squared-paper handmade journal

Handcraft a journal in 6 easy steps

Here are 6 easy steps to start you off on your first handmade journal. A half-A4 sized journal made entirely by hand. Choose any paper you’d like and a cover, too. Gather the rest of the equipment and here we go.

handmade journal

Before you begin, you might want to have a look at one of my handmade journals in this video. It’ll give you a pretty good idea how it all comes together when it’s done.

1. Decide on the finished size of your journal. 

For this example, I will be showing you how to make a journal in half-A4 size. That means I would need to pick out my papers in A4 size and fold them into half for stitching down the middle. 

 2. Decide on the paper you want for the cover.

If you are going to be adding artwork to the cover, then you would likely choose a paper that can hold the paint or drawing without smudging or bleeding.

You may also want the cover in a slightly heavier weight e.g. 200 gsm if your project calls for it. Otherwise, any choice is a good choice if you are happy with it.

For this journal, the cover was a normal piece of black art card paper, 160 gsm. This one had a total of 20 pieces of A4 folded into half to give me 40 pages in all. Just the right thickness, light and easy to carry around.

3. Decide on the paper you want for the pages.

The pages are known as signature papers in bookmaker-speak. Obviously, these have to hold up to whatever you do with your journal – writing, sketching, drawing with paint, collage, making heavy or light marks, tearing, etc, etc.

For myself, I often prefer off-white paper, preferably paper made from pulp and slightly bleached. Know that handmade papers aren’t made to last meaning they don’t have archival qualities and they do ‘spot’ after a while. So take note of these pointers when making your choice.

Most of the time, a 70 to 80 gsm signature paper would be nice for creating a meaty journal without it being too heavy in overall weight. A heavier signature paper like 160 gsm watercolour paper would mean fewer pages but would be perfect for a sketching journal that can take gesso and paint. I have a good number of these sort of journals for the sole reason that they hold up well without buckling when I use a wet medium.

4. Fold all the papers in half and mark out where you will place the stitches.

handmade journal
I normally switch between squared paper and blank. Never ruled paper.

How do you want to stitch up your journal?

As you can see from the picture on the left, here is one way of doing it. I made the holes equal in distance from the edge which is 5.5 cm either side. Why? Maybe because this was a journal I use for my daily jottings.

I also used bookbinding cotton thread that’s thicker than the usual sewing thread so it won’t fall apart that easily with all the tossing around and flipping that I subject this journal to!

handmade journal
A fitting memento of a meaningful event.

Whereas for this other journal on the right which I made for a retreat, I wanted only a certain look and colour scheme. It was also meant as a keepsake. Fragile, yes.

There were altogether only 6 pages in this journal stitched in an offset manner using multiple strands of thin embroidery thread that was yellow ochre in colour. Nothing else would do.

So, it’s really up to you.

5. Make 3 holes with an awl and you are ready to stitch.

handmade journal
I got this awl at a haberdashery stall at Bugis junction.

Separate your signatures into small piles with 3 to 4 pieces of paper per pile.

Make sure they are lined up nicely with the folds nesting into each other. Using the awl, make all the necessary holes for each small pile. Don’t push too hard with the awl otherwise you’ll end up with huge holes!

Use binding clips or paper clips to hold the papers together if you find that helps.

handmade journal
The awl is very sharp and can create a big hole if you push too hard.

To ensure that all the signatures would have the holes in the right places, I would normally use a separate piece of cardboard or paper with the dimensions marked on the edge, and line that up to the folds so I would know where to pierce with the awl.

I therefore do not need to use a ruler and pencil to pre-mark the papers.

You could, of course, do it your way and eschew the cardboard marker for ruler and pencil. Again, do what works for you.

Make the same 3 holes for the cover as well.

6. Stitch up your journal.

Now all that’s left is to stack up the cover and signatures with the holes lined up. Thread your needle with a thread of your choice and then stitch up the journal using a figure of 8 pattern.

handmade journal
The stitching is in a figure-of-8 pattern.

You go in the first hole from the fold side, bring that back up through the middle hole from the other side then down the bottom hole, up back through the middle. Do this twice and tie a knot with the two ends of the thread as close to the middle hole as you can, just to make it neat.

You can get creative and use a thin ribbon or string to see how that looks but it might mean the journal might not close that neatly.

Overall, there are a hundred and one ways to make a journal by hand. What I have shown here is the simplest of methods. And a good way to start making a journal you can design from start to finish.

As always, we are CREATORS. We can do anything we put our minds to.

 ~

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