The inside story

[Alyson Kuhn] I have been wrapping little soaps as gifts since the early ’80s. I recently started wrapping them in “inside tint” papers, which I trim out from security envelopes. For the most part, the patterns are not very engaging individually, but in combination, they have a certain charm, even a mystique. I would say they become somewhat wabi-sabi when used together.

The attentive reader may note that the preceding sentence was a haikuhnI gave seven soaps tied with tea ribbon to my friend Lisa as a thank-you thing. See them below, posing around her shop.


I gave three soaps to my friend John, who I thought would be wearing a plaid shirt. See them below, almost in nature, in proximity to some artfully arranged asparagus at Ubuntu: still life with virtual egg and three brioche croutons.


As fab would have it, a couple of weeks ago, my friend Judy — unaware of my soap du jour phase — mentioned in passing that her friend Nancy, who I’d never met, makes collages out of security envelope patterns. Fancy that! It turns out that Nancy Shapiro leads a bicoastal artistic life. About a year ago, she arrived at her apartment in New York to find a gigantic stack of mail, predominated by statements and such from financial institutions, much of it redundant, all of it recyclable. “The waste made me so angry, and I was trying to figure out what I could do with it all. When I saw the incredible patterns, I must have spent four or five days tearing and pasting!”


Her first two collages, Inside-out and Pre-sorted, are made from a multitude of gray-and-white patterns, most of which I’d never seen. Shapiro presented an ensemble of collages at Open Studios in Napa last year. She has since sold several pieces, given several as gifts — and received many, many envelopes from well-wishers delighted to recycle in her direction. She comments, “One woman sent me over a hundred envelopes. She’d been going through her mother’s bank statements from decades past, and the patterns were totally different than what we see today.” As you might imagine, we are about to initiate an envelope exchange!


Nancy’s pet peeve is the business reply cards that fall out of magazines, so they have become collage fodder as well. Scroll down: The one shown below the collages reminds me of the outfits at Ascot in My Fair Lady. And, speaking vaguely of stylish accessories, check out Nancy’s Pebble Pillows – just the thing for enthroning little soaps.

Soap photography: John Hanford

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Comments (6)

  1. Posted by Patricia on 05.6.09 at 5:52 pm

    I loved this column! And not only because just last week I, too, did a patterned-innards-ectomy of my Visa bill envelope, to use in a postcard-size collage. . . .

  2. Posted by Paperlover on 05.6.09 at 8:33 pm

    Wow, this is over the top. I especially love the photos of the soaps in situ. Brava Alyson!

  3. Posted by Security Envelopes: Oh The Possibilities 1 — iDiY on 05.20.09 at 9:45 am

    […] Pretty wrappers for soap (via Papercrave) […]

  4. […] Do the patterns on this valentine look familiar? Nancy Shapiro makes collages and sculptures by recycling security envelopes. She fashioned us a valentine from several envelopes. Instead of a love-dove, a postal eagle delivered our delightful time-sensitive document. (We first reported on Nancy’s recycled-envelope collages here.) […]

  5. […] Kuhn began wrapping soaps (shown above) in envelope inside tints in the spring of 2009. The soaps above are actually […]

  6. Posted by LaTourStudio on 05.22.15 at 9:59 am

    The little soaps are cute with this wrapping!
    Altough I’ve always been a paper addict, I hadn’t really paid attention to the inside of security enveloppes until recently. The designs are often at least interesting, or fascinating.
    As an upcycled stationary fan, I’ll make of my next notepads collection from security enveloppes!

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