Our family tradition of wrapping presents in fabric gift bags began as little brown paper bags. When my parents were first married in 1942, they lived in a basement apartment, the ceiling crisscrossed with pipes. For one of Mom’s birthdays, when Pop couldn’t afford much, he got her a bunch of little gifts, “Ning-A-Nings,” as we call them.
He put them in little brown paper bags and hung them with string on the pipes. When Mom came home from work, she was greeted with all these little bags of surprises. She loved it! We had paper bag birthdays from that point on!
Decorating paper bags
As children, my brother Andrew and I would draw pictures on the bags or paste cutouts from construction paper, magazines, and old greetings cards. We made bags for special occasions — Mother’s Day, Easter, etc., and saved our favorite ones from year to year.
Our mother Elizabeth hated to wrap presents, so eventually she wanted to convert Christmas to paper bags, too. Andrew and I resisted. To us kids, Christmas meant Christmas wrapping paper!
So we compromised: we wrapped some presents in traditional gift wrap, and the rest we put in bags decorated with colorful Christmas cards, and glitter. We proved to be ahead of our time, because at some point, Hallmark stores and others began to offer their own paper bags printed with their own logos, Christmas themes, or fun graphics. (This was long before the commercially available, sturdier paper gift bags we can purchase today.) But we only allowed Christmas themed bags at our house.
We also saved gift boxes of different sizes and covered them with Christmas paper, old cards, etc. The decorated paper bags and boxes could be used over and over and were saved from year to year. With the gifts under the tree in wrapping paper, the Christmas-y paper bags and the paper covered boxes, Christmas still looked festive.
Enter… cloth gift wrapping
Some time in my 20’s, Mom was pushing for the ease of all paper bags and boxes so she wouldn’t have to wrap anything ever again. (She would pass off her wrapping chore to her sons and husband so that we would wrap each other’s presents and she wouldn’t need to wrap anything!) But even as a grown up, I still wanted some Christmas paper…about that time, I began to notice Christmas fabrics.
I decided to surprise Mom with cloth Christmas bags. A rectangle of fabric, folded in half and sewn to make a simple sack with an attached ribbon for tying it closed. They had the satisfying festive look of Christmas paper. They made gift-wrapping super simple and they were compact to store. Mom was thrilled!
30-year-old cloth gift wrap bags
These cloth bags eventually edged out the paper Christmas bags, which eventually bit the dust, as well as most of the boxes, bulky to store. Some of these cloth bags we use every year are over 30 years old!
Now we all have collections of cloth Christmas bags, in different sizes to fit just about any gift. Over the years I’ve added bags in other fabrics for birthdays and holidays. As part of their gift, I make bags for some friends and family, who I know will use the bags and not just toss them away.
Wrapping gifts in cloth gift bags couldn’t be simpler. It takes minutes to “wrap” a pile of presents. No need to buy wrapping paper. Haven’t bought any in years!
How about you? How do you creatively wrap gifts without any waste?