DIY Bookish Crafts for Your Thanksgiving Table

Susie Dumond

Senior Contributor

Susie (she/her) is a queer writer originally from Little Rock, now living in Washington, DC. She is the author of QUEERLY BELOVED and the forthcoming LOOKING FOR A SIGN from Dial Press/Random House. You can find her on Instagram @susiedoom.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and there’s no better way to decorate your dinner table for the big meal than with some seasonal DIY crafts! Even better, these three craft projects can help you show your family just how much you love books. A colorful leaf garland makes a beautiful table runner or a lovely way to brighten up your walls. You can reuse the same stencils to make lovely name cards for your table place settings. And finally, a carved book turns into a vibrant pumpkin that makes the perfect centerpiece. We’ve got DIY steps for each of these projects and tips for which are best to do with kids or how to mix up your crafting with the supplies you already have on hand.

Photo of a set table with a colorful leaf garland made from book pages, a book page leaf with the name André in the foreground, blue plates and silverware, and a 3D book pumpkin made from a carved book
All photos in this article are from Susie Dumond

A warning: These craft projects are all made using old books. If the idea of ripping up a book makes you feel squeamish, turn back now. But in my opinion, upcycling books is a great way of breathing fresh life into something that may otherwise only find its way into the dumpster. I found the three books I used for this project in a Little Free Library, and all of them had enough aging and water damage to make them unlikely candidates for finding readers. This way, they’ll be enjoyed in a new way rather than being thrown out or left to rot in Little Free Library space better reserved for less damaged books.

How to Make an Autumnal Leaf Garland from Old Books

A colorful garland of watercolor painted leaves made from old books strung across the top of windows with white blinds

This leaf garland was easy to make and added some festive color to my space! You can hang it on a wall, display it above a window, or lay it down the center of your table. It’s a great project for kids, especially if adults can provide help with making the stencils.

What you’ll need:

  • Cardboard or cardstock
  • Leaves or printed outlines of leaves
  • Marker, pen, or pencil
  • Scissors or X-acto knife
  • Old book
  • Watercolor paints or other preferred paint
  • Twine, string, or yarn
Six fallen leaves on a piece of cardboard, where they've been traced to make stencils

Step 1: Make leaf stencils. I went on a walk in my neighborhood and picked up a handful of fallen leaves. You could also print off leaf outlines or freehand draw leaves. I personally like the more organic shapes from the real leaves. I traced the shape of the leaves onto cardboard and cut them out with a combination of scissors and X-acto knife. Cardstock would also work well in place of cardboard.

Leaves displayed with the cardboard cutout stencils made from them. On the side is a curious long haired cat.

Step 1B: Remove cat from workspace (optional). You’re a book person, so this might be an important step for you too.

Five leaf shapes have been cut from old book pages and are displayed next to the stencil and a pair of scissors

Step 2: Trace stencils onto book pages and cut out shapes. With the older book I used, it was easy to rip out pages to make the shapes easier to trace. I ripped out five pages at a time, traced the shape with pencil, then cut the five pages in a stack to save on tracing and cutting time.

Leaf shapes cut from old books have been waterpainted shades of red, orange, and yellow. They're on a plastic sheet next to the watercolor set and a cup of water.

Step 3: Paint leaves. This is the fun part! I painted the leaves with watercolors. They’re easy to find and cheap, and I like how the water aspect gave the book pages a wrinkly texture to make them look more like real leaves. I started off painting them one color each, but later experimented with mixing and blending colors. Anything goes here, which makes it an especially fun project with kids. They can get creative and later find their own artwork among all the leaves on the garland.

Many leaves cut from book pages watercolored in a variety of shades and combinations. Tucked among them is a spool of white twine.

Step 4: String leaves together with twine. I had white twine on hand, but a variety of twine or string or even fishing line would work here. Before stringing, I folded the leaves down the center and gave them some additional folds to have a more leafy texture. Then I pierced each leaf roughly through the center using a sharp pencil and strung them on the twine. Finally, I tied large knots on each end of the garland to keep the leaves from falling off. Done!

How to Make Thanksgiving Leaf Name Cards from Old Books

Colorful painted leaves from old book pages standing upright on corks, each with a name written in black, on a wooden table

These colorful leaves make great name cards for your Thanksgiving place settings, and you can make them using many of the same materials and steps as the leaf garland above. Kids can again get involved cutting out the leaf shapes and painting them. I have a surplus of wine corks I always hold onto for potential craft projects, and they worked perfectly for keeping these leaves upright, but you could also set the leaves down at each setting. And best of all, you can send your guests home with their own name card to keep as a bookmark!

