I ♥ Handmade Books

Look what I received today! My copy of I Love Handmade Books.

I was asked by the author to participate by sending in pictures of some of handbound books and information about them (and myself), as well as a couple of tutorials.


Alas, my Japanese stab binding tutorial didn’t make it in (cut because it was too long) but the French Link Stitch tutorial was included.


Pretty fun, to be in a published book! Also neat to see work by blog-friends Ruth and Lestaret. Check it out on Amazon.com. It appears it was also released as this version, but I don’t know how many copies are available.

The theory of japanese stab binding

…or at least how I understand it. I’ve had many questions since I began posting my own Japanese stab bind designs: about how I create them, the thought process behind the designs and sewing mechanisms, the tools I use, etc. I’ll break down my personal process in another post; for this one I want to explain some of the basics for those of you just starting out in the world of bookbinding and are looking for a style that allows for incredible expression.

If you have researched bookbinding at all, you will have most likely come across the basic Japanese stab bind (JSB). It looks like this: four holes, four wraps around the spine, and a wrap around each edge.

Fold line
The most import part of the traditional JSB to remember is what I call the ‘fold line’. This is made by the holes that are farthest away from the spine, or closest to the content on the inside of your book. It is vital that they be in a straight line, otherwise your book will end up with a crooked fold and the cover will be more likely to tear.

Having thread run along the fold line is helpful because it keeps the cover from tearing off as easily – there is more surface for the cover to bend against, instead of just single holes. It also keeps with the traditional JSB look. I’ve only sewn a handful of binds that didn’t have thread reinforcing the fold line, but the holes were even.

“Butterfly” bind.

Edges and spine
It isn’t absolutely necessary to include the edge wraps, but good practice to do so. If you have a tendency to sew loosely, or if you ever have trouble making your knot tight enough, it is important to include the edge wraps. They also help with reinforcing the fold line, and keep the book together better. The spine needs to always have some kind of wrap. As you can see from the example binds in this post, there are numerous ways to do this.

The absolute minium of necessary holes would be one hole…but you would end up with a fairly wobbly and shaky book and your design would be limited to a triangle. Two holes would still create a weak bind, but if the book were quite small, or had only a few pages, it would probably work. But good news: there is no maximum limit to how many holes your design can have, and it doesn’t matter if it is an even or an odd number. You are only limited by your patience, persistence, and stamina when it comes to drilling all of those holes! I would say my patterns have an average of 30 holes each.

“Crocus” has 53 holes.

**A potential problem area is how close your holes are to each other…the closer they are, the more likely your book block will rip when you pull the thread tight. And NOTHING is more disheartening than when that happens! I try to keep my holes at least .25″ (or 7 mm) apart. On occasion I will place them closer, but I then sew the book very, very carefully.

This is where it gets a bit complicated to explain by using words and not physically demonstrating (maybe one day I’ll try to create a video tutorial).

The traditional JSB with 4 holes has the sewing start at hole #2. But if you have a complicated design, it’s easier to start at the very edge.  The central objective of JSB is to sew your entire bind while never repeating the same line; in other words, never having two threads between the same two holes.

To achieve this, you essentially sew half of the design in one direction, then at the halfway mark you return back to the start by sewing the pattern in reverse. You must get the concept “over-under-over-under”…then, “under-over-under-over” firmly in your mind. This is fairly easy to figure out on a geometric pattern – and it can become convoluted with an organic/non-geometric design very rapidly! The ease or difficulty is very much dependent on what the design is and who is sewing it.

For example, below is “mushroom”, which is a geometric pattern with 5 repeats. The first ‘mushroom’ segment is completed before the second is begun. In fact, because of the gap between each segment, each mushroom is sewn exactly the same way. If they had been touching at the fold line, the needle direction of the second mushroom would have been completely opposite of the first (every ‘enter’ would become an ‘exit’). The third mushroom would have been like the first, the fourth like the second, etc.

In “peacock”, an organic pattern, the sewing starts in the middle, creating the feather’s rachis first, then the center circles, then the final circle with fringe coming off of it. It looks complicated, but once you have mastered the concept of ‘over-under-over under,’ it isn’t too difficult to figure out.

“Woven” is an exception to the rule: it is a geometric pattern, but the sewing actually goes from one side to the other and back again just to complete one ‘V’ shape. But the edges and the sides still use the ‘over-under-over-under’ approach.

Early in my experimenting I decided that straight perpendicular lines by themselves were boring. I figured out that the spine could be wrapped with a ‘V’ shape by crossing one loop with another previous loop (or loops). So far the only shape that seems impossible is a circle, but I’m working on it!

I hope this is helpful. If you ever run into a snag with your own pattern or design (or with one of mine) send me an email. And send pictures of your creations, I would love to see!

Shapeshifter animation

Wow. This animation cycle is cool! Reposted from this article.

We live in an era where it’s possible to create nearly anything imaginable. Our limitations tend to be more earthly (time, money, patience) rather than access to the resources to create great art. The tools and knowledge of art and design are no longer limited to those in the elite design schools of Europe. For example, by watching a tutorial and cracking a copy of Maya, someone in Istanbul has just as much opportunity to create his wildest imagination.

The question then becomes: how good is your fantasy?

