My First Handmade Book: Kitty Cat Stevens Age 10

When I was ten years old, I wrote, illustrated, and created my very first handmade book. In celebration of my birthday today, I thought it would be fun to share that book with you! 

Henry Graham Greene once wrote, "There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in." 

I should've realized long ago that I would be a bookbinder. All the warning signs were there. But hindsight's 20/20:

  • During middle school, I was an avid reader and writer. In high school, I filled composition notebooks with angsty stanzas and by senior year had joined the literary magazine staff.
     
  • Going into college, I became the poetry editor of the campus creative arts publication, and my final thesis project was a series of five small handbound books containing my original poetry.
     
  • Almost one year ago, I opened by own bookbindery and these days, I'm currently working with a few writers to turn their own poetry collections into chapbooks. 

Though I was born a skeptic, even I can't deny that things always have a way of coming back full circle. 

The following poems and illustrations are both hilarious and nostalgic to me. I vividly remember drawing the picture below, but I don't really recall any of the writing. I believe we would learn about a type of poem, and then the assignment was to write one.

Looking back now, I have a sneaking suspicion that we were also learning about adjectives. 

Either that, or I simply enjoyed colorful language. 

I believe my elementary school was "The Mighty Oaks" or something, hence the stamp below and the foil embossed label above. Maybe we were learning about the full publishing process? I can't be sure.

But I do distinctly remember sitting next to the teacher, gazing out the classroom window, and happily gluing stacks of books together— transfixed by that magic moment when several pieces come together to form a whole. 

Sometimes things aren't as different as we like to think they are.

I'm still transfixed by those moments. Whether it's stitching a book together, watching live music, baking a cake from scratch, or realizing random bits of your past have aligned to let to the future in, those are the powerful moments I'm celebrating today.  

And what birthday post would be complete without a childhood picture?  This is me, age 10, the year I made my first book: 

Charming, no? Happy birthday to the adorable tiny skeptic who hates men telling her to smile. Thanks for reading my story— cheers to many more years of writing, learning, and making books! 

On My Desk: The Making of "Life and Literature"

hand embroidered books

Life and Literature is possibly one of my favorite book arts projects to date. I'm even more excited to share it with you because I remembered to actively document the entire process, so I have tons of progress shots to share with you!

Now this definitely isn't a full tutorial, but I thought it would be fun if you could have a peek at what it's like to make one of my books. This book was made as a surprise birthday gift for one of my close friends, Sasha. Her mother secretly contacted me and requested an art piece for Sasha, who loves literature. 

Life and Literature is the gift we came up with. It's a series of miniature hand embroidered books collected inside a tattered and discarded copy of an actual book titled "Life and Literature."

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(And yes, I just happened to have the perfect book on hand because I am a compulsive tattered book collector. . . 

The original book has been carved out to include 12 niches— one for each miniature handmade book. Every tiny book contains hand watercolored pages, vintage dictionary papers, and an inspirational quote written with a vintage Smith-Corona typewriter. All these pages are sewn together and an embroidered portrait of the author of each quote decorates the covers. 

But enough of the finished book— let's look at how it came to be. 
 

Step 1: Create the accordion book structure. 
 

I decided to use a simple accordion style binding for the miniature books— with signatures sewn in for extra fun. I knew the finished size needed to be about 2.75 x 2.25 inches in order to fit all 12 books inside the larger book. I worked backwards from that measurement to figure out what size to make my accordion structure and inner pages for the quotes.

But don't worry, I won't bore you with the math. 

However, I will bore you with bookmaking terminology! In this example, the watercolor background below is the "accordion' part; the pages that are folded and sewn in later (pictured in step 2) are the "signature" part. 

To make the accordion structure, I watercolored sheets of paper in colors that coordinate with the larger book. Then I cut, scored, and folded the larger sheets of paper into 12 small accordions. 

Watercolor strips cut down to size. 

Watercolor strips cut down to size. 

Papers scored and ready for folding. 

Papers scored and ready for folding. 

The folding direction is alternated to create a paper structure resembling an accordion. 

The folding direction is alternated to create a paper structure resembling an accordion. 

Step 2: Select and sew in vintage dictionary pages and hand-typed quotes. 

Next, I typed out each of the 12 quotes I selected on a pretty cream paper with subtle sparkly accents. I also cut down vintage dictionary pages to include in each book because they are beautiful and they fit with the literature theme. 

Now normally you would create a template and punch holes for sewing and make sure everything is very particular.

But I didn't do this.

Since all of my quotes were different and I didn't want the stitching to cover any of the words, I just eyeballed all the sewing and poked holes with my needle as I went along. 

(Hey, I never said I was a traditional bookbinder. . .


Step 3: Marvel at the little army you've created and take way too many pictures. 

Okay, so I know this post is photo heavy. But I wanted to include enough pictures so you can see the different angles and how this type of binding works. I think the photos from above really help show how the pages are sewn in. 

Step 4: Create and attach the covers. 

For the covers, I decided to go with classic author portraits. But of course I couldn't leave it that simple— I had to embroider them to add a little whimsy to the seriousness of the black and white portraits. 

