Circle journal, Mixed Media, Tutorials

Constructing your circle journal from paper bags

As my circle journal is run by an online scrapbooking store (Scrapingclearly), the basic materials for my circle journal came as a kit. This included 14 paper bags, and a couple of other things like a sample of modeling paste and a pipette for mixed media. But trust me, it is pretty straight forward to gather the materials to make your own. Everything I used for this tutorial, except the bags, I just had lying around the house.

Tutorial – How to make a paper bag circle/art journal 

(even when you are a total beginner!)


  • Paper bags (as many as you want, it’s just dependent on how many pages you want)
  • Glue (I used Craft Smart Glaze Paste)
  • Gesso (I used transparent gesso)
  • Needle (I used one I normally reserve for sewing in wool threads – it’s larger and blunter than a regular sewing needle)
  • Seam ripper (because it’s the only thing I could find to make holes – but an old school student compass would work just as well, or a craft drill if you’re super fancy!)
  • Thread or twine (I used cooking twine, the stuff you tie chicken with when you’re roasting it)
  • Scoreboard (I used my We R Memory keepers punch board – same outcome!)
  • Craft knife and cutting board
  • Scissors
  • Ruler and pencil

Circle journal supplies.jpg

1. Source your paper bags

Being in Australia, the paper bags chosen for our circle group were the kind that your wine is packed in at liquor stores. Those bags are about 15 cm wide and 40 cm long, a pinky brown colour, and have a pinked edge on one side. The final journal following these instructions will be about 18.5cm x 15 cm. But any paper bags  will work. For example, I’ve been practicing my mixed media on regular lunch paper bags that are 19.5cm wide and 26 cm long. These would bind together really well for a paper bag journal and have the advantage of being super cheap. The only difference is that final dimensions of your journal will be closer to 19.5 x 25 cm.

2. Prepare the bags

Fold over the pinked or jaggered edge of each bag and glue it down. You could choose to simply cut off this edge, but I found folding it over and sealing it meant each page had two strong edges.

Cut all the bags in half, cutting down the short length. This will give you 28 ‘pages’, each approximately 18.5 cm wide and 15 cm high. You could simply fold your bags in half to create the pages, but I chose not to in order to avoid adding bulk to where I would eventually be binding.

Coat each side of each bag with a thin layer of transparent gesso. This step is not necessary, but I decided doing it at this stage was the easiest way to protect the journal as a whole since every inch would have at least 1 coat of medium.

Now each of your treated pages will have one short end that is closed (either because you glued down the pinked edge, or it was the bottom of the bag). Score the bag vertically parallel with the short edge, about 1 cm in from the edge. This serves two purposes: firstly it helps mark where the binding holes need to go on each page; and secondly it creates an edge to help the pages turn against.

Folded pages.jpg

Take all your treated and scored pages and separate them into piles. Each pile will become a ‘signature’. This is just book binding speak for a group of pages that will be bound together. I chose to separate my pages into three signatures – the 1st has 8 pages, the 2nd and 3rd have 10 pages each. The idea of using signatures is that it 1) makes it easier to bind the pages as you do it in batches; 2) and more importantly, creates space for your circle journal to grow. Eventually, when the journal is returned to me April 2017 (fingers crossed!) I will bind together the three signatures and add an outer chipboard cover. But in the meantime, using signatures should make it easier for each person to create their spread, since the last person is not trying to fold back 14 double spreads to get to their page.

3. Bind the bags

There are dozens of different ways to bind your bags together. In the end, I followed steps 3 and 4 of this  Creative Blog tutorial. Please check it out – it’s very helpful!

In summary what I did is:

  • A. Pierced holes down the 1cm score line in the top page to act as a template. There should be two holes about 1cm in from each end, and three more evenly spaced in between. Make the holes slightly bigger than the eye of the needle you are using. If you don’t it will be a little tough to get the needle through all the pages.
  • B. Lined up all the pages within the signature, and pierced holes in them all. I really don’t recommend using a seam ripper for this, but it’s all I had and it did work.
  • C. I found it helped a lot once I use a bulldog clip or two to keep all the pages together.
  • D-I. Sew! To sew the pages in each signature together I used the instructions from the linked blog post above.
    • Basically, you start with the middle hole, pushing your needle from back to front. (See D) You loop around the edge and then come back through the same hole
    • You then move either up or down the edge to the next hole. It doesn’t matter which way you go first since you will ultimately sew the whole length of your pages. Go in that hole from the front, wrap around, go back through the same hole, then move to the next hole. (See E)
    • Have a pair of pliers handy, it will help you pull the needle through all the layers. If pliers aren’t working, move the needle through one page at a time manually. (See F) It’s slower, but easier on your fingers!  
    • Once you reach the end you start to move back in the opposite direction. (See G)
    • As you can see from H, each wrap around stitch puts you on the opposite side of the signature. This is why you move up and down the edge.
    • Once you return to the centre for the second time, you can tie off your thread. (See I)
  • J. My finished product – with loops around the edge for each hole, and each hole linked up along the scored line, for the full length of the signature, front and back. Now repeat for the other two signatures.

Building Pages Advice.jpg

I usually find images are less confusing than words, so hopefully these step by step shots of me creating one signature help. Look at these while reading the Creative Blog steps and you will be set!

4. Strengthening the pages

Even though I pre-treated each page with gesso, I decided to glue pairs of pages together for extra strength. I left the front and last page of each signature as a single page, and glued the pairs together starting with page 2. This means that the back page of one signature can eventually be stuck to the front page of the next signature, hiding the join. I designed the number of pages in each signature to make this work but you could skip this step or pre glue your bags together back at step 1. The downside of doing the latter is that it creates double the thickness to sew through.

Finally, if you have made it this far in following the tutorial you will notice that on the unbound short side of your journal all the bags are still open. I did this on purpose, as it gives the person creating the page flexibility to add hand sewing or to insert some cardboard or other absorbent material if what they are creating might leak through to other pages below. Once you’ve finished creating your double-sided spread, you can easily close the opening up with double-sided tape.

Other tutorials in my circle journal adventure:

  1. Constructing your circle journal from paper bags
  2. Creating a title page
  3. Creating a sign in page
  4. Setting the theme