Arts·CBC Arts Makes

Make your own sketchbook with things you probably already have at home

Do you have a cereal box, some thread (or dental floss) and a few blank pages? Great! Phoebe Todd-Parrish is here to show you what to do with them.

Do you have a cereal box, some thread (or dental floss) and a few blank pages? Great! Let’s get started

Make your own sketchbook with things you probably already have at home

1 year ago
Duration 7:54
Do you have a cereal box, some thread (or dental floss) and a few blank pages? Great! Phoebe Todd-Parrish is here to show you what to do with them.

In CBC Arts Makes, artists guide you step by step through creating your own masterpieces at home.

Hello! I'm Phoebe Todd-Parrish and I'm a printmaker and book artist from Toronto (check out my small letterpress and printmaking studio, Flycatcher Press). I've been working with book arts for the last 7 to 8 years and today I'm super excited to teach you how to make your very own notebook or sketchbook using things that you probably already have around your house. 

We'll be making our notebook using the sewn binding buttonhole stitch. This is a great booklet because it lies flat so it's perfect for drawing or note-taking. 

Let's do it!

Phoebe Todd-Parrish (CBC Arts)

What you'll need

Age range: Ages 12 and up

Time commitment: 1 hour

Materials list:

  • Thin piece of cardboard from a cereal box that's 5 ½" x 9 ⅛"

  • 12 x sheets of 8 ½" x 11" printer paper (or any paper you want to use)

  • Cutting mat

  • Metal ruler

  • Permanent marker

  • Pencil

  • Utility knife

  • Scissors

  • Thread - you can use anything that you have around the house. Even dental floss will work! In bookbinding we use waxed thread so if you have beeswax you can wax your own thread at home, or use dental floss that's waxed.

  • Needle - just make sure that you have a needle that your thread will fit through.

  • Glue stick


  • Awl - it's used for making holes but if you don't have one you can use your needle.
    Bone folder - it's used for scoring or compressing your paper. 

  • Stamps - I used stamps to decorate my cover but you can use markers or pencil crayons or anything else that you have around the house. 

  • Colourful paper to decorate the inside of your cover

Step-by-step instructions:

Make your signatures! 

1. These are the raw sheets that are folded and bundled together in a group to be the pages of your sketchbook. To prepare our signatures we're going to cut our 12 pieces 8 ½" x 11" of paper in half. With your pencil, mark 5 ½" horizontally on the top and the bottom of the pages. 

2. Cut your paper in half with your utility knife. You should now have 24 individual sheets of paper. 

3. Take a group of 4 individual sheets and fold it in half to create your first signature. If you have a bone folder or something with a straight edge you can help with creasing the paper by sliding it along the straight edge of your signature. 

4. Place your first signature aside and repeat this step with the other five signatures. You should now have 6 signatures of the same size.

Make your cover! 

5. Take your thin piece of 5 ½" x 9 ⅛" cardboard. I created a design on the plain side of my cardboard using stamps, but you can also use paint markers or any medium to decorate your cover. With your pencil, measure and mark 4" and ⅜" in from the inside of the cover to mark where the spine will be. The spine width should be in the centre of your coverboard and should be essentially ⅜ of an inch wide.

6. Mark where the opening in your spine is going to be. First you'll measure to the middle of your spine, that's 2 6/8" in. Then you'll mark 1 ½" from the top and bottom of the spine. 

7. Using your utility knife, cut this small middle line along the sides of the spine to create two rectangular tabs that you'll be able to fold back from the centre of the spine.This is where  your signatures will show through the spine. 

8. Take your bone folder (or a credit card or ruler!) and score along either side of the spine to help your cover board fold. Bend back the tabs and glue them down with your gluestick.

9. If you want to cover the inside of your book so it doesn't look like a cereal box, now's a good time to do that! I glued some red cardstock to the inside of the cover. Now your cover board's ready!

Put it all together!

10. Grab your stack of six signatures, put them inside the cover board and make sure the paper lines up with your cover. Then grab your pencil and mark on the spine of the signatures where it meets the opening or the edge in your spine. This is where you're going to poke the holes in the next step, so make sure that you mark every signature. 

11. Poke holes with your needle (or awl) in the signatures where you've marked. All signatures should have two holes on the spine at approximately 1.5" and 4". When you're done, check that your signature holes all line up perfectly with the hole in your spine. 

Sew your first signature!

12. Thread your needle with an arm's length of string or thread, not doubled up. Enter the first sewing station on the inside of your signature, leaving a little tail on the inside. 

13. Go around to the outside cover over the spine and back into the same signature from the outside. 

14. Tie a knot using the tale you left and your string. 

Add your other signatures! 

15. Exit your signature so that your needle's on the outside and through the cover. Add your second signature. Line up the holes. Go right from the outside into the hole on your second signature. Loop around the spine. Go under the bridge in the stitch from your first signature to your second signature (this is kind of like blanket stitch if you sew.)

16. You're ready to add your third signature. Line up the holes and enter the third signature from the outside spine. Loop around from the inside around the outside of the spine under the bridge you created between the second and the third signature.

17. Repeat these steps for the fourth, fifth and sixth signatures. 

18. Tie off the string by looping it around, creating a knot. Cut off your needle and trim any extra string.

19. Re-thread the needle with another arm's length of thread or string. You'll follow the same steps to sew this side of your book but it will be easier now that all of your signatures are attached. 

20. Go into your sixth signature from the outside. Loop around the inside, go over the spine, between the bridge on the fifth and sixth signatures and back into the hole from the outside and tie a knot by looping around and pull tight. Now you can trim any of the tails on the inside of the booklet. 

And you're done! You made a sketchbook.

Thanks for doing this project with me! And if you post on social media, please tag me, @flycatcherpress, @CBCArts and #CBCArtsMakes, because we'd love to see what you created. See you next time!


Phoebe Todd-Parrish is a book artist and printmaker from Toronto. She graduated from the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Alberta with a specialization in Printmaking in 2018. Phoebe currently runs a letterpress and print studio in the Queen West neighbourhood of Toronto, and is a sessional instructor in Print Media at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario.