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One of my personal passions is bookbinding, and I've taught it many times over the years. Its  great way to personalize your art journals, and to get the journal that exactly matches your wants. This form here is an easy one to master if you've never bound before, and a easy one to bang out if you have. It's also an easy one to change up materials wise. I often make this journal with paper bags that I gesso and then collage over, giving it a nice leathery surface. 

So I start by gathering my supplies and choosing my cover materials and page materials. I want this one to be fairly sturdy and big, so I am using 17x9 watercolor paper. The other page material I like is nice weight copy paper. Then I choose my cover paper. Here I have gone with a fun feather print rice paper I got in the wrapping paper section at Cost Plus! In the picture above you can see I've used paper bags that I've gesso and textured and used my glimmer mists on.


It's worth noting here that this is not a professional book form, and the methods I am demonstrating are the "slap dash quickie use what ever you want" version. There are "right" ways to do this, but they are very precise and painstaking, and not the point of this particular exercise.


Bookboard (also known as Davy Board or Binder's Board)-I like the .098 thickness, but you can get it in .059 as well. This is acid free and has a distinct grain. I have also used illustration board with no ill side affects. Try to avoid chip board, which warps, and anything corragated.

Cover material-I often use my own hand made book cloth (check out how to make it here), or paper bags gessoed and collaged so it makes a nice, thick leathery like paper. Avoid anything too thin or too "common" (copy paper for instance) as it will warp and tear when you glue it.

Inside cover material-either more of your main cover material, or a coordinating high quality paper or book cloth.

PVA glue or high quality glue stick (UHU is my favorite, mostly because it's pronounced YOOOHOOOO!).

Linen thread (waxed if you like that), or hemp cord, or anything you like the look of. But avoid anything you think might stretch over time or breaks when you pull on it. I generally prefer a wax linen thread, but the hemp I am using in the example is easy to find, very affordable and very strong.

Paper-as long as you can fold it, you can use it. Again, I like to use paper bags cut to size. But I also like to use heavy watercolor paper (as shown in the example). You can use high quality copy paper at this point. When I use watercolor paper I use 8 sheets folded in half singley. When I use copy paper I use 32 sheets, 4 sheets folded together onto 8 chunks (called a signature in bookbinding land). You can add or subtract as you see fit, though too many more "chunks" and the finished book gets a little wobbly.


Bone folder



Cutting tools (as you will see in the example I use a rotary cutter with a grid ruler and a cutting mat.)

Wrap edges

Continue to apply glue and wrap each side around the board. I do opposite sides first, then the other two.

Apply inside cover material

Cut the inside cover material the same size as your page size, then apply glue all over the piece of paper. Then picking it up by opposite corners, hold it over the raw side of your cover board, then lower it slowly into place. Rub down with the bone folder.

Finish Covers

Do the same with the second cover, then wrap them in wax apper and put them under a stack of heavy books to dry. This will stop them from warping, which they will do a bit regardless of your materials.

Now you're going to spread glue all along the paper on one edge, making sure you get the corners. Then applying some pressure, wrap the paper around the bookboard and make sure you have a nice bubble free adhesion. Rub down with the bone folder. 

Wrap The Corners

Now to cover the corners without a funny little tag poking out you need to wrap them like a present. Use the tip of the bone folder to fold down a little portion of the paper around the corner. Make sure there is some glue in there to keep it in place.

Cut your Book Board

Next, measure the size of your page. Cut your book board to be 1/2 an inch ltaller and 1/4 of an inch wider. So from the 18 x 12 sheets I used for my example, I got 9 x 12 pages, which meant that I cut the covers to 9 1/4 x 12 1/5. This gives the book a nice amount of overhand, which protects the page edges. You can adjust it down, but he smaller you make it, the more any inconsistencies in your cutting and sewing job will show up.

Cut Your Cover Material

Take what ever cover material you are using and cut it 1 to 1 1/2 inches bigger on all sides. I am a little slap dash about this, but if you want to get precise you can. We can also trim it later to be more even after we've glued it. 

Glue the Covers

I like to use my UHU (YoooHoo!) glue stick for this sort of project, though if I was doing a professional job I would use PVA glue, which is acid free and archival. But this jounral is going to get all sorts of acidy things glued into it, so I'm not so concerned. I spread the glue allllll over one side of my book board, then turn it over and squash it on to the back side of a cover piece, trying to get it centered. If I didn't then I just trim the edges to make them even. Or not. They'll be hidden under the inside cover piece so I don't worry about it too much.


Rub all over the cover with your bone folder and make sure any wrinkles or bubbles are rubbed down. Use the flat long side of the bone folder like a squeegie, to avoid scoring shiny marks into the paper.

Now trim the corners off, leaving just a bit of paper between the corner of the bookboard and your cut edge so you don't end up with a bare bit when we wrap it.

Now we're going to move on to the Text block, which is what we call it once all the signatures are sewn together. We are going to sew the signatures to straps that we've cut from the leather.


Cut your straps

Start by cutting your straps at least 4 inches long and 1 to 1 1/5 inches wide. You can make them longer if you want, even long enough to stretch across the whole front, it's completely up to you. But not shorter. Shorter would be a pain.

