Monday, May 25, 2009

Making Bookcloth

Between family visitors and lots of gardening this weekend, I made a big batch of beautiful Japanese bookcloth for the class I am teaching at the end of this week. We've made bookcloth in some of the classes I teach, and during the summer sessions at the studio we make it throughout the week, along with paste paper or tie-dyed paper, for projects and to take home. 

I start with fat quarters of 100%, good quality quilting fabric. Iron the fabrics with plenty of steam. If you have a project size in mind, cut the fabric about 2 inches larger than you need on each dimension. Otherwise, just cut the fat quarter into 2 or 3 pieces.

You'll need Yes paste, stiff brush (a large stencil brush is shown here), large acrylic brayer, large piece of acrylic for a work surface, artist's tape, and backing paper. I like to use ArtKraft white paper, on a 24" wide roll. Cut the paper a few inches larger than the fabric on each dimension.

Thin the Yes paste before using. Scoop out half the (8 oz.) jar and transfer to another container. Add 1/4 cup water to the paste and stir until it is the consistency of fresh honey. If more water is needed, add it one tablespoon at a time. This will cover about 50, 9" x 12" pieces.

Tape the paper to the acrylic sheet with artist tape. Apply a thin but even layer of paste. Gently lower the fabric down onto the glued surface, and smooth out the air bubbles, first with your fingers, then with the acrylic brayer.

Untape the paper sheet and move it to another surface to dry. This will take a minimum 45 minutes. I let my sheets dry for several hours. Check after 10 minutes for any air bubbles; remove if needed.

When completely dry, cut the cloth to the project size and iron it again. Quilting tools work great for cutting!

Viola! Beautiful bookcloth made by you! 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stab, Cover, Button & Bind

Next weekend, I'll be teaching the above workshop and projects at Benedictine College in Lisle, Illinois for the Chicago Calligraphy Collective. We'll be making a collection of 3 Japanese stab bound books along with a custom slipcase, as well as the Buttonhole Book, a lovely case bound book with cut-out openings across the spine, bound with the buttonhole stitch. There are also a few surprises in store which I won't go into here; if you like working with paper, you'll love the bonus!

In preparation for the slipcase, I'm busy in the studio today making book cloth from a fabulous stash of Japanese fabrics that I acquired at the quilt show last month in Chicago. I am taking photos as I work and will post a little "how-to" on making your own book cloth in a future blog entry. 

This is the only class I am teaching this summer during my sabbatical, and I understand there are still a few spots left. If interested, you can view the details at the CCC website (see link at right). You don't have to be a member to take the workshop, and you don't have to be a calligrapher, although some of this might rub off on you when you hang out with these talented folks.  Book virgins (never made a book before) are also welcome; you'll be amazed at what you make your first time out. Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Signs of Summer

I have missed posting here for the past week, and also missed hearing from you in response. Alas, work and life sometimes get in the way. It has finally begun--the steady stream of summer houseguests arriving here to enjoy nearby Chicago. This past weekend we had family visitors for several days, and managed to pack in a ton of activities including a walking tour of Little Italy, a visit to the newly opened modern wing of the Art Institute, dinner in Greek Town, a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, and a visit to Powell's Bookstore in Hyde Park. (No Obama sightings to report.) Along the way, we passed the site where Mrs. O'Leary's cow started the great Chicago fire, now the site of the Chicago Fire Museum.

Objects related to books seemed to be everywhere. In Little Italy, at the Jane Addams - Hull House, there was a wonderful display of a bookbinder's bench, a cast iron nipping press, a small standing press, a hot stamping tool, and a leather parer, along with a sample of a handbound book with marble paper and leather on the spine. Bookbinding was taught to the immigrants along with several other crafts as a way to help integrate new arrivals into the community. 

Powell's Bookstore has a fabulous, full bookcase of older books on bookbinding and related book arts; I often visit there when I am looking for something that is out of print or hard to find. This time I came away with two treasures: a book on decorated paper designs from the 1800's, and a small book of John DePol's wood engravings. When visiting Hollander's last week, I had purchased a couple of the DePol reproduction papers, mostly because I liked the way they looked. Now I have some background reading to do on the artist. And where did I put my eraser carving tools?

Another treasure I saw at Powell's, but could not justify the expense, was a copy of Bernard Middleton's Restoration of Leather Bindings, with hand marbled paper and leather spine, a real beauty. At $225, it was not in my budget, but I did get to hold it and turn the pages, savoring the smell and the feel of this exquisitely bound book, a limited edition. When my soft-bound, mass market copy arrives from Amazon next week, I'll have the same content but, alas, not the joy of holding the original. 

