Re-booking your travel

We talked last week about great uses for old maps as an art idea for  your home. (You can read that original post right here.) Today, I’m going to show you a step-by-step guide for using your old maps to dress up the book shelves in your home.

I have used and taught this D-I-Y technique with several clients. I love it because it helps cut down on household clutter and the supplies are probably already in your home…making this project (potentially) FREE.


Let’s start with this problem:

Guide books. Very useful, but what do you do with them when you are back home? Do you put them up on your bookshelf as a great memory? Do you put them on your book shelves with plans to re-use them on your next trip to that destination? Or do you save them to recommend favorite places to friends? Most people do one, if not all of these things. Those are some of my guide books in the picture, so I’m in the “most people” demographic, too.

Most people also have a lot of paper maps left over from their travels. Some of them have matching area guide books, some of them don’t. We’re going to use the old maps to carefully cover our guide books and make them look more interesting and sophisticated on our books shelves. Here are the supplies you’ll need and which you probably already have:

  • Guide books (any size)
  • Paper maps (which don’t have to match the guide book locales)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler and/or yard stick
  • Paper folder (totally optional, but handy)

For the purposes of this little tutorial, I’m going to use a guide book and a map that cover the same area of the world:

You can use any paper map on any book, though, including maps that don’t match the guide book or even non-guide books. But I use this technique mostly for guide books, since you can use the maps to identify the book’s subject matter easily after it’s flashy, colorful spine is covered. Let’s get started…

First, open up your map and decide what area of the map you want to be the front cover of your book. I always avoid the map legend and start with a corner edge because that means two sides of our book cover are already cut evenly.

I want the map of England to cover the front of my Great Britain guide book, which takes up most of the bottom right corner of the map. But I will have to measure and mark the map before cutting it out to the right size of paper. So, I’ll flip the bottom right corner over…

…and will now do my measuring and marking on the “back” side of my desired cover image.

Next, I need to measure my book and adjust those measurements onto the map for cutting.

The height of my book is 8 3/4 inches long. However, I will need extra length on the map cover so I can fold over the paper at the top and the bottom, making a sturdy edge. So, I add 2 1/2 inches to both sides of my 8 3/4 inch book height and…

…mark the edge of the map at 13 3/4 inches.

Now I need the total width of the book, so I open the book up and measure the two sides and spine as a total measurement. Can’t forget the width of the spine!

This measurement comes out to be 11 1/4 inches, but again, we want a sturdy edge on this part of the book cover so I add 6 inches to the total measurement, knowing that 3 inches of map will fold over the book cover on each side.

I also add an extra 1/2 inch to the total measurement, because a book spine is designed to flex and my map cover need to move with it. The extra 1/2 inch will give it the flexibility it needs. If my “guess-stimate” of 1/2 inch of give is incorrect, I still have plenty of extra map on the edge of the width to adjust it later.

This brings the total width measurement to 17 3/4 inches, which I use my yard stick to measure and mark onto the bottom of the map.

The next step is very easy. Just don’t push to hard on your pencil or you can tear old, well-worn maps! I draw a straight line up from the bottom map marking….

…and a straight line out from my marking at the side of the map…

…until they connect and make a box.

These are the only measurements and markings you have to make when you start your book cover using two sides of an already-perfectly-square map. It makes it easier and it can make it faster if you are making a lot of book covers.

I double check my measurement box by making sure make sure my book centers nicely in the markings…

…which it does, so I cut out the box I’ve marked out of the larger map.

Always “measure twice cut and once” in any D-I-Y project to save yourself a headache. Here is what I’m left with…

…a perfectly sized paper cover to fit my guidebook.

Now we can channel out inner middle-school self and fold the paper to cover the book. I’m going to show you how to do this, in case you have forgotten or are reading this from a place where children don’t have to cover their school books to protect them -lucky you!-.

First, we place our guide book face up and centered on the paper, since we want the reverse side of the left side of the map to be our cover. Then we fold up the bottom of the map 2 1/2 inches and make a crease where it meets the book.