Make a hole punch guide

Next you will create a hole punch guide. Cut a piece of regular paper the length of your folded side of your signatures, and about 2 or 3 inches wide. Fold it in half "hotdog" meaning the long way. Take your straps and lay them on top of this strip with the top strap about 1 or 1.5 inches down from the top, and the bottom strap the same distance up from the bottom. Center the middle strap. You are going to make marks on either side of the strap, in the fold of the strip of paper. So when you look at the marks they are visible on either side of the strap. 

Next you are going to add two more marks, one .5 or .75 inches down from the top and the other the same distance up from the bottom. Add a little notation at one end to designate it the "top" of the guide.

Make your Signatures

To begin with, go ahead and fold your paper. Run your bone folder from one paper edge up the fold to the other, rather than starting at the middle. That way you'll avoid any unsightly dimples! Fold all 4 sheets together, or however many you have in your "chunk" or signature as it's professionally called. Stack your signatures together. 

Now you are ready to punch your signatures. 

Punching your holes

Place the stack of signature on your right side with the spines facing you (this is just to ensure the holes end up as even as possible). Pick the first signature up and open it. Snug the hole punching guide into the fold of the signature and make sure it is lined up at the top. Use your awl, and watch your fingers, and punch through the guide and the signature at the same time at each mark you made. You'll have 8 holes altogether. I find the gap the leaf in my table makes is a nice place to place my signature while I'm punching.

Without turning it around, place the signature you have punched on your left side with the spine facing you. Punch the rest of the signatures the same way, ensuring that you alway have the guide with the "top" at the top of your spine, and that you keep the signature the right way up when you add it to the finished pile. 

Sewing the Signatures to the Straps

This step is a basic one in bookbinding, sewing the pages together around the strap you are using. In a traditional hardcover book, the straps would be thinner bits of linen, and then glued to the inside of your covers and covered with the inside cover paper. Because we are leaving off the spine piece these straps can be glued on the outside, and therefore become part of the decorative nature of the cover. 

Cut Your Thread

I cut a length that is at least as many signatures as I have long plus some more. Since we have 8 signatures, I would measure the length along the spine 8 times, then pull out a couple more feet just for good measure. Yes, this is going to be a pain to sew with at first. But its not that bad. If you are using waxed thread though, be very aware when it tangles and do not pull it when it does-the wax will fuse the knots together and it will be hell to undo it.

Choose a needle that is sturdy, but not too thick, but also has an eye wide enough to put the thread through.


Sew the First Signature

Check that your holes are all in line. It is in editable that you'll have a signature that is a little off. Try turning it around and see if the holes line up better that way. If it doesn't and we were professional book binders we would punch a  new signature. But we're not, so unless it's so off it will ruin everything, we'll roll with it. 

Place your stack of signatures in front of you with the spine away from you. Flip the first one over and towards you so that now the holes are towards you. This sounds confusing but it keeps the holes lined up properly and the signatures in order. Take your needle and insert it from the outside into the first hole on the right. Our until you have about 6 inches of the tail left hanging out. Come out with the needle though the second hole along. Sew into the third hole, and just before you pull it snug, slide the first strap into place under it. Make sure if there is a decorative side that it is facing you. Pull the thread tight, then sew out then in the next two holes, inserting the third strap just before you pull it snug. Do the same for the last step, then come out the signature at the last hole on the left.

Sew the Second Signature 

Now flip the next signature over and put it on top of the first one, lining up the holes with the straps. Don't worry about the thread being that yet. Sew into the first hole on the left, then out the next hole, around the strap and into the next hole. Do this all the way down around each strap until you have come out the last hole on the right.

Tighten the Thread

There is a particular way to tighten thread while bookbinding, one that gets a nice tight stitch without the thread buzz sawing through your paper. Open the first signature and while pulling on the tail with your right hand use your thumb nail to tug each stitch in turn on the inside. The tugging will take up the slack and the pulling will pull it tighter. Make sure you pull away to the right, not towards you! You'll pull the thread right through the paper if you pull towards you. Do the same for he second signature, only pull the thread that leads to the needle, not the tail. 

Tie The Together

Once you have tightened, tie the tail and the thread together with a double knot. Try to get it as tight and close to the paper as possible.

Sew the Third Signature

Flip the third signature over and sew into the first hole, down the spine, around the straps and out the last hole. Tighten. Now the way you will connect this signature to the first two is with a kettle stitch.

Tie a Kettle Stitch

Take your needle and slide it between the first and second signature, around the post of the stitch holding them together, from right to left. Pull until the loop is almost gone, then take the needle and put it through the loo from bottom to top, then pull tight. You will do this at the end of every signature from now on.

Finish Text Block

Flip the 4th signature over, sew down the spine, tighten, then tie a kettle stitch. Continue until every signature is sewn on. Tie the last kettle stitch twice, then cut the tails to about 1 inch.

Connect the Text Block and the Covers

If your straps under up slightly uneven, trim them up (or not, it's up to you). Slide a cover piece on to the top of the text block then apply your favorite craft glue (Aileen's anyone?) and squash it down. Hold it in place until it doesn't slide around when you let it go. Apply some tension, so the cover is very snug against the spine. Do the same for he next two straps. Then turn it over and pull the straps as tight as you can, and glue them down on the second side.

And there you have it. Your own Craftiness Journal, all ready for your artings.

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