Wednesday, August 27, 2014

DIY Thread-Bound Notebook

 It might be said that I go through my fair share of notebooks. I really like the ones with sewn binding (like moleskins) because they're slim and light. I kind of like the battered look they get around the edges after a while, and the fact that they don't have too many pages (next notebook, please).

While I was in school, I made my own with card-stock covers, and just used my sewing machine to bind them up the center. But I've been wanting a slightly more sturdy cover--more sturdy that I should subject my sewing machine to, so I had to figure out a relatively simple way to bind them by hand. Easy peasy, really. All you need to do is make a lockstitch binding (like the one your average sewing machine makes) by hand. Here's how it's done:

- Bristol Board for the cover--I just asked for it at my local print and stationery store (or use cardstock, or scrap cardboard from a cereal box, cut to a standard 5.5"x11" letter-size)
- Approximately 20 sheets of printer paper for the pages
- Thread--I used the heavy upholstery kind, but you can just double up some regular thread if you prefer
- Pushpin
- Handful of Binder Clips
- Pencil
- Ruler--if you have a quilting ruler, they work like a charm.
- Corkboard--if you don't have one, use a pile of scrap cardboard.
- Scissors
- Exacto Knife (optional)

1. The first step is to decorate your cover! I drew my by hand, but you can use stamps, stickers, stencils, or whatever you fancy.

2. Draw a straight line down the middle (5.5" from the edge if you're using regular letter-sized paper and cover). If you don't have a quilting ruler, measure 5.5" from the edge across the top, middle, and bottom of the page. Then draw a straight line with your ruler to connect the marks.

Make a visible mark an eighth of an inch from the top of the line and then mark every .5" down the rest of the line. It won't end up perfectly an eighth inch from the bottom, but unless it's going to drive you nuts, you can just modify the space between the last few marks.  

3. Stack your cover (right side up) on top of your printer paper and make sure all the sides are flush. Then clip it all together with your binder clips to make sure it stays flush while you're binding. 

4. Lay your securely clipped stack of paper and cover on your corkboard and make holes at each mark using your pushpin. Be sure to make your holes right on the straight line that you drew, otherwise your binding will be wobbly.

5. You're going to use a lockstitch to bind the notebook. First off, you need to measure out your thread. You need three times the length of the binding, plus about three inches.

clip the thread to the bottom middle of the notebook, leaving a three inch tail. This will be your 'lock thread' for the binding. 

Thread your needle, draw it through the top-most hole, and pull it tight. (As you go along, you want to be careful that you pull the thread tight enough so that there is no slack, but not so tight that the end of the thread gets pulled from the binder clip.) 

Now, flip the book over so that you're looking at the front cover. Thread the needle down through the second hole (I did mine upside down, which probably looks confusing--either way is fine, as long as you start at the opposite end from where you've clipped the end of your thread)

Flip the book so that you're looking at the inside, and pull your thread through so that there is no slack. Pay attention to which side of the lock thread you're coming up on. Thread the needle back through the same hole, but (this is important) make sure you're coming down on the other side of the lock thread. This way, your main thread will catch on the lock thread and make a stitch instead of just coming back out the other side. 

6. Continue making your stitches in this way until you get to the last hole. Check to make sure your stitches are even. The lock thread should be running straight down the centre of the book without any slack and without being pulled through to the front of the book. 

For the last stitch, you are going to draw the thread through from the front of the book to the back, and then unclip the lock thread and tie the two ends of the thread together in a knot, as close as you can to the paper. Double (or triple) your knot before clipping off the ends of the thread.

7. Now fold the book in half. It will naturally fold along the binding, but be sure that the pages are flush along the top and bottom. Applying a bit of pressure, run the handles of your scissors along the binding edge to flatten the crease.

 8. Now, the pages along the top and bottom of the book should be flush, but they will be sticking out a little from under the cover along the side. If you would like, you can trim them using your ruler and exacto knife. Make sure your blade is sharp and be careful to hold your ruler in place so that you get a straight flush cut. (It's really easy to get a ragged cut at this point, so consider the risk before you put your knife to the page.) You won't be able to go through all the pages at once. Just keep going over it until you're through the stack.

That's it--you've got your very own hand-bound notebook! You can use this technique for various soft covers. I save my favorite birthday cards to use as notebook covers, and simply cut my printer paper to the same size. You can do the same with children's soft-cover books too. Sometimes I photocopy my favorite fabrics onto cardstock and use that as the cover. You may have already dreamed up an alternative of you own!

Let me know how it goes for you!


  1. I LOVE THIS. Hard. (I am excitedly swearing, out loud, but I will keep it tidy for your blog.) Dude. Thank you for this tutorial. When/if I ever have time, I'm absolutely going to try to do this!

  2. Do it! I always feel so pleased with myself when I'm writing in a book that I bound all by myself :)

  3. This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you so much for making this post.