My Little Red Book


I made a video about this book, but it was a video interrupted…between dogs and children and timing, I didn’t feel as if I said everything I wanted to about this book–and about how deliriously happy this silly thing makes me.

It all started with Jeanne Oliver’s online class, The Journey Of Letting Go, Creating Beauty From Ashes.  I made a first coptic bound book based on week one’s instruction.  I actually enjoyed making it, even though the binding looked awful.  I didn’t think it was too bad for my first attempt at this sort of binding.  I decided I wanted to use washi tape to tape up the centers of every two-page spread…and to add washi tape randomly throughout the entire book.  Well, adding the washi tape to the center of every two-page spread …made my pages stick out past the covers along the long front side of the book.  Plus, the spine of the book was now a bunch of sticky backs of washi tape.  So I added a strip of pretty duck tape to the spine to cover all that sticky up…although I am proud of myself for making the book–it isn’t a book I want to carry around with me as a hallmark of my work or anything.  And yes, I am planning to use it…too-small covers and all…stained up closure ribbon and all.  I seem to have a knack for keeping my mistakes around and turning them into something not just usable, but something … nice, presentable and oft times fantastic by the end of things.  That’s what I plan to do with this journal.

Now, ever since I made what I guess I shall henceforth call the washi journal, it’s been bugging me.  I wanted to make a NICE coptic bound journal.  And…I wanted to use reclaimed book covers to do it.  I am not so sure why that became so important to me, but it did.  I found a lovely book from 1904 called Freckles at a local thrift store.   I wasn’t looking for anything in particular.  I just waited for a book to speak to me–and this one did–so I bought it.

I brought the book home–and looked it up online.  I have this weird thing that if I can find the ebook version for free (see link above–this is NOT an affiliate link), I download it so I can read it later.  Nope, I have no real desire to read that actual printed book–usually because I have a backlog of reading to do and it would take me forever to get around to reading a book–which would severely curtail my turning the book into something else.  So now I have the book on my kindle…and I felt fine taking the printed version apart.

I cut out the body of the book, which was already separating from the intact cover.  Two little slits down the inside of the book block and voila…cover on one side, intact pages on the other.  The book block I actually have on my desk at the moment.  I used the pages to sketch and doodle on–and I take notes on the pages.  I usually end up either using the pages as background bits (the pages with notes) in other pieces–or gluing the finished –and sometimes unfinished– works (sketches and doodles) into other journals to become parts of a different journal spread…or something.  Some of them have been glued down and are still waiting to be … brought into the pieces they ended up in.

I kept both covers attached to the spine for two weeks, sitting in my desk, while I pondered…do I just do a coptic binding, removing the spine and using each cover independently, or do I do a hidden binding and keep the very well connected covered intact…but, the whole I need to try the whole coptic binding thing again finally won out over doing a hidden binding.   (I would probably have done a modified pamphlet stitch binding for the hidden binding.)  Again, two slits with the blade (exacto knife, if you need to know) and the spine was severed from the covers.

I had measured my covers and decided that my paper needed to be significantly smaller than they were.  The covers measured 7 3/4 inches by 5 1/2 inches.  I decided to use 7 inch by 10 inch paper to create my signatures.  Canson XL mix media paper comes in a spiral notebook just this size, with 60 pages.  I already had one of these journals by Canson on hand–my toddler and I used to draw in it together–er…really my toddler mostly drew and colored in it.  He wanted to have an art journal like his sister and me, so I let him play.  At that time, I was working on bigger pages (11 inches x 14 inches mostly), so for me it wasn’t a big deal.  He used markers and soft pastels (from what I can tell now).  However, I didn’t want to use toddler artwork in this journal.  I wanted nice pristine pages.  I bought another Canson XL mix media journal in the proper size…and once I brought it home, began to remove the pages one at a time, removing the perforated bits that had held it in the journal to begin with.

About five pages into that process, I decided that I did indeed want to use the toddler artwork, so I pulled out the first sketched upon page…and found out it is significantly larger than the brand-new journal pages.  Why?  The perforated area on the older journal was much much closer to the actual page itself…whereas in the new journal the perforated part was much larger and there was less actual page left over after removing it from the journal.  There’s something that had never occurred to me before.  I had just assumed when you buy a 7 inch x 10 inch journal…all the pages are actually 7in x 10 in.  Now I know.

