Moleskine spine surgery

At last I received the materials I needed today in order to fix the spine on my Moleskine art journal. My first art journal to date.

Several layers of mixed media with some chunky pieces of ephemera here and there put a bit of a strain on my Moleskine’s spine to the point it was “alligatoring”, meaning the spine was scrunched tight while the edges of the book were fanning out sort of like an alligator’s mouth.

IMG_8861Now when I began work on this art journal, I had learned that most people would remove pages ahead of time from their journals to make room for the layers of mixed media that were inevitable.

The thought of removing pages from my Moleskine quite frankly alarmed me. Number one, the paper stock is so nice. It would be a shame to lose a bunch of it for the sake of making room. Number two, I knew Moleskines were put together very well and wasn’t sure, frankly, if I’d even be able to remove pages effectively without completely destroying the binding.

The original strained spine of my Moleskine art journal.

I was relieved to learn that the spine itself could be fixed when I was watching a YouTube presentation by Vicky Papaioannou of Clips-n-Cuts.  She mentioned briefly in the video that at some point she was going to readjust the spine of her Moleskine to let the journal breathe. She hasn’t made a how-to video on it just yet, so I searched the web to see if anyone else had published anything about re-adjusting the spine of their Moleskine. Enter this old blog post from “The last door down the hall” where the author fortunately provided a step-by-step approach to fixing her Moleskine.

EDIT: As of August 14, 2015, Vicky has posted a how-to video showing how she adjusts the spine on her Moleskine. It’s a slightly different approach from what I’m detailing here, but definitely worth the watch. You also get treated to an art-journal flip. Check out the video here: Art Journal Flip-Through and How to Expand the Book Spine.

So, this post is nothing new and revolutionary, but I will go ahead and share with you the steps that I took to do this, which followed Elizabeth’s directions very closely. I just give some extra details on my experience with the process and some hints on possible speed-bumps along the way.

First I got my materials ready:

  • Cutting mat
  • X-acto knife
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Book tape
  • Scrap leather
  • Gel medium
  • Binder clips

IMG_8860Once I had everything I required, it was time to get moving. First step and probably the scariest was to cut the existing spine material directly down the center. I was honestly expecting the book to just pop open and have pages flying everywhere. Fortunately that was not the case. True to Moleskine’s quality, the original tissue and glue were still holding the signatures together pretty firmly and none of the stitching had come undone.

IMG_8863I removed the original tissue and then took on the task of readjusting the spine to more closely match the width of the edges of the book. This took the spine from being 1/2″ wide to roughly 1-1/4″ wide. I will note here if your book’s original glue and binding are still firmly in place this process will take quite a bit of time and some special finagling. There were times where I very carefully took my x-acto knife and worked the signatures apart from each other by cutting the glue, being mindful of the stitches to not accidentally cut them, nor putting too much pressure to the point of cutting the paper. Once I had created a small gap between signatures after cutting through the glue I would gently pull on them with my fingers to make more room (fingernails are helpful here, folks.)

Re-adjusting the signatures for a more roomy spine.

After my spine adjusting was satisfactory to me, I put a large binder clip on the edges of the journal in order to keep the pages at the width I wanted. I will note here that it was just extremely convenient that the book turned out it needed to be about an inch wide and I had one of those large one-inch binder clips. I’m not quite sure how well I would have done with keeping everything together the way I wanted it without the clip.

IMG_8866IMG_8867My next step was tucking the existing old spine leather into the sides. I had to do some additional prying between the cover boards and the pages they were glued to in order to make room to tuck the leather in. Once I had accomplished that I glued them down with gel medium (I am continually impressed with how sturdy gel medium is.) I used some miniature binder clips to help hold the leather down while the gel medium dried.

IMG_8869I next adhered the book tape to the spine. I ended up with something that seemed more like packaging tape, although Scotch advertises it as “Book Tape”. It had good reviews on Amazon so I went ahead and got it. This book tape does not have the tissue on one side as described in Elizabeth’s post, since it was a different brand. I cut the tape to match the height and width of the spine then adhered it to the spine using my bone folder to firmly press the tape into all the nooks and crannies. Once that was complete, I adhered some tissue over that with gel medium. Now, I’m not quite sure what this extra step of adding tissue is for. Maybe the original binding tape mentioned in her blog post was more thin and an extra layer of tissue would assist with making things sturdier.

IMG_8870Last but not least was to adhere the scrap leather to create a new spine. I cut the scrap to match the height of the spine and then determined I wanted a half-inch of overlap on the back and front. I measured the spine a second time and it was closer to 1-1/4″ wide so I cut the entire leather scrap to be 2-1/4″ wide.

I marked the half-inch marks on the front and back of the cover to give me a visual queue on where to line up the leather then adhered the leather first to the back with gel medium, running over it with my bone folder to smooth out any air bubbles. I allowed it to thoroughly dry, then adhered the rest to the front. (Again… super impressed with how strong gel medium is. I was worrying at one point I’d require a different glue that would play nicely with the soft unfinished side of the leather and the finished side of the Moleskine’s leather. I’ve so far seen no issue with the leather wanting to separate.)

After everything dried I removed the large binder clip and with much satisfaction observed that the pages no longer fanned out and the book’s width remained uniform from front to back.

IMG_8876Overall this process took roughly an hour of active work excluding time allowed for the gel medium to dry (which dries pretty quickly in Colorado’s desert climate.)

This is fanned out on purpose. :)

IMG_8878I’m quite happy with how this turned out. I am equally excited that this particular project is finished because it means that I can finally decorate the cover now!

Still have to wrap my mind around what exactly I want to do for the cover design, but rest assured once it’s done you will get pictures and a description. At this point, after I have my cover completed I will also film a flip-through. I had filmed a flip-through previously but wasn’t satisfied with it’s quality because I did it holding the camera in one hand and flipping with the other. I also would rather the book had a finished cover to show off, as well.

Stay tuned for that.

If you have any questions, please leave them below. If you’ve ever reworked the spine on your art journal, I’d love to hear how you approached it.

Thanks for reading! Please like and share this post with your friends if you found the information valuable.


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