Checking in on the Sketchbook Project

Well, it’s been almost one month, and what do I have to show for it? Six pages. And one of them I finished today. Not exactly the glorious start I was looking for. But all I can do is move forward from here.

Here’s a peek inside:

I chose “Layers and Line” as my theme for the book, and right now it’s mostly line and not so many layers, but I have big plans for it, so stay tuned. I still have plenty of time to put together a really nice book, but I have to recommit myself and get busy.

How about you? Are you busily filling up a sketchbook? If not, it’s not too late to get started, and you can even make your own using my sketchbook tutorial here. Good luck, and let me know how your sketchbooks are coming along!

Binding Books

Before I had little S (is this an acceptable way to give her some privacy? That would make my toddler little I, which might get confusing), I had a long long list of things I wanted to finish before her birth day, much longer than I expected to be able to complete. However, since little S took a lot longer to get here than I anticipated, I found myself checking more things off my list than I had thought possible.

A couple of these projects were some handmade books for some special people in my life. I made two journals, one for my brother, Justin, and one for my sister-in-law, María José. Both of them are serving proselyting missions for our church. My brother is in the Morristown, New Jersey Mission, and María José is serving in the Cali, Colombia Mission.

I also made a baby book for little S. I was so happy to have it finished before she was born, since it took me about 3 months to finish my first baby’s book. This is not a baby book in the cutesy, scrapbooky, ribbons and buttons sense you may be thinking of. This is simply a blank handmade book in which I write memories and milestones of my girls’ early years. Very minimalist, see:

(The one on top is the baby book—I still need to get a picture for that blank spot in the cover—and the one on bottom is the journal for María José; I had already sent my brother’s when I took these pictures.)

Don’t know what it is about it, but I love handmade books more than just about any other handmade thing. I love the way the high quality paper looks and feels,  I love the sewn end bands, and I love holding a newly finished book in my hand.

So nice.

Children’s Board Book, Part 2

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this to you. I have to say, writing tutorials is a lot more work than I thought it would be. And what about the fabulous project I talked about here? you may ask. Well, that’s going to be a while, too, but that delay is caused by circumstances that I can’t control. I promise to post it some day, and when I do, it will be fabulous.

So anyway, here’s how I finished my children’s board book. (To see the first half of this tutorial, go here.)


You will need basically everything that you used in the the first half of this tutorial, with the addition of any decorative paper or supplies you need to illustrate the cover and inside pages. For my book I used paste paper for the cover and pen and ink and watercolor for the inside (just a quick note, if you have a baby with chronic wet hands from thumb-sucking, like mine, I wouldn’t recommend watercolor because the paint will smear every time she touches it—yes, I learned that the hard way).

Making the Cover

  1. Cut out two pieces of board (whatever you want for the cover. I’m using binders board). Make sure the grain is parallel to the spine. I made my covers 1/8 in. wider and 1/4 in. taller than my pages because I wanted them to hang over the pages a bit (see finished book to see what I mean).
  2. (Optional) Round two corners on each board to match the rounded pages, using the same technique as you used for the pages. If you made your covers bigger than your pages, you may want to use a bigger coin.
  3. Choose your cover material. If you are using binders board, you will want to cover your cover boards with paper. I’m using paste paper. You could also use book cloth if you want. Make sure that whatever you choose will cover your boards and overlap a little bit, and that the grain will run parallel to the spine.
  4. Cut the cover material to just a little bigger than your cover boards.

  5. (Optional) Cut out any words or designs in your cover paper. I cut out the title (contar) in my paste paper and put a white piece of paper behind it. You can do this with any combination of papers and to form any design.
  6. Glue your covers to your board. Cover your board with glue or paste (glue sets fast, so make sure you have it exactly where you want it). Use a bone folder with a piece of scratch paper underneath to smooth down the cover.
  7. Trim your edges. If you have a rounder corner, you may want to cut out little notches in the corner so it goes around nicely. For the square corners, cut perpendicular to the corner, leaving about 1/8th in.  so the board won’t be exposed (see the picture below to clarify).
  8. Glue down the edges. I usually glue systematically: first the top and bottom sides, then the spine and fore edge sides.
  9. Glue your covers to your book. Brush glue onto the outside of the first page (make sure you don’t glue your covers on an upside-down book) and place the front cover on, with the spine flush with the book’s spine. Repeat with the back cover.
  10. Press your book. Place your book in a book press or under some weights or heavy books and allow to dry for at least 6 hours (overnight is best).

If you’ve already filled your book full of delightful illustrations, then you’re done. Congratulations! I know that was a lot of work. Hold your little book and feel the joy of creating a little piece of beauty for your child to enjoy.

Here’s what I did with the inside of my book. I decided to make a Spanish counting book (my wonderful husband is from Ecuador and we are trying to raise our baby to be bilingual).

