The Red Birthday Journal

My oldest son asked me to make him a red journal for his birthday this year.

Red, as in red covers, red pages, red binding thread, read everything.

He wanted lots and lots of pages.

Talk about being thrilled to be able to make something–other than a basic knit hat (his usual request)–for this kid–and I know it is something he will A use and B cherish.  So I am stoked about making this.

What I bought:

a 50 count pack of 12 inch x 18 inch red construction paper

a roll of roughly 1 inch wide red masking tape

3 skeins of red embroidery thread (I ended up misplacing the carefully put up threads with red ombre embroidery thread because when it came time to bind, I could not figure out where I had safely stowed them so they wouldn’t get lost.  I did find the red thread not an hour after I finished binding the book, so they didn’t stay lost for long.)

a 6 pack of 3 inch blank wooden circles

a 6 pack of 3 inch blank wooden stars

a 6 pack of roughly 1 inch wide red buttons (I ended up not using these)

a spool of 1/8 inch wide red ribbon, with gold metallic along both sides (I ended up not using this)

red tissue paper

red glitter tissue paper

3-2 ounce bottles of different shades of red craft paint

What I already had on-hand:

glue-all glue

various brushes

the front and back covers from a sketch notebook, 7 inches by 10 inches

black paint

gaffer tape

piercing cradle

bone folder


charcoal pencil

soft pastels



water jar

spray bottle (of water)

various brushes


sewing needles



First step:

The first thing I did was tape the edges of the sketchbook cover where the wire had held the journal together, once upon a time.  I used the gaffer tape for this.

Note: gaffer tape is just duct tape with fabric in it.  The inside of my 2 inch wide roll says: duct tape and nothing else–but when I bought this stuff, fabric was part of the description, else I would not have bought it.  And yes, I am sure this is not the regular household duct tape we use for other purposes–extremely sure.

After taping the edges, front and back, overlapping both ways, to strengthen the edges, I painted the covers black.  Both sides.  I made sure to catch all the edges as well.

I wanted to make sure when I started gluing the tissue paper down that everything was uniform as the journal covers were different colors originally.

I let those dry thoroughly, overnight with every coat.


I painted one wooden circle red, only on the edges and on one side.

I painted one star.  I painted it raw umber on the edges and let it dry.  Then, I painted the star, front and back, as well as the sides, red.  I used several coats on the star, alternating different shades of red every time.

Once those were all dry, I glued the star onto the center of the circle.  The edges of the star, the arms, extend past the boundaries of the circle.

I let that dry overnight.  The next day I used my charcoal pencil to outline the stat against the circle.  I used my tortillion to smudge that in.  It didn’t smudge as much as I liked, so I went back in with a black soft pastel, which I again blended in with the tortillion.

I used a spray varnish to set the pastel so it wouldn’t get smeared or messed up in any way.

This piece will be the center of the front cover of the book, once everything is done.

Next step:

Over about three days, I glued red tissue paper onto both covers, both sides of each cover, making sure to cover the sides as well.

I used water and glue to adhere the tissue.  I wanted a lot of texture with this, so I crumpled the tissue paper before trying to glue it down.  Then, I made sure that the paper had lots of wrinkles and crinkles as it was laid down onto the covers.

I would put down a layer of tissue paper, torn, overlapping, jumbled, overtop watered-down glue.  Using brushes and fingers, I would push out air bubbles and push glue into the paper.  I would put more water and glue over top of that layer.  I let each layer dry overnight.

The covers did warp and twist during the process, but as the glue dried, they returned to their normal flat state.  I had thought for awhile I would have to set them under piles of books to flatten them out again, but they did it all on their own.

The final layer of tissue paper was the red glitter paper, which I glued on the same way as all the rest.

Now, after that layer dried, I did find some places where the wax paper I had had the covers drying on stuck to the covers.  I used red craft paint on my fingers and smeared the paint onto the white bits.  The glitter in the paper still showed through fine.

The next day:

I cleared myself some space on the table, with my toddler helping and playing at my side.  I brought with me a ruler I never used, and my bone folder.  I opened the construction paper.  I folded every page into half, creasing the edge with my bone folder.  Then, I went through and tore every page into half.  After that, I folded every page in half, using the bone folder to crease the edge again.

