Introduction: Make and Bind the ~perfect~ Notebook From Scratch

About: hi! i'm @wagglefingers on twitter. || industrial design student || the first craft project i ever did was turning a pringles can into a pencil holder. never really went further than that TBH.

here we're gonna try to bind a notebook with stuff you already have at home. seriously, the most "special" materials you'll need are the canvas and some beeswax (and even that's optional)

but before anything else, what the hell is my definition of the perfect notebook? for me,

- the pages should open up flat, like a moleskine notebook

- the cover should be very stiff, so i can write on it even if it's propped on my lap

- the cover should be highly customizable

- the pages should be big and wide, with no lines because i draw a lot

- it should be thick enough to contain a whole semester's worth of drawings and notes

- sturdy with no fraying on the corners of the cover

- preferably with pockets

so that's what we're gonna ~try~ and make today

i started binding my own notebooks about 4 years ago and i've made (roughly) one for every semester in college. including the two i just made this month, i've done this about 9 times with varying degrees of success. here's a picture of marks 1 - 7 (i'm pretty sure i have 2 more but they're missing!)

the notebook you'll see being constructed is for my friend. (to her: HAY GURL HAYYY)

Step 1: Materials


>>> paper of your choice

i like my pages really wide so i got a ream of long bond paper to get 6.5 by 8.5-inch pages. you can use paper of any kind and color, but try to pick paper that wouldn't absorb too much moisture. i tried binding with tracing paper and it was a wrinkled mess.

>>> thick board for the cover

i used a sheet of illustration board that was 2mm thick. this one had a gray back and was more expensive (other illustration boards are about 1mm thick... too thin for me.) i guess you can use any material sturdy enough for you, like chipboard, corrugated cardboard etc.

>>> sewing thread

same color as your preferred paper

>>> medical gauze

>>> cellophane tape

>>> double-sided tissue tape

not the squishy type

>>> folders

>>> glue stick

>>> white glue

>>> canvas


>>> two needles

(one big, one small)

>>> scissors

>>> craft cutter

>>> a clean paintbrush

>>> books of different sizes

>>> measuring tools

optional materials:

>>> beeswax for waxing the thread

i actually used a 50-50 paraffin-beeswax mixture here, it worked just as well.

>>> something squishy

preferably something you can glue on and don't mind perforating, like pleather or something. i used a sheet of foam rubber ("linso") here. i've used a folded shirt before.

>>> decorations + protection for the cover

for this one, i did a bit of decoupage with tea bag covers (since my friend loves tea). i've tried magazine pages, bus tickets, duct tape, and pen drawings to decorate before, and protected them with materials like cellophane tape or bathroom stickers.

suggestion? duct tape looks gorgeous.

>>> a clean envelope

for storage to keep your work clean!

>>> an indifference towards the environment

prepare to use up A LOT of paper, especially when you make mistakes with the folding and stitching

Step 2: Folding and Grouping

so think about how many pages you'd want your notebook to have, then divide it by 2. that's how many sheets you'd need. get your paper, and fold the pages one by one. i like the folds to be sharp and clean, so after folding with my fingers, i press down on it with my ruler which has a smooth bevel.

after you fold, group them into signatures. for this one, to make it really flat, i grouped 4 sheets (8 pages) to a signature. i tried binding with 5 sheets (not flat enough) and 3 sheets (flat but the spine was bulky) to a signature before, they didn't turn out as well.

store them in the envelope to keep the pages clean.

Step 3: Marking

what i usually do is i take a sheet of paper and mark my measurements for the stitches there. here, i want my notebook to have 3 exposed stitches, so i mark where my holes will go. this is my guide.

then, take a signature, open it up, and with the guide, make little, light marks for the perforations with a pencil on the center sheet. do this for all the signatures.

store in the envelope to keep them clean.

Step 4: Perforation

after you're done, make a little setup for the perforation. without this setup here, it's kind of hard to make sure that the holes all land right on the fold (sometimes you perforate the pages themselves. not good.)

so take your squishy thing (my rubber foam here) and find two books that are as thick as your squishy thing. place them side by side. then on top of your squishy thing, place two books about 1.5 inches apart from each other to form a canal. then, open up a signature then place it in your setup like the illustration. make sure the folds and edges are perfectly aligned. then, take your BIG needle and perforate according to the marks you made.

i like perforating the all the sheets in a signature in one go so that when i stitch, the holes line up perfectly.

Step 5: Waxing the Thread

this step is completely optional. i've bound notebooks before without waxed thread. the only difference is that it's easier to stitch with waxed thread (no snagging and all that) and the fibers of the thread don't stick out.

so thread your SMALL needle with as much thread as you can manage (like an arm's length). then take a bit of your beeswax, make sure it's nice and squishy, and just run the needle and thread through it. do it about three times.

