Introduction: Make a Perfect Presentation Box for a Perfect Gift (including the Things Martha Stewart Forgot to Tell You!)

Have you ever made something so cool for someone that you knew you couldn't just stick it in a padded envelope and ship it out to them?

I hiked from Breckenridge to Aspen with my then 14 month-old on my back in late August of 2015. I couldn't have done the trip without my friends Marian and Tom, who gamely carried a lot of our stuff (because I couldn't carry the 18 lb 14 month-old AND all the clothes, diapers, and food we'd need) and didn't kick me off the trip when the baby didn't sleep one night. It was a fantastic experience, and as I do after all similar trips (there have beena few!), I made a photo book for my daughter.

I wanted to send a copy to Marian and Tom, along with a map from the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association (in whose huts we stayed) that traced our route. I felt like the package would be so much more meaningful if it arrived in something that made the experience of opening it as much fun as reading through the book and remembering the trip.

So I made a presentation box.

I was sort of surprised not to find detailed instructions anywhere online so I decided to take photographs as I went.

What special thing do you need to present?

Note: I spend a fair bit of time making stuff, and hiking, and parenting...if those things interest you as well, you might want to check out my blog at (because parenting is for life, not just for Christmas...). It would be lovely to see you there.

Step 1: Decide on the Layout of Your Box; Assemble Materials

The two components I wanted to include in this project were the photo book and the map, which onto which I'd marked the route we took between the huts. When I initially conceived the project I thought I would make a little tray for the map to sit on which the user would then pull out to reveal the book, but I realized that the map would probably float around quite a bit in the tray unless I could come up with some way to hold it in place.

When I started measuring things out I also realized that the map is about the same thickness as the cardstock I was using to make the box, which meant that a cutout in a sheet of cardstock would hold the map quite neatly. I ditched the idea of a tray and instead decided to make a little 'well' underneath the book for the map, which would be a nice surprise once the book was lifted out.

Gather your materials

Note: All materials should be available at an art supply store like Dick Blick or my lovely local Flax.

  1. I got a big sheet of 1/8" thick cardstock at an art supply store, but I only used about 1/4 of it for each of the three boxes I made (one for my friends, one for my daughter, and one for me)
  2. I used paper bookbinding tape (it's gummed on the back; you activate the glue with water) to assemble the box. Masking tape or even blue painters tape would work just as well if you already have that around the house as you don't need much, and it would be wasteful to buy the tape just for this project
  3. Book cloth; I used the Books by Hand brand but any brand will do. I was able to cover both the top and the bottom of my box from one sheet of book cloth but if yours is any bigger than mine you'll need more than one sheet. At about $10/sheet the bookcloth is the most expensive part of this project, so plan carefully - if you can squash both the top and bottom of the box into the same sheet of bookcloth you can save quite a bit of money. I had hoped to make all of my boxes brown to contrast the blue photo book cover but the art supply store didn't have enough so I did one brown, one blue, and one linen. The linen was my least favorite to start with but it turned out to be very forgiving - the surface is quite textured which nicely camouflages any mistakes made in using it, making it a good choice for beginners.
  4. Liner paper; I used maps from our trip but you could use bookcloth in the same or a contrasting color, or consider using a sheet of art paper with a design that in some way picks up on the gift inside the box.
  5. White glue; I have some archival glue that I like because it's a bit runny (so you get a longer working time); you could just use regular kids' glue and thin it with a little water

Special Equipment

  1. X-Acto Knife
  2. A self-healing cutting mat is helpful, but a pile of newspaper would do the job
  3. Ruler of some kind (mine has a thin strip of cork on the back to stop it from slipping, which is nice)
  4. Scissors
  5. An old paint brush that you don't mind sacrificing
  6. A bone folder or just a butter knife is helpful for smoothing the book cloth
  7. A bowl to hold water if you use the bookbinding tape, and to hold glue either way.

Step 2: Measure Twice, Hopefully Only Cut Once

Safety Note: You will not be able to cut through 1/8" cardstock with one pass of an X-Acto knife and if you try, you're likely to slip and cut yourself. Make a couple of very light passes first to 'set a groove' and then press harder once the knife knows were it's going.

Cutting the box bottom

Measure the item you want to put in the box. I'll walk you through how I measured mine and determined the box size. I'll put in some fake measurements to help you picture it as we go.

