Tutorial: Bag Journal for Looseleaf Pages

Yesterday, I posted a tutorial for a box for your loose-leaf journal pages. Today, your journal is going to be made from a paper handle bag–the kind that better stores use. This tutorial will use two different bag, but the style is the same.

Book2Here is a photo of the outside of the completed journal. Below is the first steps, using a different kind of bag.

Bag1Start by looking at the size of the bag. There are two ways to approach the bag journal. First, you can measure and cut all of our pages ahead of time. I did that with this one. Second, you can use this method to bind a variety of page sizes as long as two sheets (four pages) are the full size of the journal.

The first step is to fold the bag flat, so the bottom portion is flat against the sides of the bag.

Bag2Next, crease the bottom of the bag, along the center of the bottom. This will become the spine of the book. If the bag has paper handles, trim them off carefully. If the bag has ribbon handles, detach them.

Bag3Cut along the sides of the bag, top to bottom, in the center crease, as shown. Cut down both sides of the bag.

Bag4(Now I’m switching bags). Fold open the bag, making sure you fold the edges down neatly.

bag5You will now have the journal cover. The center spine will be a mountain fold that faces you. Strengthen the inside of the bag (now the front and back covers) with a layer of decorative paper.

This is the time to measure the bag for page size. Measuring before this stage allows too much stage for error (at least for me). Wait until the bag is fully cut, trimmed and the cover is complete. The mountain fold allows you to place a signature on each side. It also allows for pages with a lot of inclusions and attachments, if you like that style.

bag6Fold the pages so that like-size pages all are folded down the middle. Pages that aren’t the same size can be folded with a stub (one side shorter) or down the middle. In either case, line up all the creases, and nest the pages together in the order you like.

bag7Flip through the pages to make sure you have them all oriented correctly and in the right sequence. (I mess this up frequently. This is a good time to fix it.)

Open up the signature (group of nested pages) you plan on stitching into the back of the journal (right side of mountain fold). This will be a 5-stitch pamphlet. Mark five dots in the crease: one in the center (top to bottom) of the page. This is #3. The ones above and below the center mark (#2 and #4) should be the same distance from the center. Marks #1 and #5 (the top and bottom of page) should be the same distance from the mark nearest to them.

PamphletBindingUse an awl to make holes in the pages and cover at the same time.  Measure a length of 4-ply waxed linen twice the height of the book. The above diagram is taken from Design Sponge, which has an excellent 5-hole pamphlet stitch tutorial.

In the first signature, I put the knot on the inside of the pages.

bag9Repeat the same stitching for the other signature. This time, I made the knot on the outside, and tied the signature stitching together. This keeps the center fold from opening.

bag8Glue the ties to the inside of the book, allowing them to dry completely before continuing.

bag10Cut the ties in half, and repeat the gluing process on the other side. Tie a square knot to hold the journal closed.

Book1A look inside the completed journal. There is no writing because this is a sample for the tutorial.

Book3Another inside spread, showing the center of the book. The spine looks like a stub page, part of the charm of shopping bag journals.

I love making different journals with different bags. Some bags have colorful lining already in them. Others have cut-out handles, and some elegant black bags can be changed with bright ribbons. You can also paint or stencil the bags, but I like using bags with writing or logos on them and leaving them recognizable as recycled shopping bags.

Quinn McDonald is an art journaler and creativity coach. She is teaching journal-making classes at the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts (April, 2014) and at Madeline Island School of the Arts (June, 2014).

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4 thoughts on “Tutorial: Bag Journal for Looseleaf Pages

  1. Timely blog today. My grandson is planning a gardening journal for his boy scout merit badge. We need something kind of earthy and prefer to re-purpose and recycle. This is perfect. We’ll use a simple grocery bag without the handle, I think. We will probably cut our pages from brown bags too. Then we’ll add pictures and write on another paper with lines and glue them in. It may end up at the county fair too!

    • There are many papers you can recycle wonderfully for a bag project. Even plastic bags can be cut open and sewn together in layers. As a final layer, the paper you write on can be stitched on top. Envelopes often have interesting security patterns on the inside, so both sides can be used once cut open. I hope he has a lot of fun with this project!

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