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Ideas for Upcycling Puzzle Pieces for Art Projects

I've been crafting since I could hold a paintbrush. I love to repurpose random things. Most of my articles are about arts and crafts.

Upcycled Puzzle Pieces for Your Art Projects

Upcycled Puzzle Pieces for Your Art Projects

Repurpose Puzzle Pieces

I was walking through our local thrift store when I saw a bag of large puzzle pieces. Each piece was 5 inches by 5 inches. They were a bit worn out and the corners were bent but they still looked somewhat sturdy. My recycle-upcycle brain buzzed into high gear, and I bought them— naturally.

In the past, I threw out puzzles with missing pieces because I couldn’t donate them. Now I wish I had kept them all because the possibilities are endless—even with smaller pieces.

Three Reasons to Upcycle Puzzle Pieces

  1. If you can’t donate a puzzle because there are missing pieces, don’t throw it out. You can repurpose them into bookmarks, charms, gift tags, or junk journal cover embellishments.
  2. It’s free art material. You save a lot of money by taking what you have in your house, or your child’s toy box, and reimagining it as an art project. The puzzle piece is a unique shape. In fact, it’s already in a shape. You don’t have to cut it. All you have to do is decorate and enjoy.
  3. You are keeping another piece of trash out of the landfill and that is always a big bonus.

What You'll Need

  • Cardboard puzzle pieces
  • Ribbon or colored string
  • Eyelets (Optional)
  • Liquid craft glue and stick glue
  • Decorative napkins, fabric or craft paper.
  • Coffee or tea-stained college rule paper
  • Variety of lace, buttons, stickers, word stickers or any embellishments for decoration

Splitting Puzzle Pieces: Optional

The pieces that I used in this tutorial were very thick and so I decided to split each piece by separating the back and front with a sharp knife. It was a tedious task and I had to be careful to keep the two halves equally thick.

It’s up to you if you want to do this. I just thought that the thickness of the original puzzle piece would make my junk journal too bulky.

If you're using the piece as a gift tag, for instance, you may not want to bother since the thickness doesn't impact its intended use.

Step-by-Step Instructions: How to Repurpose a Puzzle Piece

  1. Lay the puzzle pieces on some plastic to protect your work surface.
  2. Paint (prime) the printed side of the piece with white paint. If you don’t do this step, the design on the puzzle piece could show through a thinner paper like napkins or fabric. You can probably skip this step if you’re covering the piece with thicker (denser) craft paper.
  3. Decoupaged napkin - Apply liquid craft glue to the piece and carefully lay a napkin on it. Smooth it carefully with a soft brush or your fingers.
  4. Alternatively: Decoupage gauze or fabric - If you want a bit of texture, you could decoupage some gauze or textured fabric on the piece instead.
  5. Once dry, flip the pieces over and glue some coffee or tea-stained college rule paper to the back end. You can prime this side too but since it was on the exposed brown board side, I didn't bother.
  6. Once both sides were dry, I trimmed the papers (or fabric). I disguised the edges by aging them with a dark red ink on the bicycle example and a brown on the other examples. This way you don’t see the card of the original puzzle piece and the ink gives the piece a vintage look.
  7. Embellishment options are endless. For this tutorial, I kept it simple by adding eyelets to the top end and stringing ribbon through it. I added a few inspirational words too. These will be tags or bookmarks in my journal with space to write on the back. You could also add pockets – see the gauze example.
1. Split the puzzle piece.

1. Split the puzzle piece.

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2. Prime the piece before gluing on paper or napkin.

2. Prime the piece before gluing on paper or napkin.

3. Glue on college ruled paper to the reverse side.

3. Glue on college ruled paper to the reverse side.

Decoration Tips and Things to Remember

  • Before you glue any lined paper to the back of the puzzle piece, decide if you want the lines to run in a landscape or portrait direction. Use your ‘picture’ side as a guide. I made this mistake with the bicycle example. The lines on the reverse side should have run from side to side but run top to bottom. It’s not a big deal really. I’m just being fussy about the details.
  • If you glue thinner paper to the piece, avoid liquid glue and use a glue stick to prevent rippling. I found that I could get away with liquid glue if I used thicker craft paper, but gift wrap was not as forgiving, and I had to use a glue stick instead.
  • The cardboard tended to warp when I used any liquid glue, so I placed the pieces between plastic sheeting and weighted it down under a few heavy books until the glue dried.
  • I used a sanding block to smooth out the edges of the puzzle pieces where the paper edges were not cut straight. I couldn’t get my scissors close enough for a neat edge.
  • I used a nail file to file the edges in the indent sections of the puzzle because the sanding block was too large to get in there.
  • Sanding softens the paper edges and removes any seeped glue. It helps the ink to adhere to the exposed paper when you age the edges.
Fabric glued on with liquid craft glue but fabric glue will work too.

Fabric glued on with liquid craft glue but fabric glue will work too.

Decoupaged gauze and painted brown

Decoupaged gauze and painted brown

Decoupaged napkin

Decoupaged napkin

Decoupaged napkin

Decoupaged napkin

College rule paper on all the reverse sides of the puzzle pieces were glued on with stick glue.

College rule paper on all the reverse sides of the puzzle pieces were glued on with stick glue.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Celeste Wilson