Measure the height and width of the book. Let's say mine is 10" long by 8" wide. Add 1/4" all around (1/8" to account for the thickness of the sides and 1/8" wiggle room between contents and box, which doesn't seem like much but if you add much more the contents will really wiggle around): that's the size of the bottom of the bottom of the box (so, 10 1/4" long x 8 1/4" wide). Cut a piece of cardboard in these dimensions.

Measure the thickness of the book. Add 1/8" to this number. If you're going to put anything under your book, add the thickness of that as well (I was adding a 1/8" thick sheet of cardboard so I added a total of 1/4" to the book thickness. This is how high the sides of the box will be. My book is 1" thick, so my box sides are 1 1/4" high (yours will only be 1 1/8" if you don't have anything underneath your book).

Take the number you used for the measurement of the long edge of your box bottom (10 1/4" for me) and cut two strips of cardboard that amount x the height (1 1/4" for me).

Take the number you used for the measurement of the short edge of your box bottom (8 1/4" for me) and subtract 1/4"; cut two strips of cardboard that amount x the height (1 1/4" for me). The short sides need to be shorter to account for the thickness of the cardboard along the long edge. Trust me, it'll come together when you assemble it.

Cutting the box top

Now you have all the pieces for your box bottom, cut your box top:

Take your measurements for your box bottom (10 1/4" x 8 1/4") and add 1/8" all around (so, 10 1/2" x 8 1/2"). That's the top of the box lid; cut a piece of cardboard in these dimensions.

How much the lid overlaps the bottom of the box is a matter of personal preference; a deep overlap feels classier to me so I made my lid approximately 2/3 as deep as the bottom - so about 7/8".

Take the number you used for the measurement of the long edge of your lid (10 1/2" for me) and cut two strips of cardboard that amount x the height (7/8" for me).

Take the number you used for the measurement of the short edge of your box top (8 1/2" for me) and subtract 1/4"; cut two strips of cardboard that amount x the height (7/8" for me).

Cutting the cardboard to fit around the map

Because I wanted my map to sit in a little 'well' under the book, I had to cut a piece of cardboard to sit on either side of the map. I took the box bottom width measurement (8 1/4") and subtracted 1/4" to account for the thickness of the sides of the box. I subtracted the width of the map (3 1/2"), which meant I needed to cover 4 1/2" width of box bottom with cardboard.

For the length, take the box bottom length (10 1/4") and subtract 1/4" to account for the thickness of the sides. Cut the cardboard 10" x 4 1/2". I then divided the piece off-center at a random point down the length so the map could sit off-center in the box.

Step 3: Assemble the Box

Cut a piece of paper or masking tape slightly shorter than the short side of the box bottom. Paint water onto the back of the tape (if using paper tape). Set half of the strip of tape onto the short side of the box bottom while it's on a flat surface. Then I find it easiest to attach the bottom to the side using a table as a 'mold' - I grip the box bottom between my knees up against the side of the table, and use my fingers to smooth the tape over the side, which sits on top of the table (see photo). Because the sides are 1/4" shorter than the box, make sure the sides are centered (so you should have a 1/8" gap at the end of each side) - this is where the long box edges will sit.

Do the other short side in the same way. You can't use the table for the long sides (because the short sides will be in the way), but your short sides will act as a frame to hold your long sides in place.

Now assemble the long sides, using the short sides as a 'brace' to hold them in place at the ends. It is a bit fiddly because you don't have the table corner to mold around.

Repeat for the top.

No need to worry if things are a bit 'off' - bookcloth hides a lot of sins:-)

Step 4: Cover the Box With Bookcloth

Breathe deeply. There are a lot of steps here but none are incredibly difficult.

Watch this video from Martha Stewart, which shows the basic method we'll use (although I'll tell you how to improve on how she did it). I'll give you the timestamps for the important parts in the video.

Note: It looks like some of my pictures show the bottom of the box and others the top, and some show different colors of bookcloth (I just picked the pictures that best conveyed the point I was trying to make). I had to make the short sides of my box bottoms the sides with the pointy bits because the bookcloth on my long sides needed to be straight and extend to cover the insides of the box up to the little 'well' that the map was going to sit in. If you're not doing a map well like me then it doesn't matter which side you do first but you might want to do always long sides or always short sides first so you don't get confused.

