Introduction: Distressed Leather Journal With Pencil Loop
In this set of instructions I will be showing you how to create a set of distressed leather books, themed on the Harry Potter House colours, bound in the Japanese style, otherwise known as 'Stab Bindings', with a wrap around cover that allows the book to close with pencil loop. I have put many hours into improving both the process and the design of the end product. No doubt there will be more room for improvement.
For the purpose of these instructions I will be showing you the progression of the book with the Red cover and Yellow external thread and loop.
Step 1: Tools & Materials
- Leather Hide
- Craft Mat & Craft Knife
- Pen & Pencil
- Cutting Board
- Acetone (Nail Varnish remover) & Generic Kitchen Cloth
- Leather Stains (Brick Red, Yellow Ochre & Raven Black)
- Flat Edged Brush
- Paper (A3)
- Clamps (various) & 2 pieces of A5 sized Wood
- Fiebings’s Tan-Kote (Leather Varnish)
- Straight Needle & Curved Needle
- Vintage Co Waxed Linen Bookbinding Thread
- Masking Tape
- Pinflair Bookbinding Glue
- Embroidery Thread (Yellow)
Step 2: Cutting Up the Leather Hide
To start with you will need to source enough leather to complete the project. In this case I have purchased a treated cow hide. The finish is not great and is somewhat inconsistent over parts of the hide. For this project it is ideal.
The leather will be divided up into usable cuts for this project, as well as others I may need it for in the future. The cuts are highlighted in red.
The 4 pieces that were used for this project measured 15½ x 9" (393mm x 227mm). They were cut about half an inch longer than required to allow for any neatening up and trimming.
Please note that the scraps shown in the above image are used as either test pieces or bookmarks, as little as possible is wasted. A plan for the overall design and usage for the piece of leather is shown above.
Step 3: Preparation of the Leather
The next step is to prepare the cut pieces of leather by removing the protective layer that you tend to get on most treated hides. This is achieved by using an Acetone based product, I find nail varnish remover does the trick rather well, otherwise products with a higher concentrate of Acetone are available as well.
Apply this with either a sponge or a generic kitchen cloth.
Step 4: Staining the Leather
Next, let the piece dry, you may have to flatten it slightly depending on the leather you are using, as it will curl up on the corners and edges. Once the piece is dry colour it with a leather stain. The one I used for this piece was called ‘Brick Red’. I applied the stain with a flat ended brush, using a crosshatched motion to ensure an even coverage.
I will often put a second much weaker coat on once the first has had a chance to dry slightly. This can not only cover any spots or cracks that may have been missed the first time, but also bring out some extra details and texture from the leather.
Please note the colour of the piece will appear darker when it is wet, compared to when it is dry. Now leave the leather to dry for a minimum of about 12 hours.
Once the top side of the piece of leather has dried, the underside is ready to be painted. Mark out a section at the far right edge of about 4" (102mm), this with be stained using 'Raven Black' and will eventually be the inside of the flap that wraps around the cover to close the book.
Step 5: Varnishing the Leather
Let this dry, then return to the top facing side of the piece of leather and apply varnish to this surface with a flat edge brush, using a crosshatched motion to ensure an even coverage. This will not only give a measure of protection from water and other slight marks, but bring out an additional richness of tone and colour to the cover. It will also add a slight satin sheen to it. The varnish I used is 'Fiebings’s Tan-Kote'.
Please note that you do not need to use a lot of varnish to complete this task.
Leave this to dry for a few hours.
Step 6: Distressing the Leather
Once the varnish has had a chance to dry, I distressed the leather pieces by rolling them up both length ways and longways, as well as twisting in them when rolled up.
Now the pieces are ready to be glued onto the signatures!
Step 7: Creating the Signature
Now that the leather cover has been prepared, the next step is to prepare the pile of paper and sew it together to form a signature.
You can either start with a larger role of paper or a smaller pre-cut pad of paper. In this case I have used an A3 pad of 120 gram Fabriano paper. The paper is cut in half to A4 sheets, then folded in half to an A5 size. For a brief description of how to cut up a larger sheet, please follow this link:
Taking one of the folded sheets mark two sets of 2 holes. The holes are ⅓" (16mm) apart and are set 2 ⅕" (57mm) in from the top/bottom edges. They are set ¼" (7mm) in from the spine. These holes will be used for the internal stitching. Using this as the top sheet, group 20 folded sheets together and clamp the sheets in place. Once the holes have been marked out use an awl to create one set of them.
Please remember to use a thicker surface than a craft mat if you are using an awl to make holes in any material, as it may not be thick enough if sufficient force is used. A cheap chopping board is ideal and can be multi purposed for staining and varnishing as well.
Using these two holes, take two pieces of bookbinding thread and sew the folded pieces of paper together, tying them off on one side. Move the clamps over to the other side and repeat these steps further down the page. These stitches are to lock the pages in place and will be re-enforced by the external stitches later on in the process.
The signature is now ready to be glued to the cover.
Step 8: Attaching the Leather Cover (Part 1)
The next step is to glue the signature to the leather cover. A straightforward way to work out the placement is to mark the left and right edges with masking tape, using the signature as a guide.
Please ensure that you take into account the space needed for the cover to wrap around and to offset the the placement of the signature by about ⅛" (3mm) on the right hand side.
I find it beneficial to start the gluing at the the edge nearest the spine of the signature, as this will allow for the most accurate placement.
Step 9: Attaching the Leather Cover (Part 2)
Once this initial strip of gluing has been completed, turn the book over and continue the process until you get to within ⅛" (3mm) of the edge of the paper. Leaving the remainder unglued will make it easier to trim the edge later on.
The next step is to turn the book over again and glue the cover the other side of the book.
This time only glue a 3rd of the cover. This ensures that the leather cover is attached to the signature, whilst allowing space to more easily attach the loop later on.
Step 10: Clamping the Book
Now clamp the book and allow it to dry for about 12 hours. Alternatively you can put the book in a press to dry.
Finally trim the top and the bottom edges of the book. This ensures that you squared up the shape of the book, prior to the external stitching being added. This can be achieved with a very sharp blade and metal ruler, but is best achieved by using a guillotine when the book gets beyond a certain depth.
Step 11: The External Stitching - Marking Out the Guide Holes
Now that the structure of the book has been largely completed the next step is to begin the external stitching. This is both a structural and aesthetically appealing feature.
To start this off you need to mark 4 holes in the cover, the two measurements on the top and bottom are ⅓" (16mm) from the edges. These are fixed measurements. The two remaining holes are spaced equally between the others.
The entire pattern only encroachs ⅕" (9mm) into the cover from the spine of the book.
For the purposes of ease I created a stencil to make this a more straightforward process, however with or without the stencil I always recommend checking the measurements with a ruler to ensure that they are correct and that the holes line up with one another.
Only then do I create the holes using an awl.
Now that these holes have been established they will be used as a general guide to follow when the external stitching is added.
Step 12: The External Stitching - Starting Off the Pattern
The thread will need be about 7 to 8 times the length of the book. The thread is sewn through the cover and tied off on the inside of the book. I normally use a hooked needle for this and only go as far a 5 pages into the book, you can choose to go further into the book if you wish to.
Thread a straight needle onto the other end of thread and pulling the knot reasonably tight until it stops you.
Then thread the needle into the guide hole nearest the closest edge. From here thread it through twice more, wrapping around the spine and bottom edge as you go.
Step 13: The External Stitching - Completing the Simple Pattern
Turn the book over and make two additional holes approximately ¼" (7mm) inside of the square you have just made with your previous actions. Thread the needle through the one the holes, it doesn't matter which one you choose.
Once again wrap the thread around the exterior edges, twice if you're on the corner square, then return to the guide hole. Repeat on the second hole you just made.
At this point you have the option to tie off and knot thread at one of these guide holes if you feel the need to.
Next continue to the other edge of the book by threading in and out of the guide holes. Once at the other end, repeat the process to add the extra details.
You now have the option of completing the more straight forward design by just following the guide holes back to the start point.
Please see the stitching order in the above images for additional guidance.
Step 14: The External Stitching - Completing the Advanced Pattern
If you want to continue and complete the more complicated pattern simply work your way back towards the start point and replicating the pattern that you have added onto the edges of the book, with the option to link the secondary pattern up as well, as you go.
Now that the pattern is completed and the needle back at the start point.
Please see the stitching order in the above images for additional guidance.
Step 15: The External Stitching - Tying Off the Stitching
The next step is to tie off the thread and then thread it back through the book to the same point you started from. To do this thread the needle under and around the the 5 strands of the pattern and tie it into a knot, then simply thread the needle back into the book and trim both ends off.
Please see the stitching order in the previous images for additional guidance.
The external sewing has been completed.
Next Trim the right hand edge of the book.
Please note, that there should be enough of a gap between the leather and the paper to allow you to put a cutting board if the bottom sheet needs trimming.
Step 16: Adding the Slots to the Cover
The next step is to measure and cut the slot in the front cover for the loop to go through. The measurement for the slot is based on the length and width of the loop with a pencil in place. On this design it was approximately 4" x ¼" (112mm x 7mm). The slot can always be made bigger at a later stage.
The placement of the slot shouldn't be too close to the right hand edge of the book, this is a matter of tinkering with the design. I placed the slot approximately 2" (50mm) from the top and bottom edges and ½" (12mm) from the right hand edge.
Once this has been completed the slot on the outer cover then needs to be cut. Initially use the same measurements for the previous slot, with the proviso that you will probably need to extend the length slightly after the loop has been glued in and tested for fit.
To work out the placement of the second slot simply duplicate the vertical position based on the slot already in place on the front cover. The work out the horizontal placement you will need to take into account the depth of the book ¼"(7mm), the distance from edge of book to edge of first slot ½" (12mm) and add a bit extra depending on how much slack you want.
Step 17: Preparing the Loop & Shaping the Cover
The next steps are to shape the wrap around cover and prepare the pencil loop. The cover is shaped in a very rudimentary fashion. Feel free to adapt or abandon this aspect completely, however if you are going to make a much longer wrap around you will need to take this into account when cutting the leather out. I have included the measurements on the image above.
The loop is a 1½" x 4" (37mm x 112mm) piece of leather that has been stained according to the secondary colour of that house, in this case using 'Yellow Ochre'. Then once dry, it will need to be varnished and then distressed.
Step 18: Attaching the Loop to the Book
Next using the first slot as a basic guide, trace the shape of it onto the paper below. Then add an additional ¼" (12mm) onto each side to take into account the surface needed to securely glue the loop in place.
Glue one side down, then leave for about 30 mins to an hour to dry slightly, then loop the leather around the pencil intended for this design and adjust the placement of the other side if needed.
Next glue the other side of the loop in place. Leave to dry for another 30 mins to an hour.
Step 19: Clamping & Gluing Cover
Test the placement and sizes of the slots and adjust if needed. Remember the outer slot may need to be extended to facilitate the insertion and removal of the pencil loop.
Finally glue the front cover down, then clamp the book together and leave to dry for 12 to 24 hours.
The book is now complete.
I hope that you found these instructions helpful.
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Participated in the
Tandy Leather Contest 2016