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HOW TO make a Leather Journal - BOOK BINDING tutorial

Updated on December 19, 2015

Step-by-Step Instructions for a Classic Leather Notebook

The tutorial below will show you exactly how to make a Moleskine-style journal using traditional book binding methods, and also includes clear photographs for sewing your own leather cover - for a real luxurious finish.

Please don't be intimidated by the lengthy and detailed instructions; someone who has never done anything like this before can easily make a decent journal by following along - my first bound book turned out pretty well!

I hope you find this how-to helpful and inspiring. Any problems, let me know in the comments section :)

Note: All photos on this page are by me unless otherwise stated.

Tools & Materials:

- 24 x A4 sheets of paper.

- A bookbinder's needle

- Ruler

- Glue such as PVA

- Bone folder

- Pencil

- An awl

- X-acto craft knife and cutting mat OR a guillotine

- 1 A4 sheet of heavier paper or thin card.

- A piece of soft leather

- Small piece of cheesecloth

- Beeswax

- Strong thread

- Scissors

- 2 clamps/vices

- Catalogues/magazines/thick cardboard you don't mind damaging

- Heavy books/catalogues

- Flat, hard surface to work on

- 1 x A4 piece of scrap paper

- Glue spreader

- Double-sided tape

- Strong sewing thread

- Strong glue - to permanently join card and leather.

- A scrap piece of A3 paper

- A press stud

Best Journal Making Supplies

Lineco Ball Handle Awl
Lineco Ball Handle Awl

An awl is simply a metal point and a wooden handle, but it is a must-have for making consistent and neat holes in paper.

 
Eurotool Bar Beeswax Thread Strengthening Conditioner for Beads/Quilting/Crafting, 1 oz
Eurotool Bar Beeswax Thread Strengthening Conditioner for Beads/Quilting/Crafting, 1 oz

You can buy thread pre-waxed or wax it yourself with a bar of beeswax like this.

 
Books by Hand Waxed Linen Thread
Books by Hand Waxed Linen Thread

A pretty selection of colored linen threads designed for stitching paper together.

 
Zutter Book and Journal Making T-Kit, Pink
Zutter Book and Journal Making T-Kit, Pink

Excellent for a beginner, an array of tools is provided to get you started with wire spiral binding, including pliers, a craft knife and a bone folder.

 
Regency Natural Ultra Fine 100% Cotton Cheesecloth 9 sq.ft
Regency Natural Ultra Fine 100% Cotton Cheesecloth 9 sq.ft

A fine woven cloth for glueing onto the spine of your stitched book for added strength.

 

Step 1 - Cutting The Paper

Step 2 - Folding The Paper

Step 3 - Adding Holes to the Spines

Step 4 - Starting to Bind

Step 5 - Joining the Signatures Together

Step 6 - Square Knots

Find square knot instructions here.

Step 7 - Finishing the Binding

Step 8 - Glue the Spine

Step 9 - Prepare the Card Covers

Step 10 - Attaching the Covers

Leather Cover Template

(Not to scale)

Measure out and draw this template on either a piece of scrap A3 paper, or 2 pieces of A4 paper taped together.

Cut out the template shape by following the outline - ignore the other lines.

Most of the lines are to show you how I reached this size. Starting from the left, the sections represent: the width of the inside cover, the width of the outside cover, the width of the spine, the back outside cover, the depth of the journal, then a small section to ensure the leather completely wraps around the journal, and then a point for the flap.

To sum up, the cover needs to be a rectangle of 15.25" (38.75cm) x 6" (15.2cm) with two triangles of 2" (5cm) x 2.5" (6.25cm) cut off one end.

Step 11 - Sew the Leather Cover

Adding a Press Stud

At this point you have the option of sewing half of the press stud onto the leather. Otherwise, you can glue it on later like I did, but this is less secure.

The press stud half should be sewn approximately 5.5" away from the straight end (as opposed to the flap end) of the leather length, making sure it is centred.

Step 12 - Forming The Leather Cover

Step 13 - Finishing the Cover

Finished!

Well done, you now have a completed leather journal!

And if you're anything like me, it won't be the last one you make :-)

Finished Journal

Finished Journal

Variations You Can Try

- You can use different paper for your journal. If using thicker paper, you will need to have as little as 2 or 3 folios per signature to allow the pages to lie flat. Experiment to see how many folios are best for your choice of paper.

- You can use more, or less, signatures in your journal.

