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How to Line a Box with Fabric

Lining the insides of boxes with padded bottoms and gathered trim can seem like a complicated process, but if you break it down into simple steps (and a bit of waiting for glue to dry), it's a lot less mysterious and daunting.

In October 2017 I bought a rough handmade sewing box that I thought had the potential to be a very cute retro looking piece. This photo tutorial shows the three techniques I used to line the different sections and finally give it a finished look. These techniques can be used with any sturdy cardboard or wooden box.

My box has two levels, the top clips to the lid and flips up to reveal the bottom. Below you can see the top level before and after lining. Yes, those are nails holding the cotton reels in place!

Rough hewn wooden needlework box shown before and after lining with fabric

I'll start with the section holding the cotton reels. How to line the bottom of a box with felt or in my case, a piece of hand dyed wool blanket.

Glue, coloured wool blanket, ruler, paint and paint brush

You'll need

  1. a thick piece of felt or wool blanketing. You can also use acrylic felt, just make sure it's the nice thick stuff.
  2. wood or PVA glue
  3. a ruler
  4. paint and paintbrush (paint is optional)
  5. scissors
  6. jacquard ribbon or other braid (optional, not shown)

Paint the parts of the box that will show

If desired, paint the parts of your box that will show when the lining is complete. Always paint a small part of the base, in case it shows later.

Cut felt, spread glue, press in place

Cut your felt to fit the bottom of your box. If you're lining a wooden box you'll be able to use an Xacto knife to trim any excess once it's glued in place.
Spread the bottom of your box with glue. Use a paintbrush to spread it all over evenly, paying special attention to the corners.
Gently press your felt or blanketing onto the glue, again paying special attention to the corners. Don't press too hard as felt has a tendency to suck up the glue and you'll have to add more.

Needlework tray lined with green blanketing and trimmed with vintage braid

If desired, cut a length of thick ribbon or braid, spread the back with glue and press in place just above your felt. Use a toothpick or something similar to slide it down so it meets the top of the felt.

The underside of a vintage needlework box tray. Before and after being covered with wool fabric.

I used the same technique to cover the nail heads underneath the tray, making sure to leave an extra gap so the lid can close properly.

Next I'll show you how to make a simple padded base. You'll need some of the same stuff as before:

Glue, scissors, ruler, paintbrush, paint, cardboard, wadding and green gingham

  1. paintbrush and paint (the paint is optional)
  2. PVA or wood glue
  3. scissors
  4. fabric
  5. low loft wadding. You could also use a scrap piece of fleecy fabric.
  6. cardboard. I used an old cereal box.

Paint the parts of the tray that will show, check your cardboard fits, glue on the wadding

Paint the parts of your box that will show, making sure to paint at least ¼" or 6mm around the base in case any of it ends up showing.
Cut your cardboard 1/8" or 3mm smaller than the bottom of your box all the way around. Check the fit but don't glue it down yet.
Glue the wadding to one side of your cardboard and let it dry.

Covering the cardboard with fabric

Cut your fabric 1 ½" or 3 ¾cm larger than your cardboard. Trim the corners ¼" or 6mm from the cardboard.
Cover the back of the cardboard in glue and fold the edges of the fabric over, pulling firmly but not enough to make the cardboard buckle.

Check the pattern on your fabric is straight, spread glue on your box and press in place.

Check the fabric is glued on straight. You'll have time to adjust it while the glue is still wet.
Spread glue in the bottom of your box using a paintbrush. Pay special attention to the corners.
Press your base firmly in place. If needed, you can place a weight on top until it dries.

Next I'll show you how to line the bottom of a box with a padded and buttoned bottom, gathered sides and trim. If you take it step by step, it's not as complicated as the finished box would make you think!

Wooden box before and after lining with a buttoned base and gathered trim.

You'll need the same things as before with a couple of extras:

  1. PVA or wood glue
  2. paint and paintbrush (paint is optional)
  3. cardboard (I used more of my old cereal box)
  4. scissors, ruler and pen
  5. high loft quilt batting, something with a bit of "puff" for the buttons to sink into.
  6. sewing thread, a couple of pins, and sewing needle
  7. strong thread for sewing on the buttons
  8. buttons. The number will depend on the size of your box, the size of your buttons and personal choice.
  9. a strip of fabric 1 ½" or 3-4cm wider than your box is tall, and 1 ½ times as long as the circumference of your box. If you need to sew several pieces together, make sure the seam will fall in the corner of your box to hide it and leave the bottom 3-4cm unstitched. For a square box, this would be in the centre or at one of the quarter marks of the length.
  10. a piece of fabric 2" or 5cm larger than the base of your box all the way around. For example, my box is 11" square so my fabric is 15" square.
  11. some small scraps of fabric or interfacing
  12. jacquard ribbon or braid, at least ½" or 12mm wide. It should be long enough to fit all the way around the inside of your box.
  13. bulldog clips to fit on the sides of your box.

