Junk Journal Tutorial

I offered some junk journal kits for the Nerd Games and wanted to provide a tutorial to go along with them. I figured I’d post it for everyone! It will be in three sections:

  • Building Your Signatures
  • Saddle Stitch Binding Tutorial
  • Ideas

Building Your Signatures
Signatures are folded stacks of paper that become the pages of your book. Signatures are stitched together separately and then attached to your cover.

I suggest finding all of the papers and embellishments you (might) want to use before beginning assembly. This will help you better size, visualize, and organize the construction of your journal.

Here’s what I’ll be using for this tutorial:

It’s usually better to have a few smaller signatures than one huge one. If you’re using a book cover, the size of the spine will play a role in how many pages you include in your journal. If you want a heaving book, you might “over stuff” a bit. If you want it to close nicely, you might “under fill” a bit to account for all of the embellishments you’ll add inside.

If you want a quick cheat to see where you’re at, I just stack all of my pages and embellishments together and sandwich them in the book cover. If it’s bulky now, it will stay bulky later unless you remove items. It’s not exact, as some of it will depend on how things are stacked and layered inside, but it is a quick starting point.

When building my signatures I think about size, orientation, level of visual/textural interest, and usability. For instance, I probably don’t want six pages of envelopes in a row (unless I do!). I probably don’t want all of my visually interesting pages in the front of the book (unless I do!). I probably don’t want a whole signature of smaller sized pages if the rest of my journal will have larger pages (unless I do!). You get the idea.

You’ll build individual signatures, and then they’ll be stacked on top of each other as you bind. Signatures are built with folded pieces of paper. That means the front page of your signature and the back page of your signature will be the same piece of paper, and when you reach the middle of your signature, you’ll be seeing the same piece of paper, stitched down the center.

It’s helpful to try to make your signatures equal in terms of thickness/number of pages. Since the cover I’m using is a bit narrower, I’m planning three signatures of 10 folded/hinged papers. I made piles of papers based on the factors I mentioned, and then began folding and assembling the signatures together.

Each stack here will become a signature:

Based on the size of my cover, I will typically fold larger pages in half, and hinge smaller pages. Hinging is just connecting two pieces of paper.

For hinging I try to choose items that are pretty close in size length wise, however, I’ve definitely hinged together some widely different sized items and it worked okay.

I typically use strong washi tape for hinging. It’s paper so it tends to be as easy as the rest of the paper to make the binding holes and stitch. A lot of it is also acid free, which is nice if you want to better preserve any of pages you’re using. Leave a small gap between the papers (so there is space to bind without ruining your papers or having it be extra thick) and wrap with washi tape.

Here I hinged two envelopes:

Washi down the middle on one side:

Then washi down the middle on the other side.

Now you have a single “sheet” of envelopes that can be folded and added to your signatures.

I organize my signatures based on visual appeal. I like to be able to see different textures layered and popping out as soon as I open it, therefore, I usually put larger pages more toward the middle of the signatures.

Once I have everything organized how I want, I trim down my pages. Sometimes I leave ones to hang out a bit from the cover, and other times I go for a cleaner look. It’s a junk journal. No rules! I’m not going for particularly neat on this one, so I just measured and trimmed the whole stack together, taking a little off each side to fit the cover.

Binding Tutorial
This tutorial uses a saddle stitch binding and requires: a measuring tape or ruler, a pencil, page signatures, kraft-tex (or alternative), an awl, waxed thread, a needle, a hardback book cover, tacky glue, and scissors (to cut your thread).

Now that the signatures are assembled, it’s time to measure. Determine the length and width of your cover AND book spine.

I like to use kraft-tex for binding. Kraft-tex is paper fabric. It’s pliable and very sturdy - perfect for binding! The signatures will be sewn to the kraft-tex, and the kraft-tex will be adhered to the cover. (You don’t have to use kraft-tex. I’ve used various types of fabric and paper, to various degrees of success. You just need something sturdy enough to hold up to binding and book use.)

Now that you’ve measured your cover, cut a piece of kraft-tex that roughly fits the length your cover. The width of the kraft-tex does not need to be the full width of your cover. I’d recommend at least two inch flaps on each side so it can properly adhere, though.

This cover is 7.5" long and 11.25" wide when open.
The spine is 7.5" long and .75" wide.

So for this cover I might use a piece of kraft-tex that is, at minimum, 7.5" long and 4.75" wide.

I used a wider piece for this one than necessary because I happened to have a sheet that was already cut to the perfect size.

