Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pricing handmade books

I have been struggling with pricing ever since I started selling books. I started by selling on Ebay so I was able to see how much people were willing to pay for my books by using the auction system where the buyers were setting the prices. I did that for over a year before I joined Etsy, so the auctions helped me get started with my Etsy pricing. And then when I thought I had it all set, the Canadian dollar shot up and become near par with the US dollar so I needed to adjust pricing again.

Otherwise, the main factors are the number of pages and the book's dimensions. So price increases as the size and number of pages increase. Because I think the paper is the most significant cost element for me. Some bindings require significantly more effort and time too, so that can also be a factor. But I try to be consistent at any rate. So if there are 2 books in my Etsy shop that look very similar in size and style then they are the same price even though some other factors might not jive. But I want it to be predictable for the buyers.

Recently another Etsy seller with handmade books asked me about pricing and it was hard to compare since her books were mostly hardcover books (check out her shop here: flurrsprite.etsy.com) I actually feel that fully casebound hardcover books should cost more than my leather journals. A hardcover book just has so much more time and effort in the cover with all the measuring, cutting, pasting, and drying time.

Actually when I first started trying to sell books on Ebay, they were all very traditional case bound hardcover books but nobody bought them. I watched the auctions for a while to see what people were buying and it was pretty obvious that leather books were rather popular. So I decided to try leather....and the leather sells. Since I've started selling on Etsy (Mar 9/07) I hadn't sold anything that wasn't leather until last week. But my books aren't very artsy either; I think they look good but they are usually plain, unembellished, etc. Artsy books that are well made should be higher priced too. Mine may have interesting or unusual bindings or whatever but they are not artsy.

So the hardcover case bound books and well-made artsy books should cost more, but I don't think most people are willing to pay what they are worth. First of all, I have found that when people buy a handmade book, they want it to look handmade. My traditional hardcover case bound books did not look handmade at all, and I even had some people question them thinking they had to be commercially manufactured! I think that makes it harder to get a good price for that type of book because the buyers think it looks the same as a book they can buy at W*lmart. So I try to keep my books looking handmade but still well made, of course. And I'm guessing that artsy books and artist's books typically don't fetch their real worth, as is the case with a lot of art.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Arts Videos on YouTube

It has never crossed my mind that there might be bookbinding videos on YouTube. I don't use the site very often unless someone else has recommended a particular video. Thanks to Christine Cox's newsletter from Volcano Arts, I am now very busy watching the collection of book arts-related videos available on YouTube. I've viewed a lot of them now and some are promotional, some are very badly made, some are not worth watching. In spite of all that, there are a few good ones that I want to annotate here.

ShitDisco "OK" - For anyone who loves a good pop-up book, this music video is a must-see. Also, it is probably one of the most original ideas in the world of music videos in a long long time.

Alice in Wonderland Popup - The quality of this video isn't great, but the book is really cool. It is an elaborate combination of pop-ups and tunnel-book structures depicting the adventures of Alice.

Medieval Helpdesk - This is really funny. A monk is learning to use a new technology (the book) and has to contact the help desk for user support.

Backing Silk to make bookcloth - So if you want to see how to prepare silk to be used as a bookcloth, this looks helpful. Although there is no audio. Looks easy in this video actually. I'm sure I'd still get paste soaking through making stains on the outside, though.

If'n Books Demonstration - You can watch a book being made in the midst of a rockin' and dancin' band.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A baby boy book

I wanted to make something to include in a gift for a baby boy, and I didn't give myself enough time to make the traditional hardcover photoalbum, which would be a logical choice. But I made a cute leather journal with a light blue cover and tan spine. The paper is heavy 80lb drawing paper and could be used for mounting photos but I think it is best suited as a journal with lots of paraphenailia and "memory items" stuck in it.

The actual binding is a really basic longstitch and kettlestitch, sewn directly through the spine. There is a simple tab closure on the fore edge that slides through a loop on the front cover.

I was rather pleased with this book so I made a couple more. One is dark pink, and one is teal suede. They are all lined on the inside with some super Japanese papers. These would be great pocket-sketchbooks too since they have really nice drawing paper in them.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bookbinding 101 - Chopstick Notebook

Here's a simple pamphlet binding that can be done by binding the pages to a stick. I have used a chopstick, but it could be anything…a twig, wooden spoon, toothbrush, etc.

Required stuff:
- Several sheets of paper for the pages (10 – 15)
- One sheet of decorative and/or heavy paper for the cover
- One chopstick (or suitable alternative)
- A pencil
- A needle and some thread
- A utility knife

First thing, you need to prepare the paper for the pages. Each sheet of paper has to be the same height as the chopstick. My chopstick is 9”, so I have used 15 sheets of standard photocopier paper, cut to 9” high (A). Stack them neatly, then fold the entire stack in half (B). More pages will make it harder to fold and it might not like to stay folded, so it is a good idea at this point to press it overnight (or a week, the longer you press it, the better it will fold). So put it under something heavy (C).

Once the paper has been pressed, you can make the cover using a piece of decorative paper, or paper that is just a bit heavier than the pages. The cover paper needs to be cut the same height as the chopstick (9”) and twice as wide as the folded pages. Then fold it around your pages (D).

