Make Summer Camp: Book Block

This post is part of a larger series called Make Summer Camp. As part of this series, I’ve done a good deal of paper-craft, working to produce origami and notebooks, in addition to things like boxes and scarves and tunics.

There are no pictures for this post, which is unusual.  It’s hard to produce anything physical for this one, given that I’m first making something digital in order to make something physical.

I’m making a book block.

In bookbinding, a signature is a collection of pages.  Usually there are six to ten pages in a a signature.  I tend to do six pages, because I find it hard to punch through ten pages accurately and cleanly, and because it makes the mathematics a little easier, and because the mathematics is also numerologically pleasing.

So each of my signatures is a stack of six pages, folded in half, and then bound into a book along the folds.  Got that? This means that my signatures actually have 6 sheets of paper, twelve sides of paper (2 per sheet), and four ‘pages’ per sheet of paper or 24 pages per signature.  This might be easier with a diagram, but oh, well I’m tired of looking at computer screens for tiny, fussy detail and getting these things right.

Over the last fifteen years or so I’ve written a lot of poetry.  A lot.  Some of it was in honor of the Sun and Moon. Some was for the decans of the Zodiac, and some for the Planets.  Some was for Celtic saints, and some was for Greek gods and goddesses. Some was for stars.

Recently, Sam Block had to start rewriting his vademecum, his enchiridion — his collection of prayers and ceremonial texts and rites and rituals.  And recently, I came to the end of my poetic journal book after several years working on the same project.  And it became time to produce a fair-copy, and I thought, wow, I should do what Sam is doing. Only I should make it harder, really, by producing a digital edition that I can then hand-bind and sell to interested parties.

 So that’s what I spent the day doing.  I created a digital layout of a 216-page book.  Not a PDF, you understand — not something you can read in order from front to back.  The layout of a book. In signatures.  This was (not to put to fine a point on it), a royal pain. A seriously painful process, and seriously annoying.

Because digital page one, you see, is actually book pages 1 and 24.  And digital page 2 is book page 2 and 23, because it’s the back side of digital page 2 when it gets printed out.  Digital page 3 is book page 4 and 22, the front side of printer page 2, and the back side is digital page 4, which is book page 5 and 21. And so on, and so on.  Until you get to digital page 13, which becomes printer page 7, and has book pages 25 and 48 on one side, and 26 and 47 on the other.

You cannot program a computer, it turns out, to lay out pages this way.  You have to do it manually. At least, you have to do it the first time manually. I did save it as a template, so I can do this again, assuming I ever want to.  So I had do do all of that math to figure out where the signatures’ break was, and where the boundaries were, and so on.

I then went through the elaborate process of laying out a pair according to the rules of good page design set out in The Secret Law of Page Harmony.  I set up those pages with top and bottom notes for page numbers, author bar, book title bar, and so on.  And then I made 84 pages, numbered them by signature numbers, numbered them again by book page numbers, and then began copy-pasting my text into the book.

I might have preferred writing it out by hand again, really.

But, the page layout is done, at least for the moment.  The first two and a half signatures are filled up with my text, and some filler text I wrote on the fly to fill out some page details of why specific poems in the series existed.  It looks like there will be enough space for all the Sun and Moon Sonnets, the hymns and prayers for the Eight Greats (Solstices, Equinoxes, and cross-quarter day poems), and the Planetary hymns.  There might be room for my poetry on the 28 mansions of the moon, never published, and the Behenian Stars (also mostly unpublished) Beyond that, I may have as many as 30 pages left, or as few as three. I’m not sure yet.  I can also add in additional pages, of course — I just have to do it in units of six sheets of paper — otherwise known as twelve digital pages, or 24 book-pages.

From the point of view of learning, though, it feels like a major accomplishment. I mean, at this point I feel like I have a grasp on the whole process of making a book, from the writing of the text to the making of the paper and ink, to the creation of the illustrations, to the management of the signatures and the cover-making and the bookbinding.  I’m not an expert at the process, but I’ve done all of the steps from one end to the other… and it feels like the creation of this book (assuming I can finish a copy in time for September 21) will be the major achievement of the 2015 Make Summer Camp.

Twenty-one days to go… What are you making?

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