I set aside the brand new journal…and took up the old one.  I pried open the spiral binding and removed all the pages.  I removed the perforated sides by hand, a couple pages at a time.  Then, I folded each page in half, setting the crease with a bone folder.  I ended up with sixteen signatures of three pages each.  I could not do that again with a used journal if I tried.  I had already made plans for what to do if I had more or less pages left over–a signature with four pages instead of three–a signature with two pages instead of three…and I knew where I wanted to put them, relatively, inside the body of the book, because I didn’t want them to be either the first or the last signatures.  That’s just me.  In the long run, it wouldn’t have mattered where the signatures ended up.  It’s just how I like to balance things for myself.

My boyfriend made me a piercing cradle last year and I love this thing.  It makes piercing the signatures directly in the center of the creases so simple.

When sewing in your binding, I can see why some tutorials call for a rounded needle.  Taht would make things go much faster.  I had decided when I made the washi journal that the next journal I made  that I wanted to use some thicker, more heavy duty thread or twine.  I wanted to use hemp thread.  I am still entertained that the spool of ‘natural polished hemp’ twine that I bought was made in Romania.  It just tickles my sense of the romantic.

I have actual binding needles that I bought — but the eyes of these needles are pretty small.  I ended up, as I have for the past several journals that I have made, using my yarn needles to sew the binding.  These are needles with wide eyes and rounded tips.  The rounded tips are finger savers for me.  The very first journal I made, along with one of Effy Wild’s classes, had plenty of my blood on the pages from the needle I used to bind the thing with.  So that particular journal really does have my blood, sweat and tears in its pages.   I am very appreciative of the rounded needle tips.  Honestly.

Before I started to bind though, I took the sides of my book covers where I was piercing the holes for the binding and I covered both sides (front and back) with fabric duct tape to reinforce that area, as I was not planning to come in a full inch for the holes.  I really like the added security of those strips of tape.

I followed a tutorial online to make sure I got everything right…and I really enjoyed binding this book.  It was really so much fun.

After I had everything bound in, the binding didn’t look that bad either.  The only issue I had was when I made my piercing guide, I just eyeballed everything, so the top two holes were not exactly in the same place as the two bottom holes (I used a five hole binding).  Sometimes I would flip a signature over, which resulted in a wavy sort of binding, instead of a perfect chain right across all the way.  But it is not so off as to make me unhappy with the final results.

The hemp twine I used was brown, because that was what the store had…but as I was binding this thing, what I really wanted was red thread…so guess what…the next book–and oh yes, I am indeed planning another one–will be bound with red thread.  My plan for the next book is to use some cool computer type paper (8.5 inches x 11 inches, off white with lots of colorful speckles throughout the paper), and use the actual ‘official’ book binding needles that I have (and have never used because of the too small for me eyes) and create for myself an actual writing journal, not just an art journal.

After I finished the binding and was happy with my efforts, I opened the book upside down so that I had access to both outer covers.  I added a quick layer of gesso–because my duct tape is silver.  I had never really intended to keep the original cover.  I hadn’t really planned anything for the cover actually.  I figured I would gesso it out and do some mixed media who knows what to the covers.  As I was waiting for the gesso to dry, I saw this wrapping paper that my daughter had given me to use in my art.  The wrapping paper was red , with red reflective dots all over it.  I glued that down to the outer covers and folded the extra down onto the inside of the covers.  I then glued the first page and the last page to their respective inner covers…and that was that.  I left it to dry.

This book is so much fun to flip through.  Nearly all, but not quite, signature has a toddler design in it.  I am thinking that with this journal I won’t be taping the center of every two-page spread, just to see how that turns out.  The binding twine is fairly thick, compared to what I usually use (crochet thread)–so in the center of every signature, I have the twine to contend with–plus I have three places where I had to tie off the twine–at the very start of the process, at the very end of the process, and halfway through when I needed more twine to continue.

Now, I have a stack of these other journals, several done very thick, with fleece fabric covers, that I continue to eyeball now, thinking that maybe just maybe I can unbind them all and create coptic bound journals with them…just because…

It also struck me that I LOVE bind books…and I want to make MORE…I am t-h-i-s close to binding my own planner and hand-drawing the whole calendar and planner parts of it…I’ve been tossing that idea around for quite awhile.  Maybe what I need to focus on is … binding books to sell…maybe then I would be able to make enough books to keep that part of me thrilled and engaged…and still have space to make more…

We’ll have to see.  Right now, I think I will work on what I have on hand…but…if you want to commission me to build a book for you, email me and we’ll talk.