diy art | framing old pieces of paper

by | Oct 21, 2020 | All Things Home, Decorating, Tips and Tricks | 36 comments

I sometimes think we overcomplicate things when it comes to decorating.  I’m included in that statement!  We think we need to buy new things and update along with the trends, but we really don’t.  Decorating can and should be a simple, joy-filled process.  It should be a journey of learning how to represent yourself and your story through your choices (I’m including other members of the household in that.)  A significant part of telling your story is being particular and intentional about what is framed and displayed as art.  Each piece is ideally personal and unique to you.  And the best way to do that is to create your own DIY art.

This isn’t DIY art in the sense of getting out the paints and brushes, so don’t get scared if you don’t consider yourself artistic.  This is DIY art that is about unearthing and displaying things that literally tell a part of a story.  It can be your story, your family’s story, a story of a place, or just a story that speaks to you.  I’m talking about framing old pieces of paper…letters, deeds, birth certificates, bills of sales, telegrams, postcards, and invoices.

diy art | framed pieces of paper | miss mustard seed

A humble piece of paper might be initially overlooked as art, but if you really take the time to appreciate the handwriting, the language, the sentiment, they can be very evocative – interesting to look at and to read.

I am fortunate to have some beautiful old pieces of paper from my family that include letters, postcards, and telegrams sent home during WWII.  I also have the benefit of being named after several relatives, so my name is on some of them.

diy art | framed pieces of paper | miss mustard seed

The postcard above was written to my Oma when she was a girl.

I love gold and glass frames (similar to this one) for this purpose.  They are simple to change out and look elegant.  I think I bought mine at Hobby Lobby when they were discounted.

The letter below was written in 1896 and I found it when I was rummaging through my Oma and Opa’s attic.  The author of the letter reminisces about the Virginia Conference in Petersburg, VA just a few years before the Civil Way siege that took place there.

diy art | framed pieces of paper | miss mustard seed

This letter was written by my great-great-aunt Marian when she was a little girl.  She was writing it to her grandmother, asking grandpa to visit, asking about her chickens, talking about being sick, and making a dress for her baby (doll, I assume.)  I always loved that she signed it, “Your little granddaughter, Marian.”

diy art | framed pieces of paper | miss mustard seed

And I framed some of my Opa’s WWII telegrams to his mom along with a picture of him in the army.  I cut most of my own mats and you can find a tutorial for that HERE.  Before I got my mat cutter, though, I would get custom mats cut at the framing counter at a local craft store.  It’s nowhere near as expensive as framing and having a custom mat cut specifically for an antique frame and an odd-sized picture or piece of paper can unify found objects beautifully.  You can even have glass cut.

diy art | framed pieces of paper | miss mustard seed

family photo gallery wall | miss mustard seed

So, go sort through your memory boxes, storage rooms, and bins, and find some old (or even new) pieces of paper worth framing to create your own unique DIY art.  And if you don’t have letters, etc. from your family, then look for them at antique stores, while traveling, or even on Etsy.  You can find all sorts of wonderful things to frame.



  1. Mary

    Use acid free mats for papers you think should be kept for another generation. They cost a little more, but are well worth the price to prevent damage to your article.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh yes, these are all mats that are made for photos and they are acid-free.

    • Michelle Bergsma

      Hi Marian,
      Where did you find the frame on the right in first picture? Its all glass and stands up. I have an old french script letter from 1799 that would look amazing framed like that!!

  2. annette

    Love this post!

  3. Renee Bayes

    Love this idea—- because of emails and other social media, people don’t write letters anymore. Very sad— generations of stories will be lost…

  4. Connie

    Oh Marian, how I love this post and so many of your beautiful words included in it!! Decorating should be a joy-filled process, a journey of learning how to represent yourself through your story & to include that in your decorating choices! Our homes should represent us, not what some retailer or IG influencer tells us we should choose. Preach on you wise, old souled young lady! And thank you for always being a fresh source of inspiration for me, – an old souled old woman.

  5. Karen

    I agree with you, Marian, that certain vintage paper is worth framing. I framed a few 1920s pharmacy prescription scripts in a glass floating frame to hang near a shelf with apothecary bottles on it. I love the script-style writing and uniqueness of the framed paper.

  6. Julie

    Thank you for this post. I have a couple of boxes of old family postcards, pictures and letters, many over 100 years old. I have always wanted to do something creative with them. You have motivated me to go through them and put some on display! Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Cheri

    I’ve been holding on to so many letters, photos, ledgers, etc. in the handwriting of ancestors with plans to do exactly this. I really need to get busy and just do it! Also, I need to hunt for some frames 🙂 As always thanks for the inspiration to get moving on a project!

