Monday, 10 February 2014

DIY Travel Journal

Three journals on their maiden voyage.
Thoughts are fleeting and more often than not forgotten without being made into memories. With this in mind, I went looking for a small form factor travel journal to carry around as a substitute for a functional brain.

That's a good sentence.
Most commercial products are hideously expensive and use a paper size that locks you in to buying proprietary refills. I wanted a journal that I could easily refill with my preferred paper from an easily accessible source. The Midori Traveler is probably the best known journal out there, so I decided to make my own Fauxdori journal.

I have made four covers for the material cost of about $16 (leather: $10; elastic: $3; bling: $3) and I still have leather left over to make a few more. Add a few dollars for the paper and you can see that this is quite a thrifty DIY project.


You will need:
  • Leather, preferably vegetable tanned cowhide, 2-3mm thick;
  • Manila folder, to make a template/prototype;
    Alternative closure and pen loop colours
    (2.5mm cord elastic works better than
    5mm band elastic).
  • Thin elastic cord (hat or military elastic);
  • 2.5-3mm elastic cord for closure and pen loop;
  • Cutting tool (carton cutter) and cutting surface;
  • Leather punch (or hammer and nail);
  • Bodkin (or shodkin, see below!);
  • Bling (threadable beads, optional); and
  • Pencil, ruler, scissors.

My template and my
cut leather.
I sourced some leather scraps from a leather working shop. The three pieces shown (below) are big enough to make about six passport sized covers.
These three pieces cost $10.

The paper I wanted to use comes in 90mm x 140mm (3.5" x 5.5") so I made a template from a manila folder and tested it against my paper. After some tweaking I found a size of 155mm x 220mm (6.1" x 8.6") would be suitable.


Bring forth your cover

Round the corners (optional).
Expensive journal covers are just a
flap of leather.
The leather will have a fuzzy side and a good side (these are not the  technical terms!) Mark the template onto the fuzzy side of the leather, double-check your measurements are correct, then cut out your journal cover. Be careful not to stretch the leather as you cut or the sides of your cover won't be straight.

Also measure and mark the center line of you cover.

I rounded the corners using a small torch as a template, but you could use a button or coin or anything else rigid and circular.

 Mark the holes

Line up your notebooks
with the center line.
Now lay them flat.
I wanted to put two notebooks in my cover, so I lined them up with the center line and then let them fall down into place next to each other. A small adjustment was needed to make them square with the edges. Mark the inside corners of the notebooks (nearest the center line) onto the fuzzy side of the leather. This is where we'll punch some holes to thread our elastic through to hold the notebooks in place.

Mark an additional hole in the middle of the center line. This is where our elastic closure will sprout from.

The poor man's leather punch
I also added a hole near the top-right of the fuzzy side of the leather for a pen loop. You may want to do this after the journal is finished so you can position it where it suits your pen best.

Using a leather punch, or in my case, a hammer and a nail, punch the holes where you marked them. The picture below shows all the holes, but from the good side of the leather (so the pen loop appears on the left, not right).
All the holes punched, shown from the good
side of the leather.
Thread the elastic

Behold! The mighty shodkin!
You can use a bodkin for this, but I made a shodkin from a paperclip. I stretched it out and folded it over so the ends of the paperclip were uneven lengths. This makes it easier to thread through the holes. I also hammered down the "eye" of the shodkin to make it easier to pass through the holes in the leather. An advantage of the shodkin over a bodkin is that you can remove the shodkin from a closed loop of thread by sliding the thread down the gap between the shodkin's tines.

The length of elastic you need depends on how big your journal is. I threaded the shodkin with the whole wad of elastic and only cut it after threading the holes.

There are several variations that you can investigate for threading, but I have settled on the method below. It gives space for two notebooks as well as two bookmarks, all from one piece of elastic.

