Thursday, March 26, 2020

Sketchbook Revival and a New Sketchbook

Handmade journal modeled on the purchased one on the left
When the e-mail arrived announcing this year's version of Sketchbook Revival, my first thought was to sigh. I still feel like I have so many things I am frantically trying to catch up on; do I really want to commit chunks of time for 13 or so days watching videos and doing exercises in a sketchbook? But I had to admit that I enjoyed the information and discipline learned from last year's immersion so opted in, knowing I could skip what wasn't helpful or things I already knew, and take advantage of whatever new info from a wide range of instructors might be presented, all for free. One small catch of course. The Strathmore multi-media Visual Journal that I used last year got pretty much filled and my many other journals wouldn't quite fit the bill. Am I going to have to order one, I asked, sighing once more. Heck no! Of course, I could make my own while trying out a new binding from my Handmade Book Club. Yup, kill two birds with one stone.

I studied that commercial journal that had served so well for last year's lessons and decided it would be my model in terms of kind of paper and size. Not needing it to be any more sturdy than for use here at home, I decided to reprise my cereal box "boards" covered with tissue paper. Boy, was I excited when I found the teal tissue paper and the beautiful printed one. Not enough of the teal to do two layers scrunched and I didn't really want to add a lot of texture anyway. So after gessoing the boxes, only one layer of tissue paper was smoothed into place and it was enough. The smoothing wasn't perfect so there's a bit of wrinkling here and there but basically, not much texture. The teal became the outside of the covers while the print became the endpaper on the inside. Taking a cue from a tutorial on how to use paper napkins on substrate, I used acrylic varnish to cover both sides of the board to give the tissue paper extra protection. What I have on hand is high gloss, which probably would not have been my first choice, but it actually mimics the gloss of the commercial journal covers.

I checked my paper supply because yes, I'm starting to have a stash of it, and had a couple of choices in multi-media paper. The least waste when cutting down to size would be in using a pad of large sheets where I could get 4 pages out of each sheet. Rather than cut, I tore the pages to size which left rough edges (deckles) and I decided there was no point in trimming them smooth once they were stacked and folded into signatures. These four signatures would have given me about the same number of pages as in the Strathmore journal but at the last minute I decided to add four more signatures to accommodate the binding stitching I'd be doing. Besides, all that tearing was a bit therapeutic considering all the closures and stay at home recommendations finally descending on my little community.

Once the boards dried and they, along with the signatures, spent some time under heavy books, everything got their sewing holes punched, and I set up on the small table where my laptop resides so I could follow the video tutorial on what the teacher was calling the dragonfly stitch.

That dragonfly stitch - I'm not the only one that struggled with it. I was wishing we'd added the back cover first since I did a much better job on it than I did the front cover. Just look at the beautiful printed tissue paper! It makes my heart sing when I see it.

Once the front cover was on, the rest of the signatures went on much faster than I anticipated and quite easily. On each end is a kettle stitch which is what we used on the first books - 2 and 4 needle coptic binding - and supposedly is a sturdier stitch than the chain stitches in the middle which are more what I think of a coptic binding looking like, all done with a single needle.  If you look closely along the edge of the top board, you will notice a slight buckle. I had the same thing appear on my other cereal box board book. I think it's a failure to get the paste evening distributed and all the way out to the edge before putting to two pieces and their cardstock stiffener together. Recycling is a nice idea, but I may have to rethink using these boxes in the future.

I think my stitches got tighter with each signature I added so the book doesn't close totally flat. But flat enough for my purposes. This is a working sketchbook, not meant to be fancy although those deckle edges make it a little bit so.

I nearly used the French Link binding again because I know for a fact how nice and flat the pages all open and that is pretty important in a sketchbook like this. However, I'm still catching up on binding tutorials so I didn't really want to repeat a binding yet, and I'm not sure how rugged that French Link would turn out to be over time. Decided to trust that this Dragonfly Stitch binding, essentially a coptic stitch binding, would lie just as flat. And it does! The dark line down the middle is the stitching thread in the center of the signature, a grey thread which was the only color of the appropriate weight of thread I had on hand. Yes, if I keep this up, I will no doubt be accumulating a different kind of thread stash from the quilting one I already have.

And in spite of feeling like my stitches got tighter as I went along, the spacing between signatures is fairly consistent and not too much of a gap. I am very pleased.  The book, by the way, measures 8 by 5-1/2 inches.

