Introduction: Easy Upcycled Leather Journal

About: Tutor, teacher, artist

Have you ever longed for one of those expensive leather journals in the bookstore? They are usually expensive, and making a handmade leather journal is usually considered intermediate or advanced work. Here's a simple upcycled leather journal that you can make in about thirty minutes. It's beautiful, refillable, and very inexpensive made with a thrift-store jacket or an old leather jacket of your own.

Step 1: Get Yourself an Old Jacket...

Find an old jacket with material that you like. Make sure it has six buttonholes.

I found mine in a thrift shop for $2, but you might have one lurking in the back of your closet. Make sure you love the leather. You will be able to make this journal from the buttonhole side and have plenty of leftover leather for further bookmaking adventures.

Step 2: Draw the Line

Use a straight edge to draw a line across the top of the jacket, above the buttonhole. Keep it as straight as you can, and retain as much leather as you can above the buttonhole.

Step 3: Cut Across the Top.

Use nice sharp scissors and cut across the top as far as you can go. It's okay if you have excess material; you can adapt the size of your book later.

Step 4: Cut Along the Side.

You have two horizontal cuts across the jacket. Now cut along the side so you have more or less a rectangle with six buttonholes. You can cut right into the sleeve. Don't worry about the seams; they add to the beautiful design!

Step 5: Cut the Rectangle in Half.

Draw a line exactly halfway between buttonhole three and four and cut slowly and evenly across it to divide the rectangle into two.

Step 6: Do Some Trimming.

Trim away any lining and interlining. Also trim away any troublesome little bits that may be left behind.

Step 7: Align Two Pieces and Line Up Buttonoles.

You will remember that the first buttonhole had about 1/4" from the top of the jacket, in my example. Put the two pieces together so that the buttonholes will align.

Important: Remember to turn the second piece over so the nice side faces outside.

Measure the same distance above the second buttonhole so it will line up perfectly with the first piece.

Draw a nice straight line, using your straightedge.

Cut slowly across, creating a nice, straight line for the top of your back piece.

Step 8: Straighten Up the Edges.

Place one piece right on top of the other. I like to use the top of the jacket with the finish as the top piece. Check how the two pieces fit and trim up any edges that don't match perfectly. Work slowly. Many jackets are fitted, so you may have some curves in your pieces. If so, don't fret. Enjoy the variations :).

Step 9: Cut Some Strips.

From a scrap piece, cut a few narrow strips, above 1/4 inch. Cut more than you will need so you can choose the ones you like best. Cut slowly and as straight as you can.

Step 10: Measure and Cut Your Paper.

Get yourself a nice stack of paper. I like to use good-quality unlined paper, but you can choose lined paper, watercolor paper, drawing paper, printer paper, recycled paper--or any combination of these! Measure the paper so it just fits inside the journal cover. Cut as many pieces of paper as you want to use.

Remember that you can add and remove paper anytime you like!

Step 11: Mark the Buttonholes on the Paper.

Push the pencil tip through the middle of each buttonhole to mark where you will punch holes.

Some jackets have the exact distance of buttonholes as three-hole-punched paper. That's cool when it works out! In my case, I needed to punch the holes.

Mark carefully.

Step 12: Punch the Holes.

I'm using a hand punch here, but if you have a three-hole-puncher, that's even better. Punch holes in all your journal pages.

Step 13: Lace Through the Holes and Tie a Knot.

Lace your strips through the holes and tie a nice square knot:

Right over left, left over right. Do not tie tightly, since the pages need to open and close. Leave a little give.

Repeat for each hole.

Step 14: Optional: Ribbon or Waxed Linen Thread

If you want, tie the holes with ribbon of your choice. Waxed linen thread, shown here with wooden beads, also works great.

Step 15: Optional: Cardboard in the Back

If your journal seems too flimsy to write and draw in, cut a piece of shirt cardboard or mat board to fit nicely in the back and glue in place. Be sure to smooth glue to all edges and press down firmly.

Step 16: You're Done!

That's it! You are done! In less than 30 minutes, you have created your own, high-end, leather journal with replaceable pages. This journal is beautiful and functional. It makes a wonderful gift, and it's a splendid introduction to bookmaking! Enjoy!

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