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How To: New Journal from an Old Book

There are few things more lovely than a vintage book. I love pouring through discarded books at my local junk store. Old books are not only attractive, but they often have interesting titles, eye catching fonts, great cover design and most importantly- built in character. I can always justify spending a little bit of my pocket money on books; but honestly, what am I really going to do with a copy of Simplified Engineering for Architects and Builders that was printed in 1975???

In about an hour I was able to transform the musty text into a cute and useful new blank book. I used standard printer paper and some embroidery thread, but if you like, make this project with thick handmade pages and thin waxed cord. Each book you make will be one-of-a-kind.
Oh, on a side note: One of my favorite parts of this project was finally using the Mysterious Tool that I posted earlier this month. Thanks for all your comments- you have totally inspired me to make use of the punch is as many ways as possible!



Hardcover “donor” Book
50 sheets of typing paper
Flat work surface*
Bone folder*
Sewing needle with a large eye
Embroidery thread
Scrap cardboard

*I used a piece of plywood to protect my table top from gouges. The awl is sharp and can mar your table through the paper.
*My bone folder is a scavenged piece of driftwood, the perfect upcycled tool!

Step 1: Remove the covers from the donor book. Use scissors to cut down the spine, and then carefully pull the cover away from the pages.

Create the signatures

Step 2: This book has 100 pages made with 5 signatures, each containing 10 sheets of paper. When folded in half, the 10 sheets of paper create 20 pages for your book. The number of pages in each signature can be increased, or decreased per your preference. The only limitation here will depend on how many sheets your awl can pierce at once, so don’t be afraid to practice punching with some scrap paper.
Step 3: Starting with the first signature, loosely fold the paper over so that the edges and corners align. Then press the crease down with the bone folding tool. Start at the top, apply steady pressure, and slowly draw the tool down the fold. Do this at least twice to create a strong crease in the sheets of paper. Repeat this step for each signature.
Step 4: Make a template for your punches. This will help you achieve perfect alignment with each signature. I used a sheet of scrap cardboard cut to match the length of my donor book covers. Use the pen to mark 5 holes evenly along the piece of cardboard. My holes are 1.5 inches apart. Punch through each hole with your awl. Use the awl to worry the holes and enlarge them until the tool passes very easily in and out of the template.
Step 5: Set the first folded signature on your work surface, and lay the template in the center. Pierce the pages with the awl by pressing through the holes in the template. Use steady and firm pressure to punch through each sheet. Push straight down, but after you have created the hole, give the awl a twist to open it up. Repeat this step for each signature.
Step 6: Use the awl and template to punch holes in the cover of the book, 1/8″ from the edge.

Stitch the signatures

Step 7: Measure your pages and cut 4 times that length of embroidery thread. My book is 8 1/2″ tall, so I cut 36″ of thread for each signature. Thread the needle with 2″ of thread folded over the eye, so that you have a single strand of thread in the needle.
Step 8: Begin with the center hole. Push the threaded needle from the outside of the signature to the inside. Run the thread along the inside of the spine of the signature to the next hole, and then push the needle through that hole to the outside.
Move along the outside of the spine to the next hole, and push the needle and thread to the inside of the signature. Now run the thread over the outside edge of the signature, and then pass the needle and thread back into the hole from the outside.
Continue sewing the pages together in the same “over and under” manner, but skip the center hole on the second pass. That way, when you loop over the second edge of the signature, the thread will finish with both ends on the outside of the spine. Tie the ends into a tight knot and trim them short. Repeat this step for each signature.
Step 9: Stack the completed signatures and sandwich them in between the pieces of your cover. Cut 24″ of thread and thread the needle as you did in Step 6.
Step 10: Start with the center signature, and pass the lacing thread under the signature stitch, to the right of the hole. Move the needle to the next signature, and pass the thread under its stitch, but to the left of the hole. Weave the lacing thread into the last signature on the right side of the hole. Push the needle and lacing thread through the hole in the cover, and then bring it back over the edge of the cover. Continue working like this along the signatures, alternating on either side of the holes and weaving the stitches together with the lacing thread.
Pull the lacing thread tight once you return to the middle signature, and then weave the lacing thread through the second half of the spine in the same way you did the first. When you meet the end of thread in the center tie the two ends together in a very tight knot. Repeat this step for all 5 holes, and work to keep the tension of this process even from one knot to the next. Voila!

54 thoughts on “How To: New Journal from an Old Book

  1. Wonderful tutorial! Too often, bookbinding tutorials are either full of words or full of pictures. You included both, which makes it sooooo much easier to understand. Thanks!

  2. You are so right- the best tutorials from “real” bookbinders often don’t have any pics at all. I learned this process at the very first Maker Faire, and having someone show me in person made all the difference.
    If you make a journal, I’d love to see it in the CRAFT Flickr pool, or if you put it on your blog, send me a link! Cheers!

  3. Hello! Is it possible to make a book like this and reattach the spine? HAs anyone ever done that? My old book has a beautiful spine and I’d like to keep it intact. Any strategies would be very helpful! Thanks!

    1. hello Caitlin……….did you ever figure out how to save the spine for your recycled book project? would you care to share the info ? ***Stacy**

      1. Just finished two of these this weekend and they turned out fabulous. I kept the spine on, but the books were so old that the spine was more cloth than hard cardboard. However it is definitely possible with a more in-tact spine, you just have to be a little more creative with the stitching to the covers. I tied the signatures very tightly together and then fastened them to each side separately, so the string never passed over the spine. Of course, it works best if you strive for the original thickness of the book to match the spine. I can try to upload a picture if anyone is still interested! Good luck!

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