Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recycled Envelopes How-To

Here are the how-to instructions for making the envelopes shown in a previous post, DIY Artfully Recycled Envelopes. These copious instructions make this seem complicated; it isn't. This is the quickest, easiest way to crank out a ton of interesting envelopes in a very short time, and the cutting is basically free-hand. Just go through the steps shown below once and you'll have it.

Sample finished product using page from recycled book about weather.

Materials: Used coffee-table books with interesting full-page illustrations, bought at thrift stores for less than $1 each; glue stick; scissors.

Page from book (left), template for envelopes (right)

Start by leafing through your book(s) and ripping out pages you think would create interesting envelopes. Create an envelope template out of a sheet of cardboard, cutting it to the size you would like your envelopes to be. As shown above, this cardboard template (6 inches x 4.5 inches) was created from the cover of one of the thrift store books.

Placing template on page

Place the template on the page, and try to position it over the most interesting portion of the page. This is going to be the front, featured section of your envelope. Make sure to leave at least one inch space on left and right sides of the page (these will be your side flaps), about 1.5 or 2 inches on top (this will be your top flap, sealed after you insert a letter), and enough space on the bottom so that when you fold the page, the edge of the page reaches the top of your template. If you're working with a large page and you end up with the bottom edge of the page overshooting the template, just trim it. You may also trim sides or top as desired. There is no need to measure anything! This is all freehand and eyeball work.

Make sure when page is folded, bottom edge of page reaches top edge of template.
Proceed to fold the page over the template as shown below, as if you were wrapping a package. Again, no need for perfection. The colors and printing on the envelope mean that it's very forgiving visually.

Fold page over template

Now unfold, remove template, and then refold the page the opposite way so that the graphic side is showing. Press seams firmly - you want to be able to see these folds for the next step.

Discard template, refold with graphic side showing

Unfold again and open up sheet with the wrong side facing you. The lines on the page below are drawn only for instructional purposes to show you where and how to cut out the envelope. Again, you don't have to do any measuring or drawing. All of this is done freehand.

Solid lines indicate fold lines; dotted lines indicate cutting lines.

Your fold lines become your eyeball cutting guide (though you probably want to take care not to cut your eyeballs). I find it's quickest and easiest to do each of these four (A through D) as one cut. For example, I start cutting up along the A foldline, and when I reach the horizontal fold line, I just pivot the scissors slightly on the diagonal and complete the cut. I want to stress again that there is no need for perfection, no need for the diagonal cut angles to perfectly match, no need for any measuring or drawing. Just cut.

Showing the cut-aways

Now you're ready to glue your envelope together, which involves simply gluing the two side flaps. When I'm doing a lot of glue stick work, I use an old mail order catalog as the working surface. That allows you to slop glue over the edges of the piece you are gluing. When the work surface becomes fouled with glue, just flip the page of the catalog and use the next page as a fresh work surface.

Gluing the side flaps

Make sure you cover the outer edge of the flap with glue, and glue to within a quarter inch or so of the fold.

Gluing a side flap

Flip your envelope over, fold each of the side flaps inward, and bring the bottom section up and on top of the side flaps. Press and smooth with your hand.

Fold bottom up and press down on top of side flaps

Finished envelope front

Finished envelope back

When you are ready to use your envelope, just glue down the top flap after you've inserted your letter or card. Obviously, you are going to need to also make and glue down a mailing label because writing an address directly onto the graphic envelope would be illegible. I like a torn paper effect for the labels. You can cut your labels into any shape you like. Here, I've printed out my return address on my printer (spacing the copy so that I get 8-up on an 8.5x11 page and then tearing them out). You could just hand write the return address.

Address labels, printed and torn out

Final product with label and stamp

These instructions are necessarily tedious to show you all of the steps. Once you get the system down (which should take about one practice envelope), you can churn these out really, really quickly. While fun for use in your own mailings, they can also make a nice gift when grouped in stacks of five or ten and tied with a ribbon. Adding a label with the recipient's return address would be a thoughtful touch.


  1. this... is handy, because i'm making mix cds for christmas presents and this is a good base idea for cd sleeves. rock.

  2. Good thought - you could do great CD covers. This also gives thrift store/flea market shopping an extra twist. It's fun looking for books that probably nobody really wants as a book and converting the pages to something else.

  3. Another option for the label would be to paint a patch of white or light colored acrylic paint the size you need. Let dry and then use a sharpie to write the name/address on top of the paint.

  4. I just made an envelope using your tutorial. Thank you so much.

  5. You can also use last year's calendars, or pick up old calendars for $1. Or use a souvenir map (especially if you write a letter while on vacation) or even an old road map. And yes, I've used these.

  6. These are all great ideas, and happy to hear that people are using the tutorial and doing their own take on envelopes.

  7. I just found this post and made 43 envelopes in one day! Thanks so much for the clear directions and great idea- especially good for those of us who are measuring-challenged!
    I did a blog post linking your blog and using your directions !

    1. Glad you found this so useful. And I say screw measurements!

  8. nice..........very practical.....super thanks

  9. I like your idea of tearing the labels, with return address on the side. Thank you. :D

  10. Love your Carlos Gardel stamp!!! I love his songs.


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