Crafty Lifestyle: Bookbinding

Having more time has made me ponder creative outlets besides my songwriting and business books. Needing a better way to track my projects and day-to-day tasks (my experiment with 3×5 cards was most enlightening) I tried my hand at hand stitching my own little notebook.

I need to work on the gluing techniques, and got myself a smaller drill bit for the stitching holes, but all in all, I’m happy with the result. I believe that I can make these for less than 50 cents each, and it’s very peaceful and relaxing stitching the signatures (groups of pages) inside.

I wanted to make something fast, unfussy, and cheap, so I’d be more inclined to use these things and not wait until I had thoughts worthy of enshrining in some leather-bound tome (for now.)

A single sheet of letter-size paper will yield three strips which, when folded in half, makes a 4 1/4″ x 3 5/8″ page. I laid 16 sheets down, measured the top sheet, then used a straight edge and tore the sheets rather than cutting them. I’ll need to work on the technique, but I don’t mind the raggedy edge; just don’t want it quite that raggedy.

If I could settle for two folded pages from each sheet, and live with a waste strip 1 1/2″ x 11″ from each, I could make journals the same size as a Moleskine, but the waste disturbs me. I might experiment with a tiny 2 3/4″ x 4 1/4″ journal which would require 12 sheets of letter-size paper to make a 192-page journal. Would that be big enough? Guess I need to find out.

The fabric glue I used is flexible even after it dries, but I didn’t get it thin enough. Spreading with a thin card instead of my finger would help.

I made a book press out of two 12″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″ pieces of birch wood and two carriage bolts with wing nuts. During the gluing process I realised I’ll need something wide enough to smash the whole journal, so it looks like I’ll need two more carriage bolts and two pieces of wood big enough to hold the largest journal I’m likely to make, a half-sheet 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ so that’s about 7″ x 10″ to leave room for drilling the bolt holes. Have to be careful of size, being nomads and all.

Eventually I’d like to settle on one or two sizes and have someone make a leather cover I can slip over the current journal, and reuse when the journal’s full. I’ll also have to answer the questions in my head about the textured cover I chose, the decorated end sheets, etc. They weren’t cheap, and there’s no reason I can’t do something both economical and beautiful, if I’m willing to invest time and effort into it.

Someday I plan to make a whole book by hand—write it all out on handmade paper and make a single unique book I’ve written; one of a kind.


  1. Very lovely Joel.

    But I might recant my recent email regarding the 4/100ths of an inch I was concerned about in the light of your recent concerns over the 1&1/2″ x 11″ waste strip. However, not to invalidate your unease, you can always wrinkle all the strips up into wads, unroll them, use modge-podge as a glue, lay in the slightly wrinkled strips over the cover or as a small embellishment, and coat with more modge-podge and seal with a clear polyurethane. You could even paint the strips before adding the final modge-podge and sealer.

  2. P.S. – It will give the book a leather like look. I did this treatment to one wall in my dining room when I lived in Fremont. No kidding.

  3. Nice work, Joel. Put it up on etsy and you got yourself another business.

    I just recently bought a handcrafted journal by women in Nepal. It has a cool way that it locks closed with two sticks that slide over a flap. And the paper is very rough and raw, with brown specks still speckled throughout. It is made from the bark of the Lokta plant, which actually promotes new growth and is beneficial to the plant, deep in the Himalayas.

    Yeah, I bought it at Barnes and Noble, but someone had to get it to where I would find it. It is just fun to write on. It’s almost like creating a work of art with each stroke of the pen for each letter.

    I’ll bet it’s even more of an artistic feeling when you’ve made the thing yourself.

    Now I want to go write in it.

  4. Pam, I just might play with that. I’ve done fun things with brown paper bags to make fake leather. I could have fun with this.

    Rex, I like the idea of creating something which would inspire more creation. I’ve decided I’m a curiosity conduit; if I can make people wonder, and they share their wonder with others, we all win.

  5. Joel, cool. Back, ummm, do I want to admit how many years ago?… like 34 years ago (gosh who knew a 2 year old could be so crafty) I went through a stage of making my own books. I even wrote stories, hand-wrote them (was supposed to be kind of calligraphy but I couldn’t callig fast enough so it’s kind of stylized writing), and gave them as gifts. There’s still a couple kicking around.

    I agree it is very satisfying to build your own books.

    For the end pages might I suggest recycled wrapping paper scraps. With a wedding there’s bound to be some choice! Even cooler might be to ask a host family if they have a small slice of wrapping paper (or maps or whatever) that they would like to donate to the enterprise, which will take the meaningfulness of the journal to a whole other level.

  6. I can only imagine how crafty you were at 2. I won’t tell anyone that you were two prior to Kennedy’s election, just like I was.

    I’m working on two kinds of journals: simple notebooks for task lists and scribblings, and real journals of my daily ponderings and wanderings. I love the idea of asking hosts to contribute a bit o’ something to build in.

  7. Oh Joel, ya busted me. I guess I wasn’t crafty enough!

    It may be that I took my first steps on the day of Kennedy’s swearing in (I was an early walker.) Book binding followed soon after.

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