Thursday, September 27, 2012

Binding the Travel Journal

I wanted a simple notebook to take with me on my trip as a travel journal, so I thought that I would try binding one myself.  For this project, I used Gwen Diehn's instructions for her "three-minute pamphlet" journal in her book The Decorated Journal.  (Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I actually made a pamphlet journal like this a few years ago as well.)  Because the complete instructions are available in that book, this post is not going to be step-by-step tutorial, but simply an overview of how I made my travel journal.

My single-signature travel journal, posing with my beloved green Lamy Safari fountain pen.
Gwen Diehn's three-minute pamphlet is a single-signature book with a stitched spine and a soft cover.  It is just about the most basic book that you could make.  It took me longer than three minutes to complete it (measuring and cutting the paper takes longer), but it was still a very quick and easy project, requiring no special supplies.

For the pages, I used five sheets of Canson drawing paper.  I had a leftover pad of that paper, so I thought I might as well use it.  The sheets were 9 by 12 inches, which meant that when I folded them in half to make the book, the pages were 6 by 9 inches - a reasonable size, large enough so I wouldn't be cramped, but small enough that the book wouldn't be bulky or unwieldy.  I could, of course, have cut the paper to size if I needed to, but why make things more complicated if you don't have to?  Also, I used five sheets of paper because that would give me nine complete page spreads - I wanted at least one page spread for each day of our week-long trip, as well as a bit of extra space if I needed it.  For the cover, I used some brown handmade paper that I bought years ago for a different bookbinding project but never used.  This paper came as a large roll, so I actually had to measure and cut this paper.  Following Diehn's instructions, I cut it slightly larger than the interior paper.

Sheets of paper, cut and folded, waiting to be made into a book.
Next, I folded all the papers in half, using the handle of my scissors to smooth the fold and make it crisp.  This was especially handy in the case of the cover paper, because handmade paper has no grain like machine-made paper does and so it didn't want to fold very evenly on its own.  I nestled all the papers inside of each other, tapping them on my desk to line them up, and slipped the cover paper on the outside.  Because the handmade cover paper had a rough side and a smooth side, I made to sure to put the rough, textured side on the outside.  I used a push-pin to punch the holes (I don't have an awl) and sewed the pages together with upholstery thread and a needle.  Upholstery thread is sturdier than ordinary thread, so I usually use it for bookbinding, but you can actually use just about any kind of thread or string.  And I only have it in green, so green it was!  But I like green, so all is good.

My travel journal opened up to the centre, where you can see the loose ends of the thread hanging loose.  What do people do with these ends?
Diehn's instructions for this book do leave the loose ends of the thread hanging on the outside of the spine.  I never know what to do with those ends, and they always annoy me.  Once, I tried braiding them and attaching a bead on the end, but the bead just got in the way every time I opened the book.  This time, I sewed the spine so that the loose ends would be inside the book rather than outside, but I still don't like them.  When I do bookbinding again I'm going to try a different method that doesn't leave any loose ends hanging.

Finally, I put the finishing touches on my book by using my corner rounder to round off all the corners of the pages, since to me round corners look way classier than square corners.  And I also made an envelope of vellum paper which I glued onto the back page.  I will use this for any paper scraps and ephemera that I acquire on my journeys.  I used vellum paper because it is translucent and will allow me to see through into the contents of the envelope.  This envelope was actually a bit more trouble than it was worth however, since the paper I was using was not really large enough, so I had to make it in two pieces and glue the flap on separately, and then I was rushing to get it done and ended up with this funny looking gap between the top of the envelope and the flap.  Oh well - I am still pretty happy with the end result.

The vellum paper pocket on the back page of my travel journal - not perfect, but it works!
Overall, I really love the way my travel journal looks.  I love its simple (even minimalistic) design, and the way I was able to tailor it specifically to my needs (the right number of pages for the duration of my trip, unlined paper, rounded corners, etc.)  I love the colours and textures of the papers that I used for the cover and for the envelope.  The cover paper was perhaps a bit too thin and if I was doing this again I think I would look for a heavier-weight paper, but given that this is a relatively short trip, I think it should hold up long enough.  I haven't used the Canson drawing paper with watercolours before, so I hope that it works out.  It is a relatively heavy-weight paper (115g) though, so it should be okay with the light watercolours that I will be using.

I'll share the supplies that I'll be using with my travel journal in a post next Monday, and after I return from my trip I'll share some pages and let you know how my travel journal worked out!  Stay tuned!

Read more: Supplies for the Travel Journal + Pages from the Travel Journal


  1. Oh--very nice. Love this. I'm working on making travel journals for my trip too...

    1. Thanks, Pamela! Although I've done a bit of bookbinding before, this was my first time making a dedicated travel journal, so it is something new for me.


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