Artful Recycling

Retro Grocery Bag Book Cover

grocery bag book covers
Grocery Bag Book Covers

Do kids still cover their textbooks? When I was in grade school I took pride in making a good cover out of the bags from the grocery story.  This post will cover the steps of making this cover, but the added bonus will be showing how to use these folds for  handmade books.  But, I want to begin with the textbook.

Cut off the bottom of the bag
Cut off the bottom of the bag

The first step is to prepare the bag my cutting off the bottom. In my day the bags came from the local Acme. Full disclosure: even though the bag pictured here is obviously from Trader Joe’s, I am going to tell you that the closest Trader Joe’s is too far away for me ever to shop in, so this bag came to me from a friend. The designs printed on the bag make a great cover. I figure out ways to hide the major advertisement.

Cut the bag and open up
Cut the bag and open up

Cut the bag being mindful of the how the design printed on the bag will show when the cover is done. Lay it out with the printed side down. The next will making a long fold across the bottom.  If you need help with this beyond what I show below, take a look at my post on Synchronizing the Folded Line for a detailed explanation of how to do this successfully.

Fold up the bottom edge
Fold up the bottom edge

Fold up a few inches from the bottom edge: use your judgement to approximate the right amount, keeping in mind that you will also be folding this paper down from the top to match the height of your book. When you make your fold, be sure that the vertical folded lines of the grocery bag line up with each other.

Line the head of the book up with the folded up edge
Line up the tail (bottom) of the book with the folded up edge

You will be using the book to measure the placement of the top fold. Just lay the book somewhere along the  folded edge that you just created…

Make a mark
Make a mark

…mark where the top of the book lays on the paper, then fold down the top edge of the paper so you end up with folded flaps top and bottom and your bag looks like this:

Top and Bottom Edges folded to match the size of the book
Top and Bottom Edges folded to match the size of the book

These folded flaps should make the height of this paper just a tad larger than the book that is to be covered. A little bit of wiggle room is need  so that the cover of the book can slide into the folds.

Fold edge
Fold edge

Fold in the side edge. Just how much will depend on the width of the book. Here, I folded over 6 inches for my eight inch book. This fold creates a pocket.

Slide the book into the pocket
Slide the book into the pocket

Slide the book all the way into the pocket.

Close the book
Close the book

Close the book, which is now covered by the paper bag! You may notice the part that’s left looks way too long. We’ll need some of that length to create a back pocket-flap, but what’s left here is way too long. No problem…

Cut off the excess
Cut off the excess

….just cut off the excess, making sure that you leave enough to create the back pocket-flap. This looks like I still have too much excess. It’s better to err on the too much side than to the little side. You can go back later and trim more as needed. When this is done fold up the back cover to fit the book.

The Back of the Book
The Back of the Book

It’s really crucial to make the back flap a generously large pocket: as the book opens and closes it needs quite a bit of room to move around inside of this pocket. If the flap is too shallow the book will not stay in the Covered


And here it is, covered!

But what if you don’t have a textbook to cover? This is the bonus part.


I have discovered that there’s nothing like a plain grocery bag to break down barriers of inhibition. Get out a black marker and just start making marks. Fill that paper. I do recommend using a thick black marker. I tried crayons and other markers, but nothing showed up as well as black marker. This was fun to do .

little book

 I sewed a bunch of papers together (exactly 17) and then made a cover just like for the textbook. The only important additional  step was to add  a piece of cardboard into the front and back cover of the book (as shown above) so as to add weight and stiffness. The board I used was from the back of a pad of paper. Cereal boxes work well, though sometimes it’s good to use a double thickness. I cut the boards (with scissors) the size of the folded paper.

grocery bag book covers By Paula Beardell Krieg

What’s great about these little books is that they don’t seem precious. I will be meeting up with some friends this week, and plan to gift these to the adults. The thing is, I don’t want the books to feel too precious to use, but I do want them to do be special. Making the book covers out of bags seems to fit all of my criteria.

8 1/2" x 11" Book Making · Artful Recycling · Books Made from one sheet of folded paper · Making Books with children · Making books with elementary students · origami pamphlet

Impromptu Bookmaking

I was working with first graders today when something unexpected happened.

Colorful miniature book

I have visited this school for many years, helping first graders to make lovely books, which they fill with their own original poems. (I’ve written about this project in detail at, and here’s a sample of the the completed project made by first graders in 2010.

Today, when I walked into the class they were finishing up going over math problems that had been copied on to half sheets of paper. When they were done the teacher asked them to put away the papers, and we got to work.

My agenda was to guide the students through making an origami pamphlet out of a 19″ x 23″ sheet of paper, followed by making a book cover with pockets. What was unexpected is that they finished this all in 48 minutes, which left us with an extra 12 minutes. This rarely happens. I was about to hand to class back over to the regular classroom teacher when I remembered those math sheets.

