Sunday, December 23, 2012

Leather or not you like it... DIY Journal Tutorial

Today, a dream came true. Some dream of beaches, castles, zombies (my husband and his sister), etc. I dream of working up the courage and imagination to create my own leather journals.

Note: You can make these without any special tools at all. Any part-time crafter like me can pull 'em together.

Thanks to an extra long weekend, the darker, more mysterious back ways of Hobby Lobby, and dismantling a crafter's block, you get to see my dream unfold.

This will be a long tutorial, but the length belies the simplicity of the project.

  • Leather scraps (Found ridiculously cheap bags of scraps for $2 to $6 at Hobby Lobby--in the most distant corner of the store--use a 40% coupon for even better price)
  • Paper (cut it to whatever size you want. I don't have any pics for this, because we learned our cutting skills in kindergarten)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Leather strips: mine came from the jewelry section of Hobby Lobby (for making necklaces) I do NOT like it for this purpose (I'll show you how to create your own further down)
  • Hobby Knife
  • Scissors
  • Water
  • Sturdy (STURDY) needle
  • Optional: Burt's Bees lip balm
  • Optional: Buttons
  • Optional: Stamps and Ink (Stayzon)
Step 1:
Prepare your paper. I cut in half some linen paper from an old journal I never used. Then I folded that in half and put six sheets together. Measure out where you want your embroidery floss to go through, and use a needle to punch your holes.

Fold. Draw. Punch. Repeat (x3).
Step 2:
Draw a template on  your leather using the size of your paper as a guide. I leave about 1/4 inch excess around the pages. Leave a couple inches excess on one side to become the flap.

Step 3:
Wet your leather. Whaaat?? Seriously. This helps in the following ways:
  1. Since I work with scraps, wrinkles abound. The water helps to flatten the wrinkles, and with really stiff leather, allows you to create some permanent bends.
  2. OMG, cutting wet leather is a breeze compared to dry. Creates a much cleaner edge, and you'll have fewer pass-throughs if you're using a hobby knife.
Give it a few minutes to soak in. Just damp. Not soaked.
I spray with spray bottle, rub the water around, and soak up any standing water with a paper towel.

The black journal is made of stiffer leather. So, after I cut it out, I dampened where I wanted my creases to go, then folded it over to dry for a little while. I didn't put any pressure on the crease. You want it to be gently rounded, not sharply folded. The moisture helps the leather maintain shape of an actual notebook. 

Step 4:

Step 5:
Lay out your journal with the pages in between. You'll see I was debating between two different thread colors.

Once you have the pages lined up the way you'd like, use holes in your pages as guides to punch holes in your leather. It's a bit tricky here, because it helps to have damp leather, but not so wet it warps the pages.

After a couple of different trials, I decided it's easiest to pre-punch all six holes into the leather. They end up a couple of millimeters apart. You'll see the outcome of this in the pictures in the next step.

Step 6 (optional):
Bees Wax your thread. It pulls through your paper smoother, with less tearing. Shameful innovator confession: I used Burt's Bees lip balm.

Draw string between your thumb and the balm. My journals all smell minty now.
Step 7:
Now we start constructing. Using all your "pre-drilled" holes, sew your pages to the leather backing.

In this journal I passed my thread through 3 times. This is total overkill. Twice through is less bulky and every bit as secure. See in the final picture how your thread lines up on the outside?

Step 7: 
Choices. Choices. Choices. So many different flap variations.

Envelope-ish flap. 
I folded some scrap paper in half, drew my design, and cut.

Even more important for your leather to be damp when you cut on a curve. I used scissors for this. They need to be SHARP.
To create a hole, use a leather punch if you have one. Be sure to center your hole, and keep it far enough from the edge to not compromise the strength of the flap.

 If no leather puncher, cut a slit with your hobby knife.

Knot about 18 inches worth of leather strip at one end, and pull through your hole.

You'll have this:

Button flap:
Sew a button on. Just like every other step--this is easier if you damp your leather, and pre-punch your holes.
I cut three lengths of thread, about 3 feet long, found the mid-point, and wrapped it around the button. Create pairs of thread and start braiding. Knot at end.

Spiral Leather Stripping:
Draw and cut a circle of leather. I used a contrasting color. It will receive some tension, so be sure it's strong. The ruler will show you a rough diameter. This created a strip about 18 inches long.

Cut a slit in your journal just under 1/4 inch. This was difficult. You'll have to widen the slit a bit, but because I left mine exposed, I really took my time to make it look nice.
To get my strip through the tiny hole, I wrapped the end in tape. Please avoid this if possible. It didn't make my tip sturdier, and easier to get through the hole, but it also pulled pieces off when I removed it.

See how leaving the round at the end of the spiral creates a natural stopping point? I didn't have to use glue this way.

Further Option:
Stamp your leather with permanent ink. I carved the stamps I used here. You can find a stamp carving tutorial here. I use Stazon permanent ink.

Tada! Hope you find this as fulfilling as I did. Fun to make. Easy to personalize. Might even have to start selling some. Let me know how it goes for you. I'm still new to this tutorial thing, so I don't know how many steps I missed!


I'll be linking at these lovely sites:







  1. Very cute & so much easier then it seems?!
    Thanks for sharing(;

  2. Thanks! It really was so simple. I timed the last one I made, and it clocked in at 45 minutes (minus time for cutting the papers).

    I'm a part-time crafter, so my projects are born of a blend of curiosity, balanced with a dash of laziness, and whatever I have on hand. The whole thing is possible with just basic crafting supplies.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Just love these and such a great tutorial! Thanks Chesha. :0)