17 Back-to-School Crafts to Kick the New Year Off Right

Photo: Aaron Dyer

Kids will feel proud of the supplies they've helped make themselves. Personalize notebooks, pencil cases, and even lunch bags with simple projects you can do together.

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marbleized pencils in paint

Class is almost back in session! That can only mean one thing: It's time to make a checklist of must-have school supplies. The first day of school is a fresh start, and along with it comes the chance to make a new impression. Whether school means in-person learning or joining classes online this year, it's important to have everything your family needs before classes are officially in session. As parents, students, and teachers alike gear up for the start of a new semester, they're stockpiling on the best quality supplies. And if you can't find what you need online, make it at home instead.

Some of our favorite DIY school supplies include notebooks, backpacks, writing tools, and more. Kids can lend a helping hand and their imaginative ingenuity to personalize their backpacks—using washi tape, paint, and stencils, plus our printable clip-art and templates. Use cases to corral everything from paper clips to number two pencils. Create a custom binder to keep track of your kids' school mementos and paperwork—their report cards, class pictures, and special projects. You can even cover their textbooks and accordion file folders with custom art (because they were going to doodle on them anyway). That said, supplies are helpful for Mom and Dad, too—customize a tool set for easy toting between the homework desk and the home office.

Here are the easy, creative ways to spruce up the tools of your trade, organize your desktop, and get that hopeful brand-new-binder feeling all over again.

  • Learn Five Thoughtful Ways to Support Your Local Teachers
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Marbleized Pencils

marbleized pencils with paint
Aaron Dyer

Personalize your sharpened pencils with two shades of craft paint and a technique that's pre-K easy but AP-art impressive. Squeeze paints in two parallel, pencil-length strips on a piece of foil. Cover pencil erasers with tape to protect them. Place pencils parallel to paint strips, then roll through paint. Place pencils on top of plastic cups to dry. (This ensures that they won't stick to foil once completely dry.) Remove tape from the erasers and get to writing.

Shop Now: Martha Stewart Crafts Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Craft Paint, in "Slate Gray" and "Cloud," $2.50, amazon.com; General's Cedar Pointe No. 2 Pencils, $24 for 3 dozen, generalpencil.com.

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Private Labels

items labeled with name
Frank Frances

Permanent marker gets the job done, but a rubber-stamped name on kids' stuff is speedier and looks pro. You'll never rummage through the lost and found again.

Custom stamps are affordable and come in lots of sizes and fonts. Press the stamp into a fabric-safe ink pad, then onto T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets. Stamp adhesive labels to stick on textbooks, water bottles, and lunch boxes.

To heat-set a "tag" on clothing, iron it or throw it in the dryer on high. To protect an adhesive label, you can cover it with clear packing tape.

Shop Now: RubberStamps.net Stamps, in Georgia, Adriana, and Futura Book Fonts, 3/4" by 3 1/2", $12 each, rubberstamps.net; VersaCraft Multi-Purpose Water-Based Pigment Ink, $9.69, amazon.com; Primary Pocket Tunic, in Flamingo, $24, primary.com; Freshmage Lunch-Box Container, in Pink, $11, amazon.com; Room Essentials Double-Wall Stainless Steel Vacuum Water Bottle, 17.5 oz., in Peach Blush, $6, target.com; Avery Easy-Peel Rectangle Labels (#4331), 2" by 2 5/8", in Assorted Bright Colors, $16 for 150, avery.com.

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Toile-Wrapped Desk Cup

French-toile fabric covered containers
Frank Frances

Fall is coming, and older students will want a more sophisticated set-up. Simply cover recycled metal cans or glass vases with fabric in a few pretty patterns (we like this this romantic French-toile), and drop in their daily tools.

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Rickrack Appliqué School Supplies

applique school supplies

Here are three quick ways to rack up compliments in class (or in the conference room) this fall: Embellish basic fabric accessories with an appliqué trim in fresh colors. Cut the classic zigzag trim to fit, and attach it with fabric glue. For notebooks, art inside the bottom of the cover, and secure it all the way around the front, leaving the other end loose to serve as a wiggly bookmark.

Shop Now: Semikolon Linen Blankbook in "Ciel Sky Blue:, $29, amazon.com; Organized-Messs Canvas Pencil Case in "Moss Green," $7.50, organizedmesss.etsy.com; Recycled Cotton-Canvas Lunch Bag, $6, ecobags.com; Wrights Rickrack, from $2 for 4 yd., joann.com.

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Backpack with Iron-On Patches

backpack with iron-on patches
Chelsea Cavanaugh

Kids pick out adhesive patches; Mom finishes the job with the iron. Plus, when you buy this colorful bag, another one full of supplies is donated to a student in need.

Shop Now: State Mini Kane Backpack, in Green/Navy, $60, statebags.com; Broccoli, Tomato, and Rocket Ship Patches, from $5 each, statebags.com.

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Embroidered Name Backpack

embroidered name backpacks
Chelsea Cavanaugh

Write an older student's name in fabric marker, then let her embroider it with a simple backstitch and jazz it up with pom-poms.

Shop Now: Baggu Canvas Backpack in "Shell," $42, amazon.com; Herschel Supply Co. Settlement Poly Backpack in "Caramel," $60, herschelsupply.com.

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Textbook Covers

Aaron Dyer

It's a big moment when a kid gets his first textbook. Dress up—and preserve—these learning tools with handmade book jackets. For a fresh look, cover a book with white paper, then download and print our clip-art onto adhesive paper. (Or, you can create your own by photographing your favorite desk items and printing the images on adhesive paper.) Use the entire page as a single large sticker, or cut apart the images to arrange them on your book as you like.

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Animal-Stenciled Drawstring Backpack

animal-stenciled drawstring backpack
Chelsea Cavanaugh

Transform a basic sack by painting on your child's favorite animal. For ours, we chose a rabbit.

Shop Now: Yingkor Cotton Canvas Drawstring Backpack Bag, $12.69 for 2, amazon.com; Martha Stewart Adhesive Laser-Cut Stencils in "Woodland Animals," $7.39, michaels.com.

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Color-Coded Folders

tan color-coded folders
Aaron Dyer

An easy way to say, that's mine? Color-code a set of folders using washi tape. Use different hues to indicate subjects (recipes, brilliant ideas), or write directly on the strips.

Shop Now: Muji Recycled-Paper Notebooks, starting from $1.25 each, muji.us; MT Masking Tape, starting from $26 for pack of 10, cutetape.com.

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Felt Pencil Case

felt pencil case and notebook cover
Anna Williams

Stitching a few school supplies and stylish accessories is a cinch when you use wool felt because the edges won't fray. And since this doesn't require a lot of fabric, it's perfect for using up scraps and stray buttons. To make a pencil case, cut a 2 1/2-by-18-inch rectangle of felt; fold up bottom 6 inches. To sew, use embroidery thread and a needle with a large eye. Stitch up the sides with a running stitch: Pass needle up from back to front, then reinsert needle to back; repeat making short stitches. Finish with a knot in back. Fold over flap; add a button, and snip a buttonhole. To cover a 3-by-5-inch notebook, cut an 11-by-5 1/2-inch rectangle of felt with pinking shears. Center open book on felt; fold ends over covers. Sew top and bottom edges with a running stitch. For the closure, sew a button to front and add a thread loop to back.

Shop Now: Creatology Basic Felt, 9" by 12", 49¢ a sheet, michaels.com.

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Dip-Dyed Pencils and Stationery

Dana Gallagher

Strike up a colorful correspondence using dip-dyed pencils and paper. Different papers will take fabric dye differently (and coated papers may not take it at all), so the results can be surprising. The pencils were dipped in white water-based latex paint. Don't worry about creating precise lines when dipping in paint; irregularities are part of the appeal. To make stationery, fill a plastic bin with hot water to a depth of at least 6 inches. Stir in dye, starting with a small amount and adding more as desired. Let the dye solution cool before dipping paper. Dip a sample strip of paper towel to test the color. If too dark, add water; if too light, add dye. Let solution settle, so there are no bubbles at the surface. You can combine colors for custom shades. Holding your paper as straight as possible, dip into dye solution to desired line. Keep paper in dye until it turns the desired color. Hang to dry.

