TNs (Traveler’s Notebooks) are a fun style of planning/journaling, but not everyone can afford the luxurious, hand-tooled leather TNs that make up most the market. (Nothing against those! I covet them, almost daily. My budget just always seems to come up a little short of actually owning one.) Here is a tutorial for making your own TN out of a thick felt and a few other materials.
Recently I became curious about TNs. I wanted to try out this different planning arena, but I neither had the money to spend on a new TN nor the patience to be on a long waitlist for one. This spurred my quest to try my hand at making my own TN, so I stumbled my way through what I was doing and made two (one for me and one for my mom). Now having used and loved those TNs for several months, I wanted to document the process (with some improvements) and share with y’all! This guide produces an A5 sized TN, which is on the larger side. You could follow this tutorial to create a TN of any desired size, simply adjust your measurements accordingly.
I made this entire TN in one long afternoon, so it does not have to be a multi-day undertaking. I recommend having all supplies on hand before starting for maximum efficiency.
(Note: Dashboards will be covered in a companion blog here, but those materials are included in my overall cost of $40. [The cost breakdown is at the end of this blog.] This is just the supplies for the actual TN itself.)
Felt, 3mm thick, 18" x 9" (Purchased online from The Felt Pod)
Pencil (preferably mechanical)
Rotary cutter and cutting mat
Fold over elastic, one 1-yard package (will have leftover)
Round cord elastic, one or two 5-yard packages (see tutorial for details)
Twill iron-on patches, 1 package (color of your choice)
Fusible interfacing, ¼ yard (almost exactly enough)
Decorative fabric, 1/3 yard (had leftover, but was on the safe side)
Iron and ironing board
Leather hole punch (see tutorial for alternatives if you do not own this tool)
Most of these supplies I picked up at my local Joann’s store. The 3mm thick felt, however, is a specialty item that I ordered from an online store called The Felt Pod. They offer a huge variety of colors to choose from! The smallest piece you can order is 9” x 18”, exactly the size we need for this project, which costs right about $20 with shipping and takes at least a week to arrive. While it is the most expensive part of the supply list, it IS the backbone of the entire project. I would not recommend substituting anything less.
Lay out your felt and measure to reaffirm it is your desired size of 9” x 18”. I’ve never had to square up or adjust my felt from The Felt Pod, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Once confirmed, begin to mark the locations of your three holes for elastic and your pen loop, as follows:
This side is now the front of your felt.
Cut a 1.5” piece of your fold over elastic to create you pen loop. Fold this piece in half, line the cut edges up with your pen loop mark, then pin in place. Sew the pen loop securely down (I went over a total of 3 times), sewing at least 1/8” in from the cut edge of the elastic. (A mistake from my first TNs: if you sew the pen loop directly on the cut edge, it will quickly unravel and fall off.) It is important to sew your pen loop on first so that those stiches will be covered by the decorative fabric.
After ironing your fabric, cut a piece to 10” x 19”. This allows for a generous .5” hem on each side, which will make the following steps simpler. Laying your fabric backside-up, fold over an iron .5” hem on each edge, pinning at the corners when finished.
Next, cut your fuseable interfacing to 8.5” by 17.5” and lay that over the backside of your fabric. The goal here is to have all the fabric hem edges covered by the interfacing without any of the interfacing extending past the edges of your fabric. Any interfacing that extends past the fabric will be visible on your finished product (and could damage your iron - eek!). Pin the interfacing to the fabric in several places to secure.
Place the fabric/interfacing combo down on the back (unmarked, pen-loop-less side) of your felt, interfacing side down. Center diligently, because once this is fused there is no moving it.
Iron according to your interfacing’s instructions until the decorative fabric is securely fused to the felt.
After letting the ironed area cool, sew around each edge of your decorative fabric. It keeps the edges secure and it sure looks nice on the finished product.
