Whether you’re a painter, illustrator, writer, or other type of artist, one of the primary supplies you need is a notebook or sketchbook. While you can certainly buy a pre-made notebook, you can also make your own with simple bookbinding techniques. Bookbinding for beginners requires just a few materials and a bit of sewing technique, so with a couple of expert tips, you can learn how to make your own book binding. 

To get you started, we enlisted Chelsea Susan Bednar, an artist and bookbinder based in Montclair, New Jersey. Below, we’ll go through bookbinding for beginners step by step, so you can get started on your own handcrafted book. 

A simple single folio notebook can be a great first project when learning bookbinding for beginners. 

How To: Straight Stitch Single Folio Notebook

The straight stitch technique is perfect for creating a simple notebook that you can use for sketching or note taking. It’s also the foundation for all book sewing (it uses a simple in-and-out threading motion), so it’s a great place to start if you’re new to the art of bookbinding for beginners. 

“Learning from the basics and building your skillset is the best way to learn and master a craft,” says Bednar. “By learning to sew a notebook in its simplest form—the single folio notebook—you will begin your journey as a bookbinder from the ground up!”

Here’s how to make a book with this simple book binding technique: 

 Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

  • 5 to 10 sheets of paper of your preferred size (all should be uniform). Note that one will be used as a guide page.
  • 1 sheet of thicker, decorative paper for your book cover. Bednar says to aim for 0.5” longer on the top and bottom of the page, and about 1” longer on each horizontal side of the page. This prevents the inner pages from sticking out of the cover page once folded.
  • Bone folder. This dull-edged tool will help you neatly fold and crease your materials. 
  • Book awl. An awl is a sharp tool used to punch holes in your bookbinding materials. 
  • Marker or pen
  • Waxed linen thread. You can wax your own linen or embroidery thread with local beeswax if you prefer, or you can buy premade.
  • Sewing needle 
  • Corner rounder, if you prefer rounded or embellished corners.
Some of the essential tools for a simple book binding, including a needle and thread, bone folder, and book awl.
Some of the essential tools for a simple book binding, including a needle and thread, bone folder, and book awl.

Step 2: Pre-Sewing Preparation

Fold Inner Sheets in Half

Preparation is key when it comes to creating your book. Bednar says to start by folding all your inner sheets in half. “Set one of these aside to be your designated guide, which won’t be sewn into the book. From there, score edges from the center outward with the bone folder to make a crisp edge,” she says.

Fold Outer Sheet in Half

Repeat this process for your outer sheet, making sure to feel for the grain of the paper. “Whichever direction gives less resistance is the direction you should be folding your page,” says Bednar. “For example, with most papers, generally folding ‘hamburger style’ rather than ‘hotdog style’ is the better direction.”

Fold Your Guide in Half and Mark It

“On the edge that has all the ends of the paper meeting, fold inward about one-half inch, then open the guide up. In the center of the page you should have three points where the folded lines meet—top, center, bottom. These will be where you perforate the paper. Mark these with a dot or lightly circle them to make it easier on yourself,” says Bednar.

Measure Your Waxed Thread

Cut a piece of waxed thread that’s roughly two times the length of the height of your book. Thread it through your needle.

Step 3: Now Sew It

Now it’s time for the fun part of making your own simple book bindings: sewing! 

Place Your Guide

Start by placing your inner pages inside of the outer cover paper, then place your guide in the center of the open book. For the straight stitch technique, hold your awl at a 45-degree angle and gently push it into the three areas you marked in step three. Now remove the guide.

Start Stitching

“Using your less dominant hand, grab the book with the inside facing yourself. Start from the center point of the inside of the pages and take your threaded needle and sew once outward, leaving a two to three-inch thread tail on the inside,” says Bednar. Next, loop your needle back through the very top hole, this time pointing toward you instead of away from you. “Your needle will now be in the top hole on the inside. From here, sew all the way across the inside of the book and out the last hole. Your needle should now be on the outside of the book at the very bottom.”

Now sew back into the center, making sure you come to the opposite side of the thread “band” that’s in between your loose tails. “Pull lightly on each tail diagonally, then double square knot around the center band. You want to make sure you pull diagonally to have a taut book, otherwise it will be all loose and wobbly,” says Bednar.

Once finished, you can use your corner rounder to create a polished, professional look.   

