Instructables

Pocket-sized Notebooks with Recycled Grocery Bag Covers

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Picture of Pocket-sized Notebooks with Recycled Grocery Bag Covers
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This is sort of a two part tutorial. First, I'll show you how to bind your own pocket-sized notebooks. Second, I'll show you how to fuse old grocery bags into sheets of plastic to use as covers. The plastic can be used for many things, though. They can be sewn together like fabric to make bags, wallets, clothes, shower curtains? I don't know... I'm sure you can think of a million things.

Alright, here's how I do it...

Before you get started, you'll need:

• Paper (I like to use all-weather copier paper to make cheaper waterproof journals for backpacking)
• Ruler
• Box Cutter or X-Acto Knife with a nice sharp blade
• Sewing Needle
• Thread
• Glue

A thick upholstery needle would be great, but I just use the thickest sewing needle that came with my sewing kit and it works fine. I use heavy-duty polyester outdoor thread. For glue, I use a glue gun, but you can try it with whatever glue you have that is suitable for paper and plastic.

To make the cover out of plastic grocery bags, you'll need:

• Plastic Grocery Bags (Trash bag, Plastic Sheeting, or an old throw-away poncho also works)
• Scissors
• An Iron
• Wax Paper
 
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Step 1: Pre-Print

Picture of Pre-Print
Decide if you want to print anything on the pages first. I tend to print graph paper lines on mine. For printable graph paper, check out printfreegraphpaper.com, or download my graph paper PDF here.

Since I use mine for backpacking, some things I might print are: 

• Maps
• Trip itinerary
• Trail information
• Flight, bus, or train information
• Graph paper lines
• Important phone numbers
• Trail food recipes you want to try out
• Instructions on how to tie a bowline knot to hang your new hammock
• A few Sudoku puzzles for when you get bored
• Photos of loved ones
god10661 year ago
Hey. Firstly, fantastic instructable ! Love it. I just have a couple of questions. Firstly, what dimensions did you cut the paper to for this particular instructable? And secondly, is there anything else you could use to sandwich the plastic between when ironing? I don't know where to get wax paper from and wondered if anything else would work?. Thanks very much for any help !

Kindest regards
ryangrayson (author)  god10661 year ago
Wax paper is ideal, not sure what else would work, but Lorddrake is right. Pretty much every grocery store, wal-mart, etc. will have wax paper in the baking or zip-loc aisle. I'm forgetting the exact dimensions of the one in the pictures, but I usually make them about 3.5" x 5"

Also available in the same section of the grocery store is freezer (or may be called butcher) paper. It is only waxed on one side (have that face the plastic project) and won't cause problems for your iron.

you should be able to get waxed paper at your local grocery store. Check the baking aisle.
SeedRally1 year ago
Just set my iron on medium-high (for cotton blends) and that was way too hot! Haha. Silk was my low setting and that worked fine. So if everyone just puts their iron on silk that may be the "safe zone"
ryangrayson (author)  SeedRally1 year ago
Yeah, It's best to start cooler and raise the temp until you find what works. I've discovered that irons vary a lot, which makes me not trust the setting on my clothes.
SeedRally1 year ago
Did you use the hot glue for this step? Or did you something more like a glue stick?
ryangrayson (author)  SeedRally1 year ago
I have used a thin layer of tacky glue on some and a glue stick on others. The paper didn't absorb as much moisture with the glue stick, so it looked better, but it didn't stay attached as long. I've heard contact cement works well for combining paper and plastic without the paper absorbing too much, but I haven't tried it.
ratgirl131 year ago
Thanks for the great 'ible. Just finished making one with another 'ible - the bubble paper. This is going to be a great stocking stuffer. It was fun to make and very easy.
dimtick1 year ago
I REALLY LOVE THIS!!!!!
I have a pocket notebook design that the grocery bag cover would work great with.
http://www.instructables.com/id/Pocket-Size-Expanding-Notebook-with-Business-Card
I've been using old magazines for covers. can't wait to try out the ironing trick.
Nice Job!
ryangrayson (author)  dimtick1 year ago
Very nice! I like that idea.
Love your blog also by the way.
And a notebook, of course
Awesome idea! I'm going to try making a wallet!
tpurdum1 year ago
Can you print on a transparency and fuse that between the grocery bag layers? That way you could have anything you wanted as a cover?
ryangrayson (author)  tpurdum1 year ago
I don't know if the transparency would fuse with the plastic bags, but if it were cut much smaller than the notebook, so the bags fused around it, that would probably work alright. I'll play around with that and let you know.
sabu.dawdy1 year ago
love your idea.. :D
How long does the material last? I know some plastic bags are supposed to break down after a set time.
ryangrayson (author)  shizumadrive1 year ago
I don't have a great test for longevity yet, since I haven't been making them for years. If they're not stored in direct UV light and, in the case of waterproof notebooks, kept dry, the polyethylene terephthalate plastics in most grocery bags will probably last for decades. Hopefully someone with more knowledge on these materials can reply to this.

Something that just came to mind is that I've never tried this with plant-based grocery bags or the biodegradable grocery bags, but even in those cases, they need to be in soil to biodegrade. Although, you're probably not talking about how long it takes to biodegrade, but rather how long they hold up well and remain functional.

When I use them, I tend to abuse them more than normal though. I always hike with one in my back pocket. They may be in my pocket everyday for days or weeks at a time. They hold up pretty well even after that. I've never have a cover fall off.

If the plastic isn't heated up enough, sometimes the layers will start to split apart at the edges. Be sure to rub it between your thumb and fingers after ironing to make sure they are melted together well. If not, increase the heat a little and apply more pressure and make sure there are no air bubbles.

Either way, they still hold up a lot better than my paper notebooks.
Thanks thats what I wanted to know. I carry a moleskine in my pocket everyday and this will be a nice alternative if it can take the same abuse. Sounds like you have put it through the same. Thanks for the response
cover idea is great. well it all is.
CTeichert1 year ago
Thank YOU! for this absolutely wonderful tutorial!
Goatie1 year ago
Great Instructable I will have to have a go at making some for my next trip. I backpack with a sketchbook.
foobear1 year ago
Wow, beautiful job. Nice result.
lchalifoux1 year ago
Great Instructable, Ryan! Thanks especially for the extra tips for sewing the covers so that they can be reused with fresh inserts, or contain pockets, or maybe have a flap, or be used for wallets, etc. Really great information, wonderful photos, very clear instructions. Can't wait to try this out! It will be perfect for a notebook I can take with me kayaking or for my gardening notes. 

BTW, check out Rite in the Rain for all kinds or water-resistant paper, including blank copy paper that comes in white, green, or tan, and also an 11 x 17" format.  Not cheap, but if you record lots of data in the field under challenging conditions, might be worth it for your situation.  You can get their products at many of the big outdoor suppliers like REI, Cabelas, etc.  Grainger, a well-known industrial supplier, seems to carry their entire line.

You can use a pencil, or a special all-weather pen.  There are some interesting ideas for pen holders that I'd like to adapt using Ryan's techniques.

I know I'd love the option to make myself custom notebooks that I could tuck in a pocket, use under any conditions, and not worry about losing important notes.

Rite in the Rain  also offer lots of different, reasonably priced pre-bound formats that could be made extra-nice with a cover using Ryan's fused bag technique.  For outdoor enthusiasts, you can see the options by clicking on Products / Shop by User Group / Recreation, and then choose your area of interest.  

Hope this is helpful to all outdoor enthusiasts who would like to explore making things with Ryan's very helpful Instructable, and take it outside for an adventure!

Thanks, Ryan!
Fun, fun! I've heard of ironing bags, but hadn't really seen anything done with them! Thanks for the tutorial :)
ryangrayson (author)  Penolopy Bulnick1 year ago
Me too. I fused the grocery bags together before to make a waterproof liner for a backpack, but I never finished that project. Then one day I was looking around for something I could recycle into notebook covers and remembered the grocery bags. They can be sewed too, so you could use them to make all kinds of things. Trash bags work too, and actually have a nice fake leather look to them. I use this technique to make custom sized trash compactor bags to line my backpack when I go on a hiking trip.
Tupulov1 year ago
WELL DONE!
ryangrayson (author)  Tupulov1 year ago
Thanks Tupulov!
irishsoniv1 year ago
how did you come up with 64 pages? If I fold 6 pieces in half and then combine and make 3 of them then I end up with 36 pages. Maybe I'm missing something. I look forward to making my own. Very good idea
ryangrayson (author)  irishsoniv1 year ago
It's because I count both sides as one page, like a book. Each sheet of copier paper is cut in half then folded in half. So you get 4 pages of a book with each half sheet of paper. I used 8 sheets of paper, so 64. You could use as many pages as you want, though. but I think 5 or 6 sheets folded together into signatures is a good amount to keep it laying flat when closed. You could stack more signatures together though, and sew it together with the same pattern. I also like 64 pages because much more and it's not comfortable to sit on when it's in my back pocket :)