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Book-Binding 101

19 Sep

Well, it’s that time of year, and I’m back on the proverbial horse. I had myself a gosh-darn wonderful summer, but now school’s back in session and my summer ideas are finally starting to take physical form.

Which brings me to my first serious, down-and-dirty foray into bookbinding, trad.-style. 

It all started with my boyfriend’s birthday. I wanted to give him (along with a homemade dreamcatcher, stay tuned for that tutorial) a book of love poems. It seemed like a no-brainer, to buy “The Book of Love” from my all-time favorite poet, Rumi. But when I got home with it and started flipping through, I was thoroughly disappointed with the selection, and even some of the translations. So I pulled out my handy-dandy laptop and started compiling my own collection. 

I used Pages, Apple’s word processing program, which worked like a dream. To make your own book, be sure to start with a blank canvas, as opposed to a blank word processing document. It makes moving things around and changing page order super easy. 

But remember! Pages should be not be printed in standard numerical order, because of the way the book is bound!

The text block of a traditional hardcover book is made up of multiple “signatures”. A signature is a small grouping of pages that are folded together:


I used signatures of 3 full sheets of paper, when folded this translates to 12 pages (front and back). If you are making a book (as opposed to a blank notebook), each page of your document (don’t forget, we’re in landscape, not portrait!) should translate to two pages in your book. For three sheet signatures and double-sided pages, follow the guide below for each signature. Also be aware that in binding the first and last pages of the text block will be glued to the inside cover, so at the least, your very first 2 and very last 2 pages must be left blank.

What You’ll Need

(1 sheet = 4 book pages. Your paper must be slightly smaller than your covers when folded in half)

Sturdy thread and needle
(waxed linen is best, but button, craft and upholstery threads are also suitable)


2 tabs
(strips of scrap card stock or heavy paper)


White glue
(I like Sobo, but other brands like Elmer’s work, too)

A stack of books
(or the like, to apply pressure while glue is drying)

(I use covers from old books, which can be found for $1 or less a piece at most secondhand shops, though you could also make your own.)

X-acto Knife

Metal Ruler or Straight Edge

Bookbinding spine tape
(This can be purchased at a specialty store, but I have opted to make my own using scrap fabric or leather and glue)

First, we must assemble our signatures. For accuracy, fold each sheet of paper individually, then fit three folded sheets inside each other to form each signature.



Assembled signatures

The next step is to prepare your tabs. These are strips of paper that will be sewn into your binding and glued to the inside inside cover to stabilize the connection between text block and cover. It is best to use a heavy paper or light card stock. They should look something like this:

Tabs lying on top of one signature

Next, using your tabs as a guide, you are going to measure and mark the holes you will use to sew your signatures together. There will be six holes in each signature, one on either side of each tab makes four, plus two more near the outer edges.

Poke through them with an awl, and they will look something like this:

Text block ready for binding

I like to use one of the sheets from my first signature as a guide to punching the holes in the rest of the signatures. This way, you don’t have to measure every time and you still get holes that line up.

Next, thread your needle and knot one end of the thread. Taking up one signature, push the needle through from the outside to the inside of the right-most hole…

… and come out the next hole. With your tabs in place, go back in through the third hole.

Continue sewing in and out of your holes until you get to the sixth and last hole. It should look like this:

Now, pick up your second signature and sew into the left-most hole and back down the spine, just like the first signature. 

Before we can move onto the third signature, we must connect the first two at this, right-most edge. You can do this by pulling the knot out a little bit, looping around it and through the loop, do this twice to create a knot.

Knotting the first two signatures together

Now you can sew into the first hole of the third signature and continue as with the last two. When you reach the other end, instead of knotting the signatures together as you did to connect the first two, you can simply loop your thread around the top stitch that connects the first and second signature to connect the third.

Continue like this until all your signatures have been sewn together, knot the very last ends together and cut the thread.

 Now you smear a liberal, but not excessive, amount of while glue along the spine, over the thread and tabs. Squeeze your text block together nice and tight, smooth out any globs of glue, and put it under a stack of books until it dries. Be sure everything is aligned before you leave it to dry, because it will stick that way!

While your text block dries, you can put together your cover. 

Note that I will show you how to make a cover from an existing book cover. However, if you would like to make your own cover, it is certainly possible and I would recommend consulting another source for advice on that process.

Remove the covers from the original book using a metal straight edge, such as a ruler, and an X-acto knife. 

