Seed Packet Project for Sharing & Saving Seeds in Beautifully Decorated Tiny Envelopes
We've officially entered the time of year where both plants and people are waking up after what has been a particularly long winter.
For those of us with gardens, be they in beds in the backyard or in pots on the fire escape, this time of year finds us sorting through our seed collections, thumbing seed catalogues, and inventorying our stocks of soil amendments as our gardens come together and the weather warms.
As your seed orders arrive, as you unearth your collection from last season, and as you frolic home with the new varieties you scored from your local seed exchange, inevitably, the excited conversations begin. My mother and I compare varieties on FaceTime and trade tips on our favorite varieties, hedging bets on how they will fare in the different planting zones if we do a swap. Gardeners will do this with just about anyone who has a houseplant and the patience to listen.
One of the things I love even more than talking about different varieties of heirloom vegetables is sharing and exchanging heirloom vegetable seeds with friends and neighbors. If you have a backyard garden or anything smaller, then you know typically sized seed packets go a long way, and generally contain more than you need in any single season (especially if you are a glutton for different varieties, like me). So, I plant some and give the rest away in little hand decorated seed packets. This is a project I always look forward to and take great delight in.
So, I'm going to share the details of this favorite springtime project of mine with you this year. It's a great way to get out of a creative slump. It's also a wonderful gift that spreads beauty and deliciousness. In the process, I'll also be divulging some of my very favorite varieties of heirloom vegetables.
I keep a store of tiny glassine envelopes to transform into hand-decorated seed packets to share pinches of this and that variety of seeds. You can of course just scribble the type and variety on the envelope, but seed packets are always so exciting and lovely - and the tinier they are the cute factor increases exponentially. (It's a scientific fact). For the label designs, I use a digital file I made to save me a few extra steps and expedite the process (I make a lot of these). (I've added my templates to a new Paintable Project so that you can use them too if you wish!). After printing out my label template, I draw out each design with pencil, ink the designs with a permanent liner, then use watercolors to for pops and splashes of color. Then, I cut out the labels and glue them to the envelopes. Lastly, I fill them with seeds!
This is a creative project, so there is a multitude of different supplies you can use. I'm listing the ones I have found useful for this particular project. I'll describe how I use them, why they are useful, and list my favorite brand. I'll also link to their listing in our shop. Just to be clear, I'm not choosing these brands because we sell them - I've chosen to sell these specific supplies because I use them.
I have also created a kit (called the Gardener's Kit), so that all of these supplies are available under a single listing. It comes with a handmade bag for easy storage and so that you can travel with this project (more the designing and painting portion - you can fill the packets with seeds when you return home).
Stack of Envelopes - You can purchase these through our shop, elsewhere online, or even make your own! (Our Seed Packet Paintable Project also comes with a 2x2" envelope template, in addition to an assortment of templates for different label designs sizes to fit that envelope). I enjoy using glassine envelopes for this project. I just love the way they crackle, and I like to be able to quickly see the amount of seeds in each one. Just remember, if you're using glassine you need to take extra care to store your seeds in a dark place (which you should do anyway).
Graphwood HB Pencil - Any moderately hard graphite pencil will do. This is to keep your sketches loose and light! (2Bs and softer are darker and will smudge.)
Non-Photo Blue Pencil - This kind of pencil is useful if you know you'll be scanning your designs to save. These pencils are often used for underdrawings because the blue is less distracting and harder for scanners to pick up because the light blue has a much lighter value than dark grey pencil graphite. This is a non-essential tool for this project, but a useful option! I use the Non-Photo Blue Sketcher by Caran d'Ache.
Sketch & Wash Water-Soluble Pencil - If used lightly, this pencil gives you lines that will more or less wash or blend away as you paint. You can also use this pencil for your illustrations instead of using watercolor paints. It will give your packet designs a more monochrome, minimalistic look.
Copic MultilinerSP 0.1 & 0.3 - I use these for inking (or outlining) my illustrations. These are wonderful because they contain waterproof ink, and have replaceable nibs and ink. I find the two different sizes useful - I use the 0.3 for any writing and major outlines and to create emphasis, and the 0.1 for any details or very fine lines.
T-40 Dip Pen & G Nib - The T-40 dip pen is wonderful for using to letter the names of the different seed varieties. You can use calligraphy or different types of hand-lettering where varied pressure plays a part. You can load your nib with watercolor and use it just like ink! You can also use this tool for sketching, outlining, and adding colorful details to your design as well. I like this particular dip pen because it is compatible with both a crow quill nib (smaller) and regular-sized drawing and calligraphy nibs (larger), it has a cap so you can travel with a nib in place without getting poked, and the cap fits on the end of the handle so you don't loose it. The Tachikawa G Nibs are my favorite moderately flexible nibs for both simple calligraphy and sketching.
Waterbrush with Fine Point - I like to use the fine point waterbrush because this project is on such a small scale. Having too large a brush can be frustrating. Waterbrushes are convenient (since you don't have to use a water cup), and they can also help keep your painting fluid and loose. For this project, you'll want to keep your brush on the drier side so it doesn't deposit more water than you need on the tiny designs. If you're having trouble controlling the flow, empty the water reservoir - the brush will still be moist, but less wet. Used this way, you can also treat it more like a traditional brush.
Kneaded Eraser - Kneaded erasers are wonderfully versatile. Roll it into a fat worm and roll it over your sketches to lighten your pencil lines before inking. You can also twist it into little points for detail erasing. Just remember you want to more dab, roll, and lift with this eraser, rather than scrub.
Large Eraser - Use a large white eraser to remove pencil lines after you ink and before you scan your designs (if you plan to scan them - more on that below). You want this eraser to be soft and non-smudging. My favorite eraser for this use is by MOO.
Watercolor Paints - Use whatever you have! This is more of a craft project than fine artwork, so feel free to pull out your student paints. However, if you're making a keepsake, I would suggest at least making sure your colors are lightfast or using your artist grade set. As for colors, I like to use a combination of natural and synthetic pigments - just a small assortment for quick painting. Colors like Green Earth and Orange Ochre are very handy, and I like Slate for shadows for a little depth and detail. I tend to use the high chroma synthetic colors in very small amount, just to mix into the natural pigments to make minor adjustments to the hue. For example, Green Earth is what I use for the base of nearly all my leafy greens, and then I will add a dash of Phthalo. Cyan to make it more cool, or a dot of Quinox. Yellow for that bright, warm green of fresh growth. I have collected the colors I most frequently use for this project into a Travel Palette called the Gardener's Set.
Pocket Mister - A non-essential, but it's always nice to spray down your watercolor before you dive in. This saves your brush and can just speed up your painting, so you don't have to wet your colors one by one. It just makes the painting process more fluid. Any brand will do.
Scissors - Especially if you're doing this project while traveling, scissors will probably be the way to go, however they will be much slower. If you're cutting up a bunch of labels at once, I recommend a straight edge, craft knife, and cutting mat (or thick piece of cardboard). I enjoy using Wescott Titanium Scissors, but as long as they cut smoothly, any brand will work.
Glue Stick - For sticking your finished labels to the packets. I like to use a colored non-toxic glue stick - UHU makes a great one. The color makes it easier to see where you've put down glue, but it dries clear. Just make sure to really get the corners, especially if you're using thicker paper for your labels! Since you're making something to be used, those corners will stick out if they aren't glued in place.
Washi or Rice Tape - For sealing your envelope. Even if your envelopes come with adhesive flaps, washi tape is still the way to go - you don't want your beautiful envelopes to get destroyed after their first use! There are lots of washi tapes with fun prints, but using a plain print leaves you with a removable place to clearly write the year. That way these packets can be re-used!
Permanent Marker - I use this to write the year on the tape holding the packet flap shut. That way the person I gift the seeds to will know what year they were given. It's best not to save seeds for too long, otherwise germination rates begin to decrease. I use a Sakura Identipen for this - it has two different tip sizes.
Now. There is no wrong way to do this (as long as you're labeling your seeds correctly). I'm going to share the general method I've developed so you can use that as your starting place.
Step #1 - Assemble Your Seeds
Assemble your seeds and count how many varieties you'll be sharing and how many people you'll be sharing them with. This will help you determine how many labels you'll be making and if you'll be making any duplicate labels.
Step #2 - Print or Create Your Label Template
Print (or make) your label templates. I've created a Paintable Project that contains a variety of different styles of label templates for you to print out, sized for 2"x2" envelopes (which are what I use). Why do I use that size? Because they are cute! And that's as large as you really need if you're sharing a single seed packet a couple different ways.
If you want to start from scratch, don't have a printer, or are working with a different size of envelope, just figure out what size you want your labels to be, use a pencil and a ruler to create a grid with boxes that size on a piece of paper, and there is your template! It's a little more labor intensive, but then you probably enjoy working with your hands if you're reading this post!
Step #3 - Sketch Your Seed Packet Labels
It's time to pencil in your basic design. I generally write what type of seed and what specific variety below each label. Then I do a little sketch of what it is you'll be harvesting. You can be as ornate or simple as you like! If you're doing a whole bunch of these and are tight on time, a simple sketch with a dab of color will end up looking wonderful - don't worry about creating a masterpiece here. This project can be a quickie or a long labor of love.
Tip: If you really dislike errant pencil lines, or you know already you will be scanning your designs to reprint them, consider using a non-photo blue pencil for your sketches. The light blue has a much lighter value than pencil graphite, which makes it more difficult to see, less noticeable on a scan, and easier to erase!
Step #4 - Ink Your Designs
Once you've finished penciling in your designs, it's time to ink them in! After you've finished inking, you can erase any errant pencil lines. Especially if you'll be painting on your master copy, make sure you are using a waterproof ink! Otherwise, you're ink will run when you apply watercolor.
If you're planning to create multiple labels for your seed varieties (or wish to use these designs again next season), scan your sheet of inked designs to your computer. That way you can print as many as you wish to paint on, and retain a saved copy of your basic designs for any future use.
Step #5 - Paint Your Designs
Now it's time for color! Any set of watercolor paints will do, though if these little packets might become keepsakes, I suggest you use quality lightfast colors. Here also you can use whatever brushes you have on hand. Since this is very small scale painting, I would suggest a smaller size brush. I like to use a waterbrush with a fine tip to keep my painting fluid with some details. I like to work in two steps, adding a first base color, then adding a second on top that quickly captures values and depth. You can add some quick shadows to make your designs pop!
Step #6 - Cut Out Your Labels
Using a pair of scissors, or a craft knife, cutting mat, and straight edge, cut out each label. You can also get creative here and use pinking shears or other craft scissors that give you a more creative cut line.
Step #7 - Glue Your Labels To Seed Envelopes
Pull out your glue stick and some scratch paper - old newspaper or something from the recycling bin will due. Make sure to get glue on all the corners, then place the label where you want it on the envelope.
As your envelopes dry, consider placing them under weight (like under a dictionary) for them to dry fully. This will help prevent them from curling.
Step #8 - Fill With Seeds!
Once all your labels have been glued to your envelopes and fully dried, it's time to fill them with seeds! I find it's most efficient to cup both envelopes and simply transfer as many seeds as you wish from your original seed packet into each envelope. You'll want to handle the seeds as little as possible and keep the oils from your skin from touching the seeds, which can inhibit germination later.
After you fill each envelope, make sure to tape them shut. I like to use washi tape for this because it is pretty and because its medium tack makes it easy to remove for use, but secure for storage. Use a decorative washi, or a blank type. The blank tape is great for writing the year the seeds were given, while allowing the packet to be reused if desired. Just remove the tape and add a new piece with the updated year for another season of use.
Above & Beyond! More Ideas For Sharing Your Seeds
Idea: A quick google search will offer your giftee all they need to know about planting the different varieties you've given them. However, if you want to take the time, you can create labels for the backs of your seed packet envelopes with planting and care instructions, a little bit of history, days until harvest, etc.
Idea: Create a Google Sheet to keep track of your seed varieties and who you have shared which ones with. If you share the document, this is also a way people can request certain varieties too, and even share notes about their successes and experiences with each variety. It's also useful to keep track of your own planting notes.
Idea: A handful of small seed packets has a tendency to be a little out of control. I like to present the packets I make in a pretty little box. You can look for one at an antique store, thrift shop, your basement, or even make one from scratch (recycled cardboard covered in decorative paper works beautifully). You can label it in all kinds of creative ways. Here are a few of my favorites: Garden In A Box, A Year of Salads, Soup in a Box, Belly Fillers & Compost Fodder.
You can take this project in so many different directions. Adapt it to different size seed packets, to garden markers, pot labels, decorating your annual garden notes, etc. I just want to give you a springboard to dive in a little deeper:
- Do a google image search for beautiful seed packet label ideas. You can also create a pin board to keep track of your favorites and return to for inspiration for your label designs.
- Keep a dedicated garden sketchbook. Along with noting what varieties you planted and when, you can sketch them at each stage of growth. You'll not only learn a lot about each plant as it grows, you can also reference your own sketches for next year's seed packet designs. (I also like to add harvest dates and flavor notes.)
- Vintage and antique seed catalogues are also wonderful sources of inspiration. Search you local used bookstore or do a Google image search.
Why Saving & Sharing Seeds is Important
Did you know many varieties of heirloom seeds are either extinct or on the edge of extinction? Heirloom seeds are our collective inheritance, adapted for flavor, nutrition, and climate compatibility (which includes natural pest resistance). The modern day varieties of fruits and vegetables you see available in most supermarkets have been developed for transport, storage, pesticide resistance (very different from pest resistance), and generic "beauty" standards. It's no surprise then that heirlooms are both more delicious and nutrient dense! Seeds unfortunately don't last forever, even when stored carefully. The very best way we can preserve these varieties is by keeping them alive in our gardens and by sharing them back and forth within our community - and of course by eating them!
Where To Purchase Heirloom Seeds
I purchase my seeds from a number of different places. I look for a wide offering, for businesses in a similar climate to where I am, and of course organic or at lease non-GMO seeds.
Here are my favorite seed sources:
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - This is where I purchase most of my seeds. They are located in my home state of Missouri, and offer an exceedingly wide selection of heirloom varieties. And their annual Whole Seed Catalogue with its sumptuous pictures and descriptions is something I look forward to reading all year.
Grand Prismatic Seed -
Seed Savers Exchange - I haven't personally used this community, but my mother does regularly. Some excellent and rare seed varieties can be found here.
I hope you have a wonderful time with this project. In the comments, please share your favorite sources for heirloom seeds! I'd also love to hear what location/gardening zone you hail from, and, of course, I would be delighted to hear about some of your favorite varieties and why you love them!
And, please, pretty please, tag me on Instagram if you post pictures of this project - I can't wait to see your results (and tagging me is the only way I'm able to see!). (@greenleafblue or #greenleafblueberry)
Thanks for being here and wishing you Happy Painting!