Let’s Make A Journal

Since I can think of nothing else but bookbinding today, I thought it was about time I wrote a tutorial and explanation of how I make my journals and sketchbooks and even more importantly – why!? I’ve always been in awe of the fine art of bookmaking, but really I started making journals for myself to use. It was simply easier to fold up a bunch of papers I had lying around and start journaling. The ability to customize the size, the papers and add in little details made my journals even more special to me as well. However, I soon fell in love with the bookmaking process itself. I kept making journals and even though I work in more than a handful of journals at the same time, I quickly produced more than I could ever use.

Sometimes I’m inspired to create when seeing a cool book design or stitching method. Other times I come across an interesting material that I want to test out as a journal cover. However, I also just like the process and enjoy going through the motions of transforming paper and raw materials into a functional and beautiful creation. It’s a great feeling that drives me onward when it comes to bookmaking. For some reason, it’s amazingly easy for me to bind a book even when I’m tired or don’t feel like doing much. Perhaps it’s muscle memory in my hands, just creating with intuition…

I most often use leather for my journal covers and that is because I acquire remainder stock from local production companies here in Tuscany, Italy. These are sample pieces and leftovers that would have been tossed in the dump or destroyed. I’m all for saving the material from a short life and turning them into little journals for all of us to enjoy. I’ve been sending them to friends and family as well – they really make great gifts! I used to buy journals to give to people, because I’ve always loved the idea of journaling. It’s a place to dump down your thoughts and express your emotions…or even just write your grocery list into. I feel like it’s a necessity and everyone should have a little notebook and pen in their pocket, purse, car…

So let’s get right into the basics of making your very own journal! Let me show you the general process, step-by-step before we delve into more details and some fancy stuff. To begin with, you must choose some type of material for your cover and inside pages. It can be as simple as some heavy cardstock for the cover and white copy paper for the inside. Or you can try some chipboard, cardboard, fabric or leather as I often default to using. For flimsier materials such as fabric and leather, it’s good to glue in some liner paper. In fact, you might want to glue some pretty decorative paper to cover raw materials or even paint over cardboard to make it look a bit nicer.

In my example, I chose to use a piece of black leather with silver metallic lines. It’s pretty thin, so I glued black cardstock on the inside to give it some strength. I pretty much eyeball my measurements because I can’t cut straight for the life of me and detailed measurements are a bore :) I just take a rough measurement of my paper size, giving a bit of room for the binding depending how many pages I want to include. You’ll notice that I cut a bit more leather to create a flap on the right…we’ll see what that is for later. This works for materials that can easily wrap around the book.

You will notice that I folded my inside papers and grouped them together. Each group of papers is called a signature. It’s basically papers folded in half that you will be attaching to your cover in some way. I use a plastic bone folder to help me crease all the papers nicely. It’s a great tool once you get into bookmaking, otherwise your fingers will be sore…trust me on that.

Once you have your cover and papers ready, it is pivotal to prepunch all your holes before stitching. It just makes the process of sewing a lot easier and does force you to do a little planning in terms of spacing and how you will be sewing it all together. The binding method I chose to do is super simple and all you need are two holes in each signature. You’ll see that I punched 2 corresponding holes for each signature in the cover as well. Now it’s time to sew!

I use embroidery thread and a big needle to sew my books together. You can buy waxed thread to prevent knotting up and pretty much use anything that you can string through easily. I’ve used various kinds of string and ribbon as well…it’s a bit up to your taste. I say use whatever you have available.

First step is to stick the needle through the bottom hole from the inside of your signature. Stick it through all the papers and the cover to the outside.

Then you pull the thread under and over the outside edge of your journal to tie a knot with the tail end of your starting point. It’s like you just looped the bottom part of your journal up. Remember when tying your knots to make them as tight as you possibly can without ripping through your papers. Leave a little tail here, so that you will be able to tie another knot at a later step.

With your knot secure, you bring the thread up to the top hole and stick it through your papers and cover to the outside.

Then you bring it up and over the top of your journal, going back into the same top hole again.

You’ll end up on the outside of your journal, creating that loop around the top of your journal to secure the signature nicely to your cover. Make sure that your thread is tight and nothing is loosely hanging around.

From here you bring your thread down and stick it into the bottom hole. You are going into the journal and ending up in your start position, inside the signature.

Here you are in the original bottom hole, where you started to begin with!

