How to Make a Sketchbook

This tutorial was written years ago for the original incarnation of stencilrevolution (before it was hacked and then hacked and then forgotten about until now!) I find this is more convenient for small books, which are hard to find, and when you do find them (moleskine) are devilishly expensive, especially when I dont plan on using anything but pen and ink and pencil in these and don’t need nice paper.

So here’s what you’ll need to make a sketchbook:

(These are in no particular order)
1. Packing tape (or duct tape, the tape is actually optional)
2. A ruler or tsquare. I highly, highly recommend you use a tsquare. it will make your life so easy.
3. Xacto knife
4. Glue. I have a gluestick here. I did not actually end up using it because it was dried up, but it works. Regular craft glue will suffice, like elmers or mod podge or something. you are only going to be gluing paper to paper and paper to cardboard. I tried to use as little glue as possible in this tut. I don’t trust glue.
5. Something pointy. I used small sewing scissors. Sometimes I use a seam ripper. A pushpn will work well too. Make sure it is small and pointy. A needle probably won’t be large enough, though
6. Your paper. Here I’m using paper thats approx. a4 size (it’s actually 9×12 in) this is the cheapest drawing paper I could find. it was about two bucks for the pad, and it’s not the nicest, but I really don’t mind. You can use whatever kind of paper you want, but the thicker the paper, the harder it’s going to be.
7. This is paperboard that i’m using for the cover. It’s actually from the back of a previous pad of paper that I used and it’s kind of thin and flexible. You can buy big sheets of paperboard at art stores for fairly cheap, and i used to when I made larger books, but it’s really too thick for small ones. If you want you can use plastic or just duct tape for the cover but I suggest using some sort of board for the spine. I DO NOT suggest using corrugated cardboard because it smushes and bends really easily
8. (a needle and) thread. The thread i’m using is actually more like string. i do not suggest using ordinary sewing thread. Because of how tight you want your pages pulled, thread is bad because it snaps and then the book comes apart. embroidery thread would work fine. I just found this in the drawer and its all I have so that’s what we’re using. A needle is helpful, but not necessary. If you don’t have one I suggest putting a piece of tape at the end of the thread like a shoelace to keep it stiff and to keep it from unraveling while you’re sewing the book.
9. A stencil for creating a design on your finished notebook. (optional)

Step 1. The paper.
As I said I like my sketchbooks small, so I cut (ripped) each sheet into quarters. Remember you have to cut your paper twice as wide as you want your pages to be. My book is going to be 60 pages, so i ripped up 30 sheets.

This is the worst step if you’re cutting weird sized paper. If you have a paper cutter, it really helps, especially if you’re making square or long books. If not then have fun cutting down paper for quite some time.

Step 2.

Now that you have all of your paper, you need to separate it into sections. Each of these sections will be folded and made into a signature. I separated mine into sections of five. If you’re using bigger paper than I am, it’s ok to use eight or ten or even twelve sheets in a signature. Be aware that the thicker they are, the harder your life will be when you have to poke holes through them. If your paper is very thick, I suggest using only three or four pages. I used five because its easy to count with. Each of my signatures represents 10 pages in the book

Now fold all of them in half!

Line up all of your signatures and MARK THEM in four places. It doesnt matter really if these places are even at all, but they must all be lined up, or else your pages will be all over the place.

This is really the most important part. really.

Step 3:
Poke holes through the dots you made. Make them significant holes. You will need to put your thread through them more than one time.

You can do the whole batch at once if you want. I didn’t, but I hate doing the holes. Its harder than it would seem. I suggest doing it from the outside in, BUT, it really doesnt matter, especialy if you’re using a needle.

Step 4:
NOW that you’ve poked your holes, its time to get sewing. Manly, I know.
Tie a knot that’s large enough to not go through your first hole, leaving a little bit of string at the end (you will need this later) and cut the string probably the length of your arm or so. the longer you make it, the more of a bitch it’ll be to thread, but it’s better than running out of string.

Now, thread the string into the first signature, starting from the outside, so that it looks like this.

Step 5:
Heres where it gets trickier. Take your second signature, and but your thread from the outside through the hole it lines up with. then thread it out of the next hole, then back in to the first signature. keep going until the thread comes out and you can attach it to the string at the end of the knotted side.

It should look like that when you’re finished, with a solid line of string down the center of the first signature on the inside. Now, PULL IT TIGHT. I mean, really tight, and tie the end to the knotted end.
Then do the same thing with the third one to the second one. thread it into the third and through the second, and when you get to the end, there won’t be anywhere to tie it. Just tuck it under the thread that attach the first and second and continue until all of your signatures are sewed together. MAKE SURE THEY ARE AS TIGHT AS YOU CAN GET THEM. If they aren’t, they’ll flop around inside your book. the string in the only thing holding them together.
when you’re done, and have tied off the end and cut it, it should look like this.

It should slide around very minimally. If you can slide your signatures around, it really is not tight enough. There should be any space between them when they are open if you can manage it.

Step 6:
You need a SPINE and a COVER. The spine should be as wide as the block of paper is tall,laying down, and a little bit longer than the block. I usually just eyeball it. the cover should be the same width as a page, and a little bit taller, the same length as the spine.

Note: my block of paper has all sorts of crazy edges because I ripped it and because I didn’t even it out. It’s easy to even out your pages with a ruler and an exacto knife, just cut so they’re in a nice neat line.

Step 7:
1. Cut (rip) 2 pieces of paper the same size as the double pages you cut earlier. I chose black. these are for the inside covers of the book. You can also use tape and skip this all together, but it will make your first and last pages unusable.

2. Cut a strip of tape and put the spine right in the center. make sure the tape is long enough that it will fold back over the spine a good ways, then just stick on the front and back covers with a small bit of space so they can fold onto the sides of the tape and fold over the stuff at the top. If I was making a nice sketchbook, I would cut out paper to cover the front and back covers, and replace the packing tape with paper. Leave about and inch on the top and bottom, and make it about an inch and a half wider than the spine itself. Then glue the spine to the paper, glue the covered front and back covers to it as well, and fold the paper over the top,for a nice looking finish.
Because I don’t care, I’m using tape. make sure everything that’s sticky is covered up. If the bits sticking up don’t cover all of the sticky bits when you fold them down, just hit it up with another piece. This only makes it sturdier.

Step 8:
Take your inside cover paper (mine is black) and fold it in half. Attach them to the inside covers of the book. I used tape. Glue would probably look nicer. I dont have a picture for this one. If you need help, refer to the finished book farther down. it’s pretty obvious when you see it, but pretty hard to explain.

Step 9:
Take your chunk of paper and put glue on the very edges of the first and last pages. Then, attach the inside cover papers to these lines of glue, and clamp or cover with a few heavy books and let dry. These are the only things holding your paper into your cover. this method keeps the first and last pages usable. you can also glue the entire page to the inside cover, or if you use tape, instead of paper as an inside cover, you can cover the whole first page in tape, or part of it, or whatever, as long as it’s attached.

OK LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE DONE. You can decorate the cover if you want to. Our world map stencil or compass work great for customizing your book with a nice looking stencil design. Congratulations, you just learned how to make a sketchbook and it looks awesome!

I always draw arrows on my sketchbooks and label the front because I have a problem where I constantly open it the wrong way. i guess that’s kind of dorky, whatever.
This book is about as big as one of the small pocket moleskines and way more crappy looking and WAY less expensive.

This may seem like kind of a lot of work for making a sketchbook, but it’s really not that bad, and the books are really very sturdy as far as the pages go. Because they aren’t individual pages that are bound or glued in, they probably won’t fall out unless the thread breaks. Enjoy!

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