Making your own sketchbooks two ways

Making a sketchbook can be as easy or as ornate as you want it to be. I am going to show two easy books in this tutorial. If you have any problems or questions, please use the contact form at the bottom of the page to contact me.

These are some of the tools I use to make my books. You don't need to buy anything special. Most of these things can be found in your house. 

Upper right and going clockwise: Thin and thick cloth covered elastic (you can use pony tail cloth covered elastics). Bee's wax (candle) razor cutter (X-Acto knife), Bone folder (letter opener), single hole cord lock (make a knot). awl, (stiletto, nail), Curved needle (straight needle), Brad fasteners (staples), Waxed linen cord (cotton embroidery thread drawn across wax/candle). In this tutorial the only ones you'll need are the razor cutter, bone folder, awl and linen thread. Let necessity help you be creative!!
Coptic Binding

It is easy and inexpensive to pick up a sketch pad at an art store,Walmart , or on Amazon. This pad is 11 X 14 and 70 lb.

The "rock" is placed on all white objects because my camera's auto-focus won't on white. I tore 9 sheets from this pad

Fold in half and crease with bone folder back and forth - tear carefully

Fold each half in half again. You should be able to get a "four page booklet" out of each sheet. These are called signatures. The nine sheets should make 9 signatures. To repeat, each signature is the two halves of the initial sheet which is then folded into a four page booklet shape.

Nine folded signatures ready to have the holes applied

One signature. This will become your "master" for applying holes to all the signatures. Make even marks along the fold in pencil. You can erase these marks later.

I use a small piece of foam core board  to support the signature as I pierce a hole along the fold at each pencil mark.

I take the second signature and place it behind the "master" aligning the folds carefully then going back into the holes in the master, pierce the second signature. Try to keep them in a pile with the holes aligned as below. 

When you hold them together like this, it is easy to see if one is in backwards. This isn't critical unless you want it to be as perfect as possible. No matter, you will be able to use it just as well even if it isn't perfect (smile).

You can use Binders Board which is heavy book cover material. It is VERY thick and makes a very professional looking book. You can just as easily use solid cardboard like this 
or boxboard from a cereal box. Corrugated cardboard isn't as successful

The binder board is VERY hard and takes from 7 to 10 pressure filled swipes to cut. You want to cut your book cover material about a half inch larger on all sides as you signature. This gives you a nice overhang.

I decided to use a 9X11 sheet of paste paper I made a few years ago with some nice marks on it. For the inside of the cover I used a few smaller scraps that I think Marcella gave me.

It is a good idea to make all of your cuts before you add the glue - much less messy. I use a scrap of binder board on an angle at each corner to make a nice fold. The added width of the binder board insures enough paper so that the points on the corners will be covered.

 Ready for glue

PVA (Elmer's glue) and water 50/50

Be sure to wet you brush with water before you use them for anything. Getting water into the ferrule before you start anything will help keep you medium (glue, acrylics, whatever) OUT of the ferrule and make cleaning your brush more successful. I am a brush NUT and have maintained some of my brushes for over 40 years. They are expensive! After applying the PVA/water mix place the brush in a container of water. You will need it again but you don't want that glue drying on the brush.

In the photo above, you can see the extra room at the corners of the book created with the scrap of binder board.

Use a bone folder or the pressure of the table as you roll the cover to the right to make sure you have solid contact with the edge of the cover. Press the paper to the inside smoothing to make good contact and eliminate bubbles.

See how nicely the corners look

 Cut, glue, and place the paper for the inside of the sketch book in place.

 Stand them up and allow to dry on both sides

When completely dry use an awl, ice pick or a nail to make holes in the cover. I have aligned one signature spacing it on the cover evenly. You can use the foam core board to support the cover as you hit the awl/ice pick/nail with a hammer.

Holes in the cover

 Now is the time to sew the signatures to the cover. Use waxed linen thread or embroidery thread. You can wax your embroidery thread to make it easier to use. 

There is a fabulous YouTube video on Coptic binding so in the spirit of not recreating the wheel, I will link you to it. She binds the entire book slowly. You can literally follow her with your book step by step, pausing when you need to. It is the best coptic binding video I have ever used and I'm sure you will love it.

My Coptic bound book is finished

Accordion Folded Sketchbook

This is a super easy book to make. The greatest thing about an accordion folded sketchbook is that after you fill all the 16 pages one side, you can turn it around and have 16 more pages to fill on the other side!. You can also easily do multi-page spreads of landscapes or tall cityscapes.

Start with a large sheet of paper. This paper is 18 X 24 and you can buy single sheets at most art supply store either in sketch paper or watercolor paper. Fold it in half lengthwise to get the longest strips. Then fold those in half as well. I got 4 strips 4 1/2 by 24". Use the bone folder back and forth to get a sharp fold and tear carefully.

This is one strip folded into fourths.

On one end I use the bone folder and a straight edge to "score" the paper a scant 1/4" then I fold the edge to make a gluing strip.

I use a Q-tip with straight PVA (Elmer')s to glue that tiny folded edge to another strip and on until all four 24" strips are connected.

I cut a piece of cardboard just a scant bit larger that the pages. I want the cover pretty much the same size as the pages with minimal overlap. Use the instruction in the previous tutorial to glue the paper to the cover.

I "found" these Gelli prints Judith and I made last year and I thought, Why not? I glued the paper to the front only of the cardboard covers then glued the covers to the first and last pages of the book

These great little travel books can fit in your purse, painting bag or glove box so you always have a great sketchbook with you.

Coptic on the left and Accordion on the right


  1. Thank you for posting this! I want to try making my own.

  2. Thanks for two fabulous tutorials Beth! I'm hoping to go on a book making workshop this summer - I love the coptic stitched journal best!

  3. What an excellent tutorial and your books look great. Thanks for all the super pictures and link.


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