A4 Hand Bound Photograph Album ... Golden Day in a Summer Meadow

All About My Hand Bound Books

Hey there! It’s good to see you here. My name is Lizzie, and I am the redhead who is always wondering! Wondering about life, about this beautiful world, about words and light and colour and form. And mostly about how I can be the best me that I can possibly be.

I am a creator of hand bound books and of art, in the form of cyanotypes and photographs. I am also an avid journal-keeper and I’d like to share some of my journal wonderings with you today ….

There’s Always Been Stationery

So, I should start by being straight with you … I am a stationery addict! There! It’s out there! Now you know my biggest vice!!

I’m also a writer and a keeper of journals.

I am a lover of words … their meanings, their origins, and their use. My home has always been full of notebooks, there are piles of the things on every available space on the shelves, in the cupboards, in the drawers.

For many years, while I was writing (a minimum of) three pages every morning (and often writing an awful lot more than three pages), my house was full of the cheapest A4 notebooks I could find. I was, at that time, a perennially broke, working single mum … I wrote on whatever I could afford.

If you’ve ever had to do the Single Parent Dance, you’ll know that spending money on yourself is always the last thing on your list. But my need to write was non-negotiable for me, so I would buy cheap notebooks whenever I could find them, and whenever I could afford them. (The local Pound Shop was where I got my fix!).

Over the last few years, as my finances have gradually improved, I have been able to start indulging in beautiful notebooks … Moleskine journals, gorgeous books with luscious paper … oh, the joy of splashing out on lovely stationery! You can keep your diamonds … give me a beautiful journal, and I’m beyond happy.

That First Foray into Bookbinding

Then, a few years ago, I had a life-changing experience … I attended a Coptic bookbinding workshop with local artist, Isa Carmona.

Why “life changing”, you ask??

Well, imagine you absolutely love music, and one day, someone sits you down at a piano and shows you how to play, and then imagine that you’re good at it!!

Well, that’s what learning to create books was like for me! I am a voracious writer, I am a woman who has always found her voice through the written word, rather than the spoken one. Hence the aforementioned mountains of stationery!

Here was a way for me to create the very journals that I so love to fill with all my words.

Here was a way for me to create something special and beautiful with my own two hands.

Piles of books waiting to be bound
Piles of books waiting to be bound

From Pastime to Obsession

From that first workshop an obsession was born … hand bound books … it goes hand(bound) in hand(bound) with my love of words, of writing, of seeking solace in the blank pages of a journal.

I use Coptic stitching to bind the books together. Coptic binding means that the books lie completely flat when they are opened, and that makes them perfect for journaling or sketching.

Coptic binding was a method of bookbinding used by early Christians in Egypt, the Copts, and it was commonly used to create books for about 900 years.

Coptic bindings are characterized by sections of paper sewn through their folds and attached to each other with chain stitch linkings across the spine of the book. The book artist who taught me Coptic binding told me that traditionally, hand bound books would have seven signatures, or sections, and that is how many I use.

The Power of Seven

Seven has a long history and has meaning in so many cultures. The number 7 is often considered lucky, and it has a definite mystique, perhaps because it is a prime number.

The origin of seven’s power lies in the lunar cycle. The moon has four phases lasting about seven days each.

For my latest journals, I have decided that I am going to expand on the “power of seven” … each of the 7 signatures has 7 sheets and there are 7 stitch holes to bind them together. And I have always finished my stitching off with 7 tiny knots! Cool, eh?!

This ancient art is the perfect way to create handbound books. It’s strong and beautiful and very practical.

And as I said, using Coptic stitching to bind the books together is so perfect for journal-making because LOOK …

A photograph showing that the pages lie flat when opened, making them perfect for journaling or sketching
the pages lie flat … perfect for journaling or sketching

The pages lie flat and make it so much easier to write.

And it’s strong … these journals do not fall apart, no matter how often you open them and write in them!

The Materials I Use … The Covers

Because I want my hand bound books to be beautiful, whether they be journals or commonplace books, sketchbooks or photograph albums, I use only the loveliest materials.

When I started out, I was using upcycled wallpaper samples for the covers. I was choosing only patterns I loved myself (I am very taken with William Morris-inspired patterns!).

Then I started to use old OS maps for my travel journals, or musical scores, or handmade paper. You can create a beautiful cover from so many things.

