By Wendy Kilmer
Photography by Beth Dukes
Rebecca Bridges learned to sew when she was four years old and recalls summers filled with art projects rather than television. Her birthday cakes were scratch-baked, and her hair bows were hand made with care.
Bridges mom, Nancy, an elementary school teacher, intentionally passed down her love of arts, crafts and making things beautiful.
“My mom taught me in elementary school the correct way to wrap packages and how to measure your paper and ensure your ends and points and tape all meet up and look pretty,” Bridges said.
Family gift-giving traditions abounded at the Bridges’ holiday celebrations.
“Both my Dad and my grandfather involved us in our holiday packaging in a very fun way: pranks,” Bridges said. “My dad is known to go to any length possible to disguise what might be inside our packages – bricks wrapped in a box of lightweight clothing, or wrapping just the key to a door somewhere in the house where the large present was. My maternal grandfather, however, wanted to make things as difficult as possible. My presents over the years have been welded shut, trimmed with barbed wire ‘ribbon,’ and padlocked with heavy-duty chain, or simply wrapped in a feed sack. Although not as beautiful as some, the fun and memories made are the best.”
Today, Bridges finds joy in using her artistic talents and background both as programming and interpretation coordinator at The Grace Museum, and in the ways she prepares gifts for friends and family.
Bridges shared a few tips for creating unique, thoughtful and beautiful holiday wrapping.
Personalize for added pop.
Her gift-wrapping style typically includes one creative element per package, in addition to ribbon and natural elements, such as greenery. The unique elements might be ornaments, pinecones or wood cut-outs.
“Ornaments attached to the package is a great way to either personalize to the recipient or theme your packages,” Bridges said. “Fresh or faux florals make an easy and elegant addition and are probably my favorite thing this season – ferns or tropicals or eucalyptus or boxwood or rosemary. You can spray your fresh greens with a floral preservative from a florist, and they will keep for awhile, or eucalyptus will dry nicely. “
The creative element could also be a gift tag. Handmade clay or salt dough or an oversized hand-lettered tag add a special touch to the gift, Bridges said.
“It doesn’t have to be complicated – sometimes simple is the most beautiful.”
Be picky about ribbon and wrapping paper.
Purchase two wrapping papers: a solid and a print. Plan the pattern and color so they all look good together when stacking them under tree.
“Don’t go to all the trouble of making a pretty tree and then put cheesy packages under it,” Bridges said. “Get high quality paper, preferably with a grid on back. You don’t want something that rips while you fold.”
Select ribbons carefully. Wired ribbon makes for easy shaping of bows. But perhaps Bridges’ most unexpected tip for both ribbon and wrapping paper: stay away from the Christmas section.
“If you purchase a higher quality paper in a larger quantity, you can use it for a variety of occasions and just change your accents like ribbon or a patterned paper,” she said.
Take traditional colors but add a flip
“I like to go with trends on colors, but right now I’m really liking rich navy blues or matte black and deep greens with natural and gold or brass accents,” Bridges said. “I also kind of love navy with a pale coral pink and a medium brown. When I do traditional holiday colors, I try to flip it a bit to keep it fresh – maybe a springy green or muted olive rather than the usual Christmas green we think about. This really stresses my grandmother, by the way.”
Make the most of your budget.
Use coupons at craft stores and check for sales. In addition, using paper that lasts beyond the holidays offers more value for your money.
“Wait and find something really pretty to use your craft store coupon,” Bridges said. “As with anything, saving money requires planning and preparation. Keep your eye out for sales. Buy paper that lasts a few years and can work for gift other than Christmas. Buy big rolls.”
Involve the whole family.
Bridges recalls wrapping packages herself as far back as elementary school.
“It is wonderful to let kids try to figure out how to wrap unusually shaped things as problem solving. Give them a big sheet and some tape and ribbon and let them try!” Bridges said.
Coloring book style wrapping paper is a fun option for kids in your life. You can also have custom gift wrap printed and sent to you from several online sites like Spoonflower.
Make it meaningful.
“Gift wrapping can be a great excuse to slow down and think about the person to whom you are giving the gift,” Bridges said. “It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to wrap a beautiful package, but it can be an expression of your feelings for that person. If at no other time of the year, take time during the holidays to spend five minutes thinking about your family and friends individually while making something just for them.”