Making A Hand-Sewn Journal

July 24, 2008 at 6:17 pm (80 Proof, art, neat things) ()

This is Our Descent’s second DIY guide, and I hope there will be many more to follow. Our first one, quite a few months back now: Making Bottle Cap Pins.

Today’s project: a hand-sewn book, for drawing or journaling. If you decide to the project, leave us a comment to let us know how it went (and, of course, to show off your new journal).


This is a very easy, no-skills-required method, which uses everyday household materials. You’ll need:

paper (standard 8 1/2 x 11 in.)
fabric (just a little)
cardstock or cardboard (i.e. a cereal box)
decorating materials (drawings, photos, etc.)

dental floss or sturdy thread
a needle
a thumbtack

That’s it.

Step One: Binding The Pages

You can use any kind of paper you like: blank, patterned, whatever. I decided to use 8 1/2 x 11 inch graph paper. The measurements herein are based on that size, but it would be very simple to convert everything to different dimensions.

Make a stack of paper, about 15 sheets — these sheets will be bound into a packet. Fifteen sheets of paper will give you 60 book pages, because the sheets will be folded in half and one can use both sides of a page. If you would like more than 60 pages in your journal, make more than one packet.


To bind the sheets, we’ll sew them together (using the floss). You’re going to need six holes: three at the top, about 1/2 an inch from each other, and three in the same way at the bottom. You can make them easily with the thumbtack. This is the spacing of the holes:


As I mentioned earlier, though, be sure to fold the stack in half before you make the holes, so that they’ll be centered properly. You don’t have to pre-punch the holes — you can make them as you go.

Thread the needle, with a knot at the end, and run it through the first hole; the knot will hold the thread in place. Put the needle through the next hole, and then back out the third one. Then, double back, going through each hole a second time, for reinforcement.


Tie the thread off and cut it. Repeat for the bottom set of holes. The finished stitches look like this:


Step Two: Attaching The Spine

You’ll use the fabric for your spine. Cut a strip of fabric with the length of your paper (8 1/2 inches). If you’re using one packet, make the strip 3 inches wide — wide enough to attach to the pages and to the front and back covers, plus some wiggle room. If you’re using more packets, add 1/4 inch per packet.


Find and mark the center of the strip, and align it to the stitches on the packet. Fasten the two together with paper-clips.


Then, sew the fabric onto the packet in the same way you sewed the pakcets together — go back through the same three holes if you’re able. If the fit is too tight, just poke new holes nearby

If you’re using more than one packet, you’ll simply sew them side by side.

Step Three: The Covers

This is where the cardboard comes in. Cut two pieces in the same size as your pages (8 1/2 x 5 1/2 inches). You’ll sew each piece of cardboard to the (approximately) 1 inch of loose fabric on either side of the pages. (If your cardboard is too thick to sew, you can glue it instead. Just make sure to use a glue than can bind fabric, like Gorilla glue). What’s important here is that you attach the two soundly, and that you leave about 1/4 inch of slack fabric between each cover’s edge and the edge of the paper. The slack with allow the book to open and close.


With both covers attached, the structure of your book is complete. Everything from here on out is purely aesthetic — that is, the fun stuff.

Take a piece of plain white paper and glue it (with a glue stick for best results) to one cover like so:


Then, fold the edges over and glue them down.


Repeat for the other cover. This will give your book nice, clean edges.

Cut out images for your front, back, and inside covers. If you like, you can make the two outside pictures slightly smaller than page-size (say, 8 1/2 x 5 1/4) to show off the fabric spine. Here are my front and back covers,* respectively:



I made this book as a present for my girlfriend, who liked it very much. I’m working on two others — one for me and one for Emily. I’ll post pictures of the other two when they’re done, sometime in the next few days.

Finally, I’d like to way the pros and cons of this project, from a sustainability perspective.

+ DIY/handmade
+ can be made with some reused materials (cardboard, fabric, cover images)

– usually uses some new materials (paper, floss; one could choose used paper, but it isn’t most people’s ideal for a journal)

Toss out any other pros and cons if you think of them. Once again, if you do this project, please feel free to link to your final product in comments, and to post any improvements or modifications to the method.

* Edited to add: By the way, the cover images are from old books I got at a thrift store. Old books and magazines are great sources of interesting images.

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