Updated: Aug 6, 2019
If you are reading this, chances are that you are like me, passionate for boxes and crafts! Paper or fabric covered boxes, that doesn’t really matter, making boxes is an amazing technique that can be very addictive as it’s so much fun making and the final piece is like your “treasure,” made by you, following one technique or a mix of techniques.
I’m Claudia Squio, a cartonnage designer and teacher from ColorWay Arts, and author of the book “Cartonnage Basics & Beyond – the complete guide for fabric box making.” I have been making boxes and other cartonnage projects for a while, and my first choice was fabric cartonnage, that I learned watching videos, reading books and taking online classes from a Brazilian teacher. The technique I use in my projects is one adaptation, made in Brazil, of the original French cartonnage. Then, some steps I use when making my projects are different than what you expect if you know French cartonnage or even the traditional box making. I will discuss a little bit more about the differences below.
Now, let’s talk about my choice for fabric covered boxes. Well, before knowing cartonnage I was making other fabric projects, like pillows, dolls, decorations, because I really like the texture, the great combinations we can have with different fabrics….and I wanted to learn more projects using fabric, especially without sewing (I think I said that so many times in other opportunities… sewing straight isn’t my best skill….LOL) and as cartonnage doesn’t require sewing and I was able to use my great stash of beautiful fabrics, I was SO happy when I made my first reusable journal cover and from there, I couldn’t stop anymore!! Then, a few years ago, I was already teaching fabric cartonnage when I was invited to teach a few classes in a scrapbook store, and of course, for that, I had to cover the projects with patterned paper. That was a challenge for me and I got super excited. Papers can also have great textures and combinations, right? So, at that time, I decided to adapt the method I was using to cover with paper, and I did it. We made some beautiful boxes and other projects in that classes. So fun! This year I was invited to write one article for a magazine specialized in paper, so, I used one of my DIY kits and covered with paper the way I thought was the easiest and fun way of making it. Yes, that’s what I’m looking for when making any of my projects…. having fun! I’m always looking for simplifying the best I can to make the process full of Joy! And for that, I love learning different techniques and using what I think is the best option for me and my students.
That said, let’s jump into fabric x paper? Let me tell you that if you are expecting me to say that one or another is the best…. No Way! What I have learned making my projects using fabric and paper, plus, I have been talking to some friends that have been making their boxes only using paper, others only using fabric, and others using both….. guess what my conclusions?? Those that are passionate for PAPERS can only see advantages on using them…. Those that are passionate for FABRIC only see advantages in using fabric….LOL…. so…. I would say…… it’s a personal preference! Using one or another can be so much fun, depending on what you are looking for in your project, what you most have in your stash, and how you are willing to try something “new” for you!! And how about mixing fabric and paper in one project? That’s what I’m doing in so many projects. Fun Fun fun…. take a look at some of the projects I have made using those amazing materials.
As I said, I have been making boxes covered with fabric and paper, so, I feel confident to give you my opinion about it, pointing some details and differences in the process…… again, not saying that one is better than other…. All personal preferences, but if you are happy to try another media, then, you may know what to expect. Here are my considerations about using fabric and paper to make boxes and other cartonnage projects: (to see the table below bigger, click here)
If you have been using either of them or just one, how do you feel with my considerations? Any other suggestions, comments? I will love to hear; please comment below!
Ok, now that I told you my considerations about the differences between fabric and paper to cover the boxes, let me tell you a little bit about the techniques you can use to make the boxes.
CARTONNAGE: the art of making decorative boxes from cardboard started a long time ago in the 19th century, in France. With a few basic tools and some simple techniques, we can make paper or fabric-covered boxes of all shapes and sizes as well as decorations and many kinds of functional accessories. Every piece is unique. In the original French cartonnage, the cardboard box is built first, and then, covered with paper or fabric. There are so many talented artists around the world making unique pieces like that. I would recommend looking for Nancy Akerly, a cartonnage teacher from Wisconsin that mainly works with paper covered projects. She is also a great marbling teacher and makes beautiful handmade papers and fabrics. To check her work, you can go to: http://www.libertygrovepaperarts.com/. Also, recently I exchanged my book with 2 other authors that wrote cartonnage books, Sophie Liu from Taiwan and Diana Peltikhina from Russia. Both of them use the French style in their construction, so, to learn more about the French style, you can check their books or search online for “French cartonnage,” and you probably will find videos showing the process.
