Handmade Gift Series: Leather Journal

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner

Each month of 2013, I’ve committed myself to making one handmade gift so that by the time Christmas rolls around again, I have a selection of unique, heartfelt gifts to present to others. For my February project, I thought I’d like to try my hand at making some little bound journals with leather covers.

I’ve used a longstitch technique to bind my books, which is a perfect and easy way for novice bookbinders (like me!) to get started.

The size of your journals will largely depend on the amount of leather you have available; you can typically buy leather off-cuts from local or online stores. They are inexpensive but you do need to check the size and quality, so if you’re ordering online, be sure to read the product description thoroughly.

I cut my leather scraps 6” x 11”; the width needs to be longer than the height so that you can fold the leather in half to create the front and back cover.

I used 40 sheets of regular white printer paper for my pages. If you examine any bound book carefully, you’ll notice that the pages are divided into sections, called signatures, which are bound to the cover as individual packets. I have 4 signatures in my books, and each of my signatures contain 10 sheets, cut 5 ¾” x 10 ½” (slightly smaller than the cover’s dimensions), and folded in half they create 20 pages.

When folding your pages in half, use a bone folder to flatten the folds. Work each sheet of paper individually in order to create the sharpest fold possible, and then put the folded sheets together in piles of 10, to create your signatures of 20 pages each.


Bone fold


Next, you need to pierce holes through the folded center of each signature. I made a folded template from cardstock and evenly marked 4 holes with a pencil. It also helps to mark the TOP of the template and be sure to keep all the pages up the same way. I used the piercing tool in my sew taxi to pierce the holes through all the pages in each signature at once.


Template of journal paper and binding


Check that all the holes in each signature are aligned and measure the thickness of the spine. Mine was about ¾”.


Spine of paper


Next, cut slits into the center of the leather the length of the spine you just measured. So, I cut 4 slits through the center, each measuring ¾”. I used my Heavy duty detail knife, which sliced through the leather easily.


Detail knife cutting slits into leather


Now, place the first signature into the cover and align the holes with the slots on the cover. Take a needle and thread (I used perle cotton size 10, but you could also use something thicker like twine).

Tie a knot at the end of the thread, leaving a tail of about 4” and insert the needle into the bottom hole of the first signature and out through the bottom slit in the cover.


Threading yarn through paper


The knot will stop against the hole in the paper.


Threading yarn through paper


Taking the needle up through to the second slit in the cover, insert it through the leather and through the second hole in the signature and pull tight.


Threading yarn through leather cover


Repeat the process, weaving in and out through the paper and the leather cover until your reach the top hole. Then sew back through to the bottom, essentially covering the gaps that were left when you worked your way up the spine.


Threading yarn through paper spine


You will eventually meet your starting point. Remove the needle and tightly tie the end of the thread to the 4” tail you left and trim the tails.

Repeat this process for each bundle of signatures. Each time you sew up and down the spine, you will have pretty lines of thread weaving in and out of the slits in the leather cover.


Images of threaded spine


To finish my journals, I stamped some simple words on the cover using my Fiskars alpha stamps and permanent ink, but you could decorate the covers in a variety of different ways and designs.


Finished leather bound journals


Supply List

Leather off cuts
Printer paper
Needle and thread