DIYdiy projects

diy project: vintage book travel-tech organizer

by Kate Pruitt

As you may have figured out from my My Life Scoop posts, I’m a bit of a nut for tech accessories, especially pocket-sized ones. I can’t get over how awesomely small our entertainment devices are becoming; it makes traveling with them so much easier. But one issue I keep running into is how to neatly organize everything, especially the power cords and connector cables that accompany my favorite devices.

Rather than spend another plane trip rummaging through my catch-all carry-on bag searching for my headphones, bumping my head on the seat in front of me every time, I decided to make a small tech-accessory organizer using elastic ribbon and an old vintage book cover. This project can be sized up or down and customized in many different ways — the best approach is to gather all the tiny tech things you travel with and see how much there is. After that, it’s just a bit of snipping, sewing and gluing, and you’re on your way to a clean, organized carry-on. Enjoy! — Kate

Have a DIY project you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Read the full how-to after the jump!


  • vintage cloth-bound hardcover book with dimensions close to 6.5″ x 10.5″ x 1.75″ thick
  • black rubberized fabric (I used a non-slip black drawer liner material from the hardware store, but a thin neoprene foam will work, as well.)
  • 9 yards black elastic ribbon, 0.5″ thick
  • sewing machine, pins, needle and black thread
  • illustration board or thin mat board (same dimension as your book)
  • Elmer’s Glue and fabric glue
  • ruler, X-Acto knife and cutting mat
  • black photo tape (available at art stores)


1. Use your X-Acto blade to remove the cover from the book pages, keeping the cover intact.

2. Lay the book cover face down on top of your black fabric and trace the dimensions. Use your ruler and X-Acto knife to cut a rectangle 1/8″ smaller on all sides from the traced dimensions.

3. Take your elastic and cut it into short strips (the width of your closed book cover) and long strips (the height of your closed book cover). Cut enough strips to fill the entire dimensions (if they don’t fit evenly, err on the side of one less and space out the strips). For me, this was 12 long strips and 19 short strips.

4. Starting in the upper left-hand corner of the black fabric, begin pinning the long strips in a row along the top edge (don’t pin the bottom edge yet). Sew them down along the edge, securing them to the black fabric. Remove the pins.

Note that you aren’t covering the entire rectangle, just one half of the inside cover. If you want to cover both sides of the inside cover, you can.

5. Now begin adding in your short strips. Notice the pattern is not a regular in/out weave. You want to have several places where 2 to 3 adjacent strips are exposed to the top both horizontally and vertically — this creates thick bands where you can tuck in larger items. Pin down the horizontal short strips at both ends, and you may want to have the items you plan to store (wires, cameras, iPods, etc.) handy to test placement of the strips. (Please pardon the fuzzy picture!)

A note on tightness: Since you are working with elastic, be sure to pin the strips tight enough so there is just the slightest amount of pull, so that when the piece is flattened, the elastic will be tight and hold items securely (the weave also helps this). The fabric should curl slightly inwards on all sides once pinned but mostly retain its shape so that if you pulled the rectangle open and flat, the elastic would be taut.

6. Once all the short strips are pinned in place and you are happy with the layout, sew around the other three edges of the design with your sewing machine, securing the woven strips in place. Trim any excess elastic from around the edges.

7. Cut your illustration/mat board to the inner dimension of the front book cover. Use your sewing machine or an awl to poke holes around all four edges of the board. You can hand crank the sewing machine, which allows you to space the holes out a bit more.

8. Using a needle and thread, sew the board to the backside of the black fabric (behind the side with the elastic grid) using a blanket stitch. (If you are unfamiliar with that stitch, here is a tutorial; don’t worry, it’s super easy.) Be sure to pull each edge tight as you are sewing to stretch out the fabric and tighten the elastic grid.

9. Once your board is sewn to the backside of the grid and the grid is pulled tight, cover the three edges with black photo tape (or you can sew or glue on fabric tape if you prefer).

10. On the right-hand side of the fabric rectangle (the side that will cover the inside of the back book cover), use your X-Acto knife to cut a 3.5″ horizontal slit for the pocket 1″ from the edges (not including the width of the spine) and 4.5″ up from the bottom edge. I also cut two smaller horizontal slits 4″ above the pocket and inserted a thick band of the fabric to hold my phone, but you can customize this organizer however you please — you could even make a second side of the woven elastic grid.

