Friday, November 20, 2009

New Quote Journals

I designed a few new leather journals with quotes this week for my Etsy store. It's always fun to dig through my collection of quotes and clip art, plus the Oxford Dictionary of Quotes, and the Riverside Shakespeare, and ok, it's an excuse to sit and leaf through some of my favourite novels, too. I'm a sucker for those fat Victorian novels. There's nothing like spending an evening drinking tea and reading about the romantic and other entanglements of men with stiff collars and women in enormous dresses.

Speaking of which, one of my new designs is a Reader's Journal (pictured below), for people who share my addiction to books. It has a photo of a Victorian woman (in the aforementioned sort of dress) reading a book, along with a quote by Louise May Alcott:

"She is too fond of books,
and it has turned her brain."

That quote always makes me laugh, probably because it describes me too well....

I made another leather journal with a lovely poem by e e cummings:

"Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)"

And a nature journal with a quote by John Muir:

And finally, a journal with a quote by Leonardo da Vinci ("The smallest feline is a masterpiece"), plus his sketch (not the original, alas) of a sleeping cat:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Little leather notebooks

I've been busy making lots of small leather notebooks for the local art gallery shop and for my Etsy store. I have a stash of really beautiful thin, shiny goatskin that seemed a bit too modern for my medieval style journals, and it's been sitting on the shelf, waiting patiently for me to grind through a few gears and figure out what to do with it.

I've been wanting to make some more smaller books (there's something really compelling about small book--I'm not quite sure why, but I just love little books.). So I came up with a pocket sized design that is traditional, but the stitching is simple and modern looking. The stitching pattern on the spine is sort of based on something called the "icicle stitch" in one of Keith Smith's books. You might call it a modified icicle. Or maybe slightly melted.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Moon Bindery, Here and There

Some excellent news this week--I entered one of my books (pictured above) in a book design competition held by The Bonefolder (a e-journal for bookbinders and book artists), and it was one of 25 books selected to be part of an online exhibition featured in the Fall, 2009 issue of The Bonefolder. If you'd like to see all the selected books, the fall issue is free and online now--You can find it here. The exhibition is called the Bind-O-Rama (page 54) .

Also, the Style Collective blog has kindly done a nice writeup about my books:

Ok, I'd better get back to work... :)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Making Journals with Wooden Buttons

I've been making large leather journals with wooden buttons on the covers for a while now, and in the past I ordered the buttons from various woodworkers on Etsy. It was surprisingly hard to find someone who was interested in making buttons for me -- I guess making buttons isn't as exciting as doing other kinds of woodworking. :)

The buttons I purchased were great, but it seemed to me that it would be even better if I made the buttons myself. My dear old Dad has been doing woodworking since he retired, so I joined forces with him, and "Dean Simler and Daughter" has been busy cutting and sanding and polishing wooden buttons. The sawdust has really been flying in his little workshop!

Here are a couple of the finished buttons on journal/sketchbooks that are in my Etsy shop:

The button in the photo above is made from cherry wood. The buttons I make are very natural and rustic -- not too uniform in shape, so each one is slightly different. I sand them until they are very smooth, and then finish them with walnut oil and a coat of special beeswax polish.

This one has a bird's eye maple wood button:

The bird's eye maple was roasted in a kiln for 12 hours, which makes it darker in colour. It also brings out the natural sugars in the wood, so the button has a slightly smoky, maple sugar smell, which is very nice.

Friday, October 16, 2009

European Bookbinding Trip

Where have I been, you might wonder, all these weeks that I've been sadly neglecting my blog. Well, I just got back from a trip to Germany and Australia (my husband went on business, and I decided to go along). Bookbinding nerd that I am, I was keen to see as many examples of medieval bookbinding as possible.

First off, I made an appointment to visit the City Archives in Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is a lovely city on the edge of the Black Forest in Southern Germany. The head archivist, Dr. Ulrich P. Ecker, showed me some wonderful things, including some medieval illuminated manuscripts
that were created by local nuns. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take any photos of the books, but here's an exciting shot of the front door of the archives:

Next, I went to Vienna, Austria, and visited the Austrian National Library. The State Hall at the Hapsburg Palace is the part of the National Library that's open to the public, and as the Hapsburgs were enormously powerful and wealthy in their day, it's a grand sight, with hand bound books from floor to ceiling.

