Friday, January 18, 2013

A Lovers Memento: A Romantic How To

The bad news is: this is going to be a very long post.

The good news is: I'm going to show you how to make these little Lovers Memento matchboxes AND I'm going to talk about the thought process behind them so that you can make something that is really and truly your own.

He gave his lover the key to his heart, bound with the cotton thread that lead them to one another, and sealed with wax.

Pressing the box into his sweethearts hand he said "You will not find a feather, a vial of glitter, a shell and acorn inside this tiny box. This is where I keep my promises. To you I swear the stars and sea, wings to fly and a love as strong and ever growing as a mighty oak."

For he meant those words on the tiny scroll: "I love you for not only what you are, but for what I am when I am with you."


I made a box very similar to these a few years ago. It was a love spell matchbox, filled with items associated with love magic. With Valentine's Day on the way, I thought this might be a nice project to put out there and a really great way to talk about the creative process. Plus, it would be a grand romantic gift for someone you're sweet on.

I find a good starting point to be writing.

Write a list of things YOU associate with love. What do you consider to be romantic? Write romantic words, feelings, pet names. You might also want to think about the intended recipient. Will you present this to your sweetheart or will you you use it to tell a story?

If it's for a sweetie, think about them... colours, symbols, foods, items, sounds, smells, words. Try to incorporate something meaningful to them, or to you as a couple.

Look to the past. Symbols, myths and folk tales.

If you have some things on your list that aren't exactly practical... like moonbeams and stardust... begin to consider how you might represent them in some way. Never let something like impossibility get in the way of your creativity. A flame of passion might be represented by a candle, stardust as glitter.

Be sure to do some doodling in between all that writing and thinking.

If you have any trouble (or just lazy, ha!), skip over to yesterday's post to download a pdf of romantic words and quotes for a bit of a push.

Now lets get down to business!

Get yourself some matchboxes.
Now, you can certainly make your own (pain in the bum) or you can buy some fancy blank boxes (yea, right) or you can opt for a regular old matchbox. Sure, using fancy new shiny stuff can be great... but old things and recycling are fabulous too.

Gussy up the innards
You can get fancy and use pretty papers if you like, but you might consider using old book pages. I am a BIG fan of old paper. It's tough. It's free. It's fabulous. See if you can source books that would otherwise be heading for the trash heap. I applied my paper with rubber cement and wasn't too concerned with perfection when I applied it. *** Make sure your paper isn't too thick or it may not fit back inside the outside cover. ***

Plan ahead
At this point gather a few items that you might want to include in your box. Try to see what will or will not fit into the space. You don't have to have every detail planned out, but if you have an idea or two... now is the time to see how they might squeeze in.

Create the inner grid
For these boxes I cut wooden stir sticks to create the segments inside the boxes. I glued them in place with white tacky glue. (Try not to get too messy.) You could use cardboard if you like and just cover it with the same paper as your base. 

I find five spaces/compartments is a really nice number. There are a million and three exceptions to this.... BUT... groupings of odd numbers tend to be more visually pleasing than even numbers. Making each space a different size works well also.

It's important to experiment and 'play' with your work. By moving things around, trying new combinations, you're exploring and learning about composition and gaining an appreciation of spatial relationships. Yep, you're that damned fancy! Play around see what happens.

Roughing things up
I sand a lot of my work. I do it to soften edges. I do it to remove excess paper. I do it to age my pieces. I wanted these pieces to look like they had been a around for a while and had a story behind them so I roughed them up a fair bit. Be sure the glue on your paper is dry before sanding.

 Next I rubbed a black ink pad along all of the edges and corners.

Then I applied a weak wash of black and brown paint over the entire thing. I like to let it pool a little in the corners and crevices.

The secret to a good grunging is many washes and a little bit of colour... I added a bit of yellow to 'dirty' it up.

Speaking of grunging... 
I printed and aged the pdf of sweet nothings I posted yesterday to include in my memento boxes.

I like to use tea to stain my paper because it doesn't smell afterwards like coffee does. I also don't saturate my sheets, I splatter them. If you are using an inkjet, stain your paper first, then iron your sheets before printing. If using a laser printer, you can stain after printing... just be careful when ironing your sheet flat because it may heat transfer the image to your ironing board!

I wanted to create stacks of sweet words so I cut out strips and then ran the inkpad along the edges. You'll notice there's some smudging there. I rather like seeing smudges and brush strokes... they're evidence of time and activity. Old things aren't neat and perfect, they're worn and weathered. Don't get hung-up on perfection.

Tearing the words apart, rather than cutting, gives quite a nice effect.

