Not Martha

to make: surprise balls

Surprise balls are, simply, a ball made up of crepe streamers wrapped around small presents. As you unwind you uncover the small presents inside. It’s simple, an amazing amount of fun to open, and very festive. These would make great party favors for kids old enough to know not to try to eat small items, and adults love them too. Well, at least, I sure do love them.

My first recollection of these is getting a tiny one from a gumball machine in Oklahoma, of all places. I’ve come across this as a present wrapping idea in a few places including the Carol Duvall Show, and you can find ready made ones from Tops Malibu (read their story of the surprise ball), and by Party Partners.

Unless you plan on your surprise ball being very large you’ll want to cut your own crepe strips instead of using the streamers you can buy in rolls as those will be too wide.

Crepe sheets come in folded packs and it’s not difficult to cut. I was planning on orange or grapefruit sized balls so I guessed that strips 1.5 inches wide would work best. I used a mat and rotary cutter and found that I could cut through about six layers of crepe at a time. This is important: you want to make sure the folds of the crepe are running across the width of the strip, this way when you stretch it around the ball the crepe will be able to expand to hug the curve:

Picking out things to go inside is an awful lot of fun. For the ones I made in these pictures I was going for items that were unisex. I found things at a few places here in Seattle: Trophy Cupcakes and Party who carry a treasure trove of small vintage toys and reproduction pins, Archie McPhee who have more small plastic toys than any one person can stand and Display & Costume which has just about any party and craft supply you could want. Anything small and flat-ish will work great: uninflated balloons, coins, candy, toy rings, stickers and 1″ pins. I think the small metal charms you can often find at card shops would also be great to include.

You can also add confetti, sometimes you can find larger shapes punched out of tissue paper. This is fun, but be aware that it can be a pain to clean up. Don’t like the person you’re making the surprise ball for? Add extra confetti.

I decided I wanted to put a laminated four leaf clover at the center of my surprise ball so I used clear plastic snap together christmas ornament balls (found at Display & Cosutme). These worked really well as centers and allowed me to start with a nice globe shape. Wrap a streamer around the ball, pulling from the center of the width of the streamer so that it will stretch around the ball. Put at least one streamer between each item, less and things are revealed too quickly. This will seem like a lot of work, but when you open the surprise ball it fewer streamers will seem skimpy.

So, start with your center item and wrap a streamer or two around it. As you wrap shift the angle so you overlap each layer a little bit.

Keep going, it will seem like a lot of work but you’ll get the hang of it. It seems like a lot, but one item per streamer is a good ratio, otherwise the presents will drop out too quickly.

I decided to put a puzzle card scattered inside, so once the person opening it had revealed all the pieces they could put the puzzle together to read the message. I really, really want to do this with a map to some sort of larger treasure hunt someday.


The puzzle card – you write a message, then break it up.

One thing I really regret not noticing in time to get them into this ball: fake mustaches. I suggest you put one in every surprise ball you make.

If you need to wrap in a larger item or add padding to even out a lopsided ball you can use a square sheet of crepe or acetate inbetween streamers.


The eye patch was extra fun to put inside.


Just before the last streamer I used an extra large square of the same colored crepe. This helps even out the appearance of the final layer of streamer.

You’ll need a sticker or ribbon to secure the outside of the ball, just something to keep it from unwrapping on it’s own. I printed simple images onto sticker paper and simply put it over the last end of crepe.

Here are some lists I jotted down for themed surprise balls, also see my (very old) page on Valentine’s Day Surprise Balls.

general small things: candy, balloons, pins, small plastic toys

Princess: sparkly temporary tattos, glitter makeup, oversize plastic ring, printed balloons, bead jewelry

Pirate: eye patch, gold dubloons (chocolate?), small compass, pirate map drawn on puzzle, fake mustache, small treasure chest in center

Tough Guy: fake mustache, tiny cars, temporary tattoo, sheriff badge, gun badge, tiny ninja, bacon bandages

Lucky You: four leaf clover, puzzle with saying, green things, temporary tattoo (chinese character), rainbow balloon, gold coins (chocolate), plastic horseshoe

Valentine’s Day: candy conversation hearts, chocolate hearts wrapped in foil, stick-on body jewels, heart shaped balloons, heart stickers

72 Comments

72 responses so far ↓

  • 1 alex // Jul 31, 2008 at 7:18 pm

    Omgg!! soooo cool =]

  • 2 Sara // Aug 1, 2008 at 5:52 am

    This is a wonderful idea for a party favor! I was thinking of adult party favors the other day and this is the perfect solution to the adult party favor question.

