Daydreaming on Paper
April/May 2002
Make Your Own Journal

I have always resisted bookmaking. For one thing, I tend to impulse buy blank books, so I never have a shortage of notebooks to choose from when it's time to start a new journal. However, the main reason why I never tried to make a book before is because the task always seemed so overwhelming. The instructions always seemed to be so complicated - there were never any pictures to illustrate the steps - and they always called for special materials that I didn't have on hand and had no inclination to buy. In short, making a book didn't seem to fit into the LazyGirlTM way of life.

Until now.

A few months back, I picked up a vintage copy of Crafts 'N Things magazine that featured an article on how to publish and bind your own book. I thought the idea was interesting, and I filed the article away for "someday" when I had the time. Well, it occured to me that I could probably use those instructions as a guideline for making my own blank journal. So, I set out to try it and see what happened. The instructions below are the result. This is a fairly simple, streamlined method of making a small, hardcover book. The best part about these intructions is that you can use materials that you probably already have around the house. To my thinking, the only thing better than making stuff is making stuff with recycled, scavanged, or "found" materials. If it works, you have something beautiful that you made for little or nothing; if it doesn't, you can more easily write it off as a learning experience because you haven't broken the bank. It's a win-win situation!

And so, without further ado, let's make a journal!

What you'll need:

finished journal

bullet pointCardboard or Chipboard, about 1/32" to 3/32" thick

I used cardboard for my books instead of chipboard. The main reason for this is because I already had some cardboard lying around. Besides, I don't really know what chipboard is or where to get it, and I didn't really feel like using up too many brain cells thinking about it. You should have many very fine sources of cardboard at your disposal. Look for a piece that is fairly stiff (it's going to be the cover for your book, so you want it to hold up and not bend), but not so stiff that you can't cut it. The piece that I used came from a package of business card pages that I'd bought at some point. You will need two 4¼" x 5¾" pieces for the covers, and one 7/16" x 5¾" piece for the spine.

bullet point18 sheets of 8½" x 11" paper

One of the best parts about making your own journal is getting to actually choose the paper you want. I used 24 lb. Wausau Astrobrights® paper purchased at the office supply store. I like it because it is just a touch thicker than regular printer or typing paper, but is still easily manageable. And, it comes in lots of bright colors (hence, the name). You can experiment with different papers, but here's one word of caution. If this is your first time making a book, I would strongly advise against using any sort of thick paper such as watercolor paper or heavy drawing paper. Look closely at the image above. I was originally going to use watercolor paper for my book, too. Let's just say that that idea was soundly discarded after many tears of frustration and much gritting of teeth. Because this book is on the small side, and because we will be working with folded pages, you want to use paper that will behave. Stick to the thinner papers, at least until you get the hang of the technique. If you decide to walk on the wild side and throw caution to the wind, well, like mama always said, don't come cryin' to me.

bullet pointOne 7" x 10½" piece of paper for the cover

You should have no problem coming up with something fun to use for your journal cover. If you are anywhere near as paper obsessed as I am, you have lots of bits and pieces on hand. Wallpaper is an excellent choice for a cover. I chose it for my book cover because it's sturdy and will take lots of abuse. Plus, it was free. Another good cover choice: your standard paper shopping bag. Choose one with a cool logo on it or recycle a gift bag with a pretty design. Or, put your personal stamp on a plain brown one with rubber stamps, paints, etc. Handmade paper should work well, too, and you could always use fabric instead of paper if you wanted.

bullet pointOne 5¾" x 9½" piece of paper for the cover facing sheet

Technically, this paper will not show on the finished book, so you could use regular white paper here. However, your gluing technique may be a tad on the imperfect side, so you might want to use a coordinating sheet of paper, just in case (I did).

bullet pointCarpet, button, or upholstery thread

This was the only thing I had to buy in order to make my books. I used nylon upholstery thread (white). One spool was only $1.29, and it will make many books.

bullet pointA sewing needle

I used a tapestry needle, but only because I inherited my grandmother's sewing stuff and there happened to be one in there.

bullet pointA thimble

bullet pointGlue

The instructions that I was modifying called for white padding cement. I didn't bother trying to figure out what that was (see above note regarding chipboard) and used plain old Elmer's® instead.

bullet pointA pencil

bullet pointA ruler

bullet pointAn old paintbrush or foam brush

bullet pointAn X-acto knife or other sharp knife

You may also want to use a bone folder or burnisher if you have one, as well as some binder clips or wooden clothes pins.

What To Do:

Step 1: Fold each sheet of paper in half. You now have an 8½" by 5½" piece of folded paper.

[Alternate Method]: Use a paper trimmer to cut the pages into 8½" by 5½" pieces of paper. (You will have 36 halves of paper.) Cutting the paper now will actually save you some time later. It will also make for cleaner edges for your book, if you don't like the torn look.

finished journal

Step 2: Place the papers in six groups of 3 folded sheets each.

[Alternate Method]: If you cut your paper in Step 1, you will now place the papers into six groups of 6 pieces of paper.

Step 3: Fold each group of 3 (or 6) in half again (the finished size will be 4¼" by 5½"). These are your signatures. (This is where you may want to use your bone folder or burnisher to make clean, crisp folds. It helps a lot.)

finished journal

Step 4: Stack your signatures so that the back folds are facing you. Using a pencil and a ruler, draw a line across the folds about ½" in from each end. You can use your clothespins or binder clips to hold the signatures together while you do this.

Step 5: Draw 2 more lines across the folds, about 2" in from each end.

finished journal

Step 6: Now, you're going to punch holes in each signature so that they will be easier to sew. Open each signature and lay it flat with the back fold facing up. Punch a needle hole (making sure to go through all of the sheets) at each pencil mark. The easiest way to do this is to lay the signature so that the folds are over a crack in a table or a crack between two tables pushed together. You can probably use two heavy books to simulate this. Be sure to use your thimble so that you do not stab yourself with the needle.

Another way to punch the holes would be to place the paper on a cushioned surface like an old phone book and then use a big push pin to make the holes.

finished journal

Step 7: Re-fold and re-stack the signatures, again with the back fold facing you.

Step 8: Thread the needle with about 2 yards of thread. Knot the thread about 1" from the tail.

Now, you're getting to the most difficult part of the bookmaking process - sewing your signatures together. It's really not difficult at all, once you get the hang of it. Until then, just take a deep breath, work slowly, and follow the directions carefully. If you get frustrated easily, you might want to take a minute at this point to fix yourself something cool to drink. I myself had to knock back a couple of Sprites before it was all over with. Once you're ready to begin, click here.


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© 2002 Dawn R. Vinson. All Rights Reserved.