Sunday, August 24, 2014

Traveler's Notebook DIY How-To.

So... I have been trying to keep a more regular schedule in writing, and of course one of the things that has really helped me in that is keeping a notebook with me as often as possible. Right?

A bit of background. Feel free to skip to the pictures down below.

For a long while, I carried Moleskine. But I have steadily grown irritated with them and their hype > quality stance. They have become a non-starter for several reasons. Anyone remotely familiar with the "notebook world" will no doubt be familiar with this issue. There are many alternatives available of course- Leuchturm1917, Rhodia, Piccadilly, etc, with varying degrees of quality and fountain pen-friendly paper.

As I wandered through various other options, I became less enamored with the little black book format. Maybe I am being a bit cynical, but it just started to feel pretentious. That's as much my own issues coming out as it is an actual problem with little black notebooks, but this distaste lead me to other things.

Fast forward a bit, the 3.5x5.5 format has really grown in popularity, and there are cover options all over the place. But the style that really stood out to me was the Traveler's Notebook, made famous of course by Midori. They were tricky to get for a while, and even as they became more accessible, I could not force myself to bite on their asking price. Combined with their slightly non-standard notebook size, they remained admired from afar.

The internet being the wonderful place that it is, there are DIY's all around for getting the function without so much of the cost.

The couple that got me started are:


Ran a few tests. First version. Second Version. Third Version.

By the third one there, I was starting to get a feel for what I wanted, and it started to get a lot faster. There are of course some significant differences between mine and the Midoris. Whereas a Midori has the two loops down the center of the spine, I chose to have four loops straddling the centerline. This has some advantages and some drawbacks. It makes swapping notebooks a much simpler process, but it can have a slightly less clean look if not done carefully. The Midori also uses a tin clip to terminate the cord. I chose to simply tie it off, leaving the ends long enough to serve as the place markers. This to me imparts a couple of advantages over the Midori- There is no bump in the spine when on a flat surface, the clip will never need to be replaced, replacing the cord is simpler, and I get two place markers out of the gate.

Well, someone expressed interest in a how-to of my process, so here we are. Hopefully it's useful or at least mildly interesting. If you have any questions, comments, insults, etc, please feel free.


This demonstration is for a standard sized Traveler's Notebook. At the end, I have a couple shots of my most recent pocket sized version.

Ok, first. A bit of leather. This specimen I got off of Amazon. About 6oz, pre-finished.

Ok, shot of all the bits. We have a scrap of wood, some elastic cord of various colors, the leather, a cutting device, a straight edge, and a pencil.

Sizing up for the notebooks to be used. This is the Banditapple Handy, in Forest Green, grid print. To get the proper width on the leather, you obviously have to make allowance for the thickness of the books. I left about a 1/4 inch on the outside edge, and another 1/4 inch on the inside edge of each (creating a 1/2 inch space over the center line).

This is a nail. The tip has been cut off with pliers. This creates a sharp, straight edge perpendicular to the driving direction of the nail. This was my solution to not wanting to buy a punch, but wanting better holes than are had with just a plain nail. It ends up making much cleaner punches, and was free.

Ok, making some cuts.

 Now that I have the center line, we measure to double check, and mark out where to put the holes. For the stringing system I use, there are four holes at the top and bottom. Fire away.

Here you can see the outside of the holes after being cleaned up a bit. (Sorry for the phone pic quality on these. My camera was MIA during this...) I have found that using the nail, I get a really clean hole from hammering through one side, then back through the other to round it out. I may eventually get a punch, but I am not overly concerned, based on results so far.

Ok, now we have a bunch of holes here. Ready for some elastic cording.

The type I got is available from many web stores. I got these spools from the local JoAnn Fabrics however. On the package, it is called "Thick Elastic Cord". For the four loops plus extra for the place markers, you will need six passes. To roughly measure out the length, I just start on one end of the cover, leaving enough for the first place marker there. Then, wrap it around the spine six times. This will bring you back down to end up right next to the first place marker. Leave another bit of extra on this end, and cut it to match. Of course, this being elastic cord, you will end up trimming a bit more at the end of the construction. We'll get to that.

To start the the threading, insert from outside on the center holes at the top of the book.

Then, drop down, thread inside to out on the center holes at the bottom:

 Ok, here thread each side outside to in, on each side at the bottom. This will leave you with each end inside the book.(In this picture, the book is upside down, top edge closest to camera.)

Send 'em up top, thread inside to out up there, and  you end up with this:

Now, to get your place markers on the inside of the book where they make sense, they have to be threaded back through those first two holes. Mr. Mechanical Pencil helps here without damaging the cord. Lead retracted works best.

Now we have some long bits on the inside. Almost there.

You don't want a floppy notebook stack, so you will need some tension in those cords. Start with tightening the first two in the center, pulling up on the outside two from the bottom edge of the cover. When those are taught, pull some tension into the place marker ends to tighten up the outside loops as well.

A good amount of tension in my experience is enough that the cords will keep the cover buckled if you help it up, but not so much that they buckle it without assistance. That tends to lead to odd folding of the spine section of the leather when there are books in it.

The right tension will also allow the cover to stay flat, but will still look "tight". 

Now, tie that bad boy off:

Test out the tension here; make sure the book is secure, but not so tight to buckle the pages.

For the closure strap, this time I picked a contrasting but not "loud" color. In several later models, I chose the blue. Whatever.

For placement of these holes, I mark a center X by ruling from each opposite corner of the back to the other. Thread it through the back holes, putting a good amount of tension in this one. Leave enough stretch to get it back over the book to open, but this one needs to be rather tight to hold the book fully closed.

Tie it off, fuse the ends with a lighter, and here we are:

Sitting under a utility-book size version, my wallet, and with my pen bag:

Now, a later utility size I did has some improvements. I started with a more well-finished piece of leather which was raw in color. I dyed it with a dark brown matte finish, and did a bit of hand buffing with a soft cloth. One thing that was much better about this approach is that the higher quality leather took a much nicer cut. Dyeing after it was cut also covered the edges, which was really nice. This nicer leather also took an edge finish with only a little bit of hand buffing, whereas the type in the photos above had to be edged with wax and cheating with a rotary tool. (Which hadn't been done at the time of the photos of course.) Anyway, here's the nicer leather. This one is currently my main notebook, and is with me nearly always:

I currently have two Banditapple PeeWee books, a Miro Utility book, and a craft folder I made from some card stock. Note the blue closure strap. Woo.

As I said earlier, questions, comments, insults, purchase orders (sorry, had to), all welcome.