Now that I have crawled out of the plague pit, I have completed my embossed leather book and want to show you how it went so that you can create your own.
In this part, we’ll just take a look at the basic plain cover, which is nice enough to leave without decoration, if you like.
You will need
- book to cover (e.g. a notebook, preferably with a spine)
- thin plywood or thick cardboard
- PVA glue
- contact adhesive
- thin leather
- wood stain
- rounded modelling tool
- scissors and/or sharp knife
The book I have chosen for my project is about 2.5 cm or an inch thick, filled with good quality plain paper. You could choose any book at all, although using one with a spine allows you to add a few additional decorative touches.
My book was held closed with an elastic cord looped once around the book and fastened over a plastic button on the back. The cover is OK, but quite dirty, and damaged in places, and I hated the elastic and plastic button!
I’ve already removed the elastic cord and plastic button. Now I want to cut off the flap over front so that I have a basic book cover. If you have a flap over book like this, you could leave it and cover the whole thing, but I have something else in mind…
Now I’m ready to start covering!
I’m going to add wooden front and back panels to my book to provide a crisp foundation, as the original cover is quite floppy and not what I want. I need to measure the covers up to almost where they hinge on the spine (I kept it a couple of millimetres or 1/8th inch inside). If you stick a hard cover on right to the edge, you won’t be able to open the book!
Hidden bits – reinforcing the cover
I’ve used thin plywood to create strong covers, but even strong cardboard would give it some extra body, and would be easier to cut. Apply contact adhesive to the original cover and to the back of the plywood. Follow the instructions on your glue, which usually includes waiting a few minutes before gluing the surfaces together. For fear of getting glue all over the place, I did one cover, left it to dry, then did the other.
String, the very thing!
As you can see from the picture, this is where you need the string. Tidiness is not imperative here, so don’t worry if you make a mess with the glue.
I pencilled in parallel lines on the plywood and cut rough lengths of string to apply. Paint PVA glue along the lines (no need for contact adhesive here) and apply the string.
Pull the string over the edges of the board, cut and squash flat – you don’t want any hard edges here. Cutting at an angle might help, but the leather cover will hide a lot, so don’t worry too much.
Now apply plenty of PVA along the length of the string and particularly over the ends to ensure that they don’t fray. When dry, the glue will give the string more body so that it doesn’t squash flat during the next step.
You will notice on the picture that I also add some lines of string to the spine to fake a proper sewn binding. As before, squash the edges of the string down and cover with PVA.
You need to allow the glue to dry. Be patient! You may have to wait until the following day to continue.
Preparing the leather
First things first; you need to cut a piece of leather to size. Is this a good moment to suggest that too big is better than too small?
Measure the sides and spine of the book, then add on the thickness of the wood plus at least 5 mm or 1/4 inch around all four sides. It is probably safer to add a couple of centimetres all around to be completely sure that you have enough to glue down inside. Whatever you decide to add is represented by the blue question marks in the measuring diagram, so don’t forget to add these to your calculation.
What you can do next depends on the leather. If it is absorbent, you can stain it. Just put a drop of water on an offcut of your chosen leather; does it soak in or not? If not, then I’m afraid that you won’t be able to stain the leather, but at least it will be less likely to stain. This is likely to be the case if you are using an old leather jacket. Often, the leather is sealed.
I’ve used a wood stain because it is usually available a lot more cheaply and easily than leather dye. Mine is water-based, but spirit-based is also fine – just remember to use the latter in a well ventilated area!
Once again, you’re going to need to let any colour treatment dry thoroughly before moving on.
Gluing on the leather cover
You need to take your time with this!
Put the leather good side down onto your work area and apply contact adhesive to the area for the back of the book only (so that should be the right hand side of the length of leather).
Apply contact glue to the back of your book.
Don’t put glue over everything, really, not unless you plan on waiting for someone to rescue you later.
After waiting a couple of minutes for the glue to go slightly tacky (or however long it tells you on your tin), carefully place the gluey back of the book on the gluey area of the leather.
Turn the book over and gently rub across the back of the book. At this stage, we are not concerned with the extra leather around the sides – that comes at the end.
You can use the rounded modelling tool or something similar to push the leather into the part where the back cover hinges to the spine. A wad of cloth can also be handy to help ease out air bubbles, or just your hands. If you have a persistent bubble which won’t squeeze out, poke it with a pin, just the same as wallpapering! Just be careful not to get glue on the outside cover of your book (and clean off immediately if you do manage it).
Now move around to the spine; add contact adhesive to the spine of the book and to the section of the leather which will wrap over it. Again, work the leather to ensure that there are no air bubbles. This part takes a little more effort, because you also need to work around the string areas, using the modelling tool to push the leather in and create definition.
Finally, do the same to the front of the book, really working at the areas around the string. The design I have used means that there are some corners which need lots of easing, so I spent a lot of time gently pushing at the leather with the modelling tool until it looked crisp.
Now it’s time to deal with the extra leather around all of the sides.
Put the book on its back and open it.
Cut notches so that you can fold the sides over, but don’t cut right back to the book! The leather will stretch a bit, allowing you to ease it over awkward areas, such as the corners and around the spine. If the corners don’t work out so neatly, don’t worry; I have a fix for that in Part 2.
As before, you will use contact adhesive on both the leather and the part of the book to be glued, but try not to overspread. You will be able to cover up any splodgy glue on the inside cover, but be sure not to close the book until it is completely dry, otherwise misfortune will occur. You may want to tackle one cover, let it dry, then do the other.
The spine is a bit annoying to do and I just cobbled it together a bit. You didn’t want to hear that right at the end, did you? Anyway, I just folded over a tiny bit to simulate a real spine – in fact, the pages of my book are just glued into the original spine like most modern books.
So, here is the plain book cover with a view of the spine fakery. In Part 2, I’ll show you some simple embossed decoration, some more tricky clasps, and also give ideas for tidying up corners which didn’t quite work out.
Cheerio for now!