We had just made the origami pamphlet out of large papers, and I had gone over the directions slowly and explicitly, so I thought that these first graders would enjoy making tiny little books using the very same methods of folding as they did in the bigger books.

They were stars. They remembered the steps and made their new little books in about a minute. Then they got to work.

Now, remember, these are first graders whose writing skills are just beginning to emerge, but, for the most part,  the fact that their writing skills were limited didn’t  bother them in the least.. I was lucky enough to hear an exchange of thoughts between two students: one child immediately got to work writing about rainbows and ribbons. The girl next to her bewailed that she didn’t know what to do. The prolific child told her classmate to just write words, but the girl said she didn’t know any words. Undaunted the rainbow girl advised her friend that she should just make up words. This turned out to be a satisfying suggestion, and the formerly clueless child got right to work.

It’s been my experience that if children are given little blank books they start writing.

Today I saw this happen again. As soon as the class finished constructing their books there was hardly another word spoken in the room as they all wrote, drew and imagined.

Artful Recycling · exposed sewing · simple book binding

Milk Cap Cover Book

I recently had a hankering to locally source (scavenge) some materials to use to make a book.

I have a bit of a collection of materials from a couple of fine local businesses. One is Blind Buck Interiors, a drapery and upholstery business, which has provided me with a many wallpaper and fabric sample books. Another is the Battenkill Creamery, a dairy which has a dedicated herd from which they process their own milk right on the farm. The milk can be bought in returnable glass bottles topped with a substantial plastic cap, which is not returnable. I have lots of caps.

I took some milk caps and sewed them on to some upholstery samples.

I started this project mostly because I had been admiring some circles that my daughter had been coloring in. She had made a graphically lovely pages of colored in circles, and I wanted to do some colorful circles too. I had some leftover scraps of watercolor washes lying around, so I punched out some circles and glued them to the caps.

I sewed in just a few signatures, using a simple butterfly stitch that I picked up from one of Keith Smith’s books. I used round shoe laces instead of thread, as the proportions seemed right and they were handy. One thing I like about making books is being able to use anything I feel like using to assemble a book.

This little book stands alone in how it stands alone. It already has a new home, but while it was still here every time I saw it I felt happy. It just looks so silly and lovely.

8 1/2" x 11" Book Making · Artful Recycling · Binding Loose Papers · How-to · Journals · Making Books with children · Making books with elementary students · Non-adhesive Book · simple book binding

Making Books while the Snow Falls

Working as a visiting artist in Upstate New York requires good snow tires. Since where I live is centrally located int he middle of nowhere, I generally drive about an hour no matter where I am heading. If we’re expecting sleet and ice I stay home. With snow, I drive slowly and pray.  Yesterday, the temperature was generously below freezing so I was confident that the snow would not turn to ice, and I headed out for a day in with students.

It was worth the trip. I helped about 60 fifth graders in three different classes make journals.

One of the students, James, said that this was an awesome project. He felt that the hardest part of the project was folding the papers . This didn’t surprise me. I’ve noticed that by the fifth grade most students have accepted the fact that papers don’t fold in half evenly. High on my agenda is to take the time to offer explicit instructions on how to successfully outwit the uncooperative nature of paper. To really get students on board with this I bring in bone folders for them to use. Students seem to genuinely appreciate learning how to fold paper well.

The teacher that invited me to come to these classes had this to say: “Paula’s workshops with all of the 5th grade classes were fantastic today. All of the students were very excited about the journals they created, and I’m sure it will motivate even our most reluctant writers.”

We made the covers of the books according to the directions below. The wallpaper covers were made from samples that were cut down to 17″ x 11 1/2″.   I’ve also have B&W directions for the Pocketed Book Cover.

Directions for Pocketed Book Cover by Paula Krieg

One of the students, Emily, seemed concerned that there might not be enough pages for the content. My impression is that she had big plans for this book. To accommodate the most prolific writers I left behind materials to create a few more books, as well as the suggestion to considering just attaching in a second set of folded pages into the cover, next to (not into) the original set of pages.

Close up of journals made by fifth grades

We attached the pages, five sheets of folded paper, with the modified pamphlet stitch (using 2mm satin rattail cord), hence the notches at the head and tail of the spine. The pages are the size of regular copy paper. The  school’s (absolutely amazing and fabulous) reading specialist ran these papers through the copy machine so that lines are printed on the papers.  After the pages were attached to the covers I gave students 2 sheets of cover weight paper which were cut to fit into the pockets of the book cover. The students slipped these heavy papers into the pockets then glued the upper corners to the book cover: this gives the book a bit more of a sturdy, weighty feel and keeps the wallpaper covers from looking dog-eared.

snow on my car

I didn’t take many photos. I wanted to leave before much more snow fell. In the picture above, the white mound on the left, that’s my car.