Two weeks ago, I discovered a new hobby for myself. Yes, another one. Admittedly, I barely have time for the existing ones as it is. But hey, that’s the way life goes when you’re creative and have a zillion interests. 😉

Well, to my defense, I didn’t do it on purpose, I swear. I was on YouTube looking for something else entirely (I don’t even remember what that was). By chance, I stumbled into a video on book binding. Or, more precisely, on how to make your own notebook.

It wasn’t the best video ever, made by a teenaged girl who—by her own admission—didn’t have her best day but felt like making a video anyway. However, she showed the whole process really nicely and made it look so easy. All I thought was: Hey, that looks cool. I could do that as well.

Okay, so that is not really uncommon for me. I surf the web regularly and stumble into many interesting things that I think would be nice to do: Craft, writing topics, knitting, crocheting, sewing, baking/cupcake decorating, you name it. If I had to guess, I’d say it happens every few weeks, on average. But usually every-day life and existing hobbies and so on get in the way and I more or less forget about it. Sometimes quickly, sometimes gradually and with regret, still wanting to do it but never really finding the time. As I said, that’s the curse of having too many interests.

But somehow, that wasn’t how it happened this time around. The idea hooked me. The next day, I watched the video a second time. And a third. I got the feeling that, yes, it was inspiring and nice but didn’t really give me all the information my perfectionist heart desired to get started.

So I started looking for other videos on notebook making and bookbinding. The best ones I found so far are those two, and I really recommend them if you’re interested in the topic:

I thought, yes, that’s exactly the kind of book I want to make, and it just added fuel to the fire. If I hadn’t run into those fairly soon into my research, I might have been frustrated and lost interest, or would have taken so long to get the basics that I never would have gotten to it.

Somehow, the following Saturday morning I had some free time and I felt like getting started. I didn’t really have many of the tools and material I needed, but still thought I’d give it a try.

I think craft is a wonderfully creative thing, although you have to follow instructions first and learn your techniques before you can let your imagination go wild. I guess at first the most creative thing about it was trying to find substitutes for the missing tools. 😉

I used average copying paper and started folding it in half with a carved letter opener (for lack of a bone folder; which worked well with white paper) and a needle to make the binding holes (for lack of an awl; it works, but for the sake of your fingers I don’t recommend it ;-)).

The folded pages are put together into signatures of 4-5 pages. The videos recommend using a pen and a ruler to mark with a straight line where the holes go in all signatures. I wasn’t really satisfied with that method as my signatures kept slipping out of place and the lines were everything but straight.

I later watched another video that recommended creating a hole template and using that one template with all signatures (you have to make it only once and can then use it for all books of the same size. I’ll give it a try the next time.)

Holes for binding
Holes for binding

With some difficulty, I dug up some strong yarn and waxed it with an old tea candle. All videos I watched so far strongly recommend waxing the thread so it doesn’t tangle. I’d say it works really well. Mine didn’t tangle at all.

You can buy waxed thread, of course, but it really isn’t that difficult to make. Cut off a piece of yarn and pull it through the candle twice (two times is enough, otherwise it might get too inflexible). And that’s it.

Bind with a strong waxed thread
Bind with a strong waxed thread

Some videos say that for a smaller notebook where you fold DIN A-4 (8.5″x11″) paper, four holes in the middle are enough. I prefer to play it safe and thus made more holes with a space of 1″ between them, starting 1″ from the corner. That worked very well and the binding technique she uses in the videos mentioned above is the best one I came across so far. Although I’d wished she’d made a separate video on binding and shown it even more step-by-step. But after one tiny error that didn’t show I eventually figured it out.

If you are interested in binding your own book, really do check out how she ties an ending thread and starts a new one right in the middle of binding. Many people say you have to use one long thread and then they complain about it getting all tangled. But that’s not necessary. This method works really well!

The bound inside pages - Not bad for rookie, eh? ;-)
The bound inside pages – Not bad for a rookie, eh? 😉

I knew the next part would get messy as it involves PVA glue. 😉 Since I don’t have a room for craft work, I have to work on my living room floor. And since I like my carpet and my cutting mat without glue on them, I rummaged the waste paper basked for all the ad brochures and old newspapers I could find and littered every inch of the floor with them.

