Geek Girl Tutorials

How to make a River Song Journal

The finished project in most of its battered glory

This one’s not so much of a tutorial as a general guideline. There are a lot of mistakes I’ve made with this particular prop, but here we go anyway. Have some fun on Thanksgiving making props for cosplays. Maybe after these times of plague and pestilence we will get to go to conventions again.

Materials: In the order I used them

At one point my table looked all pretty…
  • A journal: This can really be any kind of journal that is the right size to look right as you are holding it. I got one with a coptic binding and no spine, because I thought it might be easier to customize. More on that later.
  • Tea: Strong black. In a big enough bowl that you can dunk the entire journal into it.
  • Sun
  • A Texas ThunderstormTM
  • Reference photos
  • A ruler, pencil, and sharpies: ideally a ruler with centimeter markings, because some of these measurements are tiny.
  • Imagination
  • Reference Pictures
  • Math Skills
  • Wood carving tools: Nope forget it. Not worth the time.
  • Craft foam: one sheet of the kind you find in the kids aisle at the craft store. I got blue because TARDIS, but it doesn’t really matter.
  • A ruler, pencil, and sharpies.
  • Imagination
  • Exacto knife and Scissors.
  • Tears
  • Mod Podge
  • Faux Suede Fabric in an appropriately TARDIS color: enough to cover the journal with room to spare. I got a third of a yard. Bring your journal to the craft store if you are unsure. Don’t ask me how I know this.
  • Elmer’s CraftBond Fabric and Paper Glue: The cheapest acid free glue I found that was good for book binding
  • Bone folder for paper
  • Sponge Tip paint sticks, for working with stencils
  • Tears
  • Time
  • New Plan
  • Mod Podge
  • A paint brush
  • Water
  • Time. So. Much. Time.
  • Patience
  • Something to weigh down glued down fabric
  • Balsa wood
  • Cardstock
  • Elmer’s CraftBond Fabric and Paper Glue
  • Imagination
  • More Patience
  • Fabric Scissors
  • The heaviest books in your personal library. Possibly bricks.

And that’s it! Simple, right?


Dyeing Your Journal With Tea

  • Brew up some strong, plain black tea. No fruity flavorings or extra additives, just black tea. Liptons works well. Instant might even work. I haven’t tested it out.
  • Pour (or brew) the tea in a large enough bowl to dunk your journal in.
  • Dunk the journal. Make sure you fan out all the pages, so that the tea gets everywhere. Really soak all the pages.
  • Cry when your cheap journal from Half Price Books falls apart.
  • Lay out all the journal pieces in the sun to dry.
  • Forget about them while a Texas ThunderstormTM happens.
  • Cry.
  • Realize that this is actually a good thing, because you wanted a beat up journal.

Making the covers and spine

This is the real meat of your project, so you are going to be spending the most time on it.

  • Put the project aside for five years while you do other, easier things.
  • Look at it every once in a while, realize that you really don’t like using your cheap, not very accurate prop.
  • Get advice from your friend the book maker at the local Renaissance Festival. (yes, really.)
  • Put it on your craft table, so that you have to shift it around every time you want to work on something else.
  • Arrange for a world wide pandemic and six months off of work.
  • Begin to work on it after you return to work.

But, seriously, you were here for directions, right?

The journal with all the TARDIS bits laid out
  • Look at reference photos and take measurements of your journal covers, laying out all the lines in pencil
  • Erase all the pencil lines because you did math wrong.
  • Look back at all the pictures, take careful measurements, and try again.
  • Write down the measurements for your third attempt.
  • Quickly copy the third attempt onto the second cover, before you forget what you did.
  • Cover all the pencil marks in Sharpie.
  • Cry, and try to indicate which Sharpie marks are the correct Sharpie marks.
  • Start to use the wood carving tools to carve out the lines you just made.
  • Realize that you want to have a prop sometime in the next ten years.
  • Make a new plan.

  • Buy craft foam at the craft store
  • Copy your measurements onto a traced outline of your journal covers
  • Line the pencil markings with thick sharpie.
  • Cut out the craft foam along both sides of the sharpie lines, so that you have spaces for those TARDIS grooves. The little window panels need an Exacto knife.
  • Mod Podge the craft foam down onto the covers.
  • Feel proud of yourself.
  • Realize you need a spine for the book.
  • Quickly cut one out of two layers of craft foam, without measurements, based entirely on glances at reference pictures, because you need to go to bed.
  • Mod podge
  • Next weekend, proudly cut out fabric and pour CraftBond over the first cover, preparing to use the bone folder to shove the fabric in all the crevasses.
  • Cry when the fabric goes in one, then immediately comes out when you press it into the other.
  • Pull the fabric off before it gets glued wrong and throw the fabric away.
  • Put the project aside for a month or two. You’ve done so much work.
This one step was three solid weeks of work
  • Start again with Mod Podge and a new cut of fabric.
  • Start on the spine this time, carefully gathering the fabric into all of the creases and letting it dry before you move onto the next crease.
  • Start writing a 90,000 word zero draft of a novel in the month of November.
  • Continue gluing, piece by piece in between word sprints and before going to bed, utilizing the bone folder, fingernails, paintbrushes and sponges, balsa wood that you have cut to fit in the groves, and blocks of Sculpy to hold it all down.
  • Have a drink when it is glued. This time you’ve really earned it.
The end pages
  • Sometime in the middle of all that gluing, remember that you are going to have to get the pages back in.
  • Reinforce the spine of the pages with a bit of CraftBond.
  • Trace out the pages on cardstock, and fold over to make a book-like page, and cut out two of them.
  • Glue them down on the pages with CraftBond
  • Smash those pages down with all the heaviest books from your personal library.
  • Have a heart attack when you realize you might have glued your journal to your book on Chinese Herbology.
  • Sigh when you realize you haven’t.
  • Once all the gluing is done on the front, flip that puppy over and cut off the excess fabric, leaving a bit to fold over and glue down on the inside.
  • CraftBond the edges down, holding them down with Sculpy until they are dry, and easing the corners down last.
Arranging the pages on the covers
  • Carefully CraftBond the end pages of the book to the covers.
  • Check to make sure everything is where you want it to be.
  • Smash it down with all of your heaviest books.
  • I mean it.
  • All of them.
  • Toss away all the bits and bobs of trash that have accumulated, clean your brushes and plates, make sure your glues are closed, and pat yourself on the back.
  • You have a River Journal!
  • Now to find black pens and scribble all over it.

Things I would do differently:

  • Seriously, I would buy a journal with a spine, glue craft foam over it to create the TARDIS bits, and paint it to look right.
  • So. Much. Easier.
  • If someone bonked me over the head so that I got amnesia and forgot just how hard and fiddley this whole project was, and I did it again this way:
    • First, I would cry. Because ow. I was bonked on the head.
    • Second, I would make the spine a little larger than the thickness of the pages. It works now, but it is a little too thin for the book.

Things I still need/want to do:

  • Write in all the pages. This is obviously 10th Doctor River Song, maybe even 12th Doctor. She needs to have a full journal.
  • Somehow stain the end pages. I didn’t stain them with tea before gluing, because I wanted to create a nice solid surface for gluing onto.
  • Paint the outside to age it a bit more. There are some stained parts where the Mod Podge blend through the fabric, and I want to make that look like actual wear and tear, not a mistake.
  • If I get really creative, break the spine, as seen in Silence in the Library.

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