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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!


Portrait-Robot de Melody

25 May
I love organized clutter. It is perhaps the most inherent aspect of my aesthetic ethos. Artfully arranged collections of interesting objects. It comes as no surprise then, that one of my very favorite modern artists is Arman. His portrait-robots being the works I find most compelling.

Portrait-robots, as he called them, were works made up of personal objects discarded by the subject. Essentially, garbage in a box, hung on the wall.

Portrait-Robot de Daniel Spoerri, 1962

Portrait-Robot d’Elaine, 1962

Aren’t they lovely? His early portrait-robots were small, later pieces grew to be quite large.

Portrait-Robot de Jacques de la Villegle, 1965

Portrait-Robot d’Arman, 1992

Ever since I learned about him in an art history class a few years ago I’ve been thinking of making my own. And now, looking back on his, I wish I had the time, space, and resources to take it further. But for now, my little shadow box will do.

About a year ago I began saving all my fiber scraps from projects, which make up most of my Portrait-Robot de Melody, along with a few other small objects I have no practical use for. A pair of broken sunglasses, empty thread spools, dried flowers, shells I picked up at the beach, packaging materials, various found objects.

I purchased a shadow box, which was conveniently backed with foam I could pin into. And using straight pins, I simply pinned my objects into a pleasing arrangement.


11 May
Last month, my dear friend Kendy Gable asked me to do the poster art for Melodica Music Festival, an international acoustic festival that celebrates emerging artists. The third NYC Melodica is happening this weekend at the Sidewalk Cafe and we would love to see you there!
Kendy asked me to create something that merged city and country for the poster, and despite all my brainstorming, the first idea to come out was everyone’s favorite: a tree made up of NYC’s iconic brownstones. 
It started with a sketch:
Although, let’s be real, two of my other sketches were damn cute:
(Born of the same essential idea, obviously, but in two different and adorable incarnations.)
But to return to the poster at hand, I proceeded to sketch out my design meticulously, full scale on marker paper.
I then colored in each house individually using a combination of design markers, colored pencil and fine tip black markers.
See you at the festival!


Spring Harvest

15 Apr
Flower pressing. Who even does that anymore? Old frilly spinsters? Star-crossed lovers? Laura Ingalls Wilder?
There’s something really lovely about flower pressing, I think. Who can help but sigh when opening up an old book and rediscovering last spring’s violets? What is not to love about preserving one of nature’s most beautiful, fleeting gifts in a piece of artwork to be enjoyed for years to come? Spring is upon us, the dogwoods and lilacs are in bloom, and this is your chance to steal a little everlasting springtime for your home.
What You’ll Need:
Freshly picked flowers and/or foliage
White vinegar
Flower press or heavy books and two sheets of paper
Paper for backing
Acid-free glue
Sealer (I used Modge Podge)
1. Help yourself to some of the beautiful spring bounty. Keep in mind that the denser and bulkier the flower, the more difficult it is to press.
2. Dip your pickings in a bit of white vinegar and allow them to dry completely before pressing. This step is optional, but helps your flowers and leaves to keep their vibrant colors.
3. If you don’t have a flower press, you are in good company. A healthy book collection is just as effective. Open up a book, place a sheet of paper on top of the page you open to and lay your flowers on that paper. This is the most critical step to the quality of your pressings. Carefully arrange your flowers so that they will flatten in an attractive manner and avoid overlap. Any flowers that overlap here will be forever stuck together just as you leave them, so this will limit your possibilities when it comes time to mount them. Place a second sheet of paper on top of your flowers. Sandwiching your flowers between two sheets of paper will protect the pages of your book from stains that flowers could leave behind. Gently close the book and weigh it down, placing it at the bottom of a pile of books.
4. I would leave your flowers to press for a few days at the very least, longer if the flowers are dense, roses for example. But you can also leave them in this stage for years if you want to.
5. When you are ready to mount them, they may stick to them paper you pressed them in between, so be very careful when uncovering them. 
6. Arrange your pressings on a backing paper until you are satisfied with your composition.
7. Dab tiny spots of acid-free craft glue (such as Sobo) on the paper where you want to mount your flowers, and gently press them onto the glue. For small pieces you may even want to use tweezers.
8. Using a small flat or filbert-tip paintbrush, gently seal your pressings by painting a thin, even coat of sealer (like Modge Podge) over the entire page.
9. Let dry. If the glue causes your paper to warp and roll, you may want to return your finished piece to the book for a final pressing. 
10. Frame, hang and marvel!
All the best,

In Living Color

28 Jan
Feral, lithograph, 2009
Some odd months ago I found a nice black frame in good condition leaning up against the outside wall of a warehouse on some side street in Bushwick. And I thought, “Gee, frames are expensive… I’ll take it!” So I brought it home with me, discarded the tattered map of southern Maine and rifled though my prints to find something that would fit. I ended up with Feral, a simple lithograph I made while learning lithography from a live sketch of local blues musician, Feral Foster. It was suitable. But after staring at that drab black and white print in a black frame on a white wall for so long, I felt it was just screaming out for color. And why not? It’s a print after all; I’ve got enough copies and nothing to do with them.
So I flipped on the latest episodes of 30 Rock, pulled out my Prismacolors and set to work.
Feral, lithograph with colored pencil, 2012
I wasn’t so sure how I was feeling about it, but it’s amazing what a step back will do. I put it in the frame, hung it on the wall and thought, “Hey now; that looks pretty darn good.”


Meow: Portraits for the Lonely

3 Jan
I was spontaneously inspired this morning to bring an old idea to fruition.
Joey, a former roommate of mine, founded a family wall in our kitchen: above the kitchen table we hang framed portraits of current and former roommates and their families.

Joey and I are both proud cat owners. Mine, a simple-minded tabby named Cecil and a self-righteous calico princess named Dinah, plus Joey’s all-gray intellectual, Ghosthunter and black-and-white kindhearted spaz, Ghoul, made four. Four people. Four cats. One bathroom! (laugh track) 
Sometime last year, before Joey, Ghoul, and Ghosthunter packed their bags and moved to Portland, it occurred to me that our feline family deserved some wall space. I thought I’d do portraits of them all, but never quite got around to it.
Today I was inspired to make those cat portraits a reality (however retrospectively, in the case of Ghoul and Ghosthunter). Thanks to Facebook, I was able to get my hands on photos of the missing misters in absentia. 
For each portrait I referred to a photographic reference, taking some of my own whimsical liberties in order to accentuate each personality.
I colored them in with Prismacolor colored pencils and Faber-Castell brush-tip markers.
Melody and Friends