The current exhibition at the State Hall is Approaches to Distant Lands. Geographic Gems from the Austrian National Library, a collection of 17th century atlases showing how Europeans viewed the world outside of Europe. Here is a photo of one of the displays:

Not surprisingly, those 17th century Europeans got a few things wrong. My favourites were the drawings of men (I'm not sure from what country) with no heads--their faces were located in their chests. They all looked a bit surprised about it. You can find out more about the exhibition here:

Saving the best for last, I wound up the trip by visiting Mainz, Germany, home of the Gutenberg Museum, which also houses the Bookbinding Museum. Here is a photo of the museum building:

and one of a book-shaped sculpture made of stone. There were several book-related sculptures at the entrance to the museum.

I spent some happy hours wandering through the exhibits, and a nice, long chat with the resident bookbinder, who sported a magnificent 1400s-style long beard, and was most friendly and helpful. Gutenberg invented the art of the printed book in Europe in the 1450s, and two of his first books, Gutenberg Bibles, were on display. I wasn't allowed to take photos of them, but here is another book at the museum, a sort of printing manual, I think:

Lastly, we visited Frankfurt, Germany, where I didn't see any medieval books, but did get to sample some sausages:

And then I came home, tired but happy, with a couple of books on bookbinding that I bought at the Gutenberg Museum. Now, I just have to get my husband to translate them from German into English. Should be interesting...

[NOTE: if you know of any other great bookbinding/book arts places to visit in Germany and/or Austria, please do share them in the comments. Book arts - obsessed people like myself would love to know about them!]

Friday, September 11, 2009

Medieval - Modern Journals

I recently dipped into my treasure chest of vintage buttons and made a couple more medieval-modern style leather journal / sketchbooks for my Etsy shop:

The one above is make with black elk hide, and has an jazzy olive green Art Deco button from the 1920s-1930s on the front cover.

This one is made with sea foam green deerskin, and has an elegant button from the 1940s-1950s on the front cover. I was watching The Big Sleep the other night, and could just picture Lauren Bacall writing down her dark family secrets in this book. :D

Monday, September 7, 2009

Noodling around on a holiday weekend

In an earler post, I talked a little bit about a new project I'm working on, which is evolving into a series of small books with wooden covers. I really just want to explore the possibilities for making wooden books without worrying whether the result will be wonderful or horrible. I have a set of qualities that I have in mind as I work:

form that comes from the physical qualities of the materials used

I was thinking about these things today as I wandered around my yard taking photos.

Impermanence seems like an especially appropriate concept.....

as this lovely holiday weekend comes to an end.....

....and the first maple leaf falls to the ground. This time of year always makes me feel a bit melancholy, but in a good way.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Part III, Bookbinding Workshop in Santa, Idaho

Days 6-9: Well, things are getting a bit intense now. I only have three days left, and many, many things still to do. I carved my wooden pegs (you can see them at upper left). I will hammer the pegs in the holes in the book covers, so the cords will stay securely where they're supposed to. The book is opened, so you can see where the cords came in one hole and went out another:

I also needed to cut out the brass pieces of my book clasp, and then use nippers and files to shape them. Jim believes in doing every little part of the book in the "old way", so I even designed and drew the pattern for my clasps by hand.
Here are the brass pieces for my clasps, plus the cardboard patterns and some of the files I used to shape them. The brass is some that Jim got from architectural salvage places.

And here are the clasps, ready to be attached to the book covers. The brown parts are pieces of leather that I glued around a piece of parchment, then attached to the brass pieces (sorry about the fuzzy photo--I must have been overly excited when I took it).

Next, I carved out places on the cover boards for the brass clasps to fit into. You can just barely see my pencil marks on the cover board showing where the clasps will go. This board is sitting on a groovy little thingie that hooks over the table edge and has a lip at the back edge to rest the board against. That way, I can put pressure on the board while I'm carving it without the board sliding all over the table:

My book will have a leather covered spine. Here Jim is demonstrating how to pare the edges of the leather so it won't bunch up at the corners of the book spine.

Eeek! It's the last day, time is running out, and I'm still behind. Here I'm putting a thin tissue backing on the spine of my text block.

The next thing I did was assemble the book and attach the leather to the spine. It's a pity I didn't take any photos, as it took place at 10 o'clock on the last night I was there, and I wish I had a record of my desperate attempts to coax a chunk of limp, wheat paste soaked leather around the cords and generally where it was supposed to go. In lieu of photos of that event, here are some of other accommodations on the Croft place. If I had been more adventurous, I could have set up my sleeping bag here...

...or in this sweat lodge/ tepee affair (I think they put on a canvas cover if someone stays in it).

