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After watching me make small notebooks to sell in the village shop, my 6 year old son asked me to make a book for him to use at school.
There are many different ways of making books, but these instructions are for a simple, basic notebook and as I’m no book making expert, anyone can make one.
I like to use recycled materials, so for the covers I use the packaging from cereals or soap powder, any old cardboard that is clean really. I then cover that in paper that I have made but you can use any paper that you like.

The first step is to determine the size you want your finished book to be. As I don’t want to have to cut down and waste paper, I make my books a size that is an equal division of A4, for example, a sheet of A4 folded in half length ways equals 14.5 cm x 21 cm.
This will give a finished book size of 15.5 x 22.cm.

If you want a smaller book, simply cut the A4 paper along the first fold line, then fold each piece in half again, giving you a booklet of 14.5 x 10.5cm and a finished book size of
15.5 x 11.5

For my son’s book I wanted to use 40 pages of lined and plain paper and, as they teach the capital alphabet first here, I printed the alphabet in both upper and lower cases on different sheets of paper to place on the inside of the front and back covers. (In case your wondering why I haven’t printed the letters in the correct order, it is to help with learning the alphabet, it isn’t necessary to learn the order of the alphabet to learn to read, but a child does need to learn the shapes of the letters and it’s easier to remember them if they are not next to, or close to one that is similar, e.g. a b c d. I didn’t succeed in separating the letters out as completely as I would have liked, having spent ages trying to work out how to print off the lines so I would get margins on both pages, I only remembered to print out the alphabet at the last minute).

Place the paper one sheet on top of the other in a neat stack and mark the centre fold, then using a bradawl or thick needle, punch holes evenly spaced down this line, make sure you have an even number of holes, for the stitching to begin with the needle going in on one side and end with it coming back out to the same side. In my photos you will see that the holes are not quite on the centre line, doing things in a rush again.

Having punched all the centre holes, divide the paper into smaller equal piles, 5 sheets in each is a good number, then refold along the center line, using the back of a spoon to flatten along the crease. Holding all the booklets together at the fold line, measure the width as you will need to make the spine of your book the same measurement.

Now your ready to sew the booklets together.
You need to use a fairly strong thread, heavier than you would use for average dressmaking, though I guess you could double or triple this type of thread. Waxed line is best but if you cant find any, you can make your own by puling the thread over the side of a candle or lump of beeswax.
Make a slip knot in the end of your line, start by going in through the first hole from the outside of your folded booklet, and coming out through the second, passing through the slip knot to secure the thread, then continue to stitch in and out to the end. Take the second book and repeat the stitching without cutting the thread from the first booklet, when you come out through the final hole, pass the needle back through the 1st stitch of the first booklet to secure the booklets together at this end, then stitch the third booklet and when you come to the end, pass the needle back through the 1st stitch of the second booklet, and so on until all the booklets have been stitched together, remembering to take the thread through the 1st stitch of the previous booklet every time you come to the last stitch (see photos). ✵ See note below.
When all the booklets are sown together, tie off the thread and apply a thick coating of PVA glue along the spines of all the booklets, filling in the gaps. Clamp the booklets together using bulldog clips or place under some heavy books (but put plastic in between your glued book and the books you are using as a press).
While the pages are drying, time to make the cover.

Cut the cardboard for the outer cover, making it 1cm larger than the measurements of your paper, plus the measurement of the booklet spine on the width. If you were using A4 paper folded once down the middle for your pages, with a spine measurement of .5cm, your cardboard cover would need to be 31.5cm x 22.cm.

Mark the centre line on your cardboard, then draw a line on either side of the centre to give you a column the same width as the spine of your booklet pile. Using a craft knife and metal ruler or piece of straight wood, lightly score a line down either side, you want to score the card not cut it, so go lightly. Now fold the card down each of the scored lines and you have created the spine of your book.

