a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Making Books II among Other Stories

At Blam! where Kathy Steinsberger's studio shares a light-filled old building with three other artists, we've had two productive days working on book- and signature covers to make an art journal. Mine isn't finished yet...I still have to add embellishments (pocket slips, page markers, illustrations) to the pages, but you can see how far we've come from these pictures of our process.

Kathy Steinsberger teaching at Blam!
First, you need a good teacher in a great space with endless possibilities...

the stuff of dreams
For the cover, I used a piece of old linen table runner cut, folded and sewn at the edges.   I'm afraid I don't have a photo of the cut linen piece, evidence of why I am not a photographer:  I'm so into the action, I never remember to stop and record what I'm doing.  So here is this photo, taken while I was working the runner last summer.  That, fortunately, has its own story, worth an aside:

my handwork, cut off for this project
and back in the possibilities drawer
I had found the unfinished linen in my mother's blanket chest, folded away in this bathing suit box from the 'fifties, it looks like from the tinted illustration.

bathing suit box
Remember when bathing suits came in boxes behind the counter at the department store, and, like hosiery, you chose a model and color and asked for your size from the attentive saleslady? The linen had been stored in this box with embroidery threads, now-rusted needle and oval hoop, awaiting execution. Who knows how long.  So, though I hadn't done any needlework since someone must have handed me a piece to work on somewhere in my childhood, I picked it up, thinking to finish what was someone's clear intention.  It was fun.  But somehow it never fit onto my own furniture, and my sister gently demurred when I asked her if she wanted it.  Into the drawer of possibilities it went.

And out it came for this project.  Painted with thick coats of acrylic and heavy gel medium, this is what my inside cover looked like as it was drying. (You'll see the outside cover below, in the almost finished form, because...see photo disclaimer above.)

my inside cover

Kathy's stamped cover, in progress

The signatures we folded and sewed into the cover were also fun to do and to arrange.  (Like the Barnes collection, you'll have to guess at the idea behind the arrangement.)  Signatures are the sections of papers - 6 or 8 usually - bound together with thread.  Though most books are pasted page-to-binding now, and so come apart more easily, you can see sewn signatures in older and in custom books by looking down at the top of the book for the folded sections sewn inside the spine, one signature after another.  When you put signatures together in an art book, the sheets of white or printed paper you see in a regular text book can become anything you want.  They don't even have to be white, or the same kind of paper.  One of Kathy's samples was built from odd papers she collected in France...menus, tickets, maps, bread wrappers, etc.

As here, each signature can even have its own cover, dividing the whole into parts that can be used for different things. The book I was making gave me an idea for its use as a future sketchbook.

seven signatures

cross hatch
Sewing these to the soft binding was a challenge, not, as Kathy rightly warned us, an intellectual one but a manipulative one...two large cross-hatches attached all seven signatures to the cover, using two needles at once.  I had to pull out a few stitches to redo (it was the end of the day, after all), but I liked the effect, both inside and out.
sewn signatures

inside front cover with pocket
We were working against time, so I didn't go home with the book in its ultimate form.  I wanted time to think about a closure, not finding quite the right materials at hand, and knowing I needed head space to envision this book's final touch.  I also needed time to do the interior embellishments I'd planned with some buttons from my grandmother's collection, a resource I use not only for re-dressing shirts and sweaters, but in lots of my art, so I'd brought the box to the class.

grandmother's buttons
For the inside signature covers, I chose these buttons:

Below are the three closures I came up with for the cover.  Why don't you choose the one you think I should use?  I'd love to hear your choices before I work on it today.

possibility #1
possibility #2
possibility #3

Speaking of buttons and closures (and while you're deciding on my book closure), one other unfinished project I'd found in that same blanket chest, at the very bottom of it, was a pieced crazy-quilt top my mother had bought from a woman at a farm stand near their home in New Hampshire.  She'd meant to have it quilted, but never got around to it, and there it lay for thirty years or more.  My mother was still alive then, so I asked if I could have the top to finish.  She looked at me askance.  I knew that look.  You're not going to try it yourself, are you?  (You can see how well respected my needlework is...possibly with reason.)

But I was going to try.  For advice, I called Susan Bradley in Texas, whose art quilts hang in my house beautifully and proudly, and who pretty much reflected my mother's sentiments.  Now, Rachel...  Still undeterred, I came up with the idea that I certainly was competent enough to batt and back it, and then it occurred to me that I could use buttons sewn on in strategic points to knot it instead of stitching it. (That idea coming from a famous line in an old short story, "Was she going to knot it or quilt it?"  "Knot it..."  Those of you who recognize the story, raise your hands.)

Susan, rescue in her voice, nicely offered to have the layers put together before I buttoned it.  I worked on it for quite a while, exhausting my button store, and called for familiar reinforcements.  When she heard about the project, my aunt responded generously, and her daughter sent along my grandmother's collection you see above (clearly my aunt, an excellent needleworker herself, had added to it in her time, and I keep adding to it in mine, though now and then it gets raided by others, too, most recently by my niece, who needed buttons for her cute knitted ornaments).  The once forgotten top was turning out to be a neat family affair.

What we had finished was a colorful, playful piece.  In one of those coincidences I wrote about last time, the universe stepping in to hand us a prize as if all along we surely deserved it, a lifelong friend of one of my sons announced that he and his wife were expecting their first child, a boy who became my boy's namesake.  My mother was happy, as was I; it seemed the perfect home for our treasure.   A year or so ago, after their second child, his wife wrote me to say the quilt was still fascinating little ones, on the floor for play, warm while cuddling on the sofa, or taken along in the car for a trip.  My mother would have been even more thrilled to know it's still loved and useful.

No, I don't have a picture of it.  Once again, see declaimer above.

later the same day:
Oh, yes, I do!  There in an old file from another life, I found tonight:
quilt for Jay's baby

1 comment:

  1. Oh, where to start? First, I think you don't realize what a good photographer you are becoming - the picture of the entrance to Blam... then, I choose number 1, tho' I'm afraid I'm a little late, but want to add my two cents anyway! haha! (opinionated? who me?), and lastly to say, Jay's baby quilt is a treasure if for nothing else...the story!! Life is blessed by our stories.