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Crafting from the Collections: Sweet Ideas for Valentine’s Day

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This is a guest post by Rachel Gordon, Visitor Services Specialist at the Library and crafter extraordinaire!

If there was ever a Valentine’s Day on which to spread love and treats far and wide, it’s February 14, 2021. After the challenges of the last year there’s something particularly meaningful in letting others know that they are in our thoughts.

This mid-February celebration has a centuries-long history, morphing from an ancient Roman festival into the holiday we know today. Creating handmade Valentine’s Day messages began in the late 1600s, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that commercial card production started in England. The holiday soon spread to the U.S. Credit for Valentine’s Day cards going mainstream in America goes to Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s a great story of nineteenth century female entrepreneurship, told here by a Library colleague.

The Library’s collections provide great inspiration for creating your own mementoes to mark the day. Making cards and packaging for little gifts is a good way to start. Both are relatively quick and easy and are a good way to churn out a lot of volume – enough to delight not only friends and family but postal workers, healthcare professionals, garbage collection teams and anyone else who’s helped to keep us going over the last eleven months.

A set of Valentine's Day cards with Library images pasted on colorful paper
Valentine’s Day cards made with images from the Library’s collections

First, gather your supplies. Red and shades of pink usually predominate at this time of year, but any colors will do. It’s the sentiment that counts! You will need:

  • Paper and cardstock
  • Scissors
  • Glue and tape
  • Pens, pencils and markers
  • Paper doilies (commercial, or check online for homemade how-to)
  • Ribbon or cord
  • Any other decorations of your choice
  • Access to the Library of Congress website and a printer

Next, identify and print out images from the Library’s website that you’d like to use. This “treasure hunt” is fun, but given the millions of items in the collections, it’s wise to narrow down your results.  A good starting point is to look at photos, prints, and drawings in the Prints and Photographs online catalog. Searching with terms like “flowers,” “roses,” and “valentines” will also pinpoint suitable material.

Many holdings are copyrighted (the Library is the home of the U.S. Copyright Office, after all) so be sure to check the rights advisory information listed for each image. If it says “No known restrictions on publication” you may use it as you wish. Items that are not covered by copyright tend to be older, which will give your creations a pleasingly old-fashioned look, well suited to this holiday.

Making your own Valentine’s cards is so easy – and fun – that you can whip up a large selection to give out. Trim your selected images, or cut out particular parts of your chosen picture, then stick onto blank cards, either purchased or homemade. If you make your own, they can be any size or shape you like. Decorate the cards with text, personalized messages or other embellishments – and voila!  Bear in mind that candy or other bulkier additions may not fare too well in the mail, so best deliver any 3D creations by hand.

Brown paper bags with colorful background paper and printed historic images
Gift bags, made from dressed up lunch sacks, and cardstock

Trimmed and folded paper lunch bags make cute gift containers. Add enough decorations and ribbon and they bear no resemblance to the squashed sacks that more commonly hold PB&J. It’s not difficult to make your own gift bags; a quick online search will turn up several methods. Using giftwrap, you can scale these up to fit anything, so once you’ve mastered the technique you may never buy a gift bag again.

Three bouquets of flowers wrapped in colorful paper with historic images
Say it with flowers…

Decorated cones are a pretty way to package up candy, cookies, or any little gift. They really are simple to make – just cut a square of paper and roll it up until it is open at the top and pointy at the end, then fix in place with glue or tape. (Tape is less messy, more secure, and you can cover any visible pieces with decorations.) Cones made from heavier paper or card make excellent flower holders, and are a really good way to eke out a couple of grocery store bouquets. They also look absolutely charming and will bring a delighted smile to anyone’s face.

Have fun crafting, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all! Esther Howland would be proud!

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