Tuesday, 15 September 2009

A look inside one of my notebooks

I have a number of notebooks I have made that I use for myself, usually books I have been unhappy with in some way and didn't want to sell or give away. Here is one:


This isn't the original cover - I stencilled the original but always thought it was ugly, so I covered it with some old stamps I had on hand. It's still not finished - I think it needs a little more spontaneity in the top half and I'm waiting to acquire some stamps to fix that. I keep this particular book at work and take it with me into meetings to doodle in, because doodling sharpens my mind and helps me focus on the subject at hand. Here are some scans of what I have put inside the book so far (click on thumbnails to see full size):


Some are works in progress, others are fully finished.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Little red book

My latest project:

I used red clothing leather that is too stretchy to use for covering book boards. I have a whole hide of it that I am keeping for when I have time to take a leather-sewing course, and then I plan to make myself a purse out of it. What remains I will use to make more books similar to this one. There are 4 signatures, each made from a sheet of paper approximately A4 in size, folded in half and half again. The signatures are long-stitched into the leather cover, with beading added afterwards. Finally, I added a closing strap. The flap is part of the natural contours of the hide, only I rounded them a little.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Fat little notebook

Here is my latest creation:
The boards are covered with black-dyed wolf-fish leather.

It's 13 signatures, bound with coptic stitch. For some reason, I find it much easier to get even stitches when I use sewing thread. When I use bookbinding thread like I did here, the stitches tend to come out uneven.

There is a little surprise inside the boards:

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Coptic map books

Here is another recycling project I have wanted to try for a while: map books.


Both are bound in the same way: 4 signatures stitched together with coptic (chain) stitch and the boards covered with pieces of maps. The book on the left has an added spine covering of tanned and dyed salmon skin with natural contours left intact. I may add leather to the second book as well. Ideally, I would like to find fish leather in one of the colours used in the maps - green or tan for preference.

BTW, the book on the left looks skewed because tension in the leather keeps it slightly open. It should get better after a few hours in the book-press.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Finished the beaded doily book

I covered the boards with hand-made paper of a colour similar in tone to that of the beads. I then cut the doily down to the right size and carefully pasted it down onto the front board. After gluing the boards to the leather spine I strengthened the bond with rivets.
I am mostly happy with the result, but I think it needs something to brighten it up, possibly some splashes of colour on the doily.
I think I will make another one - in pink.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Another recycling project: notebook

This is my latest project:
The signatures are long-stitched into the spine, with beading added later. The leather came from some garment, possibly a pair of leather pants.

I will then add the boards, gluing them on and probably strengthening the bond with rivets or brads. As to the cover decoration, I have plans for this paper doily:

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Recycling project: leather notebook


The cover of this notebook is made from recycled leather. You can see from the flap that wraps over the front where the piece of leather came from: it used to be part of the sleeve of a leather jacket. My grandmother had already taken the jacket apart and all I had to do was trim the edges of the round part to make them more even, and cut the piece down to the right size for the paper. I then sewed the signatures in using long-stitch, making a cross-stitch pattern on the spine. Finally I added the beads to the spine and a strap for keeping the book closed.

I think I may finally be ready to start making books to sell. It remains to be seen how I will do it - perhaps I will sell at craft fairs, or if I am lucky I might find an arts and crafts store that's willing to sell them on consignment. Or I might open an Etsy store.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

New cover for the travel journal (updated May 2014)

(Original post)
Out with the old...

...and in with the new:

How it was done:
I began by cutting out a piece of paper the size and shape of the area I needed to cover, and arranged clipped images on it until I was happy with it. Then I photographed the layout so I wouldn't forget it. I then ran a dull knife gently under the glued edges of the leather spine where they rested on the boards and gently lifted them about 5 mm and gently pushed them up. Then I set about gluing down the collage. I made the front cover collage on a piece of office paper which I then glued down on the cover, gluing the edges of leather down over the edge of the collage. This was a bit thick and bulky, so I did the back cover collage straight onto the boards.