The first weekend of June brings more fun guests and the Printer's Row Book Fair, my all-time favorite summer activity in Chicago. I'll be posting more about this event in the weeks to come; if you're a real "bookie" and have been thinking about visiting Chicago, this would definitely be the weekend to come!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Catch of the Day

I spent most of today in the fabulous Hollander's paper store in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My husband periodically has business in Detroit, and since Ann Arbor is on the way, he drops me off for the day. Today was make-up for the same trip we tried to take back in mid-February, right after a terrible ice storm the night before. We got on the highway, and after going only 6 miles in 2 hours, had to turn around and go home -- no business AND no paper that day!

Hollander's is one of those mecca stores -- you decide to go, anticipate the trip, make a wish list, and when you finally, at long last, arrive, you feel overwhelmed when you walk in the door. So much beauty, so little time! Will you ever be able to experience it all? Well, been there, and done that. My eyes no longer glaze over and I can get right down to business. This leaves time to go upstairs later to the wonderful Found store for a few vintage baubles.

Mostly I bought paper and boards, and a small bottle of thick PVA to try, especially recommended for box building. Also purchased a spool of waxed linen thread in lime green. I buy one every time I go, whether I'm running low or not, because no one else seems to have this funky color, and I have an innate fear that one day I will go and it will all be gone forever. 

Today also had bonus: the artisans' market that adjoins Hollander's building was open for business, and what a treat to walk through, looking at the flowers and fruits and veggies, as well as the breads and other homemade treats, interspersed with beautiful leather handbags and funky jewelry. If you live anywhere near Ann Arbor, this weekend is their Antiquarian Book Fair, a great place to find all sorts of wonderful stuff related to books.

So, here for your virtual enjoyment are my "swatch books" of papers from today --Japanese screen prints, Indian screen prints and marbles, french marbles, a few DePol prints, and some novelty choices. The larder is now bursting with papers, so it's time to make more books!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gone Papering!

I'm off to Hollander's in Ann Arbor today and tomorrow for a paper frenzy! Wish you all could come with me. I'll be posting a full report when I return.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Weighty Matters

This is easily one of the most efficient, effective pieces of equipment I have in my studio -- a book cloth covered brick. Bigger than an ashtray, smaller than a book press, the simple brick does as much to make finished work look professional as careful cutting and measuring. Your paper and board projects, especially those that have been glued, can be placed under one or more bricks for several hours and will emerge nicely flattened every time. This is the antidote to those papers that wrinkle terribly when you first apply glue; a little weight, properly applied early on, can do wonders for final appearance.

I have a cart of these in my studio, about 25 in all, so that I always have plenty for myself and for visiting students. The bricks come from the home improvement store; usually under a buck each, or maybe you already have a stack in your garage. Be sure to use only the smooth, solid ones, not the ones with holes in the center or grooves cut into the outer edge. I cover the bricks with unlined book cloth (no paper on the back) but you could also use the lined version. Book cloth is preferable to paper, as you'll be placing the bricks on damp surfaces which may damage a paper covering. You'll need a hefty portion of PVA for the job, along with a wide (1 1/2") inexpensive paintbrush and a pair of scissors.

Treat the brick as if it is a package you are wrapping, and cut the book cloth accordingly. Apply a lavish amount of PVA to the cloth as you wrap--the brick absorbs an incredible amount of moisture, and will soak up more glue than you might expect.  Instead of folding and overlapping the two short ends of the "package," cut from the edge of the cloth to the brick at each of the four corners, then glue on the resulting four flaps one layer at a time. Your brick will be prettier if you arrange for the cut edges of cloth to end at an edge of the brick.

Allow your newly covered bricks to dry overnight before using them to press projects. You can turn them to expose another surface every hour or so to speed up the drying process.

Be sure to wrap any project you place under brick weights in a waxed sheet before you apply the weight. If your project is larger than one brick, just put another one (or more) side by side to cover the full surface. For thicker projects, you can stack bricks two layers high. On slow days, when nothing needs to be pressed, place one weight in each hand and repeat: lift left, lift right, lift both -- get those endorphins flowing so your creative juices will return!

I have a field trip tomorrow! 

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Book Stimulus Package

The government may not have any money left to fund your art projects, but Fiji Island Mermaid Press has stepped up to the plate and is offering 8 free mini books by book artists for you to download. The files are provided in pdf format, then you print them out and assemble them. How cool is that?

