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Handmade Photo Albums

I've always really enjoyed making my own versions of things that you could just as easily buy at the store. It feels more valuable, more special somehow. I recently made the beginnings of a scrapbook for a friend as a baby shower gift using all store bought materials when it hit me, I have most of the things necessary to make a photo album at home already. I have a professional photo printer, cutting tools, canvas for the covers...all I really needed was the sewing tools (with the exception of some tools I discovered would be handy to have after starting the projects). So I did it, I made my own photo albums.

Crafting is always a learn as you go experience so these have only improved in quality as I've made more of them. Hopefully I'll get faster at the sewing aspect one day. I also used the canvas to make a business card holder as well, which is pictured below.

I've included a semi-how to/tutorial with photos after the first set of photos so you can see how I did it and attempt your own.

Homemade Photograph Album Tutorial

First, you need to print your photos and determine what size photo album you would like to make. The example below is made with 13x19 photographs.

When printing the photographs I like to leave a little extra room at the side where you will be placing the binding. When you leave room it allows space for the binding to not interfere with the aesthetics of your photos and gives you space to pre-crease the photos for ease of use if you desire.

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After printing you photos you need to decide what kind of binding you would like and what materials you would like to use. For the 13x19 Photo Album I punched 32 holes for the binding and used a leather-binding string for extra durability. Note that 32 holes was probably completely unnecessary but I wanted to use a single-stitch for the aesthetics so I made more holes in the attempt at more stability. 

Since I was printing a large number of large-sized photographs I decided to pre-crease the pages so the book would lay flat when opened to a specific page (a lesson I learned from some of my earlier attempts). I used that aforementioned blank space where the holes will be going to place my crease half-way from where the hole is relative to the photo. In the photo below you can see where I made the crease in regards to where the holes will be placed (the black dots).

To make the crease I determined a set point away from the edge of the photo that would still allow me enough room to punch the holes. I then used the exact same measurement on every photo. Note that when making extremely large photo books such as this there will be a slight dis-alignment with the edges as you continue adding pages. I marked the pre-determined distance very lightly on the back of the photo with a pencil, lined up the ruler on those marks so it was exactly straight, then lightly folded the paper over the top of the ruler. I then took a bone-tool page creaser (really anything with a slightly dulled edge will work here) to crease the page front and back to allow it to lay flat when open.

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Below is two photos that show the crease and the planned holes more closely. 

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Next up is punching the holes! Here comes the fun part. I've experimented with several methods of punching the holes for the thread binding. Using an awl worked pretty well, as did using an electric drill. Yes, you read that correctly, a drill. In the photo below I've aligned four photos together (to save time and this way you only have to mark the hole positions on every fourth photograph). I've clamped them together using clothespins but you could use anything clampy here to get the job done (make sure that the pages are perfectly aligned before you start poking holes in them otherwise the page will not line up when sewing). After you've marked the holes, lined them up and clamped them together, use your preferred method of making the holes. In the photo below I'm using a paper awl to punch the holes just to ensure that every hole is a similar size and in the correct position.

You can also use a drill or other hole-punching method if you prefer. If you do decide to drill be very cautious to make sure that you are drilling exactly where you marked the hole because drill have a tendency to move around once you start. Another note with drilling is to do it fast, instinct tells you slower is better and more accurate but with paper, the faster you go the less chance you have of screwing it up.

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I'm going to jump slightly out of order before getting back into the project. I chose to use some canvas I had laying around to make the cover. Below are two photos of me cutting the canvas. To do this I clamped the photo to the canvas so I could decide how much of a border I wanted the cover to have. I settled on about 1 cm on each side (with the exception of the binding side) to provide a slight overlap when the book is closed. The reason for not having the overlap on the binding side is that I wanted the canvas to be flush with the photograph edges on that side, like a book, to allow it to lay flat on a table a little bit better. 

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While I had cover already out I decided to flip the photo over, re-clamp them together and punch the holes (as seen in the photo below) in the canvas cover as well just to get it out of the way.

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Ok, back to the main tutorial again. Next up after creasing all the photos, punching holes in them and organizing them into the order you want is to start binding them together! Hopefully you made the holes large enough for your chosen needle and thread to pass through without too much difficulty. If you did not, have fun with that! 

In the below two photos I am about 6 stitches back and forth across the photo book. One thing I learned that was helpful with making a photo book of this many pages, about 40ish pages, is to group the photos together in groups of about 4-5 pages. This helps when trying to push the needle through a hole but you can't find the right spot or it doesn't seem to want to pull all the way through the pages. Trust me. 

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Sewing this many pages with this many holes takes a lot of patience. 

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 When you've completely finished sewing the binding (single or double stitch) you get to pull the book tightly together. This part made me very nervous because I really really did not want to have to go back and re-sew the whole project if I broke the string by pulling too hard or some other reason. I probably would have cried. After you've pulled it nice and tight you get to tie it off! I used a simple figure-eight knot to tie it off, don't forget to leave about 1/8th of an inch of string on the end of the knot so it doesn't loosen or unravel over time. 

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I sewed some leather clasps on mine to give it some added closure sturdiness and a nice accessory. Sewing them on is a b!&*$ though. The holes on the leather pieces were all quite small so I had to enlarge them with the awl just to fit the needle and thread through. The canvas is also quite difficult to sew through so I clamped the leather pieces to the canvas and pre-punched the holes to sew through as well. I also found holding the leather piece to the canvas and sticking the tip of a mechanical pencil through to mark where the holes should go to be effective as well, then you just punch the holes where the markings are. Sewing these clasps on is quite a painful amount of work for something so small but I think it adds a certain something to the overall project. 

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BOOM! You're finished! Enjoy your new photo book!

Richard Mace