Now, let’s talk about the variation of the French technique that started in Brazil some years ago, and allowed that craft to be very well spread around the Country. Nowadays there are thousands of artisans making beautiful and unique cartonnage projects in Brazil. So, at that time, a Brazilian artisan decided to try a different way of making the boxes, trying to make the process more simple (in my opinion!, again, also personal preferences here). So, instead of building the box and then covering outside and then inside, or sometimes covering first inside and then outside (both ways can work), in the Brazilian style of cartonnage we first cover the pieces of cardboard that will be a box with the fabric we want for the inside. Then, we build the box, that way when ready, the box is completely covered inside, and we will cover outside with a great finishing. Using this variation, I can see that some steps can be easier, some pieces can be done quickly and then some projects have a facilitated construction process. Plus, as we use poster board for lining, that’s the pieces I need to measure and cut right (if I’m not using pre-cut kits), cutting fabric is easy, as I use the lining pieces as templates, no precise measurements in fabric is needed.
The final difference in the pieces made by French or Brazilian style? Mainly the finishing on the corners at the top of the box. When covering the box after building it (French style), the corners of the box will be covered in fabric/paper, so, you will not see where the pieces start and finish, let’s say you can’t clearly see that the box was made out of 4 pieces of cardboard, and you will see basically the material you covered outside on the top of the box. When making the box after covering the pieces of cardboard (Brazilian style), you will notice that it was made out of 4 pieces of cardboard. You will see the seam between the pieces. Is that bad? Depends…. on your PERSONAL PREFERENCE again! That definitely doesn't bother me and hundreds of my students and thousands of Brazilian artisans, actually it’s the other way around, the process can be much easier to make and give us so much possibilities that we don’t worry about seeing those seams, they are part of the box….plus, I really like that I can see two fabrics on the top of the box if I want to use different ones for outside and inside. Not sure if that make sense to you, so, let me show you a picture:
TRADITIONAL BOX MAKING: We can learn this style in so many books, classes and videos from very talented professional bookbinders that are building boxes for the books they are making. That’s the technique I will call “traditional box making” now. Their media is most of the times decorative papers, a great selection of handmade papers, hand-marbled papers; hand-painted papers made by talented artists all around the world. Every paper has unique textures and is great for some steps and parts of the boxes and books. It’s a very traditional technique and the purpose of the boxes are mainly to protect the books or for decorative and memory keeping purposes. They use many kinds of bookcloth in the hinges of the boxes as well as imitation suede, imitation leather, or leather are also good choices for them. When making their boxes they want them to last hundreds of years, so, the archival property of all materials used in the construction is very important. Basically, in this technique, the box is built in cardboard, then, covered in paper using bookcloth or other resistant material for the hinges when necessary. So the corners will look like the French cartonnage style. I recently took a wonderful class using this technique at Hollander’s, in Ann Arbor, MI. If you want to learn more about it, I recommend the book “Constructing and covering boxes” by Tom and Cindy Hollander. They are great teachers and owners of the store Hollander’s, specialized in bookbinding. To find materials, decorative papers, bookcloths, or their book, check their online store at www.hollanders.com.
Well, I think is enough for today! As my friend Nancy Akerly said, “both traditional box making and cartonnage have the same goals, but just some different techniques to achieve beautiful, functional art”. Completely agree with her!
I hope I had clarified some points about fabric or paper covered boxes using different construction methods what I believe are all fun to make and a choice of personal preference! There is no right or wrong here, there is your choice of having fun, experimenting, playing and finding your way of box making. Hope you liked, and if you have any comments, suggestions, I would love to hear from you. If you want to have even more fun, you can skip the hardest part that is cutting thick cardboard and start with pre-cut kits with all pieces of cardboard already cut for the different projects. Check my online store. If you want to learn more about cartonnage either fabric or paper covered, or even mixing paper and fabric (even more fun!) keep tuned, I have great news coming soon.
PS: My special thank you to my friends Nancy Akerly, Marcia Prado, Christiane Kozoubsky for sharing experiences with me.