Rekindle Your Wild Joy and Deep Belonging to the Earth

DIY Envelopes from Junk Paper April 2, 2010

Never buy an envelope again!

Wow your friends and bill collectors with mail in these envelopes you’ve made out of repurposed junk paper.  This envelope looks like the sort you’d purchase, with angled bits in the back.

Check it out & try it.  It’s easy to make. You can make someone happy, extend the use of those bodies of trees, & reduce the landfill all in one fell swoop.

Here’s how:



Materials Collection

Sources for free and fabulous “junk” paper are everywhere: junk mail, NYT Magazine, gorgeous catalogs for things you can’t afford, old calendars, discarded books.

Begin collecting as soon as you can because packrat-ism is a positive thing in this case! Whatever you don’t use can come in handy for collages and other projects.

Here you see an excellent source for gathering raw materials.


Last year's calendars: Score!!


For envelopes, you’ll want paper at least 8-1/2 x 11″, and bigger is better. In addition, if you plan to send it through the postal service, the paper should have a heavy thickness to it, enough that it won’t rip or come apart with rough handling.

You will also need scissors and scotch tape.

And in the final step, you will want a Sharpie pen, or white paper to tape onto your envelope, for addressing purposes.


Image Selection & Initial Folds

For the complex envelope, the bigger the paper, the better. Old calendar pages are ideal.  I also like heavy maps and coffee-table book dust jackets.



Begin by folding your chosen image on the diagonal.

The first fold will create the bottom of your envelope’s front.

You’ll want to fold over more than you might think, in order to make the envelope wide enough to hold most paper or cards.


first fold, creating the bottom of the envelope's front

front view of first fold

back view of the first fold

back view of first fold


Fold in the sides

Fold each side angle in to the middle, over the bottom fold you just made.

Details: The edges should overlap. Make sure you have enough paper on each side to cover up the envelope’s future contents. A common mistake is to make one side too short, as the side bits are uneven at this point.

Then, as in origami, unfold it and reverse-fold each of the bottom corners. This makes it look more like an envelope, with the middle fold now on top.


folding in the sides over the bottom fold

Folding in the sides over the bottom fold


After folding, open the sides up and fold them in first with the bottom then folded in after.

This is like a reverse fold in origami.


How the back looks after reverse- folding

How the back looks after reverse- folding


Complete the shape, tape it down, and trim it

Now fold over the point that’s sticking up off the bottom piece. It will look squared-off.

Fold it up and make its top match the side bits in an aesthetically-pleasing way.  You can give it an interesting angle if you like, or if its odd shape happens to fit the way you folded the sides. (That’s not a mistake – it’s artistic license!)



Fold it up and tape the sides down.

Also put tape across the bottom edges for reinforcement.

You want it to be as strong as possible because the post office workers will be so fascinated with your envelope that they’ll handle it a lot.



Cut off any excessively long parts to the top flap.

This will be necessary if the initial paper was rectangular.

But nota bene: The final product need not be perfectly symmetrical. It is, after all, a unique handmade woik o’ aht.



It’s starting to really look like an envelope!



Final steps & Voila!

Fold over the top so the opening is entirely covered.



Here’s what it ends up looking like, front and back.



Congratulations!  You’ve just made an envelope!


Send Your Envelope

To address your envelope, you can do one of the following:

1) Use a Sharpie pen, glitter pen, or the like on a blank portion of your image. (Just be sure to pick something water resistant and extremely visible)

2) Glue or tape on a piece of white paper that’s been cut into an interesting shape to serve as an address label

3) Use one of those sticky tags for same purpose

Add your return address and a stamp.

Tape shut and send.

And await the joyful response from your correspondents who’ve gotten so used to e-mail only that they’ll be wowed by receiving this work of art, uniquely made just for them, in the post.



In case you’re wondering, I’ve sent hundreds of these over the years, some as SASEs to myself, and they’ve always arrived. One postal worker did warn me, though, that mail sent in such envelopes might take a day or two longer to arrive since they get passed around in the PO for everyone to ooh and aah over before sending them on.


And please send me images of envelopes *you* make!


A version of this is a featured Instructable on the wonderful DIY website of the same name.  (Uh-oh, my secret identity, BrujaHa, is now revealed…)


39 Responses to “DIY Envelopes from Junk Paper”

  1. dobbylvr (Instructables comment) Says:

    I love it!!! I’m never going to buy another envelope!

  2. augenblick (Instructables comment) Says:

    Just made my first envelope. I feel so accomplished. Very clear instructions. Now I don’t feel so bad using paper from a yellow legal pad for the content. Thanks, Bruhaha.

  3. woelfwynde (Instructables comment) Says:

    You can also use glue stick. I’ve made plenty of envelopes. Using tapejust adds to the mailing weight.

  4. AstralQueen (Instructables comment) Says:

    I love this idea! You can use cellulose biodegradable tape too. It’s better and more eco-friendly that way.

  5. earthlovr (Instructables comment) Says:

    i have also been making my own envelopes for many years, and you’re right, calendars are ideal! and homemade envelopes are way more fun to send and receive.

    i would remind folks though, that the US postal service has requirements for envelopes and postcards , including maximums and minimums for length, width, and thickness. so for instance using thin paper, like thin magazine, bible, or phone book pages, generally doesn’t make an envelope thick enough to avoid getting chewed up by the USPS machines. i generally only use magazine pages if i’m sending a letter or card that i know will give it a good, sturdy thickness and survive the machines. i once had an envelope returned by USPS because the corners weren’t perfect right angles, so keep this in mind!

    check this USPS link to be sure:

    I currently live in México, and to date, my envelopes have travelled well internationally. cheers to up-cycling!

    • Anonymous Says:

      Cool Stuff! I have done something similar to this before, but with a LOT of trial and error. Now, with these step-by-step instructions, I will be able to make my own awesome envelopes………….forever. Plus, the using of old calendars is also a great idea.

      Thank You Dr. Fields!


  6. Jesse Alex Says:

    OMG! I love it! I used to create such envelopes when I was a teen, when people actually sent tangible mail. Thanks for reminding me that there is something beautiful I can do with the junk mail rather than recycle it…twice happy! Once as I create the art. Twice when someone receives it. 🙂 🙂

    Peace & Love,
    Jesse Alex

  7. Sheree Weininger Says:

    This is a really good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise info. Thanks for sharing this one. A must read post!

  8. RedChef Says:

    Boy, I thought I was good at understanding words and had good spatial understanding. 🙂

    I’m sitting here with one “envelope” that looks like a failed paper airplane or party hat, but then one that looks practically perfect — until you open the top flap.

    I had no idea I was so hung up on symmetry. Thanks for the psychology lesson, too!

    I’ve been wishing I could find proper-sized mailing envelopes for homemade cards, so duh — I’ll make the envelopes first, and then make the cards to fit inside the envelopes!

    Also funny to imagine the postal workers examining our work — thanks for that too…

    My advice to those who want to give up is to try again. Maybe use a square piece of paper and a ruler for scoring, until you get the hang of it; that’s what I think I’ll do…

    • Tina Fields Says:

      Yes, cutting the paper square before you start to fold is a fine option if you want symmetry. Me, I kind of like the more unpredictable bias-cut look. 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying this.

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