Finally, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to put gilded lettering on the spine, I made a label from a piece of millboard, wrote the year and the contents of the book on it, and attached it to the exposed stitching with bookbinding thread. In the future, I may replace this thick label with a thin one that can be tucked into the book like a bookmark.

The collages:
The images I used all came from tourism leaflets and brochures. The front cover images all relate to the northern part of Iceland, and the back cover images to southern Iceland.

Friday, 3 July 2009

New travel journal (updated May 2014)

I’ve mentioned my travel journals before, and now I have a new one to add to the collection. It covers my recent week-long camping trip around the country.

hand-drawn Iceland map
A look inside the journal.

This book was a journal-from-scratch project like my last three travel journals. This means that I didn’t pre-make a book, but brought loose signatures with me and journalled on those, and then bound up the book when I got home.

The Polaroid Zink printer has made journalling from scratch much easier – I used to leave blank spaces on the pages of my journals for photos I would later print out at home and paste in, but it was always a hassle, especially when I forgot what photo I was planning to insert where or had left too small or too big a blank. Having a printer with me has all but eliminated that problem, and while the photos are small and the quality not always the best, they allow for more spontaneous journalling.


I decided not to do a full hollow-back binding for this one because it is only 2 signatures and I like experimenting with different techniques, so I made a long-stitch binding similar to the red notebook I blogged about earlier, using the same stitching pattern.

I was feeling singularly uninspired when I designed the boards, using some scrapbook paper I had found that has a map of Iceland on it:
On the back I chose a similar-coloured paper that looks like a watercolour wash. The plan was to glue something interesting onto the back. I have since changed the cover completely.

Then I decided that instead of traditional pastedowns, I would collage the inside of the boards with photos of places I visited, clipped from tourist brochures:

Now I am unhappy with the outside of the boards and am considering a collage there too. I will post more once I have finished the project.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Taking inspiration from found and second-hand materials

I am a great scavenger and often pick up things without having a specific purpose for them. Sometimes they linger for years before I either find a use for them or get rid of them, but the particular item that inspired my newest book was put to use within a couple of days of discovery.

I often visit a charity shop that sells all sorts of second hand stuff – just about everything save clothing and shoes. They have a give-away table where items they know or think they can‘t sell end up, and I have often picked up interesting old books there. On this occasion, however, there was this blue strap thing with eyelets. I think it was probably a belt or it might possibly have been part of a guitar strap:

It was about 70 cm long and made of lined faux leather. Having recently finished a book that was sewn straight into its spine, I though I might do something similar with this, so I took it home with me. On second thought I decided that it was probably not strong enough to take stitching without tearing, but maybe I could attach it to a book as decoration.

A couple of days later the idea was fully formed and I started looking about for other materials for the book. I had decided that it would be coordinated in tones of blue, and chose pastel blue paper for the pages. My stash of decorative paper did not include any blue paper that was a good match for the faux leather, so finally I settled on using pink paper on the boards, and found a suitable paper sample I‘d got with a scrapbook magazine. It was printed to look worn, which suited the faux leather piece, which doesn't exactly look brand new. I chose pink thread to sew the book with, and found some left-over mill-board in just about the right size. Finally I went out and bought some brads in the same chromium finishing as the eyelets.

And here is the finished product:

The details count – I didn't set out to do it, but as it happens, all the lines of stitching were visible through the eyelets.

I still have about 60 cm left and am considering what to do with it. Maybe I‘ll go out and look for perfect blue paper for the cover and make that all-blue book.

On my way back from buying the eyelets, I visited the charity shop, and bought a cheap piece of art glass which I am planning to set into the front cover of another book. I‘ll feature it here once it‘s ready.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009


Here is my latest creation – a riveted book:

The book is two thick signatures sewn into the tail end of a spotted wolf-fish skin. I have allowed the sides of the leather patch to retain their natural contours:

The method for this sewing pattern is shown here:
Leather journal photo tutorial
The directions are a bit confusing because there are so many photos, but persevere and you'll soon figure it out. I found it helped to print out the whole thing and cross out the photos that weren't helpful.

