How to Make a Book for Keepsakes

5 Dec 2012

Lately I've been going through family photos, making piles of snaps by holiday, season, birthday, and so on. My idea is to put holiday and seasonal groups of photos in a collage frame to rotate throughout the year. For the birthday photos, I want to make handmade books for each of my girls so they can recall their childhood birthdays.

circus handmade book
Circus-themed handmade book holds keepsakes from a
13th birthday. By Dea Fischer.

I plan to draw inspiration for these book-making projects from the Circus Book Dea Fischer made for her own daughter's 13th birthday.

Dea says that "among the hundred or so" careers her daughter is planning, she wants to be an artist in Cirque du Soleil. So Dea decided to make the book in the shape of a circus tent and use a circus theme. Her daughter's birthday had been decorated with neon brights and the paper she chose picked up those colors.

Dea, who is an expert at making handmade books, describes the process:

"There was no measuring involved in this book! I had to fiddle around and hand-shape the boards until I got a design I liked, then hand-shape the inserts to match the curve of the boards. Not an approach I might generally recommend as a book binding specialist, but it worked.

"I had saved the cards and tags from my daughter's birthday, obtained a few domain-free fairground images from an online service, and combined them with images I had taken of the celebrations. Each of the insert cards is mounted on bits of her birthday cards or other ephemera, or mounted onto lined scrap book paper so I could write details of activities, visitors, and memories on the back of some of the inserts. I embellished the inserts with stamps, stencils, threads, ribbons and wires."

Here are Dea's tips for how to make a book to hold keepsakes and memories:

1. A book with pockets like this lends itself beautifully to being used for keepsakes. The star book works particularly well, as there is room in the binding for lots of additions, and it looks so wonderful displayed open.

book binding with trims, beads, and found objects
Beads, trims, and found objects can be added to
the book binding.

2. If you want to be able to add more bulky items to your pockets, there are two things you can do:

a. As you sew the signatures together, you can add spacers between them to expand the spine and make more room. I often use beads for this purpose, as the spine is exposed from the outside, so they look so pretty. The spine is still tightly sewn, but it makes room between the pages.

b.  Instead of a flat pocket, you can make a little accordion fold in the bottom of the pocket so it can expand for larger items.

how to make a book with ephemera
Dea saved ephemera from her daughter's birthday to make a book for her.
3. Another type of book that displays well is the pocket accordion or concertina book.

4. I always have an eye for material to put in these handmade books. For example, you can use wrapping paper from the gifts to cover the book. Keep birthday or anniversary cards, pick up matchbooks or business cards or coasters from the places you visited. I love to journal right onto the back of these bits of ephemera for a sense of immediacy in the memory value.

5. Keepsakes like this are even more fun if you add a gift card related to the keepsake so the recipient can keep the memory alive.

A keepsake book makes a wonderful gift, and there are so many ways to create one. Dea shows you all the basics of book making in her Cloth Paper Scissors WorkshopTM video Handmade Book Essentials: Learn to Make Folded, Side-Stitched, and Signature-Style Books.

P.S. Have you made a keepsake book? What was is for and how did you make it special? Leave your advice below. And if you have a link to an image of one of your books, include it in your comment!

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indiansummer wrote
on 5 Dec 2012 9:37 PM

I made a fabric book of pictures of "grandpa" for my grandchildren when my husband died unexpectedly. They can handle it  and see themselves doing the things with him they remember and don't have to worry about bending or getting the pictures dirty.

Oneofhis2 wrote
on 5 Dec 2012 10:31 PM

@indiansummer that's such a sweet and thoughtful idea.  It will definitely be a treasured keepsake.

ShawnaK wrote
on 6 Dec 2012 8:55 AM

Last year I created a book for a Call for Submissions featuring our granddaughter's To Do list of things she must do when she comes to visit. It was a Top 10 list, each 2 pg spread featured where/ what she needed to do. Some of the pages are interactive with pull-outs. My favorite was a shaker box of her in the sandbox she helped grandpa build - complete with sand from her sandbox.

on 6 Dec 2012 9:59 AM

This is so lovely! Her circus-loving daughter is going to be absolutely delighted with it, I am sure.

I am in the process of making a keepsake album all about my Dad at the moment. He is very elderly and now in a residential home, and I want to complete the book while he is still with us. I have just completed the first page, about his ancestry - next will come his childhood, and I want to do pages about his family life, his work, and all his interests, as he has led a fascinating life. I shall miss him so much when the time comes for him to die, and this book willl be a real keepsake for me.

You can see the (so far!) completed page one on my blog here:

and the previous posts show the various steps I took to get to that point.

The album is based mainly on the DCWV "Tattered Time" paper stack, with some additions from Tim Holtz, as my dad loves clocks and music, and his father was an engineer.

I've just discovered this whole world of mini-albums and I must say it's the greatest amount of fun ever, making them!!


dianek39 wrote
on 8 Dec 2012 8:59 AM

I am currently working on a busy book for a young girl with different large fasteners to cover the pictures of family.  I love doing keepsake books they make wonderful gifts.  I also have always been intrigued by circus and carnival imagery and have wanted to do something with a circus tent but have been stymied by making it more dimentional and then I saw the picture of the circus theme keepsake book and my mind is on fire with ideas!!!! Thank You for sharing and inspiring everyday!!!