This instructable will provide you with a quick run-through on how to make a decorative sketchbook. Some specialised equipment will make things easier but almost everything shown here can be done with basic household items.
You don't need to be a professional to make a decent looking and functional piece of art.
I'll try and go into as much depth as I can which will mean that each step will be quite long.
Now a word of caution: This project will involve both fire and sharp things. If you feel that you are not responsible enough to use either then please acquire someone who is equipped for those steps.
One thing you would do well to familiarise yourself with is paper grain, though. Knowledge of this makes everything work. Your grain should always run parallel with the spine with a few exceptions.
Step 1: The Paper Inside
There are numerous videos on the internet about how to create a text block. If you would rather watch one of those for this part I fully understand.
I recommend This particular video by bookbinders chronicle on youtube as it is basically the process I used.
If you wish to follow on with this pictorial set of instructions keep reading.
The pictures in Sequence:
- 1 and 2 -
The paper. You will need to choose something which is heavy enough to not tear easily. Anything around 70 gsm and up is workable. For this project I'm using 110 gsm "sketchbook" paper. It has been cut to 140mm x 400 mm and folded in half.
The folded in half pieces are stacked inside each other in groups of 4. This is called a signature. The number of signatures is completely up to you.
- 3 -
Measure the width of your sewing tape. Speaking of tape, it is suggested that you use linen tapes specifically designed for bookbinding, but I have had success using ribbons and cotton webbing. In this case I'm using 12mm cotton webbing.
- 4 and 5 -
Make a template for where you're going to be making your holes in the spine. Simply get 2 pieces of heavy card or 3mm MDF and mark where the bottom of the book reaches. Then make a mark 10mm from either end (this is where you will be starting and finishing your sewing of each signature). After that mark where your tapes will be sewn.
When all measurements are made, then clamp your paper between them and draw lines across.
- 6 and 7 -
Cutting the holes for sewing. Use a saw blade with small teeth and a small kerf. The saw I used is a Irwin brand japanese style pull saw and it has a kerf of 0.3mm. A dovetail saw would also be eminently acceptable. A hacksaw would not.
Cut down into the spine until you have cut into the innermost page. It should only be a few millimetres in depth but I find it better to cut too deep than not deep enough. The saw cuts will not be visible from the inside.
- 8 and 9 -
The sewing equipment you'll need. It is HEAVILY suggested you use linen thread for sewing your signatures together. It is strong and durable and has magical properties or something. Unfortunately it is not easily or cheaply acquired at times so you can use anything that is strong enough to withstand a fair bit of tension without stretching or breaking. Dental floss and embroidery floss is strong but it stretches. I don't recommend that stuff. I'm using cotton yarn. It is comparable to linen and is cheap and easy to find.
Beeswax is required for waxing the thread if you're not using already waxed thread. It'll make the thread glide easier through the holes and makes it resist fraying.
The needle is important. You'll need something that is fairly thick and long but it'll also need the eye to be in line with the shaft. A lot of larger sewing needles found tend to have flared eyes. Not suitable. You can pick "bookbinding" needles up online or they may be found in leather working stores. Of course any sewing needle will do in a pinch if you can't find anything specific.
- 10 -
Set up your tapes on your sewing frame so they're in line with the cut holes. If you don't have a sewing frame you can either make one or makeshift one with a chair. The tension on the tapes needs to be taut enough that you could strum them like a string instrument if you wanted to.
- 11 to 16 -
Okay, onto sewing. Place the stack of signatures against the tapes and then take off all but the bottommost one with a flipping motion (the bottom of the stack in your hand becomes the top).
Thread your needle (don't tie a knot) and insert it into the rightmost hole and out through the next hole down. Pull the thread through until there is about 7cm of the end hanging out. Go over the tape and into the next hole, come out the next hole down and pull the thread through. Repeat.
Then place the next signature on top and insert your needle into the hole directly above where your needle last came out. Sew across as per the last signature. When you get to the end tie a knot with the tail of the thread (pointing the tail down when you're done). Add another signature and sew through to the other end.
When you get to the end of your third signature, stick the needle in-between the two signatures below it and pull your needle out between the loop. (pic 14 and 15) This will knot your current signature to the previous one.
Continue on with this method until you run out of signatures. Tie your thread off and cut it. TIP: if you want to get your knot as close as you can to your signature at the end, stick your needle in the loop and point the tip into the final hole. When you tighten the thread it'll slide down the needle and into the hole.
