When I was younger, middle or high school age, I had a multitude of penpals. I've always been curious about the world and almost as soon as I discovered that there were far away places where people lived differently than how I lived, I wanted to go there. I can trace my interest all the way back to when I was even younger. Perhaps when I was eight or nine years old I watched a show on PBS called The Big Blue Marble. I hate to think I'm dating myself by owning up to watching 1970s/80s TV, but I loved that show. You can see the opening montage here. Does that bring back fond memories for anyone else?
Anyway, I remember that you could get a penpal from some distant country via the Big Blue Marble. All you needed was to send in a postcard. Alas, I didn't have a clue what a postcard was, or at least no access to one (no doubt my parents weren't as enthusiastic about letter writing then as I was), so it was some years later that I finally got my first penfriend. In high school my French class exchanged names with kids in Europe and I was matched up with a girl my age in Ireland. We corresponded for many years and I even visited her in Co. Waterford. A dream come true. Not only was I able to write to someone living so far away, but I was finally able to travel abroad.
Over the next few years I met up with other penfriends, as by this time I knew all about postcards mailing letters internationally and where to connect with other young adults who wanted to correspond. I met up with a British girl in London. When I lived in Austria I met up with a penfriend who had been living in East Berlin, and once the wall came down and she could move about freely she came to visit me in Wr. Neustadt. Then there was a Czech friend (before the country split) who visited me and then I visited her in Prague. And a Finnish guy came to Vienna and we met up there. Who knew I was such a seasoned traveler and adventurer? Sadly I have lost contact with all my penfriends save one, though we don't exchange letters as often as we used to.
So, as an adult I've had to find other outlets to satisfy my desire for being creative and connecting with others via mail. Did you know it was possible to do so using needlearts? When I was young and had penpals my letters were pretty average and ordinary. This very cool book, Méli Mail Art: Quand le PCB s'en mêle, which you see above is from a French stitching group located in Dijon. In 2002 they decided to send each other mail art that was stitched by hand and then display them. This book is the catalog to the exhibit and is one of my stitching treasures as a French friend sent it to me.
Let me share a few of the designs, which were stitched and then sent through the mail. I love the duck and the way the stamps are spread out over the front of the envelope.
You can't tell from the picture, but this design is stitched over one thread--very tiny stitches in an elegant script.
And isn't this one gorgeous? I love the flowers and the stamps that match so nicely and the way that the sender's address runs along the side of the letter.
Now do you want to see a few of my own attempts? Nothing so exquisite as the French stitchers' envelopes, but keep in mind these are early projects when I first started stitching. I'm sure I could do much better now. I was a little over the top with motifs on this one.
Less is definitely more as you can see here. I was pleased with this one and notice how I incorporated some of the French stitchers' styles into my own design?
This was actually my very first try at stitched mail art. It was for an exchange and each stitcher needed to design an envelope that showed something about your city or region.
And one more. Maybe this was for a Valentine's Day exchange? I don't remember now. All the envelopes have a flap of some sort so can be opened and closed and each was mailed with some little thing inside (if you want to see more you can look at my online stitching album). And yes, they all did arrive to their destinations.
I think the postal service can deliver just about anything at all provided it has enough of an address to get it there. The book in the top picture, Envelopes: A Puzzling Journey Through the Royal Mail by Harriet Russell is very cool. It has examples of decorated and creatively mailed envelopes that went through the Royal Mail in the UK. Well worth a look if you're into mail art or letter writing. I wouldn't mind getting into mail art once again if I could find a group that does that sort of thing.
This post actually is leading up to something.
Do you want to know what my latest obsession is? I recently came across an organization called Postcrossing. Have you heard of it? It's like Bookcrossing, only with postcards. Actually I think it's cooler than Bookcrossing, which I have tried before, but only ever mailed out books and never 'found one'. Postcrossing has been around for a while and to date over 9 million postcards have been sent. It began in Portugal and now there are members from all over the world participating.
With postcrossing you can send out up to five postcards. When the recipient receives it they log it in and then your name gets added to the queue and someone will mail a postcard to you. It's entirely random, so you send and receive a postcard from someone unknown and could be living anywhere in the world. When your postcard has been received you can mail out another one with the expectation you'll also get another one in the mail later.
So yes, I've tried it. Those are my five postcards. When you request an address you get a randomly generated name and you can see the person's account profile. Each person writes something about themselves and what their likes and dislikes are in terms of what sort of postcard they would like to get, though this is all meant to be about friendship and goodwill (and getting some cool mail) not about 'collecting'.
My profile is all but empty at the moment as my postcards are currently 'traveling'. The farthest destination one of my postcards will be traveling is 12,254 km, which is to China. The closest is a mere 7,183 km to the Netherlands. My other cards are going to Russia, Finland, and France. So now I just wait until someone receives my postcard and logs it and hopefully I'll get one in return sometime soon. It's such a fun idea, I wish I had discovered it before--some members have mailed and received hundreds and in some cases even thousands of postcards. There are all sorts of statistics you can read like where the cards have come from and who sent them and how long they took to arrive. This is one of those time-suck activities I mentioned yesterday, as I spent far too long perusing the website over the weekend. I can see it is going to be addicting, so I will have to pace myself as postage (even for a postcard) is not so cheap anymore. Still, I'll be on the look out for cool postcards now.
I truly am a geek, but apparently I am in good company since they have over 288,000 members in 201 countries. I'll let you know when I get my first postcard! Where will it come from I wonder?