How to Cut a Niche in an Altered Book


An altered book artist will often cut a niche in an AB.

niche cut in an altered bookIn the image to the left, I have cut a niche to contain the picture of the Barbie doll and the ribbon-bound document that is in front of her. Text from the original book displays on Barbie's left.

What is a Niche?

As the name suggests, it is a "hole" cut through one or more pages of a book. This creates a space that altered book artists and other arts and craft people use for multiple purposes.

Why Cut Niches?

To reveal text or artwork showing in a page below; to contain a memento or treasure that would otherwise be too bulky to include in a book; to add a surprise for the reader to discover; to create a particular artistic look.

What do you Put in a Niche?

If you live in the US, CreateForLess is a good source of craft supplies of all sorts. The prices are great and they have a large selection.
Anything you want. Line it, layer it, paper it, paint it, leave it empty to display material from another page, fill it with treasures and mementoes. I have used this technique to place fibres, seashells, dried flowers, artificial flowers, keys, jewellery, marbles, mini-books,accordion books, beads, tags, rolled documents. Arts and crafts people usually have plenty of imaginative uses for this technique.

For example, site visitor Jerry Staley sent me an email with an excellent suggestion: " Incorporate a niche with a mirror so the person viewing the book will see themselves in the differing situations and themes of the book."

How do you do it?

People approach this in different ways. This is my preferred method.
  1. Decide how you intend to fill the niche. This will determine the size and shape.
  2. If you are using a 3-D element, a key, for example, you will need to determine how many pages you must cut through. Place the key on the outside edge of the book's pages to determine the desired thickness. If you want your book to close flat afterwards, you must make your niche a little thicker than your key. (Some AB artists don't care if the book doesn't close; it's up to you.)
  3. Decide the placement on your page. Cutting a thick opening close to the spine will result in an unsightly ridge of cut pages that will stick up and prevent your book from closing properly. Alternatively, cutting a thick niche too close to the outer edges will create undue stress on the spine and possibly lead to damage.
  4. Decide on the shape you want to use. Squares and rectangles are the easiest, but you can cut any shape you want.
  5. Using a pencil and ruler (if you want a straight line), draw the niche on your top page.
  6. Place a cutting board underneath the last page that you intend to cut. By cutting board, I refer to a hard surface that will prevent you from cutting through to pages that you want to protect. I use cheap plastic things that you get at the Dollar Stores.
  7. Fasten your pages with an office clamp to hold them in place while cutting. Staples and other office supply stores carry clamps.
  8. Cut your niche using an Xacto knife or a box cutter. Cheapies from the Dollar Stores work, but will need replacing often if you cut many niches. Michaels arts and craft store carries better quality Xacto knives; most hardware stores carry box cutters.
  9. If your niche is thick, you will not be able to cut through all pages at once. Cut through as many pages as you can, then using the last cut page as your template, cut some more. Continue until all desired pages are cut. I do not fasten the pages together prior to cutting for this reason.
  10. In most cases,the inner edges of your niche will be messy. Many of us don't care, believing this to be part of the charm of an altered book. If you do care, tidy up the inner edges by cutting, sanding, painting, etc. Another approach is to line the entire niche, including the edges, with paper or vellum.
  11. Fasten together the pages used for the niche. You'll find more about that below.
  12. Fill or decorate your niche as planned.

How do I Fasten the Cut Pages Together?

Essentially, arts and crafts people use one of three methods. Tie them, fasten with eyelets or brads, or glue them.

  • Tying. First punch holes through your pages. Run wire, thread, string, ribbon, chain, fibre, etc., though the holes and fasten as desired. This eliminates the challenges associated with gluing. However, it leaves open spaces that some people might try to pry apart.

  • Eyelits and brads. These work when fastening a few pages together. I will warn you in advance that applying eyelets directly to a book requires dexterity, ingenuity and the ability to twist yourself into peculiar postures. For more information on using eyelets and brads, refer to the eyelet page on this web site.

  • Glue. This is the most challenging, but results in a sold block of pages that is difficult to pry apart. The challenge lies in attempting to minimize or eliminate buckling that occurs as the glue dries.

    If you are unfamiliar with glues and adhesives, please refer to the Glue page of this web site.

Tips for Gluing Pages Together

  • To glue only a few pages together, use glue stick or other glue and apply to each page. Apply glue around edges and in an X across the pages. To minimize buckling, after you have applied glue to a page, flatten the top page to the bottom one with a brayer or a credit card.

  • To glue thick blocks of pages, glue the outer edges only. Hold the block together using your hand and/or a clamp. Spread glue along the outer edges of the pages. Squish it around with your fingers so some goes inside as well. Ensure all page edges are covered with glue. Similarly, apply glue to the inner edges of the niche itself, if desired.

    Brayer or flatten the pages as best you can. Close your book and weight it down with a heavy object. Leave overnight or until the glue has dried. Check it, and apply additional glue if the block is not secure.

  • Acrylic glues and adhesives cause less buckling than water-based. Personally, I use Golden Gel Medium (Soft Gel Matte), available at, to glue blocks of pages together.

A Couple of General Tips

  • Decorate your book's cover last. You will avoid damaging your cover art when you weight your book down to facilitate glue drying.

  • Allow your viewer to discover a niche and its contents by covering the opening with a fabric, paper, etc. When the viewer lifts the "curtain" the surprise appears.

  • As you can see, making an altered book involves lots of delays while paste and paint are drying. That's why many arts and crafts people have several underway at once. There is always one ready to work on.

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Return to Altered Book Home Page when finished with niche cutting.