DIY: Create a Fabric Book Cover

Before and after cloth book cover
Image Credit: N Engineer

Here’s a last-minute gift idea: make a book. In fact, you could even make it a blank notebook, so you don’t have to write anything inside. Or, you know, you could write a story, collect your kid’s school work and put it into a memorable collection, gather quotes for a special someone on their special day (mother, father, teacher, graduate, wedding couple). Sure, there are websites out there that allow you to upload your materials and will send you a beautifully bound, professional-looking book or album. And I am in no way trying to disparage them. But if you’re used to working, well, kinda last minute, I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to procrastinate and still produce a beautiful bound book.

I made a book as a gift the other day. Specifically, I wrote a story that ended up being 44 pages long and decided to print it and bind it as a gift.

Note: this project produces a book that measures roughly 8.5 x 5.5 inches with a cover that’s slightly larger.

What You’ll Need

The pages you want covered, with tape binding
Hot glue gun
Hot glue sticks

Prepare the Document

A few notes on preparing the document:

  • Use a font size of at least 14pt, so that when it’s printed smaller, it’s still legible.
  • 1.5 line spacing, full justified.
  • Cover page on page 1, start chapter on odd page so turns out on right side. If you want to be super-official, you could plan to start all chapters on odd pages. But that will, of course, increase the page count, and subsequently the price. You could also include a Table of Contents and whatever other standard pages you wish to include, or you could just stop because you’d otherwise spend too long tweaking the document and won’t get around to finishing the project. Or maybe you could work ahead.

A couple of things I wish I’d done differently to prepare the document, so I’m passing them on to you as tips:

  • wider borders (I default to 1″; 1.5″ might be better, but maybe not)
  • I put headers and footers on my document, even tried to make it all fancy by having different ones on odd and even pages. Header (even): My name; Header (odd): story title. And the Footer was the page number. Except, I got it backwards, so it was all on the inside. So, even headers and footers should be LEFT justified, Odd headers and footers should be RIGHT justified.
inside of book. page number and headers on inner margin instead of outer margin. oops
If going fancy and want different headers/footers on odd/even pages, be sure to preview!

Print the Document

Okay, I may have cheated on this. It’s not 100% DIY, but I told you this was last minute, right? I went to Kinko’s and had them print and tape bind my book. That’s how I knew to increase the font size to 14pt Times New Roman.

Print on 32lb paper, double sided, with tape binding. They printed and cut the sheets down to 8.5×5.5” (maybe a tad smaller). Before they bind the document, have them include a sheet of cardstock in the front and back of the book (so you can glue this to the cover that you make).

Image of printed book opened to title page
Title page and start of chapter on odd numbered pages

The cost for printing was 22 cents per page, for 44 pages. This resulted in a cost of just under $10 (including tax). So far so good.

They even gave me a couple of pieces of chipboard, plus an extra piece to use for the spine.

So even though this isn’t completely DIY (I didn’t exactly have the right paper handy, or the time, nor do I know how to tape bind–yet), the printing part was just the beginning. Here’s where the fun begins.

Find the Perfect Cover

I wrote a story about a kid who discovers he has some magic powers. You know, ends up in a magic school and—no, just kidding. This involves a magic frisbee, some snakes, and demonic possession. Oh, and a bit of reincarnation. But it’s set in America, in an idyllic suburb. So I needed a cover that would convey all that. No problem, right?

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One option for coming up with the perfect cover, of course, would have been to enlist someone to draw a custom cover. Turns out, giving someone one day to design a cover isn’t nearly enough time. Especially if you give them that same time to also read the story, and you don’t have it finished until the morning you’re embarking on this little project. You can tell yourself that you didn’t want the cover to give away the ending, and that’s why you sent an incomplete tale, but that’s nonsense and you know it. Stop fooling yourself and get back to work.

So instead, I went through all the fabrics at JoAnn to find the perfect match. Once I determined there was nothing printed with snakes, frisbees, and magic portals, I looked at the different patterned fabrics. That’s when I discovered that they sell Fabric Quarters (they’re 18″x21″, which was more than enough for my purposes but not so big I’d have to get anything cut). For $2.50. Already cut. Look through fabrics and find one that you like. Here are a few I saw that I thought might do the trick, before choosing a totally different one (cuz that’s how I like to make decisions).

Different fabric samples to choose from
Image Credit: N Engineer

Build the Cover

So there’s a right way to do this and a hacker way to do this. The right way would involve researching, maybe watching a video or two ahead of time, getting all the proper supplies, and then proceeding. It would also involve using a ruler for exact measurements, measuring and marking the fabric, cutting to size, and really, using the proper glue to ensure a flat cover.

The hacker way (which I will now describe) gets the job done.

Iron the fabric (hint: work on a clean surface so you don’t accidentally get a drop of jelly on the cloth. Hypothetical hint, of course).

Un-ironed fabric chosen
Image Credit: N Engineer

Heat hot glue gun. While it’s heating up, lay out the cardboard. If you want the cover a little larger than the book, space it and put a small strip between. (A thin strip of cardboard for the middle would have worked better than the wraparound strip I used. It prevents the book from closing fully. Live and learn.) Note: This is where you may want to measure, mark, and do the job properly. Or, just eyeball it like I did.

Glue cardboard to fabric. Depending on thickness and darkness of fabric, you will likely see/feel the glue through the fabric. That, of course, would be the downside of using a hot glue gun for this job. The upside would be that hot glue guns are awesome and work really well. And I have one (or two) lying around, and plenty of glue sticks handy.

Here are some step-by-step images of the process. Rather than trimming and cutting the fabric, I folded it over and glued it in, contributing to the overall thickness of the cover. I went section by section, first cutting on the diagonal from the corners, then folding in and gluing down the sides, cutting off the excess triangles of fabric.

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As you can tell, I didn’t even center the cardboard, but that’s okay because it’s not visible once the project is done. The glue, meanwhile, can be applied bit by bit to fill in the gaps. Of course, you need to get the fabric adhered before the glue cools, or else apply more glue. Hot glue is great for touching up that way.

I glued the fabric down until there were no sections unstuck, going back and adding more glue to areas where I took too long and it cooled and lost its adhesiveness. I tried to lay out the glue in an orderly pattern so that even if you could tell the glue was there through the fabric, it wouldn’t be unsightly. (In retrospect, I probably could have traced the patterns on the fabric to provide a cool textured effect. Maybe next time…)

Once the cover is made, carefully glue the front and back covers to the cardboard cover.

If you inadvertently get glue on the inside page of the book, no worries. Simply hold it open until the glue cools completely so you don’t glue the pages together. Then break off the excess glue.

Note: I used what materials I generally have at home, so no, this isn’t a professional-looking product. That too is possible (consider watching Sea Lemon’s tutorial here to achieve that). But as I have a tendency to get caught up in buying lots of supplies for projects I rarely do, I opted for the hacker approach, which also helped to keep the budget down.

Overall, I paid under $15 by using what I already have on hand, needing only to pay for printing (which I could have done at home, but would have had to buy the thicker paper stock, and with the price of printer ink these days, I’d question whether that’s really the cheaper option) and the fabric for my cover. The rest was a labor of love.

Nivi Engineer is a novelist and playwright in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a mom of three boys, and escapes the never-ending sports calendar through reading. This month, she's learning that the capital of Nepal is Kathmandu. And now, so will you.