I still say this magazine should be called either “Profiles in Sadness” or “Profitable Hobbies for Widows and Widowers”.

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Imagination, not expensive materials, produces the most attractive gift packages, says a California woman noted for her original wrappings and lectures on the subject.

Photographs by Alex Vierheller and Aaron Rubino

THE SUCCESS of Mrs. William J. Roth’s hobby of gift wrapping sometimes causes her to live her seasons in advance. For as early as June, requests start coming in for her to lecture on the subject at various clubs during November and early December, and right along with the requests for lecture dates come the first orders for original Christmas gift wrappings. People have learned to get their orders in early.

As soon as these start to come in, she begins working out new ideas with the result that, as she puts it, “While most people are thinking of hot dogs and potato salad, with long, tall glasses of cool lemonade, here I am all wound up in tinsel, red ribbon, pine cones and plastifoam with dear old Santa Claus riding on my shoulder!”

Mrs. Roth has turned her ability to wrap gifts beautifully and cleverly into a very profitable hobby. She lectures not only in her home city of San Francisco, but in many towns all over California, and the gift wrapping orders come from all parts of the country—even as far away as Maine.

Mrs. ROTH’S popularity as a lecturer is due not only to her originality, sparkling personality, and thorough knowledge of her subject, but to the fact that she inspires those who watch her to try original wrappings of their own. Mrs. Roth always insists that really outstanding gift wrapping is much more dependent on imagination than on money, and is limited only by the wrapper’s willingness to use the materials at hand—with imagination and good taste.

When her audiences see such packages as one tied with red satin ribbon and decorated with a sprig of pine and a bright red, Cellophane-covered apple (simple, inexpensive, but eye-catching and beautiful), or a gift of place mats with one of the mats used as part of the decoration and finished with a bright green ribbon and a “corsage” made of Cellophane covered with Ritz crackers and foil covered butterballs—they begin to understand what she means when she says that imagination is more important than money.

They see her take an ordinary Pyrex custard cup, fill it with candy, turn it upside down over a square of red Cellophane, bring the Cellophane together at the top, and tie it with red ribbon, making as pretty a Christmas bell as you could wish for.

Then, while everyone is saying to her neighbor, “Now why didn’t I think of that!” Mrs. Roth zips up a few more— leaving various lengths of ribbon, fastens them to a pine bough with a few quick twists of florists’ wire, ties a big red satin bow at the top, and presto! there is a beautiful front door decoration that will still be useful after Christmas is over.

When they see her decorate a package wrapped in dull-finished orange paper and tied with copper brown satin ribbon, with woodland products—a pressed oak leaf, tiny cones and acorns, many a woman in the audience makes a mental note to bring back some of these things on her family’s next vacation to liven up next year’s Christmas gifts.

Mrs. Roth often sees her ideas “borrowed” and used with someone else taking the credit, but when irate friends call this to her attention, she only laughs and says it doesn’t matter as long as someone is enjoying them. After all, she points out, chuckling, there are plenty more ideas where those came from.

Mrs. Roth says the first fancy wrap-pings she ever did were for the box supper packages she used to make when, as a young bride, she lived in the little oil town of McKittrick, California. It was a desert country, with no beauty or color outside of sunset time, and the color-loving young matron made up for the drabness every chance she got.

At the Saturday night dances, all the women brought fancy boxes packed with lunches to be sold at midnight to the highest bidder for the purpose of helping pay for the music. Mrs. Roth always tried to make hers the gayest and prettiest, and found that she greatly enjoyed thinking up bright, original wrappings. DECEMBER, 1950 Then when they had church bazaars, she “did up” pretty gifts for her booth, as she noticed how much more money the booth made when the gifts were fancily wrapped. She continued this when she moved to Los Angeles, and soon was wrapping the gifts others would bring to the bazaars. One by one, people started giving her orders to wrap packages for them.

When she went to San Francisco to live, she joined several garden clubs, and the Rainbow Hobby Club of California. As one of her hobbies was gift wrapping, her reputation began to grow, and gift wrapping orders began coming in. She charged what she felt was right for each package, and soon found that she had a very profitable hobby on her hands. While, of course, the busiest time was Christmas, it proved to be by no means limited to Christmas, but extended to special occasions the year around.

