Turning Old Books into Japanese Notebooks

I’m so excited to share this with you all, now these beautiful Japanese Notebooks have all been gifted and I’m not spoiling the surprise for anyone. I still can’t believe I made something so pretty but also useful (and stupidly didn’t make one for myself!).

Handmade notebooks Viking World Book Day

World Book Day (Thursday, 2 March 2023) for most parents signifies that mad panic to make or cobble together some kind of costume from some book that you have never even heard of.  Some parents see it as a challenge some as punishment – I’m definitely in the latter category! Now the older two are at middle school World Book Day isn’t a significant event in the school calendar and I can let out a small sigh of relief from costume hell. However, Viking didn’t want me to feel left out and sent me a box full of supplies to take part in their World Book Day craft campaign. The aim is to celebrate our love for books and how they can be repurposed as a craft material. Included in the box was “Book Art” by Clare Youngs as I was flicking through I knew straight away what I was going to create.

Turning Old Books into Japanese Notebooks:

I decided to make 5 Japanese notebooks, 3 for my Goal Setting Accountability Group, one for Lexy (Made By Me Craft Parties) for letting me borrow quite a few things lately from her craft business (such faith and trust!) and one for Jackie who I run Lemur Linkup with. Having a deadline meant I got on with it rather than fannying about, which sadly I do a lot! Of course, once I started cutting up paper Megan wanted one too so I let her help make hers.

I started by clearing out the piles of old colouring books, school exercise books and some thin cards from my office, the craft cupboard and the girl’s bedroom. First of all, I cut the pages to the desired length using a guillotine. Although this took me a stupid amount of time it was bizarrely therapeutic.  The instructions suggest the width is 11cm making it easy to fit in 5 binding holes but didn’t specify a length. I went for 16cm length, which with the 1.5cm spine gave each page a nice length but didn’t make them square (I didn’t want a square notebook).

drill handmade notebooks

Once you have the required amounts of paper (again there wasn’t a set amount in the guidelines so I chose 40 which seems a lot and could be why I spent a day cutting paper!) You need to make the 5 holes. 1.5cm in from the spine first hole 1.5cm from the edge, and the fifth hole is also 1.5cm from the edge then 2cm apart for the middle three.  I didn’t have a bookbinding awl BUT I did have David who is able to make a tool suit any occasion! We used a small drill piece and drilled the holes into each bundle of paper. This is a two-man job one to hold down the paper bundle to ensure you get the holes in the right spot and one to drill, we also put a chopping board underneath the paper so as not to damage our table.

Turning Old Books into Japanese Notebooks

(scanned excerpt from Book Art)

I did purchase a bookbinding needle but any large needle would have worked (check your children’s craft kits) and I used embroidery thread, although the instructions suggest twine which would give it a lovely rustic look.  It’s actually really easy to stitch the spine up and once you get the hang of it you could add extra holes and make the spine more ornate. (There are plenty of online tutorials that can explain how to sew the spine up much better than I.)

japanese notebooks

Now comes the fun bit of decorating the covers! I used some vintage pages from a copy of Alice in Wonderland that Megan has been using in her Bronze Arts Award, alphabet stamps, glow in the dark star stickers and hearts cut from a colouring book.  I love the contrast between the bold coloured cards and vintage paper.  I really loved making these books they are really, really easy to make and look beautiful. I also had the full-on warm and fuzzies from making 5 of my friends feel happy and loved.

Handmade notebooks Japanese bookbinding

Disclosure: Viking sent me a box full of stationery products, in order to write this blog post. Although I did also use a lot of items I had at home, this post also contains affiliate links.


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  1. February 20, 2020 / 3:53 pm

    I LOVE my book, thank you so much! It really cheered me up ❤

  2. February 21, 2020 / 9:11 am

    These are gorgeous Joanne! And such great instructions I think I might need to make my own 🙂

  3. February 21, 2020 / 5:13 pm

    I think these turned out so well, I’m really tempted to try making some myself!

  4. Jackie
    February 24, 2020 / 2:43 pm

    These are such a lovely idea. I would lack the patience to do.

  5. February 26, 2020 / 3:03 pm

    These are beautiful Joanne you are very talented. What a lovely gift to give.

    • March 1, 2020 / 10:06 pm

      I would also go far and say it is also environmentally friendly too!

  6. February 28, 2020 / 5:52 pm

    What an awesome idea! I want to try this as it looks fun and i’m well impressed with your notebooks. They look cute.

  7. March 24, 2020 / 11:31 am

    What a wonderful gift to share with someone! I love books and it always makes me sad when the time comes to get rid of them. I try and donate them but so many places don’t take them anymore. This is such a nice idea to re purpose them and give them a second life!

  8. April 1, 2020 / 10:11 am

    These are so gorgeous! What a lovely way to upcycle them and they make a great gift too.

  9. April 1, 2020 / 10:14 am

    These are so pretty! My 12 year old daughter is obsessed with all things Japanese and she also loves to craft and draw, so this would be a great activity for her to try!

    • April 1, 2020 / 5:43 pm

      If you want me to send you the full instructions let me know x

  10. April 2, 2020 / 11:39 am

    This is an interesting idea. Would definitely make a lovely little present!

  11. April 6, 2020 / 8:46 am

    What a lovely idea, so effective too