When I was in high school, my older sister showed me how to make my own simple book for an art project. It was a concertina process that housed all my little artworks to create an overall ‘picture book’. I loved it – the making of it and the outcome. It was simple in construction (glued not stitched) but to make your own books changes the way you think about your work, words, pictures, stories, ideas, thoughts…… To be able to stitch or glue your own paper into a form that you can carry around and add content to the insides. That’s sorta pretty special.
My dear friend Jo Olive also spent a beautiful day, well over a year ago now (I still had a small baby in the sling) showing me a few simple stitching processes – but mainly we talked about our love of paper and textural feels. She learnt book binding at university, and knew all the proper technical know-hows. From that time the kids and I have created simple stitched books of our own, gathering scraps of paper and sewing them together.
In form a simple book can be as rudimentary as you like, or as technical as you know how. Most book binders (like traditional quilters) are precision people – with the paper being perfectly torn to just the right size, and the stitches being immaculately formed. I’m far from being most bookbinders or a traditional quilter – I’m messy and eager to jump in and create something without making sure it’s perfectly formed.
Imperfectly perfect. Embrace the wonk.
Whatever you call it – that’s me. So…. when I sat down to create a Hand Stitched book as part of The Creative Year, I knew I wanted it to be something that fulfilled the brief of being a thing of beauty to hold in your hands, and be practical to use, but I also knew that I didn’t want perfectly cut pages, and I didn’t mind if the stitches were measured accurately. I wanted to create something that felt like it was instinctual made, formed rather than forced, evolving rather than traditional.
To begin I put my pages in water and cooked them. With smelly leaves and delicate colour-staining flowers. That was the best part – creating an eco-dyed paper that was filled with personality before I even started forming or stitching the book. Then I used a cover that has been created in a similar manner – cloth rolled and bundled in leaves, left to felt and was tattered.
This felt like a book that didn’t need perfectly formed words, didn’t need “artist” lines, but simple mark-making or rambles of thoughts, or tumbles of words. The pages were already marked and stained and patterned – whatever I add afterwards with my pen or paintbrush is simply adding to the work, rather than staring at a blank page.
I am more than in love with this book – nature-printed pages, hand stitched spine, eco-dyed felt cover…. and slowly slowly it’s being filled with whimsical words, and half-caught thoughts, and scattered marks across the page. And it feels full and rich and warm and like me.
Here photographed are two different books I made as part of my online course – the Eco-Printed Pages and the soft-fabric cover using my Shibori & naturally-dyed silk fabrics. The pink and blue book has plain pages inside, and the cover is soft to touch (with padding underneath the silken fabric). It’s deliciously special book, with a ribbon binding that I made up and share with you on my videos.
I’ve made these books using tools and materials at home – I didn’t go and buy new bookbinding supplies; I’m more about creating from what I have rather than needing to buy more to make things. Being a multi-creative with many interests, I need to use tools in an unusual manner rather than the perfect right tool for the job. Sometimes it makes you be a little more inventive not having the exact right tools.
You can actually make your own little piece of treasured book in my new online course Eco-Printing & Simple Book Making. There’s step-by-step video tutorials showing everything I did, while also guiding you on how to make it your own. There’s a few different stitching techniques and I’ll be adding some extra videos next month with that folding process I mentioned above. Check out my course here. And if you want to hear my voice, you can sign up for my free Slow Stitch course – which is a great addition to many of my other projects.