Category Archives: book binding

Birds, flowers, and book-binding.

I started my U.S. State Bird & Flower project on a whim, and for a moment, it crossed my mind that perhaps I should begin the project in a fresh sketchbook.  My existing sketchbook was built for the Sketchbookery class I took with Mary Ann Moss over at Dispatch from LA.  It’s a great, serviceable sketchbook. The downfall is that I used a mix of paper for pages: watercolor paper and illustration paper.  Regular illustration paper is not equal to the watercolor task.  So when I first painted the bird and flower for Alabama, and saw the prospect of 49 more pages, I did a quick tally (I had only 5 watercolor spreads left) and starting the making of a new sketchbook with exclusively watercolor paper pages.  I like to use old book covers for my sketchbook covers, but with the imaginary deadline of finite pages, I ended up making a book from scratch.  I covered two pieces of thick book board with a remnant of book cloth, and stitch-bound the folios to the soft binding.

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sketchBOOK innards

Then, for fun, I used metal stamps and hammered “sketchBOOK” into the sun-bleached cover.  I lined the inner covers with a bit of marbled paper that I had been hoarding.  It’s really simple, as far as covers go, but it is up and running, and that was my ultimate goal.  This new book measures slightly larger than my first.  My only regret was binding it with RED waxed linen thread.  It is very loud on a blank page.  Next week is SFPL’s Spring Book Sale over at Ft. Mason, so I’m hoping to find suitable covers for sketchbooks #3, #4, and maybe #5.

As you might recall, I’m working alphabetically through the states.  This week I’m sharing California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Delaware.

CA

Oh how I fretted over this quail; I really tried to do it justice.  California quails have an iridescent breast.  I used some silver watercolor paint mixed in with the grey, and it does catch the light.  His eye and beak were challenging, and his body even more so.  But success with the poppies!  This cluster is based on a group that popped up along our front walk.  I placed a sheet of white paper behind it and took several photos—but did not pick or cut it.  The map’s coastline: challenging.  It’s easy to get involved around the Bay Area, with which I am most familiar.  I lost a bit of perspective down around San Diego, and may have missed many little islands.

CO

I like how the Lark Bunting’s eye came out, but am unhappy with his beak.  It looks more duck-like than a real Lark Bunting beak.  I thought a nearly-black bird would be easy, but black paint loses dimension, and he looks rather flat as a result.  The Colorado Columbine is meant to be the purple and yellow variety.  And as I searched, I saw some gorgeous specimens in an array of shades.  I would have benefited from seeing how this flower grows as well.  The map: easy.

CT

My native state!  The American Robin’s eye is my favorite thus far.  The photo I used was very high resolution so I zoomed right in, and paid close attention.  It totally makes the bird so much more lifelike.  I should have done the same level of detail on his feet.  (Next chance for a robin: Wisconsin).  The mountain laurel brought back a flood of memories that any Northwest Corner kid will conjure.  The map: the coastline is a challenge, much like California.  And I may have elongated that thumb which includes Fairfield County.

DE

First, there are not enough photos of Blue Hen Chickens on the internet!  Delawareans, take note!  But I found a few good images and aimed to render the plumage properly.  I found many great peach blossom photos, and oh how I wish we had a pair in our yard (I love peaches).  I don’t know if they are as fragrant as the citrus blossoms, but they are lovely in color, and remind me of cherry blossoms, which bloom very early here in San Francisco. The map: I’m pretty sure that Delaware has a bit of a tilt, thought this version may be exaggerated.  The jagged edge follows the Delaware River, and I was interested to find it smoother than an ocean coastline.

bird books

Books: borrowed & beloved.  This is the book stack that is keeping me informed and inspired.

Thus far, I’m learning to look closely at bird eyes, and the tiny feathers that neighbor it.  I’m looking at how buds burst from a tree branch.  I’m paying attention to the shape of states, and what happens when their edges meet the sea.  I’m also delighting in the Latin names of the birds and flowers.  Mimus polyglottos, Gallus gallus, and Callipepla californica.  I do not speak nor read Latin, but I appreciate specificity, and being able to search for imagery using both common and Latin names.  Perhaps I’m getting way ahead of myself, but I love this project so much that I cannot wait to expand upon it. There is a WORLD of birds and flowers out there…

As always, I’m posting regular images of my progress on Instagram; follow along there if you like.  Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Idaho.

PS: I’m excited to tell you that I have an indoor hibiscus in bloom! Perfect timing for Hawaii.  And I noticed that a lilac is blooming at a nearby church; the Lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire which is a ways off in the line-up, but I plan to skip ahead and draw it since drawing from life is much more fun.

hibiscus

President Hibiscus. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘President’

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Sewing on Paper

Unlike fabric, paper is unforgiving when sewn. Paper remembers.  It remembers every fold, and crease.  It remembers uneven tension, impatient presser-feet, hungry feed dogs.  Paper remembers when your stitches are too close, and when your thread empties.  But, like all good memory-keeping, these blemishes and imperfections show the process.

http://sewingschool.org/2012/09/25/sewing-school-turns-2/

source

Disclaimer: I am not a seamstress; I’m a sewing rule breaker. You’ve been warned.  Also, this is an image-heavy article.

I have two sewing machines. One machine is a 16-pound, 12-stitch Kenmore that my mother gave me for Christmas when I was twelve.  It is still one of my very favorite gifts that I’ve ever received.  I have to say that twelve stitches is a stretch; it’s basically straight and zigzag.  But this machine is a beast.  I could sew through sheetrock on this thing.  I’ve reupholstered chairs and vinyl banquettes.  I’ve made countless curtain panels, three quilts, and one pair of jean slippers that I thought would be cool but weren’t.  This machine is approaching vintage status, and even though I have a new machine, the Kenmore stays because it is a workhorse.

