Saturday, 16 October 2010

What I Did on Friday! - or How I make little Notebooks.

Hello all, it's been a while since I posted any sort of Tutorial; I really enjoy doing them and others have commented that they like to read them too, so I thought I'd post about what I've been up to today and Friday.
* * *
In three weeks time, I'm taking part in a Craft Exhibition that is being held in our village. The first one was last November and I chickened out of displaying any work, because I thought I would need enough books to fill a big table.

When we went along, there were lots of other artists/craftsmen (and women!), with their work on display. Some were also selling. However, the table sizes varied and some tables were only about 2' square - even I could have displayed enough stuff to fill one as little as that! So, when I saw the advert for another one this year, I phoned up (straight away, before I got cold feet!) and asked for a small table for me and a large table for the Scrap Club, so we could give demonstrations of what we do - hoping we'll attract some new members!
I will also be offering items for sale; the lady suggested cheaper items on the whole, as most people who came last year didn't have a lot to spend. So, I'm busy making some stock, which I hope will be popular. I will stock up on lots of notebooks first, then see if I have time to make anything bigger, like a few journals.

So far I've finished these - 

Excuse the poor photos - I took them in artificial light, which is never brilliant.
These are sets of covered notebooks; the notebooks are just plain, machine-made tablets of paper, which I buy from a local craft shop, then I make covers for them. The larger one is A6 (6x4") sized and the smaller is A7 (4x3").

The covers wrap over the top, like a policeman's notebook and have plain cardstock backs. The ribbons are secured under the cardstock layer and onto the greyboard back of the notebook. They then wrap round to the front, keeping the book closed in your pocket/bag.

I really like making these. They don't take too long, look great and are very useful. I will try to buy some more blank tablets next week and create a few more sets. I'll probably do some with 2 A7 books in as well - they're so handy for a pocket or handbag and I think they'd make great stocking-fillers. I will use some more traditional Christmassy colours too - these are quite dark and perhaps a bit of an acquired taste (even if they are "in fashion"!).

By the way - I would welcome comments on the arrangement of the two sets above. Should they be two books with the same papers, or should I mix-and-match them, so the small and large books are different?

* * *
So, that's the Covered Notebooks. I am now working on some totally hand-made notebooks, in a pamphlet style. That means they have only one section of paper, folded along the middle and stitched into the cover. These are another thing I enjoy making - they are quite a satisfying thing to make. Recently I worked out (thanks to another bookbinder I know!) that it is much quicker to make these in batches of about 10-15 at a time. You can do each process for all books, which makes it much more efficient.

And it's a bit exciting to look at a tall stack of folded book sections, all ready to be stitched into their covers.
* * *
How I Make Pamphlet Notebooks:

Note: The instructions for making a notebook are in black type. Some extra information and comments are included, but I have enclosed them in "* *" and coloured them light purple, so you can tell they are not part of the instructions as such. You can ignore them if you want to, or at least know which bits to look at if you are trying to make your own book at some point!

 Step 1 - Cut the Pages
So, first of all I take some large sheets of paper - between A3 and A1 in size. I decide on the size of notebook, calculate how many pages I can fit into a sheet.
I then fold and cut the sheets into double pages - twice as wide as the finished pages, as they will be folded in half. I didn't photograph this bit, I'm afraid.

* *
Paper Grain

It can be a bit tricky, working out page sizes and also the direction in which to fold and cut the paper. Believe it or not, machine-made (and some hand-made) papers have a direction, or "grain", a bit like the nap on a piece of woven fabric.

For these notebooks, the grain doesn't matter too much, so long as the paper is cut the same way for each page. It does matter for books such as sketch-books, albums, journals etc, especially if you will be using anything wet on the pages - such as paint. Paper will stretch and shrink and the grain direction affects this process. Also, paper is harder to work against the grain and it can tear (as I found to my cost, when trying to cover a wrap-round folder, turning the paper sideways because I preferred the design running that way - it burst along the edge of the cover, because I was trying to fold and stretch it the wrong way - one wasted sheet of lovely paper!).

