Saturday, 4 April 2015

Making your own sketchbook

I was really looking forward to this long Easter weekend, and after having most of the re-organising and importing into Lightroom of my old photos sorted, I was determined not to spend it all in front of the computer. For today, a misty, very rainy and cool perfect-to-stay-indoors day, I decided to do some bookbinding. There are loads and loads of sketchbooks available, in all kinds of formats and sizes, and and with different papers, but sometimes, the exact size and paper you want may just not exist. Making your own sketchbook allows you to choose exactly the size and paper that you want and it's fun to make (and actually not that difficult). And you can even cover it in some pretty paper.

I used some sheets of Fabriano Tiziano 160 g/m3 paper (colour: Perla), sized 50x65 cm, which I had cut in half and then folded. This makes the size of my sketchbook about 16.3x25cm. With all the cutting, folding and assembling the gatherings done, it was time for some punching, stitching and glueing.

First the punching. I finally got to try out my new Japanese screw punch. These seem to sell more quickly than the shops can stock them, and I had to wait several months until I finally managed to order one, together with some different sized punches. The one I used here is the 1.5mm.

Next the stitching. I have a whole pile of books on bookbinding, with different techniques and step by step instructions. I must admit that I have never been able to understand, let alone follow, any of them. So I always go back to the same method, the Coptic stitch. I found a PDF instruction that I more or less managed to make sense of on the internet some time ago, and I've been sticking to it ever since. I still get confused regularly, and usually have to go back and undo a few steps before getting the hang of it again. I just don't do it often enough. But usually, I manage to get it all stitched together in the end. If you haven't done any bookbinding before and would like to try it out, there are loads of resources available online, and I'm sure you'll find one that suits you, and that explains it much better than I ever could.

In addition to my gaterhings of sketchbook paper, I used a single sheet of folded paper as endpapers at the beginning and end of the body of the book. This allows you to glue the covers on to them without having to sacrifice a page of your good sketching paper.

With the gatherings all stitched together, I cut two pieces of cardboards to size and covered them with some pretty patterned paper for the covers.

Then comes the trickiest (I find) bit, glueing the covers on to the endpapers. I never know which one is the better way; to put the cover on the table and stick the body of the book on to it, or the other way round. You want the cover to sit straight, aligned with the spine, and with an even slight overlap around the other three sides. And the endpaper covering the folded over patterned paper, leaving an even margin on the tree sides. It's a bit of a fiddle, and everything being covered in glue, including your fingers, doesn't help. But you do have a bit of room for adjustment.

Last step is to cover the spine. I used a special bookcloth that I cut to size.

While cutting it out, I left an extra bit on both sides, the length of the spine and folded it over and glued it down, for enforcement. A very neat way, of course, would be to add a headband. I might put that on my shopping list for my next oder.

The last bit then is to put the bookcloth over your spine and glue it down on to the covers. Preferably without smearing glue on top of and staining the cloth. Which I find is pretty much impossible.

And there you have it. Your own, hand made sketchbook, ready to be filled. And with the Coptic stitching, you can open it completely flat on your table.


  1. I find not getting glue on the cover is always a challenge, too. I have only made maybe a dozen coptic stitch journals over the last dozen years, so I forget on the stitching from one time to the next, too. I always finished off the backside of the covers (glued some paper to them) before I ever sewed it together. I've never covered the spine, but am now interested to try that. This turned out really pretty! :)

    1. Thank you Rita. I really like the coptic stitch. And it's quite straight forward, once you've figured it out. But I'm sure I'll have forgotten all again next time. Before I do any more book making, I should start filling that sketchbook :)