Handbound Sketchbook

Introduction: Handbound Sketchbook

I've been on a bookbinding kick lately....this one of my recently bound books.

This 'ible is more of an explanation of my process - how I made this book - rather than an exact, step-by-step, how-to-make-this. But all that comes after The Four Questions.

What did you make?
Some time ago I decided I wanted a sketchbook. Around the same time, I had started looking at these amazing hand-bound books on Etsy. Also around the same time, I discovered this giant 18x24 pad of Canson drawing paper in my basement. So, having possessed a DIY mentality for quite a while, I decided to try my hand at bookbinding. And now bookbinding is my new obsession.
This sketchbook is my third (or fourth?) book, and is supposed to be a gift for a fellow artist. The book itself is made from upcycled book board, the aforementioned drawing paper, fabric, vinyl, and cardstock, with upholstery thread and glue holding it all together.

How did you make it?
The book is bound using exposed spine binding techniques. I suppose it could be called variations on linen tape binding...without the linen tape. The process to make the covers of the book involved embroidering and gluing. If you desire to know more about the whole process, read through the steps of this 'ible.
The book was originally envisioned as having coptic stitch binding, but I couldn't pierce holes through the covers, and coptic binding involved sewing through holes in the book's cover. So I ended up binding the book differently, using a method that did not involve punching holes in covers.

Where did you make it?
I worked on and completed the sketchbook at home. I love art and books and making things, so this project was connected to all three of these interests: it's a handmade book for art!

What did you learn?
What would I do differently next time? Well, let's see, I would use a stronger stitching in the binding, NOT use vinyl (it's too slippery), think out my stitching pattern more carefully next time, actually punch my holes more accurately...

And this leads to a little something that I learned about perfection. I'm a perfectionist, as you can probably tell by my long list of "what to improve." If something goes wrong in one of my projects, I want to rip it up and start over. Case in point: I once ripped out two rows of sewing in a quilt because I had positioned one of the quilt blocks wrong and it was really irking me. With this book, it was rather different. Even though I really didn't like how, for example, the vinyl did not function so well as a closure, I had to live with it because I had sewn the vinyl to the bookcloth which I had glued to the covers, and 1) glue does not lend itself well to coming apart 2) I had only one pair of old book covers. With this and other instances, I realized that it's alright if projects don't turn out perfectly perfect. 

Step 1: Planning

Gasp! I didn't scare you away with my scarily long and sort of deep introduction. Thanks for reading on!

I usually sketch out what I want my projects to look like (though they rarely turn out how I want them to look like). This step is especially important for my bookbinding projects, since I usually follow my own stitching patterns and thus need to know if they will actually work. 

For this particular book, I didn't sketch my exact stitching pattern since I thought I was just going to be using coptic stitch, but I did design what I wanted the book to look like: strap closure shape, embroidery patterns, and the like. I also made some calculations as to the most economic way to cut my giant sheets of paper into pages.

Step 2: Creating the Signatures

Book terminology:

Folio - a sheet of paper folded in half to make the pages of the book (1 folio = 4 pages,front and back)
Signature - basically, a stack of folios

Usually the text block (the pages) of a book is made first, and the cover made based on measurements from the text block. However, since I was using old book covers which were already a certain size, I had to make the pages based on the covers' measurements. Each unfolded folio ended up being an odd 8.25 in by 10.5 in.

Once I figured out how I should cut the paper, I started actually cutting it. First with my trusty pair of scissors (since the sheets were too big to be chopped) and then with my trusty-but-not-too-sharp-or-accurate paper guillotine. After I had transformed my giant rectangles of paper into smaller rectangles of paper, I folded each in half and creased the fold with a bone folder that was actually made out of plastic. I then stacked the folios inside each other so I had six signatures of several folios each.

Step 3: Preparing the Cover

Since I didn't have any book board, or chipboard, or mat board for my sketchbook's covers, I rescued a book from the trash and (gasp) cut it apart so I could use its covers to fashion new covers for my sketchbook. Don't worry, the pages won't go to waste....I use them in my mixed paper/recycled books.

I also needed something to cover the...covers with. I tried using paper at first, but it creased weirdly around the edges of the cover and anyway I really the look of cloth. Unfortunately, the cloth I had was a bit thin and glue seeped right through it...so I made some impromptu book cloth. I covered the back of the cloth with strips of 2 inch masking tape, and I had sort-of bookcloth. At least the glue couldn't seep through and leave ugly spots. Masking tape + cloth works well in a pinch, but I would only recommend it if you have reputable, somewhat high-quality masking tape and you don't care so much about your book being archival. Although if you did care about archival-ness, you would have real book cloth.

I then cut the book cloth and vinyl for the closure to the proper size. I embroidered the vinyl to the faux-book cloth and then glued and covered the old book covers with the fabric. Then I stuck the covers underneath a stack of textbooks and let them dry.

Step 4: Punching the Signatures

After partially thinking through how I was going to bind the book (and finding out that I couldn't punch through the covers with my wimpy substitute awl, a push-pin), I punched holes in preparation for the stitching in the signatures. I measured out the holes on a folio that I had taken from a signature, punched holes in that, and then used that as a template for punching holes in the rest of the signatures.

Step 5: Binding the Book

This step was perhaps the most torturous part of the whole project. I used some sort of variation on linen tape binding, so I had to bind the vinyl strip (a.k.a the "linen tape") onto the text block, but I had sewn the vinyl onto the covers...so I had to do some awkward  creative binding around the covers. It wasn't so hard once I started, but I kept messing up and had to undo my stitching several times. I took exactly one photo because I decided that the binding itself was hard enough without having to take pictures of every single time I pushed the needle in or out of a hole.

P.S. I used upholstery thread I found floating around somewhere and that I had also dyed blue.

Step 6: Finishing Up the Book

Last step(s)...I glued the first and last pages of the book onto the covers as the end papers, both to provide strength and because I didn't want to cut more paper for the end papers. After that I decided that the text block wasn't attached very strongly to the cover, so I cut some card stock from one of my other books to size, inserted that under some long stitches in the binding, and glued it to the cover so the text block would be more firmly attached to the covers. See the second and last pictures for clarification.

Step 7: The Final Product

More pictures of the book...

I also noticed that the cloth didn't adhere very well in some places on the back cover; this was probably due to the covers not drying completely flat because of the vinyl. Oh well. My sketchbook's imperfectly perfect, after all.

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    9 years ago

    Wow! I've been on a book binding kick lately too, but I've been binding leather journals... Honestly, this looks WAY cooler! Lol I love the clear areas o. The binding, and the blue binding string against the white, and well, all of it!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! It's nice to see that some people have actually looked at this. I actually wanted to try binding softcover books using leather/faux-leather, but I couldn't find any faux-leather that didn't look plastic-y, so I decided to try using the regular clear vinyl...that's why I have some in this book.