Tag Archives: sewing on paper

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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Books for Your Back Pocket.

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jotters suitable for gifting. (featuring Poppy’s paintbrushes).

I have a fondness for books. I love the structure, and the variety.  I like that they can hold secrets or daily-ness.  They can contain personal wishes or public proclamations.  They can house technique-testing or sketches or big ideas.  I make books for all seasons, and just as a creative exercise.  I also make small, pocket-sized jotters for lists.  Lists of art supplies and groceries and to do’s.  It began as a way to use up small scraps of ledger and patterned paper.  I bind these jotters with waxed linen in a pamphlet stitch.  Simple, and purposeful.  I have, on occasion, gifted these jotters as opposed to a card, and I affix a greeting with washi tape.  And I often collage or otherwise embellish the front—you know, for fun.

McCafferty, Kathleen.making mini books
Making Mini Books:
Big Ideas for 30+ Little Projects.
Illustrated. 144pp.  Lark Crafts, 2011. $19.95
ISBN-10:1454702001
ISBN-13:978-1454702009
686.3—M1235m

Making Mini Books, edited by Kathleen McCafferty, is arranged from the simplest matchbook projects to the more elaborately sewn accordion books, and includes an appendix to help guide you through an assortment of sewn bindings.  It features the work of 22 book designers, and 30+ projects in total.  Any level of book-maker can leap into this volume and find a do-able project without needing any elaborate supplies.

My journey through Making Mini Books made my art room look like a recycling tornado swept through.  Vintage papers, maps, patterned scraps—everywhere.  The tail ends of waxed linen thread, scattered buttons, and leather snippets.  The books may be tiny, but I made a huge mess.  I wish I took before and after pictures.

First, I made the simple matchbooks, designed by Leslie Werner. I had some 3X3 inch scraps. Leslie’s matchbooks are smaller, so I adjusted accordingly.  I used double-sided scrapbook patterned paper, so when opened, the matchbook would reveal a wholly different color.  I stapled with the tiny attacher; I like the smaller staples.  I also tamped down on the back side of the staple with a flat tool so the sharp legs were embedded and would not snag.  These portable little books would be fine for lists and favors.  But I made one exclusively for dinner-time hang man.  My husband and I recently discovered that our boys (almost 10 & almost 8) love this game, and it is great entertainment while waiting at restaurants or while traveling.

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matchbooks for grocery lists, and hang man games.

I also made the equally simple, sewing machine-bound beveled books, designed by Stephanie Morison. Again, I worked with scrap papers.  (I was given a ream of old company letterhead.  The paper is a crisp, heavy white stock, and once I trim the left margin with out-dated company information, I’m left with a 5½X8½ inch block).  The instructions recommend testing out 14 sheets to see if your machine can handle the bulk; mine needed some manual assistance, so next time, I’ll reduce sheets.  These petite books will make useful jotters for all notes: garden seed varieties, sticker collections and wedding shower gift-listing (who gave what for the Thank You notes).

small jotters

palm-sized jotters for keep-able list-making. (I love hyphens).

Since I had a scrap of leather, I made the petite fold journal, designed by Marie “Wee” Calogerro.  More scrap paper, waxed linen thread, and two old buttons.  I had attempted the French stitch binding, and I had success with the instructions, but I feared that if I pulled too hard to keep the binding tight, I might ruin the holes I punched into the leather.  So I went with a straight stitch.  If you’ve never sewn together multiple signatures before, you may want to find a video tutorial to see the process in action.  I found that the tutorials took a broader approach, and I can see how a beginner might be flummoxed.  I’m happy with how this book turned out.  It’s a good size at ­­­­5½X4 inches (which is larger than the book sample), and it lies relatively flat when opened. Only one of my buttons is functional, the distressed brass one is sewn on, but solely decorative.

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old books, book binding, & a new-to-me matryoshka.

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leather-bound journal, with accompanying minis

My favorite project from Making Mini Books was the book On the Go, designed by Heather Carden.  I had an immediate need for exactly this type of book.  Many years ago, I learned how to cross-stitch and embroider, and worked my way through monogrammed bookmarks and a Holly Hobbie wall hanging.  Lately, I’m seeing great embroidery everywhere (Etsy, Pinterest, Creative Bug), and, if you’ll recall from a few posts back, I have many empty hoops.  So I’m taking it up again (and reviewing a few embroidery books in the process).  I had started with some simple linen and a line drawing. I wanted to take the project on a long flight.  But, how to remember the stitches?  Yes, simple ones are easy; it’s those fancy ones that I always jumble.  I thought I could either print and cut a stitch guide and bind it into a little book, OR make a mirror image photocopy and image transfer the stitches into a book of interesting vintage papers.

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on the go stitch guide! and starting a new hoop.

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it unclips! and fastens up!

The cover for my book On the Go features an embossed bee from an old book, and a mash-up of old pages inside.  I used a lobster claw swivel clasp to allow me to remove the book, and thumb through the pages.  The necklace portion is a length of paracord, enhanced with a portion of rhinestone chain that I simply wrapped and knotted with waxed linen thread.  The book also has a band of elastic bound with a metal eyelet on the back cover.

Aside from my initial stitch guide idea for this book, I plan to make a couple more for our big family trip later this summer.  With this little book, I can—on the fly—record things that we don’t want to forget: observations and priceless words from our kids while exploring completely foreign turf.  Further, this On the Go Book could house pictures of your beloved ones, SAT vocabulary words, knitting stitches, or twenty of your favorite quotations.  The sky’s the limit.

Thanks, Kathleen McCafferty, for rallying 22 crafty book-makers, and organizing a syllabus of simple to complex book projects that are diminutive and practical, and allowed me to up-cycle a stack of old letterhead, and carry on with my embroidery like an old pro.

 

If you enjoy making books by hand, there are many great books available.  Some of my favorites:

Making Handmade Books, by Alysa Golden.

Rebound, by Jeannine Stein.

How to Make Books, by Ester K. Smith.

And a suite of non-adhesive book-binding books by Keith Smith.

PS:  A couple weeks ago, I wrote about miniature faux taxidermy animals.  Lest you think I’m morbid, or that taxidermy isn’t cool, I spied an article in last week’s United Airlines Hemispheres Magazine featuring a UK shop that teaches taxidermy classes!  You can create your own mouse wearing a chef hat or knitting an afghan.  The accessories may be faux, but the mouse is for real.

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