Friday, September 28, 2007

Bookbinding 101 - Paper Grain

I've been calling my tutorials "bookbinding 101" so I really should have done this particular tutorial first. I spend a substantial amount of time worrying about paper grain direction when I'm making my books.

So, as far as I know, all machine-made papers have a grain direction. This applies to standard printer paper, cardstock, drawing paper, watercolour paper, etc, as well as binder's board or other boards. Basically every paper material that we use for making books – except handmade paper. Though, even with handmade paper, I usually check it.

So the grain is a result of the way the fibers align during the paper making process. With handmade paper, the fibers are all over the place so grain doesn't form the same way. Machine-made paper will have the fibers all aligned in the same direction. Sometimes if you have some classic laid paper or other nice paper, you can see the lines. The lines that are really close together are across the grain – then the perpendicular lines that are spaced further apart, those are parallel to the grain. But most of the time, you can't see any of those lines.

I just scanned the web and found an article about paper grain by Richard P Grant, which looks very informative and quite detailed: About Paper Grain.

It is important to be aware of the paper's grain direction so that your books close properly, and so they will open properly, and so the spine will keep its shape, and so the boards don't warp, etc, I'm sure there are many many more reasons.

The direction of the paper grain should always always always be parallel to the spine of the book.

So the first part of my tutorial will focus on how to determine the grain direction of a piece of paper. I've never met a paper that I couldn't figure out.

Test 1

I always start with this test and it usually works. Just lightly bend the paper over and push down a little bit on the curved fold – without actually making a crease. Then lightly fold it the other way and press on it. Whichever direction presents the least resistance when you press lightly on the curved fold, then that is the grain direction. In these photos, I’m using standard 8.5" x 11" printer paper. It is always grain long – so when I bend it the long way (photo on the right), it is very easy to bend and there is much less resistance compared to when I tried it the other way.

Test 2
If Test 1 doesn't tell you for sure, let the paper hang over the edge of the table. Place the paper at the edge of the table, about half on and half off. Look to see how much angle there is where the paper bends. Then turn the paper around and do it again. Whichever direction has the most bend to it, then that is the direction of the grain.

In this photo, the paper in the foreground is bending along the grain. The paper in the background is bending across the grain so it doesn’t flop over the edge of the table as much. This was difficult to photograph but sometimes the difference is quite dramatic so if you try it, it can be quite obvious which direction is along the grain.

Test 3
This test requires that you destroy the paper, but it is quite reliable. Simply try to tear the paper straight down the middle. If it tears in a relatively straight line, then the tear is parallel with the grain - shown here by the black arrow. If you get a curved tear, or it is just impossible to go straight when you rip the paper, then you are tearing across the grain.

Test 4
If all else fails, I lick the paper. Cut off a corner and note its orientation. I mark the long and short direction on it usually. Then just lick it, and place it on the table. (You don't have to lick it, just dampen it lightly somehow). When it is damp, it will curl. The valley of the curl will be parallel to the grain direction, shown here by the black arrow. The key with this test is to remember how this little corner fits back onto your larger sheet of paper, otherwise the test isn't very helpful!

I have created two book blocks that are the same size, but one has the paper grain intentionally going the wrong way.

I have bound both of these book blocks because I was hoping to show how much incredibly better the 'good grain' book functions. The pages just lay so nicely in comparison to the book with the bad grain. Oh, just look at the beautiful open-book-shape of the good-grain book here. Other book…not so beautiful.

One thing that I really like is the fanning of a book's pages. Having the grain direction going the wrong way just devastates this wonderful feature of a book – it is more likely to just spurt in chunks rather than perform a lovely fluttering fan.

I made a brief video of this fanning process to more effectively show the difference. So in this clip, the bad sputtering book is shown first, followed by the nicely flowing fanning book.

I haven't been doing many hardcover books lately so when it comes to paper grain, my primary concern is with the book block; however, the paper grain factor just grows and grows when a hard cover is introduced.

I am not working on any hardcover books right now so I don’t have photos for this next part, but let me try to explain why it is important to be aware of the grain direction when making a hardcover book, and how it can be very useful too.

Binder's board can be tested for grain direction by just trying to bend it, so you can feel which way bends easiest. Or if you have a really big sheet of board, laying it half on and half off the table and checking to see how much it bends over the edge of the table will work too (like test 2 described above).

The grain direction of the binder’s board needs to be parallel to the spine, just like the grain direction of the book block. It is important to make sure that the grain direction of your covering paper is also parallel to the spine.

