Making Magic (Boxes) with Elaine

It's so beautifully arranged on the plate — you know someone's fingers have been all over it.
         ~ Julia Child



I am so honored to introduce you to Elaine, who, for me, brings to paper crafts what Julia Child brought to cooking, rich gourmet goodness. This weekend I tripped onto Elaine's blog, Magic Boxes, and was immediately entranced. The magic she makes with her exploding boxes is just spellbinding.

When I was able to tear my eyes away from the seductive pictures of those boxes, I also saw her generous tips and tutorials. I had to know more about the genius behind these boxes. Since our Catered Crop party this week gives us a chance to make paper boxes, I asked Elaine if she would be our guest all the way from her London home. She agreed, and our Texas/London conversation began. Okay, you can eavesdrop if you insist.

Catered Crop: How did making boxes become a passion for you and what do you enjoy most about them?

Elaine: Packaging styles, boxes and the different ways they’re constructed have always fascinated me. I love working in three dimensions and graduated with an honours degree in furniture and product design so I’m constantly redesigning things in my head.

My magic boxes came about when I started playing with the traditional exploding box. It just wasn’t three dimensional enough for me. I wanted it to truly explode. I played with paper springs but wanted something less visible, something that made the butterflies really look like they were flying – that’s when I came up with the idea of using acetate strips.

I love making my ‘magic boxes’, I slip into a little fantasy world all of my own. I’m totally engrossed when I’m making one and when it’s finished there’s nothing better than to see the joyfull surprise on someone’s face as they lift the lid and my little world pops out at them.

Catered Crop: Your boxes seem to travel the globe: India, the Orients, Scotland, and one my my favorites, the Tropics. Where do you get your inspiration?

Elaine: I don’t make my boxes commercially, they are a hobby, but I have been commissioned several times simply by word of mouth. Commissions are always for someone special and I am usually given a theme – favourite colour, flower, country, hobby – things like that. I have a passion for nature, wildlife and gardens so this theme runs through most of my boxes.

Catered Crop: How did you learn to make those amazing flowers? Do you have any tips for making paper flowers so real looking?

Elaine: Before I make a flower I study it, even if I think I know it well. Where possible I look at the actual flower, sketch it, photograph it and make colour and texture notes. I hit google images big time and often set the images as a screen saver for the time I’m doing the project. It helps fix the details in my head.

I have a checklist in the back of my mind:
– overall shape and colour of the full flower,
– number, size, shape and colouration of the petals
– flower character – is it petite and delicate, bold and showy, droopy, spikey, they each have their own personality.
– is it single – like a snowdrop or does it work in a group – like a bluebell.
– leaves – shape, colour, texture, size
– stem – shape, colour, texture, size.

I have a five-petal flower punch, which is really useful as a base for a lot of my flowers. Where the punch isn’t suitable I make my own paper pattern.

Looking at my notes and images I start playing with paper to see how I can imitate the three dimensions of the petals and flower. There’s a lot of trial and error before I manage to come up with a paper pattern.

Once I know I have the shape I draw round the elements, scan them into the computer and trace them digitally. This way I have a final pattern that I can size up or down to fit my box. I print the pattern pieces (repeated several times) onto lightweight , appropriately coloured card and cut out. From there I colour, texturise and fix the pieces together, always referring back to the flower images and notes.

Elaine was kind enough to give us an exclusive sneak-peak into one of her sketch books showing how she researches and notates her flowers.

Oh darling crafters, there's more. Tomorrow Elaine is going to give us some more exclusives – some tips for how she gets all those amazing textures and colors and the behind-the-scenes look at the magical box commissioned for HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip's 60th wedding anniversary. Cheerio until then.



  1. […] do you follow an act like Elaine's Magic Boxes? Well, I tried following her advice by researching gold Aztec sunflowers before coloring the […]