Now mark the spots on your chopstick where you want the sewing stitches to be (E). I have marked 6 spots, but it can be any number and they can be in any position. It is probably a good idea to have one close to each end for the sake of stability, but otherwise it really doesn’t matter. Use a utility knife to cut a little grove around the chopstick at each mark (F).

Open the folded pages and lay the chopstick along the centre fold. Mark the position of each chopstick-notch along the centre fold (G). Using a awl (or a needle if you don’t have an awl), poke a hole at each mark (H). Make sure the holes go all the way through every sheet of paper including the cover.

Start sewing. Place the folded paper on the table. Align the chopstick along the outside folded edge, so that the notches you made are lined up with the holes in the paper. With a threaded needle, go through the first hole from the inside to the outside (I). Pull it through until there is just a couple inches of thread left on the inside. Wrap the thread around the chopstick, then put the needle back through the same hole (J). Pull the thread all the way through until the loop around the chopstick is tight. The thread should be resting comfortably in the notch you made.

Repeat this for the next hole. Put the needle through the second hole from the inside to the outside (K), go around the chopstick then back through the same hole (L). Pull it tight so the thread is resting comfortably in the second notch on the chopstick.

Do the same thing for all the holes (M). At the last hole bring the needle back through the hole so the end of the thread is on the inside (N). Make sure the thread is pulled tight around each notch in the chopstick. If it is loose anywhere, tighten it.

Now the ends of the thread can be knotted. With the needle still on the end of the thread, pass the needle under the last stitch (O). Pull it through until there is just a small loop, then put the needle through that loop (P). Pull it tight to make a little knot and cut the thread so there is just a tiny end remaining (short enough that it won’t stick out the top of the book) (Q). Repeat the knot with the other end of the thread and cut it short.

Admire your work (R). Embellish (S).

Wah-la! The notebook is complete.

If you have used this tutorial to make some notebooks, I'd love to see them! I have set up a Flickr Group where anyone can add photos of chopstick notebooks. Or just post links here for me!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Crossed Structure Binding

I included the Crossed Structure Binding on my list of historical bindings to do; however, I am not sure that it really qualifies as an historical structure. I actually make a lot of these books, using the Crossed Structure Binding Basic (CSB Basic) technique as described by Carmencho Arregui on her website. This structure works really well with a leather cover so it has become one of the styles I use often when making journals (see first pic).

Based on the information on Arregui's website, the CSB is her own invention, the idea for which came to her when she was doing her restoration work with historical longstitch bindings. So, the CSB isn't really an historical binding; rather, it is inspired by some historical bindings. Good enough.

I will have to explore some of the other techniques she has outlined on her website. The only other technique that I have done is the CSB Solo structure, which works well with a paper cover (see second pic) but not with a leather cover. Arregui suggests that leather could be used if it were pared very thin and also laminated with Japanese paper. But I haven't tried that.

Arregui also has details on her website for the CSB Protective, Linked, Expander, Marcopolo, and Hidden models and I have tried none of those.

My list of historical bindings to do, has only one more item and that is the girlde book. I have two started and hope to get them finished soon but they are taking longer than a lot of these other bindings. Then I'll have to start on a new list of bookbindings I haven't tried yet, and do some of these other CSBs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Three more single quire Coptic books

About a month ago I participated in a workshop about the single quire Coptic books that were discovered in 1945. There were 13 of these books stashed in a jar in Egypt since the 3rd or 4th Century! These books are often called the Nag Hammadi codices. There is a previous blog entry about the workshop.

So this was the next project on my list of historical bindings to do, and I just finished making three of them.

I used leather splits to make these books so they actually have suede covers. The two dark brown books are made with a deerskin split. The white one is a sheepskin split. A leather split is a layer taken off the hide so it is suede on both sides and these ones are quite thin so it worked well for these books.

The covers on the original books were lined with papyrus to stiffen the covers. I didn't have any papyrus, so these are stiffened with just heavy paper. And I used some great Japanese papers as end papers pasted down on the inside of the covers. The best thing about these, is the single quire. The text block is just one thick stack of paper folded in half. These each have 40 sheets of paper (compared to 8 that I normally have per section). I pressed these for a week to get them to stay folded satisfactorily.

I have just two more bindings left on my list of historical bindings to do...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Testing some new websites

Through the Etsy forums, I've met a number of other sellers of handmade goods who sell on several websites simultaneously. This week I decided to check out two of these sites and I have now registered with both.

The first site I checked out was Mintd which is an Australian-based website. The interface is a bit awkward, the pages always seem cluttered, and the load times are l-o-n-g. But I do like the organization and the ideas upon which the site is based. The intro text says "Mintd is a global collaborative space for artists, designers and musicians to sell their work and connect to new markets." Sounds good. They also have a fun feature that rates the interesting-ness of a product and/or seller. Various factors are involved, like number of hits, number of comments, etc. The most interesting items are featured on the home page. I have registered for the Pro seller plan which means I can have up to 10 items for sale. My shop url is www.mintd.com/stores/show/710-MyHandboundBooks. I now have 5 items listed there. No sales yet.

