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Textiles, three ways

Whatever approach you take to textiles, it’s an extra gift on top of a gift. And if you go about it right, it can still cost less than buying wrapping paper at the shop. And for 2 of the 3 options, no sewing is required.

There are two ways to go about this: buying fabric for the purpose, or using what you have.

Mama K. uses leftover bits from her quilting stash. I use outgrown or unloved clothes. It doesn’t cost me a penny.

If you’re buying, check the clearance rack—anything red, green, gold, or cheerful will work. Putting a big red bow on any color will make it look Christmassy. If you have a lot of forethought, you can also hit the sales right after Christmas for those seasonal prints. Or hit charity shops to get huge yardages for very cheap, as sheets, duvet covers or curtains.

Wrappings that are cheerful but not obviously Christmassy (such as the polka dots below) can be used year-round; add a big red bow for December, or a coordinating bow for a birthday.

Plain fabric

If this is the first year you’re experimenting with fabric wrappings, this is the simplest approach. Take a rectangle of fabric in an appropriate size and wrap your present as you would with wrapping paper, tucking the raw edges under if desired. Finish off by tying ribbon or string around the folded-down ends of the package to hold the cloth in place.

Alternatively, roll the gift in fabric like a giant hard candy and tie at both ends.


Or cut a large circle of fabric (hemming optional), place the gift in the middle, and tie the fabric on top, like a gift basket.


Gift bags

This is my favorite option. If this is your first year using them, it takes a small outlay of time. In subsequent years, though, you just pop the present in the bag and you’re done. The bags are infinitely reusable and so darn useful. Mama K. made some to hold some of our wedding presents, and we’ve been using them for years to hold dance shoes, laundry, and various other household items. Erin Boyle of Reading My Tea Leaves uses similar bags to keep her tiny house organized, as do I. The best kind of stuff is the stuff you don’t have to look at.

But I digress.


If this looks like the leg of my pajama pants, there’s a reason for that.

Clothes often have hems and seams that can be used to save you some folding or sewing. Pant legs, for example, already have vertical seams, and a hem if it’s not too worn out. Skirts usually have good hems. A slight curve really isn’t a problem.


This bag still has the original dress hem. I didn’t even cut it into a perfect rectangle, just cut the skirt in half down the side seams. You can’t tell on the present.


Large bags can be folded down to fit much smaller presents. This is the same bag as above:


A small gift in a large bag

The tidiest way to (temporarily) remove width is to fold one corner in toward the other, like you’re folding a fitted sheet. (If you don’t know the right way to fold a fitted sheet, look it up on youtube. I’ll wait.) Then slide the gift in as though the back three layers were all one layer. (If this seems too complicated, just put the small gift in the big gift bag.)


Folding one corner of a too-large bag into the other

To remove height, fold the top down inside the bag before tying. The wrapping on the small package above uses both of these techniques.

You have your choice of closures, too. Drawstrings are convenient (though not necessary) for post-Christmas use around the house (here’s a roundup of drawstring bag tutorials). For wrapping I prefer bags with no closure, because it’s easier to tie on tinsel, holly, or a show-stoppingly enormous bow. These are fabulously simple to sew: folded/sewn on 3 sides, and hemmed. (And depending on the fabric, the hem is optional.)


The art of wrapping gifts in fabric is hardly a new one. The Japanese have long used a square of cloth called a furoshiki both as a gift wrap and a very adaptable carrier bag. These are available for purchase, or make your own by hemming a large square of fabric. For small gifts, a thrift store scarf or a bandana will serve the same purchase. Consider printing out a visual guide to using a furoshiki and slipping it in the present so that the recipient can enjoy using the furoshiki in their daily life.

Seriously, there’s a wrap for carrying anything in a furoshiki. One bottle of wine? No problem. 2 bottles? We can make it so they don’t even clink together. A watermelon? There’s a wrap for that. (Look here for more furoshiki techniques.)

An investment

Depending on your comfort with sewing, this may sound like a lot of work for something you’re going to give away. I find it worthwhile if any of the following applies:

Keep it in the family. If you’re using these bags for your spouse or children’s gifts, you only have to make them once, and you’ll be all set on wrappings more or less forever. Instead of putting a trash bag by the tree, put a box to keep the wrappings in for next year. They’ll become a well-loved tradition, like your stockings and ornaments. And the kids won’t come running for scotch tape come next Christmas.

Give to like-minded friends. Mumsy and I have been using the same gift bags back and forth for a couple of years, tied with pretty ribbons. If the recipient passes the bag on to someone else next year, you’re spreading the good word about reusable gift wrap without a sound.

Enjoy giving an extra gift. If the recipient is the kind of person who will use a gift bag around the house, the extra organization is an extra gift. And unlike paper, it’s still not going in the landfill. Yay!

If the recipient doesn’t fit any of the above categories, perhaps some recycled paper wrapping is in order?