She became so well-known that The White House, one of San Francisco’s oldest and finest stores, employed her to wrap packages for them for practically all the holidays—Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s Day, Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving.

MRS- roth never has done any actual promoting for her private gift wrapping service—it has grown somewhat like a snowball—friends in the clubs and at the store have told other friends.

Then she began lecturing for the American Fuchsia Society, in connection with her hobby of growing fuchsias. In her lectures she incorporated how to use the fuchsia blooms on package wrappings, and the first thing she knew, she was doing entire lectures on gift wrapping.

Mrs. Roth says she had no idea so many kinds of clubs existed. She now lectures for all kinds of garden clubs, flower arranging clubs, night school classes, women’s clubs, and church clubs. The popularity of these lectures is attested by the fact that she has been invited back as many as five times.

“Beauty,” says Mrs. Roth, “reaches everyone—men, women and children. There is no age limit, no distinction in color or creed.”

She has lectured to white, black, brown and yellow groups; Jewish, Catholic and Protestant groups—all understand her language of beauty, and all make her welcome. In turn they are all welcome to come and visit her garden at any time, and many of them do.

Her wrapping service and lectures appeal to two different groups of people. The wrapping service appeals to those who do not like to wrap packages themselves, or do not have the time, or who do not feel they can do it well enough— people who want a gift to look especially attractive, and are willing to pay for beauty and originality.

The lectures appeal to the people who want to learn how to do it themselves, both because they enjoy it, and occasionally because they cannot afford to pay to have gifts wrapped professionally. The fact that she stresses using simple, inexpensive things and more imagination than money is a great asset to her popularity—plus the fact that along with the beauty they learn to create, the audience is always assured of some good laughs. Beauty and humor! What could be better assurance of a delightful evening?

Mrs. roth is almost as widely known for her graciousness, charm and wit as she is for her gift wrapping. She is tall and graceful with slender, expressive hands, and eyes that sparkle with wit and enthusiasm. Exuberance is a word usually used only in connection with extreme youth, but Mrs. Roth, whose hair is silver, still retains that delightful quality.

She is a true hobbyist—in fact she says her real hobby is “collecting achievements.” She actually has eight hobbies. Few of us could handle so many, but possessing an orderly mind and the ability to work swiftly, she has managed to become proficient in all of them. She says gaily that “the poor hobby horse is bent in the middle with the load, and his shoes need repair often, because I really ride him high, wide, and handsome! ”

Beside gift wrapping her hobbies are: Needlepoint (she has needlepoint-covered chairs and stools as well as samplers).

Flower arranging (she is expert enough at arranging to lecture on this subject, too, and to act as a flower show judge).

Tropical fish (she has a well-stocked aquarium).

Candle making (she makes candles for gifts in all sorts of decorative shapes).

Gardening—particularly fuchsia growing (she is a former president of the California Fuchsia Society, and received the fourth American Fuchsia Society Achievement medal issued).

Rug making (she makes and sells beautiful crocheted rugs).

Flower pictures (she makes pictures with dried flowers which are unbelievably lovely and realistic).

She is also a past president of the Rainbow Hobby Club.

Mrs. Roth found her hobbies a great consolation and help in becoming’ readjusted after the recent death of her husband, a San Francisco businessman who shared in his wife’s hobby enthusiasms, and rejoiced with her over triumphs such as winning the first and second premiums for gift wrapping at the California State Fair, and being awarded the Fuchsia Society medal.

Mrs. Roth spent much of her youth in the theater, having gone from vaudeville to grand opera, and after her husband’s death she still kept the theatrical philosophy that “the show must go on.” Busy lecture months were just ahead but she never missed a lecture. It is doubtful if anyone in the audiences who watched her wrapping routine, so liberally sprinkled with wit and humor, ever guessed her loneliness and grief.

Mrs. roth gives the following list of pointers and suggestions to those who would like to become proficient at gift wrapping.

First of all, for anyone who intends to do any amount of wrapping it is very important to have a table at a comfortable height for a good working level, and a good, firm surface.

