Try DIY: Bookbinding

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Left to Right: red graph paper note book; coptic bound book; plans bookbinding failure; and simple cardboard notebook.

As a crafter, scholar, and zealous list maker – I use a lot of paper. I’ve never been one for special or designer notebooks, preferring to work on scrap paper and using what I have. Most of my notes are scribbled on free notepads given out at conferences (weirdly, conferences I haven’t been to… how did I get these?) and on the random last pages in school subject notebooks.

I try to avoid buying new notebooks or paper for a variety of reasons. I see a lot of paper come into my life – mail, school, flyers – that goes straight to the recycling bin. This high intake of undesirable, but free, paper makes me very unhappy about purchasing specialized paper. In my ideal world I would use the undesirable paper in a useful way. One way to inch closer to my goal is through bookbinding.  I can take scrap paper and transform it into a bound book with a clear use (something like grocery lists or sewing plans). Hooray for upcycling!

So far I have three self-bound books and a low-key note pads. The note pads- made from cardboard and small pieces of scrap paper – were my intro into  bookbinding. Once I felt comfortable with the basic techniques I moved on to what I saw as more challenging: hardcover books.

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I made this little cardboard notebook at a Perennial ReMake event in partnership with a local St Louis print store. We screen-printed our notebook covers with old typeface – so cool! I used a pretty basic binding stitch – here’s a close tutorial I found online (though I can’t find the original source).

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My first book was pretty basic – perhaps not at all skilled. The red book holds graph paper used for sketching knitting designs and patterns. It’s been essential for my log cabin skirt. I had a stash of loose leaf graph paper, which was already three hole punched. I approached binding this very simply – by emulating a three ring binder. Using an awl, I punched three holes through an old hardback book cover (with original pages removed). With wax covered embroidery thread, I sewed through the cover holes and the graph paper holes several times. So simple.

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The second book was a bit of a failure. I planned to use this book for general note taking and craft planning – however the scrap paper I used is not very amenable to pencils or erasers. I tried to use a more traditional basic bookbinding stitch for this notebook – but instead of punching holes in the middle of the folded crease of the signatures (mine were groups of five sheets of paper folded in half) I accidentally punched holes through both layers of the signature. This book doesn’t close or open very well, which makes it a very impractical book. Despite it’s imperfections, I’m trying my best to fill up this notebook with knitting and sewing plans before I crack open a new one.

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After the failure of my second book, I realized I was not ready to branch out completely on my own in the book binding world. For my third notebook I followed this tutorial on Coptic bookbinding. I found the pictures incredibly helpful, and managed create a functioning hard back book.

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The tutorial I used doesn’t have a materials list so here’s a list of the materials I used for my Coptic bound book:

  • Sketchbook paper – 8 x 11.5 in
  • An old children’s book cover – 5 x 9 in. with the spine cut off
  • Handmade paper – 2 sheets about 8 x 11.5 in (to cover old book)
  • Embroidery floss
  • Wax
  • Hooked needle
  • Bonefolder (or a ruler)
  • Awl
  • Ruler
  • PVA glue (more on glue for bookbinding here)

I am quite proud of this book, but it still doesn’t have a specific purpose. The handmade paper cover doesn’t lend itself to utilitarian use like grocery or to do lists. I’m considering using this book as my natural dye book? Or perhaps my journal once this current one is full – however my current journal has been in use for four years now… and I’m only halfway… so that seems unlikely. I have a feeling this book will call out to me when it’s ready to be used.

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Try DIY: Beeswax Fabric Food Wraps

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I’ve had beeswax food wraps on my DIY list for about three years. While my friend Carly was visiting, she suggested we get our craft on and make some. I can confidently say it is now crossed off and perhaps will never be reattempted. This is one precarious and messy DIY.

Beeswax fabric food wraps are an alternative to plastic wrap. They’re super popular in the world of zero wasters, homesteaders, and no plastic folks. With an uncommitted  foot in all three of these camps, I knew I would use these food wraps proudly, but making them was another story. I have zero experience working with wax, so I think this makes me the perfect candidate to honestly describe the process. Hopefully you can learn from our mistakes and make beeswax wraps with ease.

Materials

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Beeswax block

We bought a pound of beeswax from the local candle and soap making outlet (does every city have this?). Most tutorials/recipes recommend pellets, but we choose the block because it was more cost effective. Our 1 lb block was $15 and 8 oz of pellets were $9 = $3 saved in the long run.

Metal Tray

We picked up an tin tray from a thrift store to use as our wax container. Wax is basically impossible to remove from surfaces. So we bought this tray knowingly, devoting it to wax forever more. Tray = $1

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Fabric Scraps

We grabbed cotton scraps from my stash. We tried to choose thin fabric. This is better than canvas/ upholstery/ thick cotton. The duck fabric above? Too thick. The best was the pink and white fabric which were similar to bedsheets.

The Process

We melted our beeswax by placing the wax block on the tray in a 170 degree oven. We then waited for it to melt. We waited and waited. Finally after 1 hour, we decided this was too much. We took it out and sacrificed a knife to cut it into smaller pieces. At this point our beeswax was the consistency of butter. Slicing the warm beeswax was much easier than attempting to cut it while it was solid. We put it back in the low heat oven and waited another hour for the beeswax to melt completely

Total melting time: 2 hours

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Finally, we were ready to dip our fabric pieces in the beeswax. We had read about a few methods online, and the dip method looked the easiest. It was not. Each time we attempted to dip, our wax cooled too quickly. So we had to place the tray mostly in the oven. But this placement made it difficult for dipping the fabric. We laid a larger fabric piece over the open oven door to catch any wax drips.

img_5010The wax already cooling

As we were dipping the fabric we also were unable to coat the areas we were holding. The two corners of a rectangle might remain unwaxed. However, when we attempted to coat those areas by dipping the piece again, we somehow created a double layer of wax that was tricky to remove.

We dried the fabric pieces outside on a basic clothes rack. After dipping most pieces we noticed that the layer of wax was too thick and visible. At this point we were baffled with the complexity of this project. Carly pulled up a video of someone making the fabric wraps with ease. They were using an iron and wax paper. At this point we both would rather end up with usable products than anything else, so we shuffled off to the store and purchased parchment paper ($4)

The New Method

img_5011The excess wax removed by iron.

With my iron in hand, we set out to make our thickly coated waxed fabric more practical. We sandwiched the fabric piece between parchment paper and ironed it slowly on the lowest setting. We were able to melt the wax enough so it slowly squeezed off the fabric and onto the paper. At the end of this method we had thinly coated fabric – perfectly usable.

Also because we’re crazy and hate using paper products, while Carly was ironing, I was scraping the excess wax off of pieces of parchment paper so we didn’t have to use two new pieces for every piece of fabric. We probably saved about half a roll of paper? Plus we reclaimed some beeswax, too. I found this task, though repetitive, to be quite relaxing. The one downside with this method happened when my ironing board was waxed in the battle. But, to be honest, it really needed a refresh anyway, so keep a lookout for an ironing board cover tutorial in the future!

Lessons Learned

  • Pellets, though a few bucks more, would have saved us so much time trying to melt the beeswax
  • If we really wanted to use the block effectively, we should have bought a cheese grated and dedicated it to grating wax forever more. That would have also saved us some time.
  • The dipping method was not the best for our space and created thickly coated fabric
  • The ironing method was much more precise and created thin waxed fabric.

In the end, we now have usable beeswax fabric wraps. They’re very exciting.

Happy making!