Most of the books are bound using the french fold. If you're not familiar with this simple binding, you'll find directions on how to do it included with several of the downloads. While you're visiting Fiji Island's website, click around and enjoy some of the many visual treats they offer throughout their site. BTW, if  you want a bonus free book, check out the 2008 artist book listings and download Body Language

You can claim your stimulus package at Fiji Island Mermaid Press. No pesky forms to fill out, no empty promises to stop making sub-prime books, it's free and it's fun!  Perhaps you'll make a little box or slipcase on your own to house this collection, or better yet, you may be inspired to create your own artist book. Enjoy!

Friday, May 8, 2009

The White Journals

Work is moving along on my white journals project. Four are now completed, all taken from Keith Smith's non-adhesive bindings book 2. The single section sewings did not charm me, so I skipped that part and went directly to 2 section bindings.  So far, I have completed the Parallel Bars, the Diagonals and Bars, the Standing Z's or Lying N's, and the Lattice selections. Now that there are four of them to stack up, they are becoming more interesting as a collection.

It's not easy for me to work in white. I love the way that all white things look, but when I start working on a white project invariably a little color sneaks in there somewhere, and then a little more, and before I know it, the color is all over and the white concept is no more. This time I am making a conscious effort to keep it white, even though I did switch to color thread so you could see the sewing more easily. Okay, so I've used four different color threads on the four volumes. Now you see why this story always ends the same way.

Two of the four bindings have had different hole punching templates for each of its two signatures, with one spine template. I have found that it is easiest to create the page templates after the spine template has been made, making sure I transfer only the markings for that particular section to each template. 

For my materials, I've learned that museum conservation board, even the lightest weight,  is too thick to fold simply by scoring with a stylus. I'm getting a much sharper, even fold by using my x-acto knife with a very light touch to create the score line, being careful not to cut through the entire board, just the top layer. 

Stay tuned for more additions to the growing library!

Glue Pots

When I first began teaching, I took PVA to classes in plastic squeeze bottles. While this is a good way to store and travel with glue, a squeeze bottle delivery system isn't always the best for controlling the amount of adhesive on the gluing surface. Either too much comes out and you are forced to remove the excess before proceeding, or not enough comes out and you must race to squeeze out more while the initial application quickly dries before your eyes. And then there is the annoying little red cap that is always missing, so the nozzle clogs up and you have to use your pokey tool to get the glue flowing again. 

You'll have much better results if you store PVA in a wide mouth container that allows you to dip in your glue brush, taking up as much or as little as you need for the task at hand.

Some PVA is sold in wide mouth plastic jars with screw on lids, and they work well until you forget to wipe off the rim and the lid sticks. While you can add a little petroleum jelly or oil to the rim to prevent this problem, I've found that using a ceramic kitchen storage container, with a tight clamp and a rubber gasket in the lid, will solve all these problems and more. You can dispense the glue directly from its original container into the ceramic jar, or you can place the wide mouth plastic jar -- minus its lid -- directly into the storage container and you're good to go. Just remember to close it up tight when you're done.

When I'm working with a mixture of PVA and methyl cellulose, I mix up a small batch, a little more than I think I will actually need, and store it in the same type of container, but a smaller size. These are easy to find at the dollar store or Wal-Mart. The PVA-methyl cell mixture will last up to two weeks in this container, if stored in a reasonably cool room. Don't refrigerate this mixture or your PVA. Ever.

I mix up methyl cellulose from the powder form, about 8 ounces at a time, and store it in my refrigerator in a tightly closed plastic jar. I find it will keep for several months this way. 

You'll still want to keep a squeeze bottle of PVA around the worktable, as it comes in handy for gluing small jobs.

BTW, I've started posting the white models at right. The first one was quick to do, exciting to learn something new. In order for you to see the stitching clearly online, however, I had to abandon the white thread and replace it with color. Watch for new additions, and I'll do a follow-up post next week when I have a few more under my belt.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Making Models

When I am teaching myself a new binding from a book or periodical, I often start by making a model. Models are good for many reasons: they can be made from whatever materials you happen to have around, and by using your less than best materials, you've given yourself permission to make mistakes and learn about the binding as you go. Here you can make the adjustments, fine tuning, and improvements to the structure and just write your notes directly on the model. Once you've worked out the major bugs, you can cut into that sheet of precious paper you've been saving with confidence, and make a beautiful finished book.

