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Paper Bag Books: Simple Journals To Make With Kids

Updated on November 7, 2015

Making a Paper Bag Book

My latest craze is making blank books out of brown paper lunch bags. This is a great craft for all ages, since it's easy, quick, and versatile, and you probably have most of the materials already.

Paper bag books make great scrapbooks or travel diaries, since you can keep souvenirs or photos in the pockets formed by the bags. Paper bag journals are perfect for a beginning journaler, since they fill up quickly and the brown paper pages aren't intimidating. Kids can use paper bag books to write their own stories and poetry, or for homeschool projects.

Later in this article I'll share some more ideas and possible uses for your handmade paper bag album -- but first you need to make one!

Except for Amazon products, all photos are my own.

Getting Started

Supplies for making a paper bag book.
Supplies for making a paper bag book.

To make one paper bag book, you will need the following materials:

  • 2-6 brown paper lunch bags
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • A sealant such as Mod Podge
  • A medium-sized paint brush
  • A large needle
  • Thread, yarn, or cord (about 18")

Optional:

  • Glue stick or tape runner
  • Small beads or charms

Supplies Needed

To make one paper bag book, you will need 2-6 brown paper lunch bags -- the kind you get from the grocery store and may already have in the kitchen.

Since you'll only be working on paper bags, cheap acrylic craft paint will work fine for this project. These paints come in a wide range of colors at your local craft store, and are often on sale for pennies!

Foam brushes are inexpensive and easy to work with, and can either be thrown away when you're done or squeezed out and reused on another project.

Craft acrylics dry with a chalky matte finish. Your cover will be prettier and more durable if you seal it with a coat of clear acrylic varnish or Mod Podge. I like to use FolkArt brand water-based varnish.

To put your book together, all you need is a needle and thread, and optionally a glue stick or tape runner. Large tapestry needles work best for sewing through tough brown paper, and embroidery floss, pearl cotton, or fine hemp cord are good thread choices.

Gluing down the bottom flap.
Gluing down the bottom flap.

Prepare Your Paper Bags

First choose how many paper bags you're going to use. Six is about as many as you can reasonably fit in one book -- that means twenty-two pages, including the inside covers, but don't worry: if you need more space, you can always make another book!

You may or may not want lots of pockets in your paper bag book. Personally, I find the bottom flaps hard to write over unless I glue them down completely, but you may choose to glue only the edges, leaving a shallow pocket. The top half of each bag will form a bigger pocket, but if you don't plan to use them, you can glue the tops shut. Decide now which parts you want to glue -- it's much easier to do it before the book is bound.

Painting the cover bag
Painting the cover bag

Painting Your Paper Bag Book

Once you have your pockets sorted out, it's time to paint the cover. Be sure to spread out newspapers or wax paper to protect your work surface!

Take one paper bag and turn it over so that you have one smooth surface to work on. Now squeeze some acrylic paint onto the bag, and start painting! Make swirls or stripes -- any pattern you like. Be sure to leave some spaces blank. When you feel you've had enough of that color, squeeze out some of another color and continue painting! Swirl the colors together and let them overlap. Do this with as many colors as you like, until the front of the bag is completely covered. Now let it dry.

(Of course, you don't have to do it exactly like this. You can wait for each color to dry before you start with the next one, or you can paint a picture instead of an abstract pattern. If you absolutely hate your cover when it's done, just wait for it to dry and paint right over it!)

Finished cover, with a bottle of varnish ready to apply.
Finished cover, with a bottle of varnish ready to apply.

Sealing The Cover

When your cover is dry, use a clean paintbrush to coat it completely with a sealant. I use Folk Art water-based varnish; it's sold right next to the acrylic paint, and is just as quick-drying. One or two coats should do the trick (but be sure to let each coat dry completely before adding another!)

This adds a nice shine and texture to your painted cover, which would otherwise be flat and powdery to the touch. My Folk Art varnish gives a nice satin finish, but you might want something with more or less gloss.

Once that is dry, it's time to put your paper bag book together!

Watching Paint Dry

Things to do while you wait for your book cover to dry: wash out your paintbrush so it can be used again; design a title plate for your paper bag book on a piece of card stock; thread your needle.

Folded bags ready to be sewn together.
Folded bags ready to be sewn together.

Assembling Your Paper Bag Book

When the cover bag is completely dry, fold it in half the short way (painted side out!). Do the same for the rest of the bags. If you're only using two or three bags, you can fold them all at once, but the result will be messier.

Now nest your folded bags one inside the other, in alternate directions, so that the closed end of each bag is on top of the open end of the one before it. This keeps your book from having one very fat half and one super skinny half!

Use your needle to punch three holes in the fold of your book, right through all the paper bags. Now, with the threaded needle, sew the book like this:

  1. In through the center hole, leaving a tail
  2. Out through one end hole
  3. In through the other end hole
  4. Back out through the center hole

Be careful not to sew through your thread! Tie the two ends in a knot over the long stretch of thread along the spine of the book. Trim the ends to a length you like, and voilĂ  -- you have your very own homemade blank book.

