Introduction: From Notebook to Day Bag

This project came about because I wanted to keep pens and pencils near my notebook without having to fish around in a bag or backpack. The original idea was to strap a freestanding pocket to the notebook cover. Then I realized it would be just as easy to make a cover with an integrated pocket—and while I was at it, I might as well line the cover with water-resistant fabric for extra protection. An elastic strap to hold the notebook together or to mark a page also seemed like a useful addition.

By the time I was finished, the notebook had effectively become a replacement for my bag. It held not only pens and pencils, but my phone, keys, and some cash—all that I'd need on most day trips.

Step 1: Tools & Materials

Measurements in italics are sized for a cheap composition notebook, approximately 10"X7".


  • scrap paper for pattern
  • scrap fabric for cover (cotton print used here), less than 1/2 yard
  • scrap fabric for lining (flag nylon used here), less than 1/2 yard
  • extra wide double fold bias tape
  • scrap elastic (3/8" width used here), about 10-12"
  • 9" zipper (or sized to fit your notebook)

useful tools

  • ruler
  • rotary cutter or scissors
  • thread
  • sewing machine
  • zipper foot*
  • for straps: 3-1/2 yards of 1" wide nylon webbing/strapping

*a zipper foot allows you to sew up close to the teeth of the zipper. If your sewing machine doesn't have one, you can buy one for $5-10. Just be sure it will fit your machine—a sewing store can help you if you're not sure.

Step 2: Cutting the Cover Fabric

Make a pattern by wrapping your notebook in a piece of newspaper and trimming it to fit the height and width.

Unfold this paper pattern, lay over your cover fabric, and cut the fabric to size. Do the same with your lining fabric.

My cover and lining pieces measured 10"X21".

Step 3: Making the Pocket

This is the most complicated step of the project. Zippers intimidate a lot of people but if you have a zipper foot, they are no harder to install than pinning and sewing a regular seam. (Even if you don't have a zipper foot, you can do the stitching by hand—it just takes longer.)

First decide how large you want your pocket to be. I wanted mine to be no deeper than my hand for easy access, but I left excess on each side just in case. Cut your pocket fabric to size (approximately 10"X10" here). Cut across the pocket piece where you want the zipper opening to be.

If your zipper is shorter than your notebook, as mine was, you'll want to add tabs at each end to cover any gaps. Simply fold scrap fabric over both sides of the zipper and stitch to either side. (If your zipper is longer than your notebook, you won't have to do this, but can trim your zipper even with the fabric before sewing on the bias tape.)

Next, fold the edges of your cut fabric under and pin to the zipper. Using your zipper foot or by hand, stitch the fabric to the closed zipper and along the tabs, as well.

Finally, turn the bottom edge of your pocket under and stitch to the cover fabric piece. The other edge of the pocket can be trimmed to fit the cover edge.

Step 4: Binding

Lay the lining fabric right side down (there is no right side with nylon, but it could be relevant with other fabrics).

On top of this lay your cover fabric (with newly attached pocket) right side up.

Place the elastic across the cover about an inch from the book's edge (this will be about 4" from the total cover edge before the flap gets folded under).

Wrap the binding around the edge of these sandwiched fabrics, pushing the fabric edges securely into the binding. It will be slightly wider on one side than on the other (see second photo, above). Put this wider side on the bottom so that your stitches catch on both sides.

Stitch the binding all around the book cover, being careful to catch the elastic. You can miter the corners or cut a new piece for each edge—just be sure to fold any exposed edges under.

Now you'll have a flat sandwich of lining, cover, and elastic with binding all around the edges.

Step 5: Folding the Flaps

Fold your flaps in and stitch them securely. I opted to do this by hand using a blind stitch (there is a nice instructable for that here), but you can sew it any way that works, as long as you leave enough clearance for the notebook cover to slip inside the flaps.

Now you have ready access to your notes or drawings, pencils, keys, cash and phone all in one place.

Step 6: Adding Optional Straps

I like the book cover as is, but it occurred to me that the addition of straps would turn it into a lightweight day bag.

Since I wasn't sure I wanted to keep the straps, I made them in the form of a removable harness. You could sew the straps to the cover, if you prefer—it would look best if you attach them before adding the lining and binding.

The harness is made from 1" webbing sewn into a long loop, with a support cross piece in the center and a couple of shorter braces. A pair of snaps hold the strap and the notebook in place. (I used snap tape because I had it and because it is pretty much foolproof.)

A couple of notes about sewing strapping:

  • After cutting your strapping to size, hold a flame to the cut end briefly, just enough to melt the nylon into a solid edge that won't unravel.
  • The usual pattern for sewing strapping is to stitch an "X" inside a square (see photo 3, above) for a good, solid connection.

I used 48" of strapping sewn with a 1" overlap for the main loop. Cross pieces measured 7" (the bottom support), 5.25", and 5.25" (two sides).

Step 7: Modifications

As I mentioned at the beginning of this Instructable, my project grew a bit as it proceeded. That is why I've made the instructions so loose—it's a loose project with a lot of room for variation according to what you have at hand, how you want the cover to function and look, and what your particular skillsets include.

Besides the obvious changes you would make for a larger or smaller notebook, some of the variations I can think of include:

  • using different materials
  • gluing instead of sewing
  • quilting the top
  • eliminating the binding by sewing the cover and lining fabrics together with right sides facing, turning inside out, and topstitching the edge
  • alternately, eliminating the lining altogether by using a heavier material such as vinyl, denim, or cordura nylon
  • adding two elastics, one each on the front and back covers (one elastic could be used to mark the book, the second could hold the book closed)
  • adding a flap closure instead of elastic
  • changing the size or shape of the pocket to hold more items
  • using velcro instead of zippers and snaps
  • adding different straps to make the book into a messenger-style cross-body bag, a backpack, or a tote

I would love to see any modifications you do make. Thanks for reading!

Travel Tips Contest

Participated in the
Travel Tips Contest