Friday, October 10, 2014

File Folder Envelope Tutorial - Mail Art Challenge

I had a request to share a tutorial on how I made this piece of mail art for a recent swap. Tiffany over at Southern Gals Designs on YouTube got some girls together who are mail art junkies to participate in this fun challenge. We had to create a decorated envie and incorporate text paper somewhere on the envelope. That was the only rule, other than filling it with at least three items for the recipient.

Here's what I came up with...

Finished File Folder Envelope ~ Mail Art Challenge
And here's the back:


I took pics along the way to show a bit of the process, but hadn't originally intended to make a full-blown tutorial. Since I didn't document everything fully, if anything is unclear, just pop me a question in the comments below.

Step One: Gather Materials


  • Text Paper
  • Scrapbook Paper
  • Embellishments/Images
  • Manila File Folder
  • Envelope Template (I used an old greeting card envelope)
  • Sewing Machine & Choice of Thread
  • Paint, Pens, etc. 


To fulfill the challenge to use text paper, I chose a couple sheets from this handy dandy vintage typewriting manual. I thought it was appropriate since so many of us mixed media artists love our typewriters and vintage ephemera. This one is from 1951, a treasure I found when helping an older gentleman clean out his storage shed. I got a sweet blue typewriter as well (I will show pics soon!).

Front Cover ~ 20th Century Typewriting Course

I just love the images and typewriting exercises!

Inside front cover 
On the inside front cover is a series of "finger gymnastics", designed to help you warm up. It's tough banging away on those keys! No. 6 looks a bit like a Vulcan peace sign.

I also found these jumbo postage stamp images on a piece of junk mail featuring vintage stamps from the 1950's. I thought it went well with the 1950's typewriting manual.

Who said junk mail can't be useful? Fodder for mail art!
I opened a large greeting card envelope and laid it flat. I traced it on a dog-eared manila folder that still had some life in it. You can also use a fancy envelope punch or Google some printable envelope templates to find the size and shape you like best.

Flattened manila folder envelope
OK, obviously the pic above is well into the process. I had already collaged everything and did the sewing. But you can get the gist of what the envie looked like before folding. This is the inside.

The next step was collaging the images and scrapbook paper to the envelope. I ran out of Mod Podge, so I used a homemade decoupage (roughly 50/50 Elmer's Glue and water). This part was tedious and a little messy. I had to be careful since I was dealing with delicate vintage paper. I kept the layers of glue thin by scraping over the top of each paper with a credit card. I used my hair dryer (heat gun) to quickly dry. I believe I also let it hang out a while and finish drying, but I can't remember for sure. Of course, the edges curled up a bit as you can see in the pics, but once I began scoring, folding, and sewing, I beat them into submission.

Front of file folder envelope in process
I like the smooth texture the homemade decoupage provides. I'm not sure the overall archival quality of it, but it works well when you are trying to save money. The various scrapbook papers were leftover bits from other projects. They were cut into scallops, pennants, etc. to add a little interest to the edges and flaps of the envelope.  I used one of the typewriting diagrams for the main focal point, and then glued Tiffany's initials to the top of the typewriter. I also cut out the letters to spell PRACTICE. {Thanks to Lynn Lassen for the alphabet letters!}

I used my sewing machine to sew along the edges. I used a fancy little embroidery stitch as well as straight stitching. It's all a little imperfect, but that adds to the charm. I also sewed along the top of the alphabet letters to add texture and to make sure those little guys stayed secure.

Everything was creased by hand and by using the back of a pair of scissor handles to keep the folds fairly crisp. Here is the envelope beginning to take shape. I enjoyed the way the vintage stamp images overlapped to create a flag or bunting effect.

File Folder Envelope Sewn
As you can see here, the envelope is nice and thick. I've added the little gifts inside. I used hot glue to glue the envelope back together. I will explain more about this in a minute.

Thick sturdy file folder envelope
Practice Makes Perfect - True in Typing and ART!

Fun postage that kept true to the color palette of Black, White and Red
I added some details with thinned acrylic paint. This including grunging up the typewriter paper on the front and flicking some black and white paint splatters here and there. It reminded me of ink splats or little drops of White-Out Correction fluid. ;-)

I kept some plastic sheets that once contained punch-out labels to use as a stencil. I wanted to create a place to write the addresses on the front and back. I used the thin white paint to keep it semi-transparent. I did outlining with pens (regular ballpoint and micron, I believe) and also a dark sketching pencil.

Hot Glue Seals this Handmade Envelope

Once I was done, I was ready to close the final flap of the envelope. I was stumped at first, because I wanted to make sure Tiffany could still open the envelope, but since it was thick and bulky I knew the glue or tape had to be strong enough to hold it shut. Since my choices were limited, I decided to continue on with the hot glue.

I added a drop of glue in the top corners and another along the middle of the flap. I finished it off with a large circle of glue at the "V". That flap wasn't going anywhere! It reminded me a little bit of an old-fashioned wax-seal, but on the inside. I sent Tiff a message about how I sealed it. I told her to just take something sharp like a metal palette knife to scrape under the dabs of hot glue. It looked like it would open with minimal damage to the design.

Well, that's basically it. I am pleased with it and hope to make more envelopes like this. I still have tons of that yummy typewriter manual paper to use, and I have ideas for other envies that will help me use up some of my stash. The thickness and durability of the envelope makes it appealing. With an added layer of mod podge or other sealer, these could also make nice storage envelopes.

I wanted to add that I was also inspired by some delicious handmade envelopes by Yoliebean, which I watched before making mine. Here's the video that got my wheels turning when trying to figure out the substrate for my project. Her work is beautiful!

Never hesitate to ask any questions~~~
Sandra Lee