How to Make a Hard Cover for a Junk Journal
Junk journals are handmade books that are made with a hard cover or a soft cover, just like commercially printed books. I make soft covers for my smaller books. I like to make a hard cover for a junk journal that is used for a special occasion. Wedding albums, baby books and memory books are three types of junk journals for which I make hard covers.
I always make my junk journal hard covers with chip board, Tyvek and fabric. I make them to withstand the years so people can use them and look through the pages. It gives me a sense of accomplishment knowing I hand-crafted a journal that people use and will continue to use throughout the years.
The hard cover for the junk journal I am making with this tutorial measures 10 inches by 8 ½ inches, with a 1 ½ inch spine. I chose this size because not all the pages are the same size and I do not want to fold the larger pages. You can use this same process for any size hard cover you want to make for your junk journal.
Choosing the Pages
I use a large variety of papers when I make a junk journal. I want each page to grab the reader’s attention. Sometimes I use a digital kit made for junk journals, like the one I am making now. Sometimes I choose from a collection of coffee-dyed papers, patterned paper, vintage newspaper or magazine pages and envelopes. I also like to add lined pages, vintage advertisements, and old book pages.
Signatures in a junk journal are groups of 15 to 20 pages folded in half and cut to the desired size for the handmade journal. I fold each page separately and crease the paper with a bone folder to make the fold crisp. I layer the pages in each signature as close as possible with the other signatures in the junk journal. There are three signatures in the junk journal I am making, so I need at least three sheets of each of the papers I am using. In other words, if I add a sheet of music to each signature, I need three pieces of sheet music; one for each signature.
Once I have all the pages in the order I want, I then determine the size of the hard cover I need for the junk journal. Sometimes I need to cut the pages down to the size I want, and sometimes I like the way the pages lay, so I determine the size of the hard cover journal by measuring the pages from top to bottom and from the folded side to the opposite edge. Then I add one quarter inch to each side of the signatures. So if the signatures measures 10 inches by 8 inches then I know the front and back of the hard cover for my junk journal needs to be 10 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches.
To get the measurement for the width of my spine, I lay the signatures directly on top of each other and measure the folded side from the table where they lay to the top of the upper-most signature. The one I am making with this tutorial measures 1-inch. I want the pages to lay flat so I need the signatures spaced about ¼ inch apart from each other when I sew them into the hard cover of the junk journal. I also need an additional ¼ inch on either side of the signatures so the entire junk journal lays flat when closed. Because the signatures measure 1-inch, I add 1-inch more to the piece of chip board I use for the spine. In total, my spine is 2-inches wide.
Locating Chip Board
Chip board is a hard fiber board made from compressed cardboard. There are many places to find chip board. Old game boards are made from chip board. You can use the hard covers of old books. I use quite a few book pages in my junk journals so I have a collection of chip board in various sizes from the books I have removed pages. You can find books at thrift stores, flea markets, rummage sales, even libraries when they give away their old books. Another place to find chipboard is at local dollar stores that offer a wide variety of hard-cover books for a dollar. Sometimes children’s puzzles have a frame made from chip board. If there are pieces missing, instead of throwing out the backing, use it to make a hard cover for a junk journal.
You can even make your own chip board if you glue four sides from cereal boxes together to create a very hard piece of cardboard. When you use this method, always make sure the cardboard pieces are securely glued together. Cover the entire surface of each piece of cardboard with glue and match it up to the next piece. Once you have a piece of thick cardboard that does not bend, place it under a heavy object and let it dry overnight. This is generally the cheapest way to make your own chip board.
Cut to Size
You cannot cut chipboard with a pair of scissors, no matter how tempted you are to do so. You run the risk of breaking your scissors if you do. You must use a craft knife or a utility knife when you cut chipboard for the hard cover of your junk journal. Remember the rule of “Measure Twice, Cut Once” when you cut the chip board. You need to cut three pieces of chip board to make a hard cover for a junk journal; the front, the back and the spine.
For this hard-cover junk journal, I need two pieces that measure 10 ½ inches by 8 ½ inches. I also need a piece that measures 10 ½ inches by 2 inches. This is the base of my hard cover for my junk journal.
Assembling the Chip Board
I lay the first 10 ½-inch piece of chip board flat on the work table. I lay the 2-inch piece of chip board ¼-inch away from the first piece, making sure the tops and bottoms are even. I put the last piece of chip board ¼-inch away from the spine section.
I cut a piece of Tyvek 3-inches wide and 10-inches long. The Tyvek covers the entire spine piece with about half an inch covering each side of the front and back pieces of chip board. However, the Tyvek does NOT cover the upper and lower ¼ inch of the spine. This part is left exposed and will be covered later in the process. Use a strong glue to adhere the Tyvek to the sections of chipboard. This is the inside of the hard cover for the junk journal. Allow this to dry completely.
If you do not have Tyvek, you can use a sturdy piece of upholstery fabric or very strong packaging tape to secure the chip board pieces together. I recommend applying to both, the front and back, of the chip board pieces if you use packaging tape.
Choosing the Fabric
I use fabric to cover the chip board when I make a hard cover for a junk journal. Paper tends to crack and tear with use. I like my hard-cover junk journals to last through the years. When I choose my fabric, I look for material that is not transparent. I do not want the chip board to show through the fabric. I use plain fabrics if I plan on embellishing the cover and printed fabrics if I leave the cover plain.
