Then criss-cross the ribbon corners over the back (you can tie them in a half-knot, but it seemed bulky to me). Pull them around to the front and tie in a pretty bow. If your item is smaller, wrap the ribbons around in the other direction, too, before tying.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

Note: If I cared terribly about surprises, I might line this wrapping, in which case you don’t need to do mitred corners; you can just put the two pieces of fabric right-sides-together and sew them together, leaving a little gap to turn it right-side-out and then top-stitch it all the way around. You could even make it reversible by lining it with a contrasting fabric. It will be a little bulkier when wrapping, though.

If you’re not up for sewing, there are lots of other options for re-used or reusable wrapping, from magazine pages to mason jars. Or try wrapping gifts in pre-made tea towels like these from Trader Joe’s or IKEA – or, you know, something fancy. There’s even a tutorial for making pretty no-sew fabric bags using double-sided tape, if you’re a seat-of-the-pantser.

Lastly, if you want something sustainable inside the wrapping, too, consider these gift ideas from Imperfect Foods – or, as I heard it put the other day: Eat it, drink it, spend it, burn it.

Whatever and however you celebrate, I hope you have a fabulous end to 2019 and a happy, healthy 2020!

Fabrics used:
The Lost Mitten Barkcloth
Smoochies
Frosty Frolic
See more of my wintry designs here.

Reusable fabric gift wrap tutorial by Lellobird

Monday Inspiration: Los Angeles

Exterior of Petersen Automotive Museum in LA

Exterior of Petersen Automotive Museum in LA

Recently we took a trip to Los Angeles. Being a staunch Northern Californian I was raised to think of LA as a soul-less wasteland of smog and cars (sorry!), but every time I go I discover something new and interesting. This time around we took in some of the region’s architecture (of which I took terrible pictures for some reason), including the Petersen Automotive Museum.

Not being a big car person I wasn’t sure what to expect, but my favorite thing about this museum turned out to be the montage of photos Pixar designers took on their cross-country road trip to get ideas for the look of the original Cars movie. As a designer, I love how obsessively they research every detail, even things that don’t ultimately make it into the final movie. Similarly, Josh Holtsclaw has a great post on his site about the look they created for The Incredibles films, including complete branding packages for entities like the hotel where the Parr family stays.

Since I was reading Susan Orlean’s fascinating The Library Book at the time (and because I’m a library nerd), I also got interested in the history of the LA Central Library building, which led me to the Los Angeles Conservancy (check out their walking tours) and their amazing branding package created by the design firm YYES. There’s also a nice case study about the rebranding, which features ultra-simple, interchangeable icons of iconic LA buildings, here.

I love it when travel not only provides a break from the daily routine, but also opens up my eyes to new design ideas. What travel destination inspires you?

Tea Towel Gift Pairings

Bottle gift wrapped with Orange, Orange, Lemon, Lime tea towel by Lellobird

Spoonflower has 50% off on fat quarters for the next week (through November 8) – which means this is the perfect time to scoop up some tea towels for holiday gifting.

Better yet, pair your tea towels with a book, plant, baked goods or another item and use the towel as an eco-friendly wrapping – you’ll save the paper, and it’s like getting two gifts in one. Plus, if you start now, you might actually have time to sew up the towels before the holidays (unless you’re a really champion procrastinator like me, and then you’ll be hemming the night before your gift exchange).

With all the tea towel choices out there, you can find something that pairs with almost any gift idea or recipient – the hardest part may be choosing which one to use! (Or giving it away!)

Tea towels pair naturally with food- and kitchen-themed gifts, but anything small-ish will fit – here are some of my favorite ideas:

Plant gift wrapped with Windowsill tea towel by Lellobird

Bottle gift wrapped with Orange, Orange, Lemon, Lime tea towel by Lellobird

Cookbook gift wrapped with Bakers Gonna Bake tea towel by Lellobird

Jar of honey gift wrapped with Honeycomb tea towel by Lellobird

Book gift wrapped with Jane's Words tea towel by Lellobird

Speaking of furoshiki, there are a ton more furoshiki ideas, plus instructions for hemming your towels, on the My Poppet website.