- You can use different methods of fastening the cover, such as using an elastic strap, a button, velcro or a wrap-around ribbon/cord.

- You can change the size of your pages. If you make them much larger, you will need more stitches to connect them. There should be at most 2-3" between holes in the signatures.

- You can use a different cover material, as long as it's not too thin.

- There are an unlimited number of ways that you can change the cover design, so it's completely up to you!

Wooden Book Covers

Source

Rustic Leather-Bound Journals

 love the rough-edges paper and rustic styling of these books. The stitching techniques used are long stitching (in the center) combined with link stitches (at the ends).
love the rough-edges paper and rustic styling of these books. The stitching techniques used are long stitching (in the center) combined with link stitches (at the ends). | Source

Journal Making & Book Cover Videos

Top Rated How-To Books & Leather Journals

For more expert guidance and ideas for variations and techniques that you can experiment with, books are great resources. And if you don't want to make a journal, there are lots of brilliant ones you can buy instead!

Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms
Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms

Comprehensive bookbinding guide containing lots of tips and tricks as well as contributions from a variety of artists.

There are many different techniques covered, with clear instructions and helpful illustrations.

 
Bookcraft: Techniques for Binding, Folding, and Decorating to Create Books and More
Bookcraft: Techniques for Binding, Folding, and Decorating to Create Books and More

This is an excellent book for beginners because it explains the techniques in step-by-step detail; starting with the most basic and moving onto more advanced.

The book also showcases a range of books by experts, and interesting ideas for experimental book projects.

 
Re-Bound: Creating Handmade Books from Recycled and Repurposed Materials
Re-Bound: Creating Handmade Books from Recycled and Repurposed Materials

A treasure trove of inspiring ideas for those wishing to use more unusual materials in their projects, and also for people who wish to be more eco-friendly with their crafts.

16 pages of templates are included in the book.

 
Adventures in Bookbinding: Handcrafting Mixed-Media Books
Adventures in Bookbinding: Handcrafting Mixed-Media Books

I think the front cover of this book alone is inspiring!

Those with a creative mind will appreciate this book because it provides ideas for using many different craft methods and media to make a journal truly unique.

Examples include the use of quilting, polymer clay and needle felting.

 

Handmade Journals

For more handmade journals for sale, please visit:

Wee Bindery

Tactile Books Shop

Ruth Bleakley

Books By Stephen

Hand Dyed Cover Paper

If you don't want a leather cover, get creative!
If you don't want a leather cover, get creative! | Source

Have you ever bound a book?

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Please Comment On My Lens!

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    • profile image

      emers 12 months ago

      Brilliant tutorial, very detailed and easy to follow!!! Really great job!

    • profile image

      Jack 23 months ago

      Really excellent guide! The best one i have found anywhere....fantastic detail in both the description and photos provided. I have never bound a book before and with the help of these instructions i managed to make a beautiful book for my house mates birthday, thanks so much! :)

    • mvaivata profile image

      mvaivata 2 years ago

      This is FANTASTIC! I've always liked the idea of binding books/journals... even made a few attempts, but always had some trouble with the spines. I will definitely be making a project of this soon! Thank you!

    • StormWriter profile image

      StormWriter 2 years ago from United Kingdom

      Brilliant step-by-step, I just wish I had the money and time to make some. Would make awesome presents for some friends of mine!!

    • Panorea White profile image

      Panorea White 2 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you so much for showing this process step by step! The quality seems superb!

    • melissae1963 profile image

      Melissa Reese Etheridge 2 years ago from Tennessee, United States

      This is such an amazing well thought out HUB. You've been very meticulous in you instructions. Your photos really enhance the Text. You've created a beautiful product.

    • profile image

      Lynn Sorrell 2 years ago from Mesa Arizona

      I not sure what a lens? is or a LOTD?....I make a lot of things, just get the ideas in my head and usually can just build it, but needed some help figuring out how to keep the whole book tightly together. Thought about buying one and ripping it apart just to see. Stumbled onto yours and it tells me everything I need. You did well. Thanks for taking the time to write this, it's well done. Looks as if the binding is strong. Just what I needed to help me make an extra large sketchbook for my daughter.

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 2 years ago from USA

      I had to come back and visit this article, again. It is really informative!

      I am still using the credit card holder I designed from scratch out of leather, after 21 years!

