It is a wonderful thing to read books to your children and, like many other families, we kept plenty of educational books on hand for ours to explore and learn from. Sadly, it is fairly normal to have some of these childhood books suffer from crayons, scissors, torn pages, or broken bindings. A large book (mine is 9 3/4″ x 13 1/4″) in this condition is the perfect candidate for this project which will turn it into a lap desk with storage space. A book that is larger than this is fine, but I would not go smaller. This project is fairly involved, so my next posting will show how to make a simpler lap desk.
In addition to my large children’s book, my other recycled materials included the lid to a bakery container, some fabric, a piece of cardboard, and a considerable number of used Styrofoam cups, which I washed and dried. The fabric can be anything that you have on hand provided that it is fairly thin. Bulky fabric will not work well .
The first step was to cut the Styrofoam cups into little pieces to be used as the filling in the lap desk. In addition to being lightweight, Styrofoam is normally free and available in abundance! In addition to old cups, you can use anything else made of Styrofoam: takeout boxes, packing peanuts, or even your old foam cooler. It may take some time to accumulate enough Styrofoam to do this project on your own, so ask your friends and family for help if you need to have the desk right away!
In working with the cups, I tried numerous ways to turn them into little pieces but found the best way was to stack about four together, flatten them, and using a sharp knife, to slice them first into strips and then into smaller bits. To eliminate the tendency for static cling to build up on the foam, I kept a dryer sheet on hand to wipe over the cutting board and knife every so often. This kept the static to a minimum.
The next step was to prepare the book. Using a craft knife, I carefully cut down the crease where the flyleaf met the cover at the spine of the book. The object was to free the pages from the book and to separate the front and back covers from the spine. In addition, I cut a scrap piece of cardboard to the same dimensions as the cover of the book.
After the covers were separated, I chose the one in the best condition to be the top of the new desk. The inside covers of my book were a bright green without any marks on them, so I determined to use them as the interior of my hinged top. This meant that I would have to cover the outside of the book to be the surface of the top. For this, I planned to use the flyleaf that was attached to the pages I had removed. However, I went through an additional step here that not everyone would have to do. My book had an orange rim all the way around its edges. I had a printed cotton scarf on hand that would match the green of the flyleaf, but the orange really did not go well with my color scheme, so I cut the blue border from the scarf and glued it over the edges of both covers. If I could have found electrical tape in the right color I would have preferred to use it, but the scarf worked well.
To make the inside storage compartment, I decided to use the lid from a bakery container; largely because it had a flat lip that ran around its edge that would hold it in place and sit flush with the cardboard. Since I did not want to be able to see through the lid (and to help strengthen it), I decoupaged it with some tissue paper that I had on hand that turned out to be just the right color to blend in with the green of the covers. After that dried, I used a piece of paper to make a pattern of the inside edge of the lid. I centered this pattern on the piece of cardboard that I had cut earlier, traced around it, and cut it out. After checking to be sure that the plastic lid would fit properly into the hole I had cut, I used the cardboard to trace an identical shape on the book cover that I wanted to use as the bottom of my hinged top. I carefully cut this shape from the cover using a sharp craft knife and some patience! This left a rather unsightly edge, which I covered with green bias tape and decoupage glue. Again, I could have used colored electrical tape, but I could not find it in the right color. Returning to the lid and the cardboard, I pushed the lid back into position in the cardboard and glued under the lip to secure it. I also used duct tape to attach the two together along the back. (See the photo for clarification.) This further reinforced the plastic, which would bear some pressure in its position inside the desk.
To join the two book covers and create the hinge, I laid the top cover down on my work surface with the inside (green side) facing up. Then I placed the bottom cover (the one with the hole cut into it) on top of it with the inside facing down and lined up the two edges that would be the hinge of the cover. I used clear packing tape to join the two pieces together, then covered the tape with more of the blue scarf fabric on the outside and more bias tape on the inside.
Now that all the pieces of the hinged lid were assembled, I could finally decorate the book cover that would eventually be the top of the desk. To do this I used the flyleaf of the book. I could have used the white side or the green side, and I chose to use the green. I decoupaged this into place and used the glue to seal the top. Then I took the spine of the book and cut off just the tiniest bit so that it would fit along the bottom of my desk and be the same length as my green paper. Using the back flyleaf of the book, I covered the spine in green paper and glued it in place at the bottom of the desk to keep things from sliding off the bottom edge.
The scarf fabric that I had chose to use as the bottom of my desk was too thin to be used by itself, so I lined it with a scrap of old sheet. To cut the fabric, I placed the hinged cover in the center of the scarf and measured about three inches out from all sides. Then, placing the fabric face-up on the table, I stacked the cover on top of the cardboard and lid unit, pulled the corner of the fabric up around the covers, and pinned them in place. Then I removed the cardboard unit and covers and machine stitched the corners. I trimmed the seams down, finished off the raw edges, and turned it right-side-out. Now I was ready to attach the fabric to the desk. I began by putting a good deal of the chopped cups into the fabric bottom. Then I added the cardboard and lid unit. Once again, I used decoupage glue to attach the fabric on three sides of the desk. Through the open fourth side, I continued to add the chopped Styrofoam until I reached the desired fullness. Then I glued the fourth side down. After that had dried, I used strips of duct tape over the edges of the fabric for added strength and security. I did not want to see those little cup pieces come back out!
The final step was to hot-glue the top to the base. To help secure the hinged lid from coming open too easily, I added small squares of strip magnet to the inside corners.
This project emphasized for me the nature of transformation. We live in an instant gratification world. We want our desires met right now, and we quickly lose interest and patience with anything that requires us to wait. Since this is the tendency of my human nature, I have very often wished that God would transform me into His image quickly! It would certainly not tax His power to do so. Yet in His infinite wisdom, He has chosen to work at a slower pace. Often while I was working on this project, I would move back and forth between the different parts, working on this one while the glue was drying on the section I had just completed. Similarly, God works on different areas of my life with a timing that perfectly accords with His final purpose for my life. Though I do not always understand the necessity or sequence of the steps He takes in this transformation process, I trust the wisdom of my Maker. I am grateful for the promise of Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that he which began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Some glorious future day, the “project” of my life will be ended, and my time on this earth will be over. It is wonderful to know that in that day I will be perfect, my transformation complete. And I believe it will have been worth the wait!