Make Summer Camp: Book Blocks

Hello, Readers! I’m away on a combination retreat/vacation, and I’m unable to respond to comments immediately. However, for those of you involved in the Make Summer Camp thing I’m running, it didn’t make sense to let you go days without any encouragement or insight.  So, this is one of several posts that I’ve pre-scheduled for your reading pleasure while I’m away.

Book block signatures/quiresSometimes you don’t have time to make a whole “thing.”  Or maybe there’s some skills you need to practice, or some other “thing” you have to do before you can do the “thing.”  Or maybe you’re just not ready to make the “thing” yet.

But that means you can probably go ahead and make a part.  My friend Scott says, “if a picture is worth a thousand words, a part is worth a thousand pictures…. and a machine is usually around a thousand parts.”

It’s worth remembering this axiom.  Because as much as I love words — I’m a poet after all, and a bard, and a hermeticist who loves words.  And yet, Making things requires so much more than words.  It requires parts. Words are all made of the same stuff.  But these two books I’m building, to teach myself long-stitch bookbinding, are going to require parts that are made of different materials.

There needs to be paper, of course, to form the internal pages.  But the string—the waxed cord—that forms the binding has to be not-paper.  It has to be cotton or linen thread, and it has to be covered in a coating of wax to keep the book from falling apart.  And there needs to be a cover, probably leather or doubled layers of cloth, which keeps the book from falling apart.  And each book needs to be assembled in roughly the same way, in the same order, so that it doesn’t fall apart.  A poem is made of all the same stuff—what Stephen Pinker called “words and rules” in his book of the same name.  No matter how fancy or elaborate the grammar, no matter the language, it’s all still just words and rules.  The poem may be composed in order to evoke certain emotional layers, but it’s still just two things.

This book, on the other hand, will need to be at least three, in different proportions and quantities, arranged in different ways: in folded stacks, for the paper; wrapped around, for the leather or cloth cover; strung through the other two parts, for the waxed thread.  I haven’t even touched on bookbinding glue or cloth tapes for holding the binding together, or any of the particular pieces of equipment necessary to Make a book, like the bone folder pictured here (as odd a Maker’s tool as I’ve ever personally encountered, and as beautiful a tool as I can imagine enchanting to be a magical tool of power.

I don’t have all the parts to make these books right now.  I need to get myself some leather or heavy cloth to form the covers, and maybe some thin wood wrapped in glued cloth to serve as the covers.  I don’t know yet.  I haven’t planned that far out.  But I did have the papers for the interior text-block, printed with some charts and graphs to be filled out as I use these two notebooks (and they will be notebooks — one is a prototype liber spiritorum, or book of spirits, for my druidic work; and the other is a casebook for my geomancy practice).  And so I got out the bone folder, and folded them nicely, and made seven quires—a quire is a fancy bookbinding term for a group of six sheets of paper, holding 24 pages (see, Making exposes you to new vocabulary, isn’t that cool?)—for each book.   Seven seemed like the right number for these two projects, and at 7×24, each book will hold 168 pages.

So even though the Books aren’t made yet, the parts manufacturing process has been started.  I have some of the materials I need, already processed through several earlier steps (i.e, the page templates were designed, they were double-sided copied and ready to be folded, they got folded, and now they’re ready to be punched when I have the covers ready). In other words, these book-block are ready for the next step.  And that’s what we’re after here.

Painting progressThat same thing holds true for my work as a painter.  Yes, OK, a painting is usually just a canvas frame with paint on it.  But, unlike some painters, I try to work up from primary colors.  I tend to work with Titanium White, Cadmium Red or Naphthol Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Cerulean Blue (though sometimes Aquamarine Blue), and Ivory Black (why is it ivory black? It’s weird).  The painting, the visual image, is composed of mixed paints in various proportions.  For me, painting is often just a complex bit of color by numbers—drawing a geometric proof onto the canvas, creating some line thicknesses, and then filling in those thicknesses with color.  Is it a good way to paint? I have no idea.

You can see, though, the emergence of parts on the canvas.  Even though this is two-dimensonal, or almost-so, you should be able to see that as I generate colors, I decide where they go; the center of the doubled-square, for example, is the same hue s the octagon on the canvas next to it; and the addition of some black to that hue, made it become the dark green which forms the boundary of the nine pointed star next to that; and some more white turned it into the green on the left-hand side of the circle on the canvas in the top-row-right-most.  A whitened version of the yellow on the square in the middle-upper became the yellow on the ring around the pentagram, and a further whitened version of that became the hue around the hexagram, and a whitened version of that became the hue around the doubled-squares.

Do you see? The parts have to go through transformations of their own.  And you participate in this process, not by completing the project all at once, but in stages.  Primary colors lead to secondary colors, and secondary colors to tertiary colors, and tertiary colors lead to a working theory of color.  The concreteness of the individual parts gives way to the abstract idea— or, as a magician might say, the kinesthetic meditation that results from the construction of the tools, leads one into communion with the spirit.

So even if you can’t set aside a block of time to do the whole project at once, make one part of it.  It will help you set aside the time to Make the next part, and then the next.

Insight For You as a Maker

You don’t have to block out a huge body of time to be a Maker.  You can decide not to try to complete a whole project at once.  You can move your project forward a little bit at a time.  You can make a part of it.

That’s what I did here.  I don’t know when the covers for these two books will be ready.  I haven’t found the material I intend to build the covers out of yet, and maybe it’s silly to make the book blocks before I know what the outside cover will be.

On the other hand, now that I know what the interior will be, I can begin being on the lookout for the covering material.  Given that the paper is simply photocopy paper, investing in serious materials for the covers is silly.  I shouldn’t buy a $40 scrap of leather and put 12¢ worth of paper inside of it.  Nor should I buy craft foam, though, and put that around these pages; the resulting book would look silly and serve no purpose.  I need something between (Esther K. Smith recommends using part of a cake-mix box, but that would require me to buy and use cake mix).

So part of the point here is that the act of making a part of your project will help lead you into thinking about next steps.  It’s much easier to plan a project if you already have part of it done.  Sure, there’s a chance that you’ll abandon the project, or not finish it.  But Making is sometimes like that.  You’ll find that doing some of the steps helps keep you on your toes to find the next parts—at garage sales, at the DIY or hardware store, visiting unusual neighborhoods, and so on.  The work of Making helps sharpen your mind to the tools and materials you need, and the parts and particulars of your own project.  But first you have to get to the point of realizing that you need a piece or a part that you don’t have, in order to finish the project.

And the easiest way to discover that, is to start working on the project.


  1. I *love* bone folders. (In part because they are lively objects, open to imagination and enchantment.) Bookbinding is high on my list of crafts to learn, but I think I’m going to be playing with cloth arts first.

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