My sweet book

Cutting the covers off

Now, put the book’s old innards aside. Especially if it has interesting pages inside, I like to choose two to glue to the inside covers, or save them for other art projects. (** See below for a side note about other recycled book projects.)

For the spine, if you’re a lucky duck like me, perhaps you happen to have some scrap leather or suede lying around. If not, you could also use fabric, but it should be a nice tight weave, cut on the bias to prevent fraying. If you can find it, you could also purchase some bookbinding spine tape.

Measuring your spine is very important. You need to leave just the right amount of space, and no more for a good-looking book. Measure the thickness of your text block and your covers:

For example, my text block was 3/8″ thick, and my covers were 1/8″ thick a piece. Multiply the thickness of one cover by 3, to account for both covers, and some ease. For me, this equals 3/8″. Added to my 3/8″ text block, I have 3/4″. This is the size of the gap you will leave between the two covers. Add however much overlap you want on the front cover to your figure (I stuck with 3/8″ on either side, so I added 3/4″ to the width of my leather strip, 1 1/2″ final width).

text block W + 3(cover W) + 2(desired overlap) = cutting W

3/8″ + 3(1/8″) + 2(3/8″) = 1 1/2″

Because accuracy here is rather important, mark the inside of your spine so you know exactly where to place your covers when you glue.

Give your spine covering a nice even coat of glue and place the covers along the marked lines. Give them a good press, and make sure they’re relatively steady before continuing. 

Now for the big glue! Coat this entire surface with a thin, even coating of white glue. The entire inside front and back covers, and the inside of the spine.

Carefully place your text block evenly down the center of the spine. Press your tabs down onto the glue, and add a touch more glue on the clean surface of the tabs. Now press the first and last pages of your text block onto the inside covers, doing your best to squeeze out air bubbles. Be sure to clean up any glue that squeezes out before returning your book the bottom of that pile of heavy books to dry under pressure. 

Finally, if you want decorative inside covers, you can do that now (or for that matter, any time in the future). I glued in some great illustrations I snatched from the old book’s contents. 

Left: “The Boys Gave Three Cheers for the Flag.”
Right: “The Lad Hurled the Mountain Boy Over His Head.”

And once everything’s good and dry, you’ve got yourself a beautiful new hand-bound book!

My finished book

** The Repurposed Library is a beautiful book and excellent resource to inspire projects to use up all those naked pages your book left behind. I am currently teaching an eco-art class for kids, to which I brought the beautiful innards of one of my books to use as canvases for our watercolor paintings:

Watercolor and pencil on top of a poem entitled “April”

This week I plan to bring in the colorful photos from a book about indoor plants for our collages.

Happy Autumn and all the best!


Let’s Get Down to Business

26 Jun

The good news: business is picking up! I feel like I’ve been giving out my business cards left and right.

The bad news: my business cards are terrible, ugly, no-longer-correct VistaPrint freebies. Giving out my business card is always accompanied by a pang of shame.

What it all means? Time to make myself some sick business cards.

So I called my mom and asked her to dig out my old Print Gocco, a super-cool small-scale Japanese home screen printing system. 

I started by drawing out my design in pencil:

Then, I went over it with a carbon-containing pen:

I picked up some business card blanks in a few different colors at Paper Source

… burned and inked my screen…

… and got to printing!

And I’m in business!


A Quilt for Computer

13 Jun

A few weeks ago, my 2005 iBook finally croaked. Years I’ve been waiting for it to die so I could upgrade without guilt. And while browsing the Mac Store case selection, hugging my brand new MacBook Air I thought, “$45??? F-that. I can make my own G-D case.”

My own G-D case

True, I don’t have the fancy neoprene, but there are other ways to protect a laptop, right?

The following week I was in Park Slope and spied some beautiful hand-quilted pillows in the window of a home furnishing store. I couldn’t find any terribly similar images online, but something along these lines:

Your laptop needs a little padding (I assume, since laptop cases always have it… When it comes to technology, I mostly have no idea what I’m talking about). Who needs neoprene when we have QUILTING!

A quilt is like a sandwich. Fabric is the bread and batting is the good stuff.

I pulled out some Guatemalan ikat to be the face of my case and some basic whatever for the backing (I also lined the case, so the backing will never see the light of day).

Cut your pieces the size of your computer (or whatever it is you may be making a case for) plus 1 1/2″ all the way around to account for ease and seam allowance.

(Pay no attention to the pathetic girth of my batting. I ended up combining this batting I had laying around with a layer of stuffing that I also had laying around. If you’re buying batting, get some nice fluffy stuff, at least 1/2″ thick.)

