Bookbinding Tutorial: The Romantic Art Journal

In the last Studio Saturday project we made an abstract floral art journal spread inspired by Laly Mille’s article “A Secret Rose Garden” in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. I promised I’d show you how to make the book I was working in, and here it is! This romantic art journal was inspired by the one Laly created for her project; seeing her gorgeous book motivated me to make something similar.

I love that she used heavy watercolor paper for her pages, and that the first and last pages served as covers. Mesh covered the spine, and the look was lovely and rustic. Having no separate covers allows this book to come together quickly, and working with watercolor paper, you can make the book any size you like.

romantic art journal
A custom romantic art journal can be filled with all of your favorite art journaling techniques.

I started by tearing large sheets of 140-pound cold press watercolor paper into 12 12″ x 8″ sheets, then folding them in half to create 6″ by 8″ folded pages. I created six signatures by nesting one sheet inside another. I gathered other supplies: super (also called mull or crash), a stiff mesh used to hold signatures together; some natural-colored gauze (you can also use cheesecloth); and woven ribbon.

I stacked the signatures and cut a piece of super the height of the book and 2 ¾″ wide, leaving about 1″ overhang on the sides. The signatures were clamped together with four bulldog clips.

With a glue brush, I applied a hefty amount of Tonic Studios Craft Tacky Glue to the spine, over the super, rubbing in the glue with my fingers. Super is pretty tough, so don’t worry about it not holding up. I also glued the overhanging pieces to the front and back covers with Golden Artist Colors Regular Gel matte medium.

When that was dry I placed a piece of gauze over the super, centering it, and glued the spine and the sides the same way as the super. If you leave the edges of the gauze a little uneven and shredded, it will give the cover some great texture and a rustic look. I sandwiched the book between two bricks to dry, leaving the spine exposed to help it dry more quickly.

Although the spine is being held together by the glued layers of mesh and gauze, the signatures of this romantic art journal still need to be sewn. Remember, there’s a second sheet of paper in each signature that’s not being held in place by anything—the glue does affect those sheets. This sewing method, called the French or link stitch, is easy—even if you’ve never sewn a book before, you’ll do well!

Make a template that will serve as a guide to where to punch the holes in each signature for the sewing. To do this, I cut a piece of copy paper to the same size as a book page and folded it in half. Along the folded edge I made a mark ½″ in on either side. We’ll be sewing over ribbons for this binding, so you’ll need three pieces of ribbon, each about 6″ long, plus a small scrap. The scrap will act as your measurement for the template. I used a piece of sturdy woven ribbon, but you can use any type of ribbon as long as it’s not too lightweight, and not stretchy. Satin, grosgrain, and twill all work well.

Mark the middle of the folded page and place the ribbon over the mark, centering it. Make marks on either side of the ribbon. Make a mark ½″ to ¾″ away from the top and bottom marks, place the ribbon alongside those marks, and mark the other side of the ribbon. You should have eight marks total, and six of those marks should be the “stations” where you’ll sew over your ribbon. In the template below, the Xs indicate where you’ll sew over the ribbons.

Fold the scrap piece of paper the other way so the marks are on the inside. Write ‘T’ at the top of the template, and write ‘T’ on the front of the book lightly in pencil. Slip the template into the middle of the first signature, matching tops, and hold it open at a 45-degree angle. With a thin awl, punch through the template and the signature at each mark. Remove the template and repeat for the remaining signatures. If your rows of holes aren’t perfectly aligned that’s okay.

We’ll be sewing with 4-ply waxed linen thread. To find how much you’ll need, multiply the height of the book times the number of signatures, then add about 18 extra inches. Thread a bookbinding needle with the thread. I like using John James #18 Bookbinders Needles, but a large darning needle also works well.

Following the template below, enter the bottom hole (#1) of the last signature from the outside, leaving an 8″ tail. Enter hole #2 from the inside. Enter hole #3 from the outside. Just before you pull the thread to tighten it, place the ribbon underneath the thread, centering it. To tighten the sewing thread, always pull parallel to the spine in the direction you’re sewing. Continue the sewing for the rest of the signature. You should end outside at the top hole (#8).

Here’s what your first row of stitches should look like:

Enter the top hole of the next signature from the outside, then enter the next hole down from the inside. You have two options here: You can go straight across the ribbon as with the first signature, or you can make a link stitch. For the link stitch, slip the needle underneath the previous stitch, as shown below. Then enter the next hole in the signature from the outside. Repeat this for all three ribbon stations, ending at the last hole on the outside. Tie the tail thread and the working thread in a double (square) knot. Leave the tail thread for now; don’t cut it.

Enter the bottom hole of the next signature over from the outside, and repeat the sewing. This time, slip the needle under the furthermost part of the previous stitch; see the diagram below. Enter the next hole from the outside, and continue sewing all the way up the signature, creating the link stitches at the ribbon stations, and ending on the outside at the top hole.

Before entering the next signature, do a kettle stitch. This helps keep the signatures in place. Slip the needle between the small stitch that spans the first and second signatures, pulling until you form a small loop. Take the needle through the loop and pull straight up to tighten. Take the needle through the top hole in the next signature and continue sewing until all the signatures are sewn. For the kettle stitches at the end of each row, always slip the needle under the stitch that spans the previous two signatures, then form your knot.

You’ll finish the sewing on the inside of the last signature at the top or bottom hole, depending on how many signatures you have. Take the needle underneath the last stitch and pull until a small loop forms.

Take the needle through the loop and pull down to tighten. Repeat, and trim the thread to ¼″.

Thread the tail thread with the needle and take the needle back into the bottom hole of the last signature. Tie the thread off the same way, slipping it under the nearest stitch and knotting it, etc. When you finish, your spine should look like this:

For the cover of this romantic art journal, I stamped some text stamps from the Prima Iron Orchid Designs Letters set in brown permanent ink.

While that dried, I sized and printed an image from The Graphics Fairy onto Jacquard ExtravOrganza inkjet printable sheets, then sprayed the sheet with fixative and cut it to fit the cover. (You can learn more about this transfer process in this blog post.) I coated the cover with matte medium, placed the image on top, and brushed on more matte medium to secure the fabric. Work fast; matte medium tends to dry quickly. I did the same for the back cover, using a different image. Obviously, placing the fabric over the mesh obscures the mesh, but you can still see the texture. If you paint or collage the cover, the mesh will be a great textural element.

When both covers were dry, I cut the ribbons into flag shapes and glued them to the cover with Aleene’s Quick Dry Tacky Glue. I added a vintage postage stamp and some embroidery to the cover. The stitching can be easily covered on the inside by gluing paper to the inside covers.

romantic art journal

Since I made this romantic art journal myself, I’m even more motivated to use it! I hope you have fun creating and using yours, and don’t forget to try Laly’s fantastic techniques for creating beautiful abstract florals. All the instructions are in the March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.

Take a peek inside Laly Mille’s beautiful studio in the Loire Valley of France in this blog post!

The March/April 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine includes Laly Mille’s instructions on how to create abstract flowers in an art journal, and much more!
In the video Mixed Media Flower Paintings with Carrie Schmitt, discover how to use a photo as inspiration for an abstract floral painting.
Get tons of techniques, approaches, and advice for creating abstract art in Abstracts in Acrylic & Ink by Jodi Ohl.
Learn how to make art journals from scratch, then fill them with beautiful artwork in the video Backgrounds to Bindings: Beautifully Easy Handmade Books and Art Journals with Kari McKnight Holbrook.


Art Journaling and Lettering, Blog, Handmade Books, Mixed-Media Techniques

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