11. Now your fabric lining is ready to be adhered into the book cover. Using Elmer’s Glue on the side with the paper board (left) and fabric glue on the side with just the fabric backing (right), spread a thin layer of glue on the back of the lining and the inside of the book jacket, then press the lining into place, lining up the edges evenly and pressing down firmly. Clean off any excess glue that seeps out with a damp rag, then place the book open on the floor, cover with a sheet of clean scrap paper and something heavy, like a large stack of books (I used a case of wine — worked like a charm!), and allow the glue to dry overnight.

12. Once the glue is dry, remove the book form underneath the weights and clean up any loose thread or glue spots.

13. You’re done! You can add a closing latch or use a large rubber band to hold the piece closed, or you can leave it loose like a regular book. Fill with cords, chargers and travel papers, and take a trip somewhere!



Suggested For You


  • This might just be, THE BEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN. This is such a cool way to organize everything!

  • So creative! I love how the elastic design keeps it versatile. So many organizers have fixed pockets, which don’t always work the best.

  • this is incredible!!! practical, fun, and seemingly easy. I’d LOVE to throw a vintage book into my bag rather than 15 cords, etc. thanks for sharing!

  • I LOVE this, and it’s simple enough, I think I might actually have time to do it. I was just cursing all my cables and connections yesterday – this is perfect! Thanks so much for sharing…

  • I love this! Beautiful work and a perfect idea for my ipad carrying case (that always seems loaded with cords and teeny accessories). Thank you!

  • Thank you so much! I saw this organizer on a site and I wanted to make one myself. You’ve now made it super easy for me with this tutorial. The great thing about this one is that it looks like a book though…the other one was just a flat, one-board thing. I totally love this!

  • Great idea – the only problem I’d have is in gutting an old book like that! I love old books. . . .

  • This is so dern clever! I think I’m going to use your design to make an iPad carrier. No one would know I’m carrying my iPad, they’d think I was just carrying an old book around. So are SO absolutely clever!

  • This is really brilliant. I’ve admired this type of storage system ever since you posted something about it (I think in one of your organizer roundups) and I’m super excited to try it out for my brother… now to find an appropriate cover!

  • Looks great! I’m totally going to do this! I would recommend book cloth and PVA with a neutral pH since Elmer’s might not last as long.

  • This is genius. And an excellent Man-friendly craft gift (can never think of enough of those!)….if I could get my act together, I would love this is the inside of a cupboard or tool shed door to keep all my hardware and chords and stuff together. Super practical and beautiful to boot!

    • H

      if you’ve ever looked inside of a dumpster before, you’ll see there are dozens of them being tossed out every day. this is a great way to give one that’s been damaged on the inside a second life.


  • i’m totally loving this. would love to know where i could get a hold of damaged books that are being thrown away! all the dumpsters near me are filled with city building trash. yuck. =)

  • This is amazing! We have heaps of vintage books in our house, every time we go to the second hand shop we always manage to bring a stack home, so this is an awesome way to use one of them!
    It’s not really destroying a vintage book, it’s making it into something usable, the coolest part is the cover anyway! (And if it has awesome pictures in it, you can just keep the pictures, and use them for another project)

  • Hey All,

    The bag is by Shades of Grey. I bought it a couple years ago, so I’m not sure if it’s still available.

    Elmer’s glue is actually a very strong, durable adhesive for porous surfaces like paper. The trick is to apply a good amount of glue, to apply firm pressure while the glue sets, and to let it dry completely before handling. But the glues you recommend will work as well—in fact there are tons of glues that will work! That’s why I love glues :)

  • This makes my heart beat faster! And ditto the dumpster comment, although I recommend library sales (about 50 cents to $1 per book, plus lots of quirky old covers).

  • Kate: Just FYI, not all Elmer’s-type glues are archival quality PVAc, so be sure that if you’re using a vintage book (or really, any kind of book/paper you want to keep around for a while) that whatever adhesive you use is archival (also called “acid-free”). Non-archival-quality adhesives and paper will degrade after a time, as the acids in the adhesive (or whatever) will eat away at the organic, fibrous matter in your paper or book board, leaving it brittle and yellow.