Now for the cover. When glueing paper it will stretch slightly, and reacts differently dependent on the way the way the fibers in the paper lie. If you are not careful you can end up with air bubbles or creases which look unsightly and can be difficult to remove. If you are using a special paper and are unsure of how it will react to the glue, it is worth doing a test using a small piece. Spreading the glue very thinly onto the cardboard, as apposed to spreading onto the paper, also helps avoid bubbles. I use PVA glue as it’s what I usually have to hand, but have found that glue sticks work very well as the paper remains fairly dry, you just have to be careful to get a good even coverage.

For my son’s book I was using a piece of A4 paper that he had chosen from some I had marbled earlier. As it was A4 I needed to make edge strips in order to cover the cardboard completely, making them wide enough to be able to turn under and stick down on the inside. It is much easier and less work, to use a larger piece of paper with the corners cut off, the sides can then be folded to the inside.

Spread a thin layer of glue over the outside surface of the cardboard. ensure the glue is evenly spread and not too wet, if necessary wait a few minutes for the glue to become tacky. Carefully lay the paper on the cardboard, using a cloth or paper towel to gently rub the paper flat, use fluid strokes from the centre out, this will remove air bubbles and allow the paper to stretch evenly. Any stubborn air bubbles can be pricked with a pin and removed by pressing down from their edges in, this will help avoid creases. Don’t turn the paper to the inside yet, leave to dry. If using edge strips, glue them in place on the outside only.

Now glue the pages into the book.
✵If you inserted card strips in the stitching, see note below and follow the instructions as given there.
For our simple book, mark the outline of the front page on the inside front cover when the spines of the booklets are correctly lined up with the spine of the cover. Spread a thin layer of glue over the front inside cover, it doesn’t matter if you go outside the area you have marked. Carefully lay the front page onto the glued surface, taking care to get it inside the area you marked, smooth out the page. Lay a piece of plastic (I use a semi rigid piece that came out of some packaging but a plastic bag will do) in between the cover / glued page and the rest of the book, close the book and leave to dry, then glue in the back page in the same way.
Turn the edges (or edge strips) of the cover paper to the inside and glue down, you may need to cut out a small piece at the point of the spines, leave to dry.

✵If you want to make a stronger book, insert thin strips of flexible card through the stitches at this point. When gluing the spine, pass the glue over the strips at the point where they touch the spine only, keep the edges of the strips free of glue.
When dry line up the spines, then stick the card strips into place on the front and back covers, insert a plastic protector leave to dry then either stick down the first and last page to cover the strips, or use two other pieces of paper to cover the strips, gluing one over the strips at the front, taking it over and gluing it to the first page, use the second piece to cover the strips at the back, gluing it to the last page.

Other finishing touches.
I add a marker ribbon to my note books. Cut a strip of thin ribbon, about 6 cm longer than the page, cutting the ends on the diagonal to stop them fraying. Glue the ribbon to the back page or the spine before glueing the pages into the cover.
You can machine stitch satin ribbon round the edge of the notebooks, it’s a bit of a fiddle but does give a nice finish. Stitch to the cover before adding the pages. Set the machine to a medium stitch and start at the bottom centre of the cover, using ribbon wide enough to be folded over the edge giving you enough ribbon on both sides to be stitched through at the same time. Turn under the cut end, a small drop of glue can be used here to help hold the ribbon before you begin to stitch. Stitch towards the first corner, stop before you reach the end and turn the ribbon along the side of the book, fold the corner and continue stitching over it. Leaving the needle in the cover, lift the machine foot and turn the book, lower the machine foot and go on to the next corner. Continue until you come back to the start, turn under the end and stitch or glue down.

I prefer using a craft knife rather than scissors as it gives a cleaner straight edge. If you will be using a craft knife regularly, it is worth investing in a cutting mat, they are not expensive, save table tops and you can get the mats printed with a cutting grid which is very helpful. Also a metal ruler with a raised centre will save your fingers if the knife slips.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2010