Making handmade books is such a creatively satisfying experience. What makes them truly unique are the extras—distinctive folds that become pockets, a touch of metal on a spine, or decorated pages that reveal an artist’s life. These 10 techniques for special touches for handmade books will make your next project stand out and reflect your style and creativity.
1. Roxanne Evans Stout’s handmade books are truly magical pieces, incorporating bits of nature, fabric, stenciling, and her own drawings, all of which work together to tell a story. Her technique for decorating a book’s spine with what she calls a Blessing Stick fits this aesthetic perfectly. In her article “Creating a Nature Journal” in the July/August 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, she explains how she wraps a stick with thin strips of sari silk, then pulls a thin wire around the stick to hold the ribbon in place. “The wire,” she says, “adds another earth element to this little Blessing Stick and makes the stick strong.” The stick adds dimension and movement to the book.
2. What one person sees as a castoff, another sees as potential for art. In her book The Elemental Journal, Tammy Kushnir takes a worn bath towel that had outlived its usefulness and turns that and an old T-shirt into a book. “This journal encourages you to look within, piece by piece, to find yourself,” she says. To make the cover, start with a towel cut to 12″ x 14″, fold it in half widthwise, and stitch the raw edges of the towel closed with cross stitches. For the pages, stitch pieces of an old T-shirt cut to fit inside the covers. Each page is covered with 2 pieces of newspaper glued together and painted with white acrylic paint , then stitched onto the T-shirt pages. Stamp your handprint on a page, or journal your thoughts.
3. Wood burning techniques are popular in mixed media, but Erica Ekram discovered a way to incorporate them in handmade books by burning a design into a leather cover. In her article “A Leather Journal” in the September/October 2015 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, she suggests beginning by preheating a wood-burning tool in a well-ventilated space. Sketch your design on a piece of scrap paper, and then sketch that design onto the leather book cover. Put on a dust mask, and practice using the tool on piece of scrap leather. When ready, trace the pencil lines on the cover with the wood-burning tool. Even simple wavy lines create eye-catching patterns.
4. Make a book’s spine stand out by incorporating a touch of metal. Kristen Evans showed how in “Found Books” in the 2012 issue of Pages magazine, by starting with a repurposed vintage book cover. Lay a sheet of heavy craft foil on a texture plate, rubbing firmly with an embossing tool to transfer the pattern to the metal. Distress the foil with sandpaper, and cut the foil to the desired size to fit the spine. Affix with glue.
5. Sometimes it’s what’s on the inside of a book that makes it special. In the article “Collected and Bound” in the September/October 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine, Marcia Derse explains how she turns studio clutter into stunning unique handmade books. While working on a project, Marcia fills her workspace with inspirational bits such as postcards and trinkets that help her compose new artwork and direct her fabric collections. Those must be cleared out when a new project comes along, but instead of stuffing those bits into a box, she gathers them—and a few more—and uses them to fill her handmade books. Pages are spilling with the marvelous to the mundane: vintage postcards and postage stamps, fabric and decorative paper scraps, and also grocery lists and business cards. She makes pockets, adheres glassine envelopes, and uses pretty washi tape and string to attach the elements, making these books a dimensional, interactive work of art.
6. Parts of handmade books can be overlooked; take the inside covers, for example. They may be covered with pretty endpapers, but that’s usually the extent of their decoration. Nichole Rae has a great technique for making the inside covers more meaningful and special. In her book Art Journal Art Journey, she says, “The inside front cover is a great space to use for exploring the theme you have chosen for your book.” Nichole often uses maps to set the location for her theme, and includes a journal page of text that introduces her story. Envelopes are sometimes attached to add sentimental items or other papers with words she wants to have as part of the book.
7. Creating handmade books to house your artwork is a great idea, but how do you bind that artwork when it’s on single sheets of paper? Gina Lee Kim came up with a practical and attractive solution that she revealed in her article “Stitched Accordion” in the Summer 2013 issue of Pages magazine. She first makes a series of accordion folds, using decorative paper, overlapping pieces to make one long pleated piece. She then gather the pages and arrange them in order, and lays the accordion folded paper down, with the inside facing up. Gina inserts the first page into the first valley fold, and sews the pleat closed with a zigzag stitch, capturing the page between the pleats (you’ll need a sewing machine for this). She skips a valley fold, sews the next page in, skips another valley, and repeats, until all the pages have been filled. To make the book extra strong, adhere washi tape or medical paper tape along the insides of the empty valley folds, trimming to fit.
8. Special handmade books don’t have to be grand; sometimes a book that fits in your pocket or bag is exactly what you need to create art on the go. Urban sketcher Tina Koyama revealed instructions for the perfect take-along in her article “Mini Sketchbooks” in the 2014 issue of Paper Art magazine. She decorates pre-cut pieces of cardstock with hand-carved stamps, which instantly makes them unique. She also rounds the corners, which prevents the books from becoming dog-eared and ragged. She then nests the pages into the cover, and sews everything with an easy three-hole pamphlet stitch. These books come together so quickly you can make several at a time for yourself or gifts.
9. Another fantastic touch for handmade books is incorporating pockets. Melinda Canino showed how in her article “Folded Pocket Journal” in the Winter 2015 issue of Pages magazine. Melinda’s book begins with a 17 ½” x 15 ½” piece of 90-lb. cold press watercolor paper. She paints it with watercolor paints, using a hake brush, and lets it dry. Then the horizontally oriented paper is folded in half, unfolded, and the left and right sides are folded to the center and unfolded. A half-inch is folded on the left and right-hand sides, and each corner is folded to the closest vertical fold. Next, the left and right panels are folded in on the existing creases. The paper is turned over, and a line scored and folded 4 ½” down from top and up from the bottom. Then the ends are tucked into one another; this forms the pockets. When folded in half, the book can be used to house an accordion book, with the first flap tucked into the left-hand pocket, or the pockets can be used to hold single sheets.
10. Roxanne Evans Stout found a way to make a handmade book a special touch for a beautiful collage. In Art Lesson Volume 8: Adding Books to Collage she says, “If you are attracted to art that has an element of surprise or a hint of mystery, a little book or book-type structure is a perfect thing to add to your artwork.” For one technique, she tears a scrap of watercolor paper and adds color to it, then folds it twice on either side of the middle of the page, creating a flat surface between the folds. After auditioning the book on a journal page, she adheres the flat portion to the page with tacky glue, adds weight on top, and allows it to dry. To create an ‘X’ stitch, she pokes 6 evenly spaced holes on either side of the flat area, and threads a needle with embroidery thread. Roxanne begins stitching on the bottom from the back, leaving a 2″-3″ tail, and creates a series of slated sitches. She comes back down the rows the same way, creating the ‘X’ stitches. To finish, she knots the thread in the back and adds collage to the pages to fit the theme of the piece.
Creating handmade books with special touches is easy; check out these books and magazines from North Light Shop and start creating your one-of-a-kind treasure today!