Thursday, 29 March 2007

The travel journal

I am not a hard-core diarist, but every time I do some serious travelling I keep a journal. I started out using notebooks and have tried several varieties: hard-bound, softcover, spiral bound, ruled, unruled, square ruled, etc. After years of this I went on to use a book that really spoiled me: a hand-bound hardcover book that had originally been made as a gift guestbook but the maker had not wanted to give it as such because he was not quite happy with it (the Rexine covering had a couple of bulges in it), so he gave it to me instead to use as a journal. That book was such a luxury to write in and unlike the notebooks there was nothing flimsy about it. After being lugged around for four months of rough travelling, the only thing that distinguishes it, seen from the outside, from a new book is the dirty edges of the pages and the slight bulge in the cover due to all the stuff I have glued into it.

Which brings me to a slight dilemma: I glue stuff into my journals all the time. Boarding passes, bus and train ticket stubs, postcards, clippings from tourist brochures and newspapers, postcards, photographs, flowers, stickers, stamps, etc., etc. This is fine when using a spiral-bound notebook, as they can usually take the swell or be made to by removing some pages, but I hate using spiral-bound notebooks for journalling. Don’t get me wrong, they are fine for some other purposes, like taking notes in class or keeping a diary at home, but when travelling, especially on a road trip, the spirals inevitably get squashed, making the book hard to open flat without much swearing and a pair of pliers, the ends of the spirals unbend and get hooked on stuff – usually favourite pieces of clothing – and the boards, which are usually just thick cardboard, quickly start to look scuffed and ugly.

For my upcoming holidy in the USA I want another hard-bound book with nice, thick paper to write, draw and paint on. As I have been learning bookbinding I can easily make myself a journal, but what kind? I want one that will give me the following:

a) it can take the swell of all the extra things I will stuff into it without it showing on the outside,

b) I will not be left with many empty pages at the back – my journals are always a few pages short of being enough for my next round of journalling but I still feel guilty for not using all those blank pages – and

c) it looks good, preferably unique or at least appears to be one-of-a-kind. That is the problem with the ex-guestbook: it isn’t ugly, but it is covered completely in brown Rexine (fake leather to the uninitiated) with “Guestbook” gilded on the front.

I have solved problems a) and b) in one stroke: I will make up a number of signatures (the little booklets that are sewn together to make a book) before I set off. I will get a small two-ring binder and keep each signature in a plastic pocket, ready to be written in and decorated. Fastening the pages together with one staple in the middle may help to prevent loose pages getting mixed up. I will make many enough signatures that there will be no danger of running out (and even if I did, paper in standard sizes is widely available). When I get home I will bind the signatures into a book and the thickness problem will thus take care of itself because all the additions will already be in place. Those signatures left over I will bind into a new blank book, ready to be used as a journal or notebook, or perhaps I will store them to use on my next journey. The problem I foresee here is mostly to do with remembering to have big enough margins in the book so it can be trimmed after sewing to make the pages more even before I put the covers on. Of course, there is something to be said for making sure a book looks hand-made, but I’m afraid that the insertions will make the edges look not just interestingly uneven but downright tatty, so some trimming will be necessary.

As to c), the only ‘problem’ is that I have too many ideas. I am currently vacciliating between these:

1) half-bind the book (i.e. cover the spine and corners) in some interesting Rexine (I have just enough of some rather nice cloudy blue stuff, the colour of the ocean on maps), and then use a map to cover the rest of it. Just to make sure it’s made from good, strong paper I would sacrifice one of my National Geographic maps (might as well use them for something). Seal the paper, then get the title and year professionally gilded on the spine, and voilà!: I’ll have a memento of my journey to be proud of.

2) half-bind the book as described in 1) and make a collage cover from travel brochure photos and stamps.

c) Cover the book completely in one colour of Rexine and start a series that can be referred to by colour.

Of the three, I like 1) and 2) best, as they will give me some outlet for my artistic proclivity, but 3) would be very hard-wearing and classic-looking. The hardwearingness hardly matters as it will mostly just sit on the shelf to be taken out now and again to help me remember some point of the journey it describes, but the classic look is, well, classic, and at some point in the future I may grow tired of the artistic version – but of course the artistic version will also show what kind of person I was when I made it...

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Notebook experiment

I have just finished making a small exposed-binding notebook that I plan to use to test the durability of scrapbooking paper as a covering for books. I have been warned that it is quick to show signs of wear, but I want to know whether it is nice, well-loved kind of wear or just ugly wear. The idea for the book came when I saw that I had some leftover pieces of binder’s board that were not in any standard book size. If this book goes well, I plan on making more.

I am also testing the relative durability of different kinds of paper and sealers. I glued strips of the different papers onto two pieces of binder's board, used three different sealers (acrylic matte medium, acrylic gloss medium and Mod Podge) and left one side untreated. I tossed them into my purse, there to rattle around with the rest of the contents for a while.


