Back-to School 3-Ring Binder

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Here is an easy project that involves recycling an old 3-ring binder into something with style!

This finished 3-ring binder has been recovered in baby wale corduroy.

Materials list:

  • 3-Ring binder (vinyl covered)
  • Exacto knife or utility knife as well as scissors
  • Cutting mat
  • Sharp pencil
  • Duct tape (it comes in fun colors, so have some fun)
  • Old art brushes, medium and small
  • Ruler or see through quilting ruler
  • PVA glue (Ph neutral and acid free bookbinding glue)
  • Lite Steam-A-Seam (double stick fusible web)
  • Acid free tissue paper or light-weight craft paper (see instructions)
  • 1/2 yard of fabric (suggested: quilting cotton weight, decorator fabric weight, bark cloth or baby wale corduroy)
  • (2) sheets of coordinating 12” x 12” scrapbook paper
  • Waxed paper (optional)
  • You will also need an iron for this project

Alright, let’s get started. First, let’s see what type of binder you have. I have written these instructions for two of the most prevalent binder styles, the classic, 3-ring-on-the-spine type and the more recent, 3-ring-off-center type. This last binder type has one more tiny step to do so it would be best to read over the directions all the way through right now to familiarize yourself with the process as well as determine what style binder you have to work with.

Step 1: Out with the Old

Tear off that old vinyl covering. Use your utility knife to carefully cut the vinyl away from the chipboard (cardboard). Cut around the rivets and be sure to cut out the vinyl that is under the 3-ring thingy too. You will need this as free of obstructions as you can.

An old, ratty 3-ring binder waiting to be re-born
Cut and tear away all the vinyl, leaving the chipboard

You will end up with 3 loose pieces of chipboard: a narrow spine piece and two large pieces for the front and back covers.

Step 2: Check the Spine and Corners

You may need to do a bit of doctoring. If you have one like I did, where the chipboard was all frayed, just wrap a bit of duct tape neatly around any edges to make them stronger.

Left: Frayed ends of chipboard                                            Right: All fixed with duct tape

Step 3: Put it Back Together

Lay your three pieces out on your work surface. Using a ruler to keep all the pieces lined up along their top or bottom edge. You will be using your duct tape to hold the chipboard together. First, take a piece of duct tape that is the height of the notebook and place it, sticky-side up on your work surface. Lay one of the large chipboard (front or back) piece on the duct tape -half way. Secure by pressing down with your hands. Now, take a ruler (clear quilting ruler is the best) and draw a line right on the sticky tape, 1/4” away from the edge of the chipboard. This will be your guide line for laying down the spine piece. You will have a 1/4” gap of sticky duct tape showing. Do this for the other side (front or back) piece. Now, take a similar length of duct tape and go over the top side to cover the exposed sticky gap. Note: When working around the 3-ring thingy, in either binder style, slip the edge of the duct tape as far under the 3-ring thingy as it can go.

Step 4: Paper-Backing the Fabric

Place your material, print side up (just for now) under your taped together chipboard binder. Make sure your pattern is running straight with the edges of your binder and eye-ball cut your fabric about 1 1/2” larger than the binder on all four sides. Set the binder aside.

Press the fabric that you have cut for your binder and turn it wrong side up. Read all the manufacturer’s instructions for the Lite Steam-A-Seam 2 fusible webbing before using. It comes in sheets, so you will need to use a few sheets for a standard size binder. Cut pieces of webbing to fit the fabric as needed. Peel the paper off one side of the double-sided webbing. Attach the sticky side of the webbing to the backside of your fabric. Iron the paper side of the webbing onto fabric, let it cool to the touch and remove the paper backing. Now, you have some choices here, I have done some bookbinding, so I have acid free tissue paper for backing fabrics for journals and such. But, since I am pretty sure this chipboard in the binder is far from acid free, it really isn’t necessary to be archival snobs here. So, a nice alternative product to use is this light-weight craft paper that comes in a
roll that is 12” wide. I wish I could tell you where I got this, but I cannot remember. It is nice to work with and works great in a project like this. I have no idea if it is acid free, so I treat it like it is not just to be safe. If you are using the tissue paper, I like to give it a bit of a press to get the fold lines out before using.

Iron your tissue or light-weight craft paper to the sticky side of the fusible webbing. When done, make sure there are no bubbles or wrinkles to the fabric side. Use your iron to gently work any out from the fabric side. Trim your paper-backed fabric piece so all edges are even and tidy.

