For the Love of Books: A Guide to Knocking Together Your Own Journals

I think a second post is long overdue. And this one is a whopper.

Recently I have ventured into the art of making books. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying this (especially amongst Pagans), but I am a complete journal junkie. My bookshelf is home to a variety of journals, many filled to the brim with years of everyday angst, others devoted to very specific subjects. And yet, for all the journals I own, I always find myself allured by volumes of empty pages and the potential they carry for creative expression. I’ve had to cut myself off from buying them before.

So I decided to learn how to make them. The undertaking was inspired by a few things: one, I’ve been fascinated by bookbinding for years; two, by learning, I could customize journals to my needs and possibly save money; and finally, I was eager to learn a skill. I feel like as long as people care to record their lives on paper, journals won’t go out of style, and—real talk—I gots a wedding to save for. Time to make some money, honey.

I’ll provide sources for the various online tutorials I used as I break it down, step by step.


Bookbinding was the most intimidating part of this process for me, and to be fair, there are numerous ways to bind books (these are only two of the many sources I found on the different methods of binding, as well as each technique’s function).

I wasn’t sold on how to bind the pages until I saw this simple Instructables tutorial for making hardbacks. I settled on a form of case binding, the method used to sew sections of folded paper (called “signatures”) together with needle and thread. Personally, I found this one easy, since I have experience with sewing. 

I’m sure my form is amateur, but it holds strong, and the stitches are eventually covered by a hard spine, so perfection isn’t a goal. If you were to open a signature to the center page, you’d see three quarter-inch stitches along the fold.

The covers themselves are made of good, sturdy cardboard. My personal favorite thing about this is that it appeals to my inner environmentalist – we generate a fuckton of cardboard in our kitchen, and this is a great way to reuse it. Now every time the fiancé gets the recycling ready to go out on trash day, I make sure I get there first to nick a few cereal boxes and beer caddies. Then I slip away into the night.


Oh. MyGods.  

First of all, thank you, Pinterest. I’m guilty of just rapid-fire pinning things and then forgetting about them later, but when I saw this project, I got so excited, I know I shouted, "I'M DEFINITELY DOING THAT." And then I did it. Like, that same day.

The three links above are the same tutorial for papier-mâché book covers, by three different people; I cannot remember which I stumbled on first, but they’re all worth a look. The technique is rife with possibilities – basically you can customize however you like and you’re only limited by how much labor you’re willing to put in. You’ll see in one of those tutorials that someone used Halloween party favors to design their covers, which is such a clever idea! My preference leans on customization, but I have used plenty of my own cheats, such as cheap-o cardboard letters I got on clearance at the craft store. Seriously, people, THE PROSPECTS ARE ENDLESS.

The only downside was that I didn’t have much success using paper towel as a medium for this project. The embossing in the towels would occasionally show through, and I didn’t feel like going out and buying another brand, lest it become a long process of trial and error. Sometimes they would wrinkle too much and whatever design I constructed underneath would get muddled. Eventually, I opted for other paper products like tissue paper and newsprint, which worked just as well, and of which we already had plenty available. Also, since a lot of these tutorials focus on dressing existing book covers, I would advise against watering down the glue mixture too much. It may weaken the durability of any cardboard being used if you’re making books from scratch, and the wetness could warp the covers and make them wavy.


This last step is really a bonus. There are countless numbers of lovely print papers at the craft store I might have used to line the inside covers, but those fancy papers can be costly, and frankly, I had too much paper lying around already, so I thought I’d dress it up myself and save cash and resources in the process.

There are oodles of ways to beautify blank paper: watercolor is lovely, and requires no rhyme or reason to look good; I’m a big believer in the power of stamps; and resist art with painters tape always looks badass, as do stencils. But somehow I happened upon a fantastically easy DIY for paper marbling that literally cost me nothing, since I already had all the materials I needed to make it happen—shaving cream and food coloring—right in my house.

The results are gorgeous:

You really can’t go wrong with swirly things. Plus, my witch ass totally loves looking for messages and pictures in the inks.

If you use scented shaving cream, you can rely on your paper retaining some of the fragrance – as a result, I’m always sniffing the lining of my books when I’m done. If you couldn’t already tell, I’m a tad weird.


The journal-making process also occasionally includes tea-staining pages for that lovely, aged look. Although, if you plan to do this, a word of caution: stain your pages before you bind them. I learned the hard way that applying anything super wet to your binding with make it fall apart.

Just in case journals weren’t enough (can you imagine!), I have also implemented the custom covers and marbled paper to redress tired, old, one-dollar hardback books from used bookstores. I like to hollow them out to make keepsake boxes:

I like to think I’m breathing new life into books that have just been collecting dust in someone’s musty basement.

There you have it, friends. My first foray into bookmaking. I look forward to honing this skill over time and improving on some of the cover designs. I will, at some point, open up a shop online so that I can take custom orders, and I will include other non-book items as well. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime, I wish you all many blessings.

With love,


  1. I love journals. I love handmade, custom-made journals. Oh, no, I'm really in trouble now. Thank you!

  2. My question is about the hinging of the book. In the photos, it appears that you simply taped the hard elements together and then applied the paper mâché over the assembled pieces. Does this at all effect the opening of the book?

    1. Sorry for the delayed reply. It shouldn't effect the way the book opens, but you do have to allot a space between the spine and cover pieces, about a eight of an inch to a quarter inch, so that when the papier mache dries and you close the book it won't spring open. Unfortunately, the photo I took of the raw cover was before I made my final adjustments, so it's a tad misleading. I hope this answers your question.


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