July 23, 2023

Making Ribbon Bookmarks

My process for this has changed lately. Originally, I took cotton twill ribbon and soaked it in fabric paint. Then, I’d heat set the fabric paint, because if you don’t, it’ll rub off on your book! The next step would be to stencil on a decoration, touch it up with a detail brush, and heat set it again. The final step was to cut it to the proper length. It would take from 10 to 15 minutes per ribbon.

I’ve decided to start dyeing the ribbons instead of fabric paint. This should be much, much faster. Here are some photos from the first batch.

Wrapped up the cotton twill in a terrible version of a skein for washing and then dunking in the dye.

For the next attempt, I’m going to get a niddy noddy to create a better skein (which keeps tangling to a minimum).

The rest of the process is rinsing out the excess dye and drying the ribbon. I cut it to length and apply the stencil using fabric paint. Touch it up with a tiny paint brush, heat set the paint, and put a final angled cut on it. The very last step is to apply some Fray Chek and let it air dry. My goal, each time I do these, is to make 25 or more at a time.

Ultimately, I’d make these from linen ribbon, but I haven’t found a reliable source for 100% linen ribbons. Another idea I’ve had is to go in the opposite direction in terms of efficiency–band weaving. It could be a cool way to create a really luxurious and beautiful bookmark without using any paint.

July 22, 2023

Making Paste

Why Paste?

The modern all around adhesive for bookbinding is Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA), but paste is still common. PVA, because it is water resistant, has the disadvantage of staining some materials and being very hard to clean off of others. On the other hand, starch paste is easy enough to clean up with a damp cloth. Here’s why and how I use it.

TraitPVAPaste
Cost$50/gallon$2/lb
Reversiblenot typicallyyes
Flexibleyesno
Moisture / cocklingless likely to cockle paperhighly prone to cockling
Table 1: Comparison of PVA to Paste

What Kind of Paste?

You can make a good paper paste with flour, but for bookbinding, I prefer to use starch. Starch is inexpensive ($2/16oz), dries clear, and can be reworked. Wheat starch can sometimes dry with a slight yellow tinge.

I make my paste extra thick from the start and thin it down with water as needed. I make 2-4 tablespoons worth at a time. This yields about 6-10oz of paste–enough for 3-4 cloth covered books. I need to get a kitchen scale so I can use weight instead of volume. I get my starch from an asian food market and I have found that there is some variation in the amount of paste I can get from any given bag. My basic formula is 1 part starch to 3 parts water.

I pre-soak this mixture for 12-24 hours, though I’ll cut it to 2 hours in a pinch. The longer pre-soak seems to yield a paste that stays gelled longer. No batch of paste will last more than about 3-5 days. It will all eventually lose its texture and develop mold. When it does, dump it out–outside, or maybe in your toilet. Don’t put it down your sink. It’ll smell terrible and probably clog the drain, too.

After soaking, heat it gently in a small sauce pot and stir continuously. A two tablespoon batch will thicken in about 10 minutes and be fully cooked in about 20 minutes. A four tablespoon batch will take about 25-30 minutes. A lot of this will vary by the size of the pot you use (bigger pot will usually cook it faster) and the temperature you use. After cooking, I put it in a plastic container to cool and then add calcium hydroxide via an eye dropper to bring the pH up to 7 or 8.

Before using it, I thoroughly mix it to a working consistency and apply it with a brush or putty knife.

When dried, paste becomes slightly brittle, so it is not good for spines. Traditional bookbinding recognized that and used animal glues (think rabbit skin glue, for example). So, paste was used nearly everywhere else, including adhering leather, paper, and fabric to covers. This is how I use it also, though, you could use PVA everywhere you use paste.

July 22, 2023

Binding US Constitutions To Give Away

The US Constitution turns out to be a fairly succinct document and can be printed in a 4×5″ pocket notebook quite readily. Even with all of the ratified amendments, it’s easy enough to put on 48 printed pages.

As a reference for the text, I use the version published 25 July 2007 by the US House of Representatives, though I am considering updating that to the version kept by the National Archives. When I started in 2016, I laid it out in OpenOffice, then LibreOffice, and finally upgraded to a proper publishing program with Affinity Publisher 1.9. I produce the printer’s sheets on my inkjet printer and then fold and tear them into signatures…usually 2 signatures of 24 printed pages, each.

After the first 500 or so, I decided to start piercing the signatures with this homemade device.

After folding, tearing, and piercing, I sew them up with linen thread and cover the spines with a light kozo tissue. Most of the free versions include a printed endpaper which gives the source of the text and the reason for the project. Those are tipped in with PVA and pasted down with rice starch to a light-weight card stock cover.

The final assembly is pressed between boards for several days and then trimmed on a stack cutter. Each gets a quick inspection before being numbered. Only the “free” versions are numbered. I make a more elaborate linen covered version with a stenciled cover that I sell for $10-20. In total, the free versions take about 15 – 25 minutes of direct labor and about $1 for printing and materials.

I have a lot of fun leaving them on a table in a busy coffeeshop and sitting nearby to see what the reactions are. A lot of people react cynically. An equal number are curious but too afraid to take one. It’s no problem to give them away at various protests where they’re very much appreciated.