Thursday, 5 February 2015


I spent a few days at the end of last year making some beautiful new sketchbooks.  I was inspired by an embroidered skirt I found in a charity shop when I visited England. The size was far too small for anyone in the family so I spent £8 and brought it home.

I chose a selection of Mi-teintes papers to co-ordinate with the embroidery and bought full sheets which I then tore down to the size I had chosen.  Full sheets always have the maker's brand embossed down one of the long sides which I had to tear off first, I took about 10 cms so that I could use the narrow strips for a tiny sketchbook or small loose sketches. Then each sheet was torn in 4 across the short side to give me pieces measuring 40 x 16 cms. These sheets were then folded in half and pressed with the bone folder you can see in the photo.

I collected all the folded sheets and made pairs of sheets which are called signatures in bookbinding. Depending on the thickness of the paper you can have more sheets per signature but as this was quite thick I decided 2 was enough. Then I arranged them in a pleasing colour sequence and prepared for the stitching. I have a 'cousoir,' a stitching frame I bought 2 years ago when I took a lesson with the local bookbinder, which I set up with the tapes as you can see here. The process of stitching the signatures together is quite complicated so if you want to know more I suggest you have a look at some of the Youtube videos that are very easy to find.

After the stitching comes the glueing of the spine and the reinforcement with a strip of fabric, for which I use a piece of cotton from a sheet. The glue is intended to seal the spine of the book so that you don't get any gaps when you open it fully.  I put each book in turn in the press and spread and press the glue into the paper before leaving it to dry.  The ribbon page markers are stuck in first before the cotton so that they are well anchored.

I unpicked the skirt and pressed it carefully as the linen fabric around the embroidery was a bit puckered.  I worked out how I would cut the covers to make the best of the beautiful flowers and then ironed a piece of interfacing on to the back of each one.  This is essential to seal the fabric otherwise the glue would come out through to the outside when I stuck the fabric to the boards.

The next step was to cut the cover boards and make the spines to join them together. I keep old watercolour and sketchpad backs for this purpose and use offcuts of thin card for the spines as they need to be flexible.  I found that the fabric covers were too thick in places to roll over the edges to give a good finish so I stitched a narrow strip of plain fabric for the turn ins.  I then had the job of glueing the fabric to the boards, very nerve-racking, as it's all too easy to get the glue on the outside if you don't take care.

Now I have to assemble the books by glueing the pages to the covers, taking care that all the components are square and centrally placed.  I put sheets of plastic between the cover and the first page of the book to prevent any glue spreading to the pages and then I put each book in the press overnight to be sure they were completely dry.  As you can imagine this is a very time consuming process as although I can make all three together the final construction part has to be done one at a time.  I'm very pleased at how these three books have turned out and my sister loved the one I gave her for her birthday.

I've put a pocket inside the front cover to hold scraps etc and this is how I decorated mine, with quotations from Van Gogh who is also on the front page as you can see at the top of the post.
I'm looking forward to taking my new sketchbook on holiday with me in 10 days time so you'll be seeing a lot more of it when we return at the end of February.
By the way I also have a Facebook page called Colours in the Breizh where I post pictures as I draw them so please do go and take a look there if you are on FB.  Please 'like' the page too and then you'll get an update each time I post something new.
Thank you for reading so far and I hope you've enjoyed our foray into bookbinding, my next project is a portrait step by step of my grandson so look out for that in a few days time. 
Hope to see you soon!