Making a simple leather journal

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Making a simple leather journal

There are many different kinds of journals you can make. Stitched covers, which I teach online classes about (with my talented friend, Cecilia); cloth covers; card covers etc. Then there is the stitch work: simple straight stitching; cross stitching of various complexities and then the different finishings.

As I am currently teaching a group of teachers how to make leather journals as part of their employer’s mental health programme, I have been preparing the groundwork ahead of the classes. I suddenly realised that I have never taught art to people who are not artists before and managed to persuade Mr. S to act as my guinea pig.

The class I am teaching is a two-stage project. In the first lesson, my “student teachers” make the linings for journals by means of a mono-printing method using gel printing plates. I briefly showed Mr. S how to use the printing plates, paint, rollers and stencils and let him loose.

Starting with an A3 sheet of cartridge paper, I explained that only a very small amount of paint needs to be applied to the gel plate. As is typical of my dear husband, he didn’t listen properly and piled on the paint. LOL. Once he realised that there is a reason why too much of a good thing doesn’t work, he did pull back a bit and produced a fairly heavily covered sheet of paper which we left to dry overnight.

The next day we worked out which area of the paper he liked best and using a template I had prepared, he marked up and cut out a piece slightly larger than A4. We gave the paint a quick spray of varnish, allowed that to dry and then fixed the leather to the area he has chosen, using slightly watered down PVA glue, and I put it in my press overnight. If you want to do this at home a pile of heavy books will do the same job.

The next morning, we gave the painting another coating of varnish whilst we prepared the paper for the inside of the journal. The style Mr. S is making is called a traveller journal and, unlike the normal journal I make, this one has removeable sections meaning that you can keep using the leather cover and replace the inners when they have been used up.

Making the inner booklets is where you can have fun with the paper. In Mr. S’s case, we decided that a mix of sketch paper, writing paper, copy paper and lined notebook paper, along with coloured card covers, would be the most fun.

So long as you have the same overall weight of paper in your inner booklets the overall effect will be just right. In Mr. S’s case he chose the following papers which were all cut to A4 size and then folded in half to make the A5 booklet size.

You will see that whilst there is a mixture of different papers with different weights, all booklets are made with the same number of different pages so that the overall weight is the same.

At this point you will need to decide which is the top, or header, of your journal cover and mark it in the top right-hand corner with a small dot or x.

Taking a separate piece of paper and a ruler mark the middle of the long side of the paper. Then measure 2 cm from the top and 2 cm from the bottom. Now mark halfway between the top and middle marks and the bottom and middle marks. This is your guide to making the holes for the booklets or ‘signatures’.

Place a mark on the top right-hand side of the paper so that you know which is the top. This is important as when you punch the hole through each signature, you will need to remember which way up they were punched. Once you have punched all the holes in your signatures using the guide you will need to stitch them, starting in the middle.

Taking another separate piece of paper and a ruler you will need to measure 1 cm from the top of the signature and put a mark, then measure another 1 cm from that and place another mark. Now repeat this for the bottom 1 cm in then another cm in. Finally, you will need to find the centre of the paper and make a mark. These marks need to be punched through the leather to make holes for the elastic to go through.

Going back to the signatures, you will need to have a length of waxed cord or string, ideally, twice the length of the journal. Starting with the middle hole go out through the middle, in through the second hole, out through the top hole, in through the second and then skipping the middle hole out through the fourth hole, in through the fifth, out through the fourth hole and then back through the middle/third hole. Making sure the threads are either side of the long thread, tie in a double knot. Now do the same for the next signatures. The diagram below might help you to do this.

Next, take a piece of elastic and thread it through the holes in the cover.

Holding it with the header to the top right, feed the elastic from the inside through the second hole at the top and then back in through the top hole, then out through the second hole from the bottom and in through the bottom hole. Then tie a knot in the middle, making sure that you keep the pieces separate.

Now comes the fun bit. Place the first signature under one of the pieces of elastic to hold it securely in place. Cut a piece of elastic about twice the height of the signature, you may need to tighten the elastic later so don’t pull it too tight at this stage. Then taking another piece of elastic, tie the ends together to make a loop, place the second signature in the loop and place the signature at the front of the journal cover. Reaching under the first signature, grab the elastic from the back of the second signature and put the third signature in through the loop. These three signatures should now be secure, although you may have to tighten them a little. If you have five signatures repeat the last step.

Take another piece of elastic, tie the ends together to make a loop, place the fourth signature in the loop and place the signature at the front of the journal cover. Reaching under the other signatures, grab the elastic from the back of the fourth signature and put the fifth signature in through the loop. The photos below should help make sense of this.

If you are still struggling, I will be posting a mini video on my Instagram feed later this week, which you can watch at

Lastly cut a piece of elastic twice the width of the journal and folding the elastic in half feed the middle loop through the centre hole on the journal. tie a knot on the side of the journal and pull the elastic all the way through the hole and then wrap it around the journal to keep it closed.

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