Covering a sketchbook or journal

I have a big stationery habit! It started at school in the ’80s a time when scented erasers, funky pens and doodled-all over school books were the norm. I’ve never grown out of it ans still get excited when I pass a new, shiny stationery display. Over the course of the last couple of years stationery is getting trendy again, and with the rise in journalling (another anti-digital, analogue hobby) there are a lot of beautiful-to-use things out there.

I love to spruce up a fairly ordinary sketchbook, diary or journal to put my own additional creative stamp on them. I thought I’d share how I do this, as you might want to try.

Here are my instructions on how to cover a book and what you’ll need to make something really personal to you.

And, if you’re feeling extra creative you can even cover your book in paper you’ve printed, drawn on, photocopied or decoupaged yourself for an extra personal touch or use fabric rather than paper for a very tactile and unique cover.

In this example below I’m using a two very plain journals/sketchbooks one with rounded corners and a thick spine, and one with square corners and a stapled cover. This is so I can demonstrate the little differences in the covering techniques needed and so you can adjust your requirements for your own books accordingly.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Covering a favourite book or journal can protect and provide a repair for damaged covers too. If you have a book that is ripped for instance, repair the rip as best you can first (I’d suggest a strong fabric-backed tape) and then cover it as per the instructions below.

I’ve also got some examples below of journals and sketchbooks that I’ve already been using (or have filled up!) just to illustrate a few different coverings – see the images at the bottom of the article.

In my next craft article I’ll show you how to add on an elastic fastening to any journal-style book for a final touch.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes

  • You can cover a sketchbook, book, journal, diary etc that you want, but I’ll just refer to sketchbook here for simplicity
  • It doesn’t matter what size sketchbook you’re using, you’ll just need to size your paper or fabric accordingly
  • Spray mount is a bit smelly and not to be breathed in if at all possible. There’s not a viable alternative for this (glue wets the paper too much and you get a lot of wrinkles and tears and tape just doesn’t fit the bill – I have tried). So, spray the glue on somewhere very well ventilated or even go outside for this bit
  • Make sure your work surface is flat and clean – you don’t want any marks in your work (apart from ‘A+’!)
  • There are two main types of spine to consider – which will affect the way the cover is applied around the spine and I’ll cover the two different ways to get round these in the instructions
    • books with thick spines – these have a lot of signatures (folded pages), which have been stitched and/or then glued together in groups and a hard spine protecting the stitching. These stitched (and sometimes glued) signatures are now often stuck straight to the spine (a modern cheaper method), or they have a gap because of the full, traditional and skilled bookbinding technique. (If you want to know more about bookbinding and its terms, a good references is this City & Guilds course PDF from Shepherd’s Bookbinders website).
    • slim books, where one group of signatures is stitched or staple straight onto a card cover

Materials that can be used include:

  • Wrapping paper (as long as it feels fairly heavy duty – thin wrap won’t last)
  • Art, watercolour or handmade papers
  • Plain paper that you’ve painted, drawn or printed on yourself (though I would recommend nothing lower than about 90gsm)
  • Non-sticky thin plastics
  • Oilcloth/waterproof fabrics
  • Sticky-backed vinyl*
  • Cotton or cotton rich dressmaking fabric (note that: stretchy, knitted or thin fabrics make terrible coverings)
  • Clear protective film, this sticky-backed stuff is great for protecting and strengthening flimsy books (or to protect repairs). You can cover any book/journal with it on its own: of course, you won’t get a new look but you can also cover your book/journal first with a paper or fabric and then use this as a ‘second coat’ for added protection

*You can complete this whole process with sticky-backed vinyl. Of course, you won’t need to use spray mount glue. Only peel off the backing just before you are ready to press the cover on to the sketchbook

Equipment

  • Your sketchbook, journal, diary or any book that you want to cover
  • Soft pencil (for example a 2B)
  • Paper or fabric for covering
  • Large straight edge
  • Cutting mat or board – something that you don’t mind getting stretched and cut
  • Sharp craft knife or Stanley knife
  • Sharp scissors
  • Spray mount aerosol can
  • A bone or plastic folding tool, otherwise you can use the rounded-end of a table knife, a lollystick, or something similar
  • Additionally, you may want some pretty tape for an extra-neat finish, such as masking tape or washi tape
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Method

Note on cover pattern/image alignment:

If you have a image or patterned cover material, you will want to select the area you are going to use carefully.

For geometric or repeating patterns, be very careful to ensure any straight lines are parallel with the edges of the sketchbook (or, alternatively at a distinctive angle). Any slightly-off straight lines will be really annoying every time you pick up your sketchbook.

Though a large or abstract pattern doesn’t need aligning to the edge, you may want to ensure a specific part of the image is showing in the front of the sketchbook, the back or even along the spine.

A tip is to use the aesthetically pleasing rule of thirds. The centre of the image should be about a third of the cover height down from the top edge of the sketchbook, and aligned centrally: (as in this sketch).

placement of image on front cover

Preparing the cover paper

Double check that you have any pattern or image aligned as you want by placing the book on the patterned side of the paper – remember to cut out a piece larger than the WHOLE sketchbook (not just one side of it). If possible, open the sketchbook out fully or wrap the paper round the book

Make sure the design of the paper fits your sketchbook where you want it to, by aligning the pattern/design carefully before you cut
  1. In order to make it easier to handle, cut out an oversized piece of paper first, before cutting it down to its correct size for your sketchbook
  2. You can now draw the precise line you’re going to actually cut. The distance from the sketchbook outline to the cutting line depends on the size of your sketchbook, I would suggest:

For A5 and smaller sizes, leave a 2 cm margin

For A4-ish sizes, leave a 2.5 cm margin

For Foolscap/A3, leave a 3 cm margin

The reasons behind these margin sizes are mostly aesthetic (too small looks cheap and too large looks clumsy) but also because it’s best to make the margins large enough so they do not rub and unglue too easily

  1. Mark out the required distance from one edge with three separate measurements (three marks ensure accuracy)
  2. Draw a ruled line through all three marks
  3. Repeat on the other three edges, till you have an outer box drawn round the smaller inner sketchbook ‘silhouette’
  4. Cut out along this line

Preparing the corners

There are two ways to manage the corners, one for a square cut book or a rounded corner one:

For square cut books

  1. Taking one corner at a time, mark one 1mm* down from the corner on both sides
  2. Make a perpendicular cut from these points
  3. Cut the square of paper neatly off the corner.
  4. Repeat for all four corners, so you have removed square of paper from each and are left with a fat cross shape of paper

*(If your book is very thick, measure the card depth, for example 3mm and use this measurement instead)

Square corner preparation

For rounded corner books

  1. Round off each corner of the paper with scissors
  2. Locate a point on the sketchbook silhouette where a straight side turns into the rounded corner. Mark where this occurs on the paper
  3. Repeat this for all eight points where this happens (two for each corner)
  4. Make a perpendicular cut from these points, so you have four straight flaps of paper and four corner wedges
  5. In each corner wedge of paper, make two evenly spaced cuts to divide this wedge into thirds (three tiny wedges)
Rounded corners – and you can see the three ‘wedge’ shaped cuts (you can also see the cuts for the spine in the top of the picture)

Preparing for the spine

Rigid spines

  1. If your sketchbook has a rigid, thick spine you will need to make two cuts at the top and bottom of where the spine goes, creating two little flaps.
  2. Take a look at the spine: when you open the pages up, does the spine have a gap between the cover and the paper, or is it completely glued down?
  3. If your spine has a gap, you can neatly tuck down the flap into this gap, if not, the best we can do is fold it over the edge and cut off the excess

Stapled ‘spine’

  1. Thin sketchbooks, with few leaves are often simply stapled in to a card cover (think school exercise book). They’re not really enough to call it a spine. These are exceptionally easy to cover
  2. If your sketchbook is stapled to the internal pages in this manner, you can go straight to gluing 👉

Final cuts and gluing

  1. Now, spray the reverse side of the paper with the spray mount glue, following the instructions on the can. Make sure it’s a well ventilated area
  2. Using your original outline markings and the cut marks, position the spine of the sketchbook on the paper
  3. Pushing down slightly as you do this (to anchor the paper to the spine and create tension) ‘roll’ one side of the sketchbook onto the paper
  1. Lift up the sketchbook and smooth out the paper from the spine towards the long edge with your hand
  2. Place the sketchbook back on the table on its spine and now roll and press down the other side of the sketchbook onto the paper
  3. Check that it’s all aligned correctly. As you’ve used spray mount, there is some wiggle room to move the paper about if it has misaligned at all
  1. Press down all over the sketchbook to firm the paper down and press out any air bubbles (being careful not to press the overhanging paper edges together!)
  2. Pay particular attention to the creases of the spine (if your sketchbook has a thick spine), run the bone folding tools (or the blunt, rounded end of a pencil or a handle of a dinner knife etc) down the two spine creases to help secure the paper to these indentations
  3. Open the sketchbook up and fold over the corner pieces first (rounded corner books only)
  1. Fold over the sides and top pieces and press in place, if you have a stapled cover you should be able to gently bend over the internal pages and fold the cover down across the top and bottom of the sketchbook.
How the cover and the signatures (stitched pages) in a simple stapled sketchbook can be bent slightly so that you can easily fold over the new cover

If you have a stapled sketchbook this is now complete (apart from the finishing touches, below)

The inside of a square cut sketchbook, which has also been finished with washi tape
  1. If you have a sketchbook with a spine, you need to fold over the last piece of paper in one of two ways:
  1. For books with spines that have a gap: fold over each spine flap and using a bonefolder, a lolly stick or other thin, blunt item press the cover flap onto the back of the spine to adhere the glue (you won’t be able to get your finger in)
A sketchbook with a fabric cover – this sketchbook has been badly ripped and included a repair. The choice of fabric (rather than paper) also helps with strengthening the cover. This is a fully stitched spine which has a gap between the cover and the glued signatures – the flap of fabric is tucked into the gap and pressed in so it adheres to the back of the spine
  1. For books with spines that are glued in: after folding over the main pieces of paper on the inner covers, you’ll be left with a simple flap. Close the sketchbook and slice off this flap with a very sharp blade.
  2. You can get the neatest, straightest cut by laying the blade on the end of the book and slicing (being careful not to cut into the pages themselves.
  3. Smooth over the edge you’ve just cut with a finger to help it stick down fully
Simple glued spine (without gap) – the flap of paper is simply sliced off level with the edge of the sketchbook

If you have a sketchbook with a spine this is now complete, apart from the last finishing touches mentioned below

The final covered round-cornered sketchbook, with ‘Sheriff J Robot’ placed to the rule of thirds
The final covered little square cut sketchbook – I’ve been careful to keep the ‘lines’ of the images parallel/perpendicular to the edges of the book
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Finishing touches

Run the lollypop stick (or a bone or wood edger if you have one – or the back of your fingernail at a push) lightly round every edge of the book to ensure adherence and a crisp edge. This is especially important along any rounded corners to smooth out the corner cuts and make them less obvious

You can tape over the raw edges of the new cover (on the inner casing) with a pretty tape

You can also cut out two rectangles of your cover paper to fit the inside covers, using spray mount to fix them in

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

I hope you’ve enjoyed covering your sketchbook/journal and the instructions were clear and comprehensive. I’d be grateful if you would leave a like and/or a comment if you’ve found this article useful

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

2 Comments

  1. Brilliant clear instructions. Kind of reminded me of covering our books for school, except yours are a lot more beautiful! Wonderful tutorial xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Corinna, thank you for your lovely comment. Yes, I used to do that too – in rubbishy wallpaper! It was the thing to do then wasn’t it? There are so many beautiful papers now it’s time to revisit doing this – and thank you for letting me know you think the instructions are clear: I really appreciate the feedback 💚💚💚

      Like

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