Studio Saturdays: Create Along Travel Journal, Part 2

Welcome back to our first Cloth Paper Scissors Create Along! So glad you’ve joined me for Part Two of our three-part series, in which we’re making a travel journal inspired by Dea Fischer’s project in the September/October issue of Cloth Paper Scissors.

This post covers how to make and decorate the cover, which is made of Kraft•Tex, a sturdy paper fabric that makes great journals. (If you missed Part One, which goes over the supplies we’re using, click here.) Kraft•Tex comes in several neutral colors, is super strong, can be washed in the washing machine, and is a great alternative to leather. It can also be sewn by hand or machine, and you can incorporate almost any medium and technique, such as acrylic paint, image transfers, stamping, doodling, and printing. It’s a mixed-media artist’s dream! You can make this book out of leather or sturdy fabric if you prefer, but I like the fact that I can use the cover, both inside and out, as a canvas for my own artwork, and change it up with each book. You can even continue decorating the inside and outside of the cover after you’ve bound the book!

Travel journal covers
My two covers are so different–that’s the beauty of this technique!

Kraft•Tex, like other types of machine-made paper, has a grain. You can determine paper grain by bending a piece of paper into a U-shape one way, turning it one turn, and then bending it again. The direction that bends more easily is the grain direction. This is the way the paper fibers line up. When you fold paper against the grain, it can buckle and crack and eventually tear if you frequently fold and unfold it.

Quick tip: Most handmade papers don’t have a grain and can be folded in any direction.

This project requires horizontal and vertical folds for the book itself and the pockets. The book will be folded and unfolded as it’s opened and closed, but the pocket fold stays stationary, so I recommend cutting the Kraft•Tex with the grain running parallel to the short side. I decided to wash, machine dry, and iron the material before working with it, and I noticed that the grain was less apparent after washing. So note the grain direction before washing.

Quick tip: Don’t cut the material to size before washing, since it can change shape slightly in the process.

Here’s a quick recap on washed versus unwashed Kraft•Tex: Washing the material makes it softer and more wrinkled, making it resemble leather. Left unwashed it’s stiffer and smoother, but it does soften up with use. From top to bottom, below, is Kraft•Tex that has not been washed (A), that has been machine washed and air dried (B), and that has been machine washed, machine dried, and ironed (C). If you want to incorporate image transfers and have a nice, unblemished surface to work on, don’t wash it. If you like the look of faux leather and want a funkier looking book, wash it. FYI, I was able to paint, stamp, stencil, and draw on the washed material without a problem.

Kraft•Tex material
Unwashed and washed Kraft•Tex take on different textures.

Cutting the Kraft•Tex: You can trim the material with a scissor, but I like my edges even, and I’m not great with cutting a perfectly straight line. I used a heavy-duty Olfa blade. After washing the piece I noticed the edges were no longer even, so I squared them up with a 24″ quilting ruler. You can also do this with a regular ruler, but a quilting ruler makes the task super fast. Once the long edge was straight I cut the piece to 9 ½” x 18″.

If you’ve never cut with a blade before, here’s a quick tutorial: First, mark the measurements with a ruler and pencil. I like using an architect ruler because it sits flat on the table and I can look straight down on the measurements and see exactly where I need to make my mark. I use a mechanical pencil with a .05 lead because it makes small, neat marks and never needs sharpening. Make two marks, one at the top of the area you’re cutting, and one at the bottom. If the area is large, make more marks.

Measuring technique
I like measuring with an architect ruler and mechanical pencil.

Next, place the point of the blade at top mark. Slide a metal-edge ruler against the blade, line up the ruler with the bottom mark, hold the ruler down firmly, and cut with the blade right up against the ruler, keeping it straight. Make sure your fingers are out of the cutting path before you cut! Take it from me—I learned the hard way…

Cutting technique
When cutting against a metal ruler, make sure your fingers are out of the way!

Quick tip: Cork-backed metal rulers are less likely to slip on smooth materials, but that little gap created by the cork can interfere with making a clean cut. I use a plain metal ruler and glue 300-grit sandpaper to the back side. It’s completely flat and never slips!

Measure out a rectangular section on the lower left-hand side of the Kraft•Tex: Mark 9 ½” from the left edge, and 6″ down from the top edge, and cut the piece out.

Kraft•Tex cover
After cutting a piece out of the cover, you should have this shape.

You should now have an L-shaped piece of Kraft•Tex. Fold up the flap on the lower right-hand side and make a nice crisp crease with a bone folder. A bone folder is an essential and inexpensive bookbinding tool that makes clean, neat folds.

Folding paper technique
Step 1 of folding: Press on the fold.

Here’s a quick guide to folding: Bend the paper or material you’re working with, matching edges if necessary (here, you’ll want the right-hand edges to meet). Press the fold in the middle with your finger, and holding the material in place, press along the fold with the edge of the bone folder, going from the middle out (you’ll make two passes).

Folding with a bone folder
Step 2 of folding: Make a sharp crease with the edge of a bone folder, going from the center out.

Sewing the pockets: You can stitch the pockets by machine or hand; for this journal I decided to sew them by hand using 4-cord waxed linen thread. If you use a machine, remember that you’re sewing through paper, so once the needle makes a hole, it’s there to stay. Later I’ll show you another cover I made with machine stitching.

I started the first row of stitches on the left side. I made a light pencil line about ¼” from the edge and made the hole marks about ¼” apart, making the last mark just above the pocket line. You can eyeball the hole placement, but you do need to punch your holes before you sew.

Marking pockets for sewing
The holes for sewing the pockets are marked in 1/4″ increments.

Punch holes at the marks with a thin awl.

Poking holes with an awl
The holes were made with a thin awl.