To get the kraft-tex in the right shape and move to the next steps, I usually just hold the kraft-tex tightly to the spine and close the book. It naturally bends and easily takes the shape I need.

From there I draw lines on the kraft-tex spine area, equal distance apart, where the signatures will go, and then measure out the placement of the binding stitches.

I’ll use my measurements to create a “guide” for punching holes in my signatures. (I’m sure there are easier ways, this is just what I’ve found works best for me through a lot of trial and error.) To make my guide I just choose a thick piece of paper from the signature and line it up with the appropriate line on my kraft-tex. I awl through those two layers.

Then place the guide in the middle of my signature and punch holes through the rest of the stack. I use the same guide to punch the holes on the rest of the signatures and kraft-tex. Then, I’ll replace the guide to it’s proper spot in its stack before stitching. (Since the journals I make are all different lengths, there’s no standard guide to just make once and keep, and I’ve found this process easy enough.)

Sometimes I clip my pages together to keep the stacks neat while using the awl and stitching together. Sometimes I don’t!

Now that there are holes, it’s time to stitch everything together.

Use waxed thread (or something else) and sew your first signature to your kraft-tex (make sure your signatures are oriented the proper direction for how you want them in your journal!).

From the back, sew your first stitch through the middle hole. (The reason I like my tails on the backside of the kraft-tex is because I often have them poke out the top of the book and hold charms and beads. You can certainly do it in reverse though, if you want your tails as part of the inside of your journal.)

Then stitch through top hole.

Then through the bottom hole.

Then back through the middle hole.

If things went to plan, you’ll have two threads through the middle hole, on the backside of the kraft-tex. Tie off your thread tightly using a square knot.

Complete for all signatures.

Now, using your tacky glue, adhere your signature binding to your book cover. YOU WILL ONLY GLUE THE FLAPS. Do NOT glue the spine down to the cover.

Your book is assembled. You can choose to do more advanced things here, like add end papers (paper that is folded down the middle, with half glued to your inside cover and the other half serving as the first page of your book). Either way, you have a useable book, so time to decorate!


Here are some of my favorite things to do to embellish junk journals. The images are from various journals I’ve made over the years.

Spine dangle. String some beads and charms on your binding tails.

Use your sewing machine. Add decoration, make tuck flaps, secure embellishments.

jj pg85

Add washi. You can use it for anything! Decorate entire pages, edges, or secure items in place.

Collage pages and cut outs.

Use paper and fabric scraps. Offcuts, backing paper, anything!

jj pg81 - Copy

Stickers and rub ons.

Junk mail (the original!) – gesso over junk mail, leaving interesting items or colors to show through.

jj pg87 - Copy

Packaging. Makes great pages or interesting add-ins.

jj pg73

Pull out pages. Use old junk mail folios to have pages that open into more pages!

Pockets. Make pockets with paper or fabric scraps. They could be sewn, taped, or glued down.

jj pg12

Tucks. Tuck spots let you keep something in place and still easily remove it. You can sew or otherwise attach tucks in place.

Paperclips. Amazingly useful. Add a little zazz to them by tying on some old ribbon, trim, string, scrap fabric, etc. They are my favorite way to add texture. Have them pointing all directions!

Make your own.

marbled paper ed - Copy

cards1 - Copy

Stuffed envelopes.

Closure. My favorite closure is taking some old fabric scraps and making twine. Elastic works great. Glue ribbon, leather, etc. around your cover and tie it shut. Or don’t have a closure at all!

Extra notes:


Old book covers are my favorite thing to use for journal covers. They are sturdy and are usually easy to find for free or low cost. They can be decorated, embellished, and reinforced however you want. You can also use anything else that is thick enough to provide some support and structure, and hold up to whatever binding method you decide to use. Board game boards, cardboard, plastic. They even sell blank book covers if you want to go that route!


I typically do a saddle stitch for my journals, but there are lots of techniques. I’d suggest a good ol’ internet or YouTube search to see all the different bindings you can do. Coptic stitching also looks nice if you want an exposed spine.

Pages and Add-Ins

Junk mail, book pages, letters, envelopes, mailers, packaging, scraps from other projects, sheet music, maps, workbook pages, magazines, playing cards, board game components, old greeting cards, sticky notes and notepads - once you start to junk journal, you’ll see the potential in everything (and start squirreling it all away like I do! :joy: ). Thrift and dollar stores, garage sales, and ebay and etsy have all been great sources for me in the past.

Junk is the point! Use what you have around and turn it into something fun!

Hope this offered some guidance, ideas, and inspiration!


