Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My First Foray Into Coptic Binding

Like many who keep an artist's journal I find myself in search of the "perfect" journal.  Currently I am working in a 5x7" Pentalic Nature Sketch, which is fine in that it has lots of sheets in a book and the 130 lb. paper holds up okay enough to a watercolor wash.  However, I am finding I am not caring for the spiral binding as it gets in the way when I am working on the left-hand page.   Another disadvantage of spiral binding is that it's difficult to work across a 2-page spread.   A solution filtered into my consciousness when I was reading a Sketchbook Challenge blog profile of Kim Rae Nugent who said she prefers to bind her own journals using a coptic stitch.  She said, "I prefer the coptic stitch for it's beauty and the sketchbooks ability to lie open flat."  That sounded I began my research into bookbinding and coptic stitch on the internet where there a wealth of information on this topic to learn from.

I found several written descriptions of binding using coptic stitch, the clearest one for me on torta gialla's blog.  She had great photos for making book covers that I essentially followed for my first journal.  But to really understand how to do the coptic stitch, I learned more easily and quickly watching YouTube videos.  The best video I found was posted by DaphLife.  Once you get past the cutsie introduction, she launches into a very clear demonstration of binding a book with the coptic stitch, from start to finish.  There's even catchy music to accompany the demonstration, and I found myself humming this tune as I sewed my own journal together.

So I started planning and gathering materials to make my first journal.  First the paper--something inexpensive just in case I flubbed this up.  Certainly not the Arches 140 lb cold press I have stashed in my closet.  Besides, Arches paper is not recommended by Roz Stendahl because it tends to crack when folded.  No, my choice for this project was Strathmore 400 140 lb cold press.  I actually quite like this paper, and I was able to get a 5-sheet pack at my local Michaels at a discount using a 40% off coupon.  Kate Johnson has said that this is one of the papers she uses in her home-bound journals.

Next I needed to decide on size and format.  Roz Stendahl wrote up an article for Strathmore on using their Aquarius II paper for bookbinding, and in this article she provides great information that helps with size and format decisions.  All paper has grain, and it is very important to know the direction of the grain of your paper because all folds in a book need to be along the direction of the grain.  She also provides a couple of "tear diagrams" for tearing up and folding a standard full sheet of watercolor paper where the grain direction is along the longest (30") side.  For my journal I decided the 5 1/2 x 7 1/2" portrait format would be a perfect size and format for me.  Opened up, I could work in a 7 1/2 x 11" 2-page spread if I so desire.  Fortunately, after testing a sheet of my Strathmore 400 paper, the grain direction was along the 30" side like the Aquarius II paper (some papers, like Fabriano, may have the grain direction along the 22" side, so you have to test your paper by starting to fold in each direction and noting the resistance).   I measured, marked, cut, and folded my paper to size.  I cut up two full sheets of paper, yielding 8 "folios" (a folio is one folded piece of paper cut to size) per sheet.  Given the thickness of 140 lb watercolor paper, I saw recommendations of using only 2 or 3 folios per signature.  For my first journal I thought I'd try 2 folios per signature, and 7 signatures in the book.  In the end, this gives me a 28-page book (4 pages/signature x 7 signatures).

What about a pretty cover?  Well that is where an artist's creativity can really shine.  You can use anything from painted aluminum foil, paste paper, fabric, decorative paper, collage, leather, to anything you can imagine.  Myself, I absolutely love batik fabric, so I went to my local Hancock Fabrics (with 40% off coupon in hand!) and purchased 1/4yd of a batik cotton fabric that caught my eye.  I cut the fabric to size as demonstrated by torta gialla and glued that to a stiff non-corrogated cardboard cut to the size of my folded paper.  Since I am frugal, I did not buy the recommended book-boards but cut out my stiff cardboard paper from a Quaker Oats cereal box.  For the inside cover paper I used decorative cardstock paper purchased at Michael's.  I used regular white glue to glue both the fabric and the inside cover paper to the cardboard.

The next step is punching holes, and this requires a punch guide.  For this I took a piece of cardstock paper, cut to match the height of my journal paper, and marked both where the cover punch holes should be, and where I would use an awl to punch the sewing holes in the watercolor paper.  A phone book makes a great cradle for punching the sewing holes with that awl.  I used an 1/8" hole punch for my covers.

So once the watercolor paper is cut and folded, and the covers are created, all the holes are punched, it's time to sew together the journal using the coptic stitch.  I used brown embroidery floss, passed through the beeswax a couple of times.  A curved needle does help in the sewing process, but a straight needle can be used too.  Again, that video from DaphLife was essential to helping me do the actual sewing.  I'd follow along, pausing the video when I needed to execute a particular sewing step.

Here is a pictures of all the tools I used in the creation of the journal, and some photos of my journal!

I am excited to finish using my Pentalic sketchbook and start using this journal!  I am so pleased with how this journal turned out, and how easy it is to actually construct, that I am going to make a smaller journal for my travel sketch kit.  For this, I decided I will try the Strathmore Aquarius II paper that Roz Stendahl is so fond of.  I've never even touched this paper, let alone painted on it, but it sounds great.  This paper is thinner (80 lbs in weight), which would really be an asset for making a smaller travel journal, but formulated to withstand watercolor washes with little or no buckling.  I ordered a 10-sheet pack from Cheap Joes and I am looking forward to receiving it and trying it out.  I've already made a punch guide and tear diagram for this next book, which will be 3 1/2 x 5" in size (5x7" opened 2-page spread).  I have some leather scraps and I think I will try making the covers with it!


Susan Bronsak said...

Very informative and I personally appreciate all you shared about making one's own journal. I too want to make my own but a bit flustered trying to find the best source to learn. Your journal book looks fantastic!!!!

Stacy said...

Thank you, Susan! I'm so glad you find this useful. I hope you give journal-making a try, it's fun, creative, and practical.

Laure Ferlita said...

Yay for you! Love the way you're journal came out. Isn't it wonderful to have a journal in a size you like with paper you like that you made?! I look forward to seeing it filled with art!

Lynley said...

Loved your story and descriptions. I am doing a bookmaking course at a summer school in Western Australia so appreciate what you have written. Are you still making journals?

Stacy said...

Hi Lynley, I am glad you find this write-up useful! Yes, I most definitely am still making journals, using the same method still. It is so cost-effective, and I love to pick out various batik fabrics to use for my covers.