Tag Archives: Books

Your Itinerant Attack Cat

Handmade Books

Just a sampling of my handmade sketchbooks and journals.

Directly after Drawlloween, I turned all of my attention to production for the Holiday Art Market where I sold my handmade paper goods. Namely, journals and sketchbooks that I bind by hand, with covers of original design. In preparation for the show, I completed 90 books and orbs in just fourteen days! I’ve been blogging about my progress and describe one bookmaking process here, give an update here,  and then discuss my paper orbs in a later post.

Art fair booth set up

Attack Cat Studio at the Holiday Art Market.

I had a successful showing this weekend and visitors to the market seemed to really like my work. Since this was the first full-on beta test for Attack Cat Studio, I feel pretty good about the results. It was especially interesting to watch people interact with the displays. For example, some of the book stands are a little tippy. But, the flow of traffic through my booth seemed to work well. I also collected a few contacts who are interested in taking a bookmaking class with me in the winter.

Attack Cat Studio Logo

In addition to connecting people with sketchbooks and journals, I get to talk with cat lovers who notice my logo. The most frequently asked question is, “Which one is the attack cat?!”

Now, I prepare for another show, this one in December, at the Merry Maker’s Marketplace. I have new images to print for book covers, larger sketchbooks to create, and lots of pocket-sized journals to replace. If you’re interested in seeing some more of my work, you can check meow-t on Etsy.

Cat in a Box

Miss Bean, the original Attack Cat.

A Labor (Day) of Love

A Labor (Day) of Love

It’s been a long time since I made a flat-back, case bound book. This one is not flashy, just a hard cover with black book cloth and decorative end sheets. I enjoy the process of craft, the kind that requires attention to detail, with every step considered and executed with great care. This book is for my math teacher/artist husband, who likes the elegance of simplicity, and deserves a new book to start the school year.

Parts of a book.

My prepared pages, along with all of the parts for the cover, including the book cloth, end sheets, and binders board.

Book making is a sequential process, each step requiring it’s own precision. It starts with measuring, cutting and folding multiple pages, then sewing them together into an organized stack. Boards have to be cut with lovely right angles, front and back, with one narrow piece for the spine that matches the thickness of the sewn block of pages. If one measurement is just a little off, it can skew the next in a way that throws off the whole in the end. Plus, there’s gluing. Too much, and your paper wrinkles and there are unwanted spurts of glue ooze. Too little, and things don’t hold together properly.

Steps in Book Binding

I enjoy the systematic operations of assembling a book, including checking the measurements, sewing the pages, and applying adhesives.

All of this exactness feeds into my desire for orderliness as the proper recipe of ingredients results in a well-made object. When it’s working, it’s a thing of beauty! In addition, the making of a book has meaning beyond the labor. A book is a personal object, carried in a pocket close to the body, opened by hand. The pages, turned one-by-one, become filled with the thoughts of the recipient. It is in this use that the maker and the owner become collaborators. As the book becomes imbued with life and wear, it becomes an even more beautiful and priceless object.

Black flat back case bound book

Since we no longer teach together (like we did for ten years,) I feel that, by making a book for him to use for notes and drawings, at least a little piece of me goes with him to school every day.

Learning By The Book

Learning By The Book

It’s been an interesting transition for me from teaching in a school setting where there are requirements, grades, and some continuity from one class period to the next, to workshop teaching where the time is limited to a few hours, and the class is more about acquiring an experience based on a single skill. Believe me, this is a BIG adjustment for me. I’m used to having multiple class periods to introduce, reinforce, and direct an in-depth project or skill set. Instead of thinking long-term, I have to focus more on teaching something that can be accomplished in a short period of time, yet still be a challenging, rewarding experience for the participants.

Beautiful books made by adult students in my bookmaking class.

Beautiful books made by students in my bookmaking class taught at Blackbird Studios.

I recently guided students in a bookmaking class, keeping in mind the shift to one-time experience-style instruction. The participants were determined, yet nervous, in their intention to make a book, so I went step by step through the process, which included:

  • selecting and folding all of the papers,
  • preparing the edges for sewing by poking carefully measured perforations on each fold,
  • binding the pages together by sewing over the tapes, into each page,  and linking the ends,
  • and, finally, gluing the covers together.

The class was scheduled to meet for two hours, but ran over by about thirty minutes, as I underestimated how long it would take the group to finish. (Every time I teach, I learn something new about my process and how I might do things differently.) Despite the extra time, I think all the participants were amazed with their creations and left proud of their new books!

Building A Book

Building A Book

You may (or may not) have noticed the intermittent, yet ongoing, production from my studio. There was the fabric dyeing day, followed by multiple screen printing sessions using my old thermofax machine to burn screens. Now, I’m finally turning the printed and dyed fabric into blank journals and sketchbooks.

Steps showing sewing on tapes.

Top: The finished cover before the pages are attached. Bottom Left and Right: Shows what the in-process sewing looks like from the inside and the outside of the book.

The books have soft covers that I create by attaching the fabrics to Pellon Fuse-n-Shape, a thick, iron on interfacing that gives the covers some thickness without making them too thick. The binding is a variation of the coptic stitch and sewing over tapes. I like this binding because it leaves the spine exposed, and allows the visible stitches to become part of the aesthetics of the finished book. This binding is also sturdy and allows the book to lie completely flat when opened, a desirable quality when writing or drawing.

Orange Cat Book

Hand-dyed fabric with thermofax screen image, exposed-spine sewing on decorative cotton strips. Book is bound with waxed linen.

I have fun coordinating the cords, threads, and fabrics to individualize every book– no two are identical. Sometimes, I choose contrasting fabrics for the front and back of the book to add visual interest. So far, I have constructed six of these soft cover books and, with each one I complete, I learn a little more about the small things I’d like to finesse.

Cat on table with books

A selection of books, guarded over by the original Attack Cat, Miss Bean.

Tips for Traveling, or, How to Make a Book While You’re Having Tea


I created one of my first handmade books on a summer trip when I ran out of space in the store-bought journal I had along. So, I improvised by constructing an emergency book out of hotel note paper, a store bag from a souvenir purchase, and the hotel sewing kit. That was 20 years ago. Here is an updated version of that now-historical experience. For research purposes (really, because it was fun and I wanted to) I made a found-materials book this morning while staying with a relative. This is how I did it– then and now — and you can, too!

Gather your supplies. This is fun. Be open to discovering or usurping supplies from wherever you encounter them.

Pamphlet book supplies

I thought I’d recreate my experience of making a book with whatever I could find. At a relatives, I hunted around the phone desk drawers and home office area and found note pad papers and a push pin.

  • Paper for pages: I have used papers such as the notepad next to the phone in a hotel room, receipts, and collected brochures. You could also us discarded documents from a business office’s recycle bin, uncolored pages from your child’s coloring book, anything with blank spaces for drawing or writing.
  • A cover: something slightly heavier, from the packaging from your lunch, to a shopping bag, to the menu you “borrowed” from a restaurant, or the cover stock from that paperback you were going to leave in the hotel anyway.
  • Needle: Doesn’t have to be an actual needle, just something that will allow you to get your thread or string-like substance through a hole.
  • A pushpin: easily obtained from a random coffee shop bulletin board, or the junk drawer at your mother-in-law’s house.
  • Thread or Cord: I was lucky enough to find a travel sewing-kit in my hotel room at that time. Since then, I’ve used the raffia off of a table decoration, the curly ribbon from a balloon centerpiece, and a shoelace.
  • Scissors, if you can locate a pair. Otherwise, folding and tearing can be your friend, and can yield rustic results.
Steps in making a pamphlet book

Left: After I folded all of the papers, I stacked them, forming my “paper taco.” Right: Used the pushpin to poke my thread, minty dental floss, through the holes I’d just poked.

How to Proceed.
These are some general steps to follow. Feel free to improvise.

Collage of book making steps.

Left: After I sewed the pages together, I trimmed the excess cover paper to match the largest page size. Top Right: I used a glue stick to attach one of the note pages to the front, inside cover. Bottom Right: I found a business envelope in the recycling bin that I cut and glued into the back page where I inserted a blank index card.

Assess your paper situation. The pieces don’t necessarily have to be the same size. In fact, variation can add a little whimsy. Fold your collected papers in half and stack them together. These will be used for the inside of your book.

Make a cover out of the heavier found material. It should be the same size as your biggest piece of paper you are using for the inside pages. You might have to cut or tear the bag, packaging, cardboard, or whatever you found.

(Attempt to) fold your cover in half. This will be easy if it’s the material is not too heavy. Sometimes, you can take advantage of existing creases, like say, at the fold of a box corner. Or, in the case of the photo examples here, I used a blank greeting card.

Stack all of your papers together. Make a paper taco with the cover on the outside.

Now comes the dangerous part. Without drawing blood, poke two holes in the folded, inside edge of your stack. Leave at least ½” from the top and bottom of the book.

Gather your sewing material. If you’ve got something substantial, like raffia or ribbon, or a shoe lace with a plastic seal, you might be able to roll and poke the end through the hole you’ve made without a needle. If you have thread and needle, proceed as you would if you were sewing regularly. Double or quadrupling the thread for strength.

Assemble the book by sewing from the inside top hole to the outside of the book. Sew back into the other hole. You might repeat this several times depending on how much string you have, or how strong your cord is. In the case of dental floss (as per photo example) I sewed through twice.

Once you have both ends on the inside of the book, tie a firm square knot. You could also decide you want the knot to be on the outside spine of the book because it’s nice and decorative when the excess hangs down.

And, voila! You have a pamphlet book made from found materials ready for notes, musings, drawings, or storing small mementos.

Arrangement of art supplies with tea cup.

The random, blank greeting card I found in a desk drawer worked well for the cover. This little, sturdy friend will travel in my purse as an idea book. I did it all while having my morning tea!

In a Row on Caturday


I mean a row where things are lined up in a queue, as opposed to the kind of row one does to propel a boat, or a row that means a quarrel or dispute. I doubled-rowed here, where I illustrate a sequence of events in a row, as well as present the image of Miss Bean who appears in rows on a mesh screen which was used to print on fabric that became the cover of a book. I call this one “Green Bean.”

Cat with black and white camera-ready art of same.

Miss Bean, a fetching muse, posing prior to her visage being translated for the artwork.

Thermofax screen with cats.

Mesh screen used to print Miss Bean image onto fabric.

Cat fabric and handmade book.

Raw screen printed fabric on the left. The final book after the cloth was dyed on the right.

Handmade Monday: Japanese Stab Binding


Simple, yet elegant, the Japanese Stab Binding is one of the first book structures I learned how to make. There is no glue involved and it takes the most basic materials. These particular covers are hand printed Nepalese Lokta papers bound with waxed linen cord, but any papers, threads, yarns, or cording could be used. It’s versatile, secure, and easy to make.  As an artist, it was satisfying for me to witness the little book gems that emerged.

Steps for Stab Binding

Some of the steps to achieve a side-sewn binding. AKA Japanese Stab Binding

Japanese Stab Binding. Carol Parker Mittal book binding.

I participated in a make-it-take-it open house at Blackbird Arts last week where I taught visitors this structure in 20 minutes or less!