Studio Saturdays: Make your own travel journal

I love every facet of mixed media, but there is a special place in my heart for handmade books. When I discovered bookbinding and book art years ago I felt like a part of my brain suddenly lit up, and it has stayed illuminated ever since.

Books represent endless possibilities and opportunities; they can be functional, an art piece, or both. A book can be a diary, art journal, sketchbook, travel journal, and more—there are no limits. If you’ve never made a book before I assure you it’s not as intimidating as it may look. The satisfaction you’ll feel when you’ve created something beautiful and functional is incomparable, and soon you’ll be making your own art journals that perfectly suit your needs.

Mini travel journals
I made these mini travel journals out of postcards and scrap paper.

These easy mini travel journals are perfect for summer. They’re made with ordinary postcards for covers and paper scraps for the inside pages, and they’re sewn with a simple version of a tacket binding. I love making these while I’m on vacation or traveling, and sometimes I take along a basic supply kit so I can bind on the go. You can also make one before your trip; either way, you can create or decorate pages with ephemera that you collect on your journey—maps, bags, brochures, business cards, etc.

I found some great 4 ¼” x 6″ postcards of Boston at a local bookstore. Using glue stick I glued two postcards together back-to-back to make the covers extra strong, but using just one postcard or reinforcing a postcard with a same-size piece of cardstock is fine too. Extra-strength glue stick is my favorite adhesive when traveling. Just make sure you don’t leave it in a hot car or in the sun!

To create the spine of both horizontal and vertical books I cut a piece of bookcloth twice the height of the postcards and added ½”. The spine width is 1 ¼”, which allows for a ½” overlap on each cover, and ¾” for the spine. On the wrong side of the bookcloth I drew ½” borders on three sides as guides, then applied glue to the bookcloth, lined up the covers where the lines intersect, as shown below, and pressed the bookcloth with a bone folder for a good adhesion. I folded up the bottom flap and glued it, then applied glue to the entire top flap, folded it down so it lined up with the bottom flap, and pressed it into place. I then placed both covers under some heavy books for about 30 minutes until they were dry. This is an important step that will help keep the covers from warping.

Gluing the covers to the spine
Bookcloth makes a strong but flexible spine.

Bookcloth is paper-backed fabric. It’s available at art and bookbinding supply stores and online and comes in a wide range of colors and textures. Quick tip: When I’m binding books on the go I take along long strips of bookcloth cut to the correct width, allowing me to trim them to whatever height I need.

I gathered a hodgepodge of papers for the inside pages: book text, hand-printed papers, shopping bags, vintage ledger and graph papers, tan sketch paper, and other bits. After cutting them to size I didn’t put them together in any special order because I like the element of surprise when I’m working in the book. I created two signatures (folded pages nested together) of 7 pages each. The largest pages measure twice the width of the covers minus ½” by the height of the book minus ¼”.

Materials for inside pages
A variety of papers offer great art journaling options.

I created a jig on graph paper for the sewing holes in the spine that was exactly the height and width of the spine. This binding requires an even number of holes in each vertical row, and the placement is up to you. For the tall book I wanted three rows of tackets (wrapped stitches), so I made eight holes, and for the short book I wanted just one row, and made four holes. Each vertical row of holes is spaced ¼” apart. I attached the jig to the outside of the spine with low-tack tape, and at each mark I poked a hole through the spine with an awl.

Spine punching jig
A jig was used to punch holes in the spine.

I folded a piece of paper the same size as one of my pages, put it next to the spine jig, and made a mark on the fold at each hole in the jig.

Signature punching template
I matched up holes on the signature template with the spine jig.

I folded the page the other way so the marks were in the inside, placed the folded page in the middle of one signature, and punched holes through all the pages with an awl at all the marks. I did the same for the other signature.

Waxed linen thread is perfect for binding books. It comes in an array of gorgeous colors and is very strong. I cut a piece four times the height of the book. To sew the book, take the needle from the outside through the bottom hole in the first row, then through the signature in the corresponding hole. Leave a 5″ tail.

Sew a running stitch all the way up the spine, going through the signature and cover. Keep the tension fairly taut, but not too taut. Here’s what the outside and the inside of the book look like when you’re at the top of the spine:

Running stitch
Here’s the running stitch on the outside of the spine.
Running stitch inside
Here’s the running stitch on the inside.

Take the needle over to the next row and enter the top hole from the outside, picking up the second signature and going through the corresponding hole. Before you enter that top hole you have the option of attaching a button; I added a vintage bone button.

Take the needle through the next hole down from the inside. When you’re on the outside of the spine, slide the needle underneath the previous stitch, as shown here:

Starting the wrapping
To start the wrapping, take the needle under the first stitch.

Pull it through, and tug on it slightly. This should create a ‘V’ at the top, and you can work with the tension to center it. Continue to wrap the working thread around the stitch, pulling it snug every time, and making sure not to overlap the wraps. This takes a little practice to get the tension right, but be patient and you’ll get it. This is how it should look after a few wraps:

Wrapping the thread
Continue to wrap the thread around the previous stitch.

Continue wrapping until you get almost to the end. Take the needle into the next hole from the outside, and into the signature. Adjust the tension so the wrapped stitch is centered. Continue to the next hole, take the needle through to the outside,  and repeat the wrapping. Wrap the last stitch in the same way.

When you get to the end, you should be on the last hole on the outside of the spine. You can tie the threads in a square knot and trim them to about ¼”, or tie on a second button and then trim the threads. For a super simple binding, try a pamphlet stitch; instructions for that can be found online.

Tacket binding
The full spine.

You are now the proud creator and owner of a cool book! I added a little collage to the vertical book, and some doodles with a white gel pen to the horizontal book. I also trimmed the corners with a corner rounder; this helps them from becoming dog eared.

Travel journals
The finished books.

Here are some pages from my travel journal, which I use as a combination sketchbook and art journal:

Travel journal pages
I use the inside pages for sketching and art journaling.
Fold-out page
It’s easy to add an extra fold-out page with washi tape.

On the inside back cover I added a fold-out map, using a Turkish map fold (directions can also be found online). Here’s what it looks like folded:

Folded map
I added a folded map on the back inside cover.

And here it is open. You can also do this with a favorite photo, menu, or magazine page.

Turkish map fold
The map open.

And here is what’s in my kit when I travel, which contains bookbinding and sketching supplies. Make sure you observe whatever restrictions are in place for traveling with sharp objects, and adjust accordingly:

Travel art kit
Some supplies from my travel art kit.

Try making a journal this summer. We have plenty of great resources filled with terrific information and inspiration that will have you hooked on making books!

Doesn’t this sound amazing?

Check out these resources to get you started:

Book + Art Getting Started: Bookmaker’s Basics Kit Handmade Books for Everyday Adventures
eBook Kit Hardcover
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The Artist’s Sketchbook Art Lesson 2016: Volume 2 –Handmade Paper Collage Accordion Books Three Ways with Erin Zamrzla
Paperback | eBook Lesson Download DVD | Video Download
Buy Now
Buy Now
Buy Now

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