You don’t need a special brush for this. But make sure to always clean it immediately. If you don’t and the glue dries—and it dries quickly—you have a problem. I have a glass of water at hand for that purpose at all times. And remember: No matter how quickly you clean the brush, it will still smell of the glue, so you might consider getting brushes just for this purpose (unless you don’t mind).

I used two clamps to hold the spine together (in want of a decent book press). But if you don’t have a workbench, it really is a pain in the behind, especially if you are keen on including an ad brochure to slide the pages into later when you put them under a weight to dry.

Understand, I only had heavy books as weights, and since I—unlike the guy in one video I watched—like my books without PVA glue on them, I considered that necessary. But even with two helping hands I had a hard time with it. I swore myself that if I were to ever do that again, I would make a book press first. She also has a great video on that as well, by the way: 😉

How to make a Book Press

When I told my boyfriend about my ordeal, he immediately volunteered to make a book press for me. How sweet is that! I’m for sure going to take him up on his offer. 🙂

Even though the process was annoying, the result was really satisfying and looked like this:

2 layers of PVA glue
2 layers of PVA glue

Put it under a heavy weight to dry. Bring time and patience. And something else to do. I was really eager to go on, but since I had to go shopping for material by now since I couldn’t replace what was to follow with anything I had lying around, that gave me something to do.

I made a list of what I’d need. It was a long list. I then included the tools that would be nice to have but not absolutely necessary. And the list got much longer.

I took that long list and went over to my local arts and crafts store. Unfortunately, it’s only a small shop and they didn’t have half the things I needed, let alone any of the ones that would have been nice to have.

I got enough to finish the text block, though. I got two thicker, colored pages for the front and back of the inside pages and a ribbon as a page marker. I also got an elastic band and a glittering foam craft sheet for the cover. Don’t really know yet what to do with the latter, but I got creative and couldn’t resist. Thought I’d cut out a shape and glue it on the cover. We’ll see if that’s a good idea. 😉

More material for the text block
More material

They didn’t even have a real bone folder, so I bought one made of wood. My verdict: Don’t bother trying. It scratched the colored paper. Though I made sure that side would be the one you don’t see once it’s finished, that’s not the result one’s looking for. So I later went and got a real bone folder instead.

Let it dry some more. (I let it dry overnight, although that probably wouldn’t have been necessary. But it does need quite a while.) Then you fold the two colored pages in half and glue the closed end to the side where the spine is. Add the ribbon and a smaller piece of paper to support the spine. There you go!

The finished text block
The finished text block

What didn’t work at all was when I tried cutting a clean edge.

First, don’t use a cheap craft knife. I used it by accident because I got it out of the box along with the small cutting mat I use for cutting paper and it broke in two after only a few cuts. One more thing to add to my shopping list.

Then I tried using a utility blade. That didn’t break, but I’m obviously not very good at cutting because it looks like crap and I haven’t been able to fix it. It’s a pity.

A far cry from a clean edge!
A far cry from a clean edge!

In the video, she makes a book with round corners. Since I didn’t have a corner cutter, I first tried to convince myself that it might look just as nice if the corners weren’t round. But the idea didn’t let go of me and in the evening I gave in and ordered a corner cutter online. It arrived only two days later. I love how the thing works, but it does require practice to get all the corners even. I need a lot of practice!

Oh, and I found that if you have rather thin paper as pages, it helps to punch two pages at a time. First, it’s quicker, and, more importantly, it’s steadier and the paper doesn’t escape you as easily.

Round corners rule! ;-)
Round corners rule! 😉

The next week I spent several lunch breaks browsing the shops in town to gather the rest of the material and tools from my list. Although I wasn’t sure yet I’d ever do this again, I couldn’t resist to get some more tools that would make life easier the next time.

The hardest part was finding a store that had faux leather for the cover. I didn’t get the color I wanted, but I was glad to get decent-looking material at all.

The second thing that was hard to get was ply board with several layers. There was only one shop that had this at all, and they had only one size: Gigantic. I’m serious. It took two seats on my way home on the train. But the good part: I’ll have enough for at least a dozen notebooks. 😉

If I ever make one again. But with all the tools and left-over material, I probably had better. 😉 And ignoring the disaster with the not-so-clean edge, it is a lot of fun.

I hope I’ll find the chance to continue with the case binding fairly soon …