It's a bit exciting to be starting this year's Revival in this book I made myself, covers in my favorite color. Better get cracking and see if it really works. The videos started on Monday and I have yet to watch one.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

National Quilting Day Results

Honestly, this doesn't look like much progress on my chosen project for National Quilting Day, but in fact, this is more quilting activity than I've done in months. If you heard any strains of hallelujah, it was probably my machine being so happy to be turned on and running. Most of my time was spent finding fabric and cutting it up in preparation for some sewing. Egads - half square triangles! Do I even know how to do that anymore? And where is that nifty tool that draws the diagonal sewing lines across the paired squares? I couldn't find it anywhere and had to revert to just drawing a single line from corner to corner. I even had a moment when I wasn't sure which button to push to set the machine for quarter inch sewing. I was pretty pleased with myself to get that little stack of half-square triangle units sewed, pressed and trimmed to size.

Sample blocks and patterns from a long ago class I taught

I wasn't flying totally blind though. I pulled out a file from my teaching days where I had stowed sample blocks and a pattern. My late friend Judi had worked up these two versions of this split nine-patch block and I made them up for samples for her hand-dyed fabric booth. We didn't have a lot of success in selling the patterns but I think the sample quilts sold a lot of fabric. As you can see, I worked up both a scrappy traditional fabric block and a more subtle contemporary version in batiks. I had the file at hand because I've been intending to make enough of those batik blocks to use as background for a tree silhouetted against a moon art quilt. I'd just been digging around in my blue batiks to make that book cloth so I thought that was the version I'd be working on. But I decided it needed more care in selection and placement of fabrics than the traditional scrappy one, so those are the kind of fabrics I dug out of my stash.
With soothing jazz music in the background and the hum of the machine, I spent the afternoon in a small bit of paradise, being reminded how much I enjoy working on this type of project.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

National Quilting Day!

The third Saturday in March is designated as National Quilting Day, a chance for quilters to either gather in groups for a sewing day, do public demos or just dedicate some hours to their personal quilting at home. Well, most of us are sheltering in place anyway these days, so there's little excuse for not getting into your studio and doing some quilting today. And I spotted this idea on Facebook, to hang a quilt outside today to cheer your neighbors. Well, I don't have a way to do that but I do have this printout of the Idaho Beauty Block that I hang up when the art group needs to differentiate my house from the identical ones up and down the block. So my shingle is out and I think I am going to cut some fabric and sew up a few blocks. Won't you join me?


Friday, March 20, 2020

Trying New Things

I meant to post this earlier in the week but got distracted. I'm still working away on books, and this photo represents several days of trying out some new things. And for a change, they were all successes! I know it doesn't look like much but as I've mentioned before, things take longer than one would think, having to be very meticulous in measuring and cutting and factoring in drying time for the glue. And just like in quilting, I end up spending time searching stashes for coordinating papers and fabrics. It rather delightfully sucks me in. Anyway, here are my trials and triumphs:

I made wheat paste so that I could try making my own book cloth from a commercial batik in my stash. Wheat paste is archival, reversible, and has a longer open time than PVA glue. It adheres a light strong paper like rice paper to cloth to stabilize it and protect it from the glue used to adhere the cloth to bookboard. Worked like a charm! The bookcloth went on the spine and as end paper of the boards for the next tutorial - secret Belgium binding (bottom boards).

Then I mixed a little of it into my PVA as our instructor suggests to extend the PVA's open time, using this to glue on cover papers and end papers - what a difference! Since I am still learning, I tend to work more slowly so having the glue dry more slowly is really helpful.

I also tried putting the glue on the board rather than the cover paper as we'd been shown in previous lessons and liked that method a lot better than putting the glue on the paper. We were shown this alternative because of that narrow spine board which otherwise would be more difficult to cover and again, for the benefit of us new to all this as a perhaps easier way to get the board centered on the paper and leaving the corners to be mitered free of glue for that cutting.

I had read a suggestion from Kaija at to punch holes in the book board BEFORE covering them for a more professional look (follow this link and scroll to the end, but she gives many of the same good tips that our club teacher does before this one) I didn't actually shave off the bumps as she suggests but did sand them down some, and found that glue does go down in the holes when putting it on the board rather than the cover paper and that seems to help the paper and end sheet pushed into the holes stay in place. I felt I got a much neater look.

The smaller boards along the top were extras I cut during the first coptic binding tutorial. I reworked some of the cover paper I made (wet scrunched paper bags rubbed with Art Graf), stamping the grass motif over it and then sealing it with matte medium. That layer of matte medium really made a difference in handling as I glued and pulled it around to the back, giving the paper more durability.