To figure out how big your book cloth needs to be, take a tape measure and fold it tightly against the box starting on the table (against the outside corner), up and over the side, and as far inside the box as you want the bookcloth to cover. I had to account for the map well, so mine needed to extend further into the box than yours might. If you're going to finish off your insides with a contrasting piece of paper or something else, you only need extend the bookcloth an inch into the bottom of the box. The photo shows me adding 5" on this side, and I then went through the same process to measure the other side (because my map was to sit off center).

Repeat this step to determine the other dimension, although if those sides are even you'll only need to measure it once.

Like Martha does, put the bottom of the box onto the wrong side of your bookcloth, making sure it's straight and you leave enough room around the edges (as you just measured). (0:44)

Mark the corners of the box carefully onto the bookcloth, and then connect the dots. (0:51)

Now draw a larger rectangle around the box outline using the measurements you took earlier (At 1:29 Martha cuts out the shape using a 2" margin, which may or may not be enough for you). Then cut out along your lines.

Draw four lines connecting the corners of the inner and outer rectangles, like Martha does. (1:39)

Extend the long lines representing the sides of the box out to the edges of the book cloth, cut out the resulting triangles, and also trim the points like Martha does (except I think I only trimmed about 1", not 1 1/4" like she does). (2:02-2:42)

Use a brush to paint glue onto both the outside bottom of the box as well as onto the inside of the bookcloth (within the marked rectangle only, not all over). Place the box neatly onto the bookcloth, checking it's aligned on all sides.

Now press very firmly all over the bottom of the box, then (like Martha doesn't) flip it over and press firmly all over the bookcloth, smoothing any air bubbles out to the edges.

Before applying glue, smooth one of the long sides of book cloth up the long side of the box. You're going to trim a strip out just a fraction over 1/8". 1/8" of the trim should be toward the long side of the box, with just a sliver toward the pointy bit of the boockcloth. Your bookcloth is much thicker and less stretchy than the contact paper that Martha is using so if you just do the little snip that she does (at 4:23) then you'll end up with all kinds of unsightly folds. I usually just eyeball it; stop about 1/8" shy of the top of the box (which will cover the very corner of the box - see photo). Then remove that little 1/8+" strip. Fold the bookcloth around the box as if you had glued it to check you cut the strip in the right spot. I made a couple of these boxes and I think I screwed up one of the corners by cutting down too close to the box. If you did, just cut a sliver off your 1/8" strip and glue it to the corner of the box before you move forward, and no-one will ever know - except you, in my case, because I took a photo. Repeat on the other long side.

Apply glue to one long side of the book cloth.

Fold the bookcloth up and over the side of the box, following along with Martha to wrap the flap around the short side. Your book cloth will extend much further into the box, though, so continue to mold the bookcloth inside the box and onto the bottom of the bottom. Use a bone folder or a the tip of a butter knife to be sure you really get the bookcloth tightly into the corners of the box. (4:33-4:50)

Martha skips this step, again because contact paper is more pliable than book cloth: fold your short edges up against the short sides of the box, and trim 1/8" off each side just as far as 1/8" above the top of the box (see photo).

Glue the bookcloth and press it up and over the short side and into the box, again using the bone folder or butter knife to press the bookcloth tightly into the corners. I had to take extra special care to get the fit tight for the map well, as the bookcloth didn't want to sit in place.

Relax. You're almost done.

Cover the top of the box with bookcloth in the same way.

Check that your items fit into the box as you'd planned, and that the box top fits over the bottom.

Step 5: Add Liner Paper

Find your liner paper. If it's not place-sensitive, cut two pieces off the corner each 1/4" smaller than your box and lid measurements.

I wanted to use maps from our trip for the liner and I wanted to show the huts we'd stayed in, so I had to place the box carefully over the map until it covered the features I wanted to include. Put a dot at each box corner, and then subtract 1/8" in each direction.

You may find that your liner doesn't exactly fit your box - if so, just trim the liner to fit. Paint glue onto both the paper and the box to ensure a good stick.

Step 6: Admire Your Box!

I'm pretty pleased with how mine came out, and the friends to whom I sent one enjoyed it as well. Scroll through the photos to see the full 'experience.' A beautiful box worthy of an epic trip!