    Fantastic DIY, by the way. I just (last night) bound a hardback-book-style laptop case/protector thing for my briefcase/bag, since it doesn’t have a dedicated laptop compartment, and was thinking earlier today that it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to hack together a Grid-It style organizer for all the rest of the crap that goes along with carrying a laptop, iPod, cell phone… Great work!

  • Hey Sean,

    You’re right, the PH neutral glues are a great choice for paper projects you want to last for a long, long time. But in all my years of using basic glues, I’ve never had a project discolor or wear down, even after 5-10 years, and since so many people have it lying around I like to use it in DIYs. I will take your advice and be sure to mention archival glues in future projects though—thank you for the suggestion!

  • This is such a great idea. I especially like how you’re not tied down to putting particular items in particular slots. You can manipulate the organizer to hold anything and everything – well, almost. Still, a fantastic idea and fun project.

    I’m a Field Notes Notebook fan and have their notes in various colors and some of their other products as well. I was so surprised and happy to one of their notebooks in your vintage organizer, that I posted a link on their Facebook page. I’m sure they’ll be just as excited as I was/am.

  • How about reading the old book instead. Great design should not mean destroying something. Not all books make it into electronic form. Especially cool old books that you might fine at a thrift store.

    • hani

      please see my comment above. i don’t think making something out of an old book automatically means you don’t read books as well.

      for me, and for d*s in general, we don’t see repurposing as destroying, but rather giving something a new life.


  • Exactly…….She just gave that book a second chance…… and you can still read it, she gave it 2 purposes instead of just one!!!!!

    GREAT IDEA!!!!!!!

  • It’s so funny that people think that just because something is old, it must be good. I used to think that too, and then I finally read some old books and found out why they hadn’t become classics (one of my favorite books is A Tale of Two Cities, another is Ivanhoe). If you’re that sensitive about it, read through a few pages and if it bores you to tears but still has a cute cover, that’s the one to use for a project like this, and save your 1883 copy of Pinocchio for the bookshelf.

    Great project by the way, it can be totally manly with this black interior, or totally girlie if done with bright colors. Well done!

  • A lot of libraries have to get rid of old books that look awesome, but the material is out of date (legal and scientific are probably the most common). They are throwing out books every day because the content has been updated and replaced.

  • So what kind of sewing machine needle do you use to sew the elastic in step 6? Any specific stitch length and tension that you’d recommend? I’m assuming you used just a standard straight stitch since you didn’t specify that. I have been admiring a commercial version of the elastic organizer, but it had never occurred to me that I could make my own! And this one is way cooler by repurposing an old book cover. I love old books and usually make copies of what I want from them rather than cutting and tearing them or removing old pages, but there are some books that haven’t stood the test of time well (usually content). Those books would be great for this project!

  • Ah, I didn’t notice that the elastic is just sewn onto the black fabric. That should be easy!

  • You know, if you have trouble finding a cover you just love, it would be easy enough to adhere a beautiful piece of paper to a so-so cover. There are many beautiful handmade papers available. You could really take this project a step further and truly customize it! Great idea!

  • What a completely novel idea! (har har) I find myself in the same predicament whenever I travel – cords all loose and jumbled together at the bottom of my carry-on, electronics mish-mashed into whatever tiny space is available… This is a fantastic solution and one that I can actually do! Thanks for sharing!

  • This is so fantastic. I just spent the entire morning at the used book shop and bought enough to not only make one for me but ones for my brother and Dad as well!

  • This is fabulous! I am Ms. Anti-Kindle, so I understand the love and appreciation for books and old books, but for those that are tossed, shoved in a corner and forgotten, unloved – this is a really creative breath of fresh life for those prized books. If everything remained as it always was and nothing was ever tossed, recycled, or re-purposed – Man! We’d have a whole lotta junk on our pretty planet! Grace, I really love this.. though I’m so not patient enough and well, you guys do a prettier DIY job than I ever could! Kudos! Looks perty!

  • Please, everyone — understand that just because you may not value that old book, someone may. Unless it is damaged beyond repair, do not destroy it. Once ripped apart, you can never get it back. And that’s just sad. I do not deny that this is a lovely project, but just because one person is careful about choosing what they use (an unrepairable book), doesn’t mean the next person will be. It’s like the new trend towards wedding bouquets made from vintage jewelry and flower pins. I work at an antique store and people have been buying perfectly good vintage jewelry to create these bouquets, breaking and gluing them into submission. It breaks my heart! Please stop to think of what you are doing before doing it!

    • susan

      i think a lot of those people ARE thinking about what they’re doing- and they’re thinking that they’re doing something that makes them happy and that will result in them using something that may have sat in a dumpster or store for ages not being used. we could have this argument all day, but i think we you start getting into people using antiques for wedding bouquets that might be more of a taste issue than a preservation issue. you can easily use vintage jewelry in wedding flowers without glue and not damage the piece.


  • Hello!
    I firmly believe that it’s fine for people to use books for this project. It belongs to them and they can do what they want with it… Also, taking the cover does not make the actual text from it unusable…. The actual pages can be saved.

    And on a seperate note:
    I have found on the Container Store’s website, that they have something very similar to the black netting in which the electronics are actually held.
    So in the event that someone was feeling lazy (like me) they could buy the elastic grid and then put together the rest of the project themselves… Just an idea….

    but great project anyway!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I have a Grid-It that I like, but this is just awesome. Making it yourself means you can choose how you want to set up the grid. I get that people don’t want to destroy old books–fine, find a book that is unreadable… there are bound to be plenty out there with ripped or damaged pages. I also love the idea that someone suggested of using old legal or science books, the text is irrelevant anyway. Great project, so pretty.

  • For those who are distressed by the idea of “destroying” a print book, here’s a thought. Take a book published prior to 1923 so that it’s in public domain. Cut off the binding and make your awesome organizer. Then scan the book and donate the scans to Project Gutenberg – their team of proofreaders will convert it to an electronic copy that can be accessed for free by everyone. For books past 1923, scan and donate to Bookshare.org, which provides books in accessible format for people with print disabilities (vision impairment, dyslexia, etc). Then everyone wins.

  • Very nice….would someone care to custom one for a craft-quality-impaired person like me (for a small fee, of course)? Heck, I can even find an appropriate book to use.

  • If you can’t find a book cover you like (or as I see in some of these comments, bring yourself to ‘deface’ a vintage book), just use a binder from the local stationery store and cover it with whatever cloth or paper you fancy.

  • I loved this project idea the moment I saw it. I attempted it this weekend and it came out great. Having just been in the trenches, I wanted to share my experience, so others can benefit from my mistakes and design tweeks! I used foam-like black contact paper for the fabric that I had on hand. It worked well, but I had a lot of trouble adhering it directly to the back cover of the book. After a couple failed attempts, I decided to hand stitch another piece of the mat board to the fabric on that side (which was tricky, because I had already glued the side with the elastic grid). I used electrical wire tape (it was only $0.69 at the hardware store) to cover the stitches on all sides, then I glued the mat board to the back cover using Tacky Glue. It worked like a charm, and gave the whole thing a little more strength. Also–when hand sewing the mat board to the respective sides, I did a very crude straight stitch on side closest to the spine of the book. I found that this helped keep the elastic grid in place a little better, and therefore helped with the tension. On the whole a great project!!! Lots of fun!!

  • As a crafter who upcycles a lot of used books for a living, I just want to expand on Grace’s responses to those book lovers who are worried about the unnecessary loss of a readable book. My personal standard when upcycling books is to seek out and use only those books that are near to being physically destroyed. This means buying in bulk from library discard sales, shopping from the 50-cent book pile at my local thrift stores, and pulling from free boxes. This way I am confident that the books I transform are truly being rescued from the trash heap and made ready for a second life as a newly useful object. I’ve been a book lover all my life, and I see what I do as an act of love for old and vintage books.

    I really love this project, by the way! I make a lot of hollow book safes, and may try this out and start selling them at my Etsy shop! I hope that’s ok with you, Grace! :-)

    -David Bikman
    UpCycle Studios
    Portland, OR

  • Oh my goodness! Where did you (Simon) get that book? The Israel one? it is AMAZING.

