DIY Leather Bound Journal
Learn How To Make a Book using Coptic Binding
This step-by-step tutorial will guide you through the process of binding a small journal with a simple leather cover. This DIY is suitable for any hobby crafter and can be made with easy-to find tools and materials.
You don't need to spend much money initially, and most of the things you require can be used again and again for future projects too - so it will work out cheaper per book if you make a few!
Simply follow the instructions below to find out how you can make your very own moleskine-style journal like the one shown above.
Please don't be intimidated by all of the steps; I've broken it down into little parts to make it easier to follow (hopefully!) The binding method I've used is a classic, traditional technique and makes a strong bind. The finished book could be used as a sketchbook, diary, notebook or anything you can think of - and it would make a fab homemade gift too.
Tools & Materials You Will Need:
- 24 x A4 sheets of paper.
I used sugar paper in 100gsm weight, but you can use any paper about that weight, such as regular printer/copier paper. If you want to use heavier, thicker paper such as watercolour paper, you can alter the tutorial to incorporate it. You can of course use any paper such as lined paper, graph paper, coarse painting paper etc.
- An awl
- Beeswax (optional, but recommended)
- Strong thread in your choice of colour. I used white upholstery thread.
- 2 clamps/vices OR a large flower press
- Catalogues/magazines/thick cardboard you don’t mind damaging OR a large flower press OR 2 pieces of wood bigger than the resulting journal size (and about 0.5cm – 2cm thick)
- Heavy books/catalogues
- Glue such as PVA. I used Aleene’s Tacky Glue
- Bone folder
- Flat, hard surface to work on
- X-acto craft knife plus something to cut on (such as a craft mat or thick cardboard), OR a guillotine
- 1 A4 sheet of heavier paper or thin card. I used a thin piece of black card.
- A piece of soft leather measuring at least 15.25 (38.75cm) x 6 (15.2cm).
You could also choose a different cover material such as suede, leatherette, oilcloth, wool, felt, quilted fabric or any other thick-ish fabric that takes your fancy!
- Small piece of cheesecloth or other open weave, thin fabric. Approx. 4.5 x 3 in size
- 1 x A4 piece of scrap paper (to make a template from)
- A bookbinder’s needle. I used a small and a medium sized yarn darning needle, but as long as it’s larger than a regular sewing needle and smaller than the awl holes in the paper, then it should work absolutely fine.
- Glue spreader. Could also use a lollipop stick or a bit of folded card.
- Double-sided tape
- Strong sewing thread (preferably to match your cover material). I used waxed brown Nymo beading thread.
- Strong glue (you only need this if you don’t want the leather cover to be removeable). I used E600 glue.
- A scrap piece of A3 paper, or 2 A4 pieces sellotaped together.
- A press stud (or another method of fastening if you prefer)
F i n d B o o k b i n d i n g S u p p l i e s o n A m a z o n :
To begin, draw out a rectangle measuring 7" x 11" on the scrap A4 sheet of paper. Make sure that the corners are square (i.e. right angles).
This shape will be used as a template.
Place the template on top of 2 or 3 sheets of journal paper, making sure the edges line up perfectly.
If using a guillotine, cut the excess paper off around the rectangle template shape as shown above - cutting through all of the paper in the pile.
If using a craft knife, do the same but use a ruler to keep lines straight, and put a craft/cutting mat underneath to protect your work surface.
Re-use the template to repeat this step for all 24 sheets of journal paper (cutting 2 or 3 sheets at a time). Then do the same for the A4 sheet of thin card.
This should leave you with 24 sheets of paper, and 1 sheet of card, each measuring 7" x 11".
Next, fold one of the sheets of paper in half and scrape a pencil along the edge to mark the centre line.
Flatten the sheet out to A4 size again. This sheet will now become a template for cutting all of the other paper pieces in half.
So place this template on top of 2 or 3 of the other sheets and line them up perfectly. Then cut along the centre line using a guillotine or craft knife.
Repeat this step for all of the paper sheets, plus the sheet of card. You will then be left with 48 pieces of paper, and 2 pieces of card, each measuring 7" x 5.5".
Fold all of the paper and card sheets in half. Use a bone folder to make the folds sharp, so that the pages lie as flat as possible.
Each folded sheet is called a 'folio'.
Split the 48 folios into 8 lots of 6 folios, with the sheets sitting inside each other.
