Medieval Book Making Craft

I made this medieval book using the basic method that book makers would have, except using paper and embroidery floss instead of vellum and leather and sinew.  I’m rather short on sinew at the moment (and every moment).  Use this book making craft when you’re learning about the Middle Ages.

I started with the inside pages.  I used plain old white printer paper 8 1/2″ x 11″.  You could use fancier scrapbook paper with a more old world style theme as well.  I took four sheets, folded them in half and sewed right up the fold.

I used a sewing machine.  If you don’t have a sewing machine, you can use a needle and thread, but it will be much easier if you pre-punch the holes.  Paper is very difficult to hand sew through.

medieval_book_1

I made four sets of four sheets.  This makes a pretty nice, fat book.

Now with all four sets of pages held together, use a nail and hammer on a board outside to make holes through all the sheets of paper.  Later you’ll be using the pre-punched holes to sew the cover and the sheets together.  Think about how you want the pattern of stitches to appear on the spine and place your holes accordingly.  I made three sets of holes close together near the top and three sets of holes close together near the bottom.  In the center of the spine I made three sets of holes spaced further apart.

Next, cut out your cover from brown paper.  A grocery sack works well.  Make the cover just a little wider than the pages are tall and long enough to wrap around the whole book about one and a half times.  You’ll need enough left over to have that extra flap on the front.  I found that in the process of crinkling and getting the paper wet it shrunk a bit.  Give your self a little extra room in  case it shrinks.

Now decide where your spine will be on the cover, and then draw a design.  I made an asymmetrical twirl design in one corner.  I added a border at the top and bottom all the way across the cover. Finally, I wrote my name in runes.  I know the runes aren’t technically from the Middle Ages, but I wanted that look.  Design the cover any way you like.  Use black permanent ink.  Make your lines nice and thick so it gets the look of a burned in design.

After the design was done, I crinkled the cover over and over.  This makes it look worn and softens the paper.

Here is how the cover will lie over the pages after I’m finished.  I tore the front edge in a random way to make it look like a remnant of leather was used.

Next, I used the side of a brown crayon and colored all over the paper, making some areas darker brown than others.  Finally, I got the paper wet and then dried it in the oven at 300 degrees F for just a few minutes.  Besides drying the paper, the heat helps the crayon wax melt into the paper so it looks more like leather.

Now that my cover was ready, I sewed the pages into it using embroidery floss and a needle.  Embroidery floss comes six strands thick.  I left all six strands together because I wanted nice thick thread to hold the book together.

Here’s how my spine looked when I was done.

The final step is to take more embroidery thread and make a tie to close the book.  I used three different shades of brown embroidery floss for the tie to hold the book shut.  I tied a loop in one end, passed the thread around the book, though the loop and then around and around the book.

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Additional Layers

  • Find out how real books were made in the middle ages.  I love Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson.
  • You could use this book as a journal, as a place to write down recipes, as a sketch book, or as a planner for school.  Or it could be your spell book where you write down definitions to your Latin Vocab.
  • What sorts of books did European people own in the middle ages?  They owned the Bible or excerpts of it like the Gospels or the Psalms.  Many owned classics from the Greeks and Romans.  Some owned poetry like Beowulf or King Arthur romances.  And people also owned something called a “Book of Days” that had scripture verses, calendars, almanac information, all the saints days, and lots of illuminations.  And some people also owned grimoirs or grammerie, where they wrote down spells, good luck charms, and ingredients for potions.

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17 Comments

  1. Charlie

    You said that the cover should be in the oven att 300 degrees, is that Farhenheit or Celcius?

    Also, after you wrinkle the paper it’s hard to tell that it is still the brown cover-paper, I had to read two and even three times to understand.

  2. Tripp

    I’d like to do this but I’m a little worried how well the grocery bag cover hold up to regular use. Is it strong enough to be used daily without concern or does it need to be handled gently?

    1. My kids have been playing with the one I made for several years and it still exists and is in tact. But we originally made it as a history lesson to learn how books were made in the middle ages. I didn’t actually expect to “use” it. It was more just a craft. However, if you want to actually use it as a journal or to write a story in or something I think it would hold up fairly well. It is not as tough as a real medieval book would have been though with their wood and leather covers and sinew bindings.

    1. I used embroidery floss and a needle. Embroidery floss is thicker which means it will hold up better and I also wanted to the more substantial look, as though it were a thick thread of sinew or something from the middle ages. You could use regular thread though if you double it.

  3. Sharon

    What kind of pen/marker did you use for the design? I’m a little concerned about bleeding when the paper gets wet.

    I love this craft idea. I think we will be making one for a summer vacation journal.

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  6. Fris

    What a fun project. Great way to make books with children without using leather. Also great way to practice different techniques before reproducing in leather. (My main hobby is silversmithing, I practice in copper before committing to silver! Same idea). Thanks for lovely tutorial.

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