ConservationBoltonRare books

National Heritage Week 2020: Making a scholar’s notebook

by Josefin Jimenez, Bolton Conservator

For National Heritage Week 2020, I am hosting an online workshop ‘Bookbinding: making a modern scholar’s notebook from recycling’, 20 August 2020. This blog post will outline briefly which materials and equipment will be needed during the workshop to make a Scholar’s binding or notebook.




The scholar’s binding in Ireland occupies a unique position, as a vessel for language and scholarship and the continuation of the Irish manuscript tradition. This workshop aims to showcase Ireland’s rich and unique manuscript tradition, and connect old and modern skills in a workshop suited for both young and old. This online lecture and tutorial will touch briefly on the scholar’s binding – what it is and why it is so special in Ireland – and then look at a couple of scholar’s bindings in the Bolton Library at the University of Limerick. The online event will conclude by demonstrating how to make your own notebooks using recycled materials, such as packaging, envelopes, food cartons and other materials generally lying about the house.

No specialist tools or prior knowledge of bookbinding required. Please note children must be accompanied by an adult during the workshop, especially while working with sharp materials.

There will be a limited number of spaces available and some preparatory work so pre-registration is necessary. For more information, click here.



This list is a guide to what you might need, and it shouldn’t be read as law. The point of this is to make something of things you already have, and to look at materials in new light. If you don’t have anything exactly matching don’t worry, and try to find the closest approximation. The more you improvise in material and method the more interesting your binding will be as an artefact.


Get to know your rubbish

Go through the paper recycling and have a look at what’s there. Useful paper to make notebooks of are papers with at least one blank side, and without coating or surface treatment – so avoid thick and glossy paper. You can look for envelopes, printer paper, paper bags etc. Anything with a texture or pattern that you might like or anything made from good quality material. Materials can come from surprising sources, for instance Tyvek, a synthetic weave material used in book conservation, is sometimes used for the lining of larger shipping envelopes. It’s worth it to have a root around!


Material needed to make a scholars notebook:

  • Paper
  • Sewing supports
  • Cover material
  • Thread


Different notebooks made from recycling. You can see an attempt at a long stitch binding and a cross structure binding, developed by Carrmencho Aregui.


Paper for the notebook:

This material will make the pages of our book. The kind of book you want will determine what material will be useful. For writing or drawing shopping bags, envelopes, printer paper, brown packing paper, decorative paper, art paper, notebook paper etc is useful. If you want to decorate the notebook you can also save postcards, images, posters etc.

Some papers are not good to use, for instance commercial leaflets (paper printed on both sides), heavy gloss paper, newspaper or wrapping paper. Don’t throw this away as its useful for scrap or paste paper. If you are hesitant on what you can use you can test it by drawing or writing on it.


Envelopes, pharmacy bags, receipts and art paper.


Cover material

This material will form the cover of the book and needs to be sturdier than the material used for the textblock, and you need to enough in one piece to cover both sides of the book plus the spine. You can use cardboard from cereal boxes, shoe boxes etc. If using material from a food containers make sure there is no grease or stains on it.

If you’d prefer a soft cover notebook you can use paper, such as brown craft paper, a poster, drawing paper or other sturdy paper.


Card from a shoe box, cereal container and oat bar box.


Sewing supports/ laces

The sewing supports, or sewing stations, are flat strips, which hold the book spine together and form the connection between text block and cover. Traditionally they were made from leather, parchment, or flat cotton tape.


The number and width depends on the size of the book – for a smaller notebook, two strips, around 1 to 2 cm wide, should be enough. If the book is taller, you can use three or four strips.

I’ve been using the handles of paper shopping bags, but any flat sturdy material will do. Tyvek if you can get hold of it, cotton tape, fabric bands, folded craft paper or leather strips etc.


The handles from a paper shopping bag and offcuts from a drawer liner in clear plastic.



This is what we will use to sew, or “bind” the book together. It needs to be durable but not too thick. Anything like fine knitting yarn, twine, string, linen thread, floss or sewing thread is suitable.

If used on its own cotton sewing thread might too thin and snap, so you can twine it together to make a thicker thread.


Twining sewing thread


Cut a long piece of sewing thread, fold it in half and make a loop at the folded end, to tie around a door handle or end of a chair, twine the loose end of the folded threads in one direction, until the whole piece is wound together. Using your free hand fold the thread in half, bringing the end you have been holding back to the loop. Let the opposite end go and it twines together.




Like the materials list this is more about finding something to match the function rather than the exact tool, and to think creatively about what you have already.


Assortment of hands tools used in conservation and book binding.


Required tools

  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Paperweights
  • Press boards
  • Cutting edge
  • Ruler
  • Needles
  • Cutting mat or other protective cover
  • Bone folder

Optional objects which might come handy: letter opener, thimble, tweezers, small scissors, glue stick.



Anything heavy but relatively small. Paperweights are used for flattening paper and keeping it still. Rocks, dumb bells, actual paperweights, heavy kitchen ware, a metal hole punch or even a jar filled with something heavy will work.


Examples of improvised paperweights: a mortar bowl from our kitchen, a rock from the ground and a crystal.


Press boards/paperweights

For pressing and flattening you can use heavy books or clean cutting boards. They need to be slightly larger than the book you want to make.


I use my partner’s coffee table book about Wes Anderson and a ringbinder with my conservation articles.


Cutting edge

A very sharp cutting blade, like a scalpel or an art/hobby knife, Stanley knife (retractable blade, snap blade), carpet knife, rotary cutter or similar, most standard toolboxes will have something.


Swann-Morton scalpel handle with a 10A blade from our local art store.



A standard 30cm plastic ruler, or even better, a metal ruler. If you have a setsquare (triangular ruler) or a quilting ruler that is helpful too.


This is a completely normal amount of rulers to just have at home.



You need one sharp needle for piercing the sections and one blunt needle for sewing the sections. It is helpful if the piercing needle has a handle like a sewing bodkin or awl but a larger sewing needle is fine. For sewing you need a larger blunt needle, like a tapestry needle or darning needle is fine. That is just to avoid pricking your fingers, if all you have is sewing needles that will work.


The image shows my curved needles because it was what I had home, but for this technique, a straight needle would be better.


Cutting mat

You will need an art or hobby cutting mat, you can also use a piece of thick board or matting to use to protect the surface underneath when you are cutting.


My trusty A4 cutting mat.


Bone folder

A book binding tool used to smooth and reinforce folds in paper. They are traditionally from cow’s bone but come in Teflon, plastic and wood. Plastic ones can be bought in most art stores, but you can use the flat side of a pencil, flat side of a toothbrush, a clean ice-lolly stick. If you don’t have one don’t sweat it, it’s the least necessary tool on the list.


Looking forward to seeing you all at the workshop on 20 August!