That’s it! You are done after making sure the thread is tight and tying a knot with the starting tail of thread you’ve left there. Then you can snip the threads to an even measure and tah-dah! One signature of paper securely sewn to your cover.

You will notice that with this simple stitch, you see the thread all along the spine of your journal on the outside and inside.

You basically repeat the steps above for sewing in all your signatures of paper…one by one. This stitching method is easy because you can tackle one signature at a time, making sure the thread is tight and secure. Note that you need about double the height of your journal in thread for each signature.

After sewing all your signatures into the cover, you are done. You’ve hand-bound a journal all by yourself! Of course, if you used a soft material like leather in my example here… you can allow for a wrap around flap. I usually do this because it’s a nice way to close up your journals, especially if you throw them in your purse. A closed journal means less smashed up papers on the inside. Creating a closure is also really simple. My go-to-method is to punch two holes in the flap.

Then I used a long strip of the same leather material, braided ribbon or rope to string through the two holes as you see in the photo.

Tie a knot or two on one end so that it holds in place, then wrap the material around a few times, slipping the end securely in place. That’s it for the wraparound closure. Simple, but effective.

I’ve created countless journals following this basic bookbinding process. In fact, I often prepare multiple covers and signatures, so that I can sew a whole bunch of books together at once.

From the basic process, you can vary up certain elements to create a variety of journal styles. I mostly use leather covers, but I’ve also used grungy cardboard and paper covered chipboard as well. You can also experiment with different papers inside and changing up the number of signatures as well as the number of pages per signature. It really depends on the thickness of the paper you use…the idea is make sure each signature is strong enough to withhold whatever stitching you will be doing. You don’t want your thread to rip through your paper – for example, if you want to use only one sheet of paper per signature. In that case it might actually be better to using a sewing machine or make sure you use extremely thick paper that can withstand the stitching without tearing. Once you try making a book or two, you’ll find there are so many possibilities. Experiment with the cover material, liner papers, signature papers and stitching methods.

My grungy envelopes above are ready for another experiment in bookbinding. Wouldn’t it be cool to have a few pockets in your travel journal to collect ephemera? You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what I’m up to. I hope you’ve learned a bit from my simple tutorial in bookbinding and really wish you would give it a try sometime.

  • amy t schubert

    YES! Thank you! I’ve been waiting for this :)

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Yay! Would love to see what you make and don’t hesitate to ask questions, if you are wondering. I’m all for sharing information and spreading the knowledge…so we can all create!

  • http://stamperosity.com Lynn Mercurio

    These are fantastic. I love making journals and your pictorial is well done. Thanks for sharing your talent.

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks for stopping by and I hope it’ll inspire you to make a journal :) Bookmaking is fun fun!

  • Christine


    I can see I am going to have to pop back to you regularly from now on! I have always wanted to have a go at binding.

    I am for the moment in Dubai but there feels deep down a calling to live in Italy and I am not quite sure why – we have looked at France and Spain to settle there in retirement but have been concerned that the language difference would make it difficult to continue teaching scrapbooking – you have found your wee heaven – how did you do it.

    Thank you for popping into my blog through Paperclipping xxx

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      I’m so honored and do hope you come back to visit my blog. I think you should definitely give bookmaking a try…very satisfying! Oh wow, let me know if you ever move near the Tuscany area…there are many people who decide to change their lives and go off to explore new lands. I think it’s great to follow your heart and dreams. Although it’s a challenge to learn a new language and culture, I think it’s a good thing to always be learning and exposed to new environments!

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  • http://www.studiomailbox.typepad.com TJ

    I love your blog! Your journals are amazing. Mine are totally primitive. This inspires me to figure out how to make covers! Happy creations, tj in germany

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      oh, thank you so much! I really do appreciate it…I love making journals, working with leather and just creating. I’m not an expert by any means, always just learning!

  • http://aviewbeyondwords.blogspot.com Karin

    Really great tutorial Linda!!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks so much!

  • http://salihan.com Salihan

    I’ve been admiring the journals you’ve been making. They’re really sexy. Thanks for taking the time to make a detailed tutorial, Linda! I’ll definitely use your guidelines in the future.

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thank you so much, it’s really fun to make journals! Sexy…oo la la!

