Basic Bookbinding Tutorial

Have you always wanted an easy way to make your own books?  I'll show you how step by step in this basic bookbinding tutorial using my own design peel-and-stick wallpaper...

Learn how to make a handmade book like this

I first learnt how to make books very many years ago during art class at school, when a visiting art student came in to give us a series of practical lessons on the subject. I loved it immediately, and went on to make more on my own, before using some of the skills I learnt, years later, for my job creating large scale maps and plans, and sewing up documents.

My handmade book collection

When I first started designing my own patterns, I so wanted to see them made into a book, so when I discovered Spoonflower made a fab woven, peel & stick wallpaper (re-positionable) available, I knew it was a project I would have to try out, and share with you...

Bookbinding (or 'making books') looks like a mysterious art, but it's actually quite simple once you know how - and I'm going to show you. 

We're going to make an easy book, which opens sideways, with the spine on the left, and with blank pages inside - so that it can be used for a journal, or sketchbook (they also make great gifts, and are very special, being hand-made.)

I also have some other very simple sketchbook makes here…

Inside the front cover of the book

Equipment and materials you will need

Before you start, it's worth gathering together all the equipment & materials you will need. I will share exactly what I used at the end of the post, but you can follow this basic bookbinding tutorial, and use the same techniques with your own choice of board, papers etc, and make different sizes, if you wish.

Basic Bookbinding Tutorial

We will use these pretty woven papers to make the covers for our book

OK, so, first we will get together our materials and make sure we have everything we need and have enough paper to cover the boards for the front and back covers, and the inserts for both covers too (you can see what I used in the materials list at the bottom of the page).

Please read through all the instructions before you start, so that you are clear on everything you will be doing, and how the finished project will come together

1) Lay out the A5 boards (front and back covers) on your cutting mat

  • The front cover will bend back and form the spine, so we need to cut this, as below (on the right)

  • Leave the bottom piece to be about an inch wide (or more depending on the size of book you make), and the smallest piece should be around twice the thickness of the card, or a little more, as this is where the 'hinge' will be

  • Do not throw away any of the bits, you will be using them all again later

Step one - preparing the front and back covers

2) Get the paper you want to use on the outside of the back covers, and lay the boards on it

Layout your covers on your chosen cover paper

  • Position your boards so that there is a decent space around each edge, this paper will be used to fold back over the board so make sure you leave plenty

  • Trim the paper so it's roughly the right size (no need to be precise)... (see below)

Trim the paper to the approximate size

  • This is what you should have...

This is how it should look as you prepare your outer covers

We will, of course, be sticking the board to the back of the patterned paper (the plain side), I'm just showing you this so you know what we're using

3) Prepare to stick and cut the back cover

  • Lay your back cover board (the single piece) onto the reverse side (plain side) of your patterned paper. If you are using the same peel-and-stick paper as me, you will need to peel off the backing, so that it is sticky

  • Make sure you lay it down cleanly, and check there are no air-bubbles (if your card is sturdy enough there shouldn't be). Lay down the patterned paper first - peel off the backing, lay the cardboard on top. As the paper is repositionable, you should be able to unpeel it and correct any mistakes before you go any further

  • Cut angles at each corner to make folding easier - don't go too close to the corner or the cardboard will show through

Preparing the back cover for sticking-down

4) Fold over the edges firmly and make sure it's stuck down well

  • Use your bone folder to make the edges of the fold sharp and neat (run along beneath the paper (patterned side) as you fold the edges up)

Sticking down the back cover - this will be the inside of the cover

This is what it should look like - the image below will be the outside of the back cover

This will be the outside of the back cover

5) Now we will make the front cover

  • Lay out the cover on your patterned paper (pattern-side down - sticky side up)

  • Fit together all of the strips of cardboard, as if it's one whole piece...

How to set up the positioning for the front cover

  • Carefully remove the smallest strip - this will form the hinge of the book. Try not to knock the other pieces out of place, as it is important that the front cover, over all, is the same size as the back cover

  • Make sure you have left enough space so that when you fold over the right hand side (as seen in the photo below) it will completely cover the gap with some to spare

Make sure you leave wide edges on the hinge side so that your cover paper will fold over and cover the gap with some to spare

  • Cut the corners to be able to fold the paper over - see the back cover instructions above for how to do this

How to position the front cover ready for folding over

  • Continue folding the edges over, as you did for the back cover

  • Here's how your two covers will look - if you look carefully at the photo, (left hand side), you will see the hinge created on the front cover, where the cover will bend back

Front and back covers prepped and ready for the next stage

6) Making the back cover 'insert'

  • Of course, at the moment, while these look pretty from the front, at the back (inside the covers) they're not so attractive, so we're going to make some matching 'inserts' to cover where we folded over the papers

  • I'm using the same design in a smaller scale and complementary color so they work really well together

  • Use a piece of card-making card, to stick the patterned paper onto, and trim so that it is just slightly smaller than the size of the back cover

  • Once again you will want to measure your patterned paper so you will have a generous amount to fold over

Trim the insert paper to roughly the right size for the back cover insert

  • Lay out the card onto your patterned paper, as previously, and trim corners

Trimming the corners of the insert cover (back cover)

  • Fold over the edges neatly

This is the reverse of the back cover insert

  • Put your insert in position against your back cover (it should look like this - below) and put to one side (we will glue it in a bit). Make sure you have put scruffy sides together, and nice sides facing out.

Back cover insert in place against the back cover (plain sides together)


7) Making the front cover 'insert'

  • Making the front cover insert is essentially the same, but we need to take account of the opening hinge

  • Measure your piece of card carefully against your hinged front cover so that the hinge is clear (will work) and the edges will appear even all around - then trim

Measure then front cover insert carefully so that the hinge is clear, then trim the card to size

  • Continue trimming, folding and sticking as for the back cover. At this point the only difference is the size

The front cover and front cover insert, both showing reverse sides

  • This (below) is how the two pieces will fit together - note the hinge to the left of the photo. This will be the inside of the front cover - so once again note that we have scruffy sides together, and nice sides facing out

Getting the front cover and insert ready in position

8) Glue inserts to the covers

  • Lay your cover inserts (one at a time) onto a piece of scrap paper - and cover with a thin layer of craft glue. Pay special attention to the edges - they must stick well, but you don't want the glue seeping out to spoil your book

Spread glue carefully on the reverse of your inserts

  • Stick the inserts down onto the covers (scruffy sides together, remember!)...

Front cover and insert stuck down

  • Watch for glue seeping out the edges and wipe any quickly

This is how your back cover will look

9) Wait for the glue to dry

10) Assemble the book with the pages inside

  • Line up the pages and covers carefully, as it will be when it's a completed book

Set up your book with the pages inside

11) Measure for the holes in the 'spine'

  • Measure carefully to mark positions for two holes in the spine portion of the front cover of your book. It doesn't really matter on the exact position, but these should be central, and evenly positioned. Make sure they aren't too close to the edges (or too far away!)

Make sure the position for your holes are even - measure very carefully!

12) Make the holes

  • Making sure that your book covers and pages remain properly aligned, make holes with your awl or hole punch

Use an awl or hole punch to make holes right the way through your book

  • The holes will need to go right through both covers and all the pages - take care the work surface is protected from sharp objects!

You may have to temporarily dismantle your book to push the holes through

  • You may need to move the covers or pages about and apply strength to push the awl through. Keep checking it's all still properly aligned and that you're putting the holes in the right place

Keep checking it's all carefully aligned - holes ready on the front cover

13) Sew together the book

This is the point when people normally panic! There's no need... I'll share instructions below, and also the hole punch and ribbon alternative, which you might prefer

Sewing together your book is actually not as complicated as it looks!

