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Creative Ways to Recycle Holiday Greeting Cards

Updated on August 25, 2017

Reduce, Reuse, Re-Celebrate the Holidays

Years ago, I made my mother-in-law a framed counted cross-stitch of a Russian Santa Claus. It turned out quite nicely, and I was proud of it. However, I was still pretty surprised when she kept it out year round. To this day, month after month, it sits on the dresser in her bedroom. When I asked her about it, she said her pastor had said during a sermon one day that we should keep at least one Christmas decoration out all year long to remind us to keep the Christmas spirit all through the year.

In my crafter's mind, that also means that it's acceptable and encouraged to do holiday crafts all year long. If you're like me, you can't stand to throw Christmas cards into the recycle bin right after Christmas, and by the time you find them again in July, you don't know what to do with them. Here are a few projects I like to do during the hot days of summer to give new life to my holiday cards, dream of cooler weather, and keep the fun and craftiness (and spirit) of Christmas alive all year long!

All photos on this page are my own.

Greeting Card Sources

I don't always get enough Christmas cards to use only those cards I get in the mail, so sometimes cards have to come from other sources. But... I also don't want to spend a lot of money on these kinds of crafts. Their beauty, in upcycling is that I spend nothing (or next to nothing) in creating them. Here are a few other sources of Christmas cards you could use.

  1. Your Friends - Friends have the same problems we do with not wanting to throw Christmas cards in the recycling bin. They may just not have the crafty inclinations we have, which means their stack of cards is easy pickings. Ask them to share their cards after the holidays are over or whenever they're ready to part with them.
  2. Direct Mail Cards - I make donations to a few charities that have talented designers who send me packs of greeting cards throughout the year in the hopes that I will make another contribution. I am not likely to use their cards for mailing at holiday time, but they are perfect for these festive craft projects. And they usually come at just the right time of year.
  3. After Christmas Sales - I admire those of you who do your Christmas card shopping immediately after the holidays. I don't have the stomach for it, but it's a great time to pick up cards very inexpensively. For some projects, uniform size and color are helpful so these can come in handy.
  4. Thrift Stores - I'll never get over what people will donate to thrift stores. Develop a relationship with your local thrift shop(s) and ask them to give you a call if/when they get a bundle of cards donated. Let them know you'll make a donation to their cause and they're extra likely to help you out.

Holiday Cards, Cards, and More Cards

Project #1: Star Tree

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It's a Tree and a Star in One Project

This is one project where cards of uniform shape are helpful, but not necessary. Feel free to take cards of different sizes and shapes because you'll use a pattern to cut them all to the same size and shape. Two to three of these Star Trees in different heights and widths make a pretty centerpiece at your holiday table.

For this project you'll need:

* 6-12 greeting cards

* Craft glue or other permanent adhesive

* Pencil

* Scissors

* Clothespins

Star Tree Tutorial

Just follow these quick and easy steps to completion for your own beautiful star tree. I added a photo gallery below for visuals.

  1. Select 6-12 greeting cards. Uniform size and shape help but are not needed. Draw a simple tree on the back of one card (if your cards vary in width and height, start with your smallest card) that starts wide and gradually gets smaller toward the top. Cut out the tree shape on that first card. Then, use the first card as a pattern for the rest of your cards.
  2. Run a bead of glue along the 1/4-inch of the card closest to the spine on the outside of the card. Stick the next card to that one (front to back) by lining up the spines and pressing them together. Repeat for all of your cards so that all are stuck together at the spine in a stack. Clothespin the stack together and allow to dry completely. When dry, you should be able to stand the cards up and they'll form a three dimensional tree where you can't see any of the pictures... only the insides of the cards. Don't worry! The next step makes the pictures visible.
  3. Leaving your cards in a stack, start with the bottom card. Place a dot of glue on each point of the Christmas tree on the inside of the card. Use your clothespins to hold the points in place while they dry. You'll need one clothespin per point for each card (except the top card) and you'll end up with a stack of clothespins. Do this in stages if needed, depending on how many cards you use. It's very important that all the points are dry before you go on to the next step - wrapping the tree around and gluing the front card to the back card.
  4. When everything else is dry, gently open the stack and put a bead of glue near the spine between the front and back cards. Press them together and wait for them to dry completely.
  5. Finally, put a dot of glue on the inside of each of the points of the remaining card, clothespin the points together, and admire your handiwork. When the glue is dry, you're finished... unless you choose to add some embellishments. See below for some more ideas!

