Bottled Up

March 19, 2003

If you’re like many of the rest of us, your cupboards and storage areas are full of empty jars. Whenever the original contents are gone, we clean the jars out and put them away thinking we’ll find a use for them “one of these days”. The jars pile up until there are more jars than uses we can think to put them to. Until now. Why not make them into gifts? Not empty, of course, unless you know someone else who wants a collection of empty glass bottles that once held pasta sauce, peanut butter, and mayonnaise. An empty jar is not a terribly interesting thing, so why not put something inside and treat a friend, loved one, co-worker, or other individual, to a nice surprise? But what to put inside, you ask, and how do I make this “gift in a jar”?

If you know someone who keeps a journal, or who likes to write other types of poetry and prose, then the answer of what to put inside is simple – fill the jar with slips of paper, each bearing one idea for something to write about. What you put on the paper could be questions, quotations, or anything else of your devising. Each day, or as often as they are inclined to, the person you gave this “journal jar” to would take one out and write something inspired by what’s on the paper. The questions and quotations could be thematic. If you are giving it as a Christmas gift, for example, the questions could all be things relating to Christmas or other holidays – or they could simply be a random selection of questions covering any amount of topics you wish. What occasion you give the gift for, and what you put on those slips of paper, is completely up to you, but I shall list some ideas for you later on. First, though, let me go through some of the tools you’ll need, and some ideas on preparation.

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is a jar (or other suitable container). You can either purchase one new from a store (dollar stores are excellent places to find such things) or recycle one from your home. Any type of jar will work, but you might want to use one that has designs on the glass or is made from something other than plain, clear glass. Make sure the jar is thoroughly cleaned before you get started – including the lid – and that there is no evidence left of the paper label or glue that was used to apply it. An easy way to help remove the label and glue is to soak the jar in warm water for a while, then scrape the dissolving paper and loosening glue off. You can use a Brillo pad, or something else with a bit of abrasiveness, to help you with this.

You will need paper. Coloured paper is an excellent choice that can help to provide some pizzazz, or you can use white paper – it’s up to you. Another idea might be to use paper that has a pattern already on it. Access to a printer (if it’s a colour printer, so much the better) will make the job of decorating much easier, as you can keep the text and other decorations more uniform – and it certainly saves you from the potential of writer’s cramp!

The idea here is to decorate one side of the paper and put your writing prompts on the other. You would then fold the papers in half so that the written side can’t be seen until the paper is taken out of the jar, and all the person you gave the jar to can see beforehand is the decorations. If you were, for example, making a jar that contained sets of questions about family life, school, the holidays, etc., you could decorate all the holiday prompts with the same decoration and choose a different decoration for other themes. You could decorate each piece of paper differently, also. The other option is to use paper that has a peel-off sticky back, so that when the person you give the jar to takes the slip of paper out, they can affix it to the top of a page in their journal. In this case you might decorate one half of the surface the prompt is written on, and write the question on the other half.

Using a printer would allow you to make the sizes of the slips uniform. You could measure out the size of the slips on the computer using the appropriate software, then print them out in large sheets that you could cut apart yourself. Although it’s not necessary, you could use pinking shears, or other scissors that have a special edge, to cut apart the slips of paper so that your prompts have a decorated edge. If you are using the “decorations on one side, writing on the other side” method, simply print out one side first, flip the paper over feeding it back into your printer, and print out the other side. Make sure the dimensions you set for the size of your slips has remained the same for both sides, or you might end up cutting something off.

You will also want to disguise the lid and perhaps decorate the outside of the jar. To do this you could use peel-off sticky paper, cloth, paint, or any combination of those and other craft items. If using paint to colour over the original lid and on the glass, you will need special paints for the process. Your best option would be to consult someone at an art supply or craft store, and ask them what is best to use to paint on metal and glass. The same applies if you’re going to glue things onto the lid or the sides of the jar.

For the lid you could simply cover it with a piece of cloth, perhaps one that matches the colours of paper you used, or matches the designs you put on your prompts. You could affix it with glue, ribbon, yarn, or an appropriate elastic – like those sparkly ones you use for your hair. You could paint any sort of design on it you wished, or glue sparkles and other craft items on it. If it’s a thematic journal jar you could put a design on the lid that matches the ones used on the papers inside. As for the outside of the jar, you can do whatever you wish, but it’s a good idea to stay away from anything too complex, as it would obscure the contents of the jar too much. If you wanted you could do similar things to the side of the jar that you did with the lid – a little painting, perhaps something glued to the sides. One thing you might wish to do is affix a label to the side of the jar (or the lid, if you’d rather) that gives a title to the project. If it’s a journal jar that’s going to your friend Joe, you could decorate a sticky label and add the words “Joe’s Journal Jar” to it.

The hardest part of the project is coming up with what to put on those bits of paper. As I mentioned above, it could be quotations (from books, poems, films, songs), a set of questions, or anything else you feel might help prompt the creative spark. If you’re at a loss for what sorts of questions to use, I keep a collection of writing prompts ( that I’ve culled from various sources, or you can search out your own.

Journalling need not be the purpose of the jar, of course. You could do any of the following instead:

“¢ Recipe jar: include the ingredients for the person’s favourite dish, as well as the recipe for it – perhaps a version they’ve never tried before. This works well with cookies!
“¢ Date jar: a nice idea for newlyweds, you could fill the jar with ideas of things for them to do together as a couple, or things they could do for each other.
“¢ Craft jar: fill the jar with the necessary tools for a craft project, as well as the instructions to complete it.
“¢ Project jar: fill the jar with all sorts of project ideas that could be used on their own or also with a journal, like collage ideas, ideas for day trips the person can take, ideas for paintings or other art projects, etc.
“¢ Jar o’ comfort: you could fill the jar with wise words and comforting quotations.
“¢ Journal jar: you might want to include a matching notebook and pen with your gift.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, both for content ideas and how you could decorate for them. They are fun and interesting projects to create, and in the end, you might be making someone else very happy. Gifts made by the giver have a treasured specialness to them, and are very memorable and unique.

Lonita has been an AU student since early 2002, and is studying towards a Bachelor of General Studies in Arts & Science. She enjoys writing, creating websites, drinks far too much tea, and lives in hopes of one day owning a plaid Cthulhu doll. The most exciting thing she’s done so far in her lifetime is driven an F2000 racecar, and she’s still trying to figure out how to top that experience. Her personal website can be found at and what you can’t find out about her through that, you can ask her via email:

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