This is really comprehensive and concise with loads of examples. Love that all the “things” make sense and that you show multiple ways to use envelopes, paper clips, tags, etc.

I have all the junk and now I just need to follow along and put it all together! Thanks for this wonderful tutorial!


Wow! Those are some amazing pages! Very cool journals.

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Thanks for putting this together! I’m getting really excited for my kit :hugs:.


WOW! And whoa. What an amazingly thorough and helpful tutorial! THANK YOU so much for making it for us all!

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Thanks for the kindness! I’m so glad it might be helpful and appreciated!

so interesting!
thanks for the tutorial so we can all learn something new :slight_smile:

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You have totally demystified the junk journal! Book binding in general is complete magic to me. This is wonderful…even if I’m still not sure I could do it! :sweat_smile:

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Oh wow, thanks for the tutorial! I love this so much - I’ve been wanting to do junk journals for awhile so it’s great to have so much inspiration!

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Thanks for such a thorough tutorial! I’ve never made a junk journal before, but I think I’d like to give it a try.

What do you do with your journals after they’re finished?

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They’re very fun to make! I do a few things with them:

Actually journal in them - general or themed (like @Bunny1kenobi 's awesome quote book she posted). I’ve also used a couple as sketch/art journals, and one as a gratitude journal.

I used to use one as a swap log, where I’d track info and clip in the cool cards and notes and stuff I’d get from partners. Now that I’m swapping again, I might start another one!

Sometimes I use them to store ephemera that I pull out and use for other projects.

I also have one where I clip in all my Polaroid photos (scrapbook/photo album style).

They’ve also been well loved when I’ve given them as gifts. Some folks have used them and others have kept them on display. (One of my friends got one from my holiday gift buffet for her 8 y.o. daughter and said she’d frequently find her just flipping through and looking at all the pages. That warmed my heart - I was totally that kid and that’s probably why I love making them now, lol).

Anyone else here want to share ways they’ve used junk journals?


Your tips in this tute are outstanding! I like:

  • putting larger pages more towards the middle of the signatures

  • using Washi tape for hinging

  • I think mulberry paper and real fabric would be good for binding too

  • Sewing the signatures to the binding is very easy since you use the simple binding stitch. Thanks for this reminder, “YOU WILL ONLY GLUE THE FLAPS. Do NOT glue the spine down to the cover.”

  • I love finishing with dangles and tassels.

  • I like your techniques of gesso over junk mail, taking some old fabric scraps and making twine, stuffed envelopes, tuck spots, pull-out pages

It was a delight taking your tutorial over a few days! I learned SO much. With all of the junk journal possibilities, there is no reason to be overwhelmed with scraps!

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What a great tutorial! Makes me want to pull out all my junk and get busy!


Technical question: Is this :arrow_up: specific to the fact that you’ve already bound your signatures to the kraft-tex, or is gluing in the spine always a no-no? Could someone glue down the kraft-tex (or something else) to reinforce the spine and then bind the sigs through both?

(To your knowledge; I’m happy to investigate this on my own if you’ve not encountered it.)

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That’s a great question! I’ll answer what I can (and then maybe you still want to investigate more)!

Basically, the page block needs to be able to move and flex when you open the book. If it’s glued directly to the spine it can lead to tears over time, and your book will be very tight and not open or stay open well.

From what I’ve learned, it’s specific to hardback book binding. For instance, in a paperback book the pages and cover are all just glued or heat-bound together. This works because the cover and spine of paperback books have flex (since they are thinner stock that can bend and move as a book is opened or used). Hardback covers don’t have flex in the spine, so we need to give the page/text block that room and capacity to move.

If you wanted an exposed binding, I’d either omit the kraft-tex all together and sew your signatures directly to the spine (I’d probably reinforce the spine and cover joins to ensure it will all stay together - it still wouldn’t be ideal because the spine doesn’t have give), or better, remove the spine and do a spinless binding using a coptic stitch or something similar (where you kind of just treat your two cover boards as additional signatures).

Does that make sense?


Yes, thank you! I’m not quite to the binding phase yet, so I’ll ponder my options a bit.

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Just wanted to say - no pressure to use the cover in the Nerd Games kit! I just included them so one could theoretically make a comeplete journal without needing extra supplies. If you have an idea or want a different look, totally go for it!

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Honestly, the having one fewer choice to make is really helpful for me, so I’m thrilled with the included cover :laughing:.

But also, no way am I going to get everything into one book, so there will probably be another TBD project at least partially from this kit :purple_heart:.

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