(If you're still confused, here's a step-by-step tutorial for this kind of binding that might help.)

And you're done!

A finished paper bag book, ready to be used!
A finished paper bag book, ready to be used!

Complete Photo Tutorial - Step-by-step illustrations

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Embellishing Your Book

Finish your paper bag book with a label to write your book title, some charms or beads on the ends of the cord, or a washi tape spine. You can continue the DIY theme with kraft paper stickers and wooden beads, or you can bling it up -- your choice!

Here are a few possible embellishments:

Finishing Your Paper Bag Book

If you like, you can dive right in and begin filling your paper bag book. Or you can take some time to embellish the book and make it sparkle. Here are some ideas:

  • Attach a label to the front cover, and write your name or a title. You can use a sticky label, or make your own out of card stock or colored paper.
  • Decorate the edges of the cover with rickrack, lace, printed scrapbook borders, stick-on jewels, doodled designs in silver and gold pen, stenciled patterns, or anything else you like.
  • Add beads or charms onto the ends of the thread. Tie on some more fibers -- fancy yarn or ribbon.
  • From card stock in coordinating colors, cut squares to fit into the pockets of your paper bag book as "secret" pull-out pages.

Congratulations!

Take a breath. Admire your handiwork.

Paper Bag Book Gallery - Mini journals made by me and others with this technique

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pink painted paper bag bookBlue and green paper bag bookPink and green paper bag bookVibrant red and orange paper bag book made by a 6-year-old studentBlue paper bag book with tagColorful paper bag journals made at my first workshopButterfly paper bag journalPaper bag books with decorated cover platesStripy paper bag journalSplashy bright paper bag book
Pink painted paper bag book
Pink painted paper bag book
Blue and green paper bag book
Blue and green paper bag book
Pink and green paper bag book
Pink and green paper bag book
Vibrant red and orange paper bag book made by a 6-year-old student
Vibrant red and orange paper bag book made by a 6-year-old student
Blue paper bag book with tag
Blue paper bag book with tag
Colorful paper bag journals made at my first workshop
Colorful paper bag journals made at my first workshop
Butterfly paper bag journal
Butterfly paper bag journal
Paper bag books with decorated cover plates
Paper bag books with decorated cover plates
Stripy paper bag journal
Stripy paper bag journal
Splashy bright paper bag book
Splashy bright paper bag book

Paper Bags Plus - All shapes and sizes

Don't like the brown paper look? Want to branch out with your paper bag books? Try the same technique with these specialty bags.

Paper Bag Book Ideas

Paper bag books can be used for all kinds of things, from gift-giving to homeschooling. Check out my list of paper bag book ideas for inspiration!

What will you use your paper bag book for?

See results

A Book Like This: Ideas for Kids

Sadly, my guestbook is not made of brown paper bags. (But yours could be.)

Guestbook

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    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 2 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Nice idea and useful journal also. Great job with this craft.

    • profile image

      MintySea 4 years ago

      very cool craft idea the bown paper book looks like a neat craft

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I love this idea. Congrats on the purple star!

    • PeacefieldFarm LM profile image

      PeacefieldFarm LM 5 years ago

      This is a great idea. I love the idea of using it as a travel journal for my children. We will try this.

    • profile image

      enjoyecigs 5 years ago

      great little art project for my three year old!

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      Great craft idea. I once made painted & fringe vests (with kids during an art class) out of paper bags and I know how strong they can be. These are fun and should hold up very well. Sealing them with Folk Art varnish is a terrific idea! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      ernad18 5 years ago

      interest

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @suzy-t: You're welcome! Thanks for visiting!

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @mel-kav: Thanks! Have fun :)

    • suzy-t profile image

      suzy-t 5 years ago

      Great idea !..I always love trying new crafts. Thank you for sharing this.

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 5 years ago

      Love this idea. I am always interested in new craft ideas.

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @John Dyhouse: True that! ;)

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      What an interesting idea!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

      great idea and not just for kids

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @Country-Sunshine: Glad you like it! :)

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @Gayle Dowell: Thank you!

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

      Great idea and directions in making our own. Blessed.

    • TTMall profile image

      TTMall 5 years ago

      Great Lens with great resources!

    • TTMall profile image

      TTMall 5 years ago

      Great Lens with great resources!

    • juniperberry lm profile image

      juniperberry lm 5 years ago

      i love this!!! I will have to make it soon. thank you

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: Thanks very much for the kind words! It really is super easy, and definitely affordable.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      This is my idea of a fabulous lens - I honestly think I could do this craft without getting frustrated! And it won't break the bank either.

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @emmaklarkins: Thank *you*! :)

    • emmaklarkins profile image

      emmaklarkins 5 years ago

      Wow! What a great project! Thanks for creating this guide.

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @greenspirit: I'm even lazier -- I prefer making notebooks to actually working in them. ;) Thanks!

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 5 years ago from London

      I'm lazy...I decorate a ready made notebook each time I need a new day book. Yours do have a certain je ne sais pas. I like your lenses so make some more.