What you’ll need:

  • An old book
  • Cardboard or cardstock
  • Scissors or X-acto knife
  • Pencil or pen and black permanent marker
  • Watercolor paints or other preferred paints
  • Wine corks (optional)
  • Sharp knife (optional)
Two cardboard leaf stencils next to leaf shapes cut from book pages on a wooden table next to scissors and a pencil

Step 1: Follow steps above to make leaf stencils and cut leaves from book pages. If you’re also making the garland, then you’ve already done most of the work here!

Eight colorfully painted leaves from old book pages are drying on a piece of cardboard

Step 2: Paint leaves. I again used watercolors for ease and texture. In this case, try to keep a lighter color in the middle of the leaf where you plan to write the name so it will be easier to read.

A calico longhair cat loafs on cardboard and leaves next to watercolor set

Step 2B: Remove cat from workstation (optional). This step is especially crucial if you’re working on a rectangular shaped piece of cardboard or paper, because you know they can’t resist it.

Eight colorfully painted leaves cut from book pages are on a wooden table. Names have been written with black marker in cursive in the center of the leaves.

Step 3: Write names of guests. I used a thick black Sharpie marker and wrote in my best cursive. Bonus points if you’ve got any calligraphy skills!

A small knife is cutting halfway through a wine cork. More corks and colorful leaves are in the background.

Step 4: Cut wine corks. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut into wine corks from the round end to almost halfway down the length of the cork. This creates an easy and cheap stand to set the leaves upright. Once you slide a leaf into the cut in the cork, you’re done!

How to Make a Pumpkin from an Old Book

A 3D orange pumpkin made from an old book carved and fanned out. On top is a green leaf made from an old book page.

I’ve seen carved books all over Etsy and Pinterest, and I decided to give it a try myself. While I’m happy with how it turned out, I will warn you that this is a slightly more difficult DIY project. And considering that most of the work involves sharp objects or spray paint, it’s not the best choice for crafting with kids.

What you’ll need:

  • Paperback book
  • Permanent marker or pen
  • Scissors, an X-acto knife, or a jigsaw
  • Hot glue gun
  • Orange spray paint
  • Green painted leaf (optional)
An old book has half of a pumpkin traced on the front cover and the first few pages have been cut around the shape. Next to it are a Sharpie and an X-acto knife.

Step 1: Trace half pumpkin shape on paperback book cover. I started out printing an outline of a pumpkin as a guide, but I ultimately ended up free-handing the shape. If you’re not using a jigsaw, you will also need to trace the shape onto the back cover. I cut out the shape on the front cover and folded the book down the middle so I could trace the same shape onto the back cover.

A hand holds a book that has been carved into the shape of half of a pumpkin

Step 2: Cut all pages of book to traced shape. This was the hard part. I used a combination of scissors and an X-acto knife to cut about five pages at a time. It was time consuming, imprecise, and left a lot of tiny pieces of paper on my workspace. That’s why I’d recommend using a jigsaw to get a cleaner cut, if you have one available. But fear not: the final product still ended up looking great, even though I was worried about my messy cutting job at this stage!

Covers of the book have been hot glued together to create a fanned out 3D pumpkin. The hot glue gun is next to the book, as is the longhaired cat, looking at the camera.

Step 3: Hot glue covers together and fan out pages. I used the hot glue gun not only to glue the front and back cover together; I also used hot glue at random pages throughout to encourage the whole thing to fan out. I was able to keep the top of the spine intact, so I glued the edges of that together to create a stem. It would be easy to add cardboard or construction paper for a stem if that doesn’t work out with your book.

Step 3B: Avoid hot gluing cat to book (optional). If yours is like mine, they will be curious about what you’re up to and try to get in the way.

Book pumpkin is sitting on concrete lattice outside and has been spray painted orange around the edges. Next to it is the spray paint can.

Step 4: Spray paint outer edges of book orange. You don’t need to douse the whole book in paint; focus on the edges of the pages, the top, and the bottom. Make sure to spray paint outside in a well ventilated area, and let it dry thoroughly.

A leaf cut out of an old book page has been painted green and is sitting on a wooden table.

Step 5: Make green leaf (optional). I had a spare leaf from my other projects, so I watercolored it green, folded it to give it texture, and tucked it on top. You could also do this with construction paper. Stick that sucker on top and you’re done!

Hopefully these bookish crafts inspired you to get creative with your old and/or damaged books! You might also enjoy:

Bookish DIY Kits to Buy and Make for Holiday Gifting

8 Fun TikTok Bookish DIYs

How to Make Bookmarks in Canva