Lisa Vollrath is a prolific mixed-media artist whose work includes altered books, art journals, collage, gluebooks, and paper crafts.
Inside this innocent-looking ball of yarn are many little gift items for a friend overseas. I really wanted to send them to her in a way that was entertaining, and a little silly. Since the gift would travel a long distance, I also had to come up with something that would take the abuse of going through international mail.
My solution? I turned a pile of little gifts and goodies into a surprise ball, which requires my friends to unwind the ball to find her presents.
Here's how to put a surprise ball together:
Each surprise ball is different, so there isn't a set materials list. Instead, here are some tips:
- For filler, choose small, lightweight items. Surprise balls can be a great way to wrap a collection of items, like army men, doll clothes and accessories, buttons or jewelry. Alternately, one moderately sized item at the center can work. A small jewelry box can work. Think of items that will make the recipient giggle a little. Their favorite candy (as long as it won't melt), charms for their charm bracelet, the pieces for a small puzzle, or items related to their hobby.
- For wrapping, I chose yarn, strips of fabric, and lace, but you can be creative here. I've seen surprise balls done with crepe paper, crime scene tape, and strips of newspaper. Anything that's long and flexible enough to wrap will work.
Step 1: Choose the Gift
First, I chose the items I wanted to send, including a printer's block, some buttons, rhinestone brads in a small watchmaker tin, and a stack of 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inch artist trading card backgrounds. These are all things my friend, who is a mixed-media artist like me, will enjoy, and will probably use in her future projects.
I've seen all manner of things wrapped this way: small pieces of artwork, figurines, art dolls, fat quarters for quilting, little handwritten notes-you name it. I usually try to keep my largest item smaller than my hand, so the ball will end up about the size of a small melon, but if you have lots of ribbons and fibers for wrapping, and the strength to lift the finished ball, make it as large as you wish.
I usually choose to make the largest item in my pile of goodies the center of the ball, so I started by wrapping the ATC backgrounds with some pretty ribbon. One or two cards would probably buckle when wrapped, but a dozen wrapped together in a stack makes a very sturdy center.
Step 2: Choose the Wrapping Material
Because this is going to a mixed media artist, I wanted to include lots of different fibers and trims. I'll be changing the wrappings in each step. If you're sending to someone who knits, crochets or weaves, perhaps you'll want to purchase one lovely skein of yarn, and wrap the whole thing with that instead. Think about the recipient, and what she'd like.
Step 3: Start With a Ball
Next, I added two shorter, thicker items, to pad the center out, and start turning this into more of a ball shape. Here, I'm using some lovely lace trim to wrap the printer's block to the center of the ATC backgrounds.
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On the other side, I wrapped the little tin of brads. I like including something in a tin close to the center of the ball, because when it’s finished, you can shake the ball and hear things rattling inside. A small tin of mints or candies would provide the same effect.
By the time I had these two items securely wrapped, the ball was already taking shape. See how it looks a little rounder? That's the goal: to aim for a round shape.
Step 4: Add Another Layer
The next layer was done with wide strips of lovely bright yellow silk. As I wrapped, I added groups of buttons, so three or four of them will fall out at a time when the ball is unwrapped.
Step 5: Tighten It Up
After several layers of wide, bumpy wrapping, I needed something to tighten the ball up. I chose some narrower flat lace trim.
Step 6: Transitioning Materials
To hold the end of the trim in place, I attached this little bottle cap pin. Now I really have a nice ball shape going. Pins or buttons with slogans on them make nice additions to a surprise ball, and will give you the opportunity to use them to hold things that want to slip more securely.
Now that the ball is larger, I can include some longer pieces. These are long bamboo beads, held in place with my favorite string from the hardware store. Maybe some nice handmade paper beads could go into this layer.
Step 7: Hidden Treasures
The next layer included some unmounted rubber stamps, since my friend is a rubber stamping enthusiast. These small pieces of rubber wrapped around the ball easily, held into place by some jute twine.
