Bookbinding 

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There’s something beautiful about a stack of books bound with Coptic stitch. Particularly when you know that the contents of each book are your own. These are copies of my Book of Splendor, a collection of poetry exploring the relationships between nature and the divine in a particular corner of New England.

These are part of a limited edition of 100 copies: numbered, and hand bound, and the hand signed by the author, that is me. I interested in buying one? Let me know.

Bookbinding projects

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The sewing machine is busted. I am waiting for a part to come in. Singer sewing machines in the early 1960s began to transition from metal parts to hybrids that were partly metal and partly plastic. One of these plastic parts has become so worn from rubbing against metal constantly, that it has become un-usable.

Accordingly I have shifted over to bookbinding for the moment while waiting for the part to come in. Two of these books got bound this weekend — an orange copy of The Book of Splendor, intended for a friend. And a gray copy of The Mansions of the Moon. And finally, this morning, a black copy of The Behenian Stars

I’m least happy with the Behenian Stars binding. The other two books are substantial enough for a Coptic stitch binding. But The Behenian Stars is not. It’s only two quires or signatures, and it doesn’t really hang together properly. The Mansions of the Moon, likewise, is a little flimsy but it may improve with weighting and pressing it a bit. We’ll see.

I have eight more copies of the Book of Splendor to bind. This one isn’t ready for purchase yet, though it will be expensive: hand-made covers, hand-bound by the author? The Behenian Stars is available on both Etsy and Amazon as a digital PDF, but to sell a physical copy of it, I think I’ll need to thicken the book up a bit. Maybe if I combine it with the Mansions book, both together will be dense enough to bind easily.

Sketchbooks

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I had some leftover 11×17 paper from a project, so I folded it up into a number of quires, and then found some papers and cardstock for covers for them.

The result is a trio of handsome sketchbooks, including the one with fishy covers that reminded me of the emblem or personal sigil of my high school friend, the painter Fred Poisson (who does some amazing work!).  The books’ covers are covered with papers from Michael’s DIY, nothing particularly spectacular; the interior of the covers are a heavy cardstock, and the body of the covers is a medium-weight pressed cardboard that provides the book with its substantiality and weight.

The use of waxed black thread provides a nice contrast with the lightness of the covers; but I must admit that it results in some stains on the pages from the process of binding the book.  And, since I don’t have sewing frames (for case-binding a book, which is the traditional method of making hardcovers in the western European style), nor a guillotine cutter, the arrangement of quires and covers is sometimes a little uneven.

The binding of a book is not a particularly difficult process; I’ve documented it before in my writings on the Coptic Stitch, of which these are examples.  In essence one (or in these books’ cases, two) thread is passed backwards and forwards through the quires in a long serpentine or Celtic interweave not unlike a knitted stitch.  The result forms these thick black bands along the spine of the book (not visible in these photos), and eventually emerges as those lines that run perpendicular to the spine on the cover both inside and out.

I have one more of these books ready to bind, in a lovely blue marbled paper cover.  All four are likely to wind up as Christmas presents this year, though I may put one or two up on my Etsy shop for sale.  Are you interested in buying one?

Mostly, though, I think of the making of these journals as an intermittent project, or practice, or a way to use up materials for the larger project, which is producing my own books —  The Book of Splendorwhich explores my own Sun and Moon poetry; the Behenian Stars, the Decans of the Zodiac, and the Mansions of the Moon. Would you buy those, in a format that involved the author hand-binding each copy?  I hope so — I’m planning to do it whether or not anyone buys them.

Books of secrets

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Each of my nieces is receiving a A Book of Secrets this Christmas. That is, they’re getting a blank book to use as a journal, with a nice note from me on the front cover. But this journal has a secret in it.In truth, it has several secrets. Several dozen secrets. Scattered among the blank pages are a number of diagrams and tools for young ladies that are not entirely appropriate. Secrets like, how to write in coded letters and ciphers, how to speak in semaphore, how to write morse code messages around the edges of notes, and how to draw things that no one else knows how to draw, like horses and princesses. How to fold origami besides cranes. How to tie useful knots.  How to write in runes, and Greek, and the two Japanese syllabaries. How to draw in isometric perspective and 2 point perspective. How to make beautiful repetitive patterns like Zentangles.   How to draw complex geometry using only a ruler and compass.Thanks to the invention of modern quick copy machines and the Internet, this is not particularly difficult to do.

I created forty-eight sheets of secrets using public domain imagery from the Internet, traveled to the local photocopy shop, and made two copies of these ‘secret pages’. Then I bought another ream of the paper they used to print them, and made another six or seven quires/signatures for each book; and interleaved the ‘secret pages’ in amongst the others. The result?

A journal that also doubles as a teaching aide.  A teaching aide on how to be difficult and interesting and smart.  And I hope that the act of giving this book to my young nieces will encourage them to be interesting and smart and knowledgable about complicated matters, and to care about ideas and where they come from.

There’s no one book that can do all of that, of course. But a journal that is not quite like any other journal in the world, hand made just for you, with a group of secrets that you share with only your not-quite-sister… I hope that will be tempting enough.

Because no one quite decides to become interesting on their own. Interesting people — like interesting teachers — take an interest in young people (without too much of an interest, of course), and nourish and encourage them in the right ways at the right times. For me, it was an uncle who gave me lots of books about architecture and archaeology and history and science. Later he taught me to sail, and later still he took me and my family on a sailing tour of the Greek islands (I was supposed to go on the sailing trip to Denmark and Sweden, but it didn’t work out).

