Wednesday 27 February 2013

My handmade Traveler's Notebook

The Midori Traveler's Notebook is a design classic. But it is expensive. I wanted to see if I could make one myself. It turns out to be pretty easy.

I started with the leather. It's not easy to buy leather in the UK for some reason, but eBay came to my rescue. The type of leather you need is 2 to 3mm thick and you're clearly going to need a piece large enough to for the notebook cover. I found an eBay store specialising in leather and ... er ... related specialist interests. They had lots of pieces of leather. Here's what I went for. I bought a 'Large' piece, which measures approximately 30cm x 60cm, large enough for at least two full-size notebook covers and a few smaller, passport-size ones as well. The piece cost me £13.50 plus 99p postage. This was the single biggest expense.

I was delighted when the piece came that it had three straight, squared edges that needed no trimming at all. To measure the piece, I simply laid down my real notebook cover on the corner of the large piece and drew around it with a grease pencil. If you don't have a notebook cover to draw around, for a full-size cover you'll need to cut a piece that is 215mm x 255mm.

The next step is to set the fold. 3mm leather doesn't fold easily, but I found a great way to bend it to my will. I folded it in half to create a spine and laid the folded leather - kicking and screaming - between two pieces of wood that I then clamped together. I didn't tighten the clamps all the way, but enough to hold the fold in shape. An hour later, I released the leather and although it sprang open somewhat, I had an established fold that would become permanent with use.

Next, using a tiny leather punch and a hammer, I made 5 tiny holes in the leather along the spine. One was dead centre, then at each end I had one 5mm from the edge and another 20mm from the edge, like this:

Then, I used some thin elastic. With the notebook lying open in front of me, with the inside towards me, I threaded the elastic like this:

Pulling the loose ends tightly, I tied them together in a reef knot and trimmed the ends. Just like with the real thing, this is what will hold the main insert in place.

In the Midori Traveler's Notebook, the securing band comes out of a hole in the back cover, but I wanted mine to emerge from the spine. This is what the fifth hole is for. Getting the elastic both ways through that little hole is the trickiest part of the whole operation, but I worked out how to do it.

Pass some very thin thread through the eye of a thick needle - say an embroidery needle. Tie this thread into a loop with a knot as small and tight as you can manage. Now pass the elastic through this thread loop. You should have a rig that looks like this:

Pass the needle through the central hole from the inside to the outside and then cut the thin thread. This will leave you with a loop of elastic on the outside and loose ends of elastic on the inside, like this:

Tie off the ends, and you now have your closure loop. You are now done and will find your new notebook works just like the Midori Traveler's notebook. Here are some pictures of mine.

First of all, here is what the top of the spine looks like. You can see the two holes and the elastic threaded through them.

Next, here is the securing band emerging from the central hole in the spine:

And finally, a top view showing the cover loaded with three notebook inserts using the rubber band method:

This project is easy enough that I'd encourage anyone to have a go. The finished result is superb and will last a lifetime.


KateB TPS said...

Fantastic, Ray! I've thought about making my own, but as you said, it's very difficult to get leather! Do you mind telling me the name of the ebay seller that you bought the leather from? Thanks!

Unknown said...

Thats really clever!!!!! you are very good at thinking about these things!!!!

They have some interesting items lol

Alice Emerald said...

Ray this is so great!
You should make them and sell them on, i know i would buy one!

Ray Blake said...

@TPS - there's a link in the second paragraph above.

@Imy - thanks. Yes, it's an ineresting range, isn't it?

@Alice - I think Midori might have issues with me doing that. And its much more fun to make one yourself than to buy one.

Alice Emerald said...

I suppose they would! Didn't think of that! Im really bad at things like this though. I would ask my dad but hes too poorly and his hands are worse than mine!
Maybe in the future i can make a little Passport one!

LJ said...

That looks great - I may have to get Ben to save this link so that when he's thinking of what to get me for my birthday it will remind him :-)

Darren said...

Awesome guide Ray. I think I'll try and make myself a passport size for traveling.

WeirdRockStar said...

Just in case someone comes here looking for tips to make a notebook. To make leather bend without cracking it it´s always good to steam it lightly when bending. When the leather is warm and steamed, it´s easier to bend and then it needs to be left to its designated new form (like on notebook, left between heavy books to completely cool down). After bending, it would be good to condition leather with leather creme, natural oils or somesuch.

Tim Edwards said...

A really interesting post Ray! I just can't face paying over £60 (with accessories) for a real MTN when I don't know if it will work for me (your Filofax v Midori post suggests it might not!). I don't have any thick leather in my bedroom drawer, but I do have several disused Filofaxes including an A5 Kendal. Cut down and with a replacement "complicated interior construction" (cardboard) it just might form the basis of an interesting DIY project! I'm thinking I might go slightly larger than yours and make a cover that would hold Moleskine Cahiers.


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