You can use the bone folder again at this point to try and get each pile of folios to lie as flat as you can - by making sure all of the folds are strong and sharp.
Each pile of 6 folios is called a 'signature'.
Now stack all 8 of the signatures on top of each other.
Jog the bottom edge and spine of the whole pile of signatures on a hard flat surface, to make sure they are both flat and level.
Try to keep the signatures perfectly lined up along the spine and bottom edge, and sandwich them in between 2 books/catalogues/pieces of wood.
Clamp everything together securely, making sure the clamps are not in the way of the spine. You could also use a large flower press to clamp the signatures together if you have one.
Note: I would recommend using something a bit more solid than catalogues in this step if possible, because (as you can see in the photos) the ones I used warped slightly in the middle. This meant that consistent pressure wasn't exerted all of the way along the spine. The catalogues did an alright job, but they weren't an ideal choice in hindsight, so if you have something more solid use that :)
Use your ruler to measure and mark with a pencil; 0.5", 2", 3.5" and 5" from the base of the spine (the flat bottom edge).
Mark these 4 measurements on the edge of each signature to make 4 vertical lines - as shown in the photo above.
So that you can remember which end of the signatures is which, add another line somewhere near the 0.5" line - but use coloured pencil rather than regular pencil this time. This will be useful later on.
Remove the signatures from between the clamps, making sure to keep them together in a pile.
Take the top signature and open it out on top of some magazines/cardboard/scrap wood. Make sure the papers are flattened out and the edges are neatly lined up.
Then use the awl tool to make 4 holes along the crease; one where each of the pencil marks is. Hold the papers still whilst you twist the awl all of the way through the 6 layers in one go. Keep the awl upright whilst doing this.
Check on the underside of the signature to make sure that the holes have been made as close as possible to the centre fold. Ideally they should all lie exactly on the fold.
If they are slightly off, that's OK, but try and be as accurate as you can.
Repeat this for every one of the signatures, so each of them have 4 holes in. Place them together in a pile again, making sure the coloured pencil marks all line up.
Measure out a piece of strong thread at least 50" long. To be on the safe side, always cut a piece longer than you think you'll need.
Drag the thread along some beeswax (unless it is pre-waxed thread) a couple of times to coat it.
Pull about 6" of the thread through the eye of your binding needle.
Take the first signature off the top of the pile and, making sure the holes in the folios are lined up, push the needle and thread through the lowest hole (from the outside to the inside of the signature).
Remember that the lowest hole is the one next to the coloured pencil mark.
Pull the thread through the hole, leaving just a couple of inches of thread on the outside.
Then push the needle through the next set of holes up, from the inside to the outside. Take your needle through the next holes up (outside to inside), then finally through the top set of holes (inside to outside).
This is a photo of the outside of the signature.
This is a photo of the inside.
Make sure the thread is tight and there is no slack through the entire binding process.
Tighten the thread now by holding the loose thread at the bottom of the signature in one hand and pulling the needle/thread at the top with the other hand. Only pull the thread in line with the spine to avoid tearing the paper.
Position the now-threaded signature to your left, then take another signature from the pile and place it to your right (as shown above). Make sure the signatures are the correct way around so that the holes join up correctly. Check the coloured pencil marks if you are unsure.
Take the needle straight across the gap between the signatures and thread it through the top set of holes in the 2nd signature.
Then take the thread out of the 2nd signature through the next set of holes down, and into the corresponding second set of holes in the 1st signature.
Then push the needle out of the third set of holes in the 1st signature and into the third set of holes in the 2nd signature.
Lastly, push the needle out of the last set of holes in the 2nd signature.
Inside the 1st signature should look like this:
The two signatures placed next to each other should look like this:
There should be no gap between the signatures, and there should be two threads leaving the signatures at the bottom.
You now need to tie these threads together in a square/reef knot. I think of this type of knot as a single knot followed by a reverse single knot. Click here to find clear instructions.
Tie the first part of the knot tightly before you tie the second part of the knot. If the knot is not tight, the signatures will be loosely bound.
Flip the 2nd signature over to the left so that it lies on top of the 1st signature. Make sure the needle thread leaves from the set of holes nearest to you.
Place another signature (the 3rd) on the right, and repeat the previous steps; using the needle to pull the thread in and out of the 3rd signature, attaching it to the previous (2nd) signature.
So, to be clear, the thread will go into the lowest set of holes in the 3rd signature first, then out of the next set of holes in the 3rd and into the corresponding holes in the 2nd, out of the next set of holes in the 2nd and into the corresponding holes in the 3rd, and finally out of the top set of holes in the 3rd.