A photograph of a hand bound book with an Ordnance Survey map for the cover. The Map shows Devon in the South West of England
Hand bound book with an Ordnance Survey map for the cover. The Map shows Devon in the South West of England

Then I started to experiment with cyanotypes, and everything changed! At first, I hadn’t been thinking of them as book covers, I was simply fascinated by the alchemy of this exciting alternative photography process. You can read more about the cyanotype process here.

But then I realised how perfect they would be for book covers, and I started to create prints with books in mind. I use wildflowers from the hedgerows around my home, or flowers form my garden, as the subjects of my prints.

The photograph shows a wildflower cyanoptype print, during the process. I realised how perfect they would be for book covers, and I started to create prints with books in mind. I use wildflowers from the hedgerows around my home, or flowers form my garden, as the subjects of my prints.
Wildflower Cyanotype Print
The photograph shows Back and Front Book Covers ready for Binding. These covers were created using cyanotype prints of flowers.
Back & Front Covers Ready for Binding

When I say that I create a print with a book in mind, what I actually mean is that I’m creating two prints each time, with a common motif, so that the front and back covers complement each other.

Because no two cyanotype prints are the same, even if I’ve used the same flowers and ingredients in both, every book I create is completely unique.

I have honed my craft further by using only the most gorgeous paper for the cyanotypes … Indian Cotton Rag or Hahnemühle Bugra-Bütten are my current favourites … or by using repurposed pages from books.

It’s important to me to not only use paper that is aesthetically pleasing to me, but also that is either handmade, environmentally friendly, sustainably sourced, or fair-traded. In an ideal world it will tick all of these boxes! (I buy a lot of my paper from the amazing @tornedgepaper on Etsy … check her out, she’s got a great selection and she’s thoroughly lovely!)

The paper is ethically sourced through Khadi, a UK supplier who works with communities in India, Nepal and Bhutan, to produce papers made by traditional methods in sustainable ways. This both preserves techniques & generates an income to many families. The papers are specifically designed for artists and are suitable for most media.  (Thank you to the Khadi website for that info!)

I usually use white or cream paper for my cyanotypes, but just lately, I thought that I would experiment with some different colours, to see how they would turn out, and I have to say that I am quite pleased with the results.

For these prints I used Fabriano Tiziano Artists Drawing Paper in various colours … Viola, Brina, Oro and Acqua Marina … don’t they sound exotic?!

The photograph shows a cyanotype print during the development process. It is printed using Fabriano Tiziano Aqua Marina paper, and the subjects of the print are flowers from my garden.
Fabriano Tiziano Aqua Marina paper
The photograph shows a cyanotype print during the development process. It is printed using Fabriano Tiziano Viola paper, and the subjects of the print are wildflowers.
Fabriano Tiziano Viola paper

The Materials I Use … The Pages

The paper I use for the pages is always recycled cartridge paper, 140 gsm, or even heavier weight for sketchbooks or albums.

The paper is recycled from used coffee cups, and is supplied by a small, family run business in Brighton, @brightonbecreative. Again, because I want to keep it local and keep it small as much as possible.

Because it’s 100% recycled, it has a slight texture to it which is great for crayons, pastel and paint work, so my books are perfect for artists.

Piles of Signatures, or sections, ready for binding
Piles of Signatures ready for binding
All of the cartridge paper for the pages is recycled, mostly from old paper cups, and it’s all hand cut
All of the cartridge paper for the pages is recycled, mostly from old paper cups, and it’s all hand cut

I hand tear it or cut the paper to size, to keep the natural feel to the process.

It may not seem like the most “creative” process … tearing paper … but I will usually do a big batch in one go, and it is actually an incredibly restful activity. And I love working with paper, especially when it feels as nice as this!

The Materials I Use … Putting it all Together

The grey board I use to keep the covers stiff is also recycled … got to think about our carbon footprint whenever possible!

For the inner covers, I like to use handmade Nepalese Lokta or Washi papers, and always try to find the best match for the prints. Again, Suzi at Tornedgepaper is my go-to gal for this! She does the most amazing blues and turquoises that set off my prints beautifully.

Once I have assembled all the parts … the covers are glued and have holes punched in them, the pages have all been pierced in the appropriate places … the books are then bound together.

The photograph shows the covers and pages of a book, Ready to bind
Ready to bind

The thread that’s used in Coptic bookbinding is waxed. When I first started out, I was using waxed cotton, but then I read that the best thread to use is Irish Linen, because it doesn’t stretch. I have also found that it is extremely strong, making it perfect for bookbinding.

