Japanese stab bound pink and orange marbled A4 hardback handmade journalsI usually write about things designed and made by other people, so today’s post feels rather strange.  And not a little scary.  Drum roll please, I’ve opened an online shop on Etsy selling my very own handmade journals and sketchbooks.

I feel proud and excited to have finally opened my Etsy shop,  Aqua Handmade Books.  But I also have a churny feeling in the pit of my stomach as I see my creations out there in the big wide world.  All the usual “I’m not good enough” and “Who will ever buy these?” self-criticism has kicked in.  However, I’m doing my best to ignore that and forge ahead anyway.

Detail of handmade journals with grey bookcloth, yellow lokta paper and blue linen stab binding Japanese stab binding detail on contemporary handmade journal

Regular readers may recall that I’ve mentioned my adventures in bookbinding now and again over the last couple of years.  As you might expect, my books are all about colour and pattern, and my first two ranges of journals and sketchbooks uses a style of binding called Japanese stab binding, or side binding.

Traditionally used for soft covered books  (although I’ve adapted it for hardcover books as they’re more durable) stab binding is a way of sewing together single, unfolded sheets of paper and cover boards.

Grey bookcloth and turquoise lokta paper stab bound handmade journal with coloured pencilsOne of the things I like about bookbinding is that it uses sewing (a craft that I learned as a child) in many different ways.  Sometimes the sewing that holds parts of the book together is hidden away inside its structure, but with Japanese stab binding it’s on the outside and is decorative as well as functional.

There are hundreds of different Japanese stab binding patterns, from the most basic ‘4 hole’ binding to intricate and complex designs that look like lotus blossoms, stars and even birds.

For these first handmade journals I selected fairly simple, geometric sewing patterns to create a minimal, contemporary look and to allow the decorative papers to take centre stage.

Bookbinding supplies: colourful lokta papers and linen threadsI’ve also written in the past about my obsessive buying of decorative papers. Now I’m happily spending time matching them to colourful bookcloths, lining papers for the insides of the covers, and linen threads for the sewing.

Finding just the right combination is one of my favourite parts of the process, and there are so many gorgeous colour and pattern combinations it’s quite dizzying.

Dark blue A4 hardback handmade journal with red linen Japanese stab bindingThe first of my launch collections – The Sartorial Collection – is inspired by men’s tailoring.  I’ve always been a fan of quirky, colourful, hidden details like brightly coloured linings or small flashes of colour and pattern used for stitching and facings.

Detail of hardback A4 handbound journal with navy covers, red stab binding and red polka dot lining papersDetail of spine of Japanese stab bound handmade journal and orange lining paper

So I’ve used plain bookcloth teamed with bold linings and contrasting stitching.  And for some designs I included a flash of bright pattern on the front cover, reminiscent of a colourful pocket square peeping out of a jacket breast pocket.

Mostly these books are in the classic greys or blues you’d associate with men’s suiting.  But there are also a few much more colourful variations, like the fuschia pink book with yellow lining papers below.

Fuschia pink handmade journal with yellow linen stab binding and colourful pen potDetail of stab bound handmade journal showing yellow patterned lining papers

These super-colourful contemporary, handmade books were inspired by photographs taken outside the  Pitti Uomo menswear show in Florence.  The ultra-dandified Italian street style of the “Pitti Peacocks” is really quite extraordinary.  (Watch this very funny spoof documentary to get a flavour of this outrageously colourful and flamboyant look).

Post bound handmade album with grey bookcloth and printed marbled paper coversAnd my second collection of handmade journals and albums is the Printed Marble Collection, pictured above and below, for which I’ve used gorgeous, digitally printed, contemporary marbled papers.  Some are quite traditional in their colourways, others much brighter and bolder like the fabulous orange, pink and blue marbled paper by Katie Leamon below.

Colourful marbled paper handmade journal with pink bookcloth spine and Japanese stab binding

contemporary A4 handmade refillable album open to show post bound pagesUsing the best materials and bookbinding techniques is very important to me.  For the pages of the journals/sketchbooks I used a medium-weight, acid-free cartridge paper that’s suitable for writing, drawing or sketching with dry medium.

I chose a heavier weight cartridge paper for the albums and inserted spacers between the pages along the spine, so whatever you paste in or attach to the pages won’t make the book bulge when it’s closed.  They’re also post-bound, rather than stab-bound, as shown above, which means the album is refillable if you wish.

Pink and orange marbled journal/sketchbook opened with pen and pencil and coffee mugOne of the joys of making blank books for me is to imagine the creative and artistic work that will fill their pages, and the perhaps surprising places they’ll travel to.  Endlessly versatile, these A4-sized hardback blank books can be used for writing, drawing and sketching, or as memory books and guestbooks.

Aqua Handmade Books Etsy logo and image of grey and yellow handmade journalsHop on over to Etsy to find more details of the whole launch collection of handmade books.  With Christmas fast approaching they’re the perfect gifts for colour, pattern and paper lovers.  Or how about treating yourself to a beautiful, handmade journal or album for your own creative pleasure?

Oh, and if you’d like a similar book but in a different combination of colours, stitching pattern or pages then do get in touch via Etsy.  I also make books to order and would love to help you create your own bespoke, handmade book.


  1. Maria Kalligerou

    Hello Helen,

    Well done for putting online your journals. Fantastic combination of colours and designs and very good pictures. I hope you will have a good response.

    See you soon, Maria

  2. Helen

    Thank you Maria – that means so much to me coming from you, a professional book conservator!! I love putting the colours and patterns together, and there are just so many beautiful decorative papers to choose from.