Sunday, February 6, 2011

Making Valentines from Scratch

Valentine's Day is around the corner! Have you looked at store-bought cards lately? They're expensive!

A normal, no-frills card at a drug store can set you back $3 or more. A larger, fancier one can cost you as much as a nice lunch. And that's before you factor in the flowers, candy, dinner out, movie tickets, stuffed toy, or whatever else you have planned for your sweetie.

If, like me, you like to give Valentines to friends and children as well as Significant Other, this can get out of hand quickly! You are reduced to either 1)taking out a loan to buy cards for everyone or 2)giving just one or two cards and looking like a Scrooge.

My solution? Make Valentine's-Day cards from scratch.

It's easy. It's inexpensive. You don't have to be terribly creative to make a great impact. And you end up giving a unique, heartfelt, and totally personalized card. (Can't say that about a drug-store card.)

First, gather your materials--glue, decorative bits, and paper. You can always start with construction paper, of course. But try other sources. Poke around your art stores, paper-goods store, crafting store, and fabric store. And--this is important--go directly to the on-sale stuff.

With the holiday a week away, a LOT of stuff for February 14 is already on sale!

For instance, Papyrus is a beautiful, pricey paper-goods and gift store chain. These sheets were in their Valentine's Day section. They are pale and thin enough to make beautiful envelopes:

And they were reduced from $6 per sheet to $3 each!

These papers, below, were even a bigger bargain. I found them at my local artists'-supply shop.

Just 50 cents each, from the "slightly damaged" drawer, they are gorgeous, hand-made papers. This one has little bits of real flowers in it:

This one has tiny gold flecks:

And this one has a smooth, plain side and a brushed side:

Some of the papers have a little edge that's torn, or faded. That's all it takes to land in the "Sale" pile. But for my purposes, there's still 99% of the paper that's usable.

I won't be using this one for Valentine's Day, but look! Blue with tiny silver polka dots. Adorable.

(I put the cell phone there so you'll have a sense of scale.)

Even the kraft paper that the art shop wrapped up all my purchases in will not go to waste. It will be a beautiful, plain contrast to the fancier papers and bits glued on top of it:

Now, here comes the potentially pricey part: Decorative punches. I've been eyeing these for a long time but waited until they went on sale. I found them at Michael's, at my local stationer's, and at a national chain fabric-store chain.

(If you do crafting or scrapbooking, you might have some of these already):

I got this puncher, which makes a tiny heart shape, for 40% off at JoAnn Fabrics.

This is a pricey puncher, below, because of Martha's name and because of its size. But, once purchased, it can be used again and again. Imagine it decorating the edge of a shower invite. Or personalizing plain stationery. Or punching out the edge of green and red papers for Christmas:

Even the negative images, left over after your punching, can be used in making Valentines.

Every single piece of paper in this lovely pile I got for absolutely nothing. Nada!

How? I asked my local artists' shop to let me riffle through the trash pile at the side of their guillotine-like paper cutter. All these bits and pieces are leftovers after they custom-cut something for another customer.

They were very happy to let me take away their scraps. (It helps if you've already established yourself as a paying customer, and if you spend some time talking nicely to the clerks and smiling. Seriously, smiles are underrated.)

Poke around your house for other materials that can be used in making your own cards. There's sealing wax, with or without a seal:

Scrap paper and Post-It Notes:

Doilies from the drug store or supermarket:

Bits and pieces of ribbon and lace. The slightly peachy-colored lace in the middle of this photo, below, is actually hemming tape from some sewing project:

Almost anything can be used to make a Valentine! The red nets, below, held cherry tomatoes at the grocery store. The little flowers are snipped off old boxes of chocolates. The little cards with the pink tulip on them are from the florist (I just helped myself to a few after buying a ridiculously expensive bouquet of flowers--so sue me.) And the gold stars are easily found at any stationery store or drug store.

So set up all your materials, grab some scissors and glue sticks, and go have fun! (If you can't cut out a nice heart shape, you can find templates on the Internet.)

One more thing:

If you're looking for a unique way to present a small gift, go to your local junk shop and find a teacup and saucer, like the one below. For almost any woman, you could pile it high with chocolates. For a teen or tween, stuff it full of flavored lip glosses. For a sports enthusiast, fill it golf tees or tickets to a pro ball game. For a cook, tuck in something small and indulgent, like sachets of saffron, a vanilla bean, or--if you really want to make an impression--a truffle.

The cup and saucer don't even have to match, which means you can usually find them for even less. (If your junk shop doesn't offer you a discount because you're buying odd bits, sweetly point it out to them.):

With only a junk-shop saucer, you can still make a pretty gift. Consider giving a single bar of beautiful, hand-crafted soap. I bought this lovely one from my local farmers' market this morning for $5. Wrap up saucer and soap together with a pretty ribbon, and you have a terrific Valentine for neighbor, friend, or favorite office mate.

So, this is Superbowl Sunday. I'm going to watch the commercials while I cut and glue and paste and fold home-made Valentines to my heart's content.

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