Book-to-Bag Repurpose

Posted by julia on Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

We LOVE books at our house. I know we can read books on our phones & other forms of technology, but I am still partial to a real book with real pages in it. Here is a fun idea for re-purposing those books that have pages coming away from the spines, or are only interesting because of their cool vintage cover.

You Will Need:

  • an old book
  • black pen
  • box cutter
  • several pieces of fabric (I used pieces from Riley Blake's new Pepe in Paris Collection for the first bag, and pieces from the new British Invasion Collection for the 2nd bag.)
  • elastic ribbon
  • permanent bond fabric glue
  • wooden purse handles
  • art supplies of your choice


Lay your book out as shown and trace a line around it. Then add 1/2" around one short end and the two long edges (see dotted line) and add 1.5" around one of the short ends.

You will now have a pattern that looks like this.

Cut around the dotted line. Fold the pattern in half and cut down the middle. Discard one half. The piece that is left is your pattern piece.

Lay out the two fabric pieces you want as the background fabrics, one on top of the other. Place your pattern piece on top of these and pin in place. Using the pattern as your template, cut out the two fabric pieces.

Sew fabrics, right sides together, using a 1/2" seam. Press seam open.

Now you are going to use your box cutter and carefully cut your pages away from the spine of the book. Be careful not to cut the actual book spine.

Your book will now look like this.

Now, place the background piece, right side up, on the inside of your book cover. Match your center seam with the center of the book spine. Begin folding the edges under, about 1/4" to 1/2" so that just a little bit of the book cover is showing around the edges. Pin folded edges. Turn fabric over and press.

Your pressed fabric should look something like this.

Top stitch on each side of your center seam.

Now top stitch around the edges 1/8" or 1/4" from edge, whichever you prefer.

Now the real fun begins!

I decided to make the first bag a little art tote for my daughter. I will give you general instructions from here on out, but exact measurements will vary based on the size of book you choose and based on your personal preferences of what you want your bag to be used for.

Pencil Slots:

Measure how wide and tall you want your pencil holder to be. You will cut your fabric piece 2x the width + 1" and 2x the height + 1".

Fold your fabric in half, lengthwise, and sew a 1/2" seam along two sides and part of the third side, leaving roughly a 2" opening for turning. Your fabric will now be single width and 2x the height + 1". 

Clip corners. Turn fabric right side out and press.

I like to topstitch. Everything. I think it makes things look nice. If you agree with me, topstitch both short ends of your fabric piece. Then fold in half. Topstitch the folded edge.

With a fabric marker or fabric pencil, begin marking the stitching lines that will separate your pencils. I found that a 7/8" line was just right for the pencils I purchased. With fabric still folded in half, sew along the lines. Your pencil holder should look something like this.

Position your pencil holder where you want it on one side of your background fabric. Stitch up ONE SIDE (see stitching on right side in above image.) Leave the bottom and remaining side free. Now fill the pencil holder with your pencils. You need to do this to accurately measure where you need to stitch. If you just stitched it down flat, the round pencils would not fit in the flat slots.

After you have the pencils in place, pin the other side. Remove the pencils and stitch, leaving the bottom free.

Your pencil holder will look like this.

Sketch Pad Pocket:

I wanted to have a pocket for a little sketch pad. You could instead create a slot for a notebook or sketchbook - whatever you want.

The blank sketch pad I bought measured 4"x6". I wanted the finished pocket to measure a little wider to allow the back of the notepad to slide in the pocket, so I cut my fabric to approx. 1/2" wider on the sides and lengthwise I cut it to about 6".

Fold the two long sides and one short side under 1/4" and press.

Cut a piece of elastic ribbon or any elastic you have on hand so it is about 1/2" wider than the width of your pocket.

Fold the top edge over 1/4" and then fold it over again 1/4" and press.

Topstitch the top edge.

Now position this piece where you want it on the background fabric and pin in place.

About 3/4-way toward the bottom of the pocket, tuck 1/4" of the elastic ribbon under one side of your folded edge, right side down, and pin in place. Stitch down the side and across the bottom.

Now bring the elastic ribbon over and tuck under the remaining unstitched edge, being careful not to pull it tight. Stitch up the side, leaving the top open to form a pocket.

I had room above the notepad for a little ruler and decided to use more of the elastic ribbon as holders for the ruler. To do this, I wrapped the elastic ribbon around the ruler to get a measurement, pinned it, and cut. I cut another piece the same length, then pinned both onto the background fabric as seen in the above image. I did a simple zig-zag stitch on the inside of these to keep them in place.

Putting it All Together:

Now we need to glue our finished fabric piece to our book cover. Take the pencils, paper, and any other items you have in the fabric pockets out while we glue.

For the straps, cut a strip of fabric about 2.5" wide. Fold them in 1/2 and stitch up the long side using 1/4" seam allowance.

Using a turning tool or a safety pin, turn the strips right side out and press with seam toward the middle back.

Now cut the long strip into 4 - 4" pieces. These will slide through the opening in the wooden purse handles and attach to the bag.

Position the handles with fabric strips in them evenly on the side of the book. Glue fabric strips to the book using the permanent bond fabric glue. Let this begin to set for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Put a generous amount of fabric glue along the book spine.

 Place the center seam approximately in the center of the book spine and press the fabric down to adhere with the glue. Without gluing the sides, lay them down to make sure the edges will all line up just right. You can make any adjustments necessary at this point since the glue in the center has not set yet.

Now spread glue all around the inside book cover and carefully lay down your fabric, pressing it gently into the glue, and making sure to align the sides of the fabric with the edges of the book cover.

The glue is wet, so to prevent the glue from seeping through and gluing shut the pockets, I slid a piece of brown non-stick paper I had on hand. Wax paper would work well, too. Keep the non-stick or wax paper in the pocket until the glue has dried.

And that's it! A fun little art tote from a repurposed vintage book!

And for further inspiration, here another I made into a little sewing kit. The steps for the pocket were the same as I talked about before for the pencils. I did add a ribbon down the center with velcro on one end to hold the little bobbins. I also added a felt needlebook, a felt scissor holder and a little pincushion. The possibilities are endless!


Category: Project Design Team Wednesday


  1. How clever. What a fun way to keep a treasured book that has maybe had a "loved but rough" life. Love the sewing kit for a travel sewing kit! Thanks for the ideas and great photos.
    by Jeannie Z
    March 05th, 2014 at 8:51 a.m.
  2. Just wonderful! Have you seen the dress made from recycled books? It's amazing. Here's the link if you're interested - Thank you for sharing this! I always try to take care of my books, but I think I'll hit the markets when they open in April and see if I can find a really pretty second hand something.
    by Jane
    March 05th, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.
  3. Clever girl!
    by Julee
    March 05th, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.

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