Create Your First Bookbinding Project

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How To: Straight Stitch Soft Fabric Journal 

If you want to create a thicker book—and are game for a slightly more advanced project—a straight stitch soft fabric journal is an excellent simple book binding project. Consider it the second step in bookbinding for beginners education. 

These brightly colored single-folio journals show how you can customize a simple book binding.
These brightly colored single-folio journals show how you can customize a simple book binding.

The process uses the same easy bookbinding techniques as the previous project, but takes it one step further to create a larger book. It also incorporates a soft fabric cover for an extra creative punch. Bednar says, “Having a soft fabric cover allows you to use those unwanted large fabric samples in a fun and interesting way. Just make sure to find a sturdier, thicker fabric as opposed to thin cotton fabrics.”

Here’s how to make a book with this simple bookbinding technique:

Step 1: Gather Your Supplies

  • 25 sheets of paper of your preferred size (all should be uniform). Each folio should have eight pages, and you should set aside one to use as your guide.
  • 1 piece of thick fabric. Again, choose one that’s 0.5” longer on the top and bottom of the page and about 1” longer on each horizontal side of the page. “In this technique, be sure to account for the thickness of your three folded folios in the center of the fabric before accounting for the widths around the edges,” advises Bednar.
  • Bone folder
  • Book awl
  • Marker or pen
  • Waxed linen thread
  • Sewing needle
  • Ribbon (about an arm’s length)

Step 2: Pre-Sewing Preparation

Fold Inner Sheets in Half

Using the same simple bookbinding techniques that you learned in the first project, you will now create three folios consisting of eight pages each. Fold the sheets in half, scoring the edges from the center outward with your bone folder. “Set one of the folded pages aside to be your designated guide, which you won’t sew into the book,” says Bednar.

You can create a thicker book by stitching together multiple folios.
You can create a thicker book by stitching together multiple folios.

Fold Guide in Half

“On both ends of the folded paper, fold inward about one-half inch, then open the guide up. In the center of the page you should have four points where the folded lines meet: one at the top, two on either side of the centerfold, and one on the bottom,” says Bednar. “These will be where you perforate the paper, excluding the very center point. Mark these points with a dot or lightly circle them to make it easier on yourself.”

On your guide, mark the points where you will stitch the folios.
On your guide, mark the points where you will stitch the folios.

Add Marks

Use a pen to mark dots on the inside center of your cover fabric. Create three in a row—about one-fourth inch apart—making a designated spot for each folio to be sewn. 

Measure Your Linen Thread 

“Measure roughly four to five lengths of the height of your book of your waxed thread, then go ahead and thread your needle,” says Bednar.

Bookbinding thread is available in many different thicknesses and colors.
Bookbinding thread is available in many different thicknesses and colors.

Step 3: Start Sewing

Once you’re prepped, you can begin the process of sewing your book together. Start by taking one folio and pacing it inside the cover fabric on the first marked space on the left. You’ll continue to sew the folios from left to right. As you do so, Bednar says to hold the journal by placing your thumb in the center of the folio with your other fingers on the spine on the outside cover.  

“Sew starting on the inside at the second hole from the top right, outward and back into the second hole. On the inside, sew outward to the last hole on the bottom, through the outside and over into the hole directly next to it,” she says. “As you come into this next bottom hole over, add the next folio, lining it up with the previous folio. Continue the same method until you get to the top, where you will sew outward and over into the first folio. Pull these lightly to keep the sewing taut, and double square knot them together.”

As you continue to grow as a DIY book binder, you can incorporate hard covers and more pages into your books.
As you continue to grow as a DIY book binder, you can incorporate hard covers and more pages into your books.

After you’ve knotted the threads, sew out the same top hole—once over to the third folio, then all the way down the spine to sew over and into the second folio. From there, gently loop your thread around the previously sewn loop in the second folio. Double knot this, then trim your tail leaving about one-half inch.

“This tail is a handmade mark, as well as a safety precaution for future ‘wear and tear’ on your journal,” notes Bednar.

As for the ribbon, fold it in half. Find the center point of both the book and the ribbon, then sew a single stitch from the inside of the journal outward and through the ribbon and then back into the journal again. Knot this off, and enjoy a lovely closure to your fabric journal. Substitutions for ribbon may include an elastic band, hemp, or breaded embroidery thread.

As an aspiring DIY book binder, your options are endless. With simple bookbinding techniques, you can create journals and sketchbooks, large and small, long and short—perfect blank canvases for all of your creative endeavors. 

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