Step 8: The Final Layer
For my last layer of wrapping, I chose some brightly colored yarn. I covered the entire ball with this, so it looks like just a big ball of yarn—but when you lift it, it’s heavy, and it rattles.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
I always include a little note or tag that’s visible on the outside of the ball, telling the recipient that yes, they should unwind it to find their presents.
Here's a free sheet of tags in different shapes, for you to download and use.
I cut my tag out, and edged it with a little chalk ink to match the yarn.
Once you tie the tag around the ball, and it’s ready to go!
Shipping? If you're shipping the ball, just drop it in a box lined with a sheet of tissue paper. The ball provides its own padding for the items inside, so unless you've included something really fragile, it should be fine without any packing materials. This makes the opening of the box even sillier, because there's nothing in it but a ball.
Surprise balls can also simply be set under a holiday tree, or in a pile of birthday gifts. They look really silly and weird compared to boxes nicely wrapped.
Once this surprise ball was finished, I simply dropped it into a square box, with no extra padding or packaging, and sent it off to my friend in Wales. She had a good giggle when it arrived!
These instructions were originally posted at Go Make Something, where I have hundreds of my how-to lessons and free printable images archived.
© 2010 Lisa Vollrath
Have You Made a Surprise Ball?
Sarah Spradlin from Little Rock, Arkansas on October 19, 2017:
Never heard of this but it's so cute!
Lori Phillips from Southern California USA on April 04, 2017:
Love this idea! Especially when you use such colorful yarn.
Besarien from South Florida on February 04, 2016:
I read this hub a few days ago and made one today for homemade lip balm and other little things for my niece's birthday. Instead of yarn I used different colors of pre-cut hair ribbon so it was a bit harder with so many different ends. She loved the whole thing! My brother has one coming up at the end of the month. Was thinking of a little seed kit wrapped up in gardening wire. This is such a cute and versatile idea. Thanks for sharing this!
Besarien from South Florida on February 02, 2016:
Brilliant and amazingly thoughtful! The beautiful yearn is a present in its own right. Thanks for sharing this idea! When did voting up stop? Oh well, I vote this way up in my own mind at least.
Missy from The Midwest on November 12, 2015:
Thanks for the step-by-step photos. I suck at crafts (although I love making them), so this was really helpful.
Shadow on May 09, 2015:
Great idea! Thanks for the inspiration. Since I'm wrapping a bigger present, I wrapped it in layers of yarn and tape. It's going to be a good laugh!
peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 24, 2015:
Great idea to create suspicion for kids and adults
Sarah on March 06, 2015:
I can't wait to do this! Thank you!
craftarrific from California on December 22, 2014:
I have a few friends who would sure get a kick out of this! Thank you for the inspiration!
sandra lamb on November 21, 2014:
Great idea. I am sure to use it.
fluffyaxel on November 20, 2014:
New way to give my money gifts.
monia ben saad from In my Dream on November 17, 2014:
wow so grat idea
Merry Citarella from Oregon's Southern Coast on October 02, 2014:
That is so clever. I will definitely have to try this soon! So cute.
hazelbrown from Central PA on September 13, 2014:
This is a great idea! Kids would go nuts for a surprise ball :)
Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on September 12, 2014:
Love this idea! Now I'll be looking for small gifts to give at Christmastime. I'd love to make a surprise ball for each of the (grown-up) kiddos.
rattie lm on October 19, 2013:
How clever! Love your creative mind.
Marie on April 28, 2011:
Great idea - I'd never thought of this. I've got some friends who would love this thank you.
Vicki Green from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on November 28, 2010:
What a fun idea. You lens remminded me of the little surprise balls that were made of tissue paper that I had as a kid. I haven't seen one in years, but this is a great idea for wrapping gifts.
Joan Hall from Los Angeles on November 27, 2010:
What a cool way to wrap a gift!
VarietyWriter2 on November 04, 2010:
Very cute idea!
resabi on November 03, 2010:
Love this idea. I'm going to try to adapt the wrapping to something that will work for my daughter in college (she doesn't craft, so no point in wasting yarn etc.) I like the step-by-step explanations and photos. Thanks!