Here is a close-up of the stitch:
Ignore the knot - it appeared as I was making the last stitch and I was unable to unfasten it so I left it where it was so that I wouldn't have to unravel the stitching and start over. Look at the beautiful texture of the leather!

Here you can see better how the book is constructed:
Before glueing on the boards, I punched the holes for the rivets where I wanted them in the leather and aligned the boards on the book, marking with a pencil where the rivet-holes were to go. Then I punched the rivet-holes in the boards, applied glue to the underside of the leather (wiping away the glue that welled up through the rivet-holes before it dried), re-aligned the holes in the leather and boards and pressed gently to attach the two, repeating on the other side. Then I put the book in the press for about 10 minutes to allow the glue to dry a bit and finally I applied the rivets. The rivets strengthen the adherence of the boards to the leather, and are also decorative. The paper covering the boards is handmade (and not at all easy to work with).

Here‘s how the spine looks on the finished book:

Sunday, 24 May 2009

New coptic book

Here is my latest creation:


The book is made up of 6 signatures of rough hand-torn sketching paper, 72 pages altogether. It is held closed with an elastic band.


Inside there is room for a pen and a loop of elastic to hold it in place.


The boards are covered with red library buckram and lizard-skin patterned book paper and it is sewn together with waxed red sewing thread, using Coptic stitch (also known as chain stitch).


I'm thinking about adding pockets inside the covers, to hold stuff like postcards, stamps and boarding passes.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Links galore!

I have added a number of links on the side-bar. Some will take you to inspirational websites and blogs by book artists, while others will take you to practical instructions on such varied subjects as how to make paste-paper, how to re-bind a Moleskine notebook, or how to make a book from scratch. I will also be adding links to other paper crafts and books arts, such as origami and altered books, and to totally unrelated arts and crafts.

Friday, 8 May 2009

The exposed-spine instructions are ready! (updated October 19, 2013)

I started writing these instructions about 2 years ago, but one thing and then another (and another, etc.) kept getting in the way of finishing it, but now it is finally ready. Click here to see it.  

Note: I have changed the link from Scribd to Google Drive. I'm new at sharing files on Google Drive, so if you can't download it please leave a comment to let me know and I'll try to fix it.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Third exposed long-stitch binding






Second exposed long-stitch binding

Finished this one tonight:

The leather for the cover comes from the same larger piece as the previous book, but the strap is black and can be wrapped twice around the book.

The closure is made from an old button, and can be used either like a buckle (first photo below) or by wrapping the strap around it (second photo below), or a combination of both methods (see previous photo).

The book is sewn with white bookbinding thread and the exposed stitches are decorated with buttons:

Friday, 3 April 2009

Golden book

This is an anthology of Icelandic verse, both modern and traditional, that is used to teach older elementary school kids about poetry. I am thinking about stencilling the title on the front, but will have to experiment with the remnants of the paper first, to make sure the paint will stick.


I was originally going to cover this book with traditional patterned book paper, but when I was showing the other members of my bookbinding group my latest paper purchases I put this crumpled gold crafting paper down beside a piece of the burgundy-coloured Rexine I had already put on the book, and saw how well the two went together.

The paper is grainless and so is probably handmade. It is beige on one side and gold on the other. It seems to have been wetted, crumpled up, smoothed down again (but not completely), then dried and gold paint sprayed on one side.

It was a bit tricky to work with, as it sucked up a lot of dampness from the glue, which made it delicate. I couldn't use a bone folder to smooth it down because I wanted to retain the crumpled look, so I gently pressed it down with my fingers and allowed it to dry standing up. The boards warped slightly, so I knew it would have to be pressed. When I did the pastedowns, I therefore wrapped the book in a coarse bath towel before putting it in the press to dry. It worked: there is no warping and the crumpled effect is still there.

