DIY Found-Photo Album

A book of strangers’ pictures is the perfect present for your favorite oddball.

OK, we’re deep into the holiday season at this point, and by now you’ve probably read at least 38 articles like “What to Get the Girl Who Has Everything!” and “50 Adorable Gifts Under $50!” You start to get the message that $$$ spent on someone = how much you love them, and that’s weird and kind of gross, no? Maybe you’re like me: You’re tired of the whole thing, but you still want to give a special present to someone you love very much.

Well, what about…a weird present? A one-of-a-kind, only-for-a-special-person-who-would-totally-get-it type of present? A present for a friend who shares your obsessions, or maybe a grandmother who genuinely oooohs and aaaahs over everything you’ve ever made? A present that is darling but also odd and (bonus!) not made of vanilla-and-cinnamon-sugar-scented anything?

Today we’re going to make an itty-bitty gift-worthy family photo album…of strangers. And we’re going to write tiiiiiiny little stories or poems about these people underneath their pictures. Your best friend will love it because it’s beautiful and CREEPY, and your grandma will love it because you made it. This is THE ULTIMATE weird present!


Light some candles for ambiance, and let’s do it!

What you’ll need:

• A handful of vintage or found photographs. If you don’t have any around the house, go into virtually any antiques, jumble, or thrift store and ask if they have photos for sale. Nine times out of 10, they will, and they’ll have LOTS of them. I got half of my photographs from this gigantic drawer full of random snapshots (10 for $1!) in the back of an antiques store near my house:


I got the other half from a junk seller in Florence, Italy, where I did my study-abroad year. The seller had piles and piles of old photos (10 for €2!) in a cart, and she let me poke through them forever. When I finally settled on the ones I wanted, I handed over my money and said to her, “These are so great, where did you get these from, anyway?” She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Dead people” as she handed me my change.

If there aren’t any junk carts or old-stuff shops nearby, you can also just find vintage photographs online and print them out at home or save them to a flash drive to have them printed at a drugstore.

• 15 or so sheets of black, acid-free card stock in the standard 8″ x 10″ size—I got mine in the scrapbooking section of a craft store.
• A metallic pen—I like gold or silver, but very light or very bright colors also work.
• Scissors.
• A ruler.
• Waxed thread in any color (you can usually find it at a craft or fabric store).
• A needle with a fairly large hole.
• An awl or another tool to punch holes in the cardstock. (You can also poke holes with the needle.)
• Double-sided tape or a glue stick.
• Optional: a pencil.

How to do it:

1. Take your largest photograph (vintage snapshots tend to be less uniformly sized than modern snapshots) and lay it horizontally on a sheet of the acid-free card stock. Using your metallic/light-color pen and a ruler, mark where you want to cut the card stock so that it becomes a smaller, cuter, book-size page. Leave space for a border around the photograph and make extra room to write in the bottom or right margin. My largest photo was 5″ x 4″, and I measured my final page size at 8.5″ by 6.5″.

kristaphotodiy-measuring the cardstock

2. Count your photographs to see how many pages you’ll need. The number of photos you have = the number of pages of card stock you should cut, including a page for the cover. I have 11 photographs, so I cut 10 pages and a cover. Cut your pages at the size you just measured, taking care to keep your lines straight and even (if you’re into being precise).

3. Now that you have a stack of card stock pages, take out your photographs. Look at them, play with their arrangement. Why did you choose these photos? Is there a common visual theme or a story that could tie them together? Take notes on what each one makes you think about (or just keep it in mind), then decide what order you want them to go in in the book.

4. Glue or tape a photo into place on each page, positioning it as you see fit. Make sure to leave some room to write on the bottom or right side of the page.

5. Write something for or about each photograph. Make up mini-stories about the people in the pictures, copy in poems you like, write out the lyrics to songs that the photos remind you of. Go nuts! (Optional step: If you want to write full-fledged stories on each page and have them look extra-neat, draw light pencil lines with a ruler below or beside the photographs. I did all my writing freehand because I like how personalized it looks with mistakes and slanting, but it’s obvs up to you.) I copied in a poem by Charles Wright, and made up a few romantic, dreamy stories about the people in the photos. I like how my pages ended up looking like old letters, so I didn’t decorate them any more than that—but you can add stickers, paint, glitter, pressed flowers, or anything else you can think of to give the pages a unique vibe.


6. Let’s make a book! You’ll be sewing the pages together, so punch some holes in the cover and your pages to make sure you don’t break your needle trying to stab it through the card stock. Be consistent with where you punch your holes so the pages line up when they’re sewn together. I measured a line about centimeter in from the left margin of my cover, like so:


Then I used an awl to punch five holes along that line. (Make sure you put something like a clipboard under the pages when you’re stabbing, or you’ll leave holes all over the table.) Once you make the holes in your cover, you can use that page as a guide to punch identical sets of holes through all of your pages. (Just line up each subsequent page, one at a time, under your cover and punch through the cover’s holes to the new page.)

7. Thread your needle with the waxed thread. Use about as much thread as the length of your arm. Tie a double-knot at the end.

8. Put your cover and pages in order, then stick the needle and thread in the cover’s top hole, then push the needle through all of the pages’ top holes—until everything is held together by the string.


9. Do the exact same thing again. Push the needle and thread through the holes at the top of the cover and all the pages, starting from the same side you pushed the needle through the first time. This makes a neat little stitch, like this:


10. Tuck your needle under the stitch, and pull your thread through it, toward your next hole. Push your needle into the second hole and make the exact same stitch you did in the first hole, like so:


11. Once you’ve repeated the stitch in each of the book’s holes, double-knot the thread again at the last hole, snip off the rest, and you’re done!


Ahhhh, a cute little photo album of people you don’t know! Tie a ribbon around it and give it to your one true (strange) love! ♦


  • jessmargo November 29th, 2013 3:23 PM

    omg i have such a strange obsession of old photographs of strangers, hence i have SO many and this is a perfect way to use them! <3

  • AnaRuiz November 29th, 2013 3:56 PM

    I can only just imagine gifting this to myself.

  • piisaa November 29th, 2013 5:27 PM

    I am so going to do this!

  • Mags November 29th, 2013 9:39 PM

    hahaha this is genius!

  • julalondon November 29th, 2013 10:52 PM

    I love everything you do but this is super super cool! The only Thing that bothers me though; -what’s wrong with vanilla-and-cinnamon-sugar-scented anything?? Love it haha.

  • Chi Chi November 30th, 2013 3:05 AM

    oh my gosh a hilarious idea i totally want to try! I want to go thrift shopping now for vintage photos

  • Rivka November 30th, 2013 3:34 AM

    This is beautiful! A few weeks ago when I was in Rome, I went to a beautiful photography shop with loads of perfect black and white photographs. They also had ones of Italian celebrities like Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. Unfortunately, all of them were pretty expensive. This post reminded me so much of that shop in a perfect way. Really a great idea.

  • jessthecat December 1st, 2013 5:17 PM

    omg this is like the most perfect thing. i just dont think there will be anywhere near me that has any cool vintage photographs. I live in England, so anyone any ideas where i could get some here?? xox

  • samanthablake December 1st, 2013 10:26 PM

    This is a genius idea I couldn’t figure out what to get my friend for the holidays and I saw a bunch of old photos at a vintage market by my house!