How I Made a Handmade Book

So.  I lost my mind about a week ago and made a book.  

Because I’m crazy like that and I’ve wanted to for a long time and the compulsion had overtaken me to the point that I had to do it and get it out of my system.  If you’re a little OCD like me you know what I mean.  In some people it manifests in one Saturday morning you open the Tupperware cabinet, can’t abide the chaos, and start frantically throwing away, rearranging, and cleaning until it’s done.  In me it’s an art project or a sewing project that takes a hold of my little brain and holds it hostage until I let it out.  

This was that project.  

I stumbled upon Judy Wise on Pinterest ages ago - at least two or three years ago with THIS project.  An art journal that was made out of brown paper grocery bags, hand sewn, and made to be painted in, drawn in, journaled in, filled with thoughts and writing and pictures, and not taken seriously.  That was the beginning of the black hole.  Judy went through her process of making the book except for the Coptic stitch she used to bind the book together.  Her advice was to google Coptic stitch and look at one of the gazillion different tutorials for it.  This lead to reading blogs on book making, watching several YouTube videos, and developing that itch in the back of my brain that screams YOU MUST MAKE THIS RIGHT NOW!  Stop it brain.  Shut up.  I have too many other things to do to stop and make a book out of paper grocery sacks.  How stupid. How asinine.  

But the more I thought about it the more it seized upon my consciousness.  I needed this in my life.  I had to have it.  And worse yet I had just about everything in my house to make it.  I’m a hoarder.  Shut up.  I think I only had to buy a $1.99 awl, which who doesn’t need one of those anyway, a $1.99 pack of waxed thread, and a $4.00 container of gesso.  That’s it.  My grocery store supplied the bags and my overflowing craft room closet supplied the tracing paper, watercolor paper, wallpaper samples, glue, and large needle..
Our beginning materials - brown paper grocery bags and a Cornflakes box

So on a Tuesday night I got crazy and started cutting up brown paper grocery bags with an X-acto knife.  After cutting them I soaked them in water, squeezed out the excess water, and hung them to dry.  

I cut out my covers from a cornflakes box and gessoed the first side and called it a night.  

You should be able to get three sheets per bag

Finished pages cut and stacked up 

I soaked the pages in water briefly, squeezed out the water, and hung to dry

The large Cornflakes box was just big enough to cut two covers

The dried pages ready to iron

That Saturday I spent ironing the dried brown paper sheets flat, cutting up the other two papers, folding them, putting a second layer of gesso on my cover, and finally covering the cover in some wallpaper samples that gave it a leather look.  I put the whole thing under a heavy book and left it till Monday night to dry and flatten the pages.  

You can see how rumply and crinkly the pages are

Got my big heavy retro/throwback iron ready to go

A little spray of water and a warm iron later....

For comparison

Smooth ironed pages ready to be made into a journal

Had some tracing paper that had been hanging around forever - made some pages

grouping pages together to make what bookmakers call a signature

Amazing how a Cornflakes box turned into this

Monday night after Allie had gone to bed I punched holes in the pages and covers and proceeded to sew the whole thing together.  And voila!  You have a new, pretty cool art journal.  I’m hoping as I go along I can share a few pages from it so you can see how the media looks on the different surfaces.  I haven’t painted or drawn in several years so don’t expect Rembrandt.  

close up of the Coptic stitch

All that hand sewing came in handy


Inside pages

Finished book - definitely a labor or love

I just feel the call to get back to something that I used to love but have put aside for several years out of burn out I guess.  Who knows.  Have you ever made a book?  Have any sites to suggest?  I’d love to hear.  Thanks for following along my lovelies!  


  1. How fun! I did once make a journal--a little book alternating pages with pictures, but it was nowhere this much complexity!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts