Make a Keepsake Shadow Box

Dana Hinders
shadow box with shells

A keepsake shadow box can be a wonderful way to display special memories within your home. Shadow boxes also make excellent gifts for family and friends because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and can be personalized for any occasion.

About Shadow Boxes

A shadow box is an enclosed case that is used to display items while keeping them protected from dirt, dust, and other damaging elements. Shadow boxes are available in many different sizes, ranging from boxes that sit on a shelf to those large enough to be hung on your wall and used as the focal point for an entire room.

While picture frames often feature elaborately designed borders with beading, metal scrolls, mosaic titles, and other unique elements, shadow boxes tend to be much simpler in design. This is to help keep the focus on the items you want to display.

You can purchase shadow boxes from craft stores such Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts. You can also find shadow boxes available for purchase from online retailers such as:

If you have experience with woodworking, Woodcraft offers a shadow box plan that you can use to create your own customized keepsake shadow box.

Choosing Items for Your Shadow Box

Obviously, shadow boxes can include copies of your favorite photos. However, the key advantage of a shadow box is that you can use the format to display 3-D memorabilia.

For baby themed keepsakes, you might include these items:

  • Baby shoes
  • Baby socks
  • Hospital bracelet
  • Knitted cap
  • Scrap from a blanket
  • Rattle
  • Birth announcement
  • Small children's board books

For a wedding-themed shadow box, you might include some of the following:

  • Dried flowers from the bouquet
  • Garter
  • Bracelet or earrings
  • Program
  • Invitation
  • Postcards from your honeymoon destination

For a travel themed shadow box, you might include items like these:

  • Postcards
  • Maps
  • Seashells
  • Foreign currency
  • Ticket stubs

For a family heritage themed shadow box, you might include some of these items:

  • Handwritten letters or family recipes
  • Heirloom jewelry
  • Scraps of fabric from a wedding dress, christening gown, or other special outfit
  • Maps from your ancestor's home country
  • Military medals
  • Fishing lures
  • Old ink pens
  • Family silverware
  • Award ribbons

Shadow boxes can also be used to display collections of small objects, such as souvenir buttons or Pez dispensers.

How to Make a Keepsake Shadow Box

When choosing backgrounds for your shadow box, remember that the background should complement the objects you wish to display. A simple white, ivory, or cream mat will work well for almost any type of display, but you can also choose colored mats that match your memorabilia if you wish. Patterned backgrounds should generally be avoided, however. They will detract from the items you are displaying.

The layout for your shadow box should make one item, such as a special picture, the focal point of the presentation. Scrapbook sketches from sites such as Becky Fleck's PageMaps can provide layout ideas, although you may need to make a few adjustments to accommodate awkwardly shaped memorabilia.

You can use glue or double sided tape to attach photos, invitations, maps, postcards, and other paper items to your shadow box. For dimensional objects, however, you will likely need to use pins or wires. Specially designed clips can also be purchased when you buy your shadow box.

Creative Displays

Making a keepsake shadow box lets you display special photos and memorabilia in a unique fashion. Whether you're making a shadow box for yourself or creating a handmade gift for a loved one, this project is sure to be treasured for many years to come.

Make a Keepsake Shadow Box