Flip the 3rd signature over to the left so it lies in the pile on top of the 2nd and 1st signatures, with the needle thread leaving the top right corner.
The needle thread now needs to form a 'kettle stitch' with the thread between the 1st and 2nd signatures, as shown in these photos of the spine:
The photos show the needle going behind the thread which passes from the 1st signature to the 2nd. The needle then goes back up through the loop that has formed. This knot is pulled tight.
Repeat for the rest of the signatures; threading each one to the previous signature in the stack.
Tie a kettle stitch between each signature, except after you've threaded the last hole in the 8th (and last) signature, when you should tie two 'half-hitches' instead.
To do this, first push the needle up behind the neighbouring stitch, then...
...bring the needle back down through the loop that is formed.
That is one 'half hitch' knot completed. Tie two of these knots and pull tight.
Cut the thread, leaving an excess of about an inch. Also cut the other loose thread (where you begun the binding process) to about an inch long too.
Next, clamp the signatures tightly between magazines/books/wood pieces, or in a flower press.
The spines of the signatures should stick out by about 1/4" (but no more than that) from the edges of the books/wood pieces. Accuracy is pretty important here because the next step is glueing the signatures in place permanently.
Spread glue (e.g. PVA glue) evenly over the spine, leaving about half an inch at each end glue-free. Push the loose threads into the glue.
Make sure that there is enough glue to fill the grooves between the signatures, but not too much so that it will drip - it should be quite a thin layer.
Take the piece of cheesecloth (approx. 4.5" x 3") and place it on the centre of the glued spine.
Note: The 3" width (of the fabric) goes along the spine i.e. parallel to it.
Spread more of the glue on top of the fabric, along the spine.
I placed heavy books on top to weigh the catalogues down in the middle (because they were warping). You may not need to do this, depending on your method. You just want to keep the signatures tightly clamped together all along their length.
Leave the glue to dry overnight.
Now it is time to attach the folded card pieces (that you created earlier) to the journal.
Put double-sided tape on 3 sides of the right-hand inside page, as shown. Then put a thin layer of glue (e.g. PVA glue) in the centre. Try not to apply too much glue, especially near the crease.
Place an old birthday card or other scrap piece of thin card under 1 or 2 journal pages to protect the rest of the journal from the glue.
Slide the glued card on top of the protective piece of card.
Press the journal page(s) onto the glued card and apply pressure all over with your hands.
Next, glue the cheesecloth fabric down onto the top journal page. Use a glue spreader to press the fabric into the glue so it lies flat.
Add double-sided tape to 3 edges of the card flap (as shown), and spread glue in the centre, being careful not to add too much, especially at the edges.
Press the glued card onto the top journal page and press down all over. Repeat all of this procedure to add a card cover to the other side of the journal too.
Balance heavy books on top of the journal and leave to dry.
Now we move onto making the leather cover. Below this text you will see the template and measurements I used to make mine. Making the cover is the part that allows you to show your own creativity if you like because there aren't really any rules; just make something that looks smart!
I bought some cheap leather offcuts from Ebay and they weren't large enough to cover the whole journal, so I had to sew two pieces (shown above) together to make a piece that was big enough.
You can do the same if you can't find a piece of leather measuring at least 15.5" x 6".
* * *
The next few steps are to show you how I joined the two leather pieces to make the cover template shape.
If you have a piece of leather large enough, you can just cut out the template shape and ignore the next few steps. If you are doing a different cover, you can ignore the rest of my tutorial.
(Diagram not to scale)
Measure out and draw this template on either a piece of scrap A3 paper, or 2 pieces of A4 paper taped together.
Cut out the template shape by following the outline – ignore the other lines.
Most of the lines are to show you how I reached this size. Starting from the left, the sections represent: the width of the inside cover, the width of the outside cover, the width of the spine, the back outside cover, the depth of the journal, then a small section to ensure the leather completely wraps around the journal, and then a point for the flap.
To sum up, the cover needs to be a rectangle of 15.25" (38.75 cm) x 6" (15.2 cm) with two triangles of 2" (5 cm) x 2.5" (6.25 cm) cut off one end.
Place the two leather pieces next to each other and use the paper template to cut out the correct shape.
