Sunday, January 2, 2011

Making Your Own Sketchbook

Hi all. Jane Davies here.

I should have thought of this before the first challenge was posted, but if you are just starting to think about the sketchbook challenge and want to make your own sketchbook, here is an easy book structure that gives you a sturdy and personal sketchbook. This tutorial is taken from my forthcoming book "Adventures in Mixed Media" (April 26, 2011), which has a whole chapter on making books and boxes. This version is considerably shortened, so if I've left anything out that is crucial, please e-mail me!!

You will need:

  • Paper for signatures (i.e. pages)
  • Illustration board, mat board, chip board, or book board for the covers
  • Paper for covering the book boards, or “cover paper”
  • White glue or PVA
  • The basic tool kit: scissors, a craft knife, a glue brush, pencil
  • An awl or push pin
  • Waxed linen or other strong thread
  • Needle
  • Bone folder


I usually start a book by making the pages, or signatures (pages grouped together), first, and then fitting the cover to the pages. To make the signatures, take a sheet of your chosen paper (I often use 80lb. drawing paper, 18"x24"), and quarter it, either by folding and tearing with your bone folder, or using a paper cutter. Fold each quarter in half and then nest them one inside the other. This is your first signature.

Prepare five signatures in this manner. I usually end up with each signature containing four folios. Then mark and poke three holes, using an awl or push pin, in each signature at the fold: one at the center, and one at each end about a quarter inch from the edge of the paper. When the signatures are stacked and you are looking at the spines, these holes should all line up.

1. Cut two book boards so that they extend about 1/8" beyond your signatures on the top, bottom, and fore edge, but flush at the spines.

2. Cut your cover papers (either your own collaged papers or decorative paper) big enough so that they extend at least one inch beyond the top, bottom, and fore edge of the book covers, and about 1/4" shy of the spine edge. (The spine edge will be covered with a contrasting paper). Glue the boards to the cover paper as shown here.
3. Working with one board at a time, glue down the top and bottom corners.
Then fold and glue down the top and bottom edges. Finally, do the same with the fore edge.
4. Cut a piece of paper (I use Lokta or other similarly strong paper) for the spine that measures the length of the spine plus an inch overhang on both top and bottom (spine + 2"); the width should be the width of the spine (stack your signatures and compress lightly), plus at least 1/2" overhang so that it overlaps the cover paper at the spine edge.
5. Glue the book boards to the spine as shown above. Then turn over and glue the top and bottom of the spine paper.
6. Cut a piece of decorative paper about 1/8" all around smaller than the book cover. This will be your "end paper", lining the cover. Glue this sheet inside the book cover, and reinforce folds along either side of the spine.

7. Punch holes in the spine of the book cover as shown in photo. First mark them with one of your signatures so that they line up. You should have five equidistant holes in the spine at the middle, the top, and the bottom.


1. Starting with the back signature (or front, depending on how you orient the book), cut a length of waxed linen thread three times the length of the spine and thread a needle. Begin sewing by passing the needle from the inside of the signature through the center right-most hole in the spine, leaving about a 6" tail.
2. Now sew from the outside to the inside through the top hole of spine and signature in the same right-most position. Pull the thread almost taut, leaving a little wiggle room.

3. Bring the thread (you're on the inside of the signature now) to the bottom hole, and sew from the inside to the outside, through signature and spine. Pull thread almost taut.

4. Sew back into the middle hole from the outside of the spine through the signature to the inside. Now snug up the thread so the signature is right up against the spine.

5. Make sure that the tail you left and the needle end of the thread are on either side of the thread that goes down the center of the signature. Tie a simple square knot and clip the ends to about 1/4".

Sew each signature to the cover at the spine like this, and you have your own handmade sketchbook!

I think these how-to photos are from a different book than the finished book. Hope that is not confusing. Don't forget to e-mail me or comment if there is something that isn't clear.


  1. thanks for this to see if i have some covers to make this journal... ;)

  2. This is really useful tutorial, Jane...will have to try and find some board for the covers! Thanks! :)

  3. Oh wow, thank you for sharing this! I live miles from anywhere and only had a shop bought cheapie sketch book handy but I think with this I could make it a bit more special! i have some bookbinding thread and a bookbinders needle and I'm sure I've got some stiff card somewhere! I'm off to play!!!! thank you!

  4. Thank you Jane! This'll be great to try for another project...or for when my "Sketchbook Challenge" journal...falls a p a r t!!

  5. Thanks. I will remember this when I make the next one. You can see the one I just made on a whim last night,

  6. This is SO great! Thank you.

  7. Fantastic tutorial...thanks so much, Jane!

  8. Can't wait to try this. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  9. Thanks for the brilliant tutorial - I've always wanted to give this a try - just need more hours in the day now!

  10. Thank you for sharing this. I did a course with Meliors but had about forgotten.

  11. Great idea! I love making my own sketchbooks and I don't think people realize it can be realllly simple! :) Thanks for sharing!

  12. Just what I needed!
    I'm currently living in a small town in southern Italy (no Flax, or Michaels or Rainbow coop here!) so I can find the paper, but not the notebooks.
    I will get busy, thanks very much.

  13. Thank-you for posting this tutorial! I made some sketchbooks over the weekend. I've ordered some watercolor paper to make nice ones, and I want to try this method!

  14. Great tutorial! I think I could make one of these little books in an evening - going to try it tonight anyway. Thanks for sharing it.

  15. Thank you so much for the tutorial. I can't wait to give it a try!


  16. Thank you for the tutorial. I have been wanting to make a journal like because right now I just use a binding machine to make mine. But I really want to try this and see if I can make it work. Thanks again.

    Regards, Cindy

  17. Thank you so much for this Jane. I have made the Japanese Punch journals but this is next ! I am a journal addict and need some very special ones !! Off to play !!!


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