Have the table clear of everything else—never try to wrap on a tablecloth.

If all material is kept in labeled boxes, it avoids clutter and confusion.

Select the right size box, being certain it is large enough so that the lid does not bulge, but still not so large as to allow the gift to shift, or roll to one end. Use fresh, crisp tissue to line box. If you only have a used piece handy, press it with a warm iron.

Select paper design to suit size and type of gift so that the whole package, inside and out, is a perfect unit.

The paper wrap must be large enough to fold over one inch only to avoid bulkiness. Turn over and tape securely into place. Press firmly on corners so paper hugs box.

Use plain paper with fancy trimmings, and pattern paper alone or with just ribbon.

Foil, metal or heavy enameled papers must be turned and folded with great care so as not to crack corners. Wallpaper, fancy shelf paper (not shelf edging) and rolled Cellophane papers are good for large packages as they have no creases and are inexpensive and gay-colored.

Match or pick up a color in the paper for ribbon or trim. Tie ribbon around box tightly so trim won’t slip.

Make the bow separately and tie onto package with loose ends of tie ribbon.

Use fine wire to fasten heavier trims. It is easier to twist than to tie.

Use transparent cement (quick drying) to fasten small objects that can’t be tied on—sequins, buttons, nuts, tiny cones, etc., for an all-over effect.

Flat or tailored trims or fancy patterned papers are best for packages to be shipped a long distance so they won’t look crushed or messy on arrival. Keep the fluffy, high piled decorations or fresh flowers for the “carry-in” package. However, special collars can be built around the fancy ones for mailing if one cares to learn how, and to take the trouble.

Certain accessories are necessary if you are doing a variety of wrappings. Here is a suggested list:

Sharp scissors.
Florist wire.
Florist tape.
Household cement.
Pipe cleaners.
Ice pick (for punching holes, and making pipe cleaner spirals by wrapping wires around pick).
Wrapping papers.

In buying Scotch tape, the big, $2.25 roll is an economical investment. Not only do you get more for your money, but the fact that you need only one hand to handle the tape saves a great deal of time in wrapping.

A card punch is handy, though not indispensable.

It is also a good idea to borrow your husband’s pliers if you are going to use wire. “But,” Mrs. Roth warns, “for goodness sakes, put them back!”

For materials—use your imagination! Mrs. Roth uses practically anything that has interesting form and color. Some of the more unusual things she has used to decorate packages are: Cotton pods, eucalyptus bark strips made into bows, eggs, sequins, pieces of felt for cut-out letters, chestnut burrs, acorns and dried apple faces.

The dried apple faces, which she uses so often for a humorous effect, are particular favorites with Mrs. Roth’s young grandchildren. These are made from ripe, winter apples. Core and peel an apple about three times the size you eventually want. Gouge the features out with a pencil point. Then put it aside for three or four weeks. The apples must dry slowly, as the fruit should dry from the inside out. If the center is left soft, it will later mold. If properly dried, the apples will keep indefinitely. The top of the stove, a windowsill in the sun, or any other warm place will do. Every few days the apples should be turned and shaped with the fingers. When thoroughly dried, they have the consistency of stiff sponge, and can be contoured to imitate individual faces.

Jams and jellies are ever-popular presents, and Mrs. Roth uses foresight in preparing these as gifts. When she makes them in the summer, before storing them, she uses oil paints to make simple little flower designs on the jars (usually mayonnaise jars), and paints the lids to match the flowers. Then when Christmas time comes, she just polishes up the jars, and there they are, already decorated as gifts. Other canned foods, she wraps in Cellophane, and tops with a bow and some of her original decorations.

There is a consistent demand for candy and nut wreaths, both as gifts themselves, or decorations for other gifts —depending upon the size. Mrs. Roth makes a variety of them—all the way from tiny ones three inches in diameter to large eighteen-inch ones for front door or window decorations.

These are simple to make, requiring only Cellophane, a heavy wire frame and plasticized wire for fastening the individual nuts or candies in place. Each nut is wrapped in a piece of Cellophane large enough to leave a “tail.” The nut is fastened in place by binding the tail to the wire frame with the light plasticized wire. This is done with each nut as it is put into place. The backs of the wreaths are flat, of course. When finished the wreath is topped with a bow. The candy wreaths are nice with bright ted or green satin bows—the nut wreaths are particularly attractive with gold bows.

