One of my pandemic hobbies is transcribing letters from the Ryan White collection for the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. For the most part, the letters are a pretty wholesome mix of chatty letters, fan letters, requests for pictures and autographs, get-well-soon cards, sympathy cards, etc. The main goal is helping to maintain Ryan’s legacy, of course, but not gonna lie–the ability to looky-loo into the types of things that regular, everyday people thought to write to another person in the 1980s and 90s is also deeply interesting.
The transcription project has also got me weirdly interested in store-bought greeting cards… or rather, weirdly interested in how boring they are. I know they’re not all literally identical–I mean, some have puppies on the front, and others have flowers!–but metaphorically, they kind of are. The hundreds of them that I’ve transcribed all blur together in a miasma of embossed cardstock, too many ellipses, too many Thomas Moore poems, and a font that’s either a flowery script or a blocky print.
The greeting cards that stand out are the homemade ones. All of them were created in the 80s and 90s, mind you, so none of them have epic production standards. But each card, whether it’s a hand-drawn picture on the front or a little bouquet of dried flowers decoupaged on, is absolutely unique unto itself. Each one feels like a thoughtful gift, with words handwritten from the sender, intended solely for the recipient.
I know greeting cards have come a long way since the 1990s. The greeting card companies are a lot savvier, for one thing, and it’s easier to find a mass-produced card that feels more unique than just puppy or kitten, script or print, famous poem or poem made up by a copywriter. But I can’t unsee what I saw, and I am forever going to like handmade cards better.
Fortunately, homemade cardmaking has come a long way since the 1990s, as well! I love how depending on the technique and level of detail, a DIY greeting card can be quick and easy or methodical and precise, and look super awesome either way. I love how easy it is to incorporate upcycled or natural materials or found objects. But most of all, I love how it’s a little piece of handmade love that goes off to its recipient with no expectations of being reciprocated… until YOUR birthday comes around, I guess!
Below, check out some of my favorite DIY greeting card tutorials. Pick one that looks fun, and give someone special a little handmade love!
DIY Scratch-off Card. Here’s a fun way to add even more excitement to an experience gift!
Pop-up Birthday Cake Card. Pop-up cards are so fun! This pop-up birthday cake card is especially great for a novice crafter to make. It doesn’t matter how wonky you cut your cake layers or how messily you colored them–the sillier the cake, the cuter the card!
Spinner Card. This card has a part that spins! Instead of the craft foam called for in the tutorial, substitute cork, corrugated cardboard, or Styrofoam rescued from product packaging.
Shaker Card. It turns out that the most exciting card is also the scrappiest! Filling ideas include punched paper (including the leavings from your hole punch), sprinkles, beads, stickers, confetti, or dyed dry rice.
Cards to Stitch and Sew
Embroidered Greeting Cards. Embroidery is a surprisingly accessible–and fun!–way to turn plain cardstock into a greeting card. If you don’t often sew, stick with a simple template and clean lines. If you love to hand-sew, feel free to embroider your heart out! Both methods look great!
String Art Embellished Cards. If embroidery feels a little fussy, try string art instead! Use a thicker cardboard and a wider punch to make a design that a kid can sew with yarn and a blunt needle.
Stitched Cards. Break out the sewing machine to sew a simple straight line that attaches and adds dimension to cut paper embellishments.
Scrappy Fabric Cards. This is such a clever way to upcycle all the little bits of fabric and thread from sewing projects!
Easy Cards to Upcycle
Record Album Cover Greeting Cards. You don’t need to be able to craft AT ALL to make a great upcycled greeting card. Simply cut and score an old record album cover (or cardboard of similar weight) and add a handmade note inside.
Slim Line Card. The only really annoying thing about DIYing a greeting card is getting locked into ALSO DIYing an envelope to match. The slim line card totally solves that problem, because it perfectly fits a standard business envelope!
Embossed Aluminum Foil. Did you know that disposable aluminum pans are easy to cut AND easy to emboss? Embossed aluminum foil looks super fancy on the front of a greeting card.
Tape Bunting. The tutorial calls for washi tape to make a quick and cute bunting, but you can substitute masking tape or duct tape. Or skip the tape altogether and use pretty paper and a glue stick!
Cards Made from Surprising Materials
Book Page Prints. These abstract prints on top of vintage book pages change their holiday theming as easily as changing the paint colors.
Pressed Leaves. You could, of course, leave these plain, but I really like the look when they’re embellished with paint pens!
Upcycled Clear Plastic. I LOVE the idea of upcycling clear plastic into a greeting card. You can stack so many interesting embellishments for an awesome 3D effect!
Dryer Sheets. Dryer sheets aren’t great, but if you use them, you should DEFINITELY upcycle them.
Do YOU make a habit of sending love via snail mail? Let me know in the Comments below!