While the 3mm felt is heavy duty, I chose to avoid the possibility of the elastic holes warping over time by reinforcing them. Take one of your twill iron-on patches and cut three 1” x 1” squares. (You could cut any shape you prefer but keep it close to the 1” x 1” size.) Center one square (I chose to put mine down as diamonds) over the wrap-around elastic closure mark. Place the remaining two squares over each of the elastic binding marks; these pieces will not be centered over the marks, but rather placed as low/high as possible in their given positions. See the picture for reference.
Iron down securely according to the patches’ instructions, then remark your wrap-around elastic closure mark and elastic binding marks on top of the patches.
Using the #6 (1/8”) punch on your leather hole punch, punch a hole directly on the wrap-around elastic closure mark, ensuring you go through all the layers.
Next, using the same punch, punch a hole just barely to the left and right of your bottom elastic binding marks. As you can see in the above picture, I punched these holes slightly higher than my original mark; I did this to avoid punching through the decorative stitching I did on the fabric. This change did not seem to affect my finished TN in any way. Repeat this same process with the top elastic binding mark.
If you do not own a leather hole punch: It is still possible to execute this project without having to go out and purchase this particular tool. Almost any hole-punching method you could devise would work, but I recommend going with a hammer and a nail that is 1/8” wide. Placing your felt over a surface you can partially hammer a nail into (a scrap piece of wood, for example) then hammer the nail until all the layers are punctured, then remove. Repeat for each hole.
Cut a 12” piece of your fold over elastic, as well as two or three 20” pieces of your round elastic cord. For this tutorial we used two pieces of round cord elastic, resulting in 4 strings. In my previous TNs I did make one with three pieces of round cord elastic, resulting in 6 strings. This is personal preference, and a third elastic string can always be added at a later time.
Starting with your felt front facing up, take the round cord elastics and feed them out the right, top elastic binding hole, then back in the left, top elastic binding hole. Run the elastic down and out the left, bottom elastic binding hole. Finally, feed the elastic back through the right, bottom elastic binding hole.
After establishing which ends belong to the same elastic piece (which you can discover by pulling the elastic cords), tie those two ends together in a square knot. To execute that knot: tie the right side over the left and pull until gently snug, then tie the left side over the right and pull gently snug again. You need your elastic cords to have some give (in order to have room for your inserts) but not too much slack (lest everything fall out). Refer to this picture below to see how snug I tied my elastics. (For those afraid to not get the correct tension: simply purchase an extra package of round elastic cord, then you know if your first try is not correct you can simply cut out those elastics and try again.)
For those inserting hard bound journals into their TNs: If you are wishing to use a heavier item, such as a Leuchtturm 1917 hardcover notebook (like me!), you have three options:
All three methods have merits and are, obviously, varying degrees of permanence. There is no right or wrong answer here. In my early TNs I used option #3 and that is holding up quite well. For this TN, which is a gift, I was unsure if the recipient would want to keep the notebook in the TN, so I just used option #1.
Next, take your 12” fold over elastic and fold it in half, resulting in a 6” piece. Tie the two ends together securely, keeping the knot as close to the ends as possible.
Using a mechanical pencil with the lead completely retracted, begin to carefully poke the folded end of the fold over elastic through the wrap-around elastic closure hole. Once enough is through to grasp, pull the remainder out until the knot rests snugly at the hole. (This elastic will be a bit snug the first few times you wrap it around the entire, filled TN. Fold over elastic does relax over time, which is why I have recommended this particular length. Adjust to your comfort level.) The elastics should now look like this from the front of your TN:
And like this from the back:
Congratulations! You have completed the entire body of your DIY Traveler’s Notebook!
So here’s the total cost breakdown:
|Fold Over Elastic||$3.50|
|Round Cord Elastic||$2.50|
|Twill Iron-On Patches||$4|
|Supplies Already Owned|
|TN Notebook Inserts|
|Tools (Sewing Machine, Iron, etc.)|
Now, to create dashboards to fill it with and see everything come together, proceed to this blog article: Creating Laminated Dashboard for Your DIY Traveler’s Notebook.
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