Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Making new journals from old books: headbands

I'm going to give you a few behind-the-scenes looks at some journals I've been making, using vintage book covers. This is not a tutorial, sorry. It's more like a show-and-tell about different aspects of making handbound journals. (But I do link to a tutorial now and then, so click those links to see how it's done.) 

This post is about headbands.



These journals (except Werner Arithmetic, which was purchased by a mathematician), and others, are being added to my Etsy shop, which is also called Sharon's Compendium, over the coming days and weeks.

One of the appeals of making journals from old books, beyond the obvious fact that some vintage book covers really are more appealing than their contents, is that I get to take them apart and examine how they were made.



I'm interested in traditional bookbinding methods, but I'm not a purist, so I end up using a hybrid of old, new, and modified techniques to make my journals.

One intriguing feature of traditional casebound books is the headband. It is attached to the top and bottom of the text block (the paper that fills a book, whether or not it actually has text on it). It's not just a decorative touch, it actually protects the edges of the paper at the top and bottom of the spine. (The one at the bottom is more correctly called a tail band, but only fussy traditionalists call it that anymore.)

In high-end bookbinding, the headbands are actually sewn with silk thread in a meticulous process. Here's a good how-to from Papercut Bindery.

At the other end, you can buy headband material that looks embroidered, and glue it to the ends of the spine.

The middle way, which I have adopted, is to make them from fabric and cord, glued with PVA (a bookbinder's glue that dries slowly and remains strong and flexible).

Here I've removed the headband from an old book and opened it up

The glued fabric headband, made from striped shirt fabric, was common by the early 19th century, writes Laura S. Young in Bookbinding and Conservation by Hand: A working guide. (I borrowed a copy from the Hennepin County Library.


I have prepared a few strips of headbands using leftover scraps of cotton fabric, including some from my husband's old shirts. The cord is actually hemp twine, which seemed like the right thickness to me. I just cut off a piece to fit the width of the spine when I'm ready to attach it.


And I figured that, as long as I'm making and attaching headbands, why not add a ribbon to use as a page marker? The ribbon is glued to the spine first, then the headband over it. There are a couple more steps before the cover is attached, which I'll write about in a later post.

Notice that the headband is not attached to the cover, just to the text block. This maintains the flexibility of the spine so that the book will open easily.

Another time I'll tell you a little about spines, and why the ones I make are flat, not rounded. And then there are the endpapers, which can be plain or decorative. So please check back in a week, say, for the next installment. Thanks for reading.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Backyard bee watching serves up a little slapstick

Lately I've been fascinated with watching the different types of bees visiting the flowers in my garden. I'll be sitting on the patio with my tea and the newspaper when I hear the distinctive buzz of a bumblebee on the nearby rugosa roses. When I get up to take a closer look, I notice that there are other types of bees on the roses also, and as I watch them for several minutes, I discover that the interaction between the different bees can be rather comical (which I'll describe after I introduce the characters).

The bumblebees in my yard are a little on the small side, except for the queen, who is huge. At one point when this bumblebee was hovering, I got a glimpse of a band of brown on her abdomen, which you can just barely see in this photo, leading me to suppose it might be a brown-belted bumblebee.


The description of the brown-belted species also notes that the queen is quite large, and it's a common species around here, so I'm going to say that's what it is.

Bumblebees have this habit of curling their bodies around the pollen anthers and then vibrating vigorously, which is a really effective way to get the pollen out of tomato and pepper plants because those flowers enclose the pollen in a cagelike structure and the extra vibration shakes the pollen free. The technique is called buzz pollination or sonication, and it's the reason bumblebees (and a few other bee species that do this) are the most effective pollinators of those crops. Honeybees don't do that, and neither do most other wild bees.

Bumblebees also flit about from flower to flower and back again, never spending much time on each visit. This is a very effective pollination technique for row crops because it results in a more thorough mixing of pollen.

Neither of these techniques are necessary for roses, but they don't hurt, either, unless you're a smaller bee working the same roses, and then the bumblebee's clumsy frenetic maneuvers can get rather annoying.

