Friday, November 16, 2012

DIY Padded Display Box

If you're the type who hangs on to cool gift boxes - like the ones you buy wallets and fancy scarves and perfumes and such in - then here's a nifty way to turn them into customized display boxes for odd-shaped items.

I just modified this box to house a handmade fountain pen for my dad:

The pen came from the artist in a boring paper box, but I figured a pen this pretty deserved something a bit more grand. Plus now my dad can use the box to either store or display the pen on his desk.

The box originally housed John's last wallet, which I think we found at Ross. It's made of aluminum and plastic, and was just too cool to throw away:

It had "Calvin Klein" printed on the metal front, but in this photo I'm most of the way through removing the ink with acetone. (Just soak a cotton ball with acetone nail polish remover, and the ink will rub right off any metal surface.) You can still see a haze where the ink was, but a second rub down took that off.

I debated adding a brass plaque with my dad's initials to the lid, but since I didn't have time to order one I went with this large metal charm from JoAnn's instead:

Remove the ring, dab a little E-6000, and voilá!

Now for the inside:

To make the foam and fabric insert all you need are thin upholstery foam (available at craft stores for a few dollars a square foot), a rich-looking fabric like satin or velvet, scissors, paper, and glue.

First, measure the interior of your box and cut a square of upholstery foam to fit.

Next, trace your object onto a sheet of paper:

(Technically you could trace your item directly onto the foam, but I didn't want to risk getting Sharpie on the fountain pen.)

Now cut out your shape, place it where you want it on the foam, and trace with a marker:

Next take your scissors, holding them at a ninety degree angle to the foam, and start snipping inside your traced edges, all the way around:

You'll want to insert the tips of your scissors about half an inch into your foam as you snip along. You can always cut your recess deeper later, so for now just concentrate on getting the shape right.

Once you've cut all the way around your shape, hold your foam piece like I am in that photo, bending the edges back and away. This will create large cracks where you just snipped, allowing you to work your scissors in horizontally and cut out the bottom of your shape:

Now just keep snipping away to even out your edges and the bottom, stopping every so often to test out the fit:

You'll note my actual cut lines are pretty far inside my traced lines. Foam is stretchy, so be really conservative with your cuts!

When you think you're done, place a square of your fabric over the foam to test the fit again:

If your fabric is somewhat thick, you may need to cut out a bit more foam to compensate.

When you're ready to attach your fabric to the foam, make sure you do so with your item inside the foam. Put another piece of foam on top of your object so it's sandwiched between the two, flip them over, and glue your fabric down:

Here my pen is between those two slabs of foam. It's important you have your item in place so you don't pull your fabric too taut.

In fact, don't worry about making your fabric too tight anyway, since you'll risk pulling or warping the edges of the foam.

You may need to snip off some excess fabric to get the corners to lay right, but remember: only the top of your foam piece is going to show, so don't stress over those edges too much.

The finished bottom insert.

Carefully work your foam piece inside your box, using a butter knife or thin ruler to press the sides down evenly as you go. It should stay in place just fine without any adhesive, but feel free to add a dab of glue to the bottom if you like.

I also made a thinner cushion for the box lid, both to hold the pen extra securely while the box is closed, and also because it looks nice. :)

Since the upholstery foam would have been way too thick, I used a piece of cardboard cut to size with a bit of cotton on top:

The cotton came from the cheap jewelry box we purchased the pen in.

To attach the fabric I flipped the cardboard over, pressed it down to smoosh the cotton flat, and then glued my fabric around the edges:

This provided a nice pillowy top for the box lid interior:


And here's one last shot of my Dad's birthday present, which I really hope has already arrived in the mail by now, or else I am TOTALLY spoiling the surprise:

Happy birthday, Dad!

I hope you guys enjoyed, and that you'll remember this the next time you need a fancy-schmancy display box!

Oh, and here's a more pinnable version, should you need one:


  1. What a great tutorial! This year I'm giving handmade presents to all of my friends, so I've been trying to figure out decent ways to wrap the gifts. Definitely going to be using this as a resource!

    Thank you for sharing. :)

  2. One of the better DIY I have seen, Thanks!

  3. That's fantastic!!!! I don't know when I'd use use this, but it's good to have it in case the burning need comes up. And it probably will. Yay OCD!

  4. I love this idea for presenting a special gift because lots of us have foam from packaging laying around. I also think it makes the gift reflect how much thought was taken in each step from purchasing the gift to packaging it. I'm posting a photo of the finished box open and then closed on two of my blogs.

