One of the first of my fabric-covered box experiments was this one:

The design of the box came about because I had a number of old/useless CDs lying around, and I wanted to make something useful, but pretty, instead of throwing them away. This was years ago, when AOL was bombarding people’s mailboxes with CDs for “free dial-up access for 3 months”. It is really hard to cut a circle out of cardboard by hand, so I used a couple of CDs as the round lid and base for this box. It was easy to lace fabric over them, and once I figured out the dimensions for the other cardboard pieces, it came together fairly quickly.

I make my boxes in the 19th century way–no glue. I use strong thread to lace the fabric to the cardboard (or CD). The pieces are stitched together using a lighter weight thread and a curved needle. Usually, I have to use a 60-weight cotton or a polyester bobbin thread to stitch the edges together, because my curved needles have a tiny eye that won’t accommodate thicker threads. The curved needle is necessary, at least for me, to avoid crazy and painful contortions of the hand when trying to sew box lid to sides without the stitches showing.

This is the way that fabric boxes were made in the Victorian era, when ladies of leisure took to fancy needlework to pass the time. Apparently, it was a popular hobby in France in the late 1800s. Nowadays it is more common to see the practitioners of “cartonnage” using gummed Kraft paper and glue to construct fabric boxes. Contemporary needleworkers like Jane Lemon and Jackie Woolsey (both from the UK, I think) have published books about the traditional hand-sewn techniques of box-making. I have Jane Lemon’s “Embroidered Boxes” and Jackie Woolsey’s book, which I believe is called “Making Hand Sewn Fabric Boxes” (I don’t have it nearby at the moment). I think Jackie’s book is out of print, but it is well worth searching for if you want to learn to make sewn boxes.

There are several books out there for people who want to learn the gummed-paper-and-glue methods, too. Unfortunately, most of them are not in English! If you read French, you’re golden. I have found one English language book on the subject, but it is out of print and somewhat expensive to buy secondhand:

By the way, if a bookseller in the UK tells you that surface mail to Canada will take 3 months, he’s not kidding.

If you’re looking for inspiration for any type of fabric box, and other fabric accessories, there are several Japanese books about cartonnage. Japanese craft books are full of amazingly beautiful photographs, and once you know the basics of box construction, that may be all you need. This is one of my favourites:

There are several vendors of Japanese craft books on eBay, and that’s where I get mine. Do some comparison of prices before you buy. Most vendors are fair in their pricing, but a few are outrageous!

I love my little round box. I used my favourite Hoffman floral print on it, and I keep bobbins for my vintage Singer Featherweight in it because it deserves to hold special things. Box lids are full of possibilities for embellishment. They are perfect for crazy patchwork, scraps of vintage embroidery, canvaswork and stumpwork. The possibilities are endless.