Natural Life Magazine

Crafting for a Greener World
What to do with wallpaper samples?
by Robyn Coburn

Reader Ina writes: “I have a huge stack of wallpaper samples that I couldn't pass up when they were freecycled to me. So far, my kids and I have used them to create cards to send to family members. We are not making nearly enough cards to reduce the supply, though. I would love to have more suggestions on simple card-making designs or other ways we can put our wallpaper samples to good use. Hmmm, I also have the spines of the wallpaper sample books, now that I think of it!”

I love this question because I too have a lovely wallpaper sample book that I pulled from the dumpster in back of a small home decorating store near me that had gone out of business. The book includes 24 x 18 inch samples of the paper designs and as a wonderful bonus, several five or six inch wide border strips.

The characteristic that I love most about wallpaper is the strength of it. As a paper it is thick but still flexible. For this reason, it will make really nice, solid paper beads. When using wall paper I like to start with a slightly wider “bottom” of my triangle. These are beads that make chunky necklaces, tree ornaments, heavy charms as bell pulls, and are great for embellishing with wrapped yarn or wire.

I also like the wallpaper samples for home décor purposes. For example the sheets make nice photo mats or the background of shadow boxes. Pieces can be decoupaged on to small canvases to be hung as a wall collage.

Because it is strong, wallpaper makes nice book covers, folded and taped to protect hard cover books. Or you can personalize journals (such as composition books) with wallpaper covers. If your samples are like mine, there are pages of coordinating designs or color ways that match nicely. A journal for each member of the family stacked on a shelf can look very nice.

Suppose you took a couple of strips of the leftover paper and made a coordinating bookmark for each journal with a colored cord or string and a bead or two, and maybe even wrapped a pen. I remember taking plain clear plastic ball point pens and sliding a tube of paper inside to personalize them when I was young.

Wallpaper makes nice folded paper boxes with or without lids. There are lots of instructions for these on the internet, including origami boxes. (Links on

You could make a patchwork of the wallpaper pieces in the back of bookshelves. This can really elevate a simple white or plain shelf. Of course seeing the wallpaper on the shelves, you might find that you have accidentally created a dolls' house! That is another use for the papers – decorating doll houses or boxes that will work as doll house rooms. I sometimes use backdrops made from wallpaper for my art doll product photos.

But my favorite use for wallpaper samples, taking advantage of the strength and thickness, is Art Trading Cards. These are miniature works of art, 2.5 x 3.5 inches exactly. The idea behind them is that they cannot be sold, only given or traded. On the back you should put the artist's name, and the name of the card, number if it is part of a series and possibly a contact (eg e-mail addy or website). People who are serious about ATC's will even have a stamp made for the back to make it quicker.

Wallpaper stands up to decoupage and paint treatments. I like using photocopies and ephemera, as well as small 3D elements. They can almost be miniature scrapbook pages. They're also great for trying out new techniques or color combinations. I have made a series that include yarn stitched to them.

So on to the binding holding the wallpapers. Mine is a two large, sturdy covers attached to a spine, which has a nice rope handle. I don't know if that is the same as your one, Ina. A couple of good sized bulldog clips and an attached zippered bag as a pencil case, I think it will make a very nice portable drawing board. It's large but not so large as to be unwieldy.

After a long career designing for theater and independent films, Robyn Coburn finds her joy as an unschooling mother who also writes and crafts. She has been a confirmed greenie since working for Greenpeace during her college years in Australia. Robyn is currently working on two crafty books, a fairy tale screenplay and a TV series about doll making and collecting. A past speaker and funshop presenter at Live and Learn Unschooling conferences, she contributes regularly to unschooling e-lists. She lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband James and ever inspiring daughter Jayn. Contact Robyn by email at or visit her at and

shell collage using wallpaper sample
A shadow box collage using pieces of glass and shells gathered from a beach and mounted on a wallpaper sample.

ATCs collage
Art Trading Cards (ATCs) using collage and a wallpaper sample background

ATCs with photocopies
My daughter Jayn's wallpaper sample ATCs incorporating photocopying

ATCs yarn and buttons
Wallpaper sample ATCs using buttons and yarn.




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