  8. JoAnn

    The card and letter mentioning Petersburg, VA were special to me as we lived there while my husband served in the service at Ft. Lee! Great post…thank you.

    • Marian Parsons

      Yes, my family is from Petersburg. My Oma lived on Westover Ave, which you might be familiar with!

  9. Kri

    Where do you get your frames? Do you plan out how you will frame and install before you buy a frame? I love this idea and have an old hope chest FULL of old pictures and letters. I just need about a week to do it. I get so distracted when going through old things.

    • Marian Parsons

      Almost all of those wood frames are from antique stores, thrift stores, and yard sales! I collected them over the years and every couple of years match up a letter or photo with the frame and hang it up.

  10. Laura O'Barr

    I love this!!! Thank you so much for sharing. I have LOADS of postcards from family (that are over 100 years old), and other very cool ephemera that I inherited. I haven’t gotten around to doing anything with it, but have been planning to, so I love seeing the frames that you used, and some of the ways you’ve displayed your treasures. I feel certain that were I to have the opportunity to hang out with you we could spend many happy hours looking at all our cool stuff!! Haha! 😉

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, the postcards would look so good lined up in a larger frame altogether or in a bunch of smaller frames in a collection. It is a great way to fill a wall!

      • Christie

        I love this! I framed a grouping of envelopes sent to my grandparents for their wedding. One has written on it a list of wedding attire to buy, and the prices next to each item. I framed them in cheap thin Walmart front loading frames and on black acid free backing. Everyone comments that sees it. So special to have this kind of family “art” and it was so inexpensive!

  11. mary m

    Love it! I have 100 year old letters from my father back east to his mother in Dayton, Ohio. he spoke bout seeing the ocean for the first time in Maine and the tall pine trees. I have copies of a Quaker marriage certificate from 1681 of Quaker ancestors from New Jersey. Guess i better get on the ball! I like that you grouped them all together. I also have WW!! letters from my father in law to my husbands’s mother not quite a bride yet. He wrote about the house they will have and drew a little stick figure house and the two children also stick figures. Yes their dreams came true,

  12. JC

    So inspirational! I have old photos, letters , etc that I have been wanting to do a gallery wall. I also have a very old 100 + year old hand made baptismal baby gown from my family lineage. How best should I display that? It is really long. Thanks for these ideas! I really like the floating frame.

  13. Jan R

    Marian, I love that you call your grandparents Opa and Oma! I was blessed to know both sets of my grandparents, and both were Opa and Oma to me. We spoke low German at home as much as we spoke English, and I’m sad that I’ve lost most of my ability to communicate in German. Seeing your reference to Opa and Oma was a JOY moment for me. Thank you!

  14. Vicki

    I love these beautiful papers and stories! I feel the same way about telling my family’s story. Holocaust survivors, some not so lucky but stories my grandparents told me! I have lots of papers and pictures too. Great finds! I just found my parents IF tags from 1947. They had to wear them at school because the war was going on!

    • Vicki

      Correction…ID tags

  15. Sue Cantrell

    This post really touched my heart. My dad was a WWII veteran. He had many albums of pictures he took from the windows of the bomber he flew. He was also a genealogist and had many pictures and stories of generations past. This post inspires me to start going through those things and framing them. Thanks for the lovely post!

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, it sounds like you have some excellent photos and old papers that could be framed. It will be so special to see memories of him around your house.

  16. Mary S

    Oh my. I have old pictures around my house and I love them all. I found my grandparents (on my Mother’s side) Marriage License. I’ve framed and hung it and also found my Mother’s First Communion Certificate. I still need to find a frame for that one. But I love all these old pieces of my family history. Thanks for sharing you collection… You’ve done a beautiul job framing and displaying them.

  17. Lisa Gibson

    Oh this is such a fantastic idea and very timely for me Marian! Sadly my mom has just passed away and there are so many treasures to sort through- I’m sure several would be suitable for this project! Seems so simple why didn’t I think of this? Thanks for the great idea! Also I’m going through some of your fabulous YouTube Painting tutorials as I’m a beginner painter. You make it look so easy- I wish it was for me! Love your blog!

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh, I’m so glad! It will be so special to have some of your mom’s paperwork framed to honor her. You can hang some of your paintings right next to them. You can do it! It just takes time to learn and grow as an artist.

  18. Babs

    Marian, I think you have an “old” soul…your reverence for old things speaks to me directly.

