Introduction: Make Your Own Journal With Stuff You Have at Home

Ever wanted to learn how to bind your own books? Today we're going to make a 3.5"x5" journal personally I prefer that size, but I'll also include some information if you want to make a bigger one. The nice thing about this is that we skipped all the fancy professional (and expensive) tools. In fact, there's a good chance you have everything you need at home and if not you should be able to find it pretty cheap at your local big-box store (Walmart, Target, Meijer).

Here's a shot of some journals I've made

Time to get started, don't forget to go through each 'slide show' as they call out a lot of things that are hard to describe.

Step 1: Gathering Tools and Supplies

While we are going to use household tools and supplies we'll also talk about the professional and why we are substituting.


  • Plain printer paper - Below you'll see a pdf of a page with some lines. If you want a lined journal you can print this on both sides. If you want a journal without lines obviously don't print anything. Either way, you'll want 20 sheets of paper for a 3x5 book (40 sheets for a 5x7 book).
  • Thread - we don't want it too thick as it will be bulky, but we need it to be sturdy enough to hold up. Linen thread, a sturdy thread that has been coated in wax, or my standby - unscented, waxed dental floss.
  • Fabric - I like using a thicker fabric on the spine like a canvas or denim. Typical cotton fabric is a bit thin and see-through, and I personally don't feel that paper is strong enough.
  • Paper for the cover. I like grabbing a couple of sheets of scrapbooking paper that looks good with your fabric. For this 3x5 book, I used a single 8x8 sheet that was cut in half.
  • Endpaper - Look at a hardcover book. You'll see what is usually a colored sheet of paper attached to the inside of the front and back covers. We want this to be a bit thicker than standard paper. I recommend a sheet of card stock in a color to match your cover.
  • Mull - If you look inside the spine of a hard covered book you'll notice something along the spine of the sheets (in the middle of the glue). That's your mull. It gives your spine strength. For starters, we're just going to use some cheesecloth which should be fairly easy to find if you don't have any. Both a kitchen/grocery store and a craft store should have some.
  • Linen tape - Another part of structurally holding our book together. You will need about 3- 3inch pieces of 5/8 inch wide ribbon
  • Glue - We're going to use both a regular glue and a paste type glue. Consider getting glues that are designed for scrapbooking as they tend to not discolor your paper over time. I've usually used Tacky Glue (although regular Elmers should work) and a glue stick.
  • Book board - this is what makes your cover hard, I've had good luck with matte board used for framing photos.


  • Needle - It doesn't have to be super thick, but you don't want a tiny one either.
  • Awls are great for punching holes in paper, but I've had surprisingly good luck using a push pin. It's sharp and sturdy, and we're not looking for it to be very long. It's either this or you end up having to poke the holes with your needle.
  • Knife/ruler/cutting mat - We're going to be doing some cutting, pick your favorite method, and just remember at some point we'll be cutting the entire thickness of the book.
  • Bone folder - Remember folding pages as a kid, if you needed that sharp crease you had to use your fingernails. Well, we need 40+ of those nice creases, and that makes for sore fingers. Traditionally what looks like a letter opener made of bone was used. Now they are made of all types of materials. While not perfect, I've had good success with a popsicle stick.
  • A clamp - once we glue the book together we want it to dry while compressed. A clamp and a couple of pieces of thin wood to spread out the pressure should work fine (I had some unused paint stirrers that worked great).

That's all you need. I'm guessing you might have to pick up a few things at the store, but nothing expensive or hard to find.

Step 2: Fold, and Fold, and Fold Some More

For our 3x5 book, we're going to start by folding each sheet in half horizontally (a friend used the term hamburger style, not hotdog style the other day, weird, but you get the idea). Then we're going to cut or rip along that fold. Don't worry if it is a tad jagged. We're going to trim about 1/2" off at some point. Next, we're going to fold these 1/2 sheets in half so it starts to look like a book. We have 40 sheets to do. Get to folding.

For a 5x7 book you would print 40 sheets, and then fold them and skip the cutting step.

If you ever look at a hardcover book you'll notice that there are sections. Each of these sections is called a signature. We're going to make a book with 4 signatures. Once your pages are all folded you're going to make 4 nested stacks of 10. These are your 4 signature.

Before you keep going we're also going to do our endpapers. Basically grab 1 sheet of card stock (8.5x11") and fold it exactly the same as you did the pages for your signatures.

Whew, you are done folding. Now its time to assembly your book block.

Step 3: Sewing Your Book Block

Let's start by defining a book block. A book block is going to be all of your pages or the part of the book that makes it a book. Basically it is everything but the cover.

OK, we're going to grab our linen tape. For a 3x5 book, you'll want 2 to 3 strips (I used 3, but if your ribbon is any wider than mine you'll probably want just 2). Center one strip and then add the other 2 near the edges of the book as shown in the picture. Then mark just outside the strips. This is where we are going to sew and we want to make sure our linen tape will fit. Then make an additional mark at either end. You'll need these marks on each signature.

