13 December 2019

My yearly datebook

Many of you have been asking me for years to write a post on how I make my annual datebook.

I'm finally doing it!

For the last 20 years I have been making my own hand bound date book. Below are photos that I posted last year on Instagram of 20 years of my datebooks.

I just completed my 21st:

 I took some photos along the way so that I could share them with you here.

This is not a bookbinding tutorial but rather sharing with you how I go about making it, the materials I use, the size, and how I divide and label the pages with days, months, etc. It assumes knowledge of bookbinding and many bindings will work for this (I'll give you suggestions about this further down in the post). You can also vary the size and other details - I'm just showing you how I've made them for 20 + years now.

These are the tools and materials that I use for the book: cover paper, text paper, linen thread, ruler, triangle, bone folder and awl. I like to use handmade flax paper by Cave Paper (gorgeous sturdy papers made with natural dyes) as the cover, and 8 1/2 x 11 resume paper for the text block (I use a 24 lb. recycled cotton in ivory made by Neenah papers - but use anything that feels and looks good to you). For the cover material make sure you are using something that is sturdy enough to be tossed into your bag everyday for a year.

 The finished book measures 5 5/8 h x 4 3/8 w x 5/8 d when closed.

I make this size for the datebook, and when I teach, because it is the size of common 8 1/2 x 11 paper when torn in half and folded. The cover size is increased to make sure the text paper doesn't hang over. But, since I always make non-adhesive bindings I like the edges of the cover to be as flush as possible with text block. A little overhang allows for human error.

 (Make sure that the paper grain runs long so that it lines up with the spine after being torn in half and folded.)

First step is to gather 18 pieces of 8 1/2 x 11 pieces of paper and tear each piece in half:

 Gather four of those halves and fold to create a signature/section. You should end up with 9 signatures/sections. This will allow you to view one week of the year per opened page span, plus January of the next year and with an extra signature/section and a half in the back for notes. You could make one with 8 signatures and still get every week of the year in but I like lots of room for notes in the back:

Create holes/sewing stations where you will be sewing through the signatures/sections. Placement for this will depend on what binding you choose to make. I love the crossed-structure binding for my datebook because it is a simple, sturdy and compact binding that, together with the rugged flax paper from Cave Paper, holds up to my abuse for the entire year.

Below is how you cut the cover paper in preparation for binding the crossed structure binding. I put the right side piece (with the 3 fingers) aside, and use the piece on the left (with the two fingers) as supports to bind around. There are also sewing stations for a kettle stitch at the head and the tail.

Skipping ahead - because I told you this wasn't a binding tutorial! The binding part is now done (as seen below) and the 3 fingered cover piece will be joined back together with 2 fingered cover piece and text block.

The book is complete as seen below with some extra stitching on the cover that helps hold those "fingers" in place, and is also wonderfully decorative! That's what I love about the crossed-structure binding: all of the functional elements are also decorative. The "fingers" can be glued down and hidden or featured, stitched on, or woven in and out of the cover.

Now this is the part that I think people are most curious about: the guts. And, how I divide the pages with days, weeks, months.

Here is a blank page span: 

Using a ruler I draw a line splitting the page span in half horizontally: 

And, then draw a line splitting each page in half vertically:

Write in the days of the week (or abbreviations), with an extra rectangle for notes that I label: etc.

And, finally, write in the date, month, and year. I write the month only once per page span, and only write the year for the first few weeks of the year (just as a reminder to myself!) Of course, you can get a lot fancier and more decorative - I like to keep it minimal and functional. I fill in holidays by referencing online calendars and birthdays by looking back to previous years.


Yes! I hand draw every line and hand write every single day of week, date, month and year. This might seem crazy, and it kind of is, but I find it to be a pleasantly meditative tradition that gracefully ushers me out of the current year and into the next. I usually work on it over the course of 2 to 3 weeks in December and have it ready by January.

One year I tried drawing the lines and days of the week only, and photocopying it with the idea that I would just have to write in the date and month - and I hated it and tore them up and used them as scratch paper! 

Hand drawing and writing the entire datebook is just my way of doing it and, of course, you can develop a system that works for you. 

I always decorate the first couple of pages with imagery that I have been working with around the studio, and continue adding imagery along with notes, appointments, sketches, reminders, ideas, etc. throughout the year:

These are stencils that I made while I was in Japan earlier this year. Above are the "men's" and "women's" bathroom symbols I saw around Tokyo. Below are stencils I made of bamboo fan "skeletons" I saw at an exhibit in Tokyo.

 Binding structures that could work for this are: Coptic, Secret Belgian Binding, Longstitch, Buttonhole, and really any binding and size of book that works for you.

If you are new to bookbinding I suggest you take a class at a center like San Francisco Center for the Book, Center for Book Arts (New York), or Minnesota Center for Book Arts, just to name a few.

I teach some bookbinding on Creativebug - Coptic Binding would probably work best for this datebook of all the structures I teach on that site.

Rachel Hazel's book Bound: 15 Beautiful Bookbinding Projects is a lovely book that includes some simple bindings that do not require a lot of tools or supplies.  There are some multi-signature bindings towards the end of the book that will work nicely for a datebook.

I hope that this has helped to answer a few questions about my datebook making and hopefully you learned a thing or two about book construction if bookbinding is new to you.

Have fun with it, make it work for you,
Happy New Year!


  1. What a lovely post! I enjoyed reading it with my morning coffee and am inspired to make a beautiful book of my own. I use my cell phone as my calendar it isn't anyway near as nice as yours, but I would use the book for something else...like an art journal. Thank you for sharing.

  2. You're welcome! So glad you enjoyed it.

  3. thank you for this thorough-going post ... it inspired me to make a start ... not a full-fledged book, but a single month-long signature, hand-lettered ... who knows where it will go

    wishing you all the best in the new year and very much looking forward to each new thing here ...

  4. Starts are good! Thank you and happy to have inspired you...