  • http://leahvirsik.com Leah Virsik

    Hi Linda! I really enjoy seeing your books! That little black one is especially cute and made me think of a contest that the magazine Cloth Paper Scissors is having for mini books. I looked for info on it online but I think the info is just in the magazine. Sorry for the tease. Anyway, I was thinking of you this weekend… I went and bought an Italian sewing machine over the weekend! From the ’70’s I think. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play with it soon and share some photos.

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Thanks so much, Leah! Your bookmaking is so lovely as well…I am just getting into it and loving the process. Everything I make is a bit different…just having fun with it. Oh, I think I might have heard of the Cloth Paper Scissors thing…hmmm, will look into it! Will be excited to see you Italian sewing machine…how nice!!!

  • Susie

    Hello, Linda! Thanks so much for the great tutorial! The photos were so helpful. I have a question about punching the holes in the leather and paper: What tools do you use and are there any tricks to measuring correctly?

    Thank so much!


    • admin

      Hi Susie – you are very welcome and thanks for visiting my blog! When it comes to punching holes, I use a metal awl for paper and leather. You basically put your material on top of a block or stack of paper you don’t mind piercing into and push to pierce the holes. If you have a huge enough stack or thicker materials, some people also use a tiny drill. You can also use hole punchers and other machines they sell for the purpose. In terms of measuring… it’s best to create a template in a thicker or harder material and use that as a guide! Hope that helps!

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  • cassie tate

    hi i have only just discovered your page and i must say i am very glad that i have will definatly be making some of these for xmas this year xxxx

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      thanks for visiting! I will be posted more bookbinding tutorials soon!

  • http://pillowsalamode.wordpress.com pillowsalamode


    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      thank you!

  • Rosie

    Hi again Linda

    Found you last night, I cant remember how, but so glad! Your journals, and your process of making them is so clear, and simple, really inspires me to make them, and enjoy them. I love yours – so beautiful and uncomplicated l in your approach…

    the photos make it easy to see whats going on… excited to find another one here, now I wish I’d spotted your blog before I started the one i’m working on – i’m doing the Sketchbook Project [US based], and have a book with about 10 holes – well, a few… and the poor thing has been so worried about by me!
    Sometimes you can read a whole lot of books but not really understand whats going on. Then something clicks, like your tutorial on this one, and you do see what you need to do.

    Thanks so much for your lessons!

    have a good break and Bon Annee

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      Hi Rosie! Thanks so much for you lovely compliment on my journals. I really have fun making them and I’m so glad to have shared a bit of craftyness with you. It really makes my day to hear that I have helped someone by sharing my projects and process. Have fun and enjoy! Happy holidays!

  • Rosie

    hi Linda
    hope its not too cold there at the moment… I shouldnt say that I’ve just been to the pool for a swim, but you might be cheered by the fact that its warm somewhere at least! Another friend was visiting from Italy, whos here in Australia for a while, and glad to be outside in January too, I think.

    Thanks so much for your teaching on bookbinding. I made up one of the simple longstitch books the other night. I ‘d been so nervous about putting it together, looked at endless materials, and worried over it all so much. Finally I just started to sew, and it all came together. Just a woven piece of cotton, heavier fabric – over watercolor paper, and paper lined. Very exciting to get up in the morning and do more work in it. Now that I’ve made one, i realise I can make more. So happy! Good luck with the girls and buttons, I’m not sure how you could improve the process but will think about it more…

    have a great weekend there

    • http://www.tortagialla.com linda

      hi rosie! it’s cold for me, here in italy… but maybe it’s because I’m a southern californian girl at heart! but really, it’s more gloomy because there’s less sun. I don’t mind colder temperatures if there was more light, for sure.

      I’m glad to share my process in bookbinding and do hope I can help others. you are very welcome and glad you just dove in and created the books – yay! I think everything looks intimidating at first… but you have to just try it out!

      thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  • http://www.playsandpapercrafting.blogspot.com Heather Cooper

    This is fascinating and really not difficult! Journals make such great gifts, too! I’ve got to try it! Thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com L.TIEU

      Hi Heather – definitely, anyone can make a journal! Go for it!

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  • Anjuli

    Thanks for this great tutorial! My daughter has a project for school that has to do with the frontier/prairie times and has selected to make a cookbook with recipes from that era and I thought it’d be fun to make the actual book with her. I’ve never attempted this but your tutorial makes it sound pretty simple. Unfortunately it’s hard to find scraps of leather around my town because our tannery closed many years ago, but I’m on the lookout for good cloth and paper that looks old, or that I can make look aged.
    Wish us luck and thanks again!