I created my signatures, three pages per signature, except for the last one.  The last signature had four pages, to balance everything out.  I could have made five page signatures to have everything even, but I like the look of the three page signatures better.

Yes, that equates to thirty-three signatures.

Next step:

I took a regular piece of computer paper to make my piercing guide.

I traced one cover in the center of the paper; there was not a lot of edge left to the paper.  Directly in the center of the outline of the cover, I traced one of the signatures.

My covers ended up being nearly eight inches wide and a little over ten inches tall.

My signatures/pages are a bit more than six inches wide and about nine inches tall.

I want to make sure when I pierce the covers, I pierce the binding holes in at least an inch from the edge.  I also want to make sure, when I set up my guide, that I center the signature so that there is roughly half an inch above the top of the book block, as well as below.

Normally, I just eyeball where I want my binding holes, but after my last coptic bound journal, I decided I wanted to be more precise from now on.

My first mark was an inch down from the top.  Second, an inch up from the bottom.  The third was directly in the center of those two marks.  Using the top and the middle mark, I found the exact center of that and made a mark.  I repeated this process, using the bottom mark and the middle mark.  That gives me five marks total and that’s all I need.

I pierced each cover one at a time, using the piercing guide and an awl.

After that, using my piercing cradle to help hold each signature, and dropping my piercing guide into the center of each signature, one at a time, I used my awl to pop holes into each signature.

**Going Back A Step:

So, when I was piercing the covers…I made a major mistake and mispierced the front cover.  It was unfixable.  I had only two days to fix the covers and get the book bound and wrapped.

Here’s what I did.

I took a cereal box and cut it to size, 7 inches by 10 inches, just like the original covers had been.  I covered these with construction paper, one piece of construction page on each side, folded over on all sides.  I covered that with the glittery tissue paper.  I used glue-all to glue everything down.  I let it all dry overnight.

I took the star that I had glued down to the circle (see above) and, using plenty of glue all, adhered the circle in the center of the front cover.

I took a little iron-on patch that said ‘love’ and glued that down to the back cover, near the bottom.  Underneath that, in permanent black ink, I wrote ‘Mama’.  Then, I varnished both the front and back covers.  I put two coats of varnish on each cover.  Those had to dry overnight.

Back To The Binding:

Using a curved needle and red ombre embroidery thread, I used a coptic stitch to bind the covers and signatures into a book.

After the binding part was complete, I added a bit more varnish to the star on the cover and added a nice thick layer of glitter to it.  I used an old paintbrush to swirl the glitter throughout the varnish on top the star.  I let that dry a bit before adding another layer of varnish over that to seal it.

And Then:

Once everything was dry (overnight),I glued the front first page to the inside front cover, and adding a piece of the red masking tape along the side to create a continuous flow.  I repeated this with the last page, gluing it to the back cover, and adding the tape along the side.

I then went  in with red masking tape.  I taped the center of every  two signatures that came together to help strengthen and stabilize the book.  Plus, I like the way it looks.  It looks cleaner to me that way.  I also taped the center of every signature to cover the binding threads.

After I finished taping inside, the spine from the outside showed the white underside of the masking tape between the signatures.  I painted over the spine with red paint, to make sure everything was cohesive–and to make sure everything was red enough.


  • I did not use the ribbon or the red buttons that I had bought for this.  My son did not want a closure for his book.  I hadn’t finalized my idea for where I would put the button or anything, so I can’t really tell you how I planned to add the button and ribbon.  I guess that sort of closure will have to wait for another project.


front cover
back cover
back cover close up
spine, after painting
first page, glued to inside cover, tape added for extra decoration and holding power
random pages
tape between two signatures…or center of a signature to cover binding threads
front view of binding threads along side


My son received his book on his birthday, first thing in the morning, if I remember correctly (it was a long birthday-filled weekend) … I do know that he LOVES this journal…and that he is looking forward to filling it with his own art.





Published by

Tabitha Low

Writer, Artist, Journey Creatrix

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