Book binding

How to make a DIY leather journal using reclaimed leather

While leather makes for a great material for bookbinding, using new leather has its downsides if you’re trying to minimize your impact on the environment. I’ve therefore been exploring using leather from used goods, as a source of leather for my books. Reusing leather from used goods, which could be anything from a jacket to a bag to a wallet to a belt, is called “reclaimed leather”.

I personally find using reclaimed leather a great alternative to using new leather, with a lot of plus sides apart from the obvious environmental benefits. Here are a few benefits of using reclaimed leather for your project:

  1. It can add a rich vintage / antique look to your book: Depending upon the age of the product that you use as a source for your leather, the leather can have a nice patina already from prior use. Real leather only looks better with age, and this aged look can add a lot of character and personality to your book. So in many ways, reclaimed leather might look better than new leather!
  2. It can add a background story to you book: In a world of mass produced goods, a product that is unique and has its own individual story can be a delight to use. If your book is made with materials that have their own story – maybe the leather comes from a chair that was passed down from one generation to the next, or it comes from a storage box used in world war II – that’s kind of cool? 🙂
  3. You can reuse patterns and stitches on the leather, as aesthetic elements of your book: You don’t have to restrict yourself to plain leather. Leather goods have all sorts of decorations on them – patterns engraved on the sides, gold embossing, metal additions, simple and complex stitches. All of these can be used as patters for your book, it’s completely up to your creativity on how you use them to further accentuate your book.
  4. There’s a joy in extending the life of something that would have otherwise gone to waste: This might just be me, but there’s a lot of satisfaction is making something new out of something that would have otherwise been wasted.

Here’s a simple example of a leather bound journal, where’s I’ve used the stitching on the bag that I cut the leather from, to highlight the spine.

Handmade journal using reclaimed leather

So how do you make a journal using reclaimed leather?

Step 1 – Type of journal: Decide on what type of journal you’d like to make. The type of leather you need will depend a lot on the type of binding that you’d like to do. For example: You can choose to make a soft bound leather journal, or a hard bound journal.

Step 2 – Type of leather: Once you’ve decided on the type of journal you’d like to make, you need to decide on what type of leather would be suited to that binding. For example – for hard bound journals, unless you know how to pare leather, finding leather that’s fairly thin would be easier to work with, than something too plush. On the other hand, for a soft bound journal like the one described in the post above, something thick and stiff would be more suitable. Or you might be thinking of long stitch binding like this one. In this case, you could go with something soft and limp, or something thick and stiff. That would be up to your personal taste.

Step 3 – Hunt for reclaimed leather: Now that you know what type of leather you’re looking for, it’s time to go hunting! You should probably start with your closet and see if there are old leather products that you haven’t used in a while. But assuming this is not an option, I’ve found flea markets and thrift stores to be your best best. It takes time and effort, and it’s not easy to find something that you like and in good condition to use. But when you do something, it can feel like a great find 🙂 You can also try estate sales, I’d imagine there are interesting finds there too if you can invest the time.

Step 4 – Cut!: Once you have your leather product, cut out your leather for binding your book. But before cutting, think about what you want your final product to look like, and what aspects of the leather can you reuse to further improve your book? For eg; Are there certain marks that you’d like to retain? Any stitches or patters that you’d like to reuse? Being thoughtful before cutting can save you world of regret after cutting, when you realize that you could have produced a better looking book!

Step 5 – Save: Keep the remaining product for any future books. A decent sized product will typically have leather for more than one book in it. Don’t throw it away!

Step 6 – Bind: Time to bind! Use your reclaimed leather to bind your book and relish the fact that you have contributed towards a more sustainable environment 🙂

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