Well, how long does it take?
Great question! I'm so glad you asked.
This is one of the first questions that comes up when folk learn that I make Dapper Notes by hand, one-by-one, from scratch. It's a very good question, and until today I always answered with a vague range of "I don't know, like ten-to-twenty minutes…I guess…?"
The guessing game ends today.
As I set out to make the Start Today edition, I decided to time every single step of the notebook-making process. Almost every step, actually, but more on that later.
My approach was simple: I used an app called Toggl timer that ran every time I was doing something related to making the new edition. Here's a full (and very long) list of every single step in order from start-to-finish. Feel free to skip the list and check out the results. You may also find it helpful to watch the well-paced YouTube video that showcases the entire process visually:
To make a Dapper Notes, I need to:
- Cut the fabric
- Cut the bookcloth from a wide roll
- Glue the fabric to the bookcloth
- Cut the glued covers to a notebook size
- Iron each cover
- Press the covers overnight as they dry
- Cut the fancy end sheets to a notebook size
- Collate papers
- Cut waxed thread to size (13.5")
- Assemble all the pieces
- Punch sewing stations (make holes with an awl)
- Sew the notebook
- Fold it by hand for pre-press
- Put the notebook into the press where it stays for 8+ hours
- Shear the three edges (a fancy word for cutting in a guillotine)
- Round the notebook's corners
- Stamp and sign each notebook
- Print out belly bands
- Score the belly bands for perfect folding
- Package the notebook
- Photograph the edition and edit those photos
- Put the new edition onto the website
- And ship the notebook to you 😎
Here's that list in action:
So how long does it actually take?
For the edition where all of this was measured, I made a total of 350 notebooks. This is a bit more than I normally make, and I know that some of the bulk steps (like cutting the fabric) take roughly the same amount of time no matter the edition size. Which means that in timing such a large release, I came up with the a number that is the actually the minimum speed for making Dapper Notes.
Anywho, I put all of the numbers into a spreadsheet, and much to my surprise it took me roughly seven minutes to make each notebook from start to finish. Feel free to check out the spreadsheet, make your own copy, and play with the data.
There's more to the story.
Seeing all the numbers like this confirmed some assumptions, but also taught me a few new things.
Sewing the notebooks takes the most amount of time. This is something I already knew. It is also one of my favorite parts of making Dapper Notes. When I'm sewing, I sit by my desk, listen to one of my favorite podcasts, and get into a pretty meditative state.
The steps that are done in batches take less time than things that need to be done individually for every notebook. For example, I cut all 350 threads in a mere fifteen minutes, but signing each notebook took almost two-and-a-half hours.
I was pretty surprised to see how much time I spent shooting and editing photos. This took up almost seven hours.
The chart below shows a breakdown of all the steps I timed. You can see the source data in this spreadsheet.
A few more interesting facts:
The Start Today edition was made with a fabric I purchased online that turned out to be thinner than usual. This meant that the fabric edges frayed a lot more than normal Dapper Notes covers, and I had to spend some time trimming them all with small scissors. Doing so added an extra seven hours of work time (1m 10s per notebook). Since this step is very unusual, I did not include it in the final tally for how long it takes me to make the average notebook.
I did not time how long it takes me to shop for materials. This probably adds 3 to 5 hours to the total, but is not actually part of physically making the notebooks. So I left that out of the count.
I also didn't time how long it takes me to write notes, pack your orders, and drop them off at the post office. This adds a few more minutes per notebook, but is also not part of actually the making process. So I left that out as well.
Finally, I record a podcast episode for each edition, and also spend time preparing images for an email announcement and for posting on social media. These steps were not timed either.
So how long does it really take to make Dapper Notes?
The parts that involve me actually making notebooks (and photographing them) take a minimum of seven minutes and eighteen seconds per notebook.
It's safe to say that once you add up everything else, I dedicate roughly ten-to-fifteen minutes of my time for every single Dapper Notes. This means that my rate equals about one dollar per minute of work.
And there you have it. I still don't know precisely how much time I spend making Dapper Notes, but I can at least give a more informed answer the next time I'm asked. More importantly, Dapper Notes are a labor of love, and measuring everything was a matter of curiosity more than anything else.
If you decide to play around with the spreadsheet data, let me know what interesting thoughts you discover.
I hope this breakdown was interesting and informative. Feel free to send me your questions and observations, and of course check out the Start Today edition that has a cover designed by Lisa Congdon.
Bonus content, your guesses:
Before writing this post, I shared a few Instagram stories (and a Twitter thread) asking you to make some related guesses. This is how you responded:
How long did you think it takes me to make Dapper Notes?
You answered: "8 minutes" (right on the money!), "3 days", "seven Gilmore Girls episodes" (solid guess), "40 minutes", "1.5 hours", "12 minutes", "one week", "35 minutes", "3 days", "48.25 hours" (oddly specific and very close), "11h 15m".
There were a few more guesses, but just like myself before I timed everything, the estimates were all over the place.
Which step do you think takes the longest?
You answered: "Making the cover", "pressing", "gluing", "alignment", and "folding paper".
I don't actually fold the papers individually, and none of you guessed the correct answer: "sewing".
Which is my least favorite step?
Several of you guessed "sewing" and "gluing", along with "cutting paper" and "tying the knot".
The correct answer is collating papers. It's the least creative step, and a bit annoying to do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What is the most satisfying step?
You answered: "tying the knot", "binding the books" (is that sewing?), and "screen printing" (I only did that for one edition). But many of you guessed correctly that I enjoy the final shear and corner rounding best, when the notebook is finally done and I get to see it complete and neat.
Thanks for playing along, and congrats to @andr3writchie who had the closest time guesstimate.