Adventures in Bookbinding: Ten Minute Notebook

I’ve diddled about with bookbinding since my twenties, when a magazine article — who knows where, because there was no Martha Stewart Living back then —  with photos, showed me how to build a real book. Oh frabjous month! I cut pages of blank paper, sewed signatures, cut spines, chose end papers, learned the properties of PVA and starch paste, manufactured book cloth by the yard, and owned more clamps than Norm Abrams.

Turned out that (with a couple of false starts and wonky editions) I could make a book : real hardcover book, covered in whatever fabric I fancied, any dimensions I desired, thicker or thinner, sized like an atlas or an address book. Looking back on a lifetime of making things, that first mad flurry of bookbinding was one of the most satisfying periods ever. I learned that with zero formal instruction,trial and error, cheap materials and (very) little practice I could build a real book. 

Then I had a baby and decided that Xacto knives and pots of adhesives standing on every flat surface of a tiny apartment weren’t going to win us any Safe Parents Awards. I turned to smocking for a few years, and a few of those tiny dresses outlive the books.

I’ve never stopped making books, acquainting myself with brochures, Japanese stab binding, Leporello (or accordion) binding, single signature books and portfolios. In fact, I dropped $23.00 (!) bucks at Paper Source last week for a bookbinding awl that looks like a darning egg with a long nail driven through it, because I’m contemplating experimenting with stab-bound hardcovers.

What I created yesterday doesn’t deserve to belong to a post about bookbinding, because someone else bound the book — cheap.

I scored this, my favorite school notebook (a “scribbler, in Canada) for seventy five cents last week, because it was stacked in a tower next to the bakery department in my closest grocery store. I didn’t need it, but I find it hard to resist that dalmatian front cover and the tables of weights and measures inside the back cover. Where else to answer, instantly, any questions about the drams of Avoirdupois weights? So, I had it sitting on the table, next to my sewing machine, inches from a stack of cotton apron scraps and two feet from my glue stash. I pulled out the Mod Podge, a “bone” folder (plastic,)  grabbed a piece of paper from the printer and cut myself a paper pattern.












I grabbed the nearest remnant, cut out two covers, applied glue to the front and back of the book, and smoothed the fabric thereon with the bone folder.



Five minutes, less than a buck, and I almost wish I were fourteen again, assembling my back to school kit.



Filed under A yard of fabric, About a buck, Books, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Paper

5 responses to “Adventures in Bookbinding: Ten Minute Notebook

  1. That is just fascinating. I love making things, but bookbinding is way beyond anything I’ve ever tried. (I do have a large collection of quilting tools in my closet, but no time to play with them these days.)

  2. Bev

    Wow you are bringing back memories of my brief stint working at a print shop…folding thousands of blueprints, cerlox binding etc..I actually never thought of making my own books…lovely idea!

  3. Here I am, down her swigging Crystal Light and fannin’ and trying to stay cool, getting ready for houseguests who just said they’re coming a day early, and up there by the Lake, there’s a marvel of ingenuity and artistry just humming along like it’s not even HOT.

    Girl, you DO beat all!!! I can’t even think of making a pasta salad right now, with the boiling and all, and you’re turning out tomes and marvels of BOOKS to hold and use and write secrets and recipes and Keepable Thoughts.

    I DO have a little stack of those “dalmatian” books, with everything from random quotes to a years’ worth of household expenses, neatly begun, hastily scribbled and forgotten and margin-inserted toward the middle, then it’s as if Fall and Christmas fell from the calendar that year.

    Books are right at the top of the Marvels List.

    And I DO miss ole Norm and Bob—this new crop on TV carp and quibble and moan, and one just whitewashed RIGHT OVER a varnished floor!

    (Would that my hands and feet carry me as swiftly to all these chores as my mind skitters to trivia).

  4. Jacque

    I once made a few notepads in a printing class at COD. My Mom has the few pages left as she uses it so sparingly. I think it would be great to make books! Lovely, personalized places for your wisdom and wit. I bet you could sell home made books too!

  5. Kim Shook

    Maggie you are a marvel! I am mad for those spotted books and always yearn for school supplies this time of year, so I loved this post!

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