I think this look would be great on a guest book or photo album, or even on a little notebook.

Friday, 27 March 2009

New project: Simple exposed long-stitch leather notebook/journal

When I started learning bookbinding my grandmother not only gave me all her bookbinding tools, but also a couple of shopping bags full of leather and leather scraps. Much of it is clothing leather that isn’t suitable for fine leather bindings, as it is too thin and stretchy, or leather you can use to make belts and purses but that’s too thick or stiff to cover books with – unless you make the cover out of leather alone, which is what I have done in this project. I intend to do some research to see how best to stiffen the thin clothing leather for use as book covers, as I have a couple of small skins in a gorgeous red colour that would be perfect for notebooks or journals, and also some interestingly worn scraps that I suspect were once parts of leather jackets.

Here is the book I made:

This is the first book I make using this particular binding technique, and while it has a number of little imperfections, I am still happy with it as a first effort. Instead of first stitching and gluing together the signatures and then putting pasteboard covers on them, I sewed the signatures directly into a cover made of thick, unlined leather. It gives the book a rugged, old-fashioned look and since the cover is all leather it combines the flexibility of a soft cover with the durability of a hard cover.

I thought I had come across instructions on the web for exactly this kind of binding, but when I started looking for it I could only find variations on the technique, most of which either use different materials or are more complicated, so I wrote my own instructions. Since I didn’t plan to write instructions some of the images are (very bad) drawings while others are photos.

This is a glue-free type of binding, and you only need a handful of tools and basic supplies to make it.

  • Paper
  • Sewing thread or bookbinding thread
  • Leather piece big enough for the cover. The leather you choose should be fairly thick.
  • Leather scrap for the closure. This can be soft, thin clothing leather.

  • Cutting mat
  • Ruler
  • Craft knife
  • Folding bone
  • An awl or a thick, sharp needle
  • Sewing needle or bodkin (you can use a regular tapestry needle)
  • Pencil or tailor’s chalk

Good to have:
  • Scissors
  • Beeswax

For those not familiar with the metric system, cm stands for centimeter and mm for millimeter. Here is an online converter you can use to convert the measurements into inches.

First decide what size book you want. As the cover should be slightly larger than the pages, by 5 mm or so, the leather cover should be 1 cm higher than the pages of the book will be, and twice the width of the pages plus 1 cm plus the thickness of the pages (which includes the thickness of each signature plus a little extra space you need to put between the holes in the leather so they will not split open when you start sewing (this depends on how strong the leather is, but let’s say about 3 mm between holes). I am going to give a set of fixed measurements, but all you need to do to make your book bigger or smaller is to replace the variable numbers with your own measurements. The actual book I made was a bit bigger.

Let’s say you want a book that is 10 cm high and 7 cm wide. The cover should be about 5 mm larger on each side than the pages, so the signatures should be 9 cm high and 6 cm wide. Each signature is made up of several folded pieces of paper (I used 4, which gives me 16 pages), and there should be an even number of signatures in the book. In this case I used 4 signatures. You will then need a piece of leather that is 10 cm high and 14 cm wide.

The fastening strap should be at least three times the width of the closed book, to allow for wrapping around the book and tying a simple knot at the front like I have done.

Mark and trim the leather to the right dimensions. Then fold and, if necessary, trim the signatures.

Mark the centre of the leather piece in the centre where the top and bottom of the spine will be. Drawing a line between the two marks can help you with positioning, but you can also work with a ruler. Make 2 marks on each side, 2 mm and 5 mm from the centre.

Lay a ruler between the corresponding marks on the top and bottom and mark where the 2 external seams will enter and exit the spine, from the top: at 2.5 cm, 4 cm, 7 cm and 8.5 cm. Also put marks on each side of the spine 1 cm above and below each side of the centre of the spine (5 and 6 cm from the top) for where the slits for the leather strap will be (the strap is 1 cm wide), and mark where the strap will be fastened to the front of the cover, about 2-3 cm from the centre of the front edge of the book, in line with the where the spine slits will be. Like this:

Mark where the red dots are.