* *

Anyway, in this case, it's okay. I used A3 sheets, from which I got 4 A5 double pages, ready to fold to A6 size, with the grain in the same direction. All nice and easy then!
Ten sheets of 65lb (95gsm) paper, cut and folded to A6 size.
Each sheet is folded and creased individually, then tucked inside the previous one, making a single section for the notebook.
* *
Flattening your sections
If you want your notebook to be particularly neat, now is a good time to take a break! Before you do, place your folded section(s) under a heavy book or two, on a flat surface. Leave them for a while and they will be nicely pressed and flattened. If you have more than one section to do, place them either side-by-side, or stack them with the creased edges alternating to the right, then left, right, left etc, so the stack is as level as possible.
* *
How many pages?
The number of sheets you can reasonably use for a single-section booklet / pamphlet will vary, depending on the thickness / weight of the paper and also how smooth the surface is. I have been using 65lb (95gsm) sketch paper, which has a slightly textured surface and is a little bit stiff in its feel, so ten sheets is about the comfortable limit for one section. That gives a 20-page notebook, which is quite a decent little book, filled with nice paper which will take all but very wet media.
* *
Step Two - Trim the Sections
When the folded sheets are tucked inside each other, there will be a slight difference in the front edges of the book, since the outside sheets have to go round all the others. This gives a sort-of stepped edge (see the previous photo). You don't have to do anything about that, if you like it that way; as I'm making books to sell, I prefer to trim the front edge level.
Decide on the finished width of the pages, line up the top and left-hand folded edge with a right-angle on your craft mat. Use a metal ruler (preferably with a rubber grip on the back) and a sharp craft knife, to slice off the extra paper on the front edge.
* *
Cutting through layers
Don't try to cut through all sheets at once - it is far more tidy - and much easier - to draw the knife down through one or two sheets, holding the ruler firmly in place, then do the next sheet(s), then the next etc, until you have trimmed them all. Try to hold the knife blade perpendicular to the paper, so you form a flat, straight front edge. As you work, you will find it easier to see what you're doing and avoid accidents, if you gently push the cut pieces away, as in the picture above.
* *
A neat, straight finish!
Step Three - Cut the Covers
For my notebooks, I am using scrapbooking papers, which are quite stiff and close-textured, with a smooth finish and firm fibres. Some of these papers have the added bonus of being printed on both sides, which gives a pretty finish inside the cover; the papers I am using just now are plain white on the back, but it is clean and bright, so the covers look perfect.
* *
An advantage of scrapbook paper as covers, is that it's usuallly easy to tell the "right way up" of the paper, as there is a printed strip along the bottom, with the brand name and details of the paper range and pattern. Or else, the paper may come from a pad and be fixed at the top of the sheet with glue. This is handy, as it means the grain of the paper almost certainly runs up and down. That's good - the paper will fold more easily along its grain, without cracking (or tearing!) on the fold.
* *
Cover materials
The covers can be made from a variety of materials - not only paper, but leather, soft vinyl pieces, fabrics, flexible plastic. The material needs to be soft and flexible enough to fold and stitch through, but firm and strong enough to protect the paper inside the book and not crumple or collapse.
* *
Lining the covers
You can line your covers if you wish - but here the question of "grain" does come into play. If you stick a sheet of paper onto another sheet, with the grains at right angles to each other, you will find that the cover paper may rip, crumple or pull apart when you fold it to make the cover.
Some papers, such as mulberry paper, have no grain and are therefore very useful for lining covers, as they will fold with the cover paper and not cause it to tear.
* *

Cut the cover paper slightly bigger all round than the double pages - it doesn't need to be a lot, but you need to allow for the bulk of the pamphlet, which the cover must go round. Otherwise, your pages will stick out from the right hand side of the cover. It also looks nicer to have a tiny margin above and below your pages.
Mark the half-way point across the cover, on the inside, then line your metal ruler up with those marks and make a good firm crease down the paper. This will make it much easier to fold the stiffer cover paper, without splits on the outside edge, due to strain on the paper fibres.
Carefully fold along the crease-line, matching the edges up, to make your cover. You shouldn't need to force the paper to fold, nor to press the crease hard on the outside edge. If it won't fold, open it up and re-mark the crease line on the inside, then try again.
* *
Creasing tools
The picture above shows a bone folder being used to make a crease-line (by the way, a "bone" folder can also be made from other materials, such as plastic, wood, bamboo or even teflon). You can use other items to help you make a crease. I have a great pair of small, sharp scissors, which have a curve to the outsides of the blades; they are my very favourite creasing tool, as they are just the right size, shape and weight for me. Experiment with other items if you have no bone folder - you need something hard, smooth and with a slight curve/roundness to its edge, so it doesn't act as a knife instead of a creaser.
If you want to use a creasing blade on your paper cutter, try it out on a sheet of similar weight paper/cardstock first - my creasing blade only works for card and thick cardstock. It cuts through lighter weight cardstock or paper.
* *
Step Four - Make the Sewing Holes
In order to attach your folded paper section to its cover, you will need to sew it (unless you have a long-reach stapler and want to staple it!)

