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Book craft: the art of decorative papers.

Led by a commitment from my school system to include writing across the curriculum, I participated in several conferences dealing with this issue. As an art coordinator, perhaps the biggest challenge of the project came when I returned to the school system and talked with my colleagues about the benefits of including writing in their classes. In talking with them, I noted that some of them were already convinced that writing should be an integral part of their discipline. However, most teachers felt guarded against having to compromise the substance of their course content to incorporate a new idea.

My primary goal was to design a project that would include art history/appreciation and a creative visual experience while providing writing opportunities for all students. The decision to use creative bookcraft as the solution provided a lot of possibilities. Students would have a chance to experience the art of creating decorative papers and bind them into personal journals, sketchbooks, poetry books and albums for student made photograms.

After listening to a brief lecture, viewing slides and a demonstration regarding the history and the many variations of the craft, students experimented with a decorative paper technique. Stamp pad print-making was chosen as a means to decorate the book papers because of its many possibilities. Students carved designs into 1" x 2" (2 cm x 5 cm) art gum erasers using X-acto knives and linoleum block tools. They pressed their stamps onto the ink pad and stamped various repeat patterns onto 8 1/2" x 11" (22 cm x 28 cm) photocopy paper. They achieved variations on a simple theme by rotating the stamp, turning clockwise four times to form a single motif. The students prepared extra papers so that they could create covered pencils and pencil boxes to complete their desk sets.

The next art class was devoted to the sewing of the signatures and the binding of the notebook using the following technique:

Fold four or more sheets of paper in half (see figure 1 on next page). Using a sharp needle or awl, poke five holes evenly spaced into the fold of paper. Next, thread a fairly large, sharp needle with quilting thread and begin to sew from the outside to the center, leaving enough tail to tie when finished sewing. Place the needle in hole #1 and up through hole #2, in hole #3, up through hole #4, in hole #5 and back, retracing your steps and ending in hole #2. Tie the thread ends together in a double knot (see figures 2 and 3). This is called a signature (see Vocabulary on next page). Cut two pieces of cardboard 1 1/2" (4 cm) larger than the signature on all sides except the sewn side to form the front and back covers of the book (see figure 4).


Cut several sheets of decorative paper 1" (2 cm) wider than the coverboards. Place the decorative papers pattern side down with the cardboard coversheets on top (see figure 5). Using a sharp pencil, trace around the cardboard and miter the edges by cutting off the extra paper. Glue coverboard to the inside of paper using a two-parts water to one-part glue solution. Turn the glued side over and use a bone folder (see Vocabulary) to remove air bubbles, working from the center to the outer edges of the booklet (see figure 6 and 6A). Then glue edges onto the cover (see figure 7 and 7A).


Cut a piece of bookcloth or fabric 1" (2 cm) wider and 5" (13 cm) longer for the hinge. Apply glue to the hinge and place the two pieces of cardboard on it about 1/4" to 1/2" apart depending on the width of the signature (sec figure 8). Smooth the outer edge of the bookcloth down using the bone folder. Repeat this process after turning over the edges of the hinge. Cut a lining for the hinge that is as wide as the piece of bookcloth and a little shorter than the finished hinge. Glue the lining in place and press the hinge into the groove of the book. Next, set the signature into the groove by using white glue that is tacky (see figure 9). Holding the cardboard at a right angle, glue the first page to the inside of the left board and the last page to the inside of the right board. Place wax paper between the front and hack covers and the first and last pages to avoid them sticking together. Weight down the notebook by placing some heavy books on top of it for twenty-four to forty-eight hours.



Gross, Henry. Simplified Bookbinding. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1983.

Hollander, Annette. Easy-to-Make Decorative Boxes and Desk Accessories. New York: Dover Publications, 1974.

Johnson, Pauline. Creative Bookbinding. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1963.


Bone Folder: A flat object with blunt edges, round on one end and pointed on the other, about 7" (18 cm) long and made of bone, ivory or plastic. A bone folder is used for folding and creasing paper, smoothing pasted paper, turning paper over the edges and pressing the hinges of a book to define the groove or spine.

Signature: The contents of a book composed of sections which are folded, sewn together and trimmed.

Spine: The back of a book, including the part where the folded and sewn sections are glued together.

Ann Cappetta is Art Coordinator for the Town of North Haven, Connecticut. Illustrations by Mark Battista, an art teacher in West Haven, Connecticut, and a professional illustrator.
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Author:Cappetta, Ann
Publication:School Arts
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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