And here’s my darling little one enjoying her new book. (Note the thumb, which did smear almost all the pages. But it’s okay; it just gives it character.)

Enjoy making and sharing your books!

Children’s Board Book, Part 1

Okay, we’re moving one step closer to the big reveal. The next step is learning the basic children’s-board-book structure

I think making your own children’s board books is a great way to give your child something extra special and unique for them. You don’t have to be a great author or illustrator to do it, either, just fill it full of pictures, simple words, shapes, stamps, stickers, or punched paper. You can do teaching books, story books, or a mini album about your child’s life; whatever you decide, it will sure to be a treasure that your child will want to share with their children.

Here’s how we’re going to do it. The basic book structure is a stiff-leaf binding, which I modified from the one I learned from this fabulous book. If you are a book binder, you are probably already familiar with the Penland Book of Handmade Books, but if not, it is a must-read (note: it is not really a how-to book suited for beginners; I look at it more as inspiration rather than basic instructions). Before we get started, here are a few things basic book-binding terms you need to know:


  • Board shear (if you’re lucky enough to have one, these things are EXPENSIVE, see here to see what I mean) or heavy-duty xacto-knife (the “box-cutter” variety)
  • Board
    You can use mat board if you want colored backgrounds,  binders board (if you’re planning on covering the whole thing with paper, since it just looks like cardboard), or illustration board (which I will be using in this demonstration). Just know that your final “page” thickness will be twice the thickness of whatever kind of board you choose, so keep that in mind.
  • Book cloth
    You can buy this from most art-supply stores or online art stores. You can also make your own, and there are tutorials available online if you search for “how to make book cloth.” I personally haven’t tried any of these methods, though, so I don’t know which to recommend. My teacher used the heat-n-bond method with Japanese paper, but feel free to find the method that works for you. Making your own book cloth certainly expands your design options. For this project, the book cloth will be used primarily as the hinging element, and only one portion will be exposed (the spine), so you could choose a basic black for the hinge, and a decorative print for the exposed portion. I will be using a basic linen book cloth.
  • Glue and glue brush
    I use PVA, but any kind of permanent, acid-free glue will probably be fine. Paste generally isn’t strong enough to bond boards to boards, but you can use it to bond paper to your boards before or after you build your structure. Any stiff-bristle brush will work. If you’re covering  a large surface, you will want a big brush.
  • Metal ruler
    Plastic or wood won’t do. You will be cutting against this edge, so it needs to be metal. I have wrecked the edge of many plastic rulers trying to cut against them, and I say just avoid the trouble and go with a metal ruler.
  • Cutting board or self-healing mat
  • Bone folder
  • Book press, weights, or heavy books

Prep Work and Set up

  1. Decide on the size and layout (# of pages, etc.) of your book. For this demonstration, I am making a mock-up, which I recommend for the first time you make this book so you get the idea of how to do it before you start gluing up pages that you’ve worked hard on.
  2. Find the grain of your board. You’ll do this by pressing one hand down on your board about 6 inches from it’s edge and tugging up on the edge with your other hand. Do this again on the perpendicular side. The grain runs parallel to the side on which it was easier to tug up. You may want to mark the board on the back in pencil with arrows marking which direction the grain runs. It is very important for the grain to be facing the same direction on each page, parallel to the spine.
  3. Cut the “leaves” (see diagram above) out of the board. Each leaf will be two pieces of board glued together, so double the number of leaves you want and cut that many pieces out (you must have an even number of pieces). You will want to cut the pages so that the grain runs parallel to the spine.   If you are making a mock-up, you can leave the pages blank. But if you are going to decorate the pages, you will want to do that before you decide to put the book together. If you do have designs on the pages, make sure to number the backs so you know which order they go in.
  4. (Optional) Cut out your covers. If you want to use a different type of board to make your cover, cut these out. I am going to cover pieces of binders board with paste paper to use as my covers. You can use the same kind of board you used for the pages, if you want, but be sure to cut two more pieces in addition to the number you need to make your signatures.
  5. Cut your strips of book cloth. (a) Start by cutting a long strip that is the same height as your spine. (b) Then cut the long strip into individual strips for each signature. You will want the individual strips to be the height of your spine × (1 inch + 2 board thicknesses). Determine 2 board thicknesses by stacking 2 pieces of your board on top of each other and measuring the thickness. Err on the side of a little too much rather than a little too little. If you have glued pictures or paper to your pages, you may want to include the thickness of these add-ons in the total thickness so that you don’t experience page swell. Do this by placing the enhanced pages face to face and measuring their combined thickness.
  6. Make a jig. (a) Cut 3 strips of board the height of your spine × 1/2 inch. (b) Glue 2 of the strips together so now you have a single strip and a doubled strip (if you have pictures or other paper glued to you r pages, you may want to add this thickness by gluing a couple strips of paper cut the same size as the board strips to your doubled strip to accommodate the extra page thickness). (c) Glue the end of the double strip to the center (yes, I know mine is off center; I wasn’t paying attention) of the other strip to form a “T.” You will use this jig to help you glue your signatures together without having to remeasure each one, so don’t skip this step.
  7. (Optional) If you want your book to have corners like many children’s board books, round the corners. (a) Trace a coin around the top and bottom corner of the fore edge of your book. I used a dime because my book is small, but you may want to use a nickel or quarter if your book is bigger. (b) Using your xacto knife or a pair of heavy-duty scissors, cut along the traced line. (c) Sand the corners smooth (you will be sanding this more later to make the pages flush, so this step is just to get the general shape correct).
  8. Cut a groove on the back of your page for the cloth to lie in. (a) Measure about a half-inch from the spine edge of the BACK of your board. (b) Run your blade over this line with medium pressure. You only want to cut into the board about 1/3 of the way down. Make sure to use even pressure all the way across. (c) At the bottom spine corner of the back of your board, peel up about 1/3 of the layers of the board.