Star Tree Photo Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Using your first card as a template, cut all of the cards to the same shape.Glue all cards in a stack with a bead of glue down the 1/4-inch closest to the spine.Glue the insides of each tip together.Glue the tips of several cards at once, clothespinning them as you go.Leave the clothespins on when you wrap the final card around and glue its points together as well.When all points are dry, your Star Tree is finished.If you prefer to cover the visible backs of the cards, use a bit of silver or gold spray paint. It's okay if a bit of color gets on the pictures too.View from the top of a 5-point Star Tree.
Using your first card as a template, cut all of the cards to the same shape.
Using your first card as a template, cut all of the cards to the same shape.
Glue all cards in a stack with a bead of glue down the 1/4-inch closest to the spine.
Glue all cards in a stack with a bead of glue down the 1/4-inch closest to the spine.
Glue the insides of each tip together.
Glue the insides of each tip together.
Glue the tips of several cards at once, clothespinning them as you go.
Glue the tips of several cards at once, clothespinning them as you go.
Leave the clothespins on when you wrap the final card around and glue its points together as well.
Leave the clothespins on when you wrap the final card around and glue its points together as well.
When all points are dry, your Star Tree is finished.
When all points are dry, your Star Tree is finished.
If you prefer to cover the visible backs of the cards, use a bit of silver or gold spray paint. It's okay if a bit of color gets on the pictures too.
If you prefer to cover the visible backs of the cards, use a bit of silver or gold spray paint. It's okay if a bit of color gets on the pictures too.
View from the top of a 5-point Star Tree.
View from the top of a 5-point Star Tree.

Hints, Tips, and Variations

* Experiment with different numbers of cards for different effects.

* Don't feel limited by the Christmas tree shape. Stars, bells, balls, or other shapes you think up could be used for this as well.

* Use spray paint or spray glitter to liven up the design and hide labeling on the backs of cards.

* Add a star at the top or tiny ornaments to the points.

* Sometimes I "cheat" and use a fast-drying superglue. Just don't glue your fingers together! It's not very festive.

Loctite Super Glue, Ultra Liquid Control 0.14 oz
Loctite Super Glue, Ultra Liquid Control 0.14 oz

Henkel's Loctite is a great product because of it's super control applicator. When I'm working with super glue, I definitely want to control where each drop goes - especially not on my fingers or in the wrong spots on my project. This is my favorite applicator!

 

Project #2: Pillow Boxes

Pillow Boxes Are Easy to Make

Pillow boxes are small boxes with a unique shape that take only minutes to make. They are ideal for giving gift cards, cash, jewelry, or other small gifts. To make a pillow box, you need the following:

* 1 greeting card

* Scissors

* Pencil

* Ruler (or other straight edge)

* Permanent adhesive (I use an adhesive roller)

* A round object to trace - I use an ice cream pail lid or a CD. Remember, the bigger around your object is, the flatter your pillow box will be. Smaller around equals a puffier box with deeper curves in each end.

Pillow Box Tutorial

A few simple steps and you'll be off and running. I make up a bunch of these at one time so I have plenty around the holidays for gift-giving. It's a huge time saver to just have these on hand. Pictures are available below to help you.

  1. Measure 1/4-inch along the bottom of the back side of your greeting card. Cut off the 1/4-inch strip. Then, with your card facing down, trace along the cut edge with the sharp point of your scissors (or a crafting blade) to score the front of the greeting card. This will be the fold line. Run a strip of adhesive along the cut edge of the back of the card and fold the bottom edge of the front over, pressing it in place to enclose the "pillow."
  2. With your card still facing down, hold your round tracing object against the edge of the card so the rounded edge is centered on one end of the card. Trace the rounded edge with a pencil and repeat on the opposite end of the card. Cut the ends so they become rounded.
  3. Now, line up your round tracing object so that it lines up with the newly cut corners of your card. Trace the rounded edge with the sharp point of your scissors (or a crafting blade) to score the card. Repeat three more times, once more on the back of the card and twice on the front. Your pillow box is complete! Note: when you tuck the ends, make sure to tuck the back of the card in first so the front image shows on the sides.

Photos for Making Pillow Boxes

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cut a 1/4-inch strip off the back, and score the inside of the front cover along that line.Trace a line on each end of the card using a rounded object.Cut off the ends along the rounded line you traced.Use the same rounded object to score each end on both front and back.Leave flat until you need to use your pillow box. Then, just tuck in the ends.
Cut a 1/4-inch strip off the back, and score the inside of the front cover along that line.
Cut a 1/4-inch strip off the back, and score the inside of the front cover along that line.
Trace a line on each end of the card using a rounded object.
Trace a line on each end of the card using a rounded object.
Cut off the ends along the rounded line you traced.
Cut off the ends along the rounded line you traced.
Use the same rounded object to score each end on both front and back.
Use the same rounded object to score each end on both front and back.
Leave flat until you need to use your pillow box. Then, just tuck in the ends.
Leave flat until you need to use your pillow box. Then, just tuck in the ends.