  • 3 TPS // Aug 1, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    That’s so coooool! I want to make some for the bebe’s birthday.

  • 4 StumbleUpon « Muse // Aug 1, 2008 at 6:01 pm

    [...] How to Make Surprise Balls I will definitely be making these cute and creative party favors next time I get a chance to. [...]

  • 5 Elana // Aug 2, 2008 at 5:41 am

    I’m so doing this for LittleBoy’s birthday this year.

  • 6 Patti // Aug 2, 2008 at 10:32 am

    These would be fun at a Swedish julgransplundering party when guests fish for prizes.

  • 7 Mania de tutorial « wicked,wicked in wonderland // Aug 4, 2008 at 6:40 am

    [...] SURPRISE BALLS by NotMartha Já tinha visto essas bolinhas feitas com lã, mas nunca com papel crepom do jeito que esse tutorial ensina. Outra coisa bem legal é que a Megan (”dona” do NotMartha) dá sugestões do que colocar em surprise balls temáticas, tipo, uma bola com surpresinhas que tenham a ver com sorte, com piratas e assim por diante. [...]

  • 8 Andrew // Aug 5, 2008 at 9:44 am

    This is fantastic! I know just the person to confetti…er… I mean give this to!

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  • 10 One Hour Craft » What to Make // Aug 5, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    [...] love Megan’s Surprise Balls.  What a great idea for a party or [...]

  • 11 Lisa // Aug 8, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    What a very creative idea! There’s nothing better than a surprise (especially if it’s a good one)! :)

  • 12 Sonya // Aug 9, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    I just made a couple of these. I’m going to suggest using them for my baby shower for the kids that are coming. This is one of the single greatest party favors EVER. Thanks!

  • 13 Folding Trees » Surprise Balls // Aug 11, 2008 at 2:01 am

    [...] great idea from Not Martha; Surprise Balls! She is sharing a great step-by-step tutorial on her blog. SHARE THIS POSTClose this [...]

  • 14 Gale // Aug 11, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I love these creations. Something I could’ve really enjoyed when my son was a boy, but still the kid in me thinks of special gifts for others…thanks!

  • 15 lazeedaze // Aug 12, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    This is such a great idea! One other occasion I can suggest is wrap in some little risque items for a bachelorette party. I can’t wait to try this soon!

  • 16 g // Aug 18, 2008 at 6:25 am

    this is slammin’

  • 17 sarahelizabeth // Aug 18, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Great Idea, and I love your site!

  • 18 Kristen // Aug 19, 2008 at 9:27 am

    What would you put inside of these surprise balls for a baby shower? Something the ladies can take with them as a party favor? Thanks:) You are very creative!

  • 19 Pattie Cordova // Aug 20, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    awesome! these would make GREAT party favors.

  • 20 granma // Aug 26, 2008 at 5:31 am

    what a super idea i willdo these at christmas for everyone including the dog.

  • 21 Kate // Sep 20, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    These are so cute! I need to make a bunch up for rainy days.

  • 22 Valerie // Oct 4, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Great idea. You could adapt them to any theme – Valentine’s Day, Easter goodies. A lovely inexpensive present for children inside of those hideous shop-bought party bags.

  • 23 Valerie // Oct 4, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    oops – meant to type ‘instead’ of those party bags, not ‘inside’. Comment doesn’t make much sense otherwise!!!!