Next, thread a needle with about 16″ of waxed linen thread and go through the top hole from the inside, leaving a 3″ tail. Sew a running stitch all the way to the end, keeping the thread taut by pulling it parallel to the cover.

Quick tip: Hold the pocket in place with some low-tack tape while punching the holes and sewing. You can also tuck the thread tail under the tape to keep it taut as you sew.

Sewing the pocket
Sew a running stitch the length of the pocket with waxed linen thread.

Sew a running stitch back up to the top to make a continuous line of stitches. Try not to split the thread as you go. To avoid doing this I angle the tip of the needle as I push it through.

How to avoid splitting the thread
By angling the needle as you take it through a previously sewn hole, you can avoid splitting the thread.

Tie the ends in a square (double) knot at the top and trim them to about 1/4″.

Pocket row stitched
One pocket row stitched.

Determine the size of your pockets. I wanted a pocket for my mini watercolor palette, so I slipped it in, marked a place on the pocket for the next row of stitches, drew another pencil line, and marked the holes. Remember that items like pencils, pens and brushes are dimensional, so they may need extra room to fit. You want them to be snug, but not too tight.

Measuring the pocket
To measure the pocket I slipped in my watercolor palette and marked the edge.

I created three more pockets about 1 3/8″ wide and sewed them same way I did the first, but using different colors of thread. I didn’t sew the last row of stitches because I wanted to sew the tie on first and hide the stitching and knot inside.

Sewn book pockets
All the rows are stitched except the last, so the tie can be sewn in first.

To give this book a contemporary feel I stenciled some abstract flowers with a StencilGirl Products stencil and acrylic paint. After I chose my color palette I placed the stencil in various locations and pounced on some heavy-body acrylics with a wedge sponge.

Stenciling on Kraft•Tex
I used acrylic paint to stencil a design.

The paint dried quickly and created nice opaque coverage. I emphasized the designs with a black Sakura Pigma Micron Pen and added some dots in the middle of the flowers with a white Sharpie paint pen. To decorate the cover you can paint freehand designs, create doodles with an artist pen, attach found objects with a few stitches, add collage—it’s completely up to you. If you don’t like something, cover it over with more paint or ephemera.

Stencil outlined with pen
After stenciling the design I outlined it with pen.

Next I added some ephemera, pieces of map paper, and some vintage postage stamps, to emphasize the travel theme. To make the paper pieces more durable I brushed on 3-4 coats of acrylic medium (you can also use gel medium), and when dry, adhered them with thick white glue.

Coating collage papers with acrylic medium
A coating of acrylic or gel medium makes collage papers more durable.

For the closure I used a 26″ piece of ½”-wide suede, but ribbon and fabric strips will work too. I glued the end of the tie in the middle of the cover edge and marked four holes for an ‘X’ stitch (I made marks in white pen so they would show, but use something that you can erase or rub off).

Marking holes for tie
Mark holes in the tie before sewing.

To create the stitch, punch four holes at the marks with an awl, going through the cover only, not the pocket. Thread a needle with waxed linen thread, and take the needle from inside to outside, leaving a 4″ tail. Cross diagonally into the next hole, come up from behind into either empty hole, and cross diagonally again.

Sewing the book closure
Sew the tie through the cover, not the pocket.

I did one more round of stitches and tied the ends off on the inside in a square knot. Then I punched holes for the final row of stitches on the pocket, and sewed the pocket shut.

Sewing the pocket closed
After knotting off the tie inside, finish stitching the pocket.

Here is the decorated cover:

Kraft•Tex book cover
The finished cover.

I made another cover, this time using unwashed Kraft•Tex in Stone, which is a beautiful medium gray. I machine stitched around the cover with red and navy thread, sewed on vintage photos, crocheted pieces, and French book text, and then glued on some vintage stamps. I also created an image transfer using Lesley Riley’s Transfer Artist Paper and a Graphics Fairy photo of the Eiffel Tower. For the closure, I doubled a piece of sari ribbon and sewed it back and forth a few times with a zig-zag stitch, machine stitched it to the cover, and stitched up the last pocket.

Kraft•Tex book cover
Detail of the Stone Kraft•Tex cover. Left, a transfer; right, a vintage photo and book text.

Here’s how a full-color transfer looks on unwashed Natural Kraft•Tex, using TAP and a Graphics Fairy image. The image transfer went on without a hitch, and the resolution is terrific.

TAP transfer on Kraft•Tex

And here are the covers side-by-side, to show you how completely different these books can look. What are you thinking about for your own book? Leave a comment below on what techniques you plan to use, and also post any questions you have about the process or materials. See you next week, when we’ll create and bind the pages!

Kraft•Tex book covers
The two covers shown side-by-side show how you can get vastly different effects.

P.S.: I’ve already started working in my book, and I love the convenience of taking my journal and supplies with me in one neat package!

Travel art journal
I love using my art journal, either in my studio or on the road!

If you need some inspiration and jump starts for designing your cover, take a look at the resources below–these artists have great ideas and techniques!

Get started exploring with these resources:
Acrylic Painting Techniques: Creative Textures DVD Art Lessons 2016: Volume 4 with Rae Missigman Inspirational Doodle Journals On Demand Webinar with Joanne Sharpe
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4 thoughts on “Studio Saturdays: Create Along Travel Journal, Part 2

  1. Thanks for this awesome project. My goofs due to inexperience might help someone else. MyKrafttex came rolled one way, but after washing, it preferred to roll perpendicular. Assume nothing. Also you might check for liking one side texture better than the other before you cut the L shape. Again oops! It’s all good and I’m having fun painting it.

    1. Thanks for being part of the Create Along! Good tip on the different sides/textures. And no worries on the grain/roll of the Kraft•Tex; it’s so sturdy that it will truly hold up to a lot of handling no matter which way you used it.

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