I made my own notebook! Book binding workshop review

It’s not unusual to find me gushing about notebooks. But when the notebook has been made by my own fair hand, it stands to reason I’m going to be extra excited.

My handmade notebook

Yep, I made this

The little pamphlet you see here is the result of a book binding taster session I went to last Friday at London’s City Lit. It took just over an hour to pull it all together. And a large chunk of that was spent choosing the papers.

The five-hole stitching – I did that.  Cutting the paper to size – I did that, albeit badly. The fancy folding thing with the cover…well you get the picture. I’ve got a long way to go of course, but am much-encouraged by my first foray into notebook making.

A taste of book binding

The class began with paper selection. I was torn between feathers and ferns for the cover, but went with the latter because it reminded me of a gorgeous planner I’d seen by Day Designer. Next came the selection of the end papers. I briefly thought about orange, but decided on the blue because of its strength.

Our kind, and very patient tutor, Nesta, then gave us a brief run down of the tools on our work benches. We talked about the difference in production value between books made commercially and those made by hand. And how a well- bound book should look like a bird in flight when opened out.

Book binding tools

Next, grain direction. It’s a concept I simply cannot get my head round when it comes to fabric so no surprises that I failed to identify it on cartridge paper. I know to look for the bounce when it’s folded now though. You can try it too,  just fold a piece of paper in half and the edge that folds easiest, with the best bounce, is going with the grain. I think!

Folding, lots of folding

Once correctly folded, we had to cut our sheet down. The folding and cutting was strangely meditative, especially smoothing the folds with the bone folder. My cutter was a little rusty so the edges of my first sheet were a little jagged, but I think it lends the finished notebook a rustic charm – at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Paper trimmed and folded to its finished size, we then nestled it in the end papers and gave a final trim. The whole was folded into the fancy decorative paper before the holes for the stitching were made. I chose a contrasting orange thread. Nesta explained that it was linen that she had dyed by hand.

Five-hole stitching with hand-dyed linen thread

The stitching was relatively straight-forward, mainly because we were closely supervised and then it remained to tuck the outer sheet of cartridge paper into the folded cover and we were all finished.

My book binding next steps

I stayed a little while after the class to find out where I could buy a starter kit. Nesta recommended Hewit’s and Shepherds, so no doubt I’ll be making a trip to Victoria soon to pick up some supplies.

A few days on, I’ve been pinning all sorts of book binding related things on my notebook making board. And have determined that when I grow up I want to be a book binder.

My workstation at the end of the book binding taster session

Now I’ve been through the process once, I believe I could do it again. But to help reinforce what I’ve learnt, I’ve signed up to a second full-day session in October, which will focus on hard-cover binding. Again it will be run by Nesta at City Lit. I’d always thought of book binding as relatively niche but City Lit do all sorts of classes. I’d love to do the ten-part course that kicks off in May next year, but I’ll have to save up for that one.

In the meantime, I just need to decide exactly how to fill my notebook. As you’ll see, I’ve got more than a few ideas!

Ever bound your own notebook? I’d love to see your pictures in the comments.







The Lovely Drawer Workshop Review

Personalised notebooks are the best kind of notebooks – even more so when you personalise them yourself. That’s why I signed up to a brush lettering workshop with The Lovely Drawer’s Teri Muncey last week. Full of plans for creating a whole host of typography-led notebook covers with this newly-learnt skill, I headed down to Tottenham Court Road on Thursday at 6.30pm. As you can tell from the photo, I didn’t unearth any latent talent, but this didn’t stop it from being lots of fun.

Another workshop. Really?

If you’re anything like me, and it’s fairly likely you are if you’ve found your way to this site, creative classes are your ‘thing’.  You rock up to one roughly once a month or so, have a fabulous time learning something new, go out and buy all the kit in a rush of enthusiasm, and then put it away and promptly forget it. For this reason, though you’ve been seduced by brush lettering videos on YouTube and Insta, you’ve hesitated about signing up to a brush lettering workshop.

Good on you. You haven’t dived in, you’ve learnt from the past. But you know in your heart of hearts you’ll end up at a brush lettering workshop anyway. Probably fairly soon. And I’m here to tell you that that’s ok. What’s more I’ve put together a handy self-justification hack to combat the inner voice that says ‘no I couldn’t possibly’ when you spot a tweet saying there’s still space available at Teri’s next class. Hopefully, this will save you some time spent procrastinating.

Reading this post + booking a brush lettering workshop = being productive. Boom.

You’re thinking…

“But I’ve already learnt modern calligraphy…”

…Yes of course you have. I’m guessing at Quill London, like I did! But brush lettering is very different. It’s altogether more playful and less structured. Letter formation is non-prescriptive and of course this means more freedom and more license to develop your own style.

“I really shouldn’t spend any more money in Cass Arts and/or Hobbycraft…”

…This is true, but of all the various crafts you might have taken up, this will probably be one of the cheapest. All you need is ink (we got a 14ml pot to take away at the workshop), a fine tipped brush and printer paper to practice on. For your finished piece, you’ll want a heavier paper stock, but I’m guessing you’ve got a fair few card blanks laying around already.

“But I haven’t finished that felting/embroidery/book-binding kit* I bought…”

…You’ll finish it eventually. You could even finish the kit and then book the workshop in recognition of your achievement. It’s all too easy, but try not to beat yourself up too much for not finishing stuff you started. It’s about the journey not the destination, remember.

*delete as appropriate

“I could probably teach myself by watching YouTube…”

…Maybe so, but you can’t beat a class environment for overcoming any challenges with technique or getting your questions answered. Teri advised on types of brush, ideal paper weight and types of ink and was able to help me rectify an issue with how I was holding my brush.

It was great that the class was relatively small. Only ten of us, which was a bit of a squish around a single table, but meant that we were all able to get individual attention. Teri also does a VIP class with a maximum of six attendees for only a tenner extra. The dates didn’t work for me, but if small groups are more your thing, there’s one coming up at SMUG the first weekend in June.

“I’ll probably never use it…”

…There are so many ways to use brush-lettering. To pimp notebook covers like me, for wedding invitations, to design your own tattoo. The possibilities are endless. Apparently wedding stationery is the most popular. I think this would take a lot of practice though so a word of warning, give yourself lots of time to build up your skills if you’re planning to do something like this.

“It makes it a long day after work…”

I was still fighting lurgy when I went to the class, hence me being lazier than usual, but I needn’t have worried. There was hot water for tea and coffee included in the price of the workshop. I had a lovely cup of chai with lots of milk and two sugars. And forming the letters themselves was actually really relaxing once we got going. There are also alternative times and dates on the weekend.

A final word on the Lovely Drawer

There are lots of different brush lettering workshops out there, especially in and around London, and I’m sure they’re all really good. I personally chose The Lovely Drawer because I liked the things that Teri was posting and she’s got a great energy that comes across on her blog, but whichever class you end up choosing I hope you enjoy it and that this post helps you get there quicker.