I generally like to work on one book at a time, but I'm doubling up right now as I signed up for this year's Sketchbook Revival course and realized I did not have to order a sketchbook but could make my own. So the next post will show you how I am going about that.


Saturday, March 07, 2020

Before and After Shots

Still Winter . . .
I've been struggling a bit with a cross between cabin fever and spring fever. February was just cold for the most part. When the sun did come out it was still cold and often windy. When it wasn't sunny it was often rainy. Now I'm not one of those who starts whining in February about how long the winter has been because I know darn well that in this part of the country, winter isn't over until April, and sometimes not even then. But since our snow has been sporadic and all that's left are some dirty piles pushed up by the plows, and nothing is budding out or even pushing up yet, my walks along my usual route have been bleak and soul-sucking. So when the sun did come out a few weeks ago, I headed to city beach for a different view that I hoped would perk me up. Even colder there with the breeze off the lake, but at least I was looking at something different, and I was a little surprised at how many people were there doing the same.

I do get some delight when the sun comes out from my collection of rocks that sit on a ledge below my house number. I don't think you can tell from the picture, but many of these have flecks of mica in them that make them pick up the sunlight in sparkles. Most of these have been snatched up on my walks because of an interesting shape, lines of different kinds of rock within a stone or a pleasing color. Since I live in a development where all of the townhouses are identical, This pile of rocks helps visitors delineate mine from the rest.


And now the before and after promised in the heading. I continue to carry out small experiments in my 4-needle coptic binding book. You may remember me showing a spread where I painted brown ink over the paper. I decided to try a technique from the Sketchbook Revival Series, but pared down to this. Labels were suggested as an easy thing to use as a resist or to be left in place when flooding a page with inks. I remembered having some large labels bought for shipping, not realizing they were removable, more made for labeling a bin for instance. Maybe I can cut some tree shapes and apply them to the page, add diluted black ink I'd saved over and around them, and then remove them once the page was dry. It should leave me with brown trees on a darker background.


And it did! The black ink pooled at the edges of the label trees, defining them nicely.


But because of my thing for birches, I wanted to try the same thing starting with a white page. I decided to set it up facing the somewhat failed experiment of dropping ink onto a wet page and use the same green ink.


This time I had some seepage under the edges of the label trees, probably because of them being used already. But I still like it.

Waste not, want not

By now the label trees were nicely colored from the two inks I'd used and still had quite a bit of stick to them. I couldn't bear to throw them out, so I found a page with a very faint string-pull image and place them there. I may need to add a little glue stick to the ends, but for now, they have a happy place to live.

All these pages have the potential to be worked into more, or may stay just as they are.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Long Stitch Binding With Slit Covers

I've used a variation of the long stitch when making my blank journals (thanks to Michele at Sweet Leaf Notebook for giving me one of hers that I've used as a guide) and it is a very simple a quick way to put a book together. This version with the slit cover is supposed to be equally quick and easy but I struggled a bit with it. Sewn-in signatures would flop around as I tried getting my needle in the right place and pulling thread through, then keep turning the book to the back to tighten up stitches. Eventually it dawned on me to get some clothespins out to hold those unruly signatures to the cover while I worked sewing in the next one.

I'm still on the fence about Kraft-Tex in general, but as I worked sewing the signatures in, I came to like the feel of it. However, I struggled with getting the slits in the spine cut because, as I always forget, black is impossible to see things like stitching and in this case, pinprick awl marks on and I couldn't get a clean cut through on the first swipe. I think that is why there's some white showing at the slits. The bottom one in particular I KNOW got cut in two places close together with a sliver having to be removed. As much as I like green, I couldn't believe I had no suitable green thread, but the black's ok, particularly since I don't really like the look of the thread wrapping over the head and tail of the spine in this binding.  Also, it requires the signatures and covers to be identical heights unlike other bindings that require the covers to bit slightly longer, the extra providing some protection to the edges of the signatures.

A fairly usable size at 6-14 x 4-14 inches

I've been using drawing paper or watercolor paper in my other books, but this time I decided to use just a plain paper that might make for a good writing surface. I have quite a bit of 25lb cotton rag Resume paper left over from the days of submitting one's resume printed out on fine paper and submitted by mail. Does anyone require that anymore? That paper makes for a very special feel over just copy paper. The strap is what I trimmed from the cover, and frankly, I don't really like the slits on the cover for it to thread through. I was considering velcro and might change to that. 

Honestly, I doubt I would use this binding again. Besides not liking the look, it doesn't lay open and flat as that French Link binding does (not sure why) But in the meantime, lessons learned, preferences hit upon, and a nice little book to add to my collection.