Here's one of the smaller bees at work on the roses. It's most likely a type of digger bee, so called because they nest in the ground. There are many such species, and I don't know which one this is, but it sure looks a lot like the one featured on this page about Minnesota bees.  There are many types of wild bees that nest in the ground, but they are solitary (not hive-forming) and harmless, so there's no reason to fear them. To help these bees it's important to not get too carried away with the mulch, because that denies them access to nesting sites. (Learn more about that in a post I wrote this spring.)



This bee was so still, I watched it for a few moments wondering if it was really alive, and then noticed that it was quietly munching on pollen. It's almost like it's kind of a zen bee, meditating on the roses.

And there's a still smaller bee, one that resembles an ant with wings, and is probably of the genus Ceratina, or small carpenter bees. They are called that because they chew holes in soft woody material, mostly cut plant stems, where they lay their eggs in brood cells. There are a few solitary bees that use plant stubble this way, and it's the reason you should leave some cut stems standing in your garden. Their jaws are not strong enough to be destructive, so no worries there.



The comical part, which I was not able to capture with my iPhone camera, came when the bumblebee visited a flower that already had another bee in it.

The small bee would be quietly minding its own business when the bumblebee stumbled into the flower and bumbled about, actually knocking the smaller bee off to the side away from the pollen.

Elbowing it out of the way like it was the roller derby!

Most of the time, the smaller bee moved out of the way and waited for the bumblebee to leave, which it did before long, and then the small bee would resume its meal.

But on another occasion, when I noticed both digger bees and bumblebees on my wild rose (Rosa blanda, a volunteer I decided to keep), the digger bee appeared to be attempting to fend the bumblebee off. I saw its tiny front legs come out on one side in a waving motion, as if it were trying to push the bumblebee away. The bumblebee appeared oblivious to this effort, buzzing right on the top of the smaller bee before moving along.

I just couldn't help but think it was like a bee version of a Laurel and Hardy routine. Who knew that backyard bee watching could be so entertaining?

Digger bee: "I think I'll wait for those galoots to leave before I attempt a landing."



Monday, May 9, 2016

Creative repurposing: yogurt container to mini wastebasket



When I am making tiny chapbooks, 



... or handbound journals or notebooks, 



... or the mini notebooks that I like to give away with orders from my Etsy shop (in an attempt to remind people to come back and buy again), I always have little snippets from the ends of threads and other small bits of trash.

And so for convenience, I started placing a yogurt container on my table as a mini wastebasket so I could keep my workspace free of debris. I empty it into my main wastebasket, so I only have one to empty on trash day. (As you can see, there's also a small bag with R for recycling for paper scraps.)


Well, one thing about photographing your workspace to share with the public because you read somewhere that that's a good thing to do to promote yourself, is that when you look at it through a camera lens you notice things like a yogurt container sitting on the table, and you think, well, that's not very attractive.

And if you already have spray paint leftover from a previous project, it's a pretty simple matter to bring it all out to the garage and have a little fun with it.

Above-mentioned previous project—repurposed mint tins

I figured why not paint three of them while I'm at it, especially since I have more than one "work station" in my office-studio. The other work station is for preparing orders for mailing, which, wastebasketwise, mostly involves the little strip that I peel off the adhesive part of the flap on my mailing packets. The third container is just because why not? I'll find another use for it.


First I placed them upside down on a box so the color would cleanly cover across the bottom. I sprayed a few coats of the green, which has built-in primer, until all was covered, then sprayed a little of the red-orange and blue to get a splotchy look. I didn't bother to use bubble wrap and other materials, such as I used on the mint tins above to create interesting textures, because I wanted to keep this project quick and simple.




After the paint was dry, I turned the containers over and lightly sprayed around the top to paint the rim, without concerning myself about the insides because they were plain white to begin with, so no need to coat them with paint, but nothing wrong with a smattering of color, right?

I kinda wish I had thought to lay down a nice piece of cardboard to take advantage of the colors and shapes that resulted on the surface around the containers. Maybe I'll think of that next time I have a spray-painting project. (I still have some of this paint left.)

So now I have a pretty mini wastebasket on my work table (and I fixed up a "new" bag for recycling, from an old gift bag). 