I cut, scored, and folded 12 green covers that wrap around to fit each accordion.  Then I added an author's portrait to each cover and embroidered it. Lastly, I attached each accordion to its cover by gluing the first and last accordion fold to the cover. 

Step 5: Create the hollowed out book structure. 

The final step was to hollow out 12 niches in the main book and check that each mini book fits inside the corresponding spot. Then I glued along the edges of the book so it became a solid piece with no individual pages. 

And there you have it.

Life and Literature: a book filled with inspirational quotes from a dozen different (mostly) classic authors. 

Whew. What an absolute joy this project was! 

I generally like to reflect on my artwork and think about what I would do differently if I remade a piece, but I am really pleased with how this turned out. 

However, since I'm all about pushing myself for growth and learning, if I had to change one thing, I suppose it would be the button and string that holds this book closed.

Overall, I don't hate it and I think it works just fine here. But in a broader sense, I can see that's an area I don't know much about and I can probably improve. So I think I'll try to explore different ways to fasten books and learn more about closures in the future!

If you'd like to see additional finished photos of Life and Literature or learn more about the backstory, just visit the portfolio page for this handmade artist's book. You'll even find a slideshow at the bottom so you can read each author's quote and see interior details of each book. 

Would you be interested in making or owning a book like this? What inspiring quotes would you choose to feature? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

DIY Fashion: Little Black Dress Makeover Edition

I have a habit of collecting awful dresses with the intent of revamping them into actual wearable clothing. I'm not sure what it is but I always see things for what they could be instead of what they actually are. What can I say? I like a challenge.

I think that's what happened here. I found a crazy black dress for $7 at a thrift store and had to have it. I think I fell in love with the pleats. Although it resembled more of a graduation gown than anything, I apparently saw great potential and snatched it up.

Though the before and after is pretty exciting (and possibly made more drastic due to my haircut in between!), it was a pretty simple process. Bonus points because I actually remembered to photograph the dress refashion— check out each step below. 

1. Remove sleeves

This part was really easy. It's also pretty fun to see how much more modern the dress looks simply by cutting off the terrible bat sleeves. I mean, still not fit for a runway— but it's a definite improvement. 

2. Hem the dress to a modern length

I think hemming a dress or a skirt is the easiest way to update it. I still don't have a ton of experience on a sewing machine, but hemming is super easy— basically just a straight line. I just cut a few inches off, folded it over, pressed it with an iron, pinned it in place, and then stitch, stitch, stitch.

3. Add crochet details + buttons 

I probably would've stopped at this point if I didn't have the crocheted sweater pictured below. My mom is an avid thrifter (where did you think I got the habit?) and picks up neat things for me sometimes. I'm pretty fond of lacy clothes but the sweater didn't fit very well so it was in my fabric reuse stash. 

I somehow had the grand idea to use the sweater as trim for the dress. Though it was a huge pain to hand stitch the details on (it wasn't difficult, just time consuming!), I dare say it turned out better than I imagined! I used the corner pieces for the collar and then just pieced the rest together along the hemline. 

4. Enjoy $7 dress 

And that's it! Now if you can ignore the "50 shades of Jenna's hair" look (I swear it's fixed now, please don't judge me!) then I think it's pretty obvious that this is now my go-to little black dress.

Note: you can tell it's very sheer in the before photos, but with the *appropriate* slip it's perfectly fine. 

My favorite part of this dress might just be the fit. I generally go for "fit and flare" style dresses that are tighter on top, however, I really love how casual this dress feels even though it looks a bit dressy. 

So that's the story of my $7 dress transformation! I think my next sewing project might be a skirt with a zipper— though I am extremely intimidated by the thought of that. Or maybe a simple shirt. . . Uh dear, I think I have the sewing bug. . .  Have you sewn or refashioned anything lately? There is something so satisfying to me about turning nothing into something special.  

Say "I Do" To The Perfect Floral Wedding Guestbook

wedding guestbook
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I am so proud to share some exciting news with y'all today: one of my handmade books is published in a magazine— squeeee! 

I recently collaborated with an amazing group of women to create a wildflower themed wedding. The styled shoot was not only featured in Smitten Magazine, but it made the cover, too!

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Of course, there are tons of details to swoon over— perfect hair, lovely dress, awesome location, beautiful table settings, amazing florals, basically everything.

I had a blast creating the custom wedding guestbook you see here. It features floral embedded paper, hand watercolored pages, vintage flower illustrations, a variety of dictionary pages, and lined spaces for guests to leave a message to the happy couple. 

Here are a few of my favorite images from the day, shot by the amazing Alissa Saylor.

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I wasn't there in person to see all the magic— but I'm sure you can imagine my delight when I got to see these images for the first time! I just love how perfect it all turned out.  More photos and information about my process can be found in my bookmaking portfolio.

Thanks for letting me gush! If you'd like to read the whole issue (and get a tutorial for that gorgeous hair!)-- it's available for free online at smitten-mag.com

Guestbook: Kitty Cat Stevens | Styling: Stockroom Vintage | Photography: Alissa Saylor Photography
Floral Design: SOULflowers | