Handmade 'vintage envelopes'

Handmade Vintage Envelope with Tension Seal Craft Tutorial

As a lover of all things vintage it should come as no wonder that I’ve just amassed a new collection to my list: actual vintage or vintage-lookalike stationery. With my new initiation into the world of Traveler’s Notebook (formerly the Midori Traveler’s Notebook), my new craze for the Japanese-designed, Thai-assembled leather TN journal by the Traveler’s Company, Japan–which boasts of a worldwide cult following, is tethering a little on the obsessive! And so it is…I’ve been so into ‘old things’ lately, I wonder if it has anything to do with coming of age, and hankering after memories (real or imaginary) or objects which evoke that ‘old world charm’ or romantic nostalgia.

Time Lapse Video of this craft tutorial

Thankfully for me, this new TN pastime hasn’t gotten as costly as it might be (as most TN novices may be shocked to discover), especially since I just so happen to be a stationery hoarder. It helps that I already have in possession a truckload of scrapbooking and crafting tools and paraphernalia. Might I add, I love handcrafted stationery and you could say I’ve truly stumbled on the ultimate creative hobby of my lifetime. More on the world of the Traveler’s Notebook at a further post, but this one’s a craft tutorial on my personal template for vintage envelopes with a tension seal.

You might have spotted them around before though they are probably not as popular with today’s trendy millennials. I’m referring to those original vintage-looking Kraft envelopes with a pair of retro string and washer enclosures. The contraption is simple enough yet handy, with its simple enclosure mechanism: the string that secures the envelope is wound manually around two circular paper circles, with one secured to the envelope flap and another to its back by a metal eyelet.

Handmade 'vintage envelopes'
TIP: Adding a see-through window using clear acetate helps you easily identify what’s inside!

I’ve always been fascinated by these ‘tension envelopes’ for how simple yet functional the retro design is. The beauty of temporarily fastening an envelope without tearing it appeals to me so much. It makes an incredible preserver of memories and a nifty paper storage idea for crafters like myself. I use them to store my vast collection of stickers, ticket stubs, magazine cutouts, paper craft embellishments, journalling cards, photographs, letters and other memorabilia or bits and pieces—basically anything that is flat in nature would be suitable.

Few of my crafty makes have been as satisfying as this one now that I’ve entered into the foray of visual journalling using the TN. You could also make these smaller as envelope inserts for your Traveler’s Notebook journal pages. I hope you’ll love making your own using your own favourite papers. In my tutorial, I’ve used my old IKEA ‘vintage Christmas wrapping paper’ (featuring vintage toys). I just love its waxed and oiled paper texture. I glued on another internal sheet of scrapbook paper as a lining to give it some added structure and weight.

I’ve also made a completely see-through version here.

naked see through envelope with tension seal outofman.com
Make it a naked envelope!

craft tutorial for vintage envelope with tension seal on outofman.com
insert a sheet of extra scrapbooking paper to give thinner stock such as wrapping paper some added weight
craft tutorial: vintage envelope on outofman.com
All you need are all these items to make your own. NB:(not pictured: 25mm circle punch)

As for the origins of the ‘tension seal flap’, here’s some interesting trivia I found online which made me love it all the more! Hope you enjoy the story!

In the 1880s, a New York envelope manufacturer invented the string and button envelope closure, which consists of two round disks riveted to the seal flap and body of the envelope. The envelope is closed by twisting a string attached to the flap button around the lower button, thus holding the contents under tension. The envelope was named the ‘Tension Tie.’ Postal regulations at the time did not permit third or fourth class mail to be sealed, making the Tension Tie Envelope an immensely popular product. In fact, the company that invented it became so well known for this envelope, it changed its name to the Tension Envelope Company. (www.tensionenvelope.com)

Click to download the template for my handmade vintage envelope template download.
Please note finished size of envelope: 165 (W) x 185 (H) mm


1 x length of paper measuring x 345mm (width across) by 250mm (height)
(Note: If using 12 x 12 cardstock, you’ll need to trim the paper to the point where the right flap begins as there won’t be enough width for 345mm across. Attach an additional piece from excess trimmed card stock measuring 185mm in height and about 50mm in width to glue onto the first piece)

If using wrapping paper or longer roll of paper other than 12 x 12 sheet:
1 x length of scrapbooking paper (for lining) measuring x the same as the downloaded template

For the tension seals:
2 x 25mm circles punched out from card stock (punch a 2mm hole in centre of each circle)
2 x metal paper brads or eyelets
1 x length of string or twine

Other tools:

Roll-on Glue or double-sided tape
Craft puncher (for circle diameter of 25mm circle)
Handheld small circle punch for 2mm circle
Eyelet setter (if using eyelets)


Trim paper as shown in the downloaded template. Please note that this template will measure beyond the width of a 12 x 12 sheet. I’ve used wrapping paper so I didn’t need to attach an additional piece of the right flap but you’ll need to if using smaller width papers.

Fold and score where the dotted lines are shown. Trim slanted edges as shown on the length of both the top and bottom flaps. Do not glue yet.

Following the template diagram, fold the envelope so that the back is now facing up. Fold down the top flap. Position your top circular tension seal in the centre of the folded down top flap. Mark the position with a penciled dot through the punched hole.

Repeat with the position desired for the 2nd circular tension seal somewhere down the middle of your envelope. The two tension seals should be roughly 10 to 20mm apart.

To secure the seal to your envelope, either set an eyelet in the middle of the seal with the string wound around the eyelet underneath the seal where it’s concealed, or fasten the seal to the envelope by using a paper brad (also with string wound into a loop and concealed underneath).

Repeat for the bottom tension seal.

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