    • http://www.tortagialla.com L.TIEU

      you are very welcome and you can definitely use other materials! good luck!

      • Anjuli

        Hi again! From another comment above – I agree, it was kind of intimidating in the beginning, I was worried about the punch holes not matching up, but once I got over my fear 😉 it actually turned out pretty darned awesome! I found some rustic looking metal picture corners that u can bend over and I used them for the corners of my book. It looks so cool! Thank u again!!!! I’m sure my daughter will get an A++ as soon as we find some recipes haha.

      • http://www.tortagialla.com L.Tieu

        that’s fantastic! you definitely have to just try it out and see for yourself. glad you were able to create a lovely book!

  • http://www.agentenkontor.de Perihan

    Hey Linda,

    thank you very much for this tutorial. I never thought that it can be so easy to make a journal!

    Greetings from Hamburg/Germany

  • Carwen Betha

    Hi, I love your journals :), they’re fun and simple. Can I know what kind of stitching you used on the third picture?

    • http://www.tortagialla.com L.Tieu

      Hi there! The third photo is just longstitching, each signature is stitched in separately. It looks funky since the binding is only two strips of leather that the thread wraps over, but otherwise nothing complicated!

      • Carwen Betha

        Thank you! :)

  • Em

    Wow! This is amazing, thank you so much for posting! I’m usually terrible at tutorials, but this one is so well done, I just made 3 notebooks 😀

  • http://www.LindaTieu.com LTieu

    good to hear – enjoy!

  • Julie

    This is a wonderful blog. I really want to make my boyfriend a homemade sketchbook for Christmas because he loves to draw. I’ve been to countless sites on bookbinding and yours is my favorite so far. I have questions about the cover though. where can i get cover boards? material strong enough to be a book cover? can I use scrapbook paper to cover it? Thank you so much for your blog.

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com LTieu

      Hi Julie! Thanks so much and you can definitely use any kind of chipboard or sturdy cardboard material for your cover. The idea is to find something that is sturdy enough for your expectations… that won’t bend if you don’t want a soft cover. Sometimes you can glue multiple pieces of board together to get the thickness and strength that you want. You can definitely use scrapbooking chipboard and covering with any material such as scrapbooking paper, cloth, etc is a great idea! Another recycling idea is to buy an old hardcover book and actually cut out the pages to use the old cover as your journal – sort of retro cool!

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  • Karen

    hello Linda

    thanks so much for putting this tutorial up. I have been looking at others bookbinding tutorials but they have not helped me a bit but when í found this one i understood everything :) but i have a question how many papers would you recommend for each signature? (if the paper is pretty thin)

    p.s. i love it!!!

    • http://www.LindaTieu.com LTieu

      Hi Karen! Thanks for stopping by my blog and glad you were able to learn from my post!

      Regarding the papers for each signature, it really doesn’t depend on your preference, because technically there is not limit. It’s just that fewer papers means it might be weak when you try to sew it – maybe too flimsy? Too thick and you might not like how it all folds and gets all fat! So I would say 4-8 pages folded… depending on the thickness. Give it a try and see what works for you!

  • Sierra M

    Hi Linda!

    I was just looking for a way to bind together some paper for a journal and I found your site and I absolutely love this tutorial! You posted it a while ago, but still it makes my heart pound and makes me want to go home and bind! I just have one question: does there always need to be three signatures for one book with this stitching, or can there be a few more? Because it looks like any time there are three in your photos, there is a bit of spacing between each so I was wondering if the spacing would go away with added signatures?


    • http://www.LindaTieu.com LTieu

      Hi Sierra! Happy to have inspired you to make a journal!

      You can definitely include more signatures in your journal, however many you want actually. Just make sure you measure things out, so everything fits together nicely.

      In regards to the spacing, it depends how closely you sewn them in, some people like it looser to make room for collaging, others like it tighter if you are only writing or drawing.

      The great thing about making your own journal is that you can create whatever you want!

      • Sierra M

        Thanks so much! I will let you know how it goes! :)

  • http://www.beetzseecenter.de/ Mona

    This is nice. Thanks for showing how to do this in detail. I will definitely try this!

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  • http://persistentwyrm.weebly.com/ Ross

    I love the tutorial! I’m planning on trying to make a journal tomorrow!

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  • Roo Torres

    This tutorial is the most easy to understand and descriptive one I have seen till now. Thanks a bunch! <3