Back in my college days, when I was short on craft supply funds and storage space (oh dorm rooms, how I do not miss thee at all!), I was always on the hunt for free crafting tutorials online which could be made with stuff that I already had lying around. One of my favorites that I came across was a basic DIY journal bookbinding technique with instructions to make your own blank book. I’ve always been a blank book fiend, but the best, most unique ones were often out of my budget. The tutorial was very simple, and the only supply I had to purchase the first time was the fabric for the cover, which takes less than ¼ a yard. I made my first book, hand-bound with needle and thread, for a couple of bucks, and I was super excited about it. It turned out looking fairly legit, a bit messy but unique and functional. As I made more books, altering the tutorial sometimes to use what I had on hand, I got better at it.
My favorite version of this book came after I had made several. I had an idea for a daily poetry journal made with bright salmon colored paper that I already had, so went thrifting in search of the perfect fabric for the cover. I found just the thing in the form of a fairly horrific, loudly patterned, brightly colored pair of capri pants for $2. Took less than one leg to get the perfect piece of fabric for the book cover, and the crazy floral and abstract print was the perfect complement to the paper. Funny how I hated the fabric in the form of capris, but loved it as a book cover. I suppose us humans are just weird like that.
That book was oft-used and well-loved, and I’ve recently decided to again take up the daily poetry journal as it kept me disciplined with writing in my college days, and I haven’t written regularly now in years. The idea is to write a few lines a day, nomatter what, even if they suck and you feel zero inspiration. I’ve always loved writing poetry, but I’ve also always struggled with making time to write. It’s much easier when I make it a daily practice, and forcing the journal even on off days sometimes surprises me and provides a great start to a fully realized poem. Now let’s look at what I came up with, and see how you can make your own unique little book for whatever sort of things you like to write–lists, poems, notes for class, personal journal, recipes, it would even work as a small sketchbook!
DIY Journal Bookbinding Tutorial
Supplies (see steps for notes on supplies)
- 18 pcs 8½” x 11” paper, color of choice
- 1 coordinating pc to use as cover-facing sheet, at least 5¾” x 9½”
- coordinating fabric to use as book cover, at least 7” x 10½”
- cardboard for (2) 4¼” x 5¾” pcs & (1) 7/16” x 5¾” pc
- scrap cardstock if you want to make reusable templates
- chalk or fabric marker
- scissors and craft knife
- bone folder (or sub other smooth household item like a pen)
- 4 clothespins, binder clips, chip clips, etc
- awl, large thumbtack, or other household item to puncture small holes in paper
- medium sized sewing needle and thread, color of choice
- glue suitable for fabric and paper, preferably clear drying
- cheap paintbrush for glue
Step 1: Make templates (instructions below), if desired, and gather supplies. Choosing the paper and fabric is the best part; for this project I use varying colors and textures of paper from my supply on hand, choosing colors to complement the shimmery periwinkle brocade fabric that I bought for the cover. I love brocade for books. It’s a more expensive fabric, but since I only buy ¼ yard for this project and can make several books with that amount, it is still very cost effective. The paper and fabric options are endless, but keep in mind that thicker paper may be harder to sew, and a thinner fabric might cause glue to show on the outside of your finished book. If you want to use a thin fabric I suggest patch testing first with your glue to make sure it doesn’t show through the other side when dry. Choose cardboard for the covers and spine that is sturdy, but not too thick to easily cut. If you use a thicker cardboard you may want to add a little to the fabric cover measurement. I always just source some scrap cardboard from packaging materials for this purpose.
To make templates which you can reuse: simply grab some scrap cardstock or other thick paper/thin cardboard you have lying around, measure and mark your paper to make 1 template each for cardboard cover and spine, cover facing sheet, and fabric book cover (measurements in supply list), then cut them out with craft knife or scissors. Now you can use these templates to quickly trace these components of your book each time you start a project.
Step 2: Mark and cut out (2) cardboard covers, (1) cardboard spine, (1) cover-facing sheet of paper, and (1) fabric cover, per measurements in supply list. Use pre-made templates or mark and measure directly onto materials. Use a craft knife if possible to cut cardboard, and use scissors for fabric and cover-facing sheet. If your fabric frays (brocade is notorious for fraying) you can apply a little bit of glue around the fraying edges and let dry, that will stop the fraying and make the fabric much more user-friendly.
Step 3: For the 18 pcs of 8½” x 11” paper, fold each sheet horizontally, lining up corners carefully and using the bone folder to smooth the folds. Cut or tear along folds, depending on your desired outcome. I personally fold each sheet back and forth a couple of times and then tear, which creates a textured edge on the finished book. If your paper is hard to tear you can moisten the fold with a drop of water before tearing. You should end up with 36 pcs of 8½” x 5½” paper.
