Chica and Jo
...simplifying life
Chica and Jo
...simplifying life
Chica and Jo



Make a pirate party invitation

by: Chica

A good friend recently threw a pirate-themed birthday party for her son. She was eager to have some really fun and unique invitations, and that’s exactly what I came up with for her. What says “pirate” more than a treasure map in an old bottle, right?

These invitations were a lot of fun to make, and the kids even helped us with most of them. They were quite proud of the results and the party guests were thrilled to receive them. Here’s how to do it.

pirate invitationFor the invitation itself, you’ll need regular white copy paper, a black marker, a squirt bottle of water, and optionally a candle. For the bottle that holds the invitation, you’ll need an empty glass bottle and some masking tape, along with a little varnish or sealer.

For both the invitation and the bottle, you’ll need some of Tim Holtz’ Distress Ink stamp pads in two colors — Vintage Photo (which is a dark brown) and Antique Linen (which is a light brown). While you could theoretically use any brown stamp pad, the Distress Ink will work the best because it’s made specifically for this type of application. It’s water-based, so it will blend and smear and make your items look really worn and ragged, which is exactly the look we’re going for here. Trust me, this stuff blends amazingly well and is totally worth having in your craft bag.

pirate invitationTo make the map, just use a blank marker to draw on some white copy paper. Have some fun and keep it loose and graphic. Make a big island with jagged shores. Put a giant “X” to mark the spot of the party and label it with the address where the party will be. Make a bold, curving, dashed line for a path around the island and put several obstacles or landmarks along the way, each one giving a clue to the party (things like guest of honor, time, date, etc).

If you need some inspiration to get you started, I scanned my pirate map for you. You’ll obviously have to change the details, but you can trace parts of it for your map.

pirate map invitation Download our sample pirate map invitation

For help with fonts, try searching for pirate font samples online. This is the one I used to model my writing after. Just do the best you can to copy it. Remember that we want this to be rugged and distressed, so it doesn’t have to be perfect!

Once you’ve got your map drawn, make enough photocopies of it for all the invitations you need to send. Again, you can use regular white copy paper for this.

pirate invitationTime to make that pretty white map look rugged and old! To get rid of those straight paper edges, you can either tear the edges or burn them. I like the look of the burning better myself, so that’s what I did. Just light a candle and carefully hold the paper next to the flame until it lights. As soon as it catches, blow it out so the whole thing doesn’t catch on fire. I recommend doing this outside and keeping a metal bowl nearby so that you can toss the paper in it if the flames get out of control. It’s also handy to have a damp towel on hand so you can pat it on any smoldering edges to put them out completely. Obviously, this is the one part of this project that your kids should NOT help with. Please be careful!

Now that the edges are nice and rough, take the entire page and crumple it into a ball. (This is the part the kids will really love!) You want to get the paper full of nice crinkles and folds. When you’re content, unfold the paper and press it out flat on the table.

pirate invitationpirate invitation

Now take the Antique Linen (lighter brown) Distress Ink and rub the pad lightly over the paper. You’ll see that the ink sticks to the folds and creases but not to the flat parts of the paper. The result is a really cool distressed look. Be sure to ink the front and back of the paper, and go a little heavier on the edges, to give it a nice look.

pirate invitationpirate invitation

We’ve got a fun map now, but we need to tame it down a little and wear it out a little more. Take your squirt bottle and squirt water evenly all over the paper. Use enough water so that the paper is thoroughly wet, but not so much that there are puddles. The water will do two things: it will cause the ink to blend a little, creating a really nice smeary effect on the paper, and it will relax the creases you made so that the map is a little closer to flat (and will be easier to roll up later).

pirate invitationpirate invitation

Be careful not to handle the map much when it is wet, or else you might tear it! Leave it flat on the table until it’s totally dried. If you want to hurry this process along, you can use an embossing gun or hair dryer to gently dry the paper.

pirate invitation

Okay, the maps are done, so now let’s make the bottles to put them in.

You can use just about any glass bottle you’ve got. It can be from soda, beer, barbecue sauce, or whatever is sitting empty in your recycling bin. (If you don’t have any bottles handy and need to make some invitations now, I suggest you make root beer floats for everyone!) Soak it in hot water to remove the label and then dry the bottle thoroughly.

Now we’re going to use an old technique I’ve been doing since I was a kid — we’re going to cover this bottle with tape to make it look like old leather or canvas. Just take some ordinary beige masking tape and start tearing it into tiny pieces (about 1/2″ to 1″). Add the pieces of tape to the bottle, overlapping them quite a bit. Be sure to TEAR the ends of the tape (rather than cut) because we want it to look really rough and random. Keep going until you have the entire bottle covered with tape pieces.

pirate invitationpirate invitation

When I was a kid, this is where I would pull out my dad’s paste shoe polish for the next step, but since not many folks have shoe polish these days (including my dad), I found an alternative. Grab the Vintage Photo (dark brown) Distress Ink and start applying it liberally to the bottle. The ink will be darker on the edges of the tape, which will look really neat. If you have trouble getting into the curves along the neck, remember that this Distress Ink is water soluble, so just get a damp paper towel and smudge and dab the ink into all the crevices.

pirate invitation

At this point you can optionally add some decoration to the bottle. Use a black permanent marker to draw a skull and crossbones or a pirate ship and add the words “You’re invited”. This will help your guests instantly know that this is an invitation.

pirate invitation

The bottle is basically done, but as a final step, we want to seal it. Since the Distress Ink we used is water-based, you’ll find that it will come off the bottle onto your hands without much effort. To seal it in, just get some regular clear gloss varnish and apply it gently with a brush over the whole bottle. Work quickly and carefully, because the water-based ink will actually blend into the varnish, but that’s a good thing — it will let you push the ink around and create the perfect result. The varnish will also darken the colors and add a really rich look to the finished bottle.

Roll up the map and stick it into the bottle (but make sure it doesn’t go all the way in!). Your invitations are now ready to be delivered to your guests.

pirate invitation

pirate invitation

10 comments so far:

  • 1
    Delilah 09/30/2008 at 11:15 am

    What a great idea! That’s so creative!

  • 2
    Alina 10/01/2008 at 6:51 pm

    This is an awesome idea. I’ve been searching the web for the last several months for something like this and your idea is the best I’ve found! I’m so glad I decided to search once more. Thanks SOOO much! I’m definitely going to do this for my son’s 5th birthday party in January. Please let me know if there are any other pirate party ideas you have.

  • 3
    Jo 10/01/2008 at 11:47 pm

    Alina, we are glad they will work so well for your son’s birthday party. Check back next week for another pirate post! If you come up with any great ideas while you are planning, please let us know.

  • 4
    Paulina 05/03/2009 at 10:49 pm

    I was in search of soemthing unique and this is it!! Thank you so MUCH!

  • 5
    Christopher 10/06/2010 at 2:28 am

    This was FANTASTIC! We accidently used the aged photo distressing ink, which was a bit too dark for the front. But we quickly learned that if we did the back, when we wetted the paper it bled through and looked great!

    We made our pirate map on the computer and printed it. I made the mistake of using our company document station, which uses toner, not ink. If/when we do this again, I recommend using an ink jet printer to get more “bleed” from the ink.

    Also, burning was fun (the wife didn’t like it…especially since we lost one…well, two…to fire. Whoops. hehe). If you fold it prior to burning, you can darken the creases pretty nicely. Also, you can get some great burns by holding the paper over the flame and have it darken the paper.

    Thank you again for this great idea!! We loved it.


  • 6
    Jo 10/06/2010 at 8:40 am

    Chris, we will have to try the folding technique next time. We would like to see pictures of how yours turned out if you are willing to share them in our Flikr group or you can email them.

  • 7
    Dani Lee 04/15/2013 at 12:46 am

    hey!..i seen this right after i held my daughters 6th birthday party, she is an october baby, so i keep her parties kinda halloweenie themed. After seeing your site with the pirate map and message in a bottle, I immediatly started planning her next b-day a year early! Now there is only 6 months left and her birthday will be here again. I started collecting the Arizona Iced Tea Glass bottles and i have already started taping them with the masking tape since i will have around 30-40 invitstions to make. I am so excited. If you like i can send in some photos after her next b-day, i plan to also add some sand and some coins at the bottom, i’m also going to be making mermaid tales for all the girls and pirate hats and eye patches for the boys!!….lots to do should be fun*

    Thank you so much,
    Dani : )

  • 8
    Chica 04/15/2013 at 7:44 pm

    So glad we could help inspire a party theme for your daughter, Dani. We’d love to see photos after the party. If you’ve got a (free) Flickr account, please post some to our Flickr group for reader photos.

  • 9
    Mani 04/23/2013 at 10:20 pm

    thanks for the great idea,it really worked oh and this was for my 8 birthday i’m 7 now and turning 8 on may 12th.And what is distrees ink?

    from Mani thanks :) :) :)
    xxx ooo. ps.great thinking.

  • 10
    Chica 04/27/2013 at 3:12 pm

    Mani, Distress Ink is a special brand of water-based ink that makes a nice distressed look when applied to paper. It comes in a lot of colors. Take a look here on Amazon.

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