    • profile image

      Raimer Gel 2 years ago

      I always buy my journals from bookstores but I rarely use them. I do not know why but I just don't find them good.

    • MonkeyShine75 profile image

      Mara Alexander 2 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      So kewl, this is a great project. Thank you for sharing

      I voted it up

    • profile image

      barb 2 years ago

      I appsolutley love this brown leather journal !!!!! Can I buy it from you ? My email is dbjjkj626@yahoo.com, would love to hear back from you , thank you , barb rowe

    • flash167 profile image

      Marty Andersen 2 years ago from Salina, Utah

      Love the article. Thanks for sharing it! I want try doing it myself.

    • profile image

      Johnf744 2 years ago

      I loved your blog article. Really Cool. debebadkckdd

    • profile image

      micksmom2 3 years ago

      I stumbled upon this page and am very fascinated with trying my hand at this craft. I work with leather and this would be great fun to incorporate into my leatherwork.

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 3 years ago from U.K.

      @karagenknight: Hi - I've never made one of those so to be honest I don't know sorry. Thanks for visiting though :)

    • profile image

      karagenknight 3 years ago

      Hello Your guide is great and very helpful. just one question though i have read that you can make an expanding journal as in one you can take a cover off and add signatures. do you know how this could be modified to do that?

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: Hi! Start with 48 A3 pieces of paper and fold them in half, rather than starting with 24 A4 pieces like in my instructions. That way you can avoid the cutting steps at the beginning :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      What size paper would I need to use to get the journal to be A4?

    • janey126 profile image

      janey126 4 years ago

      Wow what a great info and lensâ¦just awesome!

    • steadytracker lm profile image

      steadytracker lm 4 years ago

      Wow, a really great and very in-depth tutorial .Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • SusanAston profile image

      SusanAston 4 years ago

      This looks too good to write in!

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: HI! Yes, the journal is a good size for carrying around in your coat pocket or bag so it's on the small side. You can double up the size if you would like a larger journal. Thanks for visiting :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I'm a little confused. The size of this journal seems really small. Maybe I'm not understanding, but are we cutting the paper to be folded down into a 3.5" by 5.5" page?

    • profile image

      belinhafernandes 4 years ago

      Wonderful tutorial! I wrote a lens about a sketchbook and this one showed up!

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @pattypulliam: Hi...yup, you follow step 5 to join each signature to the one before :)

    • profile image

      Jaugustm 4 years ago

      Hi! Thanks for sharing. Question: do you know who on Ebay you bought the leather from? Or have any more description for the leather you used? It's just what I have been looking for.

    • profile image

      pattypulliam 4 years ago

      You don't sew the 2nd signature to the first?

      Great tutorial!

    • profile image

      Jaugustm 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks, that's a great idea! I couldn't find any yet, but I'm checking the thrift stores every day. I'm trying to get it finished before Valentine's day (it's going to be a present).

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @Jaugustm: I just made this book and I used leather from an old bomber jacket. I bought it on eBay for like $5 and $9 shipping. The jacket had some ink stains on it so I didn't feel so bad cutting it up. But it was cheaper than any other piece of leather I could find at a craft store. And it was a bit worn to give my journal an old look feel. I got the entire back piece off the jacket and two front panels. I made my book about 5x7 inches, so I have a ton of leather left. Or you can look at thrift stores for old leather jackets. The leather was the perfect texture and was very pliable.

    • profile image

      Jaugustm 4 years ago

      @wellingtonboot: Awesome! Thanks again!

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @Jaugustm: Hi, I'm afraid I don't remember the seller name but just search for leather scraps on Ebay and you should find some - just make sure it's soft and pliable, not too thick :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is exactly what I was looking for!! I am going to make the pages bigger though and adjust the holes for threading the signatures. Shouldn't be too hard. Can't wait to do this for a very special birthday gift for someone!

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: Awww thanks that's great to hear! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This guide is fantastic. I've never worked with leather before, (or hand-sewn anything, or bound any books) but I successfully made this journal. I had to stitch 5 pieces together to fit the template, but it actually made the final product look really cool. It was the perfect Christmas gift for my boyfriend. Thanks so much for going into so much detail.

    • JenaleeMortensen profile image

      JenaleeMortensen 4 years ago

      Thanks for sharing how to make a journal. I was hoping to make some journals as gifts, so I appreciate the guide.

    • dominic-simon-37 profile image

      dominic-simon-37 4 years ago

      Thank you very much :) I will have to try this.

