The envelope pleases: Winning ideas from

[Alyson Kuhn] Cathy Miranker loves to teach kids — and their teachers — to make books. She drives to schools and libraries throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and twice a week she posts a new project on, her perfectly named 5-year-old blog. Knowing how much I love envelopes, she invited me over to see books and booklets made from … envelopes.

The Human Body Book: A wrap-around cover with brad-and-twine closure encloses five 6 x 9-in. envelopes bound together with an accordion-fold spine.

What a detailed project! How long did it take, and how old were the students?
CM: The Human Body Book was a fifth-grade project spanning several weeks, combining art and science. The students drew an original illustration for each body system — freehand and lavishly colored — on cardstock. They attached the illustration to the flap of the envelope for each system: muscular, respiratory, digestive, urinary and circulatory. Students distilled their research into a two-page printed report on each body system, which they tucked inside the envelope. [To read more about this project, click here.]

Rubber Band Book: Three envelopes, each with loose sheets of paper tucked under its flap. Punch two holes, thread a rubber band up from the back, and you’re bookin’ good.

I love the idea of binding a little book with a pencil. But I would want to be able to use the pencil.
CM: And you can. One teacher with whose class I’ve done this project told me about taking the children to the symphony. Everyone took their rubberband books to the performance and used them to write notes for their reports. They were all able to take their books apart to get their pencils, keep track of their rubber bands, not shoot them at their neighbors, and put their books back together when they were done. The note-taking seemed fun and special.

Japanese four-hole stab binding

So you also teach traditional binding techniques?
CM: Absolutely. For many children, this might be their first experience with sewing. They learn to thread the needle, experience twine or thread as a material, and feel what it’s like to make a neat, taut binding. Then they get to make creative use of their envelope pockets. And by comparing techniques, they learn that there is not just one “right” way to approach a project. [Click here to see other examples, instructions and ideas for using these books.]

Magically Marbled Envelope Books: Look, no binding required!

I would buy these lovely little envelopes in a marbled millisecond. How did the children make these patterns?
CM: These humble 3-5/8 x 5-in. envelopes were transformed into elegant booklet covers with sidewalk-chalk marbling. The kids love to shave the chalk into a pan of water and watch what happens when they float an envelope in it. The chalk does not rub off afterwards. While the envelopes dry, the kids take a length of paper and figure out how many accordion panels they want to have so their booklet doesn’t overhang the edges of the envelope. They fold it carefully, slip one end panel into the envelope pocket, and they’ve made a book. [Read about this no-mess-no-stress paper-decoration technique here.]

O, sigh, I spy a die-cut A2 envelope blank!

This project turned first graders’ artwork into envelopes that became covers for their poetry books.

Poetry emotion: Three blog posts—here, here and here — describe the process.

Whoa, are you die-cutting envelopes in the back of your car? The back of the classroom?
CM: No. I bought a die for an A2 envelope from Ellison. It’s a great size for a couple of reasons. First, you can cut one out of an 8-1/2 x 11-in. sheet of paper. Second, you can make a perfectly sized booklet to put inside it just by folding another sheet of 8-1/2 x11-in. paper into quarters. It’s handy.

A map of the San Francisco Presidio became an envelope, which in turn became the cover for an accordion-fold activity book at a Presidio event.

I do my die-cutting at RAFT, the Resource Area for Teachers, which has a warehouse in San Jose full of donated supplies — paper, stickers, hole punches, maps, file folders, construction paper, googly eyes … you name it. They also have an incredible library of Ellison dies in wonderful shapes for kids — a spider web, a castle, a barn. [Check out this lift-the-flap book for preschoolers and kindergartners, made from a file folder.]

Now that school is out for the summer, are you experiencing bookmaking withdrawal?
CM: I never stop making books! My supplies always seem to be beckoning me, inviting me to invent something with paper. Happily, I’m teaching kids at several libraries this summer. I’m presenting a workshop for educators on making replica hornbooks at SCRAP, the Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts in San Francisco. And I’ll be teaching Bookmaking Bonanza 2012 from July 23–26. It’s a series of afternoon workshops introducing the book arts to parents, teachers, librarians and other adults looking for ways to combine handcraft, literacy and artistic expression in projects for kids.

Swellegant simplicity: Cathy says, “Simply nesting different-size envelopes and sewing or stapling them together through the fold can make an eye-catching structure. I found all the envelopes for this project at SCRAP.”

What sorts of project might a teacher or parent do with a nested envelope book?
CM: These envelope structures are great for holding notes, and even better for holding a collection of good wishes for a birthday, anniversary or event. They make a nifty journal, too, because the envelopes form a series of secret compartments — just right for kids at the Private! Keep Out! stage. In a classroom setting I can see each envelope holding a chapter of a story.

Fun for all seasons: simple structure + personal content + artistic choices = Extreme Engagement.

Envelopes are so easy to turn into accordions that once you start, it’s hard to stop. [Click here to see what one teacher accomplished.]

Cathy Miranker is married to Glen Miranker, whose major collection of Sherlockiana we wrote about here. The bookloving duo love to travel. Cathy makes a journal after each trip, organized into 26 A–Z spreads, with handsome initial caps and lengthy handwritten captions. In her pre-bookmaking careers, she was a reporter and editor, an evaluator of educational software, and a high-tech marketing manager.

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Comments (2)

  1. Posted by Sushmita on 06.30.12 at 11:41 am

    Cathy’s work is so amazing and inspiring! Every time I take a peek there is so much new and brilliant stuff! I have learned so much from her class… mostly kids will love to learn if you mix in some fun art stuff! 🙂

  2. Posted by PamelaArts on 06.30.12 at 3:24 pm

    How absolutely delightful! I wish I could have tagged along to see this — a new generation of mail artists?

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