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


73 responses so far ↓

  • 1 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.

  • 2 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!

  • 3 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!

  • 4 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 […]

  • 5 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.

  • 6 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, […]

  • 7 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.

  • 8 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 […]

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

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

  • 10 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)

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


  • 12 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!

  • 13 briana snyder photography » wedding and portrait photography in dayton, ohio and beyond // May 30, 2012 at 7:38 am

    […] inspired by Not Martha, I wrote a birthday message, cut it into puzzle pieces, and spread them out through the […]

  • 14 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.

  • 15 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! […]

  • 16 Surprise ball – Natalie Lete & Gina Namkung | Loobylu // Sep 19, 2012 at 8:53 am

    […] I should have added this ‘how to’ link to Not Martha’s surprise ball tutorial Comments: (2) Tweet !function(d,s,id){var […]

  • 17 Surprise balls! // Oct 23, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    […] there’s more fun in the unwrapping than in the gifts–especially if you pop over to Not Martha and learn how to make a surprise […]

  • 18 The 2012 Holiday Gift Guide | Rachel W. Cole // Nov 26, 2012 at 5:16 am

    […] A homemade surprise ball. I was gifted one of these for my birthday this year and it was the most fun present to unwrap, […]

  • 19 Bridesmaids Surprise Balls | Engaged & Inspired // Jun 4, 2013 at 6:02 am

    […] from when I was four who lives in Utah – we skyped her in to the bridal salon. Inspired by Megan’s Surprise Ball project, I decided to put together these fun little bundles, and had them all open them together. Here’s […]

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

    Did you use a die cut for puzzled?

  • 21 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.

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

    […] discovered surprise balls forever ago, and filed the idea away in my brain for the future. Basically, it’s a ball of […]

  • 23 Fun D-I-Y Gifts | fancyladydoctor // Sep 22, 2014 at 3:45 am

    […] would take a bit more work (instructions here), but Surprise Balls are also a lot of fun, especially if the trinkets inside were extra […]

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