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.
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.
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