  • 24 Marcia // Oct 13, 2008 at 7:58 am

    These are called “snowballs” where I live. Same idea, but WHITE crepe streamers. Even the 14-year-old, too-cool-for-all-that kids LOVE them, no matter what they’re filled with! (And it’s the only kind of SNOWballs we get down in the deep, deep south!)

    I made oblong ones (no central sphere) in olive drab crepe and added little black cardboard handles and tops…instant “hand grenades” for my son’s 8th birthday “soldier” party a few years back. Manly, warrior stuff inside. Cool!

    Thanks to your post, though, I’m going to branch out and make pumpkins for my teen daughter’s all-girl Halloween party. Those little pins like you show are all the rage. Great idea, and timely! I just love your site!

  • 25 Marcia // Oct 13, 2008 at 8:12 am

    You know, I just realized…you have four-leaf clovers! :)

    You’re somebody ELSE in the world who finds them in droves, I presume?!

  • 26 megan // Oct 22, 2008 at 11:27 am

    Marcia – Yup, I cannot seem to not find one if I look.

  • 27 Linda // Oct 23, 2008 at 6:26 am

    Where do you find the snap balls?

  • 28 Marcia // Oct 25, 2008 at 8:33 am

    Megan, pleased to meet you. Never met anybody with my curious “affliction” before! :)

  • 29 ::twiglet:: // Nov 23, 2008 at 5:03 am

    Wow, these are fantastic! And look like so much fun. If I ever make them for anyone, I’m going to have to make one for me too, and try to forget what I’ve put inside!

  • 30 Anastasia // Nov 27, 2008 at 1:15 am

    Ah! I LOVE these! My mom used to treat me to these when I was a kid and I’d recently considered making them as gifts. Thanks so much for posting this tutorial.

  • 31 Billie // Dec 8, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    I did this for a wedding present. I used kitchen string, about 750′ of it. We can always use string in the kitchen, right? I cut out hearts and wrote love quotes on them and wrapped them up with gold dollars in the string. This was a group gift and in the center was a MAstercard giftcard for $500.00. I wish I could have been there to see the unvailing but I heard they had a lot of fun!

  • 32 Benita // Dec 22, 2008 at 7:50 am

    I made a ton of christmas themed ones and they were a huge hit! Thanks for the great idea!

  • 33 Dee // Dec 22, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    This is one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen before!

  • 34 avogana // Jan 22, 2009 at 11:27 am

    What a neat idea! It would be a good use for used tissue paper or streamers also.

  • 35 linda snock // Jul 26, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I made these for Halloween a few years back. I printed “fortunes” and included those as well as money (dimes, nickels etc.) and other small halloween items. I then wrapped the black or orange ball in a large piece of black netting tied off with raffia in orange and black. A label warned not to be opened until after the town curfew siren or the contents would disappear. I had kids refuse to take them they were so scared! (Of course, I was dressed as a witch so that probably didn’t help.) Parents were laughing.

  • 36 Jessica // Sep 2, 2009 at 8:44 am

    These are so cute, but I feel conflicted between my feelings about keeping things uncluttered and cutness. :)

  • 37 SusanO // Sep 29, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I love these!

    Is there any reason to not use the rolls of crepe paper streamers instead of the sheets?

  • 38 megan // Sep 29, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    Susan – The only reason is that the crepe streamers are quite wide. If you were making a very large ball they would work out well but I would be afraid you would spend a lot of time molding the excess paper on the sides to a ball. If you try it do report back!

  • 39 shel // Nov 3, 2009 at 7:33 am

    ahhh these are an awesome cheap idea im definatly gonna use this for something… you could even hang them from some kinds grid and string … so the kids can jump for the treats if you hang it overhead almost like a pinata but w/o a stick

  • 40 Christmas Across the Miles « Long-Distance Relationship Holiday Gift Ideas for Him and Her : Long-Distance Life // Nov 10, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    [...] Happy Day! blog (these would make a sweet gift if you’re spending Christmas apart), and the surprise balls at Not Martha would make great stocking [...]

  • 41 Karen // Nov 16, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    This is a great idea for my students. I can’t afford to purchase a gift for each of my 28 2nd graders, but I think they’d be thrilled to open surprise balls during winter festivities.

  • 42 Ann Brooks // Dec 3, 2009 at 9:12 am

    I’ve made HUNDREDS of these over the years. They’re great for kids (or adults) in the hospital.
    Hint: I use rolls of crepe from the dollar store, slip the roll into my gravy boat with the end feeding out of the spout, kind of a crepedispensor. It keeps the paper from twisting, makes the process easier and quicker.

  • 43 Ann Brooks // Dec 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

    p.s I include a $2 bill – ask at your bank, they usually have them.

  • 44 Clare Vadeboncoeur // Dec 20, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Hi, I just learned about these a couple of weeks ago when I was in an antique shop. The owner told me about them. I was thrilled to hear about this amazing fun, surprise ball! I just made my first two for my granddaughters for Christmas. I used one roll of red crepe paper each and had no problem creating the ball shape. I just put the little toys like rubber spider or miniture horse on opposites sides to give equal shape. I added lots of stickers too and in the center I began with each a little holiday ring. It was so much fun and easy to make. It will be a perfect thing for them to open while waiting to open their official Christmas presents. I am looking forward to making them for many more occasions!

  • 45 [Crafty Monday] Make Your Own Surprise Balls « // Dec 21, 2009 at 7:04 am

    [...] searched around and found this tutorial by Not Martha. At the same time, I went searching for very small, mostly flat treasures to put in the surprise [...]

  • 46 Surprise! « Pookah Knits // Mar 21, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    [...] with directions from Not Martha, my husband and I set to town to make a punk princess-themed ball for my niece and a tattooed [...]

  • 47 Foolish Links For April! « Home Is Where All Your Stuff Is: MAKE! // Apr 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    [...] These surprise balls would be so fun for toddlers! Have I told you lately that I love NotMartha? [...]

  • 48 Forever Andrea // Aug 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    what a fun idea! Would make unique stocking stuffers. I’m going to try this.

  • 49 Fee Berry // Sep 21, 2010 at 8:01 am

    It would be great to know some details about the amount of crepe needed to make, say 10 orange-sized balls? I know it isn’t an exact science, but I’m thinking of wrapping small Christmas balls for my family, and it would help a lot to know how much crepe paper I will need to buy to do them all.

    So – how many layers, and how many layers or balls can you get from a standard pack of crepe paper?

  • 50 megan // Sep 21, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Fee Berry – I cannot say precisely how much, but to make it festive I would recommend using at least three colors. Three packages of crepe will be plenty for 10 balls.

  • 51 kuke // Oct 4, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    just want to say i made 2 of these last year for my twin nephews who live far away from me. according to my parents, they loved them. i put some cool stuff like balloons, temporary tattoos, stickers, pennies, notes, but i also added the dumbest stuff like rocks and twigs and just goofy stuff. i sent it to them after Christmas and called them new year’s surprise balls. i’m making them again this year and am adding wendy’s jr frosty gift certificates (10 for $1 this time of year). i am making them for 3 of my nieces also.

  • 52 kuke // Oct 4, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    i used rolls of streamers w/out cutting them down, but mine were pretty big and the ball isn’t perfect. it’s lumpy, but the boys don’t care. i think the girls will be ok with it too because it will make them wonder more what is in there! i’m really having a blast with the one for my 19 yr old niece. i put a miniature etch-a-sketch in the middle (found in packages of 2 in the party favors aisle of the card section at k-mart), lip gloss, earrings, pony tail holders, restaurant gift certificates, a homemade (fake) pearl bracelet, stickers, balloons, confetti–so much fun! it’s HUGE!

  • 53 aleta // Dec 8, 2010 at 7:35 am

    Love your site! This is a homemade xmas this year for me, and I have gotten some really cool ideas from your site. I have 2 6 y.o nieces and a 4 y.o nephew and I made these and can’t ait to see them open them at christmas! I actually used a beanie baby for the inside wrapped tightly into a ball and secured it wrapped in xmas wrapping paper. I put stickers, silly bands, chocolate coins, a tube of chapstick and puzzle pieces from small puzzles i found in the stocking suffer section of target…i also managed to get an egg of silly putty in, i just put it at the very beginning and squished it down and just wrapped the heck out of the ball! I also found it was helpful to sue crepe streamers which I cut in half to make a tighter wrap. such an awesome idea!

