Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tutorial Time: Upcycled Fold-a-Note

I've always been a fan of brown paper bags.  Before eco was cool, my textbooks were sheathed in brown paper covers. When I taught pre-k, these durable delights were the basis of a multitude of colorful projects.  So it's not particularly astonishing that when I forget to bring my oodles of cloth grocery bags to the actual store, I answer the "paper or plastic?" query with a fervent "Paper!"

Today we'll be upcycling a grocery bag into an excruciatingly nifty fold-a-note.  If you thought fold-a-notes disappeared in the late '70's, you've obviously not corresponded with me.  If you think fold-a-notes can't qualify as excruciatingly nifty---read on, Dear Skeptic, read on.

Gather your goodies, people, and let's get this thing moving.  

You're going to need:

  • a grocery bag 
  • some sort of cut-uppable contrast paper: this could be something as mundane as a piece of scrapbook paper, but can run to the exotic---a take-out menu, some sheet music, pages from a colorful book or magazine...(I'm using a set of vintage children's encyclopedias that I bught at a flea market last year in the buck-a-box section.  Yes, I'm a very lucky woman.)
  • Scissors
  • a glue stick
  • a ruler
  • paper cutter (optional, but way more fun than the scissors-and-ruler shtick.)

Okay, so cut yourself a nice chunk of bag.  9"x12" is what I'm using, but you can play around with the numbers if you want to be that way.  I managed to find a plain section, but if you want to go for that edgy, "I shop at Wegmans" look, have at it.  It's your fold-a-note.

Take a gander at your cut paper.  Position it so that your width is 12".
Listen very carefully.  BEND your paper as though you were going to fold it.  See?  Don't crease it.
Now, at the tippy-top, I want you to crease ONLY one centimeter of the paper.  Like so:
See the tiny little crease that doesn't extend the length of the paper?  Good.  Now you do it. (Yeah, that's pizza dough drying on my fingernail.  What can I say?  The little one only naps for so long, and I'm a busy gal.  Gotta make hay when the sun shines---or make pizza and fold-a-notes while the kid sleeps---and all that...)

Now, fold the right side of your paper in to that little crease mark.  Like a door.

Go ahead and do the other side.  Two doors!

Crease both door-folds firmly with your (pizza-dough-less) fingernail.
and....open the doors!
With both doors wide open, go to the top of the paper and fold down about one inch.  You can measure if you want, or just go all wild and crazy and eyeball it.  I'm an eyeballer, myself.  Go ahead and crease the fold with that trusty fingernail of yours.

Ready?  Take the bottom of the paper and bring it up to the crease line you just made.  This way:
When you unfold the whole shebang, it should look like this:
Don't be alarmed:  Your paper won't have dotted lines and snarky suggestions on it.  Mine does, but that's just because I don't want to addle your pretty little head.  And this is the closest we're going to get to a tricky part, so I wanted to use my powers of Sharpie for good.
Take your scissor in hand and remove the sections indicated here.  (For those of you who tend to watch a little too much CSI, I will freely admit that I'm not actually cutting in the following picture.  I'm holding the scissors with my non-dominant hand and using my infinitely-more-capable right hand to snap the photo you're admiring.  But it certainly gives the  impression of cutting, doesn't it?  What with the scissors, and all?  This is a low-budget tutorial, and I couldn't hire a second pair of hands to take snaps of my bag-mangling.  Sorry.)

So.  Time for a little contrast, wouldn't you say?  Choose a couple of pages from your book/menu/sheet music/scrapbook paper.

Use your paper cutting device of choice to cut out two rectangles measuring 5"x9".

Fold (and crease) accordion-style into thirds---that's every three inches.

Do the same with the second rectangle.
Slather glue onto the first section of your contrast paper.
Center it on the top middle section of the brown paper, under the one inch flap.  Center the second folded, glue-slathered rectangle in the section below the first pop-out.

Now, cut out six 2.5"x4.5" rectangles from the remains of your grocery bag.  These can be printed on one side, but are not likely to have the handy cutting guidelines seen in the following photo, unless you, too, have gotten Sharpie-happy.

Break out Ye Olde Glue Sticke and go to towne.  Get those edges and corners.
Center one rectangle on each folded segment of your folded-in-thirds contrast paper.  (Hint:  you'll be doing your actual letter-writing on these rectangles.)

Now we're going to fold it up.  First the pop-outs...

Then the doors...
Bring the bottom up to the flap...

And the flap comes down.  Here's how I did the address side...this bit is entirely open to your interpretation.  Just remember to leave space for your postage...
Don't forget to embellish the side flaps! 
And seal it with a kiss.  (Or in this case, a heart cut from a block of  text from the encyclopedia.) When I make these with kids, I sometimes let them use stickers to seal the flap.  My 11-year-old pyromaniac-in-training prefers to use sealing wax, though, so you've definitely got some wiggle room in terms of your closing options.

I hope you found this both useful and painless, and that you'll be sending scads of these off to your kids at camp,  long-estranged penpals, and annoying debt collectors.  Embrace the magic of snail mail, and use your Sharpie powers for good!


  1. Such a good idea! I love it~

  2. This idea is just wonderful- vintage children's encylopedias are one of my favorite thrift store finds- other people think they are outdated trash- to me they are pure vintage graphic design treasure!

  3. This looks so sweet and I love the way you write!

  4. Hi Wendy,
    We don't normally get that sort of paper bags on the shops, but I am going to try to make something similar without upcycling that much.
    I miss so much getting letters on the post; we only get bills so it isn't exciting opening the mail box any more.

  5. I loved this idea so much that I tried it out tonight as a card for my best friend... just one of those for-no-reason cards. I dis the contrast with colorful pages from an old magazine, which is one of my favorite craft materials. I had to hunt down a brown bag, but now I'm sir to request them at th store. This is my first time to your blog, love the post. I came from oneprettything.com, and looking forward to reading your blog daily! :]

  6. I would be so happy to get that in the mail! It's the kind of note that gets saved in the shoebox of special correspondence, for sure. Thanks for the inspiration!


Thanks for taking the time to comment...it makes me feel a little less like I'm talking to myself again.