Now you are going to grab your awl and make sure your signature is lined up and punch holes along the fold where you put your marks. Do that for all 4 signatures. Next, grab your needle and thread, you'll want about 6 times the height of your book, for a 3x5 book about 30" should work. Start at the top and go in from the outside, then weave in and out of your holes until you've made it through the first signature. You'll want to leave a few inches at the top to tie off your thread when you're done. Now we're going to grab those pieces of linen tape and slide them in. If you try to put them in while sewing they just fall out. Now go ahead and tighten everything up.

Next, grab another signature, our thread is now at the bottom so we'll start there and weave in and out of our second signature, but this time we want to get that linen tape in there as well. Once you are back at the top make a nice knot with that piece you had hanging. Look at that, you have 2 signatures sewn together. You're awesome.

You guessed it, now we're going to grab the third signature and add it to the first 2. When you get to the bottom you'll want to connect it to the first two signatures as well. A quick knot is fine, then go ahead and add the last signature and tie it off at the top again. You got the linen tape in there right? Also, don't forget to tighten as you go.

Step 4: Finishing Your Book Block

Now it's time to add those end pages. We're going to add about 1/2-1" of glue from our glue stick on one side by the crease. We'll then slide it in between the first page and our linen tape that's hanging out. We'll then take the other endpaper and do the same thing on the other side.

Before we get too far let's talk about glue. Generally, we'll be using a glue stick because we don't want to get our paper wet. No one likes wet paper, it's gross. The only time we'll use the liquid glue is with our mull (or cheesecloth) because we 're trying to fill in all those holes and make a nice sticky and reinforced spine.

OK, time to add the mull. We want about 1 inch or so on either side of the spine, and it only needs to be the length of the spine. If it's a little longer that's OK, let it hang at the bottom since we have to trim that part anyway. You might want to use a glue stick to help hold it down, I couldn't get my cheesecloth to stay where I wanted it until I got out the glue stick.

Next, get your liquid glue and get a nice amount along that spine and work it into your mull. You want the whole thing covered in glue, but you still want to be able to feel the mull. You don't need 15 layers of glue on top of it. Now we just need to let the glue dry. Grab your clamp and something to spread out the force of the clamp and then let it dry (you don't just want a clamp mark in the middle, you want something stiff between the clamp and the book block to prevent that and put some pressure on the rest of the spine). I ended up using 2 painter stirrer sticks which worked nicely.

Now you've finished your book block. The next time you grab it, it will be to add it to the cover!

Step 5: Making Your Cover

OK, now its time to make your cover. Let's start with our book board. We'll want 2 pieces that are 4x5.5" and another that is 5.5" tall but its width is the thickness of your book. Too thick and there is extra room in your book (you might want this if you plan on doing something like gluing lots of pictures in it). Too thin and your book doesn't close well. I've made a couple of journals that were actually a bit too small, you can hold it closed, but if you lay it down it doesn't quite close.

Next, we want to get our canvas. About 3.5x 9" is a good size. Then grab your small piece of book board and center it on your fabric, then add the 2 pieces to the sides. You'll want a small space between them (it should be the thickness of your book board) so that there is room for the cover when it closes. Take your glue stick and glue the book board down. Don't worry if it doesn't seem very secure, it won't be going anywhere when we're done. Then go ahead and fold over the top and bottom of the fabric and glue that down as well.

Now that we have the fabric attached we'll grab the paper we want to use for the rest of the cover. I used an 8x8" sheet that I cut in half. You'll want the clean edge along the edge of the fabric as all the other sides will be covered up. Make sure to overlap the fabric a little bit as well. Go ahead and lay your paper under each side of your cover like you see in the photo and then glue it on with your glue stick. You'll probably want to make sure that the sheets are even and symmetrical unless you prefer destruction and mayhem. Next, fold the paper around your book board and glue it all down. You'll be able to see the very edges and corners in your final project, but not the rest.

That's it. Our cover is done. If the glue on your book block is dry that you can attach the cover to the block. Otherwise, go take a well-deserved break and let your book block dry.

Step 6: Finishing Up

OK, you're almost done. The first step is to trim that book to the right size. Usually, there is about 1/8" or so between the book and the edge of the cover. The bottom of our book block has the rough edges, so let's trim that edge. It will probably be about 1/4" so. Just grab a straight edge, and a hobby knife and start cutting. If you're lucky you'll get through a few sheets per pass meaning it will take you quite a few passes with the knife. That's OK, you can do it. Then trim the outer edge, this will probably be a bit more like 3/4". When trimming the bottom be careful of the mull (cheesecloth), you'll want to cut it as well, but don't rip it off. You may also want to trim your mull just to make it a little neater and get rid of stray threads.

Now we're going to glue our book block into the cover. Put your book block into the cover and line it up the way you want it. Then open one cover. Coat your end page with a glue stick (even the part with mull on it) and close the book and press down. This will make sure that the cover is aligned the way you want it. Then flip the book over and do that with the back. Don't stress those end pages before the glue dries, but otherwise, you now have your own book to journal in, draw in, or whatever you want.


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