Paper Bag Books: Simple Journals To Make With Kids
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.
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")
- Glue stick or tape runner
- Small beads or charms
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.
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 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!)
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.
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:
- In through the center hole, leaving a tail
- Out through one end hole
- In through the other end hole
- 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 voilà -- 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!
Complete Photo Tutorial - Step-by-step illustrationsClick 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.
Take a breath. Admire your handiwork.
Paper Bag Book Gallery - Mini journals made by me and others with this techniqueClick thumbnail to view full-size
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?
A Book Like This: Ideas for Kids
More Paper Bag Fun
Sadly, my guestbook is not made of brown paper bags. (But yours could be.)