art inspiration

gift wrapping - environmental impact and sustainable (beautiful) options

Slow & Sustainable LivingEllie Beck2 Comments
hand painted fabric Websize.jpeg

When we were growing up wrapping paper was a special thing in our house. By this I mean - we didn't buy endless rolls of wrapping paper just because, my parents bought beautiful special paper and we made it last. Every gift that was given was wrapped with care (often without sticky tape), and unwrapped with even more care. There was none of that tearing paper open on Christmas morning; we'd gently unwrap and then fold the paper ready for it's next use. I remember one particular special piece of paper that lasted in our family - being gifted around and around - for years, and by years I mean more than 10 or 15 years. 

This is just one small part that makes my family different to many other families, but it's something that my siblings and I appreciate and respect (then and now), and now our own children follow the same 'care for the wrapping paper' ways. Yay for that!

It's these small, and often un-thought-of environmental changes that you can make in your daily life. They don't take a lot of extra effort, just a new way of thinking, training your brain in a different way. Change like this is good, slow and small, but hopefully long lasting and trickles down to the next generation. 

Another way of wrapping your gifts with a sustainable and environmental underpinning is the Japanese art of Furoshiki. Those Japanese are super clever aren't they - with their origami ways, their artful ideas, their simple beautiful thoughts.

Furoshiki is, in essence, a piece of cloth used to wrap and tie around an item. We have a book in our bookshelf called How to Wrap 5 Eggs! Fabulous. Basically using the right size you can wrap a present for a friend, lunch for your kids, a bottle of wine to take for dinner, a pot plant, even make yourself a handbag or a new top to wear. 

I will admit that gifting special fabric to everyone in your life might not work, especially school friends who won't even know what to do with it; but if you re-think the whole gift then the wrapping can be part of the present. 

Gifting environmentally thoughtful presents sparks a conversation. It allows you to educate your friends or family on how small things can make a big difference. I did a little googling, just so I could shock you a little.... 

            Environmental effects of wrapping paper - The UK alone uses more than 8,000 tons of wrapping paper a year, that equates to 50,000 tress being cut down. In the USA about half of all paper products consumed is wrapping paper, which is thrown away after one use. Consider also that many gift wraps (especially cheaper bulk buy ones) come wrapped in plastic wrap, and many gifts are secured with sticky tape and plastic bows and ribbons, while some wrapping options aren't even paper but cheap foil that isn't or can't be recycled. Attach a gift card and you're looking at more than 100,000 trees being cut down (in USA) each year just for throw away gift wrapping. (I'm not even going get into the environmental impact of the gifts that come inside the wrapping paper!).

But it can be different. t's estimated that the average American gives 42 gifts each year, if only 3 of those are wrapped in recycled options it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields! This shows that small change is effective and powerful. That your actions do in fact help. And that as a community - or country - we can make change.

Here's a few simple alternatives for gifting:

  • A scarf and use that as the wrapping for some chocolates or flowers
  • A sewing kit and use a piece of linen as the wrapping and also as the project
  • A toy and use the wrapping as a play mat or a doll blanket
  • Homebaked biscuits in a upcycled jar with a tea towel as the wrapping
  • A bottle of wine with a tea towel or linen placemat as the wrapping
  • A bunch of flowers with fabric wrapping that can be reused for flowers again
  • A book or CD (remember those things?!) with fabric that can become the book bag


You don't need to use expensive linen or beautiful silk scarves, but can indeed op-shop (thrift-store) some sheets, tea towels or fabric pieces for very little money and cut it into sizes suitable for various objects. You could pre-make some furoshiki wraps or make them as needed to match the size of the gift. 

Here's some ideas to customise the fabric - art it up perhaps:

  • get the kids to paint a giant sheet before you cut & hem it, or leave the edges raw
  • dye it - simple kitchen scraps make beautiful dyes. (I'll share my onion skin dye recipe in a few days, once I get all the pictures finished)
  • do some fun random stitching on the fabric - either by hand or machine. Random machine stitching in bright colours is super fun to do and very effective
  • find some of that crazy funky fabric you'd never use for clothing; I bet it's perfect for gift wrapping
  • make sure you include a printed instruction sheet for people to pass on the wrapping tradition to someone else. Here's a great downloadable from the Japanese government website. (until I find or make a better one). 
  • If you want to learn how to make some like I have pictured here, I share the how-to on my fabric printing online course

Nature - the greatest muse. a little Leaf Mandala inspiration

Ellie BeckComment

On days when I’m lacking inspiration and my mind is in a turmoil (often from the drama of children’s lives), I find that the best way to calm myself, settle my mind, and focus on my day’s projects is to immerse myself in nature.

I am lucky to live surrounded by rainforest, but you can find inspiration in the smallest details of a garden, leafy street or a park. Seeking Mindful moments in nature brings inspiration in numerous ways. As a creative artist I find I often refer back to the environment around me in both a literal way, as well as a spiritual sense.

Walking down my driveway – or you might find a beautiful leafy street – I slow down my breathing and meander about while gathering leaves. Letting my mind focus on each leaf, seeing the unique beauty and appreciating the flaws in the leaves reminds me, as an artist, that it’s the imperfections in my art that bring me most joy.

The process of collecting and gathering leaves brings me back to the simple pleasure of actually seeing the world around me. Noticing colours, shapes, patterns of each leaf as I hold it in my hand before it slips into my gathering basket.

Of course the added benefit is my mind is focused on the small and simple moments in front of me, my breathing slows down and I am readying my ‘self’ for entering my studio and beginning my day’s creative practice. Removing myself from the noise and busy of family life, and taking even just five minutes of actively slowing my breathing, mind and soul seems to spark the creative force inside me; a great way to call the muse to play for the day.

Once inside my studio, before I turn to the jobs list, I really enjoy turning the pile of leaves out onto a white table (piece of fabric, backing board, cardboard or even piece of art paper) and having a play. Even with a big list of things to do, this practice sets my day off on a mindful creative and focused path. You can spend as little or long as you like playing with leaves – often called faffing, in Instagram land. Faffing often uses flowers, but I find leaves are a great way to move past the ‘pretty’ and spend time with the unique, unusual, flawed, critter-bitten, colour-morphed – often a good representation of an art practice.

Ellie Beck Petalplum Red leaf mandala with hands eucalyptus leaves.JPG

A leafy mandala, neatly arranged, colour coded….. whatever evolves as you fall into the silence of leafy-faffing. Don’t set yourself ideals or plans, just see what the leaves talk to you as you sit and play. Often, for me at least, my creativity in my arts practice comes not from over-thinking, but from going with the flow. By settling into a beautiful silence, an introspective mood I can call upon a more ‘me’ version of anything I make.

Once I start over-planning, forcing each move then I loose the freedom of anything I’m trying to work on. This is as true for Leafy Meditation as for my loom weaving, natural dye or even slow stitching projects. And taking the essence of this feeling into my writing helps the words to write themselves, rather than struggling over a pen (or keyboard).

And yes, of course, I’d be holding back the truth if taking the photos at the end of the leaf faffing session wasn’t a lovely part of it too. Capturing the final image before I sweep it all away, returning the leaves back to the garden (or sometimes to my natural dye pots) feels part of the process. Think about Tibetan Monks sweeping away their sand mandalas. But, I do want to stress that taking the photos, and sharing on Instagram, are a by-product and not the reason for the process.  Leafy Mindfulness is an act unto itself – to bring me slow, simple creative inspiration.

** This post was originally published on In the Moment blog here