Gift giving and Gift wrapping…

June and July have been the gift giving season for us. Several family members and friends have had birthdays; this involves gift giving, and the inevitable gift-wrapping that accompanies it. This year for the Junior Rumpole family, Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey the gifts involved artisan-made or artist-made ones. Why not support the creative community, I figured.

The giving of gifts necessitates camouflaging them with wrappings to make them a ‘production’ of a present, to add glamour and mystery to what may in the end turn out to be an ugly pair of socks a recipient might only use to dust ceiling corners in perpetuity. There have been volumes of books published which are devoted to the fine craft of wrapping presents. The whole procedure becomes a painful chore to which proles, like yours truly, carry a life-long deep-seated antipathy, never being interested in developing refinements, which, when considered in seriousness, border on the frivolous, excessive and wasteful. Conventions of gift presentation carry with them a whiff of the bourgeois.  Ever conscious of my ‘pinko’ characteristics, I have made many attempts to down-play gift-wrappings, by giving presents which are awkward to box, bag or otherwise wrap.

Why, once, I decided to gift my younger sister, Margaret, with a lilac shrub. This item is rather challenging to camouflage. Rather than festoon it with wrappings of hideous patterned gift wrap paper, I chose to go ‘au naturel’, as in “what you see me dragging in is what you get so be prepared to do a superlative bit of acting and look absolutely surprised AND delighted”. Once I had arrived at Margaret’s house,  wrestled the shrub out from the car’s back seat, fluffed it up a bit to negate the dishevelment it had suffered during a twenty mile drive, I presented it to her with a flourish from behind my back ( as if she missed identifying the shrub as it poked out around my blocky body). Ta Daa! Surprise!!! Margaret can give Meryl Streep a run for her money as an actress, she faked surprise and pleasure so well. And the lilac has grown to monstrous proportions in the intervening years. It has given her scented blooms for her vases, or for her afternoons out sipping tea in its magnificent shade. And no gift wrap had been wasted or sent to the land-fill.

I was thinking back on this while considering exactly how I was going to ready the Junior Rumpole gifts for this year’s presentations. Renaissance Man’s gift of a silk-screen print by Anarchist Artist of the ‘Battle of Seattle’ was a cinch to prepare. I slipped it into a huge archival plastic envelope, one of those I use to store large drawings, rolled it into a large tube and wrapped a strip of fine drawing paper around its middle. A small tidy snick of tape to secure the paper strip, and it was good to go. Renaissance Man shares with me a mania for collecting art works on paper, so he will make good use of the archival plastic envelope for his own storage purposes. He didn’t seem crest-fallen in receiving a gift so casually presented. Score: proles

Glasgow Girl has enough residual bourgeoise tendencies to want a somewhat more fussy presentation. Eage to oblige, I scratched my grey head while considering solutions. Her gift, of a pottery serving-bowl, was a tad too small to place inside a flowery pillowcase and enclose with a length of ribbon from my sewing stash. Of course, I could have stuffed the pillow-case with shredded bills from the paper shredder, to disguise the contours of the gift, however it did not seem appropriate to accompany such a lovely present with slivers of paper bearing hidden evidence of my family finances, so, instead, I opted to use furoshiki.

For those unfamiliar with this term, using furoshiki involves wrapping and carrying objects inside a knotted, square, patterned cloth of cotton, rayon, or silk. I have long admired Japanese craft, aesthetics, and their national tendency to marry practicality with beauty. This seemed a perfect solution. I remembered that somewhere in the distant reaches of my bedroom closet was a box full of new, never used silk and wool scarves that I had recieved over the years as gifts. You don’t know what to get a man as a present? heck! Buy him socks – he always needs them. For women the equivalent of socks-for-all-occasions of gift giving must be scarves? However, for me, once I became aware that my idol, Isadora Duncan, had met her untimely and dramatic end by being choked to death when her long scarf wrapped around the wheels of her Bugatti, scarves had lost their lustre and glamour. Into the closet box all scarves were relegated, and some were real beauties.

So, out came the box of scarves, from which I selected a delicate orange and yellow silk one with sketchy flowers. I wrapped the pottery dish in several layers of newspaper,ensuring the wrapping had square corners, placed that bundle kitty-corner onto the silk square and alternately square-knotted opposite corners, leaving a lovely four-square petal of cloth at the top. It is possible to carry this package securely and without disturbing the decorative top by slipping fingers through the top knot. Glagow girl was delighted when she received this bundle.

“How on earth do you come up with these ideas?” she asked. “This looks too elegant to open.”

“Oh, the internet,” I said, modestly casting down my eyes, “but, do open it and see what’s inside.”

She opened the knots and unveiled her present. Then she asked what she should do with the scarf, as she, herself, didn’t wear them.