And here is my finished book. Yay! Note the leather spine that fortunately shows no sign of the late night pasting struggle:

Here is a view that shows the clasps. I made every bit of the clasps by hand, even down to making the nails out of pieces of brass rod. I will keep this book forever, as a memento of my time at the Crofts, but will be making other books with wooden covers (a slightly different design), which I will unveil here at a future date.

And so, after nine amazing days of dirt, mosquito bites, sawing, filing, gluing and general backwoods bookbinding, I packed up my stuff, hopped in my car and headed back down the road, sad to leave, but so very happy that I came here.

You can find out more about Jim Croft and the workshops he teaches at his website:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Part II, Bookbinding Workshop in Santa, Idaho

Days 2-5 or so: After arising and making my way down the spooky steps from my sleeping nest in the loft of the Croft's guest cabin, I had an excellent breakfast, prepared by Melodie Croft (Jim's wife), and laboured away on my Gothic book.
After sewing the pages to pieces of thick flax cord, I "fluffed" the ends, then soaked them in wheat paste and twisted them into points. After they dried, the points were seriously hard, and thus I could lace the paper to the covers by poking the cords through holes I had drilled in the wood board covers.

Next, I worked on the boards for the covers. I had to saw a piece of board (in this case, sycamore wood) to get covers the proper size. I don't have a photo of me using a hand saw, but lets just say it wasn't pretty. I did get better (eventually), especially after I realized I was holding the saw at the wrong angle.

After cutting the boards, I had to file them until they were smooth, and shape the edges of the boards so they would fit properly when I laced them to the paper. It was interesting that each board had to be shaped a little differently, and I continually had to go back and make little adjustments as I was going along, in order to get the paper and boards to fit together properly so I wouldn't end up with a hideous, misshapen thing that could only come out in the dead of night.
Here are covers for both of my books (the one I made, and the one I haven't finished yet).

Hurray, lunch time! A short jaunt past Rusty, the Crofts' dog, ......

....taking the path through Melodie's beautiful garden..... the outdoor kitchen for a lunch I didn't have to cook myself. What could be better?!

Then back to work. After much shaping and swearing under my breath, I got the boards to properly fit into the "shoulders" of the sewn paper, laced them together (note my pointy, glued cords) and the thing actually starts to look like a book.

Jim uses hand tools to make his books. Here are some that I used. This is a photo of some hand planes, which gave the wood a beautiful, smooth surface.

And here is one of my book covers, clamped into a workmate thingie. Lying next to it is a farrier's rasp (a rasp used to file horse's hooves). It works great to smooth off edges of the covers and file them down (now you know what horses have to do with books).

Finally, supper, a little swig of Jim's homemade mead, then off to bed in my little loft nest, listening to the pygmy owls hooting outside, dreaming of book covers...

Next time: wrestling leather, beating up on brass.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bookbinding Workshop in Santa, Idaho, Part I

In an earlier post, I told you I was going to Santa, Idaho, to learn to make gothic books from bookbinder extraordinaire Jim Croft. Well, I had a most excellent experience down in Santa, and I have the photos to prove it. In this and following posts, I'll give you a guided tour of my time there.
Everything at the Crofts is very basic, but comfortable. Here is the little cabin I stayed in:

If you like comfort camping (sort of like real camping, only with lots of amenities), this might not be your thing, but I grew up doing basic camping (a sleeping bag, possibly, but not always a tent, a stick to roast a weenie on, lots of dirt, and more stars at night than you could ever imagine), so I totally loved my time at the Crofts.

Here is the path I took in the mornings to the Croft's kitchen for breakfast...

...past the Japanese-style outhouse. I think you can work out for yourself how it is used (ok, confession time--I had very little confidence in my aim, so I just kept on walking until I got to the outhouse with a seat):
After a fine breakfast, prepared by Jim's wife, Melodie, it's off to the open-air workshop to spend the first of nine days making books (well, in my case, making book, as I'm incredibly slow and only got one finished). Here is a front view of the workshop (the left side of the building--Jim and Melodie live on the right side):

And here is my book, in it's embryonic stages. I'm using a sewing frame to stitch the pages to flax cords:

We also learned to select straight-grained wood, and split it into pieces for wooden book covers. Here is a selection of wood that Jim split. It is almost entirely reclaimed wood:

I will spend the next week or so using hand tools in an attempt to create something that looks more or less like these books, made by Jim.

Coming in the next post: how to use a hand saw very badly, what horses have to do with books, and so forth....