(And I suppose I should get back to assembling the new notebooks I designed recently so I can add those to my shop.)



In case you really like those colors and are wondering what they are called, here's a pic of the paint cans. The blue is called "safety blue," the green is "Eden," and the red is "paprika."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Moving on up: My new attic studio

We recently had our attic insulated and sheet-rocked, without a clear plan for how best to use the space. The second floor of our story-and-a-half 1920s-era bungalow was about 2/3 (kind of) finished and 1/3 attic, and our main goal was to get the whole upstairs properly insulated, which has been accomplished. We certainly could have, at that point, just used the attic part for storage, as attics traditionally are.

The attic/future studio in January: insulated, sheetrocked, and painted a pale peachy beige. The window looks east; the light shining on the wall at left is from the skylight.

But we have a roomy dry basement with plenty of space for storage in addition to other uses, and the attic has an east-facing window overlooking our backyard, so we thought there must be something we could use the room for, taking advantage of the pleasant view. With that vague idea in mind, we had a skylight added on the south slant, to let in more natural light and provide a view of the southern sky at night.

But the door leading into this space is smaller than standard size, and because of the intersecting ceiling angles, there wasn't really a way to make it much larger. (For a thousand dollars or so, we could have had it made slightly larger, but still not standard.)

Above the doorway leading into the attic (before the new insulation and other work), viewed from inside the attic. Not much room to expand!

That isn't a problem for me at 5'4" tall, and hubby suggested that the room could become my office and studio, potentially replacing two separate spaces I was using, neither of which was quite working out for me. 

You may be surprised that it took a little persuading for me to agree to it. I actually thought the space was potentially too nice to be all mine. I got over it, though. 

We replaced the leaky double-hung window on the east with a slightly bigger casement from Marvin windows, with grillwork mimicking the original. 

Tres checks out the view from the new larger attic-studio window.

We splurged on hardwood floors made by Wood from the Hood from reclaimed elm trees that had been removed from our city boulevards. Once the finish was cured on the floors, Craig started moving my things up from the basement single-handedly, since my gimpy knees meant I would have posed more of a hazard than help. He was pretty stiff the next day!

Along the north wall it's an office, with my desk and two rather large printers. A wide low filing cabinet (not yet assembled in the photo below) doubles as a printer stand for the Canon laser printer, while the Epson sits atop a three-shelf bookcase that holds most of my printer paper and card stock. The ledge to the left, where the Canon sits in this photo, will eventually become my photo booth corner. 

Attic office taking shape. Filing cabinet/printer stand waiting to be assembled.

The mix of free-standing small storage units directly under the skylight divides that side of the room into two spaces, with lots of cubbies and shelves for keeping relevant supplies readily at hand. And, of course, a cat shelf on top, directly under the skylight. It wouldn't really be a good spot to keep anything prone to fading anyway.

The corner to the left has my work table, with a couple of lamps on the table top, for drawing, painting, and book and card making, with Phinney overseeing the operations. 

To the right of the skylight is my order fulfillment area, a kind of writing desk adapted from a small table. And shelves for  more paper, including tabloid size, and some mailing supplies. 


The tortie, Molly, is actually a very lightweight cat (we call her a cream puff); the shelf was already bowed in the middle.

A second small table facing this one holds my paper cutter and a few random old books to provide material for various projects. (That's a paper shredder  under the table, with a bag for the scraps, because you're not supposed to put shredded paper loose in the recycling bin.)


One of the cubbies, which is open at the back, will be left empty to accommodate cats who like to have their little secret passageways.

Molly demonstrates the cubby passageway ...

... and back through the other way
Of course, when I really want to get some work done, I usually have to shoo the cats out and shut the door.  

Out you go, Tres.
I still have a lot of organizing to do, figuring out where to put the rest of my stuff and moving (some) things around —small things, not furniture.  The card rack now sits on a different spot (where the red dictionary sits in this photo), and the photo corner will be painted a different color for a better background (a grayish green works well for many things, I have learned). 

But it's such a pleasure to be in this space that I don't mind taking my time organizing and setting up. And I have a nice amount of open floor space for my yoga and Feldenkrais practice, which I really need to get back to!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Letter writing month — April? February? Or how about whenever?