Project 3: Woven Card

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Weaving a Picture

My sample is a tree, but this can be done with any shape, as intricate as you like. Paper weaving is fun and it's even more fun with greeting cards, because they're sturdy and can be pushed easily into a nice tight weave without crushing the pieces. Better yet, it can be a new greeting card, a framed picture for a gift, or a beautiful luminary for decorating during the holidays. Photos are below to help you visualize the steps.

To make a woven paper picture, you will need:

* 2-3 colored greeting cards

* 1 sheet of cardstock in the color of your choice

* Scissors

* Paper cutter

* Transparent tape

Woven Card Tutorial

  1. Draw and cut out the desired shape you will be weaving in.
  2. Using your paper cutter, cut greeting cards into strips. I used 1/4-inch strips of green and blue and 1/2-inch strips of red to add some variety to the weave. Measure the tallest and widest parts of your picture to make sure that your strips are the right height and width.
  3. Tear off a length of transparent tape a little more than the width of your image and lay it on your table, sticky side up. Stick about 1/4-inch of one of your vertical strips (color side up) to the tape. Repeat with more strips until you have enough vertical strips to cover the width of the image. Place each strip no more than 1mm from the one next to it. This will allow you a nice tight weave. Then tape the end to the top of the back side of the image you cut out. You have just created the warp of your weaving project.
  4. Using a simple over-under weave pattern, begin weaving your cross-pieces, or weft. With each weft strip that you add, pack it as tightly as possible to the one before it. Continue to add weft strips, alternating your over-under weave patter until you have fully covered the cut out image.
  5. When you are satisfied that your weaving is even and complete, use strips of transparent tape to secure the ends on all sides. Your weaving project is finished. If you are making a card, use an additional piece of cardstock to cover your weaving. If you are making a luminary, you may want to frame the back so the edges are not visible when backlit.

Woven Card Photo Instructions

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Start with a sheet of cardstock and any greeting cards you would like to use for weaving.Draw and then cut out the image you will fill with weaving.Create your weaving warp by taping your vertical strips at the top.Begin weaving using an over-under weave pattern, alternating each strip.Continue weaving until you have filled the image. Then tape all around the edges to secure your weaving.Your woven image is complete.
Start with a sheet of cardstock and any greeting cards you would like to use for weaving.
Start with a sheet of cardstock and any greeting cards you would like to use for weaving.
Draw and then cut out the image you will fill with weaving.
Draw and then cut out the image you will fill with weaving.
Create your weaving warp by taping your vertical strips at the top.
Create your weaving warp by taping your vertical strips at the top.
Begin weaving using an over-under weave pattern, alternating each strip.
Begin weaving using an over-under weave pattern, alternating each strip.
Continue weaving until you have filled the image. Then tape all around the edges to secure your weaving.
Continue weaving until you have filled the image. Then tape all around the edges to secure your weaving.
Your woven image is complete.
Your woven image is complete.

Woven Card Uses

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How would you use your woven card?

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Favorite Project

Which of these projects reusing greeting cards is your favorite?

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What time of year do you get started on your holiday crafting?

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    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 5 years ago

      Well, anytime I see a wonderful tutorial like this one. I have a lot of Christmas cards that I can use for any of the projects you have listed here.

    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 5 years ago

      Great ideas you have here. Blessed :)

    • dawnsnewbeginning profile image

      dawnsnewbeginning 5 years ago

      Nice ideas!

    • kmhrsn profile image

      kmhrsn 5 years ago

      Just wanted to say that your introduction really drew me in. Great job!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      Every year as I get older it seems that I wait longer and longer to start my crafting. As we speak, I have not made anything yet, but I do have my supplies. Hoping to get some crafting in this weekend.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      Great Lens and ideas, my father use to save old and unused Christmas cards and send them to some sisters (nuns) he knew; and they would use them to make various craft projects. I have my mothers Lenox statues of Joseph, Mary & the baby Jesus on display throughout the year in a china cabinet. Wouldn't it be nice if people kept Christmas in their heart all year round, the world would be a better place.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      What a beautiful sentiment for your mother-in-law to employ. Congratulations for being featured in the Best of Squidoo - Christmas in July. Blessings.

    • psiloveyou1 profile image

      psiloveyou1 5 years ago

      Great projects!!! I love making pillow boxes, and I have a template. I never though of using old cards to make them. Great idea!

    • profile image

      AngelaMagnottiAndrews 5 years ago

      I'm lucky if I get started on it in November, but holidays often sneak up on me. Usually, I'm thinking Christmas decorations about the first week of December.

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