Line up all the pages of the section, at the tops (hopefully the bottoms will just about match too). Tap them on the desk, all round, then tap the top again.
Use a book cradle, or if you don't have one, an old phone book or other heavy, large non-valuable book, to support the section while you make the holes (I keep a "pet phone book" in my drawer and use it as my hole pricking cradle). Open the book section at its centre and lay it into the crease in the middle of the opened book (or in the book cradle - lucky you!). This cradle will hold the pages together and keep the creases aligned.
Use a pricking tool, thin bradawl or needle held in a piece of wood or cork, to make holes through all layers of the paper, directly through the central crease line.
Pricking the Sewing Holes
* *

It helps to use a pricking pattern. Mine is a piece of spare book board, on which I have marked the page height, the central hole and one hole either side - for these A6 books I make three holes 1" apart, working from the centre.

You can also use a piece of paper, folded along its length, with the holes marked on the crease. This is dropped into the centre of the book pages, as a guide for your holes and you prick them through the paper guide.  
* *
You also need to make sewing holes in the cover. If you use a template, remember that your cover is larger than the page height (or should be) and that you need to match your centre hole with the centre of the cover, or your pages will be all at the top/bottom of the cover when you attach them.
A stack of sections, ready to bind.
Step Five - Fastening the Covers
You may wish to have fastenings for your notebook and this is the time to decide what to use and how to attach them .
I like to fasten these small notebooks with ribbons that tie, either on the top, or along the front edge.  You could use other fastenings, such as a button and loop; a wrap-round ribbon or paper / leather strip, which tucks into itself; a magnetic fastening - anything you can come up with that will work for a small notebook!

Usually I use thin (4mm/ 1/8") satin ribbons, which wrap round the covers and tie on top of the front cover.  I also like to attach shorter ribbons, that are fixed to the inside of the cover, and tie at the front edge.
Front-fastening ribbon ties

Choose ribbons that contrast or tone with the colours of your cover. If you are making a pair or set of notebooks, consider whether you want them to have matching ribbons or a variety of colours.
Make a slit in the cover, about 1/4" in from the folded edge and the width of your ribbon, lined up with the central sewing hole.
 Use the back edge of your craft knife to push the ribbon through the cut, from the inside,

then pull it through to the front, as far as you need it.
Repeat this for the back cover, so the ribbon loops through the inside of the cover, by the fold.
To fasten the ribbon on the front cover, rather than along the right hand edge, keep the front ribbon length about 2/3 the length of the ribbon coming round from the back cover.  This will give you enough ribbon to make an even bow 1/3 of the way from the right edge.  

Step Six - Stitching the Book

Slide the folded pamphlet into its cover, lining up the holes and making sure your pages are all even. 
Thread your needle and cut a suitable length off the spool.  If you thread the needle first, then you will be sewing with the twist of your thread running in the right direction, so it's less likely to knot and tangle up.

* *
Choosing Thread and Needles

I use either a #12 crochet cotton, or a thick sewing cotton for these note-books.  Lightweight waxed linen thread could be used, but it's quite expensive and seems overkill for pocket note-books. Strong cotton thread is perfectly good.

My needles are straight and long, with an eye that is just about the same width as the needle (rather than bulging, as you find on a darning or tapestry needle).  The ones shown in these photos are #7 Quilters' Basting needles. 

* *
Open the book and start your sewing by pushing the needle and cotton through the centre hole, from the inside.  Leave a longish tail of thread on the inside, as you will need it later, to fasten off the sewing.

Take care to keep the pages together, so the holes are all in line.  If the needle won't go through, check that the holes are large enough for your needle.  If that is okay, then make certain that the pages/ holes are lined up right through the book.  Line them up again carefully and carry on. If you try to force your needle through the paper, when the holes are out of line, or if they are too small, you will probably break your needle!  

Push the needle carefully from the centre hole of the pages, through the middle of the ribbon loop inside the cover (see photo above) and into the centre hole of the cover.  

Being careful to keep the "tail" of thread inside, and making sure the pages/ holes are still lined up, push the needle back into the book, from the outside, to the centre, through the top hole in the cover and pages.
Here you see the thread coming from the inside of the book, through the ribbon and out of the hole in the cover.  It then comes back through the cover and pages, from the outside of the book. 
Carry the thread right along the middle of the fold, then push the needle through the unused hole, from the inside of the book and out through the hole in the cover.

Next, pass the needle back through the Centre hole, from the outside of the book, to the inside, completing your second stitch (look at the outside, on the fold of the cover to see both stitches clearly). 