Earlier this year I got all jazzed about a letter writing challenge called a Month of Letters in February, promoted by Mary Robinette Kowal, encouraging people to send some correspondence every mailing day that month. She led a real cheerleading campaign via a Facebook page throughout the month, and has since taken an understandable break, with no new posts since March 1.



And I really got into it for a while, especially since Valentine's Day is a natural occasion for sending cards in the mail, right? I even got out some rubber stamps and washi tape I hadn't used in a long time, bought an assortment of postage stamps from USPS online,  embellished the envelopes, and had fun with it.

I did my mailing in clumps, skipping days and then sending several things at once. I didn't keep track of whether I achieved a one-to-one correspondence with mailing days, and in fact I kind of ran out of steam shortly after Valentine's Day. But I did mail a bunch of cards and ephemera, so I felt pretty good about that.

Then I came across something about April being National Letter Writing month, which the US Postal Service promoted last year, issuing some fun commemorative stamps while their collaborator, Scholastic, promoted a curriculum called It's a Delight to Write to encourage schools and families to teach letter writing.  




Last year's enthusiastic promotion, including a first-day-of-issue stamp kickoff, is followed this year by silence from the USPS, although plenty of others are taking up the cause, as a Google search reveals,  from those who just love to send and receive cards and letters in the mail to companies and makers wanting to sell you stuff for the purpose.

I confess I count myself among the latter. I am a card maker, so naturally I am eager to embrace any occasion for people to buy cards, whether they mail them or not. (The following shameless promotional photo clicks through to the card section of my Etsy shop, btw.)



But that whole mail-every-day-for-a-month thing just doesn't work out so well for me. Who really has the time and inclination for such an intense and sustained burst of postal activity?

So I've come up with my own alternative, which I have so far followed only sporadically, because it requires relearning a practice that our mothers and grandmothers followed as a matter of course. It has to do with birthdays and other occasions that once carried a certain expectation of postal correspondence.

For example, you could mail a birthday card with a personal note and maybe a little enclosure, if you are so inclined, on people's birthdays, instead of offering up the Facebook greeting that everyone knows you were prompted to do anyway. What a quaint notion, right?

You'd have to plan ahead for that, rather than rely on the Facebook prompt, and allow for the sad reality that US first class mail now takes 3 to 5 days. I've started by making a list of the birthdays I know, adding them to my calendar and setting up an alert for 5 days before.  

I've also found that I can view all the upcoming birthdays on Facebook, and add to my calendar the ones I'd like to acknowledge postally. Here's how: From your Facebook home page, click on "Events," then look in the upper right where it says "Birthdays this week," then click on "See all," and there you will find them all laid out before you. Add what you wish to your calendar to help you remember to mail a card. Nifty, huh?

So far I've mailed one birthday card. Hey, it's a start!

Yes, it's another sneaky attempt to get you to look at a card in my shop.

Then there are the once-obligatory thank-you notes. For those aspiring career-hopefuls, it's an excellent follow-up to a job interview, thanking the interviewers for their time and reiterating what you really like about that company you'd like to work for. 

But why not also send one to the friend you had lunch with? A little note sent through the mail, saying how nice it was to have lunch and catch up, and how you're looking forward to the next get-together. It gives you the opportunity to pause and reflect on how much you value the other person's friendship, and actually commit a few words to paper about it. 

My husband's friend Seth sends him a card in the mail on random occasions — a clipping he came across that he thinks Craig would like, or a photo he took a long time ago that he made into a card. He also sends photos of the two of them after they've had lunch together. These little notes are brief and unexpected and always a pleasure. 

Recent cards from Seth

There is something kind of luxurious — although it really takes little time and effort; and the cost is minimal — about committing a few friendly words to paper, putting it in an envelope and adding a stamp, and then taking a walk to the nearest mailbox.

