Thursday, March 13, 2014

Finding Your Niche in Altered Books--a quick how to

Happy Thursday everyone! leslierahye here to share with you one of my favorite processes for altered book making. I love the possibilities of old books holding treasure or chunky items! The stories where people hid money in a secret book compartment or keys to lock boxes and mysteries have always appealed to me. I've been in the homes of my professors and wondered if one of those books on their vast shelves contained a mystery beyond the cover of the book! I was thrilled many years ago when I attended a class at convention about altered books and the instructor shared with us the technique of creating a niche in a book for just such treasures! Over the years I've discovered what works best for me and I will share that with you today along with a few tips I've learned when working with used books.

1niche  noun \ˈnich also ˈnēsh or ˈnish\ 
a :  a recess in a wall especially for a statue
b :  something (as a sheltered or private space) that resembles a recess in a wall

I like to look for books at yard sales, library sales and used book stores. When looking at books I'm primarily looking for the condition of the spine and the type of binding as Kimberly discussed earlier. I am not concerned about stamped pages [like above] or writing in the book as the process to create the altered book will take care of those things. For instance a simple sanding [100 grit nail file] will remove the stamping from the stamped pages. Gesso/paint or other additives such as paper would easily cover up any writing in the book.

Since I am going to be cutting out of this book, I begin by determining how deep I want my niche [in this case ½"-5/8"]. I then find the page I want to start my niche and use foil to protect the rest of the book [I like to use foil because it won't stick to the glue and it I can wrap it around the book]. I then take white glue [PVA, school glue, or like] and generously rub glue on the page edges on the 3 sides of the book. This will hold the book together on the niche part. Depending on the book you might want to clamp it or rubber band it to dry. Some books are heavy enough and the weight of the pages and covers will suffice.

Once dry I get my cork-backed ruler and a utility knife to begin cutting my niche. The cork on the back of the ruler is useful to hold the ruler still especially for the beginning cuts. Make sure you keep sharp fresh blades near at hand...a dull blade not only will not do the job but can also be dangerous when attempting to cut. At the beginning you can simply cut straight down along your niche. As you get deeper in your removal, it is helpful to cut through the middle of the niche [in this case I would make an "x" and remove triangle shaped pieces out!]. As you work down, your corners might look "hairy." A sharp craft knife will help you get into the corners and shape those places better.  The image below shows where the corners have been shaped with the craft knife. Once your niche is deep enough for your item(s) and the edges are neat, use a file to sand any roughness left.

In my niche I wanted to put several boxes to place trinkets and such. I created simple boxes with card stock and folding. I measured my niche and determined what size boxes I would need. I wanted mine to be all the same size. My niche was 4½×5½"--so I made by boxes be ½×1½×2¼". To create these boxes I simply added 2" to the dimensions of the base--so 3½×4¼". The 2 inches allow for me to fold a ½" side on my box.

I scored [using pen in the example so that you can see] at the ½" and 1" mark from EACH edge. I creased my score marks and then folded up the long sides--gluing them to make them sturdier. I cut along the 1" line on the short ends so that I could fold in the flaps and fold the 1½" piece over the flaps. Because I was using card stock I trimmed the flaps so that they did not overlap under the fold over. I cut pieces from the book paper to fit in the bottom of the boxes.

To get my niche ready for my next process, I used an acrylic gesso on the book pages and placed my boxes into the niche to see how they look! As I complete this page I will actually glue the boxes down. I will complete this in my next post at the end of the month and share the rest of the book. I can't wait to add goodies to my shadowbox niche!!! I love how this is coming along! Be sure to check out Designer posts for the rest of the month as the Altered Arts Magazine team takes on Altered Books!


  1. Fantastic tutorial Leslie! I love the tip for removing stamped words from the pages by sanding! I will definitely be trying out that technique! I also am excited about including a niche with boxes in a book. I haven't done that before. Very inspiring!

    1. Thanks Kimberly! I have done these with scouts--yes, with craft knives--it's fun and easy!

  2. This is really fun! I love the niche filled with matchboxes. ~Cyndi