A different way to wrap...and some thoughts
In early November, Kristin of 'Sew, Mama, Sew!' loveliness wrote to me and asked if I'd like to help with something. She and the Green Bag Lady (also known as Teresa) were putting together a campaign to encourage people to wrap this year's Christmas gifts in handmade reusable shopping bags. The benefits of this being four-fold: you double your gift giving as the wrapping becomes a gift in its own right; you can dispense with sellotape and wrapping paper; the recipient has a lovely reusable shopping bag to use throughout the year cutting down on landfill; that reusable shopping bag is lead-free (yes, that's a shocker - many of the 'green' reusable bags have been made in China and have been found to contain lead).
So when Kristin approached me and asked if I'd be happy to put together some ideas for how one might go about wrapping Christmas gifts in reusable grocery bags (without it looking like you'd wrapped gifts in reusable grocery bags), I was delighted to give it a go. Inspiration was drawn directly from the traditional Japanese method of wrapping presents in cloth - Furoshiki - to create sculptural wrappings that don't pretend to be wrapping paper. The bag handles can often be incorporated into the wrapping to create bows and billows that add to the impact, along with ribbons, flowers and paper butterflies - all of which can be used again. My full blog post on these wrappings, along with suggestions for how to wrap some commonly shaped presents can be found here. I used the pattern written by the Green Bag Lady to make my bags (although I made my handles slightly differently to conceal any raw edges), which you can find here. You can find alternative grocery bag patterns here and then a few more here. It's worth saying that the grocery bag is probably one of the simplest items to make...it's a perfect project for someone who has never sewn a stitch before.
For those of you who, like me, regularly read the Sew, Mama, Sew! blog, you may already know that Teresa has given her working life over to this cause, but this had somehow passed me by until Kristin contacted me directly about this cause, so it seems worth mentioning again, as I find it truly staggering, as well as inspiring. Teresa has now given away (yes, completely free) over 13,000 reusable shopping bags made by her and her team of 'bagettes'.
I know that Kristin and Teresa would be delighted for you to run away with this campaign and make it your own: either by making bags to wrap Christmas gifts in; writing about wrapping Christmas gifts in reusable bags on your own blog and encouraging others to do the same; adding to the ever-growing bank of free grocery bag tutorials and patterns available....or just self-gifting and making a grocery bag for your own trips around the shops.
I find this issue a really interesting one generally. Aside from providing reusable bags that have lead in them (which I'm sure won't have been their intention) I think that the supermarkets' role in raising awareness about carrier bag use has been amazing (although I do feel affronted that they have done so little to tackle their own excessive product packaging problems). I now feel toe-curlingly embarrassed if I forget a reusable carrier bag and have to ask for a plastic one to pack my grocery shopping in, which is as it should be. To have got to this point of plastic bag use being a social embarrassment in less than a decade is a real achievement. I love that people are continuing to think of ways to change the tide further and that Kristin is now moving her thoughts to the worldwide waste that Christmas, with all its other loveliness, creates.
Sometimes things can feel overwhelmingly huge, a solid, immovable social construct of our society. Three years ago my little girl had a birthday party at home, to which we invited over 20 of her friends and my parents were both here to help out. After the party my daughter excitedly began to unwrap the 20 presents that her guests had brought for her. As she unwrapped, unpackaged, exclaimed and did all the other things involved in the process of a six year old girl unwrapping a large pile of presents, my father became increasingly quiet and withdrawn. Afterwards he told me that he had suddenly realised that this scene would be being played out in millions of homes every day all around the world...and the excessive amount of presents, the packaging and the wrapping made him feel utterly depressed. Some things seem hard to change: that was the last big birthday party we had for her, partly for that reason, but also because as she's become older her parties have naturally been smaller and as a consequence the gifts that she receives are always thoughtful and chosen with care by children and parents who really seem to know her and what she might like. For the friends that we know very well, my children often suggest something that I could make them for their birthday gift, but for those that aren't family friends, they'd find giving a handmade gift embarrassing and I have to respect that (and can understand that too....I often choose not to give handmade to people I don't know well), but I often feel I'm buying a gift that may go unused when I'm not sure of the child's tastes or interests. I'm unsure what my conclusion or firm thoughts about this ramble are as I love giving presents (and must confess to enjoying receiving them hugely too) so I have no desire to entertain the idea of a scrooge-like ban on present-giving...but I share my father's uneasiness about the whole thing. What are your thoughts? How do you give gifts? Have you found an interesting way around this that sits well with you?