I'm not going to challenge you to commit to mailing something every day for a month, or once a month, or for every birthday of everyone you know. Just try it once, and see if it doesn't give you a certain satisfaction. You may even want to do it again. Sometime. Randomly. Without obligation. A moment of slowing down, for both you and the recipient.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saving more bees: How and why I'm rethinking mulch in my garden

For years I have been a member of the chorus of natural gardening advocates who tout the benefits of using mulch liberally to suppress weeds, maintain soil moisture, control disease by keeping dirt from splashing onto plant leaves, and keep soil-dwelling pests at bay.

Even better, I have said, is to put down layers and layers of newspapers to form a solid—but natural! decomposable!—barrier to really suppress the weeds for a full season or longer. 

Between the boxwoods: lots of mulch, and emerging crocuses

Then I learned about ground-nesting solitary bees. These gentle hardworking pollinators include several genera of wild bees, sometimes called digger bees or mining bees, and they need access to bare soil to excavate their nest tunnels. 

This 5-minute video from the University of Minnesota condenses an hour of effort by one such bee (genus Colletes), diligently working to move a couple of small wood chips out of her way and then digging a tunnel in a sheltered spot next to a rock. Imagine that bee laboring to move several wood chips out of the way and then encountering a thick barrier of newspapers—or worse, black plastic. Game over, little hapless bee.

The widespread use of mulch is a matter of real concern to bee advocates, like those at the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab, who call it "mulch madness"—and the use of black plastic weed barriers they dub BPI  for "black plastic insanity." (If you click on the link, you'll see a photo of a beautiful little green sweat bee,  genus Agapostemon, emerging from her underground nest.)

There's no reason to fear these gentle bees; they don't have a hive to protect, and it is very unlikely they will ever sting you. While the Cornell Department of Entomology says these bees will not sting unless handled, many species will even tolerate gentle handling, as the children of Sabin Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, will testify. Their playground is home to thousands of Andrena bees—the kids call them "tickle bees" and have adopted them as the school mascot.

A little patch of bare soil to the left—the beginning of a more bee-friendly garden

So what's a conscientious gardener to do?

Mulch less, mulch sparingly, mulch lightly—and don't replenish those bare spots that emerge as our old mulch breaks down or gets moved around. Plant groundcovers for living mulches that leave space for the bees. Get into the zen of pulling weeds once in a while. When we don't have the time or inclination to weed, we can focus on edging to give the perception of a neatly contained garden.  (Trust me on this—I have gotten compliments on a very weedy garden with tidy edges.)

And no more laying down of layers of newspapers—unless we want to shred them first, as researchers at the University of Ohio did to encourage ground-nesting squash bees, which they found to be more effective than honeybees at pollinating squash, pumpkins, gourds, and other related crops. They determined that a mulch of shredded newspapers and grass clippings was best at both keeping weeds down and supporting these valuable pollinators.

Other loose, lightweight mulches, such as leaves and the hulls of various types of nuts, are also good alternatives to wood chips and barriers. These are not only easy for the bees to work around, but they also get blown about by the wind, exposing a bit of soil here and there in the process, as found by the Xerces Society in their test fields in California.

Ground covers make attractive natural airy mulches. In one of my gardens, I planted periwinkle (Vinca minor) amongst the bulbs and perennials and a chokeberry (Aronia) shrub.  The periwinkle has spread and interwoven itself throughout the garden so that I really couldn't spread woodchips without burying it, so I stopped trying to mulch it, and have found that I only need to pull a few weeds from time to time.

Tulips emerging amid a very loose mulch of leaves, plant debris, and perwinkle

This garden is lightly mulched by happenstance with the leaves that fall on it, the debris from previous years' ferns, astilbe and other plants, and the periwinkle sprawling everywhere. I have come to appreciate the aesthetics of the variety of textures and shapes in this mix of light mulches and plants. And by mid June, the perennials hide most everything else anyway. 

Most importantly—for the bees especially—here and there, patches of bare soil have become exposed. And that's where I first noticed little bees hovering over the ground last spring, shortly after learning about them.

Another part of the same garden, with coral bells, emerging star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum), more periwinkle, and a little bare soil, which you can see in the lower right 

I didn't plan it that way, but now I'll be looking to replicate that happy mix elsewhere in my yard.





Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I Made My Own Card Scoring Board and You Can Too


For cards to fold neatly, it helps to score them first. That is, you make an indentation with a dull blade, such as a bone folder, on the outside fold line. But whenever I tried to measure and mark the exact center of my cards, I found it very difficult to be precise enough. And it was awfully fussy.

Then someone told me I could get a Martha Stewart brand card-scoring board at Michael's, a kind of template and guide, which this someone (also a card maker) found to be very helpful for getting that precise scoring line.

I'm no fan of Martha Stewart, nor, to be honest, of shopping at Michael's. But once I got the idea in my head that I could use a template to guide my scoring, instead of measuring and marking each card, I thought maybe I could make my own. 

Sure enough, a piece of cardboard, a Sharpie, and a couple of rulers are all that's needed. Why two rulers? That's the key to getting the card placed precisely before scoring: I hold the wooden ruler ("Women Rulers") on edge against the cardboard to guide the placement of my card, then line the metal one up with the line I drew with a fine point Sharpie on the cardboard, and score it with a bone folder.

Sometimes, especially in winter when the air is so very dry, I still get a less-than-ideal folded edge. When that happens, I rub beeswax along the fold, followed by my finger.






Saturday, February 13, 2016

Make a Victorian Puzzle Purse for Valentine's Day



This is an excerpt from my chapbook 14 Things About Valentine's Day, pictured above.

This is the paper arts part mentioned in the subtitle. (From No. 14.)

How to Make a Puzzle Purse

This is a folded paper package, sometimes called an origami puzzle purse, that predates the Victorian era, but was popular enough at that time to be commonly called a Victorian puzzle purse nowadays. Here's an example of one I made last year. (More views appear at the end.)


Start with a square piece of paper. It will be easiest if its dimensions are divisible by three. I cut my paper to 8.25 inches (2.75 x 3), which I chose because it is equal to 21 cm, so it divides by three no matter which measuring system you use. 


(1) Fold and crease diagonally, open, rotate, then repeat across the opposite way to form an X.
(2) Keeping the same side up, fold in thirds like a letter, crease; then rotate the paper 90 degrees and fold in thirds again, making 9 squares. Here’s where it’s helpful if the dimensions are a multiple of three—if you are not expertly precise with your letter folding, you can measure, mark, and score the fold lines first. 

That little square in the middle is going to be the focal point, and it will remain flat, despite the diagonal folds that pass through it. For now, put an X there with a pencil to help you keep track of what will be the inside of the finished packet.


(3) Turn the paper over (the penciled X face down) and make a diagonal crease in each of the squares that doesn’t have one yet (the center one along each side), starting with the one on the right side, by bringing the top horizontal crease of that square to meet its left vertical crease, and then creasing the diagonal within that square only, then opening it up again. Rotate the paper and fold and crease each of those center side squares in the same manner. The new creases are shown as dashed lines.

(4) Now turn over again (X side up), and here’s the part I find a little bit tricky: You’re going to pinch the corner diagonals as valley folds and twist the whole contraption counterclockwise to fold it into a pinwheel. At this point you may find that it doesn’t quite lie flat like it’s supposed to, so adjust your creases a little as needed to make it nice and flat.





(5) Now take one point of the pinwheel and fold it in over the center, and then do the same with each point, working counterclockwise again, creasing as you go, and smooth it to make a nice flat square. 
(6) Tuck the last point into the first one.



And there you have it. You can draw pictures or rubber stamp images on it, and write messages (or a riddle) on the flaps to be read as it is opened.  Most people number the triangles (in a decorative way, of course) so that the recipient knows which one to pull open and read first. 


You might also add a little note on the last flap to be opened: “pull gently on opposite points to open fully.” Or something like that.



On the center square (where you penciled the X) you can write a message, or the end of your riddle (or a pictorial clue?), or create a mini collage, or place a square card or a smaller puzzle purse—just make sure that anything that you place or glue in the center is slightly smaller than the center square so that it will all fold flat. 



A basic search  for "victorian puzzle purse" via Google or on Pinterest will reveal lots of clever and beautiful ways people have embellished these over the years (as well as different instructions and tutorials, in case mine aren't working for you), from easy and simple to quite intricate, which are sure to give you some ideas for what to do with yours.