sewn boards binding

Inspired by a Peter Baumgartner tutorial that was doing the rounds on geeky bookbinding social media a few weeks ago, I decided to try my hand at a sewn boards binding.

Developed by Gary Frost, this structure relies on stiffened outer signatures that are sewn as part of the text block and function as the book boards.  There are some other really useful tutorials out there, the best of which is probably Karen Hanmer’s ‘Variations on the Drum Leaf and Sewn Boards Bindings’.  Look on Pinterest and you’ll find others.

once complete, this structure allows the pages to open flat which make it a good option for sketching and painting


the slim spine of book cloth gives this structure a modern look
more examples with variations on cover treatments


In the green example above, the cover paper was wrapped over additional board that creates a ‘dimensional panel’ to the covers.  How to do this is described in detail in Karen Hanmer’s paper.

One of the features of this structure is that the pages lie flat when the book is opened, and because the boards are not hard boards, the structure has a satisfying squashy feel as well as being lightweight.  Best of all, this structure doesn’t use the traditional casing in of the text block.  If you’re anything like me, that is the moment where everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

sewing paper

I’ve been in the grip of an obsession after taking Mary Ann Moss’s online class ‘Stitch-Bookery’.   Take scraps of paper ephemera, together with a healthy dose of imagination and fun… throw in a sewing machine and some colored thread (or plain old ivory thread) and you have a recipe for endless hours of creative exploration.

Mary Ann is a wonderful teacher, both online and in real life (to her lucky schoolchildren students), and is a genius at combining color, pattern and texture in her work.  There is something incredibly tactile about sewn paper, it begs to be squeezed and stroked and scrunched.  I like to use vintage papers wherever possible so they have their own worn patina and unique history.

Here are a few examples of the books and pages that I created during this class.  If you love paper, books and sewing, I can’t recommend it highly enough.




recycling challenge

The challenge?  Take two paper shopping bags and make a useable notebook from them by using as much of the two bags as possible.   IMG_3021

I started with bags from two of my favorite stores – an Anthropologie bag and a Terrain bag. I dissected the bags and laid out the usable paper, handles, and cardboard inserts.  The Terrain bag had string handles so I unwound the individual strands of string in order to get usable cord to bind the book.  The Anthropologie bag had a soft grey woven handle that was perfect for the tie closure to the book.

While dissecting the Terrain bag I discovered a botanical definition for sweet pea (lathyrus odoratus) on the base of the bag which was a complete surprise and never would have been found if I hadn’t been pulling the bag to pieces.   This obviously tied in with the decoration on the bag, but I wonder whether all Terrain bags have these definitions on them?  I don’t shop there enough to know – I wish I did! Anyway, the definition was cut out, as was the little request to ‘PLEASE REUSE ME’.  Done.

I made 3 signatures from assorted pieces of the bags and bound them using a pamphlet stitch into a card enclosure made from the cardboard base to one of the bags.  A little stenciling with gesso decorated the front cover and some of the inner pages.  I had recently been playing around with how to make origami pocket envelopes based on instructions by Alisa Golden, so I incorporated a few of those, as well as the sweet pea definition and some little turn-up pockets sealed with washi tape.

The result is a really pleasingly tactile and chunky little notebook, about 5 inches by 5.5 inches and about an inch thick.

And I really did manage to use nearly all of the two bags.




35 years later…

For more than 35 years I had been lugging an oversized watercolor paper pad from house to house (16 of them), country to country (3 of them) and continent to continent (3 of them).   I had painted on only two of the pages.  One painting was a not entirely convincing portrait of Ian Rush, a legend at Liverpool Football club in the early ’80s, and the second a copy of a cover of a Pink Floyd album.  Both made my kids laugh out loud.

So I decided it was time to ditch the paintings and incorporate the paper into a book.  By now the paper has softened up beautifully – the edges a little worn and dented.  I decided on a larger format book, case bound with multiple signatures.  I’d also make a slip case and use some lovely Japanese paper I’d been saving for something special.

The result is a really satisfyingly tactile book with a lovely weight to it.  The Japanese paper worked perfectly, though I didn’t waste it on the inside of the slip case.

gluing up the spine under a couple of old SAD irons
finished book with slip case

journal in a clamshell box

Anxious to use some of my suminagasi marbled papers, I constructed a case bound journal with suminagashi end papers plus a clamshell box lined with the same suminagashi paper.

The paper was probably too lightweight to be successfully used as endpapers and maybe not the ideal lining for the box, but I think the combination of colors looks good here.

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