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: Awww lovely to hear, thank-you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I just wanted to say thank you for publishing this guide, as it provided the framework for a very special Christmas gift for my girlfriend. The directions are straightforward, as evidenced by my ability to complete the stitching, and the finished product is spectacular. Completed the project with abaca-fiber based pages Iade myself. Thanks!

    • Judith Nazarewicz profile image

      Judith Nazarewicz 4 years ago from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

      Great instructions! Thanks so much!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @anonymous: oh wait nevermind they get cut in half before they get folded... sorry :O

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @wellingtonboot: waiitttt but the template is 7"x11" so when it is folded wouldn't it come out to 5.5"x7"?

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 4 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: Hi thanks :) The pages should turn out to be 5.5" high ish. The width is 3.5" (ish!). Hope that helps!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is really awesome and its easy to follow.

      I would just like to add that i believe there is an error in this tutorial. perhaps the template for the leather should actually be 7" or 7.5" wide as opposed to 6" because the height of the signatures is 7". maybe i am just confused. anyway, thank you for this awesome addition to the internet. :)

    • artshock profile image

      artshock 4 years ago

      This is an amazing tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks. I found this more than helpful as I was going about this completely wrong.

    • daisychainsaw lm profile image

      daisychainsaw lm 4 years ago

      What a brilliant idea; love the lens, will definitely be trying this! Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Love this! Just wondering though if this method could be used to bind an actual book you already have.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @wellingtonboot: Where did you buy the tools and materials from?

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 5 years ago

      Your lens is great. I have done married guts to covers and made covers. I am biased because I have some background in doing this, but I find your lens to be well done. I find using an awl to be extremely difficult - especially with so much paper.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      please set it up differently i don't know when to go to the other side kinda confused

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

      Great tutorial, I have a use for a journal like this. I wiil be trying something using the instructions THanks

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 5 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: Hi! To buy all of the materials it probably cost me about £15. I had a couple of bits to start with, but now I have bought the tools (and a lot of paper), I'll be able to make a few journals with what I now have...so it probably works out at about £5 per journal because I bought in bulk. The more journals I make though, the less each one will cost :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      how much would this cost?

    • profile image

      JerStein 5 years ago

      I was making a tutorial for something else and thought I would compare my layout to another... Chose the wrong lens to do that with, this lens is just awesome and I am not even interested in binding books. I congrats you for making an awesome lens.

    • Kae Yo profile image

      Kae Yo 5 years ago

      Thank you. I love this. I've always loved leather journals and this is awesome!

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      I love your step-by-step instructions, this is a fantastic lens. I've featured it on mine: https://hubpages.com/art/country-estate-3d-decoupa... . Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      LharbinWrites 5 years ago

      This is so neat!!! I want to try this :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Hi! The journal will end up approx A6 size, which is useful for a travel size book. If you would like a larger size of journal, you can skip the extra cutting step, but the rest of the measurements in the tutorial will have to be changed too. Thanks for your interest :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I have a question: why do you cut all the paper in half at the beginning? Wouldn't that make the journal very small?

    • tombonner profile image

      tombonner 5 years ago

      I want to try this.

    • Zodiacimmortal profile image

      Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

      Great step by step lens.. added to my favorite lenses lens.

      (& possibly later to my Reading & Poetry lenses)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a very resourceful lens. Thank you for posting!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I have been wanting to make a leather journal just like this one. Perfect timing. Thanks so much for the excellent instructions. Appreciated! Very nicely done.

    • profile image

      sydeli 5 years ago

      Nice. So gonna do this when I get the stuff I need

    • profile image

      klaird 5 years ago

      I love journals! And a homemade one is even better! Love the lens; I've featured it on my "50 Craft Ideas for Adults" page. Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      ArtProMotivate 5 years ago

      Awesome lens!

      I just created my first lense myself, and this is the first one I visited!

    • eganj1 profile image

      eganj1 5 years ago

      Thank you for a very interesting lens, I must have a go

    • Leilani-m profile image

      Leilani-m 5 years ago

      Great lens! the instructions are very easy to follow :)

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 5 years ago from U.K.

      @anonymous: It was probably nearly £15 cost, but obviously now I've got enough materials to make a few journals so they'll get cheaper the more you make. As for time, i did it over 3 days because I needed time for the glue to dry. It probably took at least 3 hours solid work.

