Book spycraft

posted in: Good old fashioned fun | 9

Whilst books are, for me, mostly about the nourishment their words and pictures are turned into when I read, and I am therefore not terribly precious about them as physical objects (I have no fear of the dog ear, and I secretly delight in notes in the margin), I have to admit I’m a sucker for beautiful bindings. So when I found these books in a charity shop, going for a song, I had to snap them up, even though their words didn’t speak to me.


Nestleton Magna and Gianetta had to earn their keep though. With my burgeoning bookshelves, I haven’t space for books that only look good. And so the opportunity to realise a long-held dream fell into my hands: these books were perfect for practising a little bit of book spycraft, for turning into book safes, with hidden compartments inside.


Armed with tub of PVA glue and a craft knife I decided it was time to create something where I could put treasures into a book, instead of the normal run of things – where books pour treasure into me.


With the help of my eldest daughter’s trigger happy camera work, I captured the process of turning the books into secret stores in a stop-motion video (I do hope you’ll especially like the music – I thought it was just a perfect match):

Just as with my approach to another form of nourishment (eating meat), I wanted to respect the source, and make the most of every part I could. Thus the pages cut out from the centre of the old books were transformed into two types of bunting. I used a giant holepunch to create discs which then I threaded together using the sewing machine…


…and some bias tape to complete the triangular bunting.


Now both decorate my work space!



And if ever I need a bit of inspiration, I can just look up from the computer keyboard to see this:


(Alongside the bunting hang two other sets of treasures – gifts from Linda Sarah linked to the illustrated interview she created for me, and some sparkly polar bears my girls created several years ago to go with The Snow Bear by Holly Webb.)

All of today’s post has been written thinking about someone I never met and will never know. Elsie May Wilkinson was born in Writtle, Essex in the autumn of 1898, and back in 1907 she won the copy of Gianetta I now own; just inside the front cover there is this beautiful book plate with a dedication:


Knowing the location and name (and being able to roughly guess Elsie’s name from the date), I used the 1901 census and Free BMD records to identify the girl who originally owned this book. I’ll probably never know what became of Elsie, but a tiny bit of her lives on now, on my shelves. Thank you Elsie!

9 Responses

  1. Jill Thomas

    What an inspirational post, Zoe. Thank you.

    Jill Thomas

    • Zoe

      Thanks Jill. I know cutting up books, even old, boring ones, isn’t for everyone, but I see it as giving them a new lease of life!

  2. Simone Fraser

    This is all so gorgeous, Zoe. The bunting and circles look striking contrasting with the black computer. I definitely don’t own any books I would apply this treatment to. I suppose I’ll have to go out and buy some. = D

    • Zoe

      I’m always on the look out for such books Simone – but they don’t come along often. Either they are still too lovely to cut up, or too expensive. I just got lucky with finding these two.

  3. Miss S L Stanley

    Beautiful post Zoe. I have 4 beautiful books given to me by my great Aunt Gwen when I was a child. Gwendolen Osborne. For regular attendance at Horringer infant school is called the child’s own story book and contains such short stories as little willy’s last days “before my brother died I was so happy” and how little Davy ought to behave? Spoiler alert… He will do as he is bid…

  4. Rebecca Stonehill

    What a FANTASTIC idea (both the books & the bunting!) – I remember very many years ago my brother used to sneak off to school with sweets in his cut-out books. I love that you made the effort to investigate Elsie too. She is now immortalised in a very special way! Did it take a long time to transform the books into treasure chests? How fiddly was it? Rebecca

    • Zoe

      Hi Rebecca, It wasn’t that fiddly and although it took a few days this was mostly because of letting the glue or paint dry between each stage. Drying time apart, I think it only took an hour or two to do the cutting. I used a regular craft knife, but if you can find one with an extra long blade, that would make life easier as you would be able to cut deeper into the book more easily.
      Zoe recently posted..Book spycraft

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