Quilt Sandwich

Now you sew your sandwich together. There aren’t really any rules for this, sew it any which way you please. By hand, by machine, in stripes, zig-zags, diamonds, around the shapes in the pattern of your fabric. The world is your oyster! I hand-quilted mine with stripes to reiterate my striped fabric, using four different thread colors that coordinated with the colors in my fabric. 

I like the hand-made aesthetic of purposefully imperfect stitching.

Once I finished quilting both sides of the case, I dug out a colorful zipper (long enough to go around the top corners, so getting your computer in and out of its case isn’t infuriating) and a lightweight lining (to hide the yucky innards)…

And assemble! 

You know how to do that, right? My apologies to anyone who actually wants to know… I didn’t document it and I don’t have the patience to type it all out at this moment. Surely there are other helpful resources out there…

Happy quilting!


Librarian Paraphernalia: Taking it Back!

22 Apr
Summer. A season for two-eyed folks to join ranks with four-eyed folks. A season when the ocularly-blessed among us no longer have to envy the less fortunate because of the radical accessories they are prescribed to indulge in. I’m talking eyeglass chains. They are fabulously useful for keeping your glasses (whether prescription, sun, or ironic vanity) ever-handy. They adorn your glasses while you wear them, and transform them into the best kind of neckwear when you’re not. And they are super easy to make!
Style options are infinite. If you need some inspiration, check out what Etsy sellers are offering. I went for kind of a steam punk vibe because I just happened to have brass chain and fish vertebrae hanging around.

 Most of the supplies you’ll need will depend on your design, but the one thing you’ll definitely need are adjustable rubber eyeglass chain ends.
These are available at most bead-crafting shops, online, or at the ends of those horrible neon eyeglass chains they sell at the drug store for next to nothing.
For instructions regarding basic beading techniques, visit my post from last June, To Bead or Not to Bead… (perhaps my corniest post title yet).
If you’re using chain, you will need jump rings to connect the chain to the rubber ends. This is a simple task with just a pair of pliers or two. Just remember, always open and close jump rings laterally so as not to weaken or disrupt the circle.
 Now, go forth… be irrepressibly hip in a reminiscently secretarial fashion!

Obsession: Moss

2 Apr
If you thought I was going to make one little terrarium and stop there, you’re kidding yourself.
I mean, there I was, me and all my glass bottles and my new-found friend, preserved reindeer moss (a.k.a. the coolest shit ever). Seriously, it makes everything magical. Like candlesticks. Magical enchanted forest candlesticks.
Preserved reindeer moss
Enchanted forest candlestick
What You’ll Need:
Taper candles
Clear glass bottles
Stuff to put inside them, for example:
Reserved reindeer moss, of course
Dried beans
Dried flowers

Okay, so, this isn’t brain surgery. Put cool stuff in a bottle, then put a candle in it and you have a totally rad candlestick.
My candlesticks!
Root mass inside my flip-top candlestick
Dried beans, soil, and moss in a salad dressing shaker
Moss holds the candle in place
But why stop there? What about votives in jars?

Move aside, Tinkerbell. There’s a new fairy in town.

Terrarium Fever!

2 Apr
Things I love: plants, dioramas, miniatures, glass jars. Given this information, I ask you: how am I to resist this terrarium fad?!
I simply cannot.
I was in Sprout Home the other day because Google told me it was the closest garden nursery to my home. What I didn’t know is that they host massively popular terrarium-building classes, and the majority of their interior space panders to terrarium builders. I came for some pretty flowers to put in a pot on my patio table and I left with an overwhelming need to build a whole slew of irresistibly adorable living dioramas.
And it just so happens that I have a (perhaps excessive) collection of glass jars and bottles just begging me to be transformed into tiny enchanted forests.

Now, I’m not going to pretend to be a terrarium expert, so I will just give you some of the basics and show you what I did. There are plenty of great resources out there to guide you through all your terrarium adventures and misadventures. I would recommend starting with an online image search and/or a visit to Sprout Home to see some terrariums and get inspired. There are a lot of different styles and options; your terrarium is your very own mini world and as long as the plants inside it require approximately the same amount of moisture, you can do pretty much whatever you want.
The primary distinction is open or closed.
An open terrarium is left open to the air; a closed terrarium is sealed. A closed terrarium is only appropriate for a rainforest-variety climate and creates a self-sustaining environment as the moisture in the soil evaporates into the air, condenses on the walls on the container and returns to the soil, so these guys don’t actually need to be watered. Rainforest flora can be kept in an open terrarium, too, but they will require watering. Succulents and cacti should always be kept in an open terrarium.
For my terrarium, I wanted a lush forest with a miniature animal or two to call it home. I wasn’t satisfied with Sprout Home’s figurine collection, but there is a lovely shop down the block, Moon River Chattel, that has (among so many other beautiful things) a nice collection of high quality animal figurines. I came home with a particularly handsome black bear whom I absolutely adore.
Isn’t she precious?
Things You’ll Need:
Glass container
Moss (for lush scapes)
Small plants
Figurines, sticks, shells, small objects, etc.