Step 5: Time to Glue

A terrific glue to use in a bookbinding glue called PVA glue. It looks like regular white glue but is Ph neutral and water-soluble. It is thicker then regular white glue and very durable. Great for a project like this. It does dry fast, so have everything ready. This glue does not facilitate repositioning, so line up an edge and put pieces down in sections. To start, turn your paper-backed fabric right side down and center your taped together chipboard binder on top. Mark the four corners of the binder with pencil on the paper side of the fabric. Cut off the four corners of the fabric, diagonally, leaving a generous 1/4” space between the part your cutting off and the corners you marked for binder placement.

Turn your binder over (3-ring thingy side down) and drizzle glue over it. Using your medium sized art brush, quickly spread out the glue in a nice thin layer over the entire binder.

Work fast, this stuff dries quick!

This is where you are going to be glad you marked the placement, carefully turn the binder over and place onto the paper side of the fabric – ONE SIDE AT A TIME. Turn the whole thing over and check for bubbles. Smooth out, wallpaper style from center if needed.

Turn the binder over so the rings are up. You will be gluing the sides down over the chipboard to finish this step. I like to start with the short sides. One side at a time. Spread a thin layer of glue about 1 1/2 inches wide along the short side of the cardboard. Note: Spreading a thin layer of glue on the cardboard rather than the fabric will protect the fabric from glue seeping through the paper and fabric. If you put the glue on too thick, seeping through may happen. You can take a damp cloth and gently blot the fabric surface to remove some of the glue and restore the fabric. Don’t soak the cardboard.

Fold up the extra allowance on the corner at the point of the cardboard corner. Top and bottom for this side.

Then pull the fabric firmly around the short edge and smooth out. You should have the start of a nice sharp corner. Repeat for other short side.

To finish the long sides you will need to know what type of binder you are working with, here is where there will be a variation in finishing.

For a Classic Binder: Cut a notch in line with either side of the spine and about 1/2 way into the depth of the over hang fabric.

Spread glue onto the binder chipboard, duct tape and under the 3-ring thingy. Pull the over hang fabric firmly over edge and smooth out, making sure corners are sharp and mitered. Repeat.

Long edge glued down and tucked in under 3-ring thingy. Trim this edge to run alongside duct taped spine. Wipe away any extra glue with a damp cloth.

For Off-Center Binder: Before finishing the long edge, you will need to make a fabric spine cover. Use the same paper-backing techniques you learned in Step 4 to prepare a piece of fabric that is wide enough to slip under the 3-ring thingy and at least 1 1/2” past the width of the spine. Glue this additional paper-backed strip down over the duct tape.

Glue over hang fabric on long sides in the same manner as in the Classic Binder method with the addition of folding down the upper edge of the over hang fabric to make a nice “hem” appearance.

Make a 1/8” snip in the fabric to be able to turn down the fabric for the “hem.” This “hem” is about 1 1/2” in length past spine.

Step 6: The Finishing Touch

Choose a paper for lining your binder. You can use scrapbook paper, wallpaper or anything that will hold up to gluing. For a standard size 3-ring binder, I cut (2) pieces that were 9 1/2” x 11 1/4” for the Classic Binder and (1) piece that was 9” x 11 1/4” and (1) piece that was 9 3/4” x 11 1/4” for the Off-Center Binder. These measurements will leave a trim, 1/4” of the fabric showing on the three outer edges of the binder. I recommend you play with your papers and measure what your binder needs before cutting anything.

For the Classic Binder: You will be putting the glue onto the cardboard and fabric (not going all the way to the edge of the binder) carefully laying the paper to the glued surface using the duct taped edge of the spine as your starting guide. To help smooth out the paper, take a small square of waxed paper and use it to smooth out the paper, The waxed paper protects the damp paper from being pulled too hard and helps to glide out ripples and bubbles. Work from the center outwards. Repeat for other side.
For the Off-Center Binder: Start on the side the 3-ring thingy is on and put glue onto the cardboard and fabric (not going all the way to the edge of the binder) carefully laying the paper to the glued surface slipping the paper under the 3-ring thing as far as it will go as your starting guide. To help smooth out the paper, take a small square of waxed paper and use it to smooth out the paper, The waxed paper protects the damp paper from being pulled too hard and helps to glide out ripples and bubbles. Work from the center outwards. For the other side of the binder, work from the outside edge in. Your paper will be narrower than this side is wide since the spine is considered part of this side when the binder is open. The fabric spine will not be covered by the paper. Glue paper down and smooth out.

Use your small art brush to glue any corners or edges that may have been missed by glue.
Leave a scant 1/4” of fabric showing beyond the paper on the three outer edges of the binder.

Your binder is all finished! Allow it an overnight to dry out completely before putting it to use.

I hope you enjoyed this project. Feel free to make these for your personal use, but this tutorial, the images, and instructions are not to be used for commercial profit. Do not post any portion of this tutorial on any site without referencing my site as its source. Please comply to all copyright laws. Thank you.

© Sharon Holland 2010


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