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I love planning in advance. For me a good plan is cause to relax and breathe deeply, knowing everything will be taken care of. I’ve tried lots of different kinds and while I loved my old planner (This sweet little Filofax!), I was going to have to upgrade to something giant to meet my needs- so I wanted to try making one first. I’m glad that I tried because after a month of using my handmade planner, it’s official. It’s not a crush, I’m in love! My planner has been through the wear and tear of my bag and is holding up beautifully- and the best part is that I get to use something super functional and handmade every day.
There are basically two parts to any bookbinding process: making the signatures & securing them inside the cover. The signatures are sections of paper that have been gathered up and sewn together, and kept safe by the binding. While it’s relatively simple, your first try can be really intimidating. This should guide you through your first bookbinding experience pretty much painlessly, and I’m always here to answer questions :)
The great thing about this is that it’s 100% customizable to your needs! I’ll be showing you the methods you can use, and what will work with my templates from part one, but you can make this pocket sized or giant sized- whatever you prefer.
To create a signature you’ll need a piercing tool (an awl), waxed thread or heavy hemp thread, a papercraft needle (they’re larger and easier to work with than a large sewing needle) & blank legal or letter sized pages. Bonus points for a self healing craft mat, and for being careful not to ruin your tabletop if you don’t have a craft mat :)
Step One: Make a Guide
Before I start working with the pages, I like to make a guide to help make sure that the holes in my signatures are all positioned in the same place. In bookbinding speak, this is called a jig- and it’s important because if you don’t use it when you sew the signatures together they’ll all be crooked! To make the guide, take a section of cardboard and cut it to be the same height as the pages (8 1/2″). Punch holes in it along the center line, spacing them out equally so the stitches holding in your binding will distribute tension equally.
Set aside the sheets you’ll be making into signatures, and place in small stacks. Group by group, fold the papers in half, making a strong crease. Ta da! It’s almost a signature now- it’s that simple :) Each signature can have as few or as many pages as you like, so gather a small group and you can remove or add sheets until the signatures look balanced and right to you.
Once you’ve folded & creased the signatures, take a small workable stack, place the guide on top of the crease and use the piercing tool to punch through the signature.
Now you’re ready to stitch the signatures together! This will change slightly with the binding method that you choose, but this is the method I used.
Want to get fancy? Add Tabs & Covers: If any of the signatures will be a complete section (ex. my monthly calendars all fit into one signature) you might want to add a lightweight card stock cover or tab to them. To make a tab, cut the card stock just slightly wider than two of the guide’s holes and slightly longer than half of the signature. They wiggle around a lot, so you’ll have to make the tabs separately from the signatures, but once you’ve pierced the tabs you can slide one over the outside of the signatures just before you sew them and trim them down to fit afterward. It makes the end result look super fancy.
To sew the signature, thread the waxed thread through the papercraft needle. Poke the needle through the center hole, moving from the center of the signature towards the outside (see below) while leaving a tail long enough to tie.
Pull the needle through the center hole and up through the top hole, then back through the center hole. Finally, pull the needle through the bottom hole. Pull the thread tight, and tie a secure knot. Your signature is done! Just create as many signatures as your planner needs and you’re ready to bind.
There are lots of great ways to bind your signatures together and get a clean beautiful result. It just depends on the look that you’re going for! No matter what, I recommend making sure you do a few things to make your planner lasts when it’s being beaten up in your bag:
- Use a thick chipboard as the base for your cover, the thickest you can find! It will make sure your planner’s hard enough to write on and can stand up to a year of use.
- Make sure you make your cover larger than your pages- and even bigger if you want room for a pen to be tucked inside your planner.
- Cover the chipboard in a thick vintage wallpaper to make sure that what makes the cover pretty is as durable as the cover its self. Keep an eye out at thrift stores & you’ll have lots to choose from quickly.
- If you’re trying to decide between using glue or tape, for any part of this? Use glue, it’s built to last!
- Wrap the inside and outside of the cover in wallpaper, glue it to the chipboard and then mod podge the inside of the cover and let it dry. It will make your working area that little bit more durable.
For a detailled exposed spine…
The coptic stitch is a method where you bind through the sides of the signatures. This leaves the backs of the signatures exposed- but you can make them more durable (and prettier!) if you add a patterned cardstock “cover” to them. This method lays completely flat and looks beautiful- almost like there’s a friendship bracelet running across the back (see here).
For a perfect finish…
A true hardcover look is harder to get at home, but it’s definitely achievable. A great way to do this is to add cloth and glue into the equation- and even weaving the signatures together. For this method you secure the signatures to each other, reinforce the bond with cloth, and then glue the signatures into the cover. It requires access to a small vice or some really heavy books, but the results are gorgeous!
For finishing touches…
To make my planner perfect for me, I added an elastic closure that loops around the front cover, and another smaller one that holds my pen. I also added a pocket in the front cover, made with cardstock and held in with strong glue- and I bought a resealable pocket with an adhesive back from an office supply store that keeps receipts and loose ends together neatly. You can add anything you like to make it work for your life!
Creating my planner was definitely a bit of a production, but I’ve been fascinated by bookbinding for a long time and really wanted an excuse to learn- and having tried it once I think I’m hooked! It’s not a project for the faint of heart, and there’s lots of planning that goes into it, but it’s so much fun to enjoy it every day!
Who knows, maybe if you’re really nice to me you’ll get one for Christmas next year ;)