Then pierce the leather with the awl to make four sewing holes side by side where you put the markings for the thread.

When this is done, make 2 vertical slits between the central markings on each side of the spine and the 2 x 2 markings at the front, like this:
Cut where the red lines are.

Now make the sewing holes in the signatures: Pierce through the centre fold from the inside at 0.5 cm, 2 cm, 3.5 cm, 6.5 cm, 8 cm and 9.5 cm from the top.

If you want to increase the number of stitches, always make an even number of holes so that you begin and end the sewing of each signature on the outside.

Thread the needle with enough thread to use for the whole project, approximately 4 times the height of the book plus about 10 cm, or 50 cm altogether. If you are using sewing thread and have beeswax on hand, use it to wax the thread to protect and strengthen it. Bookbinding thread comes pre-waxed.

  1. Take what will become the last signature in the book and draw the thread into it through the bottom hole from the outside, and out through the next hole, leaving a tail of about 5 cm for tying.
  2. With the leather cover open in front of you, lay the closed signature down on it and draw the thread out through the first hole in the cover until the signature is flush with the cover (hold on to the tail so you don’t draw it all the way through).
  3. Poke the needle in through the second hole from the outside, and into the third hole in the signature, and then out of the fourth hole in the signature and out through the fourth hole in the cover, and back in the final hole in the cover and the fifth hole in the signature.
  4. Finally go out through the sixth and final hole in the signature. The thread is now inside the cover but outside the signature. Holding on to the tail, gently take up any slack in the thread.

Here is what the pattern should look like inside the signatures:

Take the next signature and repeat the above in reverse order, then repeat the whole process. Before you tie the tail ends together, again take up any slack in the thread, starting from the middle signatures and working outwards. Tie the ends together flush from the outside, making sure you don’t pull the signatures too close together. Trim the tails.

This is what the stitching should look like from the outside:

Now prepare the closing strap:
In this project the strap is 1 cm wide, to fit in the slits in the cover. First take the strap and make a small lengthwise slit near one end, like this:


With the closed book in front of you, right side up, take the strap and thread the end with the horizontal slit in it through the vertical slits in the front of the cover, from the left. Now draw the strap through the slit in the end and pull the loop tight. Here is what the loop-knot should look like:


Bring the strap over to the left and pull it through the slits in the spine, bring it all the way around the book to tie or tuck the book closed at the front. Your basic book is now finished.

Variations and embellishments:
  • Make the closing strap much longer and wrap it twice or even several times around the book.
  • The end of the strap can be left the same width as the rest, or it can be tapered off.
  • You might even want to decorate the strap, say with a small tassel on the end or some beads, or perhaps with writing.
  • Add beading to the exposed stitches. Just pick up as many beads as you want when you bring the thread out and proceed as usual.
  • You can also draw all the strands through the same bead or beads.
  • Add decorative stitching to the exposed stitches. You can, for example, take a thread of the same or different colour, draw it out through one of the sewing holes from the inside and then weave it between the stitches, then just take it back inside the cover and tie it off to finish. Or you can, when you sew in the second signature, wrap the second long stitch around the first one or more times, and repeat with the following stitches. You need to be very careful to keep the thread taut inside the signatures if you do this, because you will be unable to fix any slackness afterwards.
  • If you add a third exposed stitch in the middle of the spine, you can use that instead of the slits to secure the strap.
  • You can use a ribbon or a shoelace instead of the strap, but you will need to sew, glue or tie it to the cover instead of using the slit method, or if you insist, make a slit and prevent it from fraying with buttonhole stitching.
  • Add decorative stitching to the edges of the cover with contrasting sewing thread or a fine leather thong. Saddle-stitching and whip-stitching look good.
  • Make a number of slits in the front cover and weave the strap through them for decoration.

This blog has a number of examples you could use as a starting point for book embellishments or variations. I especially like the idea of making patterns on the spine by using variable stitch lengths.