Step 4: Fold each of the 36 pcs of paper in half horizontally again, lining up corners carefully and using the bone folder to smooth the folds. Open each folded piece and lay it out flat, then arrange into 6 stacks of 6 sheets. If you tore your paper, you will want to alternate the torn edge between the top and bottom when stacking your pages. Refold each of the six stacks with all sheets together to make six signatures.
Step 5: Use clothespins, binder clips, etc. to clip signatures together neatly, then mark 4 lines across spine, ½” in from each end, and 2” in from each end.
Step 6: Lay each signature out flat and use thumbtack or awl to punch holes along the 4 marks you made on each signature. I place the signatures on a rug while doing this which works well and can’t be damaged by all the poking.
Step 7: Restack signatures neatly, then the fun part: sewing the signatures together. Use a strong thread, 2 yards is plenty, and a medium sized needle. Thread needle, knot the end, then sew according to chart.
- Insert needle in signature A point 1 from the outside, and pull thread through until knot is snug against back of signature.
- Go through point 2 from the inside out, then back in through point 3, then back out through point 4, holding thread taut as you go.
- Grab signature B, hold it under signature A, and insert needle from outside in through point 5, joining the two signatures, then go back out at point 6, insert needle back into signature A at point 7, then back out at point 8.
- Insert needle in signature B through point 9, then back out through point 10. Loop the thread through the knot at signature A point 1 and pull taut.
- Grab signature C, hold it under signature B, and insert needle from outside in through point 11, joining the two signatures, then go back out at point 12, insert needle back into signature B at point 13, then back out at point 14.
- Insert needle in signature C through point 15, then back out through point 16. Loop the thread through the stitch between points 4 & 5 and pull taut.
- Grab signature D, hold it under signature C, and insert needle from outside in through point 17, joining the two signatures, then go back out at point 18, insert needle back into signature C at point 19, then back out at point 20.
- Insert needle in signature D through point 21, then back out through point 22. Loop the thread through the stitch between points 10 & 11 and pull taut.
- Grab signature E, hold it under signature D, and insert needle from outside in through point 23, joining the two signatures, then go back out at point 24, insert needle back into signature D at point 25, then back out at point 26.
- Insert needle in signature E through point 27, then back out through point 28. Loop the thread through the stitch between points 16 & 17 and pull taut.
- Grab signature F, hold it under signature E, and insert needle from outside in through point 29, joining the two signatures, then go back out at point 30, insert needle back into signature E at point 31, then back out at point 32.
- Insert needle in signature F through point 33, then back out through point 34. Loop the thread through the stitch between points 22 & 23 and pull taut.
- Finish by knotting thread around beginning knot and cutting off excess thread.
Step 8: Paint a light coat of glue over signature spine, keeping it clipped together with clothespins or binder clips until completely dry.
Step 9: Place cardboard covers and spine on wrong side of fabric and mark where you want to glue them using either pins or chalk. Leave ¼” space on either side of the spine, and about a ⅜” margin on the edges; a little excess fabric on the side is okay, but try to get the space between the spine and the covers as close to ¼” as possible. Once you have your marks on the fabric, paint a thin layer of glue on one side of the spine and one side of each cover, then glue into place on fabric, lining up with marks and making sure to smooth fabric as needed. If you have trouble spreading the glue evenly, you can thin it with a small amount of water.
Step 10: Paint thin layer of glue over remaining side of each cardboard cover piece (DO NOT put glue on the spine this time), then glue down cover-facing paper to the front and back covers, smoothing it as you go and centering between covers (a little space on the edges is okay, the fabric will cover it in the next step).
Step 11: Paint thin layer of glue at each corner of cover-facing sheet, and glue down fabric corners. Clamp until at least partially dry, then paint thin layer of glue along each edge of cover-facing sheet and glue down fabric edges. Almost done!
Step 12: Paint a thin layer of glue on inside front cover, over fabric and cover-facing sheet, then glue down the front page of signature A, smoothing as you go. Once partially dry, do the same with the back–paint a thin layer of glue on inside back cover, over fabric and cover-facing sheet, then glue down the back page of signature F, smoothing as you go. Allow the glue to dry completely. And there you have it, one custom, fabric-covered, handbound journal at your disposal. I added a little extra embellishment to mine this time; I decorated the inside edge of the fabric with a fuchsia sharpie, and sewed the inside corners of my fabric cover together to tighten them up because I was a tiny bit sloppy with the folding.