My Journal – old time book binding

In an age of kindles and ebooks, I still appreciate a hard copy. I love the feel and smell of old paper.  Some how my old copy of Pride and Prejudice just reads better!

I am a bookaholic, and this era of instant gratification only feeds my addiction.   Even when I want to hold a particular title in my hands, I’m am able to order it on-line, and within a couple days, it arrives at my door.

I imagine living in the days prior to computers and printers, back before the printing press, to the time of hand written, hand bound books, when literacy, much less having a personal library, was a rare privileged.

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If more time and labor went into every page, how much more selective and intentional would my written words be?

I have been thinking of binding my own book for years, and since I wanted an extra-special journal for an upcoming Spring “shipwrecked” themed retreat, I decided to give it a try.

Here are a few pictures of how I made my journal, and I’ll give a brief explanation of the steps below…

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Some of the tools you would need…

  • paper (I used standard 8 1/2 x 11″ paper which I stained with coffee; for tips, see the end of this post.)
  • hammer, nail, and wood block
  • needle, heavy thread (I used hand quilting thread.), scissors or clippers
  • a small clamp or two may be useful for hold the paper together tightly while you sew
  • strips of fabric
  • glue
  • brown paper bag
  • double stick carpet tape (optional, but helpful)

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General Steps for Binding a Book

  • stack 5 to 10 pages of paper (I used 5 sheets for my book.)
  • fold in half (This will make a 10 to 20 page booklet.)
  • with hammer and nail punch 4 or 6 holes evenly down the fold of the booklet using the wood block to protect your table, an even number of holes works well (I punched 4 and just estimated mine, about 1 1/2″ apart.  If you’re not really good at eyeballing measurements, USE A RULER.  When you sew these pages together, you want all the booklet holes to line up.  I think 6 might have held the top and bottom of the book tighter, but after it was completely bound, I don’t think you would notice any difference.)
  • sew in and out of the wholes, until the pages feel secure
  • clamp or band the completed booklets together (I made 10 booklets: 10 pages each, from 5 folded sheets. That made for a 100 page journal.)
  • tie knots to join each booklet to the next booklet (I used my needle to “sew/tie” the knots more easily.)
  • take a strip of fabric and slip it under each row of threads (I used muslin, because that is what I had.  But, I read that heavier material might be better.  I found that using a needle to lift all the threads made it easier to slip the fabric under.  Because I sewed and tied my pages tightly, which is what you want, I found it helpful to have something thin and stiff to push the fabric through.  A dull butter knife worked really well for me.)
  • glue the strips down (I added brown paper to before this step to the front and back.  These were slightly larger than the booklet pages, maybe 1/8″ all around.)
  • glue a piece of fabric over the spine (Later I had the idea of using double sided carpet tape that I had on hand, which is much heavier; so my book actually has both.  That worked really well!!  If you used the tape, you wouldn’t have to wait for the glue to dry, but you also have no room for error, as it adheres as soon as you place it.)
  • glue (or tape with heavy double sided tape) the cover over the book (Since I only had a little tape, I only used it on the corners and the binding, and used glue for the rest of the cover.  When cutting your cover, keep in mind, it is nice to have it 1/4″ larger than the booklets on all sides.  Mine was a little too large at the top and bottom; so I tore it down to where I wanted and then burned the edges a bit to make it look old and worn.  That worked well since my cover was layered brown paper, but it is best to plan ahead since tearing might not be possible if you were making a hard cover with cardboard.)
  • If you want the paper to look more like old weathered leather, you can take a brown ink pad and lightly brush it over the cover.  All the raised wrinkles take on the color, highlighting the texture.
  • FYI – As can you see in one of the pictures, I used the Duck double sided carpet tape to reinforce the inside of the cover too because I also want to add a “secret” pocket for small papers.  (The nice thing about carpet tape is one side has a peel over cover; so you only have to deal with one sticky side at a time.)

Even if you find these directions helpful, there are so many other professional websites and videos on line you can check out that will show you more precise and traditional tools and methods.  Looking at the different ways to bind books might help you come up with some better ideas using things you already have around the house.

How I made the cover

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  • gently pull open the bottom of a brown paper grocery bag (You could also cut off the bottom.)
  • mix glue with a little bit of water to make it easier to spread
  • evenly coat one side of the bag
  • fold into thirds as you would a letter for a business envelope
  • press out all the wrinkles and excess glue from the center to the edges
  • now is a good time to coffee stain it (You can make a more concentrated stain with instant coffee and a few tablespoons of water; then paint the stain where you want it with a brush.)
  • put the paper in the oven at a low temperature or near a heater vent to speed the drying process (This should be obvious, but please remember to watch your paper closely; you do not want to start a fire!)
  • when the paper is dry, cut or tear it to the shape/size you want

(note for retreat ladies who might be interested:  I made my map the same way, except I only folded it in half, not thirds, and used a little less glue so that it would not be as  thick or stiff.)

Staining paper is easy!

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Instant coffee works great to have a darker more concentrated stain.

  • preheat oven to 200
  • pour a few teaspoons of instant coffee into a 9×11 pan
  • add water enough to cover the bottom, about 1″
  • immerse the paper
  • place on a baking sheet
  • if you want stripes, put them directly on the oven racks or using wire cookie cooling racks layered over the baking sheets  (I experimented with adding a few coffee grounds on to soaking paper, dripping more coffee on some pages, soaking some pages longer/shorter,… I like that my pages all look unique.)
  • you can crumple up the paper, tear the edges, or burn the edges depending on the look you want (When you are burning paper it is best to do it near a sink and over a metal cookie sheet just in case a spark falls or your flame gets out of hand.  Do be careful.  I would used a candle or a lighter rather than a match, only doing a small section at a time to have more control over the burn.)

One Last Bit of Advice …

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Value words!!!  Especially treasure The Word!

Words are powerful, written or spoken.   But the Words of God are all-powerful because they were spoken and inspired by Omnipotence Himself.  For long ages, kings labored long to make their own copy of the Scriptures, and bent over scribes penned scrolls for the masses to gather and hear.  Still, around the world, numbers of persecuted Christians feast on a single rare copy, memorizing entire books to carry it with them.

In a land where most every hotel drawer and dollar store provides easy access to the Words of God, this priceless treasure is too often unappreciated and neglected.  With shelves full of translations and commentaries, have I taken for granted the most prized words of all time?  Yes.  Sadly, I admit it.

Let’s find and dust off our copy of the scripture!  (Looking for a place to start?  Check out 2 Kings 22.  What a great story!!!!  Josiah, who became king when he was only 8, tore his robes when he heard the words from the book of the law after it was found in the long neglected temple.)

LORD, thank You for the written Word, and thank You for my own copy.  Thank You for bringing to mind the days when I held my Bible close and never went anywhere without it.  Portions of Psalm 119 come to mind, and I echo, “Oh, how I love Your law!!!!”