If desired, paint any part of your box that might show after the lining is in place.

Cut cardboard, mark button placement

Cut your cardboard slightly less than ¼" or 6mm smaller than the base of your box all the way around. Check the fit but don't glue it down yet.
Mark where you want to put your buttons on the back of your cardboard.

Mark your fabric

With right sides facing, match up the sort edges of your long strip of fabric and sew them together. Leave the bottom 1½" or 3-4cm unstitched.

If your box is square, mark the half and quarter marks at the top of the strip. At the bottom cut a slit 1½" or 3-4cm at the bottom in the same spots.

If your box is circular, make these cuts every half inch (1cm) and omit the markings at the top.

Gather and check the fit

Using the sewing thread, gather the top of your fabric no more than ¼" or 6mm from the top until it fits the inside of your box. You can use a knot at the beginning.

Checking the lining fits and gluing in place.

Check the fit and adjust the gathers so the marked points sit in the corners and everything looks even. Fasten off the thread with a few stitches worked in the same spot. Use the bulldog clips to hold everything in place if you can. This step can be a little tricky for circular boxes and you might need a helper.

When you are happy with the fit, glue the top ¼" or 6mm to the edge of the box, just under the top edge. Hold everything in place with clips, or glue short sections and hold in place with your fingers until the glue will hold it.

While this dries, prepare the base.

Making a padded base for an upholstered box.

Glue the batting to your cardboard. Glue it onto the side you haven't written on. Let it dry.

Fold in the corners and glue. Leave until they will hold in place (it doesn't need to be dry, just secure).

Fold in the edges and glue in place. Pull the fabric firmly but make sure the cardboard doesn't buckle. Check the front to make sure your fabric is straight. Leave to dry while you work on finishing the gathered lining.

Neatening the gathers and gluing the bottom.

Now that the top of the gathered lining is dry, spend some time adjusting the gathers until they fall the way you want. It's worth spending a little extra time at this step.

When the gathers are all in place, glue the part of the fabric that sits on the bottom of the box. Press everything firmly into the edges of the base. Fold the fabric over each other where you cut the slits previously. This will help keep the corners flat when you glue in the base.

Leave this to dry a bit while you add the buttons to the padded bottom.

Adding the buttons to the padded base

Double check the glue on your padded base is thoroughly dry. This is important because you'll be handling it a fair bit.

Take a piece of scrap fabric or interfacing and place it over the spot on the back of your base where you will sewing your button. Using a strong thread, sew on your first button, leaving a three inch or 7cm tail. Stitch through the button and cardboard at least twice.

The finished padded base with buttons.

Double check that your button is placed exactly where you want it. Tie the thread firmly to fasten it off and make the button sink into the padding.
Repeat for as many buttons as you like.

Gluing the padded base into the box.

This is my favourite part, where everything comes together! Spread glue all over the bottom of your box, making sure to spread it all the way to the edges.

Press your padded base into the glue and hold for a few minutes. You can place some weights on it while it dries if necessary.

Adding the jacquard trim to the box.

If you don't have enough bulldog clips to go all the way around your box, mark as much as you can clip at one go. Add glue and press firmly around the box to cover the cut edge of the fabric. Clip until it is held firmly in place and repeat around the box.

Let everything dry thoroughly for a couple of days.

Wooden box with padded button base, gathered lining and vintage needlework tools.

The completed box, with a couple of my favourite vintage needlework tools (and a fairly new darning mushroom)!

These techniques can be varied in an infinite number of ways. You could line a box with velvet and silk for utmost luxury, use pleats instead of gathers around the edge, add pockets, the sky is the limit!


This tutorial contains affiliate links to Creative Bug. Rest assured I only promote businesses and products I personally enjoy.

Copyright Sarah Bradberry, November 2017. All rights reserved. You may not edit, email, publish, or distribute the contents of this page in any form without the prior permission of the copyright holder. If you would like to share the information on this page you may do so by giving the link to this page which is http://www.knitting-and.com/crafts/line_a_box_with_fabric.html