DIY: Homemade Holiday Wrapping Paper

Make gifts stand out and save money with your own designs on recycled materials

By Lindsay Kurz

During the holiday season Americans throw out an extra 5 million tons of waste, 4 million of which is wrapping paper and shopping bags. In addition to this seasonal waste stream, Americans use around 10 billion brown paper bags each year, consuming about 14 million trees  — and only about 10 to 15 percent of paper bags get recycled. Here's a creative way to do something about both problems: Forget spending money on rolls of wrapping paper this year and instead make your own by reusing large brown paper bags and a handmade potato stamp. With a few simple steps you can transform your bags into beautiful wrapping paper for all your gifts under the tree. (If you have been good this year and actually managed to avoid collecting shopping bags you can buy cheap recycled brown paper in rolls at most craft or stationery stores. See the Resource section below for specific stores selling recycled brown paper and various art materials for this project.)

- Scissors
- Sharp paring knife
- Palette or plate

- Large brown paper bag
- 2-3 potatoes
- Paint
- Scrap paper and pencil


1. Cut and flatten the paper bag to one large sheet by cutting down a side seam and then cutting out and removing the bottom.

2. On a scrap piece of paper, draw a simple shape such as a star, holly leaf, pine tree or bell. Cut out. This will be your template for tracing the shape onto the potato. For several pre-made template designs click here. Or use shapes cut from magazines or old holiday cards.

3. Cut the potato in half and press against a towel to remove excess moisture. Place the paper template over the potato half and use a pencil to trace and lightly carve in the template shape.

4. Using the knife, carefully carve the surface of the potato outside of the outlines, about 1/4" to 1/2" deep so that only the shape remains, forming a raised stamp at least 1/4" high. Be mindful not to scratch or cut the surface of the shape!

5. Spread the paint evenly on a palette or plate and dip the carved face of the potato in the paint. Then, using the potato as a stamp, transfer the shape to the sheet of brown paper. You may want to scatter this shape over the paper and then create a second or third potato stamp with varying shapes to intersperse with the first.

6. Once the paint is dry, wrap your gift with the paper. Add ribbon or tie with raffia. You may also want to use scraps of the brown paper for gift tags.

7.  ALTERNATIVE: If you do not want to carve a potato stamp, you can make a simple stencil by tracing your design on lightweight cardboard (such as from an old cereal box) and cutting out the shape, leaving a flat sheet of cardboard with an opening in your desired shape. Wash and wring out an old sponge and use to blot the paint through the opening in the stencil shape onto the brown paper.


Recycled brown paper
Green Earth Office Supply sells rolls of recycled brown paper in their packaging section. $4.35 per roll.

JAM Paper has rolls of recycled brown kraft paper in their wrapping paper section they $3.50 per roll.

The Art & Creative Materials Institute ( can point you to safe paint and art supplies. Here are two of their recommended paints and where to find them:

CRAYOLA Artista II Liquid Washable Tempera paint. $2.78 per 16 oz bottle at

Prang Classic Tempera paint. $3.47 per 16 oz. bottle at

Of the Earth. Offering a variety of eco-friendly crafter’s materials, they sell a small selection of ribbons made with natural fibers, recycled materials, and vegetable dyes.

Sweet Organics and Naturals. Browse their Sustainable Wrapping Paper section for biodegradable and natural ribbons.

Not only does topping your gift in raffia extend the handmade look evident in your hand-stamped gift wrap, but raffia is an all natural fiber — like jute or hemp — and is minimally processed, biodegradable, and renewable.

Go Planet Earth. Offering 8-ounce bags of natural raffia strands for $8.

Paper Mart. $4.85 (natural color) and $6.65 (dyed) per 8-ounce bag of natural raffia strands.

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