Altered Books Make Great Handmade Book Covers

When creating your own handmade books, there are many options for covers. One of my favorites is to recycle the covers from an old book.

handmade books with old book covers
Alma Baumwoll shows how to recycle old book covers in handmade books in the new Pages.

I know many peopleeven artistsbalk at cutting up a book. To them, books are sacred. But as a person who haunts yard sales, flea markets, old book stores, library sales, and the like, I can tell you: there are a lot of old books out there looking for homes, and the majority are going nowhere fast.

Is it better to keep a book forever on the shelf (or in a box), unread and unnoticed, or give it new life by using its components to make a book that's a work of art?

Old hardcover books often have beautiful embossing or interesting graphics you can incorporate into your handmade book making. All you need to alter these books so you can make new covers is a craft knife and an awl or screw punch to create the holes for book binding.

Even plain book covers can be reused. They can serve as a substrate for collage and mixed-media treatments, or you can cover them with fabric.

In the new, 2012 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors Pages, Alma Baumwoll shows how to recycle old book covers into your new handmade books.

She has a couple of tips for selecting old books for recycling:

Hunt for books at library sales, recycle centers, and yard sales. Try to use books that may not find a second life elsewhere.

If you are using an older book, check an online resource (such as or or find a used bookstore to help determine if the book is rare or valuable.

I would add to Alma's tips:

Check old books for signs of mold or mildew before bringing them home. Look for staining and give them the old sniff test.

book binding technique
Alma Baumwoll describes her book binding technique with re-used book covers in
Pages 2012.

If you plan to sell your handmade books, be sure to use books that are in the public domain or plan to cover them completely so you don't run afoul of copyright laws. (If you're unclear on copyright, be sure to check out our new free eBook, Know Your Rights: Copyright 101 for Mixed-Media Artists.)

Still leery of cutting up old books? No problem. The 2012 issues of Pages contains hundreds of ideas and techniques for bookmaking, how to bind a book, art journaling, and more. Order your copy of the new Pages now!

P.S. Where do you stand on cutting up old books? Alter them for art use or keep them intact for posterity? Let's have a discussion below.


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