BlogShow them you mean it

An Extraordinary Thank You Note


One holiday, so years ago, I resolved to make by hand all of the presents I intended to give away; it nearly ruined Christmas for us all. My intentions were pure; I thought my friends and family would each enjoy receiving an intricately-crafted hand-made

ornament from me. Because I had made the ornaments out of paper I thought it made sense to wrap  each one in tissue paper before inserting them into custom made boxes I had fashioned in paper to look like birdcages. Not wanting to mark the “cage” by sealing it with cellophane tape, I opted instead (and here’s were I made my mistake) to seal the boxes up using a little daub of glue.

My hope was that each person would tear open their birdcage with the sort of pleasurable abandon children so often exhibit when opening presents. My friends and family, however, refused to cooperate. “I don’t want to ruin it,” was the prevailing complaint, though it came in a number of variations (e.g., “Are you kidding me?” “Why would you do such a thing?” etc.) One person even attempted to steam open the box—against my protests—ended up ruining the ornament inside in the process.

I shouldn’t fault my friends. They recognized the time and effort I’d invested in each gift and they were loath to destroy any part of it (even it that meant going against my wishes or never discovering what exactly was contained in their gift box.

I thought that, when given the choice of saving the box and missing the gift or sacrificing the box and discovering the gift, everyone would opt for the latter. I was dead wrong. Some  people didn’t talk to me again until Easter that year.

My tactic was a little off the mark that year but the idea, I contend, was sound. The truth is, paper is ephemeral; while it is sometimes intended to last more frequently it is not. It is this inherently temporary aspect of the material, along with its fragility and general inexpensiveness, that makes it so much fun to work with. Paper is often a vessel for “memory keeping”; by ripping open the boxes I’d made for them, my friends would have been engaged in an act of “memory making”.

If at first you don’t succeed…

Which brings me to the humble thank you note.  What is a thank you note if not a the gift you give someone for sharing their time with you? In light of such a lovely sentiment, how miserly it can feel to dash off a quick “thanks” on a computer. Instead, I sometimes prefer to demonstrate  the degree of my gratitude by sending a thank you note that illustrates in an undeniable powerful way, just how much I value the kindness, time, or attention someone has shown me.

The notes I send pack a wallop of a surprise to anyone opening them, they draw a great deal of attention (to me, the sender, yes, but also to the recipient who invariable feels compelled to show off the artifact to their friends and coworkers). It is unlikely these notes will last very long; they are delicate and easily damaged by repeated opening and closing. Still, not a single person I’ve sent one too has ever questioned the sincerity of the sentiment it was meant to convey. As one client said to me, “When you ‘thank’ someone, they really stay ‘thanked’!”


1.) Begin with a sheet of lightweight paper. I used an 20 inch by 18 inch sheet of 100% cotton rag pastel-chalk drawing paper


2.) Loosely sketch out a design in pencil, focusing on shapes that will be intricate enough to be interesting but not too intricate to survive the journey through the mail (remember, you have to fold your note and put it into an envelope AND the recipient has to be able to unfold it again when it arrives).


3.) Once you have the general shape of your design in place, fold your thank you note down to its final size and press firmly along all of the creases. (Note: creasing the paper BEFORE you cut it is a lot easier than trying to crease it AFTER it has been cut.)


4.) Using a fine-pointed scissors or a craft knife, carefully cut out your design. It is sometimes easiest to cut out the perimeter silhouette before focusing on the details that will fall within the edges of your note.


5.) Try to keep you design loose; don’t fret about staying within the lines of your initial sketch. The knife will behave differently than the pencil so be aware of that fact. (Note: The elements in my design overlap one another — leaves and stems and flowers all cross over one another. This keeps all of the components  “connected” and your design “sturdy”.)


6.) Notice that I have left a rectangular area in the center where I intended to write my message. I also left a smaller rectangular shape near the bottom where I could add a little postscript to my note. When you are finished cutting your design, gently re-crease your note before proceeding.


7.) Write the text of your note. I write out my text on a pice of scrap paper first, to make sure it will all fit in the space I have available to write within; and to make sure I haven’t misspelled anything.


8.) To create an envelope, I wrapped my note in a piece of translucent vellum by first folding in one side and then the other, before folding the bottom of the envelope up toward the top.


9.) A detail of the envelope closure. I left about 4 inches at the top as my flap and affixed it with a piece of double-stick tape. An adhesive decal or some sealing wax would also suffice.


10.) The finished envelope is ready for mailing (don’t forget to add extra postage if your note is oversized, like mine). Just imagine what your reaction would be to finding a note like this waiting in your mailbox.

Comments (4)

  1. Marianne - Reply

    April 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    This is stunning. I was trying to imagine what my reactions would be and I think it would probably just take my breath away. Beside the intricate design the cursive is beautiful, too. Did you know that they are not teaching cursive writing in schools anymore. What a shame.

    • Joy McPherson Underwood - Reply

      September 27, 2013 at 6:53 am

      I think it’s a shame, too that cursive writing isn’t taught in school anymore. But I homeschool my daughter and a friend’s son. I have taught my daughter how to write in cursive (although she still needs some practice), and when he gets old enough, I will teach my friend’s son how to write in cursive, too. 🙂 I only wish my handwriting/cursive was as pretty as Jeff’s is. lol

  2. Laura A Mendoza - Reply

    August 22, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Bloody freaking gorgeous

  3. Joy McPherson Underwood - Reply

    September 27, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Wow! That’s really beautiful! It’s a shame that technology has gotten in the way of things nowadays (I say as I’m typing this on a computer on the internet. lol). Sadly, letter and note writing by hand seems to have become a thing of the past. The only letters or notes I get anymore are from bill collectors, and companies trying to sell me things. lol

Add a Comment