I put together a Pinterest board with examples of all the above uses plus a few more – check it out here.

Happy gifting!

In the wild: Otter blanket

Weighted blanket by Weighted Works with Significant Otters fabric

As you know if you read my posts or follow me on Instagram, I love to see what people make from my designs! Melinda of Weighted Works recently sent me a photo of a weighted blanket made with my Significant Otters fabric on the front and minky on the back – just looking at it makes me want to crawl under it and take a nap!

According to Weighted Works, weighted blankets can help users feel more calm and relaxed, and can help manage the symptoms of insomnia, restless leg syndrome, autism, PTSD, nervous system disorders and anxiety.

Oddly enough, I actually noticed this effect the other day at the dentist’s office, when they put the lead apron on me for some x-rays – it felt so nice I got a little sleepy, which is saying a lot given how much I hate going to the dentist. Maybe I should have asked if I could wear it for the whole visit…

Bandage Stripe fabric

Sometimes I spend a ton of time carefully drawing a million details for a fabric or illustration…and sometimes I get a really simple idea that just works on the first try. “Bandage Stripe” was definitely the latter – it came together really quickly, but the colors make it special.

And I’m thrilled that this design came in 2nd place in this week’s Medical Professions themed contest at Spoonflower – thank you to everyone who voted!

I can see this fabric making great scrubs, an ice pack cover or a fun pouch to hold your first aid supplies – because every 5-year-old will tell you that boo boos feel better when you have a cool bandage (or bandage-themed accessories!).

First aid kit mockup with Bandage Stripe fabric by Lellobird

Do-gooding: Annual Report

Fundraising fabrics by Lellobird - image mockups by Roostery
Lellobird fabrics that raise money for charity, shown on mockups by Roostery.

I’ve selected several of my fabrics as fundraisers for specific charities, and I donate a portion of the proceeds from their sale every year. Thanks to all of you who purchased my designated fabrics and products this year, I was able to make donations to the following organizations in 2017:

International Rhino Foundation
Rhinos seem like such tough creatures, but due to poaching and habitat loss, all five rhino species are threatened with extinction. The IRF works for the survival of the world’s rhinos through conservation and research. I especially like the way they partner with local communities living near the rhino populations – many of them struggling for survival themselves – so the locals benefit from conservation efforts, too. Sales of Rhinoce-roses and Rhinoce-roses Tiny (and products made with them at Roostery) benefit the IRF.

Friends of the Oakland Public School Libraries
As a life-long library user, a one-time library employee and a long-time library volunteer, I was shocked to learn that 30% of OUSD schools – including 14 of the 17 high schools – don’t have working libraries. FOPSL’s goal is to have an up-to-date library at every OUSD school in order to support literacy and “provide access to quality literature, information and technology to all OUSD students.” Sales of the Library Tea Towel Calendar (also at Roostery) benefit FOPSL.

North Bay Fire Relief
I created my Tea & Hope Tea Towel (also at Roostery) explicitly to be a charity item, with proceeds going to a different non-profit every six months. The first cause I chose was the fires that burned through swaths of Sonoma and other North Bay counties in October 2017, which were darkening the sky to perpetual dusk even at my home 60 miles away as I was designing it.

The North Bay wildfires destroyed more than 8,900 structures and created problems both immediate and long-term for the area – officials estimate it will be 5-10 years before all the local infrastructure is rebuilt. We visited Sonoma recently and while the burn areas were sobering, it was inspiring to see signs everywhere thanking the first responders and confirming #sonomastrong.

I split my donation between the United Way Bay Area Northern California Wildfire Relief and Recovery Fund, which is helping with both immediate and long-term needs, and the Sonoma County Resilience Fund, geared toward helping with mid- to long-term needs and rebuilding.

For the first six months of 2018, the beneficiary of funds raised through sales of this tea towel will be the International Rescue Committee, which helps refugees and others suffering from humanitarian crises.