“Well, you can keep it, and use it to wrap a gift for someone else. That scarf should get around some!”

“You know, I have a huge stash of scarves, that just keeps growing yearly,” she commented. “This is such a perfect use for them.”

I ended up doing a same kind of wrapping for Mousey’s birthday present of mother and baby opossum hand puppets. She happily unwrapped her gift, and then toted it off home in her scarf furoshiki.

The other day when Jeanie was here for dinner, after we polished off a bottle of wine, I showed her how wine bottles can be wrapped singly or in pairs for gift-giving. She practiced furoshiki wrapping bottles on the coffee table and pronounced her results ‘brilliant’. She was going to drag out her collection of scarves, once she got home, and practice on all kinds of things to wrap up.

I feel I have been doing my level best, in an underground sort of way, to kill off custom for Hallmark and other purveyors of gift-wrappings. While I have never watched Martha Stewart’s shows and learned of those  modes of presentation which she pronounced “Good Things” this one might be right up her alley as a purveyor of domestic niceties.  Furoshiki – a good custom to practice.

8 Responses to “Gift giving and Gift wrapping…”

  1. johemmant Says:

    Nice post……we have several things in common, an admiration of things Japanese and pinko characteristics *grin*. Thanks for stopping by, nice to meet you.

  2. Marsha J. O'Brien Says:

    Ha ha, a lilac shrub would be hard to camouflage. I wanted to let you know I was a day longer sending your CD than I had planned – but you should get it soon. Hope you like. 🙂
    Keep writing girl!

  3. ybonesy Says:

    I wish you could do a photo of one of your Furoshiki masterpieces, but I suppose like you (or not like you) I could consult the internet.

    I had no idea that Isadora Duncan was strangled to death by her own scarf. Yikes. It does make one wary of the things, doesn’t it. My mother purchases scarves like made, every time she sees them on sale. (Look, they were originally $42, marked down to $28, then eventually marked down to $4!) We get lots of scarves, and I too have a drawer of them, so who knows?, maybe I will become a Furoshiki master, too.

    BTW, I also have resistance against buying loads of bags and ribbons and shreddings and papers that simply get tossed away. It goes against my sensibilities.

  4. suburbanlife Says:

    johemmant – we japanophiles and pinkos have to stick together. Thanks for your comment. G

    Marsha! – i am looking forward to receiving the tape, will send you back something in return 😉 G

    ybonesy – i take terrible photos these days, but the furoshiki are so easy and so much fun to do. There is a japanese government website that provides pictorial how-to’s ( which is a great step above the instruction leaflets they used to include back in the 70s with model airplanes – the instructions were so oddly translated) that are a cinch to follow. I hate fuss and waste, also, and try to be frugal in all of my activities, including the art ones. G

  5. maryt Says:

    G, How have you been? I like your essay on wrapping gifts, or NOT wrapping gifts in the traditional way. I have taken to bags of all sorts and ribbon for my gifts. It’s a lot easier while not necessarily more environmentally friendly. When you have time come visit my “(Not so) Bad Art Friday” post – my first – I think you may like it. 🙂

  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    I’m with you. There are lots of ways to present a gift without having to spend an extra tenner on wrapping paper and sentimental gift cards.

    I went looking for a card for my sister’s wedding anniversary. Yikes! A very ordinary one with sprinkles of glitter cost six dollars! There’s lots of other useful things that money could be spent on than a transitory piece of sentimentally printed card stock. Bon Dieu! our sense of values have been perverted.
    You’re talking to the converted.

  7. suburbanlife Says:

    Mary – thanks for asking – I am fine, just recuperating from yet another operation on the eye I can relate to using bags, being a sort of bag-lady myself, and always curious to know what secrets bags are hiding – so that’s an interesting solution too. Wrapping has that same mysteriois hide and seek quality also -it just takes a little more effort to reveal what’s hidden and prolongs the curiosity for just a little longer. G

    Lookingforbeauty – i know what you mean about looking for gift cards, a chore i also dislike. But then there are such quirky, funny cards – I’m thinking of the unorthodox ones created by my artist friend Lisa which never fail to spin my head and I treasure them, where generic ephemera don’t really do it for me – now those are GIFTS, no mater how they are presented. Tamela always makes hand- drawn cards for all kinds of occasions and they are wonderful. Wrappping in bits of cloth can take on the same kind of quirkyness – it doesn’t need to be generic, and can satisfy the magpie instinct in the giver to find the right shred of cloth for the right person. Kind of challenging, I think. G

  8. christine Says:

    I’m late to reading this one, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I’ve been smiling throughout at the several amusing moments. I have a bit of the pinko in me too, only I call it nutsy granola communist. Your Japanese wrap is something I need to try. I do like scarves, but I could use old T-shirts.

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