  • Follow the sequence below to get the book sewn together quite quickly using your bookbinding thread and needle - it can be quite hard to push the needle through, but persevere, or come back and make the hole a little bigger with your awl if you need to

  • Look at the front of your book at all times

  • Your first sewing action is from back to front in the top hole - leave about 4-6 inches of thread loose at the back to tie up at the end (or more if you are making a bigger book - it must stretch between the two holes, plus give you some length to play with for actually tying the knot)

At a glance sequence for sewing

  • Then (2) - from the front, over the top of the book, to the back, and back up through the hole again to the front

  • Then (3) out to the side and back through the hole from back to front

  • Next (4) take the thread down the front of the book to the other hole, and push the needle through from front to back

  • Then (5) go out to the side and bring the needle round to the front, and go back into the hole from front to back

  • Lastly (6) take the thread around the bottom of the book and once again through the hole from front to back

The sewn book seen from the front

  • Now you should have two loose ends at the back. Tighten all parts of your book thread and make sure the book is all properly aligned.

  • Then tie the ends together tightly, and neatly, near the bottom hole (this should be at the back of the book)

Tie the final knot at the back of the book

  • To keep it looking tidy, trim the ends with sharp scissors

Make sure your knot is tightly tied and trim the ends neatly

  • Turn over your book - well done - it's finished :)

The completed book (from front)

And here's what it looks like inside...

Inside the completed book

Alternative to sewing - the ribbon and hole punch method of fastening your book together

If you still don't fancy sewing your book up, you can simply hole punch two holes through your covers and pages (use a template so you get them in the correct positions) and fasten your book through with a pretty ribbon

Here's one I did earlier....

Alternative to sewing - hole punch and ribbon

Whichever method you choose of making your book, you will have a special hand-made and treasured item to keep for years, or to make a thoughtful present of to someone you love...

The completed book

If you would like to make your own handmade book, take a look at what you will need right below...

If you make a book, please do pop back and let me know how it went and if the tips were useful, and if there's anything you would like to add - or send me a piccie of your lovely book to share.

Equipment and materials you will need

These are the equipment and materials I used to create the books above. Feel free to follow the tutorial, using your own materials, should you wish, and experiment and make different sizes.

  • Boards to make the front and back covers - you will need fairly sturdy card so it doesn't bend --- I used this A5 size board

  • Paper for the inside of your book - choose nice quality so that it fits with the hand-made book, and go for lined/unlined depending on if you want to use your book to write or draw in -- I used this A5 paper which fitted perfectly with the board size for minimum trimming - I used about 20 sheets in mine, but you can make your book with as many pages as you want

  • Something to make the decorative cover for front and back covers (outside and inside) - I chose to make mine with my own design woven peel-and-stick wallpaper in two complementary designs I created especially for the book. The woven fabric paper is flexible enough to bend nicely over the corners of your book, and makes a good hinge, too, it sticks nicely (minimum need for messy glue) and is also re-positionable (less chance of messing it up!). I used two wallpaper swatches to make this book - one of each color (and I had a little left over that I will be able to use for another project).

For the covers 

Peachy Physalis for Bookbinding

Click here for more details or to buy

For the inside of the covers 

Pale Physalis for Bookbinding

Click here for more details or to buy

  • Bookbinding tools - relatively inexpensive and worth getting as you can use them over again - awl, needles, linen thread, bone folder - this is the most similar to the one I bought

 You will also need:

  • cutting mat

  • craft knife

  • craft glue and glue spreader

  • some thin card-making card (same size as your book)

  • scissors

  • metal rule (or other hard, straight surface to cut against) or craft guillotine

  • pencil

  • tape measure/ruler

If you want to use the items I talk about above for your project, please come back and use the links on this page to buy.

I will receive a small commission from Amazon for recommending these items.

Please be assured the price you pay will be the same, and these items are chosen solely because they are the items (or as close as possible to) that I have bought myself for my own projects and I have not otherwise been paid or offered any incentive to promote these items.

The small commission I receive helps my site and business to continue, and allows me to offer this free tutorial on the site.

More Resources

I have more ideas for how to make a sketchbook at home, here… and ideas for how to use your sketchbook here…

And lots of tips and techniques for learning how to draw here…

You could get started with my FREE 5-Day Start Drawing Challenge here - it’s fun, creative, and sketchy… or simply sign up below…