Papers expand when they are wet, and they usually expand more across the grain. So if you spread paste onto a piece of decorative paper, it will be slightly larger after it absorbs the moisture of the paste. This expansion will be most noticeable across the grain. So when you put this wet paper onto the binder's board, then let the paper dry, the paper shrinks back to its original size…pulling the edges of the binder's board with it as it shrinks…causing the warp. Now if you apply paste to another piece of decorative paper and adhere it to the other side of the binder's board and let it dry, when that second piece of paper shrinks back to its original size, it will pull the board in the opposite direction and make the whole thing flat again. No need to press while drying!

But this will only work if the board and both pieces of paper all have the grain directions parallel. Also, it will be most effective if the two pieces of decorative paper are the same kind of paper, so that they react the same and expand the same amount when damp. If the two pieces of paper are quite different in weight or density, then one piece might expand a lot more than the other thus not pulling the board back perfectly flat while drying.

If the papers are not the same, then the boards should be pressed while drying, but even pressing boards will not guarantee that they won’t warp now or at some point in the future.

Keep the grains parallel to the spine all the time, always. Your book will open better. The pages will fan nicely and lie open flat. The covers will dry flat. The spine will be stronger and less stressed. The entire book will be more cohesive. The book will have a longer life.

I sure hope that this makes sense to anybody who is trying to learn about paper grain. Or for anybody that already knows about this stuff, please let me know if I haven’t presented it clearly.

Now, I have to go dismantle the bad-grain book block that I made for this post...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Longstitch through a slotted cover

I use the "longstitch through a slotted cover" quite often. I wish it had a better name, but "longstitch" is too general, so I'm just using the title that Keith Smith has given it (p. 141, Vol 1 Non Adhesive Binding). This binding works really well with most leather and I really like how it looks with the staggered lines and it is such a stable, secure, strong binding.

After doing a million of these books, I made a fantastic discovery. After making the holes in my sections, absentmindedly I also made holes in the cover...rather than slots. After just a little consideration, about three seconds, I decided to try it anyway. So I used the same sewing process, just going through holes rather than slots. And, I sewed two sections through each row of holes. I know it looks the same at first glance, but it creates (nearly) straight lines on the spine. Of course, you say, that is simple enough. But I was amazed, astounded, aghast. Now this clean, strong binding that I love so much, is also symmetrical! This picture shows the book sewn through holes (top) and another one sewn through slots.

I suppose I haven't truly discovered anything; I'm sure somebody has done this before me. Actually, I just went back to Smith's book and he does make a brief mention of doing this binding with pierced sewing stations. He doesn't elaborate that suggestion at all, but I suppose this is what he was talking about.

So that was my most recent bookbinding discovery and I love it, I must do some more of these. This binding isn't great with really soft leather because the slots tend to get distorted, but using the pierced sewing stations would probably work very well. Off to try another one...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekly Planners

So again, for something different, I have made a few 2008 Weekly Planners. They have a standard calendar insert inside. Then I've also included some pocket pages made with cardstock, and there are a few sections of blank paper as well. So with all that stuff, I was able to put these together with a simple longstitch, the one that Keith Smith calls, "longstitch through a slotted cover." I even bound ribbon page markers into the spine as well. I am now officially registered to sell my wares at two local craft sales this Fall (!). So I want to make more of these planners but the last time I checked, these calendars were no longer available so I'll have to look around for a suitable alternative.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

CSB Marcopolo

In her description of the CSB Marcopolo, Arregui explains that the design of this book might be very suitable for travel journals and other portable books, since there are some relatively simple modifications that can be made to make this book have a hook on the spine for hanging, straps for a closure, etc. The photos of this book shown on her website look wonderful.

But this is definitely more intricate than the other CSBs I've done. I'm not sure that I've done it correctly, actually. Oddly, it starts with two cover pieces that are cut exactly the same, each with five strips. I used a paper template to make sure that I got both covers exactly the same.

Sewing the book block was easy enough, but crossing the strips was baffling at first.
What is this madness?

The crossing at the spine depends on some very accurate cuts, cutting half-way through the strips at exactly the right places. On my first attempt, my little cuts were not positioned very well and I had to make some adjustments to prevent puckering. So there are some little extra cuts visible on the spine of this book.