In any case, here we are: two books of secrets — where ‘secrets’ stands in for the idea of “things that you have to learn by doing them“.

And that’s at the core of what it means to be a Maker.  I would not have thought to make a pair of books for family members, each filled with secrets, without first training myself to be a bookbinder; and I wouldn’t train myself to be a bookbinder without first identifying myself as a Maker and a Designer.  The two go hand in hand.  We can’t be Makers without some clarity about what it is that we make; we can’t be designers without some sense of what it is that the world needs to have in it to be a better place.

For many Makers and Designers, that means making new things, like robots and blinking LED gizmos. And there’s a place for that. For me, there’s benefit in making new things in an old way — and sharing mindsets and methodologies with young people that machines and electronics are not the only things worth having.

Book bound, & #makered

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I spent some time today binding this book. I had a bunch of 11×17″ paper left over from another project, so I arranged it into signatures/quires of six or seven pages each, and groups of six quires, to produce eight notebooks: coptic stitch sketchbooks.  I like this size and heft; it feels about right.

But boy, are they a pain to bind!  The covers aren’t quite stiff enough with just plain cardboard inside them; there’s a lot of floppiness… or not floppiness, but flexibility.  And you need about nine yards (it feels like, in reality it’s more like four) of waxed string to bind a book of this size, which is more than is convenient to work with at one time.  And the black string combined with the wax leaves black marks on the paper… white waxed string, it seems, is the way to go so as to avoid staining the paper.

Still, it came out all right.  Not an entirely successful experiment, but OK, I learned a few things.  Now what? What comes next?

At this point, I’ve bound and given away four of these notebooks of this size.  (Two were for my parents for their wedding anniversary — matching papers of the same pattern, in different colors).  I have this one bound, which means that I have three more to bind.  I think I’ll save them for days when I don’t have anything else to work on.

Why Bookbind?

Some of my readers are teachers, and must wonder what the advantage is of doing bookbinding.  I mean, MakerSpaces are really supposed to be about things like robots and 3D printers and AutoCAD and digital design…. aren’t they? Or aren’t they supposed to be about building things out of wood and plastic and metal?

Yes, MakerSpaces are frequently about that — but let me say, those of us who teach or taught Maker work in schools are forgetting the importance of the soft skills, and of artisanship.  It’s part of the reason why I taught knitting, and built inkle looms, and learned to spin wool.  It’s part of the reason I learned to work a sewing machine, and to make costumes and hats and bags.

But I’d like to offer the point that Making comes in many different flavors, and it’s not all electronics and gears and 3D printing. There’s fashion design and graphic design and book production and artisanship and cabinetry and furniture-making and mechanical processes and block printing and leather working and architecture and… and… and… the list goes on.  The human experience is huge, my friends in Maker Education… and learning to do more than simply program pre-made robots or build circuits out of LittleBits is probably not enough.

We have a whole range of things that our students are hungry to learn how to do… and there’s benefit in building up OUR skills so that students can see how to grow and expand their own learning processes to encompass other fields of endeavor.

Experimental book

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the star of tonight’s show


I did a little bookbinding tonight.  I’d hoped to do two books, but this one was a bear to get right. I had it in mind to do these funky stars on the cover of my latest coptic stitch binding. My plan was to put the stars on the front of the book but not the back.  I got that done, but I ran out of the dark purple thread and had to use lighter purple thread for the upper four. And the thread ripped through the cover in a couple of places. And the quires didn’t line up properly, and I didn’t like the paper much, and the covers are too floppy. Not enough strength in them, enough sturdiness. Not enough contrast with the paper and the purple thread, either.  

But the design works. Now I just need to figure out the right combination of thread and stitching, so everything lines up properly. I need to set up the back and front covers correctly, so that I can do this nice pattern on one side but not the other. And I should probably figure out ribbon binding next, too. 

Still, this turned out ok for a first attempt. 

Bookbinding 

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Coptic stitch


Poetry has been a special concern of mine for decades. I’ve written a lot about poetry; and I’ve written quite a lot of poetry, from the Orien fragments to the Neo-Orphic hymns, and a bunch of stuff in between. Usually poets in the 21st century publish chapbooks, or small paper pamphlets of their work. I delayed, and delayed, and delayed. But I’ve finally felt like I’ve reached an important stopping point. 

And so I’m taking the time — a lot of time, really — to print and hand-bind the collections. There are going to be (probably) a hundred copies each of four books: the Book of Splendor, shown here; the Behenian Stars (I gave out six very special editions last weekend); the Mansions of the Moon; and the Decans of the Zodiac. The last two are still in development, but these first two are essentially done. I think. 

Nothing left to do but the binding. I did ten copies of the Book of Splendor in an early edition, a special run of ten copies, to test out different binding processes. I decided that I really liked the Coptic stitch best.  So now I’ve started on a run of 100. I’m at odds with myself, whether to do all the covers in black with blue endpapers, and the binding in white thread; or whether to change it up by groups of ten or twenty-five. The text will remain the same throughout. 

I also haven’t decided if I should sell them as I make them, or wait until I have a big pile of them. I’ve decided that ten or maybe twenty or so will be gift-copies; but most are going to be for sale. 

It’s a funny feeling in the gut, to know that the covers, the binding and the book and the text inside it are all your own work. Feels like a responsibility. Feels like a happiness, too. 

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