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DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps

© 2010 Cameron Blazer // Cottage Industrialist

Starting a fabric business—even an eco-friendly one—results in a LOT of fabric. Fabric that, sadly, I rarely have time to sew with. Recently, though, I came up with a way to use up small bits of fabric and cardboard packaging that can be done in a little more than an hour. And it's useful, to boot!

Who doesn't love office supplies? And among office supplies, who doesn't rank the expandable file highly? And at the same time, who among us could not use a little help keeping our bags or cars a wee bit tidier. Well, while the problem of my dirty car will take a solution greater than the strength of 1000 expandable files, I think this wee file could do the trick on wrangling the errant receipts and jotted notes that litter my bag.

You'll need:


  • cardboard snack or cereal box
  • main fabric: 1 piece slightly larger than the box face + two smaller pieces (approx 3.5 inches wide x a bit higher than half the height of the box face); heavy-duty, heavily patterned fabrics work best
  • accent fabric: 1 piece slightly larger than the box face
  • single-sided fusible interfacing: 3 pieces in the same size as the main fabric pieces
  • adhesive (I used fabric glue + my Xyron machine, but you could use PVA or glue stick or craft glue)
  • cutting tool (I used a rotary paper trimmer, scissors, and an X-Acto, but use what works for you)
  • bone folder (for smoothing the fabric)
  • punch awl (optional—you could use a heavy-duty hole punch or a knife)
  • binder clips
  • elastic cord

Now. Fair warning. This is not the most expertly photographed tutorial. Nor is it the most precise. First, I couldn't find the tripod for our camera, so I couldn't photograph most of the action shots. Second, the tutorial is imprecise because it's just a set of steps to use to refashion your own cereal boxes—sizes vary. Instead of an expandable file, maybe you want a simple mini file folder, instead. Excellent! Perhaps you want to seal your folder with a button? Sweet—whatever tickles your fancy!

  1. Step 4.Cut a face from your box. Don't worry about the edges being perfectly square—you'll true them up later.
  2. Using your adhesive of choice, cover the entire back (non-printed) side of the cardboard piece. Don't make the mistake I did and try to put the adhesive on your fabric—total mess!
  3. Center your accent fabric on the back of the cardboard piece. If your piece is large, you may want to fold your fabric into quarters to help you control the placement. Smooth the fabric with your bone folder (the edge of a credit card works, too, if you don't have a bone folder).
  4. Flip your piece over. Using a ruler, find and mark the vertical center of the piece.
  5. With the printed side showing and using the back of your X-Acto (or a scoring blade in a rotary trimmer), score a line down the vertical center of your piece. While you're at it, trim any excess fabric from the inside panel.
  6. Step 6.Fold your piece in half, with the printed side showing.
  7. Fuse the interfacing to the main fabric pieces. This serves three purposes—one, it makes the side fabric panels stiffer, which helps when you're pleating them; two, it helps to block out any unwanted graphics from your cereal box from showing through; and three, it prevents your fabric from fraying.
  8. Using the same glue/adhesive you used in Step 3, adhere the main fabric to the front of your folder.
  9. Now, using a ruler and X-Acto or a rotary paper trimmer, trim all four sides (including the cardboard) to ensure a clean edge.
  10. Check your side panel pieces—are they slightly shorter than your folded piece? Perfect! Now fold each in half, right side out. I used my iron to forge the creases, but it's probably not necessary. Fold each side of the fabric back toward the middle (now with right sides in). You should have a mini-accordian. If you want your file to be able to expand more, you can make your strips wider and add more folds. Just be sure to try to get them to be even-numbered, with the wrong sides facing out of your finished accordian.
  11. Just after Step 14.Open your folder with the inside facing up. 
  12. Find the horizontal center of your folder, and using your punch awl (or whathaveyou), put a hole in the top half of the folder roughly 1/2" from the top.
  13. Using your fabric or craft glue, run a hefty bead of glue along each vertical edge of the folder, stopping just short of the height of your side pieces.
  14. Lay one accordian with the unfinished (as opposed to folded) side out along the top half of each side. Fold up the bottom to meet the top. Secure with binder clips and let dry.
  15. Cut a length of elastic roughly 2/3 the total height of your piece. Thread it through the hole and make a knot. Wrap around your folder to secure, and enjoy!

Et voilà! © 2010 Cameron Blazer // Cottage IndustrialistI suppose you could finish the edges by gluing on bias binding or folding the fabric edges over, but I wanted something a little simpler to execute. If, instead of elastic lying around, you have leather or cord, by all means use that—simply cut a longer piece so that you can wrap around and tie it. Come to think of it, a snap would probably work great for this, too, so if you have those lying around, go for it. The idea is to make something out of what might previously have seemed like nothing. If you make one of these, won't you share pics in the Cottage Industrialist flickr group?

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    DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps - BLOG :: Cottage Industrialist - Various and Sundry Things
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    DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps - BLOG :: Cottage Industrialist - Various and Sundry Things
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    DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps - BLOG :: Cottage Industrialist - Various and Sundry Things
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    DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps - BLOG :: Cottage Industrialist - Various and Sundry Things
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    DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps - BLOG :: Cottage Industrialist - Various and Sundry Things
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    DIY expandable file from recycled cardboard & fabric scraps - BLOG :: Cottage Industrialist - Various and Sundry Things

Reader Comments (5)

And once again I am in awe of your creative ability. You know, if we ever join forces, the world is in trouble.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather Solos

That is SO pretty and I love that it's an Annies box inside! Thanks so much for the fabulous how-to, I'll be spreading the word.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Looks beautiful! Also makes me want to have some bunny grahams ;-)

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRotary Paper Trimmer

This is a really innovative way to save money and make something that is both practical and looks great!

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRotary Paper Trimmer

Great project! I just wanted to let you know that we featured this project on our Facebook page with almost 12,000 fans. We’d love it if you’d use our Featured Blogger button, available at: http://www.dailycraft.com/thank-you-for-crafting/. Our audience loved the project and we look forward to sharing more from you. Please let us know if you have any questions or projects you’d love us to feature! Thanks!

June 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaily Craft

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