Make a Sketchbook

Watercolour Sketchbook

I live in an art-supply desert. There are a couple of hobby and craft shops that sell some stuff but I know of nowhere locally that I can buy a nice, hard-bound, watercolour sketchbook.
Fortunately they aren’t really all that hard to make, so I thought I would share this with you. These instructions aren’t very detailed, the only tricky part is sewing the signatures together. I am assuming that most people with some artistic ability will have some understanding already of simple crafting skills.

Supplies needed:
Paper, this is just a sketchbook, so an inexpensive pad of 9″X12″ watercolour paper should be available almost anywhere, even Wal-Mart sells them. Obviously you can use better quality paper if you like but it might be best to start out with something cheap.
You will also need one piece of plain paper a little lighter weight, this needs to be just an inch or so longer than the watercolour paper, you could use kraft paper or wrapping paper.
Card, about 1/8th inch thick and around 10″X14″. An off-cut of matt board is ideal.
Fabric, a remnant is fine. You can use just about anything for this but you don’t want it to be too thick or too thin, cotton is probably best to start with.
Coloured paper, only if you want to use endpapers, wallpaper, wrapping paper, something sturdy and decorative.
Thread, you will need one piece of strong white button-thread about 40″ long. A very fine crochet thread would do too.
Darning Needle
PVA Glue, aka white glue

Cutting board or mat
Vise or press
(not essential, but helps to produce a neat finish)

A “perfect bound” book is made of a stack of “signatures”. Each signature consists of several sheets of paper folded in half and sewn together at the fold. The number of sheets you use depends somewhat on how thick the paper is. I probably wouldn’t use more than four sheets of 90lb paper. About 4-5 signatures would be good for a first attempt. Five signatures of four sheets each will give you a 40 sheet book, that has nearly 80 usable sides, not too bad.
1. Fold each signature in half, you might want to score the paper before doing this, and then stack them one atop the other.
2. When the signatures are folded and stacked neatly, mark the spine with a pencil 1/2″ from each end and twice more evenly spaced in between. You don’t need to be absolutely precise with this, just make sure that the marks are in the same place on each signature.
3. Use your darning needle to pierce each signature at the pencil marks, this will make it easier when you are sewing them.
4. Thread the needle with 40″ of thread and knot it (a good sturdy knot that won’t pull through) about one inch from the end.

Sewing the Signatures
5. This is really the only tricky bit of the whole operation and is remarkably simple once you get the hang of it. Follow the numbers (this is important), starting in the upper right hand corner. Dotted lines indicate that the thread is running under the paper. Between 10 and 11 run your needle through the starting knot. Between 16 and 17 take the thread back through the stitch from 4 to 5 . Likewise, between 22 and 23 pass back through 11. On the last signature tie off the thread and cut. You want the result to be firm but not too tight.

6. When your signatures are sewn you should cover the spine with glue and clamp the whole in a vise or press until dry. If you place it between two sheets of wax paper you can just use a pile of books to weigh it down.
7. Cut the card the same width as the book and 1/4 inch taller. The spine should be cut the same width as the spine of the book and 1/4 inch taller.

Sketchbook Cover
8. Cut the fabric with about 1 inch to spare all around, see diagram.

9. Glue the card to the fabric, turn the edges over, mitering the corners.

10. Then cut a piece of lighter weight paper about 1/4″ smaller all around than the cover and paste it over the inside, covering all the raw edges of fabric
10. Glue the first and last pages of your book to the cover and put back in the press until dry.

If you want a fancier finish, or if you are using better quality paper and don’t want to waste any, you can use end-papers to glue the book into the cover. There are various ways of doing this, have a look at a good quality bound book to get an idea of how it is done.

Because this is “perfect bound” you should be able to open it out completely flat without breaking the spine.  Needless to say, there are many more tricks you can use to obtain a more professional finish, but you should be able to create a workable sketchbook with these instructions and with practise the results will improve.

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