      Good luck and thanks for the comment!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am using this as my guide to creating my first journal ever. It sounds as though you didn't miss a beat (comparable to other tutorials I have found). As far as cost and time making it goes, do you have a 'ball-park' estimate?

    • profile image

      ethoscustombrands 5 years ago

      Very informative! Great Lens!

    • ICanCook profile image

      ICanCook 5 years ago

      This truly is an awesome lens. I could now bind a book with the step by step instructions you've provided. So many thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is an amazing tutorial! Followed it for an A5 black leather journal and it looks dope!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      How lovely! As a sometime book crafter, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this page. Your instructions are more thorough than any I have seen.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      great tips and pictures of the steps, earned a 'thumbs up' from this reader.

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 5 years ago from U.K.

      @hysongdesigns: Yay, thanks!

    • hysongdesigns profile image

      hysongdesigns 5 years ago

      Congrats on your purple star! Very well deserved!

    • DuaneJ profile image

      DuaneJ 5 years ago

      I love writing and could use these tips myself...well done!

    • hysongdesigns profile image

      hysongdesigns 5 years ago

      Most Excellent!!! I have done a bit of bookbinding myself and you did a most excellent job with your step by steps photographs and instructions. It it weren't already a LotD I'd nominate it!

    • dwnovacek profile image

      dwnovacek 5 years ago

      Great lens! Your detailed instructions make me feel that this is a project I can really undertake! Angel Blessings!

    • BSieracki profile image

      Bernie 6 years ago from Corbin, KY

      one of the best lenses

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      An easier way to reach step 2 is to quarter fold three sheets of A4 (trimmed to 7" x 11" if you like, or 10" x 8", or whatever. In fact, if you live in USA, you'll probably have easier access to letter than A4 sized paper anyway), i.e. fold in half then in half again. Slot them inside each other with the folded edge at the same end, then guillotine the folded edge

    • chgreen profile image

      chgreen 6 years ago

      One of the most detailed and wonderful lenses I've seen yet! I'm chicken to try it, but I know someone crafty that I'm going to send here to try it. :)

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 6 years ago from U.K.

      @MustangFilly77: Hi! I got my leather off Ebay - just search for leather scraps :-)

      Thanks for your interest

    • profile image

      MustangFilly77 6 years ago

      Hi there,

      Really cool tutorial, but I was wondering, where did you buy the leather that you used? The only leather I can find for sale online is sold by 50sq. ft. minimums, and really expensive!

    • digtimepools profile image

      digtimepools 6 years ago

      Wow, finally squidoo lens with some real value. good job, I hope a few of mine are this helpful when I get them completed.

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 6 years ago from U.K.

      It's up to you really but I personally wouldn't go more than double the number of pages in the journal above (so approx 200 pages max). Thanks for commenting :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Could you tell me the maximum number of pages that would be reasonable to bind in this format?

    • profile image

      pixiepot 6 years ago

      Very interesting. I might give it a go. :D

    • Actiongames LM profile image

      Actiongames LM 6 years ago

      Wow vary detailed and easy to read.

    • Muzzie4848 profile image

      Muzzie4848 6 years ago

      Fantastic lens and very detailed. I have added your lens as a feature in my 3rd Wedding Anniversary Gift Ideas as the traditional and modern gift for this year is leather. What a great idea for a gift. Thank you.

    • profile image

      resabi 6 years ago

      This is a very thorough and clearly presented lens on a great project. These journals can be used for anything -- and the soft spine and wrap-around cover makes it flexible enough to allow for photos and other paste-ins that normally would warp the book. How great. Your illustrations and photos add so much to this. Blessed.

    • bjslapidary profile image

      bjslapidary 6 years ago

      Great leans. Thanks for sharing with me.

    • Fox Music profile image

      Fox Music 6 years ago

      Great Lens - Thank you

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      Great idea....I would love to make this to keep copies of my blog and drawings for each year.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

      Okay this one is really awesome. Love it.

    • profile image

      mirichandler 6 years ago

      Great original pics! Nice job!

    • wellingtonboot profile image
      Author

      wellingtonboot 6 years ago from U.K.

      This one should have 96 pages. Thanks for your comments!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      How many pages is the finished product? Thank you for this how-to. I've been looking for a pocket sized journal with a nice thick feel to it, and I think I'll just make my own.

    • profile image

      Kitsune64 7 years ago

      This is great! I'm just starting to learn about bookbinding, and the resources here will help a lot. Thank you. :)