- 17 and 18 -
Cut your threads free from the sewing frame and put a coat of flexible PVA glue on the spine. Congratulations, you now have a block of paper. At this point you would trim the fore-edge of your paper block to neaten up the jagged effect it has. You can use a knife, a guillotine designed for lots of paper or even a modified chisel.
That is the basics but we're going to take it one step further.
- 19 and 20 -
Use fire to burn the all the edges of your paper block (except for the spine). Be extremely careful to not burn yourself cos paper catches fire really easily (duh). You also don't want to burn too much paper away, you want to scorch the edges and round the corners. I only had a candle available to me but a propane torch or even a red hot iron poker would be good to use. Be creative.
As you can see the fire damage does not extend much past the edges of the paper.
One problem with this is that fire dries out the paper. You will notice moderate to severe bowing and warping of your paper after you're done. To return your paper to its previously flat state you'll simply need to heat a mug of water in the microwave until boiling and then put your singed paper block in with it. Shut the door and leave it. The steam will rehydrate the pages, reducing most of the warp. Leave it in the steam for about 10 to 15 min then quickly put it in a book press or under a stack of heavy books.
Step 2: Covers, Headbands and Spine.
- 1 to 3 -
Cutting out the covers. You'll need 2 pieces of heavy card 10mm wider than the paper and the same length. Draw a line 5mm in from three edges.
- 4 to 8 -
Cut a piece of heavy fabric (I used cotton drill) to fit over the spine. It'll need to sit 10mm from either end of the spine and overhang about 35 mm on either side. Glue this on using flexible PVA.
Once your glue is dry, lift up the fabric and trim your tapes back to the spine, being careful not to cut your sewing.
Line up your paper block with the lines on the cardboard covers and glue the fabric to the outside of the covers. This is how your book will be hinged. Don't worry about the look of the cloth on the outside of the covers, that will be fixed later.
- 9 to 11 -
Set your proto-book into a stand made from 2 pieces of wood and a clamp. Select colours for your headband and sew them onto the head and tail of your book.
I'm not going to go into sewing headbands but if you need instruction you can view this expansive video by bookbinders chronicle here or read this article by Veterok ( <--- this one is awesome!) here or pick another one from google.
- 12 to 15 -
Create a hollow. I used brown postal paper for this as it is exceedingly sturdy and resists tearing. What you'll need to do is make a piece of paper three times as wide as the spine and fold it into a letter format longways. Open up one flap and apply glue and then press the flap back down. Trim it so it fits between your headbands on the spine. I tend to cut mine so it is about 10mm below the headbands on either side. Glue it on using flexible PVA.
- 16 to 20 -
Get a length of paper wider than your spine is long as you want a fair bit of overhang. In this instance I used some Ikea Easel paper. Apply glue to the hollow only and then stick one edge of you paper down over it.
For the rest of the spine, use a glue that will set hard like woodworking glue.
Apply more glue to the entire length of paper which is over the spine and fold the paper back over itself. Repeat until your spine is as thick as the covers.
If you can, pick up some dressmakers template card from a fabric store. It is stiffer than poster card. I used a length of this to cover the spine.
Once all your glue is set, trim your spine so it is level with the covers.
- 21 -
Cut 2 pieces of the dressmakers template card at a little longer than the height of your book and 50mm wide. Glue these over the cloth hinges and trim the overhang.
If you were doing a full binding rather than a 1/4 binding you would cut the card so it covers the entirety of the cover.
Step 3: False Cords
False cords give that little bit of something extra to a book. They're purely for decoration.
Mark in 30mm on either end of the spine and paste some glue over the line. Cut several lengths of cord, leather, shoelace, cardboard, etc. to lie over the spine.
I used rectangular leather cord and laid two of them flat with one standing on its edge in between them.
Trim of the overhang.
Step 4: Embellishments
- 1 to 4 -
Your endpages can be anything you want. They're there to cover the inside cover and sometimes the first page.
Normally marbled paper is a common choice and it does look fantastic and booklike. But you can just as easily use scrapbook paper or poster paper or whatever. I used some wallpaper-like scrapbook paper in silver and black. It wasn't long enough to just fold in half so I marked and folded it so it covered the inside cover and a little of the first page.
I then went and provided some BURN to the edges of the shorter part of the fold. Again, be careful when burning things. You don't want to injure yourself so please exercise caution.
I then applied a 10mm line of glue to the first page of the paper block and glued the short end of the fold down at the crease.