I source my thread from the very lovely Mira @bluebellhillcrafts. She has a collection of Crawford’s Irish waxed linen cord in the most delightful range of colours. My absolute favourite is the Teal 4-ply, but I’m also partial to the luscious turquoise and the super royal blue too!! I will choose the shade of blue that works best with the print.

Coptic bindings are characterized by sections of paper sewn through their folds and attached with chain stitch linkings across the spine of the book
Stitching it all together
Coptic bindings are characterized by sections of paper sewn through their folds and attached with chain stitch linkings across the spine of the book
Detail of the spine wraps & the Coptic stitching

Tools of the Trade

For my Coptic bookbinding, the all-important tool is the needle. It needs to pretty sturdy to take the 4-ply waxed Irish linen thread that I use. And I discovered very early on in my bookbinding life that a small, curved needle works best for me.

A curved needle allows me to slip behind the stiches holding the signatures together much more easily.

Binding the covers and the pages together is a lovely part of the process. It’s so incredibly relaxing in its mindfulness. And it is so rewarding to see my books grow and take shape in my hands. And there is such a feeling of satisfaction as I slip the needle through the last binding and create seven neat little knots to finish the book off.

Keeping it Simple

The other tools I use for bookbinding are fairly simple, and in some cases, homemade.

making a new sketchbook - the photograph shows the awl and the rulers
making a new sketchbook
making a new journal- the photograph shows my hands folding the paper
making a new journal

There’s the awl for making the holes in the pages, and the hole punch for making the holes in the covers. I used a screw hole punch when I first started, but jeez it’s hard work. So I switched to a leather punch, much easier to use and it also makes much neater holes in the covers.

There’s also the bone folder or paper creaser, the guillotine for the greyboard used in the covers, the paint brush for the glue, and the scalpels and scissors.

And of course, my trusty homemade book press!

Necessity is the mother of Invention, so they say. Well, I needed a book/flower press … ta dah!!!

Two chopping boards, 4 whacking great G clamps (thanks for the idea @wordandlightsmithing!!) …

There’s more than one maker of Heath Robinson contraptions in this house, I can tell you!

A photograph of Two chopping boards, 4 whacking great G clamps. This is my home made book press.
my home made book press

Eco-friendly All The Way

The subjects for my artwork are wildflowers or flowers from my garden, which Nature produces for me in abundance!

And I use the sun to develop the prints … as an energy source, you can’t get more sustainable than that!

The Sizes

My journals come in various different sizes and formats, A4, A5, B5; portrait and landscape.

As a journal keeper, the books I create for myself are usually A4 … A5 is too small for someone who writes as much as I do and whose handwriting is, frankly, a bit on the big side!!

But I do know that sometimes a blank page that big (A4) can be a bit scary!

So now I am creating a line of journals in B5 size, halfway between the two! It’s actually quite the perfect size … big enough for prolific journalers like me, but small enough to fit in your bag!

Why I Love To Make Books

According to Krystyna Wasserman in “The Book as Art. Artist’s Books from The National Museum Of Women In The Arts” …

“Women have been pioneers in the field of book arts, crafting intimate and insightful works that blend word, image, and media together in exciting and unique ways.”

I like to think that I am crafting something exciting and unique when I create one of my journals.

I also love this quote by Audrey Niffenegger in the same book …

“Books transcend time and space. To make a book is to address people you’ve never met, some of them not born yet.”

I love the idea that people will write in the journals I create, and treasure them, and that one day in the future, their grandchildren or great-grandchildren might pick up the book and say, “Wow, look at this!”.

Hand Bound B5 Journal with Original Wet Cyanotype Print Covers … Alliums in a Shimmering Sea … Because Your Words Are Worth It TBCH
Alliums in a Shimmering Sea
Both front and back covers feature Ox-Eye daisies gathered from the hedgerows around my beautiful Wiltshire home
Five Blue Daisies
Daisies and Umbelliferae with a Splash of Red … Because Your Words Are Worth It
Daisies and Umbelliferae with a Splash of Red

So, if you should be kind enough to buy one of my books, you can be assured that each and every one is created with love and care, and with very special materials.

And why do I do all this?

Because Your Words Are Worth It.

If you would like to take a look at the journals, sketchbooks and albums that I have for sale, you can click on the Shop button any time, or click here to go to my British Craft House shop.

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