DIYdiy projects

diy project: paper “leatherbound” books

by Brenna

Due to my husband’s profession, we have a constant influx of absurdly enormous books. While some are aesthetically acceptable enough not to disturb the visual flow I have going on our bookshelves, others are obtrusive in color or design. Since our built-in bookshelves are open to the living room, I like to have a clean look while trying not to be too uptight about it. I thought leather-looking book covers would solve the problem at hand and contribute to the scholarly library look I am trying to achieve. I used recycled grocery bags and only a handful of additional materials to create inexpensive and classic book covers. Enjoy! — Brenna, Paper & Ink

Read the full how-to after the jump!


  • grocery bags
  • iron
  • parchment paper (optional)
  • Zinsser amber shellac (available at most hardware stores in the paint/stain dept.)
  • disposable paintbrush
  • masking tape
  • scissors


1. Completely flatten the grocery bag by opening it along the seams. Remove any handles.

2. Dampen the flattened bag. I gave it a little spray in our shower, dampening it on both sides.

3. Crumple up the bag into a tight ball. Un-crumple and crumple again. Be gentle, since the wet bag tends to tear easily.

4. Using the iron on a medium to high setting, iron the bag flat again. Leave wrinkles, but you are trying to remove the big peaks and valleys. Go gently, or you can use a layer of parchment paper between the iron and the wet bag to help the iron glide easily.

5. Let the paper dry completely.

6. Paint a coat of the shellac over the blank side of the bag. Cover but try not to saturate the bag completely. Let dry about 20 minutes.

7. Apply a second light coat of shellac for sheen. And let dry completely, at least 30 minutes.

8. From the unpainted side of the paper, reinforce any potential holes or tears with the masking tape.

9. Cut the paper down to size and cover your book.

You’re done!

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  • I love, love, love, this idea :) I am going to school to be a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner & have a ton of books, that I’m going to try this on. Love your blog also -keep up the good work! ;)

  • Uhmm … It looks like paper. Maybe you should use something thicker like a faux suede.

    • becky

      it’s supposed to appear similar to leather, not serve as an exact replica. so many of our readers hate hate hate leather, so i loved the idea of getting a similar look here, but without the animal product as a base.


  • Okay, about disturbing the “visual flow” you have going on your bookshelves…that just made me feel so incompetent! (Smile) — I will have to go home now and review the status of my little library!

  • so earthy…nice look. and your instructions are great…i love it when someone tells me what *not* to do as well since i would no doubt do it if you didn’t.

  • To a book lover it’s a bit offensive. Don’t you care which book is which? Wouldn’t you rather have a scholarly library than a scholarly-looking one?

    • Luka,

      This project is for people who may want to cover ugly things like three ring binders and the like. I’m not sure how it would be called offensive. It is a person’s choice, if they wish to cover their books in a cheap easy faux leather that they can create at home, then so be it. Try not to get offended so easily. If you don’t like the project, find something else to look at.

  • What a great idea! I’ve started a pretty large collection of scrap paper from packages – not sure if you know of the type but it’s much thinner than grocery bags. I’d really like to give this a try with thinner paper. I hope it works!

  • Doesn’t this make it hard to find a particular book? Obviously, it isn’t a problem if you only have 2 books that you cover (as in the photo), but if you have more than a few books?

    (Maybe I’m missing something here?)

    • Carmencatalina,

      You could always use different colors of paper or use paint before the shellac to write the name of the book or subject if its a binder. Just a thought.

  • How do you ever find the book you need? I am afraid I use entirely too many books for this project . . . but it does look great!

  • I don’t know… this reminds me of being forced to cover textbooks back in school and doesn’t seem worth the effort. I suppose it’s timely for September, and I do like the vignette with the typewriter, but how badly do large books hurt the “visual flow” to make dealing with shellac a better option?

  • This actually reminds me of medieval/renaissance books that were covered in vellum or…paper! (called limp case bindings) I like it!

  • Wow – this paper could be used in so many ways. I even kind of like how the printed side looks. I wonder if you kept the bags (like Trader Joe’s bags) intact and put several more coats on if they’d make more durable shopping bags.

    But I also have to say that I’m with Luka’s comment on this one. Great-looking craft, but the reasons for using it are . . . sigh. My DH is an academic and I’m tempted to forward this to our friends just to see what they think. I suspect they’ll see this as another sign of the rising tide of anti-intellectualism in the US today.

  • Grace, I’m cringing at all of the comments for this project! I don’t think people understand that it’s not intended to cover your first edition 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…but rather the “uglier” books that aren’t visually pleasing. Furthermore, I didn’t take it to mean this would cover every book in a library, just one or two.

    Some of the readers might need another cup of coffee today ;) Love you Grace! Keep up the amazing work!!