For my forest I chose miniature ferns and hypoestes, baby tears, and a fern moss. Explore the options and your local nursery and ask the attendants there if you are unsure. For moss I used a combination of live moss and preserved reindeer moss.
1. Cover the bottom of your container with a layer of rocks to keep your soil away from any sitting water that might accumulate.

2. Cover your rocks with a layer of charcoal. This filters the air and prevents mold; it is especially important if you’re building a closed terrarium.

3. Cover your charcoal with a layer of sand for better drainage.

4. Cover your sand with soil.
Keep in mind while you’re putting down these layers how they look at the edges, 
where you can see them through the glass.

5. Plant your plants in the soil, surrounding the base of the plants with moss (this helps keep your plants moist in all the right places).
Think about how you lay out your terrarium, varying texture and color for a more interesting display.  A well-laid terrarium is truly a work of art.
Come! Join me and all the other hipsters in the greatest craze in home decor since the mounted deer head.

Shower Power!

16 Feb
The other day I developed an insatiable urge to purge my bathroom of filth. After a few weeks of grumbling to myself about the building grime in the tub that no one ever cleans I finally channeled my anger into the tub, brutally demolishing every speck of grime I could find with a handful of steel wool and a can of Bon Ami. And after the tub and the sink and the mirror and the toilet and the floor and the walls were all sparkling, I looked at the shower curtain and thought, this is disgusting. So I threw it in the garbage.
Tired of that mildewy plastic excuse for a liner, I went out to the store and brought back the most luxurious curtain liner I could get my hands on. Ivory on ivory striped, damask weave, fabric shower curtain liner. Machine washable. Nothing can upgrade the way you experience your shower quite like replacing that plastic crap with a nice fabric one.
During my search I also discovered the most incredible store I’ve ever encountered. They didn’t have what I was looking for, but they have just about everything else a girl like me could ever desire. Stella Dallas Living is a vintage textile shop, walls lined with all manner of secondhand textiles: curtains, bedspreads, rug, blankets, tablecloths, quilts, as well as yardage. I’ve passed by this place a million times on my bike and always think, “I wonder what’s in there….” If ever there was a store that could win my heart, it is this one. Anyway, that is entirely beside the point because it has nothing to do with my shower curtain.
So to return to the point, I dug through my fabric locker and pulled out a few different fabrics to mash together for my new shower curtain. Unless you’re converting an old sheet or bedspread, you’re unlikely to find fabric wide enough to make a shower curtain out of a single piece of fabric. So I did a bit of a patchwork. It’s unique, it’s colorful, it’s all sorts of nice things.
Luckily, this project is easy as pie. I whipped mine together in less than an hour.
What You’ll Need
Sewing Machine
Fabric (details below)
Fabric Shears
Cording (optional)
A shower curtain is little more than a big rectangle. A standard curtain is 70″ wide and 71″ or 72″ high. It has 12 holes across the top, 6″ apart from each other. It also often has a cord sewn into the bottom hem for a little weight.
With patchwork, it is always best to use only fabrics that are of similar weight and constitution. All my fabrics were cotton broadcloth.
The one thing to watch out for it you’re doing a patchwork is making sure all your cuts and seams are good and straight so that your curtains lays flat and doesn’t billow or pull in wonky ways when you hang it up.
I started by cutting 74″ strips out of my various fabrics (for a 71″ curtain, plus 1″ of seam allowance at the bottom hem and 2″ of seam allowance at the top) until the widths added up to 70″.  I sewed the strips together and pressed open all the seams.
a seam pressed open, from the inside
I then gave the sides a standard 1/2″ hem, the bottom a 1″ hem enclosing a piece of cording inside, and the top a 2″ hem.
I measured and marked with tailor’s chalk 12 buttonholes each 6″ apart from each other, the outermost holes 2″ from the edge. Consult your sewing machine’s manual if you’re unsure how to make buttonholes; all modern home machines have this function.
3/4″ buttonhole
And that’s a wrap!