Once upon a time, before I had children, I thought I was busy. I barely had time to watch every baseball game, garden, read books, play video games and do my hobbies. Horrifying! One of my favorite hobbies was making cards.
I’ve always loved writing letters. My correspondence in high school especially was diverse and frequent. I went through stationery at a bulk rate – or would have if it wasn’t my favorite indulgence. I still know where and when and why I got nearly every single piece of stationery in my rather considerable stationery box. After I graduated college and had room and money, I got started in on rubber stamping, which was a thing in the oughts. My expanded resources vastly expanded my rubber stamp (and ink and paper) collection and my skills went from rudimentary to nearly mediocre – where they topped out and remained.
Then I had kids and got a harder job and went onto the session of my church and… well, I think practically every post for the last several months has whined about how busy I am. I got really busy, and rarely had time to stamp anything. Then when my beloved, cold attic retreat was transformed into my glorious, warm and amazing bathroom I packed up all my stamps for the duration of the project into our storage facility and had to content myself with purchased stationery. (Not that I even used that much of that!)
But oh glory! Today we actually cleared out from and vacated our storage unit (I think it may be a first: someone claiming a storage unit would only be temporary and having it only be temporary.) And I got my stamps back. I spent a happy afternoon reintroducing myself to my rather vast collection and setting up my favorite desk and getting ready. And now – bliss! – I have time to spend doing something I feel like doing, and I have my stamps which are exactly what I feel like doing.
Being me, I thought it would be fun to do this together, you and I. OK, basically I narrate a lot of stuff in my head to you, especially when I’m alone. This is how extroverts end up with quiet hobbies.
Step 1: Who should I make a card for?
My grandmother is dead. She was always my best correspondent. I’ve thought a lot of her this week with the fires and unbreathable air in California. I keep forgetting that she’s now beyond all worry. She’s also beyond any card I might send her. I’d be nervous about doing a birthday card for someone because there’s like no way in God’s green earth I’d ever remember to do it again, so I’m careful of the precendents I am setting. So that leaves special events. Two come to mind: a neighbor just had a baby. (OK, like a month ago, but they’ll understand). And I’ll be a guest at Thanksgiving at the excellent table of a fellow stamp-lover. My stamp collections are particularly strong in the “Fall/Thanksgiving/Turkey” and “baby” genres. I’ve always loved the iconography of the former, and I bought many of my stamps while I myself was pregnant. Let’s start with the baby and see how far we get.
Step 2: Selecting a stamp
This takes a while. My stamps are tightly stored, which means not amazingly organized. And sometimes you find a stamp in one set that works perfectly for what you want – even if you wouldn’t have thought of it. I usually go through every single stamp I own, finally settling on the one I was thinking of in the first place. This particular baby is little and sweet, and his parents are understandably ga-ga for them. It’s a first. And I wanted something that showed both parents, not just the mom. Finally, the father of this family loves puns. That settles me on the stamp set that concludes with “Congratulations to you and your Somebunny new!”
Step 3: Paper and ink colors
For reasons that totally escape me, this baby doesn’t seem like a pastel-y baby. Looking at the stamp, I’m inspired by the thought of browns and tans. I might do a little watercolor pencil – my absolute favorite stamping technique – on this stamp. Now to look through every piece of paper in my vast collection to likely discover I do not actually own the color I’m envisioning.
I have a strong tendency towards bold, bright colors. Some of my favorite cards have ended up in a panoply of color. I remember one year where a friend’s parents invited us to their (DELICIOUS) Thanksgiving table two years in a row. I stamped a card both times as a hostess appreciation. When I gave her the card on the second year she opened it, her face lit up, and she ran away. She returned a few minutes later with the card I’d given her the prior year which she had still pinned up. It was totally different, but used the same stamp. I was caught between mortification (is that like wearing the same dress both times?) and pleasure that she’d enjoyed the card! Both of those cards were *bright*. But happily, it turns out I do have a good number of earth toned papers in the reams I have. I’m going to go with a light tan for the actual card, then use darker brown and patterned paper to make a lighter section with the stamp in in really pop. Time to cut some paper!
Step 4: Cutting
Oh no! My handy dandy trusty rotary cutter isn’t cutting! I wonder if the blades need to be replaced every 20 years or something. Fortunately, I have n+1 paper cutters. This one isn’t nearly as good, but it’ll do.
Drat! The patterned paper doesn’t look like with my first brown. So I try a different brown and it still looks wrong. Gah! So now I have two identically sized pieces of different brown papers. I experiment with layouts and decide I actually like the two browns slightly tiled and will ditch the patterned one altogether. This is a normal part of the process. I admire people who can do this by planning instead of trial, error and the massacre of forests. Still, lesson #1 of this kind of thing is don’t make any permanent decisions until you have all your parts ready. A reject now might actually still end up in the final project.
I have a large scrap drawer, in which is some nice cream watercolor paper. I cut a piece of that for the actual bunny stamp.
Step 5: Inking
I wonder if I have a brown ink that will match. Hmmmm. If I want to watercolor the stamp, it must be a dye ink (not pigment) too. I have one that I think will do, but all my stamp pads are old and it’s possible they’ve dried out. Guess I’ll find out… but probably starting on my blotter.
Well, they both ink. But the top color, which I like better, looks pretty dry. Contemplating this conundrum I give it a spritz with my stamp cleaner to hydrate. Great news! It works! I carefully position the stamp over the watercolor paper and get the impression decently centered the first time. Winning! At this stage, we enter the “how much is too much” phase. I like the simplicity of the card so far, but I do really like watercolor paints. What about just a little blue on the edge of the blanket and pink in the ears? Because I’m thinking “out loud” I make an unusually sage decision to try it out on the version on my blotter before the version on the watercolor paper.
I like it pretty well on the blotter. Let’s see how it does on the actual stock.
Great. It looks good. Now I’ll do the inside and back of the card while the water dries.
Step 6: Inside & back – aka where you mess up because you think you’ve finished the hard part
I have a “Created by Brenda” stamp I almost always use, because it’s annoying when you spend an hour on a card and have people think that due to the craftsmanship you bought it in the discount bin at an elementary school craft fair. Unfortunately, this stamp is slightly off center, so I have trouble getting it aligned perfectly. That’s why I start with it. I have two pieces of card stock the right shape for this card. I’d rather find out now that I’ll need to use the other one! I’ll use the same color ink throughout the card.
Woo! Both internal stamps came out just fine. I notice that the ink I used is bleeding a little on the stamp – that’s not supposed to happen with the dye inks. It’s probably due to my “refreshment” of the pad. I decide to pretend I think it looks artistic.
Step 7: Sticking it all together
I was mystified for a long time about how this all was supposed to stick together. I used glue sticks or spray adhesive, which were messy, smelly and didn’t actually work. What does work? Double sided tape. When I’m stamping I go through yards of this stuff. Time to start making things permanent.
There! It’s done! It looks almost as nice as a card you could get in 20 seconds in a drug store! Victory is mine!
Now that’s all to be done is to write a nice note and strategically with-hold publication of this blog until after I deliver it.
Oh, and clean up this mess. Oh, and where are my invitation sized envelopes… and what color pen do I have that will go with this card…
PS – one particularly insane year, I hand stamped all my Christmas cards. That would be lunatic enough – but I made each on *unique* which is a degree of lunacy even I have never reattempted. But I do have a lot of Christmas stamps….