  • As someone whose profession is books, I do understand that there are some really ugly books around, and yes, I don’t like having them on my shelf, but any books I use could never ever be covered like this. There are few things as annoying as trying to use and read a book that has a cover on it that keeps shifting, etc. I hated it in school and now that I own the books I won’t cover them unless, and that’s a big one, I won’t have to actually handle the book much.

  • hi guys! keep in mind that you can always label the covered books to tell them apart. store bought die cut labels would be cute with hand writing… reminiscent of a vintage specimen tag. or you could write directly on the cover with a fine tip paint marker!

  • Nice look. Folks should be aware, however, that (as every book collector knows) a book’s dust jacket is a major part of its value as a collectible; don’t throw the jacket away unless you really don’t care! Also, it’s possible for the chemicals in non-archival products to harm dust jackets and book bindings. (This is the reason for archival book covers.) I would never use an item like this on a book I cared about or wanted to preserve for the future. What a great way to disguise phone books and catalogs, though.

  • Hi! Wonderful tutorial! I’ve done a similar project in the past. Kraft paper also does a similar job (plus you don’t have to worry about the printed pattern on the underside showing through the front). What I did differently was that after crumpling, I flattened the sheet and applied a very very diluted wash of emulsion (latex pain) over it ( I used red + burnt umber). And then I used oil varnish. The emulsion gives the effect even greater depth of colour, and the emulsion and the varnish strengthens the paper (shellac is a bit brittle, and is partly water-soluble). Or maybe you could coat it with shellac then apply a second coat of silk-finish oil varnish, for that oiled leather look. :-)

  • This is a really nice project…I have tons of books and loads of paper bags…I would love to try this with a really dark stain. Thanks for sharing!

  • I love it. You could cover your ugly telephone books this way. My husband and I have thousands of books and this wouldn’t work for our library; however, telephone books would be great covered with this wonderful faux leather look. It’s great. Thank you.

  • I did this on a really ugly wall in my old house… could not get the 1950’s wall paper off without replacing the whole wall… tore the bags in big irregular sections and stuck it to the wall with liquid starch. Was a Great hit

  • Looks like a lot of work to produce something that kind of looks like crumpled up brown paper grocery bags. You can buy faux plastic leather material for cheap, and it would be easily reusable. Might give it a try.

  • Just wondering if you have any technique to give the gold embossed look regularly found on leather bound books. Love the idea, I just need a way to recognize the books.

  • I’m making journals with this project as covers and I was wondering if the shellac can be sanded a bit? Less shine.

  • This is a great idea to cover an old set of World Book Encyclopedia that sit unused on my bookshelves. I may use a calligraphy pen to identify each book.

  • just wanted to say with the pic on the paper bag, u could try to incorperate that into the front.. make it look “stamped into the leather”.

  • Also did a whole wall in my spare bedroom with a similar method. Turned out awesome, and got many comliments on it!

  • I am very excited to try out this tutorial. I have a journal book I made but I have not designed anything on the cover yet I am waiting until the last to do the cover and I was needing something to protect the cover from paints, inks and dyes until I am done with the inside. This is perfect for just what I need. Thank you for the great job you did explaining each step.

  • I covered my art journal with a similar technique (I used gel medium from Michael’s instead of shellac) I then hot glued old watch parts and a leather buckle from an old belt to hold it closed. It had a great steam punk appearance. Wish I could post a photo. Love your idea for the books you don’t care about to give your shelves a “designed” look. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Just want you to know that I loved the idea of faux leather book covers and your tutorial was so helpful. I had a heavy brown paper bag that I wet, wrinkled, dried, wet, wrinkled, dried. Then I applied distress ink, leaving some areas (like the center of the book front) with a lighter touch for highlights. After it was fully dry I waxed it using Annie Sloan clear wax (I just wanted to see if it could be done) wiped it down and let it set overnight. The next day I buffed it and waxed again. This probably wasn’t necessary but I wanted a little more oomph to the “leather.” Hours later I buffed it again and it looks great and has a soft texture. Wish I could post a photo as it’s lovely.

    I’m so glad you shared this idea and tutorial. Now my art journal is happy.

  • This is a wonderful tutorial! We are using this idea for our wedding center pieces. Thanks!!

  • Love, love, love it! I plan on doing this with other items….old CD’s, clip boards, etc.

  • Just happened to see this tutorial and now have a project to do. I personally don’t understand the totally negative comments. Good heavens people lighten up, this is a craft project, take it or leave it but recognize this post for what it is. CRAFTING. looks great!!!!!

    • So very well said Joann! Its a fun craft, not for serious reading! I love books and have them all over my house! Would I cover them all? Course not! But I would have fun with making a journal book! Thankyou so much for the idea. It will save me a fortune in leather look paper! That was the reason I managed to google this site ?

      • I am so going to use this on my paper bag mini album for scrapbooking. I am sure I can make this work for the front and back of it! Thanks so much for this wonderful tutorial!

  • I would like to use this technique for our seating chart for my daughters wedding do you know if you can print on it with markers after it is all made?