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How to Make a Hand-Stitched Paper Journal

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I have kept a journal of some sort for the majority of my life. I do it because I am an obsessive documenter, I don’t like to be idle, I am full of ideas, I love the scratchy-scratchy sound of pen on paper and mostly, because I always want a hiding place close by. My journals are on the top of my “if my house was on fire” objects to save list, though this obsession with making them began with a stolen journal (so even when all is lost, something better is generally found).

I jumped into bookbinding completely, beginning with massive tomes, and have since tried many different shapes and styles. This tutorial is for the simplest yet—a quick book to be used for notes, the sharing of recipes, letters, etc. These books can be made in 10 to 15 minutes. The result? A single quire book formed of bound leaves of paper.

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What you'll need:

  • Paper for cover and inside pages (more on that below)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Needle
  • Thick thread, such as embroidery floss
  • Scissors
  • Glue (optional)

A Note on Materials & Terms

The books shown here are 4 1/2" x 3" and 12 pages long, with a cover—but you can make a larger journal using this same method (more on that in Step 1). I am a paper gatherer, and this project was great for using up old wrapping paper for the cover and other treasures lying in wait.

The thread should be thick; embroidery floss is a great option. Because you will see the stitching, consider the color when you make your selection.

A "folio"is a folded sheet of paper, and a "quire" (or "signature") is a gathering of folios.

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Preparing Your Paper Pages & Cover

1. Find paper that you like.

I prefer Strathmore Drawing Paper for its versatility, and began with an 18" x 24” sheet. Fold your paper in half and tear along the crease. Keep doing this until you find a size you like. Make 6 folded folios for a total of 12 leaves or sheets.

2. Mark 6 stitching holes along the spine.

Using a pencil, mark where you want holes along the crease on each sheet of paper. You will see the stitching that runs through them, so how you space it is a personal preference (my spacing is indicated below). Keep In mind that however you space them, the holes will need to line up on each sheet.

3. Poke a hole through each mark with your needle.

Make sure you're going straight through the fold!

4. When your inside pages are finished, lay them open upon your cover paper.

Mark the corners of the cover paper slightly larger then the pages. (It is nice to have a slightly larger cover!) Using a ruler, connect the marks and cut or tear your cover paper. Fold in half.

Old wrapping paper scraps make a nice cover.

5. Poke stitching holes through the spine of the cover.

Center your folded pages on the cover. and poke holes through the cover’s spine using the holes in the pages as your guide.

Stitching Your Book

6. Prep needle and thread.

Unwind a piece of thread that's 1 1/2 times the length of the book’s spine, and cut. Thread the end through the needle, and make a double knot on the end (make it big enough to not slip through stitch holes!).

7. Stitch.

Begin at one end on the inside of the fold. Stitch in and out until you reach the other end. Double knot the thread on the inside of the book. Use your needle to guide the knot close to the paper—this will assure a tightly stitched book.

Photos by Margaux Kent

And that's it! Below, sheets of grey paper from neglected project turned cover, wrinkles and all!

Three more cover designs I explored:

  • Some ink spills on paper paired with red thread.
  • Used wrapping paper from Sycamore Street Press, paired with red thread.
  • Wrapping and wax seal from Trouve Magazine—so beautiful I didn’t want to throw it away. (Happy I didn’t!)
Ink-spill cover, Sycamore Street Press cover, and Trouve cover.

Margaux and her husband Walter Kent run Peg & Awl, makers of our exclusive Spice Cubby and much beloved Knife Grabber.

Tags: bookbinding