I avoid certain fabrics because they just do not hold up well when used when making a hard cover for a junk journal. I will not use a rayon, stretchy polyester, or really thin cotton. These types of fabric stretch and tear easily. They will not hold up over time. Another problem with these types of fabric is the glue used to adhere them to the chip board bleeds through and stains the hard cover of the junk journal.
Another fabric to avoid when you make a hard cover for a junk journal is upholstery fabric. You want clean, sharp corners on your cover. Upholstery fabric is too thick and will add excess bulk at the corners, making them look sloppy.
If you want to test your fabric, glue a 4-inch by 4-inch swatch to a 3 ½-inch by 3 ½-inch piece of chip board. Glue the overhang to the back of the chip board square and leave it overnight. If you are happy with the results, then use the fabric. If not, you saved yourself time and money.
I wash, dry and iron the fabric before I glue it to the chip board. This removes the sizing in the material and gives me a crisp, clean piece of fabric to use for the cover. I have found that some fabric colors fade during washing. Some fabrics also fray quite a bit. I would rather they fade and fray when washed and not when they are being handled.
You need a piece of fabric that is about ½-inch larger than your chip board. For instance, if your chip board cover measures 14 inches by 9 inches, you need a piece of fabric that is 15 inches by 10 inches. This gives you a ½-inch overhang on all sides. This overhang is glued into the inside of the hard cover of the junk journal, so it will be hidden.
I like to use paper on the inside part of the hard cover when I make a junk journal. I have used fabric, and you can to if you desire. The reason I do not like to use fabric is because it can fray around the edges. I personally feel that fraying around the inside of the cover makes the journal look incomplete or sloppy. But that is my personal preference.
If I use a digital kit to make the hard cover of a junk journal, I often use pages from the kit. If I do not use a digital kit, I use coffee-dyed paper or patterned paper as the end papers. I cut three pieces of the paper that I use. The first piece measures just about a quarter of an inch wider than the Tyvek on the inside spine. This piece of paper measures the entire length of the spine. In the case of the hard-cover junk journal I am making, the spine paper measures 10 ¼-inches long and 3 ½-inches wide. There are times I will use fabric to cover the inside spine instead of paper. The choice is up to you.
The other two papers measure 10 ¼-inches long and 8 ¼-inches wide. These measurements cover the inside of the pieces of chip board, but allow about ¼-inch of the fabric to show around the edges. This also covers the edges of the spine paper as well.
Assembling the Hard Cover
- Gather the papers you want to use for the signatures in your hard-cover junk journal.
- Fold the papers, using a bone folder to create a crisp fold.
- Arrange the papers in the order you want in each signature.
- Cut the signatures with a utility knife or craft knife to the desired size.
- Measure the size of the signatures, top to bottom and side to side.
- Measure the thickness of the signatures when they are stacked on top of each other.
- Cut two pieces of chip board that measure ½ inch larger than the signatures.
- Cut a piece of chip board that measures ½ inch larger than the thickness of your signatures.
- Lay the chip board pieces out so the spine piece is in the middle.
- Cut two pieces of Tyvek or other material ½ inch shorter and ½ inch wider than the spine piece.
- Glue the Tyvek to the spine piece and the front and back pieces of the cover.
- Flip the cover over and repeat steps 10 and 11. Allow to dry completely.
- Choose which side you want as the fabric cover.
- Cut a piece of fabric about one inch larger than the chip board pieces.
- Cover the front of the chip board pieces with fabric glue and smooth it with a plastic card.
- Lay the fabric on the glue, leaving ½ inch overhang on all sides.
- Use a plastic card or brayer to smooth the fabric down and bond it with the chip board.
- Flip the cover over to the inside.
- Cut a triangle from each corner of the fabric, leaving an eighth inch gap between the chip board and the cut.
- Run a bead of fabric glue along the left and right sides of the chip board.
- Fold the fabric in and smooth it down so it bonds with the chip board.
- Cut a small triangle from the fabric where the gap is between the spine piece and the cover pieces. You will cut four triangles in total, leaving a small tab at the top and bottom of the spine.
- Glue the small tabs at the top and bottom to the chip board.
- Cut a piece of fabric or paper the height of the spine and 1-inch wider.
- Glue the fabric or paper to the spine. Allow ½ inch of the fabric or paper to overlap the front and back cover.
- Run a bead of fabric glue along the bottom edge of the inside cover.
- Fold the fabric up and slightly overlap the fabric at the corners to create a crisp, sharp fold.
- Run a bead of fabric glue along the top edge of the cover.
- Fold the fabric down and slightly overlap the fabric at the corners to create a crisp, sharp fold.
- Cover the inside right side of the cover with PVA or school glue and smooth with a plastic card.
- Place a piece of coordinating paper on the glue and position it to expose one eighth inch of the fabric along the edges, making sure that it overlaps the spine paper or fabric slightly.
- Cover the inside left side of the cover with PVA or school glue and smooth with a plastic card.
- Place the other piece of coordinating paper on the glue and position it to expose one eighth inch of the fabric along the edges, making sure that it overlaps the spine paper or fabric slightly.
- Stand the hard cover of the junk journal on one end and allow to dry completely.
Once the hard cover for the junk journal is completely dry, you can sew in the signatures. You can decorate the cover with lace or other embellishments as you desire. The process may seem long but it really isn’t. The hardest part is always making sure you don’t cut the corners of the fabric too short or you will have chipboard exposed. I generally leave about an eighth of an inch of fabric between the chip board and where I cut the fabric just to make sure the chip board is covered. If I find that there is too much fabric at the corners, I snip a little at a time until I get the desired results.
I hope this inspires you to create a hard cover for a junk journal. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments so I can answer them.