Pull the threads firmly, to tighten the stitches.  Tie off the threads, using a square knot ("reef" knot).  Tie it as follows:

Left hand thread goes Over the Right hand thread, then through the loop you created.  Carefully tighten this loop.  (Say "Left over Right and Through"!)  

 Right hand thread goes Over the Left hand thread, then through the loop ("Right over Left and Through"!)

Carefully pull up the second loop, so you have a flat, tight knot.  This type of knot, if tied correctly, does not easily come undone! 

Use the back of your craft knife blade, your finger nail or scissor blade, to push the thread ends under the stitches and trim them.  This is a close-up, so it looks obvious, but it looks fine inside the book. 

If you mind the stitches and knot showing, then use white or off-white thread, so it is less obvious.  I like to see how the book was made, and don't mind seeing a neat little square knot!
 You will have a Finished Note Book!  See mine there, on the left-hand side?  So, that's One Down, thirteen (of this batch) to go!  You may also notice there are some 4" square note books there, waiting to be stitched.  I think they look cute and they're great for a small hand-bag. 

* * *

So, that is my Tutorial, to show how I make small Pamphlet-style notebooks.  I hope you didn't find all the writing too confusing.  There are really only Six steps to making these and it's not very difficult. 

If you fancy a go, here's a summary:

  1. Find 5 sheets of A3 size paper, cut them in half, then half again, fold them into two little 10-page pamphlets. 
  2. Cut two covers from Scrapbook paper. 
  3. Crease and fold the covers.
  4. Make the holes as shown above. 
  5. Cut two lengths of ribbon that match your papers.
  6. Find a nice strong needle and thread, and just sew them up! 

You'll be so pleased you made them and even if they are not "perfect", you will have learned the process and will improve the next time. 

Good Luck!  

* * *

Apologies, by the way, for the weird spacing and wonky photo placing.  I am having a lot of problems with Blogger's Post Editor, especially loading photos.  I found a partial solution, which involves using the Old version of the Editor to load the photos, then saving the post and swapping to the New Editor to do the writing etc.
However, this messed up the writing I had already done, as it stuck all the photos at the top and I had to pull them around in the post, then mess about with their positioning and alignment etc. 
I was going to post this Tutorial on Friday afternoon.  It has taken me Friday afternoon and evening, then all of Saturday afternoon and part of the evening again, just to get the post written and the photos uploaded and positioned. 
I am frustrated with Blogger, as they seem to make changes and then test them on the Live users!  They are not responding well to the numerous and various shouts for help and reports of problems /issues with the changes they have made.  I may have to export my blog to another Blog provider.  Any suggestions?

Thanks for Reading! 


  1. Thanks for the great tutorial, Lizzie. I've actually made some of these using the stapled method. I did learn some new tricks here in your tutorial though - love the info on the book cradle, using a phone book. Awesome!

    Good luck with your craft sale. I'm participating in one with a friend in November. And I do like the idea of packaging your notebooks up with coordinating colors rather than having both the same.

  2. Lizzie, I am sorry this has been so frustrating to write and prepare for blogger - I am finding photos reasonably difficult to upload and space at the moment too - I have to do them individually!

    Apart from the technical posting problems this has been a wonderful post and love the detail you have shared with us today. The information was clearly set out and very interesting to read and the detail of these lovely books is fantastic!

    Good luck with the stall, I'd say these will be popular and like Deb, I like the idea of coordinating but contrasting books sold as a pack :-)

  3. What a great tutorial Lizzie, I am sure you will do really well at your sale. I like the books packaged together that are matching, they seem really eye catching. However, you could offer both and see which is the most popular.

    Sorry about the blogger problems, I can only recommend Typepad as I have been using it for years and I love it. However, it isn't free, but I guess you get what you pay for (or not, LOL!). Sue

  4. wow lizzie this is such a gr8 tutorial, really thorough and loads of helpful tips. i think in answer to ur question that different patterns books together looks pretty however some people may want matching covers so it maybe a good idea to do/have the option to mix and match.
    i havent had any problems with loading photos personally so far and have found blogger improving over time. does it make a difference if u have lots of pictures to upload i wonder? maybe u could do a pdf version of this tutorial for peeps, there r some free downloads to make word into pdf on the net
    Jo xxxx

  5. Wow, Lizzie - such a clear, detailed tutorial, thank you :-) I'm bookmarking this to return to! Sorry it was such a hassle to post though xx

    I like the matching notebooks, but co-ordinating covers would also look really good - which doesn't help much, sorry!!

  6. Great tutorial! I love craft fairs. I'd go with coordinating, instead of matching papers on the books.


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