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A few years ago, my mom asked me about a sewing machine recommendation for my sister.  And I promptly told her about the Brother CS-6000i that I’d been eyeing for myself.  I thought I needed more stitches.  A fancier interface.  An upgrade.  I also wanted something a little quieter. (The Kenmore roars).  And I was also contemplating a surger—which is a whole other animal.  When my mom surprised me with this new machine a few months later, (she was astonished that I was still using the same old Kenmore!), I was delighted, and test-drove it immediately.  It is a smoother sew.  It is user-friendly.  And it boasts so many stitches (that I really never use).

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The first time I tortured my sewing machine with a stack of paper was over twelve years ago. I stitched the binding on 90 wedding programs for our wedding ceremony.  I can’t recall how I was inspired to do this type of binding, but I do remember that it was time consuming, and I agonized over perfect, straight stitches.  Bookbinders have been sewing together signatures and bindings for a thousand years, with much art and beauty and purpose.

I have some experience with hand-stitched books, but I also use the machine for quick booklets like this little one that I sent off to school with my then-kindergartener. It is filled with family photos and affirmations.  He carried it all year long in a special compartment in his backpack.  It weathered fairly well.

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While I’m still striving for the more artistic side of sewing on paper, I’ve corralled some thoughts here on my process and practice.

I sew on paper because machine and hand sewing act as an adhesive, a way for me to join this to that, and fast. Another reason:  texture.  I have said that the internet robs us all of texture, and even the very best photography fails to give the viewer a truly tactile experience—no matter what filter or app you use.  And, stitching (by hand or machine) is a sure-fire sign of a handmade creation. (Not that it can’t be done in a factory far, far away, but…you can tell).

If you haven’t used your sewing machine for paper, here are a couple things to consider:

  1. Use a new needle, and relegate it for paper only (like we all should with scissors).
  2. Try to keep your needle away from adhesives. You may want to tack your pieces together before attempting to sew; try paper or bulldog clips, or a bit of double stick tape away from your sewing path.
  3. Test thread and bobbin tension on a similar weight of scrap paper.
  4. Widen your stitch length to 3-4mm.  If your stitches are too close, they will lend a perforated effect—which does, however, have its own beauty and use.
  5. Use the same thread in the bobbin as is on the spool.  Or at least the same weight if you want contrasting colors.

Beauty happens when light filters in from the stitches.

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stitching holds a doily in place–no wet adhesive required.

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transparent paper can be tricky; I like to sew or staple it.

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consider the backside of your stitching.

Paper.

I like to test-run all my paper through the machine each time I start a new project. I’ll bet the fabric sewists would concur.

When you are machine sewing paper, the weight of it reckons “Goldilocks.”  Paper that’s too thin, like tissue, tracing, thin floral paper, and old dictionary pages, will likely jam the machine or tear.  You can work around this predicament by using a new lightweight needle, and/or reinforce the paper with interfacing.  Or skip the machine, and stitch by hand.

Stock that is too thick can be coaxed through a machine by hand-cranking the flywheel. Or try a heavy-weight needle for denim or leather, and a very slow pace.  You may have to help the feed dogs by push/pulling the stock along.  You may get tracks from the feed dogs and presser foot pressure.  Speed matters here.

Vintage paper (sheet music and book pages) are sewing staples for me. However, sometimes this paper is really brittle, and perhaps won’t hold up to binding or folding.  You can reinforce the stitching with other bits of paper or fabric, which can be added before or after stitching.  Washi tape won’t gum up your needle as much as other adhesives tend to do.

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unadorned art journal page with machine-stitched edging, and pamphlet-bound signature.

Thread.

Usually, I thread up my machine, and use it use it use it till the thread or bobbin run dry.  I only sometimes change it for a specific color.  It’s auto-pilot on my part, and that could use some evaluating.  I take tremendous care choosing a writing instrument; I should be more thoughtful about thread, line, and stitch.

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these are snippets from our family book (Project Life).

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from 2013 December Daily/Advent Book. white on white delineated lines.

I use all sorts of threads. Modern all-purpose threads work great. (Gutterman, Coats, Mölnlycke are my favorites). But I also find and buy vintage threads because I love the wooden spools, the vintage label, the fading.  These threads work great on paper because you aren’t asking them to hold fast through washes, detergent, or heat.  But know that can be brittle.

Try to back-stitch your ends. That will lock in your thread, and prevent unraveling or an empty hole.  But also, you needn’t!  You can let those ends loose! You can clip them short!  You can leave the tails long and flowing!  See? Rule-breaking.

I sew on paper often. Daily, even.  In making notes for this article, I realized I’m in a rut with my sewing.  I use a one-dimensional technique for lines, outlines, and adhesive.  But little else.  This discovery is exactly why writing and self-assessment are such good tools for creative processes.  I know people are doing amazing things with their machines—drawing with stitches, texture by sew-scribbling over fabric, joining interesting patterns with bold and intricate stitching. I’m now trying to explore and experiment with new-to-me sewing on paper techniques and trials.

Want to see some beautiful, artful threadwork? I admire:

Jody Alexander, Wishi Washi Studio

Mary Ann Moss, Dispatch from LA

Rebecca Ringquist, Drop Cloth Studio

PS: Hey, San Francisco Bay Area bibliophiles! I just wanted to advertise that the San Francisco Public Library is having it’s Annual Big Book Sale  at Ft. Mason next week, Sept. 24-28, 2014.

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