    I am currently working on my own version of this. I am so excited to see how it turns out

  • @TYLER i got the ISRAEL book from a thrift store. It’s from the 60’s, a photograph portfolio. it was the ‘coolest’ book cover i could find in our modest thrift stores :)

  • Genius! I especially love the versatility of the elastic grid. Thank you for sharing.
    signed- A Book Lover

  • Love, love, love. What a really *great* use for a book whose interior has seen much better days. Must. Make. This.

  • Check at your local public library for books that they discarding. They do this all the time and this is an excellent project to repurpose them with. I’ve made jewelry boxes with them by hollowing out the pages, and used the covers for binders and sketch books. Your library and the environment will thank you.

  • I am a librarian, so I certainly love books but I know there comes a time when some books need to be weeded out of a collection. This is a great way to give a book, or at least part of it a new lease on life.

  • adding a small amount of silicone to the back side of the strips will give it a better grip on plastics and metals shoved into the woven stretchy straps

  • I love this idea, but my problem is that the only books that I have to re-purpose aren’t pretty and antique-y. The front and back are just plain black, which is fine, but I don’t necessarily want the spine showing. Any ideas of how to cover it up without taking away from the aesthetics? I don’t just want to cover the whole thing with fabric, because I still want it to look like a book. Help?

    • Using HeatBond, fuse a piece of rice paper to the wrong side of the fabric you’d like to use to cover the spine. Cut a strip of fabric that will cover the spine and an inch over onto the front and back cover. Now, you can use PVA glue (regular white glue) to glue the fabric to the book. Taa-dah! Spine is covered and you’ve got a unique book. Do this before attaching the other bits to the inside covers.

  • I don’t know why but I am having trouble figuring this out.I have sewn my long strips at one end and my short strips at both ends. Do I now sew just a straight stitch through the fabric and the holes on the inside portion of my grid and then a blanket stitch around the other three sides?

  • This is so beautiful! Do you think you could elaborate a bit on the phone pocket? I just can’t seem to wrap my head around it.

  • I was looking for desk organization but I just HAD to stop and see this. You manufacture some very creative medicine. I think I’ll have to try this out for my naturalist field notebook, now to try and make a waterproof one~ :3

  • I’m in the process of making this, and I had a question about the construction. In your example above, the illustration mat is only cut to the width of the front of the book cover, correct? Do you sew the fourth side of the fabric to the board, or are you only sewing three of the sides? I’m also putting in a couple strips (sewn into the back of the fabric, since they’re not all the way across)–should I sew another mat to the fabric, or will glue hold it okay? That was another bit I was confused about–how do you glue the right side down while still keeping the pocket? Thanks for the awesome idea and the fantastic inspiration!

  • What a lovely idea – it’s given me loads of inspirations for doing more projects with some of my vintage ‘rejects’. Organising all those little bits and bobs is so tricky, this is such a tidy solution!

  • What a marvelous idea! It will surely be a great help while travelling and otherwise. Waiting to try it out. Thanks for sharing this project. Do you have any newsletter to which one can subscribe?

  • Best idea ever! I have two small book covers and I am not sure what to do with them. I took the insides out over a years ago thinking of making and nice pop up card with them but this is much better. Hmmm now my brain is on over load thinking of possibilities.

  • Thanks for the marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, I
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  • Kate,

    What a wonderful idea! I really love it :) I’m trying to make one for myself. I already found a used leatherbound book that’s perfect for the project! One question though, what is illustration mat? I don’t really understand what it is and what purpose it served. Any alternatives I could use?


  • So! I searched to *shop* for something to hold my gadgets and found this, andit is within my humble skills.
    Then I went down to the bike Project and a guy asked if we threw away old inner tubes, which of course we don’t because… oy vey! I don’t need no stinking elastic strips! I can use my old inner tubes! Bet they sew peachy. Hope so…

  • LOVE THIS!!! I will be careful about choosing a damaged book, not a beautifully preserved one. –> wonder if I could leave a few pages in (or an extra bit of material) to double up for my laptop :)

  • Good idea! I’ve been using one of those cheap organizers from Amazon for too long now, especially considering I use it more than anything else in my life. One of my buddies got a comment on his this past weekend and that was the “switch” that made me give up the piece of junk I was using lol!