Heifer International
Last but not least, bees! I’ve been a long-time supporter of Heifer International because I like their model of not just giving a hand-out but a hand-up, giving things that help people improve their lives and then encouraging them to share with their communities. Bees provide honey for food and also help pollinate crops, increasing yields. This year, sales of my Bee Towel tea towel (also at Roostery) helped purchase two sets of honeybees for Heifer recipients.

Annual giving 2018 by Lellobird - infographic
And, because I can’t resist a good infographic, here’s how the donations break down:

None of these were huge donations, but they’re a start. Whether you can donate money or time, I encourage you to think about ways you can make your own corner of the world a better place in 2018, too.

Wave Your Flag

Being a one-time Nebraskan and an all-time tinkerer-with-things-to-make-them-better, from logos to household appliances, I was super excited to see that Skillshare is hosting a contest to redesign the Nebraska state flag.

I’ve made and re-made a lot of logos in my day, but had never really given flags much thought until I saw Roman Mars’s TED Talk a couple years ago about city flags, where he discusses Ted Kaye’s five basic principles of flag design, which really apply to a lot of design situations.

Kaye’s first rule, “Keep it simple: The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory,” especially resonates with me – I always strive to have logos I design be something you could sketch out with a pen on a napkin and still recognize.

So I got to thinking about Nebraska – I haven’t been there in 20+ years, but in some ways I think that’s helpful when designing a flag, because it’s easier to distill a place down to its essence when you’re not right in the middle of it.

Sandhills photo by Chris M. Morris
Sandhills photo by Chris M. Morris via Flickr / Creative Commons (flag outline added by me)

The number one thing I remembered and loved was the sky – wide and blue, crossed with clouds that cast far-reaching shadows across the open land, filled up with storm clouds and once a gathering tornado I wasn’t allowed to watch, being banished to the basement. So I knew right away the top half of my flag would be blue for sky.

Nebraska cornfield photo by Richard Hurd
Nebraska cornfield photo by Richard Hurd via Flickr / Creative Commons (flag outline added by me)

When I think of Nebraska, I also think of fields of yellow – goldenrod dotted with red-winged blackbirds,
corn tassels, prairie grass, the Sandhills. The current Nebraska flag is also blue with a gold/yellow state seal (like 23 other state flags!), so I liked that these colors refer back to the historic flag.

Nebraska photo by Jodene E
Nebraska photo by Jodene E via Flickr / Creative Commons (flag outline added by me)

Looking at maps of the state, I was struck by how the Platte River makes a graceful swoop across the state, which is almost rectangular, and decided to use that swoop as a distinctive and place-specific way to divide my blue and gold sections. After I went through a few iterations of color and line width, this is my final product:

Proposed Nebraska state flag redesign by J. Paltiel/Lellobird

Having seen other flag re-design missions falter, including Mars’s campaign to revamp San Francisco’s city flag, I’m not sure if this one will officially go anywhere (change is hard, I know). But I’m eager to see what other people come up with!

Proposed Nebraska flag redesign by J. Paltiel/Lellobird

The Cat’s Meow

Cats in Bloom pillow designed by Lellobird, made by Roostery
Above: Cats in Bloom on the appropriately-named Catalan throw pillow by Roostery

Cara from Kitty Curator emailed the other day to say she’d included my “Cats in Bloom” fabric in her recent post about cat fabric designs on Spoonflower. Thanks for the mention! There are some really cute fabrics on the list – if you’re a cat fan, definitely check it out.

Kitty Curator is a “blog about independent artists, designers & makers who create cat-inspired artwork and handmade goods,” in Cara’s words.

Cats in Bloom was inspired by a black cat I used to own who was a complete sweetie, slightly clueless, the clumsiest cat you’ll ever meet, and a world-class purr-er.

Looking at that pillow, I was just thinking this would be a fun design to do a little brightly-colored embroidery on top of, maybe tracing some of the flowers to give it a pop of color. Hmm…