- 5 and 6 -
Next I cut out some orange card for the underlay of the cut-out. You'll notice I wrote the grain direction up on the top of the card. This is because I wanted to have the grain going across the cover rather than parallel to the spine. It helps to stabilise the cover and reduces the chance of bowing. I glued that down.
- 7 to 10 -
I made up a design based on the alchemical symbol for fire and printed it out. I covered the back of the design with spray on adhesive and placed it on some black card (cut to the size of the cover). Spraying just one item with the adhesive makes it reposition-able and removable. Excellent if you need to cut out a shape.
After cutting out the image I glued the black card onto the cover and recreated the design with the cutout pieces.
Step 5: Leathering Up
Putting a leather coating on the spine. MMM might fine. I'm using thin kidskin leather here. It's thin enough that it doesn't require paring.
- 1 and 2 -
Use a piece of off-cut card to measure how long you need to cut your leather. The height will be the height of the book plus 40 mm. You want your leather to come around to the edges of the dressmakers template card pieces you glued onto the covers.
- 3 to 8 -
Apply glue to one cover to the edge of the dressmakers template card and stick down one side of your leather.
Then apply glue to your spine. Make sure you get in all the creases of your false cords. Lay the leather over the spine and rub down the leather with a folder. If you don't have a folder to push the leather around your false cords you could use the back of a butter knife. You'll want to keep rubbing until the leather is formed properly over all your raised bit.
Apply glue to the final cover and stick down the rest of your leather.
Then you will need to open up the covers and, with a scalpel, cut open the top edges of the hollow on both sides, top and bottom. You'll need to do this so the leather can slide down into it.
You then put two pieces of wood on either side of the paper block and clamp it in place so your covers are wide open. Apply glue to the overhang of the leather and, with your folder (or butter knife), ease the leather down into the hollow between the spine of the paper block and the hard spine. This is probably the most frustrating and messy part so take it slowly and ease one side in and then the other. Then you pull everything straight down and press your leather into the inside of the cover.
Crease in the corners on either side of the spine and flatten out the leather on top so it covers the back of the headband.
Repeat for the other end.
Step 6: Final Cover Coat
To cover the rest of the covers I used 100% cotton drill fabric. You'll want to use something either cotton or linen as it will actually burn and not melt.
- 1 -
Lay your book down on a length of fabric 40mm wider than the height of your book. Place a ruler against the cover and cut the fabric. This'll leave you with overhang on all 3 sides. Use this piece as a template to cut out another for the back cover.
- 2 and 3 -
This is for the front cover only-
Lay your fabric over your cover and mark out the edges of your design. Then mark out where you want to burn. Cut out nearly to this line and then burn the edges. Fabric burns just as well, if not better than paper so be careful. Your burning can quickly get away from you. Don't get hurt.
- 4 -
When gluing on the fabric for the front cover you'll want to use a thick, flexible craft glue. You don't want anything too thin as it may bleed through the fabric.
Start by applying a line of glue approx 3mm over the edge of the leather and about 10mm onto the cardboard of the cover.
Align your fabric so it is covering the leather by no more than 3mm and press it down gently. Start applying glue in sections for your front cover so you can get the burnt out section aligned without any misplacement. With the back cover you can lay it down in one shot.
- 5 and 6 -
For gluing the overhang into the inside cover, trim off the corners on a 45 degree angle, making sure you leave the thickness of the cardboard in length between the cut and the cover.
Apply glue to the top and bottom sides of the overhang first and fold them over.
Apply glue to the front and crease in the front corners (this'll make it neater). Fold the overhang over.
Don't worry that it doesn't look neat yet. We'll fix that.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
- 1 -
Using your ruler as a guide, cut a line 7mm in from all sides and peel away the messy bits on the inside. This will neaten up the inside covers once your end pages are glued down.
- 2 and 3 -
Open your book and slide a piece of printer paper under the end page (between the end page and the pages). Apply glue to the entirety of the end page and remove the printer paper.
Turn the book around so the spine is facing you. Prop the book up on its spine and close the book 75% of the way. At this point you can align your end pages so they sit straight on the inside cover. Press them lightly down with your hand until adhered. You can now close the book.
Repeat for the other side.
You'll then want to get some baking paper (waxed paper?) and slip it in the covers. This'll prevent moisture warpage and glue bleed-through.
Place your book in a book-press or under a heavy stack of books for 30 min.
Step 8: You're Done.
Admire your handywork and breathe a sigh of relief that it is all over.
You can see some of the other books I've made on my tumblr blog. I hope I've helped some of you gain some more knowledge about book making. It really is fun and you don't need formal training. You just need to... you know... give it a shot.