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Methods 1 Blog: Cartoneras style snack box sketchbooks

Big Idea: Sketchbook making!

Ideal for grade 5 or 6

We will be learning how to create our own sketchbooks through a basic bookbinding method that the Cartoneras movement brought to life. I will be demonstrating step by step in class as the students follow along. We will then spend a few weeks filling out the pages of our sketchbook and anyone who finishes filling out all their pages gets extra credit!

To start, I will be showing students about a few different kinds of bookbinding, and how in a way, new bookbinding methods can be made up as you go. The main type of bookbinding we will be focusing on is the basic sewing method that is also used in Cartoneras sketchbooks. Known in Latin America as editoriales cartoneras, they are often referred to as ‘cardboard publishers’, because one feature that unites the diverse publishing projects is the material from which they make their books: recycled cardboard. Cartonera is a social, political and artistic publishing movement that began in Argentina in 2003 and has since spread to countries throughout Latin America and, more recently, to Europe and Africa.Cartoneras have a vibrant history, one that is rooted in grass-roots community efforts and expanding accessibility of literature. The texture and aesthetic of each book, especially when held, reminds the beholder that it is repurposed and handcrafted, fostering a unique connection between creator and reader. Because this method of publishing was less expensive than traditional modes, it increased overall accessibility to literature to those who could not otherwise afford them. It also allowed lesser-known writers to publish and distribute their work to a larger readership. On the whole, cartoneras promoted literacy and democratization of publication.

Materials list

watercolor paper

snack box


needle and thread (thread can be any form of string i.e. dental floss or even twist ties!!)



collage material: magazine cut outs, stickers, colorful paper, family photos from home

sketching materials: pens, pencils, charcoal, watercolors, pastels, markers, crayons, watercolor pencils


Cartonera book binding interpretation

For sewing, we will use two types of string, at the students choice:

  • cotton twine (white)

  • hemp twine (natural color)

1st step: COVERS- For the front cover, students will be using their favorite snack box collected from home. Encourage picking a thicker cardboard for a more secure sketchbook.

The back cover is made with the back side of the snack box or a piece of plain cardboard.


We will be using 200 gram watercolor paper. This had been tested, and turned out with the best quality for sketching and different brands of paints/ markers. Students can use all kinds of media/ collage material on the insides of the covers.

For the prompt , I am inviting my students to make their own version of a Cartonera. At their essence, they are books made from salvaged materials you have on hand. Since we are an eco friendly classroom and try to recycle as much as possible, students will be using their favorite snack boxes! As I take students through steps to make their own cartonera, feel welcome to encourage substituting materials for what they have on hand and experiment. The bare basics are: cover, inside, and binding. For mine, I decided on a mini wheats box from trader joes, my favorite breakfast cereal! I will be filling my sketchbook with collage, sketches, and text.


You will then need to prep the inside paper. If you are including printed text, it will be easiest to print it as a booklet so it folds in half. Cut the paper to a similar size as your snack box, making it slightly smaller so it fits nicely like pages inside a book.


Measure three holes on the centerfold of your paper: two that are about a quarter-inch from each edge and one directly in the center. I usually put a dot at the center point and measure 2-3 inches out from that on each side, depending on the length of the cardboard cover. This binding can be done from either direction, depending on where you want the knot tied; where you begin the knot will be tied the other side will be flat.

Poke your threaded needle through the center hole. Pull through, keeping about an inch of thread on the original side (the “tail”).

Thread through one of the holes on top or bottom. Order does not matter. Pull taut.

Thread through the hole at the opposite end of the book. Pull taut.

Thread back through the middle hole. Pull taut.

Make sure the original “tail” and threaded needed are on the same side of the tread that runs through the center of the book.

Tie. Cut so only a little of the “tails” are left.

4th Step: Time to bind the insides to your covers. You can do this a couple different ways, stapling or glueing the papers to the covers. We will be focusing on the glueing method. If using liquid glue, pour onto a plate and apply with brush if you have one (this helps prevent the paper from getting too saturated). Lay another piece of scrap paper beneath the first page of the stapled/sewn booklet. Apply glue (I generally dap versus applying with strokes which helps to encompass the paper without needing too much glue). Carefully place cover. Be sure it’s on the right way! I leave the back page unglued so you can add more pages in the future! If any part is imperfect, no worries! It simply reflects its production process and leaves your fingerprint on the final product.

Demo Video

Good eye! You noticed how we didn't use the hole punch or glue stick! These are optional tools. If a student is struggling with using the thick needle to pierce the paper, the hole punch is an alternative tool. The only modification students would need to make is using a thicker string/ yard for binding the book together instead of the hemp twine. The glue stick can be used for glueing the back page down to the back cover. This isn't necessary, but does add a tiny bit more of security! I like leaving mine unglued so I can go back and decorate all over inside the covers!

How to use a ruler video! Make sure to be measuring your centerpoing, and then adding the other 2 holes about 2-3 inches apart from the center depending on how long the cardboard cover is.

Ms. Danielle's Example

These are examples of a few of my cartonera sketchbook pages I made in a workshop a few months ago. I had so much fun doing it I knew I had to share this awesome project with my students! I use a lot of my sketchbooks as a way to display inspiration, past works, small projects, and small notes; kind of like a creative journal!

If you want to explore another popular type of book binding, check this video out! This method if called Coptic book binding. Otherwise we will be focusing on a basic sewing technique for the class assignment.

How to be a lose sketcher: free your mind, loosen your hand!

One of the most important things I discovered while sketching is to free your mind and loosen your hand. Things get complicated and frustrating when you focus on the small insignificant details like a tiny line. Be free and don't overthink it! The best way I focus into my sketching zone is putting on relaxing music in my headphones.

Artist inspirations

Celeste Conteras

Celeste Contreras is a Xicana - Indigenous artist who works in mixed mediums to share stories of ceremony, culture and tradition. Her work includes illustrations, print, book arts and animation. Her research includes the history of storytelling through images and objects, exploring the condition of the book and book form and recalling the palimpsests of intergenerational trauma from migration, genocide of culture to relearning and decolonizing through ceremony.

Sara Boccaccini Meadows

Sara Boccaccini Meadows is a print designer and illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. Sara takes inspiration from nature and the tiny details in her everyday surroundings to create unique and quirky print illustrations. Her materials include watercolor, gouache and ink pen. She uses her sketches to transfer her ideas into home good materials like wallpaper, prints, fabric material, pillows, blankets, and apparel.


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