Next, I visited DaWanda which is a German website. Their homepage reads, "Unique Things & Creative People: Dawanda is the online marketplace where those who love uniqueness meet people with a passion to create." And they actually want you to report items that are not unique and/or handmade to keep the site clean. The website has a very nice layout and it is tidy and runs smoothly. A neat feature of DaWanda is the ability for users to give your item a "thumbs up" if they like it. The number of "thumbs up" it receives is displayed with the listing. Here my url is myhandboundbooks.dawanda.com. I have only 3 items for sale on DaWanda right now, also no sales yet.

I was listing my books on Etsy for about 3 weeks before I sold anything. I've only been on these new sites for a couple days so I won't panic yet about no sales. Also, there are a lot of the same sellers on all three websites. I have concluded that, on Etsy, the other Etsy sellers are my main customer base. I have sold to lots of non-sellers too, but the sellers are definitely doing lots of shopping. So if the same group of sellers populate all these websites (Etsy, Mintd, DaWanda) then sales levels wouldn't change much overall... But there must be some additional exposure benefits.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Secret Belgian Binding

The Secret Belgian Binding was my next project on the list of historical bindings to do. I wish I knew more about the history of this binding; there is very little information available online and none of my books have any details.

I learned this in a class with Susan Mills. I believe the binding was unearthed by Hedi Kyle, and it has been dated between the 14th and 16th centuries. Story is, this type of binding had been long lost and forgotten until Hedi came upon it and she figured out how it was done. It is thought that it was a special binding method of a particular binder so it was never widely known. If you have any more authoritative information about this, please let me know. Don't bother sending me the Wikipedia link because I wrote that myself.

Now I remember why it has been so long since I did it. It's too tedious! But, nonetheless, I persevered and completed these two black and whites this week. I cheated a little bit. The covers are covered with self-adhesive papers - so I didn't have to wait for any glue or paste to dry. But they turned out fine, the proportions are nice, at 480 pages thick, and nice to hold. I still don't want to start making them very often, though.

Samples of work 2001-2006



Blue and sage leathers inlaid, lined on the inside with handmade paper. Long stitch binding through the spine and decorative stitching on the covers in white linen.


Hardcover multi-signature coptic sewing. Black leather with raised letters on the front.


Portfolio case custom fit to this book. I backed the fabric myself. Leather label on the spine with gold lettering.


Japanese box. Dark green book cloth with paper lining. This is now my bookbinding toolbox.


Japanese wrap-around case, custom fit to these two Japanese butterfly books.


Rebound copy of Jonson's Lives of the Poets. Leather spine and new cloth covers. I found this cloth at a drapery store and backed it myself. Leather label on the spine with gold lettering.


Rebound copy of the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music. This was originally a perfect-bound paperback. Brown bookcloth spine and hand marbled papers. Leather label on the spine with gold lettering.


Rebound copy of The Cat in the Hat. Scanned then printed the image for the new front covers.


One of my first attempts at making a girdle book.


'Our Stars' - Accordian fold artist's book with flaps and pockets, pull-out tags, found images, and quotes.


Japanese multi-page scroll.


Accordian fold with little pamphlets sewn into some of the valleys. This was made as a birthday card with photos and text.


Little Red Riding Hood tunnel book. A case structure, with the tunnel book attached on one side and a pamphlet containing the story attached to the other side.


Expirimental binding: sections sewn onto stiff hemp twine. Leather cover.


Photo album and matching photo storage box. Japanese chyiogami paper.


Japanese stab bindings, hemp leaf pattern.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Medieval Limp Binding

Next on my list of historic book structures to do, was a typical Medieval limp binding. This is described by Szirmai in his text: "the covering is largely of coarse parchment, sometimes of two pieces pasted together...cut off flush with the bookblock; limp leather coverings or leather edging are exceptional. The lower cover usually extends to a rectangular front-edge flap, with one or two cords to tie them around flat buttons of horn, leather or metal on the back" (p. 299, The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding). This type of book dates from 1375 to 1500.

So here are my books, but certainly they aren't exact replicas. I have used thin limp leather, not parchment. One is black sheepskin, and the other is white suede lambskin. The pages are 50lb Canson paper...not readily available in the 1400s. The spines are reinforced with thicker leather strips although I believe originally wood may have been more common for the spine piece. The buttons are plastic...not very authentic.

The binding is really very basic, though. It is the shape and style of the covering that makes this representative of the Medieval books. The sewing is a standard longstitch and chain stitch, directly through the cover and spine reinforcement.

Although I haven't been making many books like this recently, I used to make a lot of them. I had one of these up for auction on Ebay and I was contacted by a university lecturer in medieval manuscripts and binding structures in Norway, who had seen the book and he wrote, "I should say this is the first one of items advertised as Medieval that is convincing and even impressive."

There was also a frantic session of making these books when I got my first large book order. I had to make 14 of them shown in the photo here, half off-white and half dark brown. They were for somebody who wanted to give them to all the attendants in their wedding. (Actually, oh ya, there are just 13 in the photo because one had been sent previously as a sample.)

Next on my list is the secret Belgian binding, or the girdle book maybe.