You can start with either of the holes at the top of the leather, but for clarity of instruction let's start with the top-left hole:
The bottom thread (step 3)

  1. Thread the elastic from the top-left hole on the good side through to the fuzzy side.
  2. Then thread the elastic from the fuzzy side to the good side of the bottom-left hole.
  3. Turn the leather over and thread the elastic from the good side to the fuzzy side through the bottom-right hole.
  4. Thread the elastic from the fuzzy side to the good side of the top-right hole.
  5. Your cord should look like the number 11 on the fuzzy side of the leather. You can thread a charm on to the elastic if you wish (see picture below, right).
    This charm will be near the top of the spine on the outside of the cover. I used a circular charm so I can hang the journal from a hook.
  6. Add a charm, if
    you wish (step 5)
  7. You should have two long pieces of elastic poking through the good side of the top holes.
    Thread each of these back through to the fuzzy side but in the opposite side's hole. e.g. the elastic coming out the left hole needs to be threaded through the right hole (similar to step 3, but using the top holes.) The right-side elastic should come back through the on the left-side hole.
  8. There should be two long and loose elastic cords dangling down your cover (picture below). If you are still pulling cord from the spool, you will have a loop on one side. It is okay to cut the cord at this point and put aside the spool as long as you give yourself enough leftover cord to hang a few inches below the cover (see picture below)
  9. Put some tension on the elastic so the cover bows slightly. This tension will help keep the notebooks in place (picture below).
  10. Tie an overhand knot with the dangling cord ends. This will prevent the cord slipping back through the holes and releasing the tension (picture above).
  11. (Optional) Thread some beads onto the dangling cords. These cords will be bookmarks and the beads makes it easier to use them.
    These bookmarks have been
    tweaked for length.

    At this stage just tie a knot at the end of the cords that hold the bookmark beads. You can fine-tune the exact length later when you put the notebooks in.
  12. The closure. Using another piece of elastic (I changed to 5mm (1/5") band elastic, 2.5mm cord elastic works even better), thread a loop from the fuzzy-side center hold to the good side. You should end up with a loop poking out the spine of your cover. (This is where the shodkin shines. If you are using a bodkin, you'll have to make two passes, out and back, to form the loop.)
  13. Before cutting or tying the elastic closure strap, experiment with closing the journal to figure out your desired tension. Put your notebooks in the cover first to give yourself a realistic indication. Err on the side of too tight rather than too loose. Tie an overhand knot on the inside of the leather to stop it slipping through. Make the knot loose in case you need to tweak it later. (Optional: tie a charm on the inside to prevent the closure cord from popping out if you pull it too hard.)
  14. The pen loop should be tight
    enough to just allow
    the pen to slip in.
  15. Do the same as steps 11/12 for the pen loop, except you'll be forming the loop on the fuzzy side of the leather, not the good side. Once again, err on the side of too tight rather than too loose.

Finishing off



To put your notebooks into the cover, open each notebook to the middle page (the one that has the staples) and slide it in under one of the taut cords. You should have a left-side and a right-side notebook.


Pop your pen in and check the tension of the pen loop. If you are happy, tighten the pen loop knot. The closure cord will also help keep the pen steady and in place.

Close the journal and test the tension of the closure strap. Tweak it as needed and finalise the knot.

The pen loop and closure cord are easy to replace so if you get it wrong, just redo them.

I didn't have access to colored cord but you may wish to use brighter, more personal colors to complement your journal.

Tie a small knot at the top of the bookmark beads to stop them shimmying up the cord and into your notebooks.


Trim any excess cords or flyaway leather fluff, pop your journal in your bag or pocket, and go and see the world!








1 comment:

  1. Best tutorial for a leather fauxdori I've found; thanks!

    I know that the knot on the back of the journal (for the pen loop) would bug me, so I'm going to play around with that. I think I'm going to use a small-ish two-hole button on the outside; then I can sew or tie the ends on the inside. I think that if I placed it off center (to the left), it still won't show when I close the journal and put in a pen.

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