Below is ShapeShifter, a new CGI short film from Charlex animation studio in NYC. An amazing piece of design and fantasy. With Gabriel Byrne’s narration of the poem Dreams—by Fitzgerald Scott—added to Peter Lauridsen’s score, it becomes a sublime moment of beauty.

the fragility of paper

We were asked to read an article called “Paper Paper, Skin and Body” by AIGA voice, and respond to it. I initially really liked the quote ‘paper is the skin for the tattoo of ink’ but instead I focused on the fragility of paper, and how that relates to books. I shredded one of the books I had on hand to emphasize this, and then to retain some of the fragments I used excess bits of bookbinding thread to tie a few back back on. It was a little disheartening that an object that takes so much time to create can be destroyed in so little time. It also reflects my disappointment that physical paper-paged books are being replaced with cold hard machinery.

an quote about the state of book design

…from the article “The Rabbi of Book Design: An Interview with Scott-Martin Kosofsky” on the AIGA website.

“But books (and print in general) have lost their pride of place. Book publishers, a group nearly always behind the curve, have failed to grasp that their online counterparts spend a lot of time and money concentrating on User Experience, while they remain unfamiliar with the concept. It wasn’t always that way, but when the professionalism and discipline that was demanded by metal type fell away, things got worse and worse, especially typographically. That transition period is long over, though you don’t see much evidence of it in trade books, because editors are usually clueless about graphic possibilities; they never know what’s possible and what isn’t (or what’s expensive and what isn’t).”

an article about how fake money can still be beautiful

I read this article posted on the AIGA website yesterday, and the last few paragraphs really resonated with me. It was written by a collector of ‘notgeld’, or fake money printed in Germany after WWII. The country was so poor different towns and cities printed their own money to use as currency until the economy turned around. Instead of just slapping a design together, great care was taken with each design and made beautiful. Some of the designs are sorrowful and poignant, some hopeful, some humorous. Even in the midst of a horrible situation.

“Notgeld lifts the curtain on an historical past and on a craftsmanship that to a great extent has disappeared. The care and love that went into these little masterworks should be a salve to our sensitivities bruised by the visual chaos and disorder of present day America—increasingly a third-world culture, artistically speaking.

Why do our postage stamps no longer honor George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, but Donald Duck and Batman, Bob Hope and Howdy Doody? And why are they no longer engraved, which formerly signified and honored their status as official government documents, no less official than our paper currency? (Well, in 2005 there was an engraved stamp honoring Greta Garbo. But that was engraved in Sweden, reissued by us.)

Whatever happened to the classic bottle of Bayer aspirin? It was once a model of sobriety and simplicity. Now it’s a grab bag of jarring colors, intended to jump right off the Duane Reade shelf into your shopping cart. Happily, they left the pills alone. But why not? The stuff has already been bought.

Why are most electrical outlets installed crooked?

Why are hand-lettered signs rendered as if it was enough to merely convey a message with no regard for it appearance? The other day I saw a sign announcing a “Moveing [sic] Sale,” its verbal illiteracy matched only by the visual illiteracy of letter forms indifferently sized and spaced. Regarding verbal illiteracy, what can one expect when only one out of six Americans even reads books, and most Americans don’t even pick one up (telephone directories and Maltin’s guide to video movies excepted). If the sign “Open for Business” is crudely lettered, what does that say about the business? Or us? The poet Antonio Machado pleaded, “Slowly now, nice neat letters / the point is to do things well / not just to do them.”

For those of us who mourn the loss of craftsmanship—or for those of us who simply admire beautiful graphics—notgeld is a wonderful and surprisingly inexpensive source of pleasure and instruction.”

read the full article

Shifting-baseline Syndrome

This past week I read a book called “Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators” by William Stolzenburg. It discusses the idea of natural habitats being affected all the way down to the microscopic level because of the removal of large predators, such as whales, wolves, mountain lions, and bears. It was a fascinating glimpse into the research that has been done over the last 80 years, documenting the consequences of removing just a few predators from the food chain. But what I found most striking was in the epilogue- an idea, while produced to describe a new generation of conservation ecologists, could be applied to any field.

Marine biologist Daniel Pauly coined the term “shifting-baseline syndrome”. It describes a phenomenon where “the world as first seen by the child becomes his lifelong standard of excellence, mindless of the fact that he is admiring the ruins of his parents. Generation to generation, the natural world decays, the ratchet of perception tightens.” Pauly specifically was referring to the buildup of bacteria-laden slime in the oceans, accepted by 20-somethings in the science fields because for them, it has always been there…when two generations previously it didn’t exist. But I wonder if this syndrome isn’t applicable to the arts, to politics, to personal values, and any other number of disciplines/subjects. And if such a phenomenon does exist, how does one go about changing it? The modern public isn’t much interested in learning about history or how actions and decisions have had ripples of impact and caused chain reactions that no one ever expected. How can this generation be inspired to have a curiosity not just about the present, but about the past and how it relates to the future? Is such an inspiration even possible?

Response to “The Value of Empathy” by Andy Chen

Quotes that I underlined:

“Power inequalities naturally inhere in relationships between benefactors and beneficiaries. As designers, we can choose to reinforce those asymmetries or to recognize them and work towards their elimination.”

“I believe in a graphic language that does not shy away from the reality of social crises but instead addresses those difficulties head-on in a manner unflinching and unpatronizing.”

“Most design caters to the “average Joe,” he who is averagely tall, with average tastes, and no real handicaps. The truth, however, is that none of us are really average. People-centered design methodology focuses, instead, on socially-excluded populations…as such, it demands a collaborative rather than a top-down approach — “designing with” rather than “designing for.”

Designing with, instead of designing for…what empathy is really all about. Having the same experiences as someone else, really joining with them where they are. I think all areas of life could benefit from this change of perspective, not just design. A new understanding of one another would shatter stereotypes and stop prejudices from forming. Not to mention being infinitely more effective. I am definitely looking at the relationship between benefactors and beneficiaries as related in the first quote, because that is basically what my project entails. How can I create a design that views the two as equal? Or as close to equal as possible?