I think this would be easier with a thicker book. I made two of these books, both just 1" thick. The little cuts I was making, needed to be exactly at the middle of the spine. So a thicker spine might be easier to measure and position accurately. I did get the cuts positioned better for the second book, but still a tiny puckering:

Arregui doesn't really explain what I'm supposed to do with the straps after they are crossed. On the brown book here, I have simply trimmed them and attached them flat to the covers using PVA. On the other book, I cut some more slots in the covers and tucked some of the straps inside. This is the part that I'm unsure about and I'm just assuming that Arregui has left this part of the process open for individual interpretation depending on our different design preferences.

The spine looks very sophisticated in its design - and if the straps are dealt with creatively this structure could be used to make beautiful books. But for me, only after much practice!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The state of tactile arts today

Why do you choose to make books by hand, when they can be produced so cheaply and easily by others?

I started as a reader, then a student of literature, a librarian, and now a bookbinder. Just a logical progression. Really it is just like someone with a love of fine wine who decides to learn how it is made, cultivates a vineyard, and sets up a winery - all for the love of tasting a fine wine.

I enjoy making books. I enjoy designing books and selecting papers and colours and planning the closures or embellishments, etc. It is a process that is very satisfying for me because the result is always a book, and I love books!

I am not much of a writer, though. I use some of the books I've made, but it pleases me more to know that someone else who loves to write has one of my books and is using it. I want the books to be used. Many of my buyers contact me to tell me what they are using the book for, or why they need it, or how much they like writing in it, etc. and that makes me happy. I like knowing that those books have found good homes.

Do you feel that people desire unique hand crafted items such as handbound books, more because of our mass produced culture?

When mass produced items imitate an object that was created as a unique art piece, the value of the original piece is lessened. Particularly when that original art object did not establish its presence in the art world prior to its mass duplication, so nobody became aware of it. Everyone has seen the duplicates and gives no thought to the possibility that there was once a single original art object from which all the duplicates have been derived. So even if the original is encountered, there is no recognition of it as an original piece of art. Everyone has one like it, we all know what it looks like, seeing the original is just the same as seeing the mass-produced item that I have placed on the mantel or thrown in my backpack. So the original has no special value in that case.

So, yes, the people who desire to have real original art objects need to look harder to find unique items that haven't been copied or imitated. The true unique original art object is scarce.

Anyone can take photos with their digital camera, and manipulate the images to make something stunning without the skills and techniques needed to make a painting. They need an artistic eye but not an artistic hand. Is this still art and are they still artists? Does this digital art make the tactile arts more or less valuable as a result?

Digital art is art. Artists will use whatever medium is available to them and Photoshop is just another tool. True digital art (original artwork produced by an artist who is consciously creating art digitally) will not affect the value of the tactile arts. It is all art and the makers are all artists, only their medium changes (although I'm not sure how a book artist could go completely digital). reproductions of art can make the original art less valuable. This all comes back to Walter Benjamin’s work, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." He wrote it before the introduction of digital media – he was concerned about photography and film – but it is the same discussion. And of course, photography and film are certainly fully accepted mediums for art now, so digital art will no doubt follow in that level of acceptance.

This is a selection of the questions I was asked to answer for a student who is researching the state of tactile arts in our society.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My collection of books

I just added another book to my collection of handmade books; these are all made by book artists and bookbinders other than myself, of course. Some of these were acquired through a group book swap hosted by Volcano Arts. Hmm, looks like there are a number of Etsy sellers in this pile...some that I purchased, and most recently I did a trade with flurrsprite's nook. She sent me the light blue one in front. This is actually the first case bound book that I've got through a trade or swap. Thanks maiko!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

CSB Expander

I finished the CSB Expander book yesterday. After this type of book is finished, more sections can be easily added. So, since that is the purpose, I decided to use this structure to bind some of my CBBAG newsletters. I'll be able to add subsequent newsletters later.

Similar to the CSB Linked, this structure has the two cover pieces crossed before the sewing is started. So one cover has strips, the other has holes to put the strips through.

Ready for sewing. Each section is sewn individually. This is what makes it so functional for later expansion. Since the sections are not connected to each other, new sections can be added anywhere - front, middle, back, whatever.

Finished sewing, strips visible inside the cover.

Another neat and tidy structure, and very functional. Now my CBBAG newsletters are way stylish in their teal suede covering.

Mini Journals

I make little bitty journals sometimes. Another way to use small pieces of leather that are too small for an average sized journal, but too big to be tossed. Or sometimes I do these to use up small batches of paper. I am more likely to experiment a bit with these mini books since they are quick and easy to work with. For no particular reason, I have done several of these recently, resulting in this little pile o' minis. Most are longstitch sewings, and there is one little red crossed structure in there too. The dimensions are between 3 and 4 inches along the spine.