Learning some new decorative stitch bindings has been on my "want to do" list for some time. My copy of Keith Smith's 1-2-& 3-Section Sewings has had about a dozen post-it flags sticking out the fore-edge for months, and so now it is time to hunker down and do it. I've also had a project in mind to make an entire bookshelf of various white bindings, so I'm going to combine these two ideas to make about a dozen or so white model books.

To make it easy to begin and continue over a period of time, I decided to cut enough materials at one time to make all 12 books. I'm starting with half a ream of Neenah Classic Columns 20 lb. writing paper, but you could also use white copy paper. To keep things simple, I cut the ream in half so that I now have 500 sheets of paper that are 5 1/2" high by 8 1/2" wide, to be folded down to 5 1/2" x 4 1/4" page size. For the covers, I'm using white museum conservation board from Hollander's. I cut the boards into 5 1/2" tall strips, and left each strip the full width of the board (13") so I'll have some options for folded panels if I want them later. Poster board could also be used for covers if you're making the budget version.  White and natural linen thread, waxed and unwaxed, in 2, 4 and 7 ply thicknesses complete the supplies for now.

If you don't want to spend a lot of time at the paper cutter, take the ream of paper to your local print shop, office supply store copy center, or Kinko's and ask them to guillotine cut your paper in half, a job that usually costs a couple bucks and takes about two minutes.

I'll be posting my projects as they are completed over the next several weeks, so perhaps you'll join me in learning something new!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Party On with Fabric Scraps

This past February, in the middle of the winter that would not end, I hosted an afternoon pincushion party at the studio for about a dozen ladies. Fortified by a mighty fabric scrap bin and a stash of luscious fat quarters, we made two projects:  a Tidy Tote which houses a little pincushion inside, and Raindrop, a tiny good luck doll that is really a drawstring pouch. Okay, so technically only one was a pincushion. There were no complaints!

I found these projects in my resource library, taken from two of a series of three books by Kumiko Sudo: Omiyage, and Kokoro no Te, collections of small handmade fabric gifts in the Japanese tradition. The third book, Wagashi, features mostly Japanese fashion art, so I knew I couldn't get that in under the pincushion umbrella. Directions are easy to follow if you know basic handsewing techniques, no Japanese or French required, and the author provides patterns and templates to copy in the back of the book. 

Like the paper scrap bin books from my earlier post, these little lovelies are a great way to make use of your fabric scraps. You'll also learn several new embellishment techniques that can be used in your fabric journal projects.

This required no sewing machines; everything was done by hand. We spent way more time choosing our fabrics, felt, buttons, beads and cords than we spent actually making the pincushions, because it was just fun to play with all the possibilities before making a choice. It was okay to change your mind even after you had committed! It was all about having a good time and making a little something together, regardless of skill level. There was warm jasmine tea and little cookies and beautiful Gerbera daisies on the table. And a good time was had by all!

Scrap Bin Books

When you make a paper or fabric book project, I hope you save all your scraps. When I make a project with beautiful papers like the 10 paper box a few days ago, I can prolong the experience by making a miniature item with what is left. This little book is 2 inches square with a 3/8 inch spine, and about 40 pages inside of very lightweight watercolor paper found in my scrap bin. 

An easy way to make a miniature of a favorite book structure is to take the instructions and divide all the measurements for materials in half, and photocopy any templates or patterns at 50% reduction. This will result in a book that is approximately one-quarter size of the original. For example, if your instructions are for a 4 x 6 inch book, 50% reduction will produce a book that is 2 x 3. When reducing the dimensions, you might want to add just a little extra for the turn-ins for covered board projects , as it is difficult to work with 1/4 inch wide paper for this purpose.

The other way is simply to let the size of the scraps dictate the project. A lovely little woven spine book that I taught at this year's ArtFest was created as a by-product of having some luscious Fabriano watercolor scraps from the previous year's summer workshop leather journal. (When you prepare as many as 50 class kits, you end up with some serious scrappage!) Let the materials you love the best determine the direction, and make it up as you go. Seredipity is good! 

I keep two scrap baskets on my paper cutting table. One is for decorative, text and cover weight papers; the other is for board scraps. When they reach overflow status, they are roughly sorted by size and transferred to larger plastic bins. When those bins overflow, it's time to make a donation to a local art teacher or to students if we are in summer session. 

Now I'm off to hunt up some old French postage stamps to collage onto the pages inside. Sometimes I actually do make books with content!

Monday, May 4, 2009


Whether I'm teaching or taking a class, it's only a matter of time until we get around to the toolbox tour. You've got cool stuff in your toolbox, and I've got some good stuff in mine. Here is my "If I were stranded on a desert island and could only have 10 tools" list.

A board or mat cutter with an easy to change blade. Meet Mr. Fish.

An x-acto knife with a handle that is easy to control, comfy to hold, and quick to change blades. Very Martha.

A short Zebra mechanical pencil with a point that seldom breaks. Really.

A hole pokey tool that I decoupaged many years ago. I keep the needle point stuck in a cork.

The world's smallest brayer. This one performs lots of glue miracles on papers that misbehave, rolling out little tiny bubbles until they are gone, gone, gone.

A genuine bone folder, handmade by Jim Croft, that fits my hand perfectly and gets into the smallest places. It is so beautiful it glows.

A tiny brass triangle, with a pick-up handle, for mitering perfect corners without thinking or measuring.

A small metal square, which keeps my lines honest and true.

A reliable glue brush with a plastic ferrule that won't rust when I forget to take it out of the water jar for several days.

And finally, the tool tray by John Derian. This tray lives next to my cutting surface and is the catch spot for all the tools I'm currently using for a project. When the project is done, I put them all away, then reassemble a new mix for the next project. There must be a surgeon or dental assistant somewhere in my past.

Next time we tour the toolbox, we'll look at the second tier of favorites. For now, I'm off to find some paper on this mythical island to make a book!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Letters from Paris

Among the art papers that I purchased in Paris last month were several dozen old letters, with incredibly beautiful handwriting that was the style back in the day. Some of these were purchased at the Postage Stamp and Telephone Card Market, just off the Champs-Elysees, where vendors are set-up year round in large white tents, one after the other, stretching for a few blocks along Avenue de Marigny. Here you can find vintage postage, postcards, letters, and other collectibles on paper, a real treasure trove for ephemera lovers. 

Most of the booths are wonderfully organized--postcards and letters by location, other collectibles by subject matter--which is what sometimes happens when one has too much time on one's hands. Nonetheless, this works to your advantage, for if you came looking for Paris or Marseilles postmarks you can have them in multiples if you want them, and right quickly, too.

Since it was my first experience at this market, I proceeded with caution and purchased only a few things that I really admired. This turned out to be a good strategy, because later in the week I found an entire street of dealers for the same items, just a few blocks from my hotel, and their prices were much friendlier than those at the open air market. Perhaps this was because I was just looking for lovely handwriting samples; the postage stamps on the missives didn't matter so much to me.

Written on thin paper of pale colors, most of these letters have no separate envelope. The message is written on one side, then folded into thirds across the width, ends folded to the center. Next, the short ends are tucked in no more than an inch, creating a self-contained packet. The address information was then written on one side, and a wax seal applied to the back to hold the loose edge in place. The inks are mostly sepia, although a few are black. Every one of them, even those that appear to be simply statements of accounts and notes written in haste, feature handwriting that most of us could not approach after many months of calligraphy lessons.

Most of these are dated from the mid to late 1800's, although a few that I chose were from the 1700's. They have held up remarkably well, and I hope they will have a new reincarnation in a forthcoming series of book related projects that I have in mind to do this summer.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

10 Paper Boxes

Last night I made a 10 paper box, one of the projects I designed for students in last year's summer workshops here at the studio. The box is built from binder's board; the base is 4" square, and the lid overhangs the sides about 1/2 inch. I call it the 10 paper box because the challenge is to incorporate at least 10 different papers into the design. Some students like to choose all 10 papers at once before starting the project. I usually choose a couple of papers to start, and then I let the remaining choices happen serendipitously as the project moves along. When I begin the project, I'm never quite sure how it will end, and I enjoy that process of discovery as each addition takes the box in another design direction.

The papers for this box were all chosen from my Paris paper stash, a combination of hand marbled papers, screen printed loktas, and a few wax resist designs. I use straight PVA to build the box and to adhere the various covered boards together, and a 50/50 mixture of PVA and methyl cellulose to cover the boards with the decorative papers. Adding methyl cell to the mixture extends the drying time, a helpful feature if you don't position the paper exactly where you want it on the first try. All of the papers glued up nicely, so this is encouragement to buy more next time!

This box is going to a local charity for their annual fund-raising auction in a few weeks. If you can, please consider helping your local organizations by donating your art or services. Most are having a difficult time in the current economy. Use your wonderful power of creativity for good!