Shop Now: Cedar Pointe #2 Pencils, $1 each, cwpencils.com; Strathmore Announcement Cards and Envelopes in "Fluorescent White" with Deckle, $2.91 for 10, dickblick.com; Strathmore Greeting Cards and Envelopes in "Fluorescent White" with Deckle, $3.67 for 10, dickblick.com; Strathmore Watercolor Postcards, $2.83 for 15, dickblick.com; Rit Liquid Dyes in "Scarlet," "Denim," and "Navy," $10.49, amazon.com; and Rit All-Purpose Powder Dye in "Gray," $2.59, michaels.com.

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Embellished Accordion File Folders

marbled accordion file folders
Aaron Dyer

Basic accordion folders take on a cheerfully brilliant disguise—and it's one that should help you distinguish files from one another. Trace the folder onto paper and cut out. Remove the elastic band from the folder and discard. Spray paper with adhesive and smooth it onto the folder. With a craft knife, puncture the paper, aligning with the folder's hole. Knot the elastic cord from behind the folder flap. If desired, create a monogram from colored paper with punch; glue onto folder. Brush on a layer of découpage medium; let dry. Make a complete set, and you just might find yourself more motivated to tackle some paperwork.

Shop Now: Staples Accordion Wallet, starting from $5, staples.com; 3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive, $10, homedepot.com; Sulyn Clubhouse Crafts Elastic Cord, $4, joann.com.

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Fabric-Covered Folders

blue striped fabric-covered folders
Ryan K. Liebe

Lightweight denim and engineer stripes bring color, texture, and durability to paper file folders. If you can iron a shirt, you can make this project. Cut the 1/2-yard denim or cotton fabric (at least 48 inches wide) so it's several inches larger, in all dimensions, than opened folder; iron the fabric, then spread out, wrong-side up. Place iron-on adhesive on top; iron onto fabric. Peel off backing from adhesive; reserve backing. Place open folder on fabric, then cover folder and margins of fabric with reserved backing (to protect ironing board from being gummed up with adhesive). Flip onto ironing board, fabric-side up. Iron over entire surface of fabric. With craft scissors, cut around folder. Then, use detail scissors to cut smaller, rounded parts.

Shop Now: Joann Sew Classic Denim Fabric Light Wash, $12.74, per yd., joann.com.

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Art-Supplies Organizer

felt art supplies organizer
Aaron Dyer

Just as a place mat keeps a table setting looking orderly, it can do the same for arts and crafts supplies. Convert one into a roll-up organizer that doubles as a carrying case using our printable template. Trace it onto felt and cut out. With a ruler and knife, make slits in felt, following template. (Tip: For larger tools, measure tool width and cut accordingly.) Set a grommet, centering it on a short end, one inch in from left edge. Thread ribbon through grommet. Insert your tools, and you're ready to take your projects on the go.

Shop Now: Dimensions Needlecrafts Feltworks Felt, $3.69, michaels.com.

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Personalized Backpacks

personalized backpacks hanging in a mudroom
Richard Banks

Make a bold statement on the schoolyard with this backpack craft. Choose a letter to monogram, or a favorite symbol or shape to keep it simple. Hand-cut iron-on patches will help your kids—and their backpacks—stand out in a crowd. Print the desired letter or symbol on paper. Tape the design onto a patch, then cut around the design. Iron the patch onto the backpack.

Shop Now: Dritz Iron-on Patches, 5" by 5" in "Dark Denim," $4 for 2, joann.com; American Apparel Nylon Cordura School Bags, $48 each, kotisdesign.com.

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Denim Tech Case

Ryan K Liebe

Nestle your tablet inside a customized felt-lined denim sleeve for protection. A half-yard of each fabric lets you make enough for yourself—and a few friends.

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Etched Glass Containers

Aaron Dyer

When you embellish plain glass vases with stylish patterns, you'll want to display more than flowers in them. Start with vessel sizes that accommodate sticky notes, pencils, and anything else you'd like to round up. Apply masking tape of varying widths on the portions of the glass you don't want frosted (make sure to smooth down air bubbles completely for even etching). Next, working in a well-ventilated area and wearing latex gloves, brush on a thick, even coat of etching cream. Let it sit for 20 minutes, then rinse it off under cool running water; wipe dry with a paper towel. Now remove the tape to reveal your design—and start organizing.

Shop Now: Armour Etch Glass Etching Cream, $20, amazon.com.

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