Tutorial: Moleskine cahier knock-off notebooks

At my birthday party, I set up several stations where guests could make small, simple crafts. One of the available projects was a DIY miniature notebook with a hand-sewn binding, similar to — you guessed it — the Moleskine cahier notebooks. These were a great party craft because they require only simple sewing knowledge and the time spent stitching allows for good conversation around the table.

Let the tutorial begin . . .

You’ll need:
• Lightweight cardstock for the cover
• Standard-weight paper for the inside pages (plain old printer paper would work fine; I used text-weight Paper Source stock in the colorway soft white)
• Scissors, a paper cutter, or an X-Acto
• Ruler
• Pencil/pen
• Corner punch
• Awl
• Sewing needle
• Heavy thread (I used DMC Cébélia cotton crochet thread)
• Phone book or other thick book you don’t care much about
• Binder clips or large paperclips

Step 1: Make the cover

Cut out your cover from the cover stock. Note: I cut my cover to 6 1/4″ wide by 5″ tall, making my finished notebook 3″ by 5″. In hindsight, that’s a little too tall and skinny. If you want to replicate the actual Moleskine dimensions, make your cover 7 1/4″ wide and 5″ tall. Use the corner punch to round each of the corners.

Fold the cover in half so that the corners line up. I was silly and did not score the cardstock before folding it, so my spine is a little sloppy.

Step 2: Make your pages

You’ll want your pages to be the same height as your cover but 1/4-inch less wide. So if your cover is 7 1/4″ wide and 5″ tall, make the pages 7″ by 5″. As for the number of pages, I’d recommend no fewer than 12 and no more than 24 in the finished book, depending on the thickness of your paper. When you cut pages, make only half the number you want in your finished book.

Cut out your pages and round the corners with the corner punch. Group the pages in threes or fours and fold each group in half, as shown above.

Step 3: Punch some holes

First, make a punching guide. You’ll use this to punch the sewing holes in each group of pages. Cut a piece of paper the same height as your pages/cover and about 4″ wide. Fold it down the middle vertically. In the fold, make a tiny dot every 1/4 inch. Now use your awl to punch a small hole where you made each mark.

Finally! A good use for all those phone books that magically appear on our doorsteps. Place one of your page signatures in the middle of an open phone book with the punching guide on top, creases aligned. Use the awl to punch through each hole AND all the pages in your signature. Repeat until you’ve punched all your pages and your cover.

Step 4: Line up and sew

Open up all the pages and stack on top of each other so the punched holes line up. Then line up the cover on the outside. Clamp everything together (with the book open) with paperclips or binder clips.

Inside (“messy” side of stitches)Outside (“neat” side of stitches)

Thread your needle with about 3 feet of the thread and tie a knot at one end (do not double thread). Using the holes you’ve already punched, sew a backstitch along the spine, through the cover and all of the pages. Remember: a backstitch looks different on top than on bottom. The “top” (neater) side should be on the spine; the “bottom” (messier) side should be on the inside fold. If you need a backstitch refresher, download my tutorial here: Backstitch Tutorial

Step 5: Finish ‘er up!

When you’ve stitched all the way up the spine, slide the needle under the last stitch and pull until the thread makes just a tiny loop (as in picture above). Then pull the needle and thread backward through that loop to knot it. I usually do this twice, just for good measure. Clip the thread, decorate the cover if you want, and you’re done.

A birthday-party specimen made by a friend


12 thoughts on “Tutorial: Moleskine cahier knock-off notebooks

  1. Isn’t that phone-book book cradle idea clever? And thanks for the great tutorial on backstitching. Love the pictures, too–so a big thanks all the way around!

  2. I second that- you wouldn’t be taking orders, would you? you have sold at least two…:-)

    1. Hmmm . . . I may have just launched a business venture I didn’t even know about. However, I think my time is just too limited to accept everyone’s custom orders, especially as I’m about to begin my Ph.D. However, this is what I’ve decided: I’m going to make another of these lovely little notebooks and hold a giveaway on the blog. So keep checking back in the coming weeks, and thanks so much for your interest.

  3. Thanks for posting this! I’m an avid user of similar notebooks and lately I’ve been wondering about making them myself and now thank to you I can do it 🙂

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