  • 54 embracing imperfection : Party Perfect // Dec 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    [...] Christmas Eve. (There are many tutorials floating around the web, but I found the most helpful one here). My take on the surprise ball was going to be deemed ‘the snowball surprise.’ The [...]

  • 55 todd // Jan 31, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    The 500 foot roll of crepe streamer from Party City worked fine for me. It’s about 1-1/2 or 2 inches wide. Smaller rolls were available too, in a variety of colors. No cutting required. I started with two poppers closed together to form a ball, with a Hershey’s kiss inside. I rolled in stickers of the letters of my daughter’s name, in reverse order, so that as she unrolled, her name came out, letter by letter. I also found her name in foil at party city, so I put a few of those in too.
    To “package” the ball, I enclosed it in clear plastic – saran wrap, or clear wrapping plastic film. Tape the edges closed. That worked well for her to see the “label” and keep it together (in spite of her “inspections” of it) until it was time to open and unroll it. Since it was her birthday, I included coins from the year she was born.
    I put a pencil through the center of the crepe paper streamer oll, then put the pencil on some books, and more books on top of them to hold the roll of crepe streamer.
    I found it better to roll the crepe streamer onto the bottom of the ball. This is like the ball rolling towards the big roll. This allowed me to put items onto the crepe streamer, and roll the ball with some pressure. Things still fell out until I got the hang of how to roll it.
    She loved it!
    One could also use multiple colors.
    I was going to put a kid watch in it, but forgot.

  • 56 Link Love: 05/20/2011 | AY Daring (.com) // May 20, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    [...] get your mind out of the gutter for a second. Not Martha’s surprise balls look like such a fun party favour to make. Time consuming, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, [...]

  • 57 Lura // Jul 17, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Can’t believe I found this. I loved surprise balls as a child (some 50+ years ago) and have been making them ever since. Have NEVER met a child (or adult) who doesn’t absolutely LOVE these. They have made me so very popular with 1st my children and their friends and now my grandchilden. They are easy and fun to make but the best part is watching a child unravel one for the first time – PRICELESS.

  • 58 Crafts Around the Web: Surprise Balls | Miseducated // Oct 18, 2011 at 10:54 am

    [...] is probably one of my favorite little gift ideas — how cute! Learn how to make them at not martha, poppytalk and seesaw. Don’t feel like making them? You can buy some adorable ones at TOPS [...]

  • 59 Estella // Oct 25, 2011 at 12:29 am

    omg!! totally love and certainly going to give it a try!!

  • 60 kimi // Mar 18, 2012 at 9:56 am

    What a fun idea! I can’t wait to put a few of these together for the itty bitty’s in my life. :0)

  • 61 Robyn // Mar 25, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    WHERE DID YOU GET THOSE PINS?????

  • 62 megan // Mar 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Robyn – I found them for sale at a cupcake place here in Seattle.I don’t have the pins anymore so I cannot say which company made them, though I think it’s an Etsy-sized shop. Sorry I don’t have more to go on!

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  • 64 Jenna // Jul 12, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I love how you dont have to use paper mache with these! It makes them a lot easyer to make.

  • 65 Surprise Balls | // Aug 17, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    [...] fun little treat for anyone, check out the how-to here @ not marthaAs you un-wrap the crepe paper, the lucky receiver reveals small (but special) treats! [...]

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  • 70 Andrea // Sep 8, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Did you use a die cut for puzzled?

  • 71 megan // Sep 8, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Andrea – No, I bought the blank cards pre-cut from a party supply store. They are just attached enough to stay flat while you write on them and then you snap the puzzle apart.

  • 72 How to make surprise ball party favors - Lansdowne Life // Jul 23, 2014 at 9:11 pm

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