    • Marian Parsons

      Oh yes, I definitely have an old soul. I’ve always loved old things, history, and stories about the past.

  19. Angela

    I absolutely love this idea and I have many beautiful pictures of my great grand parents and their families sadly they were not the nicest people to my grandmother and although I would love to frame some of them I can’t bring myself to place them front and centre considering they were not the nicest people. I do however have my grandmothers photo of when she was one framed in a beautiful old oval frame that I have loved for many years it will soon be 100 years old. I think I will look for some old letters she wrote me many years ago and frame them. She always loved letter writing.

  20. Sharon Rexroad

    oh, gosh, now I’m hoping I saved the receipt we found in Mom’s things of the sewing machine she bought when she was fresh out of college. She bought it “on time” and the receipt showed “paid in full”. I’d love to hang it in my sewing room.

  21. Susan

    I love your idea of combining these pieces with related old photos!

  22. Kim-Pacific Northwest

    I love your idea of displaying old letters. When I was a child I wrote a letter to Santa and my mom mailed it to my grandfather. As an adult I found the letter still intact in his home years after he had passed. I had it profesionally framed and display it at Christmas.
    On my husband’s side of the family he was given an old photo of his mother on their farm when she was about 12 years old. It was already framed in a beautiful now antique frame. I hung it up in our home and my 13 yr old niece loves to look at it and told me “I know what this photo is. It is history!”
    I think sometimes personal family history can spark an interest in their history studies at school.
    Thanks for the great idea!!

  23. Lynnett Ratchford

    Oh, Marian, you pulled a heart string with this one! Being a pack rat I have lots of paper memorabilia, and like Kim, one of my favorites is a framed letter to Santa my husband’s mother wrote when she was nine. Her sister had it matted and framed and gifted it to my husband. Since his mother died when he was in high school it is very special.

    Some added suggestions are:
    -Keep papers and such in photo boxes in a climate controlled environment, never an attic. Hobby Lobby and Michael’s have 12″x12″ cardboard boxes now. Plastic holds moisture so it is best to use paper boxes.
    -J.C. for the baptismal gown, how about a shadow box frame? You could also add a few other mometos like a photo, a rattle or silver spoon.
    -My husband and I scrapbook family pieces but I won’t cut or crop old photos or documents. I always look for acid free products or archival safe labels.
    -Hand written recepie cards are also fun framed or booked.
    -For framed wall art or table top pieces think about rotating out the display now and then. It keeps the decor fresh and every changing plus utilizes more special documents.
    -Like you, Marian, I horde picture frames from thrift stores, hobby centers and garage sales, and every time I go to frame something, I can’t find the right size!

  24. Joanne B.

    I’ve been following you for YEARS. I secretly think I wanted to find something about you that would justify why I secretly ‘hated’ you- it would make it easier to accept that you weren’t as “perfect” as you seemed! Now intellectually of course I know you are probably NOT perfect, but emotionally it is difficult to accept that ONE PERSON can be so dang talented and not ever afraid to explore the far reaches of your seemingly endless supply of creativity. And you know what? The minute I realized you were indeed SO HATE-ABLE and it had to be something I would just have to accept- was the second I realized I LOVED you. I suddenly started thinking how much more pleasant I felt with all the wonderful creative wisdom you share with us; it was okay you were “so perfect”. You are truly an inspiration to us all and I know I am not the first to want to thank you for sharing a bit of all your, “Hmmm… I wonder what would happen if I …” (fill in the blank with something that seems so insurmountable now) I just wanted to make the point of saying thank you. With all your talent your greatest gift is actually your willingness to share yourself with all of us everyday. I’ll end this in just a second but had to acknowledge that first! One of your most heartfelt posts for me was the one where (if I remember correctly) you ‘found’ an old military bag with ID and you attempted to find and did!- the family of the soldier it belonged to! Can you please recirculate that post? Do you have any further update on that story? Who it belonged to? Who he was? In a way it sort of tied in with this post to value memories saved to paper as art. Sorry I have taken so much of your time. It was my intention to make you smile…

    • Marian Parsons

      This comment made me smile! I am so glad my posts have encouraged you to try new things. 🙂 And, I get it! It’s easy to look at someone’s life and what they are up to and feel like they are perfect. You’re very right in knowing that I’m not perfect. I have my struggles and failings just like everyone else.

      And, yes, I loved that I was able to connect that WWI yard sale find with the family. That was Albert Crombie’s mail pouch and I was able to mail it to the family a couple of years after I posted about. I can definitely share that again.

  25. Paula

    What beautiful ideas if framing old letters, photographs & mementos. Love it.


Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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