How to Make Greeting Cards with Recycled Materialscomments (8) May 5th, 2009
I use recycled materials in my crafting whenever possible and feel happiest when I find ways to use items that would normally get trashed (or thrown in the recycling bin), so I'm happy to show you how to print on grocery bag paper to make greeting cards for this season of celebration! Any normal inkjet printer that can print on 4x6-inch paper will print onto bag paper. Not only is it eco-friendly to reuse your bags, but I also think it looks super cool!
- Paper grocery bags (one bag makes up to 12 4x6 sheets)
- Scissors and/or paper cutter
- Inkjet printer
- Thin cardboard (like cereal boxes) or recycled greeting cards
- Glue stick or two-sided tape (not necessary for the machine-sewn version)
- Your choice of decorating materials (thread, embroidery floss, yarn, ribbon, hole punch, needle, buttons, sewing machine, etc.)
I cut my grocery bag paper down to 4x6-inch sheets for printing—I've tried printing on 8.5x11 sheets, but because there are always creases, bends, and imperfections in the recycled paper, the bigger the sheet is, the more chance of it getting offset, bent, or otherwise messed up in the printer. The 4x6 sheets almost always print up fine, as long as you smooth out bends and creases as much as possible.
Start by cutting your bags along the corners, so you have two big sheets from the front and back and two narrow sheets from the sides. Most bags are exactly 12 inches across, so if you cut straight along the sides, you should be able to measure and cut right down the middle for two 6-inch strips. Then use your ruler and pencil to measure and mark 4-inch sections—you should have a couple inches left unused, so if one side is more bent/crushed, then don't use that side.
Once you cut up all your sheets, you'll have a stack of usable recycled paper to print on! If some sheets are extra bent up, you can use an iron to smooth them a bit—just set it high, with no steam, and go over the back (no printing) side until it's smooth. (That won't get rid of creases, but it should make them smooth enough to print on.) Load the sheets into your printer just as you would 4x6 photo paper (make sure the blank sides are facing the right way).
As for what to print, as is the case with normal white paper, photos with lots of detail will not look their best printed on non-photo paper. I recommend printing either graphic images (solid colors, clear lines, no/little shading, or small details) or plain text. In the photo below, you can see part of a regular photo I printed, with a dark blue background color, which came out a bit faded and not very sharp. So, I edited that same photo to inverse it (make it the negative image) and raise the contrast, so it's an almost blank background now. Also, I have a photo printer, so photographic images still print out pretty well even on the brown paper; if you have a non-photo printer, you'll probably want to stick to simple graphic images and text only.
Now that you have your card images, you can make your actual cards. You can trim the edges off the printed pages if you want, to make the images bleed to the edges, or trim off any bent corners. Cut pieces of cereal-box-type cardboard to size, as wide as your printed page and twice as tall. Choose if you want to add a little for a border, like mine below, or cut it exactly to size. Then score across the center of the cardboard piece to make a clean crease—mark the exact center on each side, hold the ruler down connecting the marks, and run your scissors blade lightly across. Now when you fold the cardboard, it should crease neatly along the line.
Next, you'll need to cover up the inside so you can write in your card. Cut a piece of bag paper (or white paper or any other paper you want to use) to size and glue it inside. If you are making a bunch of cards, such as thank-you's for wedding gifts for example, then you could stop here and be done (hand-embroidering every single card would take forever!). Press the glued card(s) under heavy books overnight for security, or you could use two-sided tape instead if you prefer. But if you are making one special card, you can continue along with me and stitch it up! In this case, the glue is just to hold the papers in place while you stitch, so it doesn't need to be pressed and dry.
Next, I stitched borders around each side, both as decoration and to fasten the paper to the cardboard, using a strong needle, regular embroidery floss, and a running stitch. In the image below, the arrows show how I worked around the sides, using only one strand of floss, starting and ending in the same corner so I could tie the ends into a bow.
For my next card, I used recycled cardboard facing the other way, so the inside is blank, ready for writing. So, I cut a scrap of bag paper to cover the back side of the card, and I cut the cardboard exactly to size, with no border. This card is for Mother's Day—I found the image on dryicons.com; vector graphics like this are perfect for printing on recycled bag paper.
For this one, I used a hole punch to punch small holes around all the edges, and across the top by punching through front and back layers together.
Then I used a yarn needle and thin ribbon to go through all the holes, starting at one top corner and ending at the other, as I show here with the arrows:
And for my last card, I used a recycled blank greeting card. I am lucky to live near a reuse store where items like blank greeting cards get donated and sold for pennies apiece, but if you're not so lucky, you can reuse cards you've received and cover the insides with blank paper as I did with the thank-you card.
For this card, I machine-sewed the paper to the card, first with a zigzag stitch around the border, then with a messy straight stitch, scribbled above and below the text.
I used blue thread on top and orange on the bottom, so bits of orange would peak through and add color to the card.
I love the look of scribbled machine stitching! Just sew back and forth, moving the paper from one side to the other.
And now for the envelope! Use a piece of grocery bag paper, cut to about 2 inches wider than your card and 1 to 2 inches taller than twice the height (depending on how big you want the flap). The image below shows how to cut the paper—the bottom section of envelope paper should be a little shorter than the envelope height (about a half inch). First, cut the orange lines to get the rectangle, then cut the red lines next to form the flap and the bottoms of the tabs...
...then cut the pink lines, which form the tops of the tabs, and the sides of the top flap. First, fold the bottom flap up over the card to mark the lines. The tab side lines should each go from the top corner of the card, to the edge, lined up with the top of the envelope flap, as shown in the photo below:
The exact angle of the top flap is up to you—you can choose to make it curved if you want. Now crease and glue those side flaps in, and your envelope is done! You can close it with glue, tape, or a sticker.
I made some other envelopes from leftover pieces along the sides and the bottom of the bags, making the envelope size more limited. So, one of them has smaller side and top flaps, and the other has flaps that go around to the other side because of the way the bag was cut. Using what I had left over and making it work meant using up parts that would otherwise be trash—ultimate recycling!
Of course, all of my decorative details are just ideas—be creative and personalize your cards to your crafty taste!
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