When I first entered the planning community, I was intrigued with binder ring planners, like the Filofax system. I bought a Filofax Malden Ochre and I loved it – the texture, the weight of it in my hands, everything!
However, this system did not work as well for me as I had hoped. That was when I switched to the bullet journal system in a dotted notebook. This system is perfect for me, but I was always sad that I could never find as much use for the A5 binder I had bought.
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Around Christmas-time, I was shopping at a local TJ Maxx and saw an Italian leather binder planner by Patricia Nash in the clearance section. I wanted to get it so badly, but convinced myself not to, since I don’t like the binder system and wouldn’t use it.
Recently, I was shopping at the same store and saw another planner, but in a different design. This time, I bought it! Nothing had changed, I still did not want to use a binder. But recently I had been reading about how to remove the rings from an A5 binder and thought I would give it a go. There was no way I was trying it with my expensive Filofax, but with this $22 planner? Sure!
I didn’t have a plan for this, and had only a couple of videos I had seen as a reference, but I am very happy with the end result. It combines the aesthetic of the leather binder with the functionality of my dotted Leuchtturm 1917, and I didn’t pay an arm and a leg for it! What more could you ask for?
This is a description of what I did to make this happen, not exactly a how to, but I hope my experience helps anyone who might want to try something similar! The process could easily be changed to make it work with almost any combination of notebook and stitched binder, as long as they are a compatible size.
Part One: Taking Out the Hardware
The first thing I had to figure out was how to remove the hardware from the binder. The rings on most binders like this one are held on by two fixtures – one at the top and one at the bottom. Many videos and instructions online are specific to specific types of planners, but I did not find one describing the type of hardware used on the Patricia Nash one I had bought. If you are trying this with a Filofax or other well-known planner, there should be videos or instructions available.
Since I didn’t have this to refer to, I just went at it with a pair of heavy duty pliers. Each fixture had a cover plate, and under that a soft metal rim which separated easily from the other side. The pieces turned out to be really easy to pull apart, and taking them out did not damage the leather at all! Unfortunately, it did leave two big holes in the cover, which I filled using scrap booking brads I had lying around. I am considering replacing them with grommets in the future, but these look nice and are holding well for the time being.
Part Two: Cutting the Leather
The next thing I did was find and cut a piece of leather for the strip to hold the back of the journal on to the cover. If the cover you are using has a large pocket on the back, you may be able to use that and just slide the back cover of the notebook into it, but since this one did not, I decided to use a scrap piece of leather to make a band. I cut it to be a little longer than the height of my cover and about 4 inches wide to make sure it held the notebook on securely.
Then, to make sure that the sewing process would go smoothly, I used an awl to widen the existing stitches from both sides of the cover. This made the stitching go a lot easier. Additionally, I lined up the leather strip under the cover as I was poking through the stitches on the second side, so that now my leather was marked with the stitches. And finally, I widened those holes as well to make them easy to sew through.
Part Three: Sewing the Leather
This was the easiest part of the project, but also the most time consuming! Lining up the holes on the leather with the pre-made stitches on the binder cover, I used two strands of embroidery thread in a color similar to the original stitches on the cover held double to create a running stitch through the existing stitches on the cover and the holes on the leather strip. Widening the holes was very helpful, but getting the needles through was still difficult.
Patience was key in making it to the end without hurting my fingers! I was initially going to go over the Binder Style Planner to Notebook Cover seam twice, but I decided it was secure enough. After I finished my stitches on the top and bottom, I trimmed the excess leather from the sides, slid the back of my Leuchtturm in, and I was done!
Overall, I LOVE how this project turned out. It was super easy, and I was able to do it all for less than $30! Plus, it only took me a few hours to put together, making it a great rainy afternoon project! I did this with almost no knowledge of working with hardware or taking apart binders, and ran into very few problems. I highly recommend anyone who wants to try this to give it a go! I know I am very excited to be able to keep a lookout for potential cute journal covers from now on!