Extend the crease to make a full fold, from edge to edge along the bottm edge of the map.

Then press the crease to make it very sharp and defined. Geek alert: I’m using the edge of a Martha Stewart paper folder tool in the picture below, but the edge of your ruler works just as well, just don’t tell Martha…

Now repeat the exact same steps that you completed for the bottom fold at the top of the map: 

  • Line up the book flush with the newly-folded bottom edge of the map
  • Fold the paper down from the map top to meet the book
  • Make a crease
  • Extend the crease to a fold along the total width of the paper
  • Sharpen the fold using your ruler

When you are done the total height of the folded map should exactly match the total height of the book’s spine.

Next, we fold in the two covers. Starting with the back cover of the book, for a good reason, we fold the right side of the paper over about  3 inches and slide the back cover of the book  into the “sleeve” created but the map folding we’ve already done:

DO NOT use the ruler to sharpen the crease of this fold yet! We may need to adjust the paper after we fold the front cover.

Now we fold on the front cover, just like the back cover:

Here is where we test the 1/2 inch of extra paper we allowed for the spine flexing. Does the book close easily with the new cover on it?

No. The map paper cover is too taut.

So we go back to the back cover of the book and fold the back paper cover to be shorter, meaning a little less than our original 3 inch measurement.

We take the extra “give” from the back cover measurement because the back cover of the book is opened less and gets less wear. The front cover of any book is always opened, so we want a secure paper cover on that side of the book.

Now we try folding the front cover of the book closed again to see if it closes easily…

Success! Now look at the very  front cover of the book. Do you like how the map lines up as a paper cover? If yes, now you can go back a sharply crease the front and back cover paper fold with your ruler.

You’re done!

This is a great project to include kids on, especially if they are already pros at wrapping their own school books! Plus, getting them into the mindset of cleaning out and repurposing items as you de-clutter helps get them into healthy habits for cleaning their own rooms. (Hmmmm…this post has turned out to be a Greener Living post, too.)

Another tip: Many people have laminated or plastic covered maps, like mine below:

However, if you have one of these cards in your wallet…

…your membership dues mean you get paper maps like these for FREE:

See? This is such an affordable project!

Here’s all of the guide books as we first saw them at the top of the post:

And here they are stylishly covered in your old maps:

Don’t they look so much more interesting, yet pulled together? Here they are looking much more chic in their covers on a book shelf:

Think you can do it? Time to clean out all those old maps that have been lounging in your car’s glove compartment! You can find another great idea for them in this post.

How many maps do you have lying around in your home? Can you offer to take unused maps from your family and friends to help them clean out and keep your project free? How many books will you cover using this project? Leave a comment!

Posted on September 26, 2011, in Decor, DIY, Green Living. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. So cute! Thanks especially for the AAA tip.

  2. We used to do this with text books when I was in elementary school. We used brown paper grocery bags and got to doodle on the covers when our class work warranted a little diversion.

    This is much cooler! Thanks for the great idea.

  3. Okay. This is a fantastic way for me to hide some damage on one of my books. The grand kids got creative with the markers. There was much yelling and grounding. Now I can clean up, or at least contain, the damage.

    Thanks for the tip.

  4. I have a couple of books on the shelf that kind of stick out. As much as I love my husband and as much has he loves sci-fi stuff, I don’t think we need to see the encyclopedic dictionary of all things Klingon staring at us in the living room.

    It’s a win-win. He gets to keep his books and I get to keep my sanity.

    Thank you, Caro Interiors.

  5. This is great design and I think you could add it to your Greener Living Challenge: you’re repurposing both the maps and the books.

  6. This may be a vanishing art, what with e-books.

    You could tell your kids, this is how you used to put a new “skin” on your books.

    • That is a great point, Charlene! I was thinking about how unusual it is getting for people to use paper maps, but as a real book lover I try not to think about not being able to hold a book in my hands…or having to charge the battery on my books. : )

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