My bookbinding instructor is a traditionalist. I showed her the notebook and she was horrified, especially at the semi-exposed spine and the ribbons. Judge for yourself.:

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A bit clumsy, to be sure, but hardly enough for her to be rude about ;-)


Technical note: The book is bound on the three ribbons which are then glued down onto the cover to give extra strength to the book. On the inside, triple endpapers and strips of mull have been bound in with the first and last signatures and the boards glued to the outermost endpaper page. The ribbon covering the spine was added because I didn't space the sewing holes quite right and one of the ribbons was a bit wriggly.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

A good start and a problem with Rexine

One of the reasons I always wanted to learn bookbinding was that my grandmother had learned it and I always admired the look of her hand-bound books (the other reason is my love of books). When I told her that I was going to enrol in a bookbinding course, she said she would give me all her equipment and materials, which she had not used for more than 15 years. When I told her I had enrolled in the course she went and unearthed several bags of stuff from where she had stored it, deep in my uncle's basement, and brought me everything. This included tools like saws, scissors, files, several bone folders, a cobbler's knife, a sewing frame, two portable book presses and a gilding press, two rounding hammers, and materials like mull, thread, binding cords and tapes, headbands, binder's board, carton paper for making hollow back bindings, heavy endpaper paper, marbled paper for covering books, several meters of Rexine and three bags full of leather and fish skin leather. Not all the leather is bookbinding quality, but some of it is (including two whole skins) and the rest I can use to make bags and other stuff out of. This generous gift has saved me tens of thousands of krónur in buying materials.

All I needed to buy to begin with was bookbinder's glue, waxed sewing thread (the thread granny gave me had turned yellow), needles, and white paper to use in endpapers. The books I already had, and some of my sewing/quilting equipment turned out to be useful for bookbinding purposes, such as the cutting mat, circular cutter and heavy quilter's rulers.

I still need or want some more stuff, but I will wait a bit to buy it as I am going to the USA in the summer and can probably get some of what I need there at lower prices than here. I also want to learn to make marbled paper and paste paper for covering books with, as the only supplier for such paper in the whole country is not exactly cheap. Their supply of paper is limited and so is their colour choice for Rexine and their selection of bookcloth is very limited, which is not surprising as they primarily sell leather for crafters and artists. Book glue, brown paper and bookboard I can get at reasonable prices from art supply stores, but I can see that if I am going to be able to have my books looking like I want them to look I am going to have to find a reliable online supplier of bookbinding materials. I am sure Rexine is made in other colours than the conservative burgundy, dark green, dark brown, navy blue, bright red and black currently available here.


I mentioned in my previous post that I'd had problems smoothing down the Rexine on the spine of some of the books I was binding, but it seems it may not have been my inexpert handling of them that caused the problem, but something else, namely the age of the Rexine. I forgot my Rexine at home yesterday when I went to class and so I bought some from the teacher and it was so much easier to handle than the old stuff I had been using. It was much more supple than the old stuff and instead of a couple of minutes working on one corner of a book with it, it took barely 20 seconds to get the corners done like I wanted them, and the spine coverings were so much more easy to do and the adherence to the boards was very good. As a matter of fact I even covered a whole book in one piece of Rexine and it went splendidly. However, I think I will not throw out the old Rexine, but will try to find some other uses for it, for example as a covering for a paper folder I have made to keep my scrapbooking paper in. Since that is for my personal use I will not really mind if the covering isn't perfect.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Welcome to my bookbinding journal

I should really have started this journal several weeks ago when I first began learning to bind books, but I have been too busy putting together books to give much thought to blogging, as may be seen by the scracity of new entries in my book blog.

I have been interested in learning this art/craft for ages, but never had the time to do anything about it until now, and I’m loving every minute. Not only am I learning to make new books and rebind old ones, I have also landed in the midst of a happy and friendly group of people, some of whom have been attending these courses for 20+ years, by now more for the company and access to professional equipment than any need to learn more.

After 10 classes I have finished 5 books and have eight more that only need to have their covers lined. Four of the finished books are rebinds and one is an e-book that I downloaded from Project Gutenberg. All are traditional hard-cover bindings, sewn on cords and half-bound with Rexine (a type of fake leather) and paper.

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The binding of the books went well for the most part, except I obviously was not quite quick enough to smooth down the Rexine on the spines of four of the books, as it has come unglued here and there and makes unsightly small bulges on the spine, but my consolation is that they are not valuable books and I can always redo them once I have more experience.

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The e-book was the most time-consuming of all of the books. I laid it out in Word and did various things to make it as readable and professional-looking as possible (e.g. changed the font and the font size), then printed it out with a laser printer (it took a bit of experimenting before I figured out how to collate the pages for printing, two on each side of an A4 sheet of paper) and assembled it. I now have to decide what colours I want on the covers of the other 8 books. I have Rexine in blue, red, two shades of green and two shades of brown, leather in black and various shades of brown, and fish skin in dark green and black, plus a variety of marbled paper, elephant-skin paper and scrapbook paper.
Choices, choices, choices.

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