Monday, July 30, 2012

Hand-bound Mini Watercolor Sketchbooks

I am about 2/3rd the way through the mini coptic-bound sketchbook I made for my travel watercolor kit, and I've learned that I think I'd like a thinner book for this purpose.  The coptic binding is a bit loosey-goosey, and it just seems kind of thick to use.  Also, I kind of get tired of the cover before I get through it.  I have to wait longer before I get the pleasure of starting a new sketchbook!  So I decided to make some single-signature watercolor sketchbooks and see if I prefer that.  Here are a couple I made.  The insides are 8 pages (4 signature folios, folded in half) of Strathmore Aquarius II watercolor paper, a nice thin high-quality watercolor paper.  The cover for the one on the left is my experiment in decoupage.  I used Modge Podge to attach and seal torn scraps of wrapping and tissue paper onto a piece of 67lb cover paper.  The one on the right has a fabric cover I sewed together.  I used embroidery floss to bind the decoupaged-cover book and cotton crochet thread to bind the fabric-covered book.  For both I hand-sewed using a backstitch.  Here are the specifics:

First the paper.  Awhile ago I bought a 10-pack of Strathmore Aquarius II because I wanted to try a quality thin paper for journal-making and this looked like the ticket.  I was also able to read about this paper on Roz Stendahl's blog, and was convinced to try it.  I like it!  It's nice and bright, very tough, and doesn't buckle.  So for my little mini-books I cut/tear into 5x7" folios using this tear diagram:

Tear Diagram for mini-sketchbook
It's important to note that the dashed line indicates the fold line (so the book is 3.5" wide when folded), and the folds are with the grain of the paper.  I use an X-acto blade to cut every 5", then I tear the 1" excess off then at every 7" (I tear because I like a rough edge to my paper).  When I have my 5x7 folios, I fold them in half, using a blunt tool (I used a handy spoon rest since I was working on the kitchen counter) to crease the fold.

In constructing the book, I roughly follow this excellent tutorial.  However, since I am binding a book with watercolor paper I cannot use as many sheets of paper or the book wouldn't fold well.  For my books I use 4 folio sheets of Aquarius watercolor paper.  Also, her tutorial talks about rounding the corners, which I don't do, and using closely-spaced stitches (to simulate the binding on the Moleskine); my stitch holes are 7/8" apart.

Next is the hole-punching session.  I marked up a guide out of card stock paper to help me know where to punch the holes that will be used when I sew the book together.  Like I said, the holes for my books are 7/8" apart.  Use an awl and a phone book cradle to punch my holes.

Then it's time to get creative for your cover!  At first I used attractive but boring plain-color card stock paper, cut to a size of 5.25x7.5".  To prepare the covers I folded them in half (now 3.25x5.25") then I used my hold punch guide (centering the guide, which is the size the watercolor paper inserts and therefore smaller than the cover, onto the cover paper along the fold) to punch holes in the cover  for the binding.  But wouldn't it be more fun to have a pretty cover?  This is where I explored decoupage and sewn fabric covers.  I like the decoupaged one fine, but I really love the fabric one because I just love batik fabric!  

I should give a bit of the process I used to make the fabric covers:  I measured out a rectangle of 5.75x8" (1/4" seam allowance) onto two pieces of fabric.  Right sides together, sew the side, top, and side seams.  Trim corners and turn right side out and iron.  I also iron down 1/4" the circumference of the un-sewn bottom edge.  Mark with a marking pencil where the fold will be and top-stitch along this mark.  I also top-stitched 1/8" along each sewn edge.  I now have two "pockets" to insert a stiffening material.  I used a piece of my crappy Canson XL 140lb watercolor paper in each pocket as a cover-stiffening insert (this paper is not good for much else!).  To fit into the pockets I cut them to 3.25x4.5" in size.  After inserting the "cover stiffeners" I top-stitched 1/8" along the bottom to close.

Next I bind the books using a simple back stitch.  Here is a photo of one in process:

I used my biggest sewing needle, and I did run the crochet threat (or embroidery floss) through beeswax before sewing.

Done!  I think I'm going to really like these small thin books for keeping in my purse or in my travel sketch kit.  They are cute, handle easily, hold 8 pages (or 16, if you paint on both sides, which I do), and I should be through one book before I get bored with its cover!

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