    This step is important to the final look of your book. You are creating room to inlay the book cloth so that it is flush with the surface of the board. If you do not do this, the two layers of book cloth between each page will cause the spine to swell. Sometimes this spine swell is good, but in this book structure, the swell will cause your pages to not fit together well. You may want to practice this step on some scrap board before cutting into your pages.

Binding Your Book

Once all these steps are complete, you can move on to the binding portion. It may seem like a lot of set up, and it is, but once you get the hang of it, it will go faster. Book binding is all about taking care of the details so the big picture falls into place. Make a habit of fine tuning the details and your end result will come out great every time.

  1. Glue your signatures together. Start by brushing glue on one “groove” on the back of one page. (a) Lay your book cloth face up or face down in the glued groove (depending on which side you prefer to have show in the joint) and press down with the bone folder. (b) Flip your page over so it is face up. Place your jig over your page so that the page is snug in one side of the “T” and the book cloth lies underneath to the other side of the “T.” (c) Brush glue on the “groove” of another page, and place this page, groove-side down into the other side of the “T,” over the book cloth, and press firmly down. (d) Remove the jig and flip the joined signature over and press the book cloth into the groove. If the cloth overlaps the edge of the groove, trim with an xacto knife and press so the cloth is flush with the top of the board. Wipe off any excess glue and trim the book cloth so that it is flush with the head and tail of the the boards. Repeat these steps for all of your signatures.
  2. Press your signatures. Lay the signatures open on top of each other with the right-sides facing each other, and press them in a book press, under a board with some weights on it, or under some heavy books (my heaviest books are always my art books and my husbands computer engineering textbooks). Leave to press  for 30 minutes.
  3. Glue your signatures together to form your book. (a) Take your signatures out of the press and fold them in half with right-sides facing each other. Run your bone folder along the spine to get a good fold. (b) Stack your folded signatures together; this is the thickness of your book. Take the first two signatures and lay them flat with their spines facing each other. (c) Brush glue over the back of one signature from the fore edge to about 1 mm from the spine.

    (d) Take the other signature and lay it on top of the glued signature so that the spines and fore edges line up. Press them firmly in your hands. Make sure all the edges line up as best as possible. You may want to open the signatures and press directly on the pages that have the glue in between. If you use a bone folder to press, put a piece of paper down over your pages first so you don’t score your pages. (e) Lay the two signatures down flat and place another signature next to it so that the spines face each other. Repeat steps 3c–3e until all the signatures have been glued together into one book. If you are using the same materials for your cover, go ahead and attach these to the outside of the first and last signature. If not, wait til Part 2 of this tutorial to see how I did my covers.
  4. Press your book. Put your glued book in the press and leave overnight.
  5. Sand the corners and trim edges as needed. (a) Remove the book from the press and hold in your hand with the spine inward. (Doesn’t this feel good, holding your own little handmade book. I love the feeling of first holding my books after they have been bound.) Take some sand paper (I usually sandwich a piece of board in between my sand paper to give it some support, but you can use a sanding block if you have one; I don’t) in your other hand and gently sand the corners of the fore edge so they are uniformly round. (b) If you are like me, and you don’t have a board shear, your pages that were glued to each other may not line up exactly and little strips of the back show on the edges. You can trim these with an xacto knife, or sand it lightly to make all the edges flush. This is just a perfectionist step, but don’t worry about it too much; you’re not going for a “machine made” look anyways.

We’re done. With this part of the book at least. I know this was a lot of steps, but it really will get easier the more you do it, so practice pracitce. (Hint: It’s never too early to start on those handmade Christmas presents!)  A few things I learned while doing this project:

  • It is really hard to take pictures of steps that require both hands.
  • I need to get a new self-healing mat (did you notice how many unhealed wounds it had?)

Stay tuned to see how I finish my book and what I put inside.