Making Paperback Journals


I use my little paperback journals as light-weight journals I can carry with me.  Glue or draw a calendar into the first page.  Jot down appointments or events you’d like to keep track of, tape your favorite picture of your pet or significant other onto a page and use the facing page to write about why you like that picture so much.  Use it as a space to put those annoying thoughts that float through your brain when you’re trying to concentrate (when doing this excercise, don’t even look at the page.  Concentrate on what you’re trying to accomplish and let your writing act as a filter for errant thoughts – giving them a place to go that’s not the back of your brain).


You will need the following items:

Slide 3

  1. A Thimble
  2. Strong thick thread.  Waxed thread is best.
  3. A needle (here shown skewered through an empty half tea bag)
  4. Craft knife
  5. Scissors
  6. A small cutting matt is helpful
  7. Ruler (not pictured)

Of course, you will also need paper for the inside and cover of your journal:

IMG_1533 IMG_1536

I started making these little journals as a way to reuse paper I had cut out of my large Art Journal.  I find it necessary to cut several pages out of my Art Journal every so often to make room for all the stuff glued in and stuffed into pockets.  You may use standard printing paper if you choose, but I encourage you to get creative!  If you use printer paper, use that stack of paper you accidentally printed out that only has the web address at the bottom, but nothing on the page.  Even if you what you printed out looks like random code – that’s cool too!  Paint over, glue stuff over it, and use the blank back side for writing.

For the outside cover of my journal, I used double-sided 12″x12″ craft paper.  Single-sided craft paper works just as well too, and gives you one more blank space to write upon.  I used single-sided craft paper for the yellow journal at the top of the post.  You do not necessarily have to use craft paper, if you have something else you’d like to use in mind.  Just remember that it should be a heavier weight paper, and that you’ll need enough to cover your inside pages plus a little bit.


If you have decided to use paper out of an already existing book, you’ll need to cut it out.

It’s usually a good idea to put a small cutting mat under the pages you wish to cut out, so you don’t inadvertently cut out more than you intended.  I like to use about 7-10 sheets of paper per journal (that’s 14-20 physical pages, 28-40 surfaces to write upon).


Place your ruler along the spine edge  of the pages, and use it to cut a straight line.


You may notice that at least one corner of my pages did not cut off cleanly.  That’s okay!  Consider it a design detail – a mark of a handmade object.  Or, cut it off if it really bothers you.  Or use it as an inspiration to cut funky edges for your journal pages.

Fold your pages in half to create a signature.


When I created this journal, I folded my pages as one.  Since then, however, I have learned that it is more effective to fold each page in half individually.  It is easier to ensure a prominent and visible crease this way, and much easier on the hands.  I highly recommend that, whichever method you choose to fold, you use some kind of object other than your hands to press the fold.  Many crafts people use a bone folder.  Alternatives are:  a metal ruler, the bottom of a heavy glass, a smooth rock, one of Hagrid‘s rock cakes, etc…

Measure, fold, and if necessary, cut your cover paper.

Some quick arithmetic:

We have a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of paper.  We fold it in half to get a cover that is 6 inches wide, and 12 inches tall.  If you are using paper for the inside pages that is about 8.5 by 11, you’ll probably be folding them short side to short side (aka hamburger, not hotdog).  Therefore you’ll have pages that are 5.5 wide, and 8.5 tall.  Now, pages that are 5.5 wide will rest nicely inside a cover that is 6 inches wide.  The pages won’t stick out, and you’ll have a nice little border of the cover around your pages when the journal is open (see the picture of the open journal at the top).  However, you’ll probably want to adjust the height of that cover.


You can either trim off the extra, or fold it up and turn it into a pocket like I did.


Measure and mark the place where you want your journal to end on both sides of the paper.  Do this while the paper is lying flat with the inside surface facing up.  I measured my excess at a little less then three inches.  You do what looks right to you.


Connect the dots with your ruler and grab your craft knife.  Moment of truth:  pocket or no pocket?

To create a pocket, lightly run your craft knife along the ruler edge.  Important:  do not cut all the way through the paper.  You are merely scoring the paper to create a nice straight fold for your pocket.  Fold along the scored line so that the excess paper is inside the journal.  Again, use what you have to press the fold into a nice crease.


No pocket?  press hard enough with the craft knife to cut all the way through the paper.

Sewing the Pages to the Cover

IMPORTANT NOTE:  While making this journal and photographing the process, I accidentally started out the stitch upside-down.  Thus the first few images will show the process with the running stitch on the inside rather than the outside.  I am using a running stitch to sew the pages to the cover.  If you already know how to do the running stitch, then you may proceed without referring to the images.

Secure your interior pages to your cover.  I used binder clips and paper clips.  I highly suggest using just binder clips.  It is very important, VERY IMPORTANT, that the creases in your interior pages and cover paper line up, lest your finished journal be off kilter.


Cut a length of thread about the length of your arm plus some.  I hold the skein of thread right in front of my sternum with one hand and use the other hand to hold the end while I stretch my end hand out to the side to measure.  Tie a double knot on one end and thread the other through the eye of your needle.


You will need to use your thimble to push the needle through the pages.


The running stitch:

Going down

Going down

Notice we're coming up at the halfway point

Coming Up

Remember, that you'll really want to be doing this on the other side of your pages (on the exterior, not the interior)

Going Down

Continue this stitch along the crease until you reach 1/4 of an inch from the edge of the interior pages, and tie off the thread.

IMG_1577 IMG_1578

Come up on the last stitch, but do not pull the thread all the way through.  Leave a loop, as in the picture.  Take your thread around the loop and through it.

IMG_1579 IMG_1580

Pull it tight to create a knot.  You may need to use your fingers to ensure that your knot meets the paper and does not hang on the remaining thread like a sad little hand grasping for a rope.  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.  Use your needle to tease the knot apart and do it over.

Now, weave the excess thread through the spine, always coming through the spine from the same direction.  You’re basically wrapping the excess thread around the running stitch.  In the unlikely event of the knot coming undone, you want some leeway thread to work with to fix the disaster.


You’re almost finished!  It should look something like this:


Now we’re going to cover up your pretty stitch work with some contrasting paper.  Find or cut a two inch (or so – do what you think looks best for you) wide strip of paper that is long enough to cover the length of your journal spine.  It is better for the strip of paper to be longer than your spine so you can trim it after gluing it down.

Fold it in half lengthwise (or hotdog)

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Test out how it looks, adjust if necessary, and glue it down over the spine.


Trim off the extra, and marvel at what you’ve accomplished!


WAIT!  One more thing!  Remember the pockets we created?  You’ll want to use some tape (I prefer packing tape – it’s clear and extra sticky) to close the edges.  If you would prefer to use some other more decorative tape (I’m thinking washi tape here), that’s awesome too!  I just didn’t want another pattern interfering with what I’ve already got going on.


I hope you enjoy making these little journals as much as I enjoyed sharing them with you.

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