You may want to roll or scroll quotes or messages to include in the smallest spaces. A little bit of red string will hold it closed, add colour, and automatically make the viewer wonder what's inside.

For an extra romantic gesture, use your own words and write something in your own hand rather than cheating like me :)

Now start putting it all together! 
Try to tell a story with your box by making each item unique and meaningful. Don't forget to make it visually appealing. Think about composition, texture, colour... each component should work with the others and create one beautiful object as a whole.

Little things you might consider including: images, scrolls, words, phrases, stamps, matches, herbs, dried flowers, little candles, coins, pen nibs, pencil nubs, small papers, paper butterflies, moss, vials, buttons, seeds, nuts, tiny keys, letters, stones, shells, bottled sand, potions, dried leaves, apple seeds, ribbon, lock of hair, tiny bones, hearts, starts, charms, pearls, gems.... whatever you can dream up :)

The exterior
At this point I use some decorative paper to pretty-up the exterior of my boxes.

To keep with the 'aged' look of the interior I sand and ink the edges.

I try to carry the feeling of the interior to the outside of the box. I add old things, mementos, that continue the story I'm telling. Nice things to include on the exterior are stamps, bindings, ribbons, sealing wax, notes, twine. Ensure that the exterior objects won't be too disturbed by the opening and closing of the box.
She had written home once, "Don't worry about me. I'm not lonely anymore."

The two of them had been smitten from the start.

They had spent windy afternoons at the seaside, and a warm mid-summer eve laying in mossy patches, counting stars, giggling from drinking too much sweet wine. She had once overheard him whisper "My beloved." when the morning sun streamed through their windows and he thought she was still asleep.

She kept those memories close. They were stored in a tiny box, with an iron nail bound against it to protect those little treasures.

"I love your feet for they have wandered over the earth and through the wind and water until they brought you to me." and with a bit of beach glass it was sealed.

A lost button from his waistcoat. The very one they both reached for, resulting in their first touch.

The nib he had used to write all the love notes he was afraid to send.

The words of love they shared.

The shell he held in his hand when he first saw her on the shore.

No one would have suspected his heart was so sentimental.

And there you have it! Within that tiny little box you've done research, explored symbolism, composition, visual story telling, recycling, the power of the written word AND gained an appreciation for little things and tight spaces. That's an awful big job for such a little box!

Now, if you want to be absolutely terribly romantic, give this little memento to your lovey on any day but Valentine's.



  1. I am so inspired! I love how you made the compartments. I think I may be making a tribute to my new love this weekend, thanks to you. Cheers!

  2. Fabulous! And they look like so much fun to create. Now to find the time. Thanks for sharing I love them!


  3. inspired ! i just wish I had some crafty person to sent me one ... wait maybe if i show MR.H he'll be is inspired to give it a try ... Mm mm
    or maybe I have just make myself one thank you for sharing Hugs, wishes and sparkle dust Wendy and thank you for the sweet comment on my blog ..

  4. Thank you for sharing your idea, your process and yourself!

    These are wonderful!

  5. These are absolutely wonderful! Thank you for the inspiration and for sharing your process!

  6. Wonderful, wonderful. One more thing to try!

  7. OMG! I need to get me some matchboxes!!!!! This is great .... thanks for sharing!!!!

  8. love this!!! thanks so much for sharing!!
    i just have to make one!!!

  9. They are lovely! Thank you for the tutorial and the wonderful inspiration!!!

  10. As wonderful as the finished boxes are (and they are), you know what I like best? The dividers in the boxes! I just gasped when I saw that photo. The spaces must be so tiny, and they're so pregnant with possibilities. I think if I opened a matchbox and found those tiny little empty niches I couldn't stop imagining the things they might once have held.

    My favourite Knickertwist creation ever! (And that's saying a lot.)

  11. I saw one of your boxes on the Art Abandonment site. I love, love, love them. They are precious.

  12. Gasp! Is that one of Nugget's feathers? Just beautiful!

  13. OMG...Love these!! I must make one or two or several. I'm a new follower,hope you'll do the same.

  14. Be still my heart! LOVE these, sooo inspiring!!! Thank you for sharing! : )

  15. I've just spent hours reading your blog and visiting your Etsy store. Every creation is a jewel!!
    Thanku so much for sharing how to make these adorable tokens!

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Hi Nichola, These are absolutely precious!! I love them and thank you so much for sharing how to make them and explaining the thought process to go along with the creations.

    Take care,

  18. Stunning. Stunning, stunning, stunning! I'm all giddy :) This is a perfect little giftie for my love.

    {runs off to craft room}

  19. I finally made one and did a swap for it on Swap Bot. Your blog inspired the theme :)

  20. OMG, I absolutely love this. So incredibly romantic.