When I did this, I made sure that the join between the leather pieces lined up with the middle of the 1" section on the template (which represents the spine width). This meant that the cover had a more symmetrical and neat appearance compared to having the join on the front or back of the journal.
Place your leather of top of a magazine or similar, and use an awl to make evenly spaced holes along each edge where the leather pieces meet.
Make sure both edges have the same number of holes and they all line up with each other.
Thread your needle with strong thread that matches the colour of your cover (unless you want to use a contrasting thread - that's up to you.) The needle just needs to be able to go through the holes, so if it can't you can either make the holes bigger with the awl, or use a narrower needle. I used a small darning needle.
Feed the needle through the top hole on each piece of leather, as shown in the picture above, so that each side has a length of thread about twice the length of the leather pieces i.e. about 12" of thread either side.
Feed one end of the thread 'up and over' through the holes to create diagonal stitches the whole way down.
Repeat with the other end of the thread by feeding it through the holes that have not yet been used.
This will create cross stitches all of the way down.
Double knot the thread ends and carefully apply glue down the back of the join. Leave to dry.
* * *
Adding a Press Stud
At this point you have the option of sewing half of the press stud onto the leather. Otherwise, you can glue it on later like I did, but this is less secure.
The press stud half should be sewn approximately 5.5 away from the straight end (as opposed to the flap end) of the leather length, making sure it is centred.
* * *
You should now have your leather cover shape, which will be taller than your journal by about 1/4" at the top and bottom.
The next step is to fold the straight leather edge over by 3.5", so that the reverse sides of the leather are touching. 3.5" is the width of the journal inside cover.
Use an awl to pierce holes along the top and bottom edges, through both layers of leather, making sure that the folded over leather edge remains 3.5" across (i.e. stays in the correct position).
Also, check that the holes are at least 6" apart (from top to bottom) so that the journal cover will be able to fit in between.
Cut a piece of thread (that matches the colour of the leather cover) to a length of approx. 12".
Thread your needle and feed it down through the first set of holes (through both layers). Knot that end of the thread around the edge to secure it, and then sew along through the rest of the holes like this:
The stitches are made by feeding the needle up through the holes in both layers, then taking the needle around and under the leather edge, before coming up through the next set of holes.
This is done for all of the holes, and the threads are knotted together then cut at the end.
Repeat this for the other edge with holes in, making sure that the holes remain lined up in pairs.
This will form a flap, which the front cover of your journal should slide into.
With the front cover pushed behind the leather flap as far as it can go, wrap the rest of the cover tightly around the journal.
If you haven't already added a press stud, then add the 'male' half of the press stud about 1/4" under the point of the flap, making sure it is centred. Use strong glue.
If you want the cover to be removable, so that you can transfer it between journals for instance, then miss out the next gluing step:
On the back cover of the journal, spread some strong (super) glue along the edge furthest from the spine. Spread the PVA type glue (that you used previously) on the rest of the cover.
Wrap the leather cover tightly around the journal, pressing the leather onto the glue.
Balance some heavy books on top and leave to dry.
Once dry, sew the remaining ('female') half of the press stud onto the point of the flap using strong thread (and an awl to make the holes for the needle to go through). You could use strong glue instead if you wanted.
Make sure that the stud is in line with the other half already attached to the front of the cover, and that when the stud halves are connected, the leather wraps around the journal tightly and securely.
Lovely bound notebooks by Tarlen Handayani.
Variations to Try:
Once you have successfully bound a journal, you can then think about changing different parts of it to suit you. For example:
- Change the type of paper; rice paper, handmade paper, multi-coloured paper, dyed papers, watercolour paper...you can use anything you like! Just remember that the thicker the paper you use, the harder it is to fold and the less you will be able to fit in each signature. Experiment first before you commit to using a different type of paper.
- Make a thinner or thicker journal; just change the number of signatures you include.
- Journal fastening; in the above example I used a press stud, but you can use other methods such as buttons, leather/cord/elastic straps, velcro, or even a padlock attachment.
- Make a larger or smaller journal; you can reduce the size of the pages to make a mini journal, or increase the page size to make a large version. Remember that the larger you make the journal, the more stitches you will need to add along the spine.
- Different binding method; there are plenty of different stitching techniques you can use to bind a book, as well as some interesting non-stitching methods, so have a search around the web to find a new technique to try out.
- Different cover material; There are lots of materials you could use for the cover, and you can embellish in any way you like too. Be creative.
Below are a few videos for other leather bound journal DIYs: