The violets will be flowering soon on the steep, damp banks of country roads and the wood pigeons are cooing from their perch in the ivy every morning. You can feel it in the air somehow – the Day of Love, St Valentine’s Day, is coming round, inevitably, again – even in these most difficult of times. Once a year, embrace it or reject it, the 14th February has been celebrated with the sending of Valentine’s cards to loved ones for centuries.
If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day but I’m always touched to receive something hand made on the morning – it feels more heartfelt somehow. Before the times of mass marketing and plastic consumerism, the Georgians and Victorians of 18th and 19th century Britain used to create their own hand made cards too.
I recently came across Valentine puzzle purses from these most romantic of eras during a random internet search and I was so inspired by their intricate folding, pretty decoration and calligraphy. They appear, at first, as tight little paper packages but you realise, with a gentle twist, they open up like flowers and successive layers unfold to reveal gift after gift of illustration and poetry.
They probably began their journey in Japan as small origami paper envelopes made to hold thread or buttons. From here, they travelled to the European continent. Germany took them and made informal Baptism certificates from them. England and then America turned them into love letters and Valentine cards. The only way the sentiment could be read was by working out the puzzle and unfolding fully. There are some beautiful examples online from 1760, 1816 and 1826 decorated with hearts and flowers.
I decided to make my own version after falling in love with this combination of painting and lettering. The poem I used is a traditional one with slightly different 18th century wording to the usual. There are roses, violets and honey bees on the front. On the back – chalk blue butterflies, dragonflies and shells from my home of Sussex. At the heart sit two collared doves who traditionally mate for life.
Here’s how you make a Valentine puzzle purse.
- Take a square of paper, not too thick.
- Fold along these guidelines and open back up. Some instructions give less folds but I found this way easier.
3. Turn the paper over and fold along the same guidelines but in the opposite direction. Open back up again.
4. Using a pinwheel fold, twist the purse closed in the following way.
5. Decorate with as many hearts and flowers as you dare, front and back.
6. Fill with feeling and fold back up again.
So, this Valentines Day, whether you receive a card in the post or not, here’s my offering of roses, violets and heartfelt wishes to you during these pandemic times.
Take care of yourselves…