Step 6: Stitching (god Almighty, the Stitching)

get your thread and make a big bulky knot at the end. then start stitching! please follow the diagram.

the most important thing you should remember is that there should always be some thread connecting a hole in one signature to the corresponding hole in the next signature.

if you do this, the thread will pass every hole three times (except for the first and last signature.)

please don't ask me what kind of binding this is because i have no idea. all i know is that i took my cue from and made a few tweaks (like the three exposed stitches, that's me)

for most bindings, people use just one piece of thread for the entire stitching process. no breaks. i knew that there's no way in hell i can manage that so i just take an arm's length of thread and stitch until it runs out. an arm's length will usually last for 4-5 signatures. when it runs out, i just make a couple of overhand knots at the nearest piece of thread and continue.

after you stitch, it should look like the picture.

Step 7: Gauze and Glue

after stitching, take your notebook and sandwich it between two heavy books. make sure all the signatures are aligned! also, it's better to have two big books with glossy covers so the glue and tape won't stick to them. then, place a piece of gauze (roughly the size of the spine with a little allowance) and place it over the spine. you can tape the edges to the books to hold it in place. then get your CLEAN brush, dip it into some white glue, and brush some glue onto the gauze to make it stick to the spine.

now this is tricky, because if you use too much glue, the pages might wrinkle at the folds and the glue might get in between the signatures and stick the pages together. too little and you have a weak-ass spine. what i usually do is that i just brush on enough to make all the threads in the gauze stick to the spine, and no more. if i see little white pools of glue between the threads, i know i'm using too much.

also notice that i position the gauze first AND THEN apply glue, and not the other way around. that way the gauze will "catch" any extra moisture.

let it dry a bit for about an hour, and repeat the process for another layer of gauze. let it dry for another hour, then apply a very thin layer of glue.

cut out a piece of paper about the size of the spine (with allowance) and stick onto the spine. wait for this entire setup to dry for half a day before you touch anything!

Step 8: Trimming and Applying Cellophane Tape

so gently take your notebook out and trim the excess paper and gauze. i like to make the gauze as flush with the pages as possible. be careful not to snip your binding thread though!

after trimming, take some cellophane tape and cover the spine, preferably with a lot of overlap. there's gonna be a lot of movement in the front and back of the notebook, so the sellotape will make sure that the first and last pages do not tear.

after you're done, store the pages in the envelope for safety.

Step 9: Making the Cover

get a piece of canvas roughly the size of your spine with plenty of allowance and fully impregnate it with white glue. you do this by brushing on a very thick layer of glue on the canvas and waiting for it to dry. repeat ad infinitum. you wanna make sure that the threads on the canvas NEVER get loose. i've brushed on 6 layers of glue on this piece of canvas (3 on one side, 3 on the other). make sure your workspace is protected by a piece of plastic while brushing on the glue. wait for it to completely dry. now you've got something really tough but flexible and doesn't fray or crack like pleather. (cool, huh)

get your illustration board, and cut two sheets the size of your notebook, for the front and back. make sure there are allowances; i have a 1mm allowance per edge for my notebooks. get your notebook, sandwich it between the two pieces of cardboard, and measure the combined thickness of the spine. note it down.

draw it on your impregnated canvas. so it's a rectangle as long as your cardboard covers and as wide as the combined thickness of the spine + 2 mm allowance + an area where you can glue on the cardboard. cut it out, make sure everything fits nicely, and glue the cardboard sheets to the canvas. to make sure that the cover is flush before you decorate it, stick on a couple of sheets of folder. stick them on with the double-sided tape. you wouldn't want any more moisture to warp the cardboard.

Step 10: Decorating the Cover

you are now free to decorate your cover! (YAY). i presume you can use anything to decorate as long as it doesn't involve too much moisture.

for this one i did a bit of decoupage. i stuck on the teabag covers with the glue stick (again, we don't like moisture). then, i sealed it in with white glue. i applied the glue with my fingertips so that the layer of glue is so thin, it dries instantly. this is sealed with 4 layers of glue.

Step 11: Sticking the Cover to the Pages

get your notebook from your envelope and stick on a few strips of double-sided tape on the front and back pages. use these to stick on the cover to the rest of your notebook. the halves of these 2 pages will probably be flapping around since they don't have any double-sided tape, so trim those parts after you stick on the cover.

this is a very tricky step so take as much time as you need to make sure everything falls into place.

Step 12: Padding

if you notice, the spine is thicker than the rest of the book. that's normal. personally, i don't like this so i put some padding. this will even your notebook out and neaten up the underside of the cover.

i mentioned before that i like my notebooks to have pockets so for this one, i'll attach a pocket as padding.

i've used non-pocket padding before like chipboard or a couple of pieces of folder, they worked just as well.

i don't like the pockets to be bulky and i want them to open up nicely so they have this accordion thing going on.

attach the padding to the underside of your cover with double-sided tape and now your notebook is done!

Step 13: More Photos / Notes for Mark 10

i'll probably not stick on anything to the canvas part and just leave it bare next time, since the decoupage layer really wrinkles up whenever i open this one no matter how much glue i use.

the grey one is for personal use. i left the canvas exposed unlike the other one. i should have done that with the tea notebook too, TBH. i covered it with illustrations from a book that i have two copies of. (and it was a terrible book anyway so i had no qualms of taking out the illustrations.)

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