  5. Awesome! I wish I'd had this last year when I invented a box of my own for Christmas. (Mine turned out a little messier but he liked it anyway. :-)) This looks professional!

  6. If you don't have cotton from a jewelry box, quilter's batting can be found in most fabric stores.
    I never realized how easy it is to make this look so nice. While trying to figure out what to get relatives for Christmas, I'm also trying to think of ways to wrap the gifts nicely, because nothing can ruin a nice moment like the sticky, stretchy tape that won't break and won't get off you and the blister pack that slices your finger open.
    Thank you for the tutorial!

  7. Great project. You actually touched on something that I've been thinking about. I have some glass Halloween jars that I purchased at Kohls and the paint is scratched. What should I use to take the rest of the paint off?

  8. Great idea. Will keep this in mind and look smart and creative in front of others one day :-)

  9. That is a gorgeous pen.... where did you find it??

  10. @ Lori - we got the pen at Festival of the Masters, an art show held at Disney. The guy who makes them is from Virginia, though, and since I sent his card along with the pen, I don't have his website. Sorry!

    @ Anony - Try soaking the jar in Simple Green, which is a household cleaner you can find at most hardware stores. I've found it's great for taking off paint - especially since it's taken off paint I didn't WANT taken off several times in the past. ;)

  11. I love your crafts, Jen. You're very clever.

    I love how you photographed it on the penny desk, as well. It suits it perfectly!

  12. Ooooooooh I'm so glad you posted this. I recently did something similar to make myself a protective case for my Kindle (such fragile screens, and they don't make impact-proof cases!) I used a hard box, upholstery foam, and satin, just like you. While I'm happy with the overall result, I did have some problems getting my Kindle cut out shaped properly, though, so if I ever redo it, I will use your technique instead. My biggest disappointment was the way the satin looks when the Kindle isn't in the case -- totally didn't even occur to me to glue the satin down with the Kindle already inside it! Doh! Thanks for the pointers!

  13. As someone who has modified gun cases and their interior foam in order to store breakable items, I recommend using an x-acto knife to cut foam, as opposed to scissors. Try dotting along the edge of your shape using a puncture method, and then finish slicing once your basic shape is outlines in punctures. (If that makes any sense?)

  14. That's odd, today happens to be MY dad's birthday, too...

  15. What a great tute and perfect timing! I bought a wine stopper for my BIL today that looks like it could have been made by the same artist - only my guy lives here in the Austin area. And hubby was just cleaning up and found 3 boxes we didn't want to get rid of. I know just which one I'm going to use! Thanks for making pinning it so easy so I can find it again in a couple of weeks!!

  16. Out of curiosity is the foam stiff enough to hold the pen in if the case were tilted? I tried building a frame into a shadowbox to display some antique jewelery but the items come loose even if pinned/clipped to the velvet backer. And since I would like to be able to wear some of them, glue isn't an option.

  17. This is beautiful. Now I want to find a gift for my mom that deserves to be presented like that. It will be perfect a perfect use for the boxes that look like books.

  18. @belblue - The foam is stretchy but also pretty dense, so I think it'd hold things just find at an angle. You may have to carve the recess a bit deeper, though, if it's a pretty severe angle.

  19. Just so nobody feels this is only good for small boxes, this basic method can be adapted to any size or style of container. Found a cookie tin at a yard sale that is perfect for a loved one? Save it for that perfect gift when you find it.

    For you steampunk fans, think of a raygun in an old violin case. Or a case from a clarinet, flute, trombone, bassoon, etc. A good way to re-purpose and customize. Many of these old instruments can be found for $20 or less if you look. Toss the instrument or make a lamp from it. If it's that cheap it was a crappy student model, anyway.

  20. I'm building a box for my sister's wedding to hold a bottle of wine and some love notes for them to open on their one year anniversary. Cushioning the bottle of wine was the tricky part...but not any more. What a fantastic tutorial and idea. Thank you so much!

  21. I'm using this tutorial to craft a nice wand box for my son's Harry Potter wand. He's so excited! :)

  22. I love this!! I have to find the right box for a glass chess set (glass board and pieces). It was my Dad's set that he had gotten years ago for Christmas. It was in cheap styrafoam that is crumbling. I want to put it in something nice that will keep is secure and look pretty as a way to remember him.


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