Mrs. roth offers some interesting package suggestions to those who would like to make their wrappings a bit different.

For Christmas gifts wrapped in metallic paper and tied with satin ribbon, the addition of a cluster of tiny Christmas tree ornaments gives the package added beauty and lifts it out of the ordinary.

A charming provincial touch is given by tying a box wrapped in green metallic paper with plaid ribbon—dime store hair ribbon will do.

Try wrapping an exotic package in shades of blue and mauve.

Combinations of white and silver make a beautiful package.

When wrapping a gift of dress fabric for a friend who sews, cover a box with printed paper and tie with satin ribbon. Tie the thread and buttons into the bow, and slip a dress pattern under the ribbon.

Now for the profit in this gift-wrap-ping hobby. Here are some of the prices Mrs. Roth receives for typical wrappings: Christmas bells—$3, Ritz cracker package—$1, family package— $2, popcorn corsage—$1.50 and nut or candy wreath—$2.50.

For her lectures she receives $25 plus her expenses. She makes nearly as much on lectures as on the actual wrapping.

Mrs. Roth also holds gift wrapping classes, and for this the charge is $1 per person for ten or more persons per evening.

Although Christmas is, of course, her busiest time, Mrs. Roth’s profitable hobby is not limited to Christmas, but continues throughout the year. Some of the other holidays for which she wraps gifts are: New Year’s (using noise makers, paper hats, serpentine and balloons); Valentine’s Day (for these she often makes dainty hearts of scraps of ribbon and lace. Also she likes to wrap Valentine packages so that fresh flowers may be added at the last minute as the decoration); Easter (Easter packages also frequently include the fresh flower decorations, and of course her clever egg faces really come into their own here), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduation, Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving.

Showers of every kind, and all the anniversaries bring orders, too. Some of her most beautiful packages have been for Golden Weddings, and most whimsical ones for wooden weddings. She does a great many baskets as well, for bon voyage gifts, house-warmings, vacations and convalescence. She says about the only occasion she doesn’t have any call to wrap gifts for is the Fourth of July!

People come to Mrs. Roth for the unusual gift wrap, and often for suggestions as to what to give, so they do not feel that her prices are high or exceptional, as each gift wrap is original and nearly always worked around some special event or fancy of the recipient.

One reason so many people are willing to pay well for Mrs. Roth’s wrappings, is because of her ability to inject humor into them. On bon voyage gifts she will sometimes use eggs, with painted faces and fancy little paper hats to signify that the recipient is “a good egg” or a “big butter and egg man.” A man’s shirt she may wrap in brown and gold striped paper, tie with copper-colored satin ribbon and add a decoration of chestnut burrs—because a shirt is “the same old chestnut.” She once happened upon some wrapping paper covered with little pink elephants, promptly bought it and saved it to use as wrapping for gifts of “spirits.” The handle of a convalescent basket occasionally sports a fantastic little creature with a ribbon bow for a body, a frowning dried apple face, and pipestem cleaner legs and antenna, to represent “the bug that bit you.” She almost always uses apples in some way on convalescent baskets because “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Mrs. Roth recently had a telephone call from a woman who wished a wrapped gift for a young woman who “had everything.” The gift and wrapping could not exceed $5. Mrs. Roth suggested a sterling silver Saint Christopher key ring with a horseshoe for good luck. As the diploma is a key to success, the key chain seemed appropriate. Mrs. Roth used an ivory key tied to a small roll of white paper (for the diploma ) with the school colors of yellow and white with gold paper on the box. The sterling silver key ring cost $3.50, the wrapping $1.50, and everyone was happy over the $5 gift.

Whether we realize it or not, we are certain to put something of our own personalities into our hobbies, and since Mrs. Roth has originality, charm, wit and artistry to put into hers, it is no wonder she has been so successful.

1 comment
  1. Stephen says: December 25, 20122:13 am

    It never would have occurred to me that in making “dainty” wrappings for presents it was important to have an ice-pick.

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