The Importance of Making/Maintaining a Journal: A Bookbinder’s First Journey

As a writer needless to say, I love journals almost to the same capacity as Fahrenheit 451’s Faber’s love of books. Whether they are composition notebooks, faux leather covered journals, just anything I can write my unending ideas into is amazing to me. Sometimes, I need a little more than what a nice journal from Barnes and Noble can offer. I needed something to help me take notes on a fantasy novel that I want to write. So why not try making my own? This is my journey in learning bookbinding.

First things first: supplies and tools. Reading all the books and crafty blogs I could find, I had a general gist of what I needed for my dream fantasy journal:

  • Large mixed media paper
  • Waxed linen cord
  • Sewing awl
  • Pleather
  • Lots of cardboard
  • Paper cutter
  • Cutting mat
  • PVA glue
  • Book linen tape; if you can’t find linen tape, blanket binding and duck cloth are some of the alternatives you can use (optional, but good for reinforcing book seams)
  • Bone folder (optional, but helps the folds be more even)
  • Repair needles
  • Scissors
  • Exacto knives and utility knives

In most scenarios, I would have needed to cut the paper to the size I wanted the page to be. Fortunately for me, it was the perfect size.

Fold each paper in half and group them in sets—these are called folios. Most sites recommended doing folios in sets of 6-8 pages. I wanted to make the most of my mixed media paper so I did 9 folios that way I would have 72 pages to work with when I started writing. Once finished, they needed to be pressed flat by either a heavy object or a book press. Being the poor college student, what could I use? I know textbooks!

Next I had to think where to stab holes into these folios. I needed enough for the linen cord to go through and secure it. So I measured and made 8 holes equidistant to each other before sewing them together. Then I added some PVA glue to secure it. That was when a minor disaster struck. I had no way of stopping the glue drippage or preventing it from sticking to the pages.

Mistake #1: Dry folios on a nonstick surface and in a position where glue won’t run.

Now the hard part: planning the journal’s set-up. I knew I wanted to have within the front cover something to unroll, so I could draw a map for my fantasy land. But with the limited cardboard that I had, there were only so many ways I could make the cover unfurl. It became a mess of me laying it out, drawing diagrams, researching different folds and journal making techniques. Oh my gosh, so much geometry! After a month and a half of planning, I figured it out, and it was time to sew it and glue it together.

Of course, geometry is needed or just plain measurements. Only problem is that it is a lot of geometry and planning. Fortunately, I recently took a quilting class, so my math knowledge wasn’t lost to high school memories.

Then came the hard part, which was assembling everything: the folio, the journal, and sewing the pleather onto it. This was so hard, especially since I haven’t used the sewing awl that much and kept constantly pricking myself on it.

Pro tip: Do not use pins for thick materials, clips work way better and are a lot less prickly even if you are only hemming. In my case, binder clips work and are lot cheaper than if you bought professional quilting binder clips.

Even though I hemmed, I still used the awl again to fix the pleather to the base board for my outer portfolio.

This took a few more hours to do. But it was well worth my time in securing the fabric.

Once I had finished the outer folder, I thought I should move on to cover the inner journal. However, I realized something. I want the map to be removable, so that I may openly reference it. How could I do that? I didn’t know. And as of now, I still don’t know. Once again, I will return to my planning. Hopefully soon, I can finish this journal. Still I hope this gives a general idea for all you aspiring journal makers out there. Remember, most things are trial and error. Even if you do make some mistakes like I did, the process in making it and those mistakes add a little piece of yourself to your work.

– Angelica Dimson

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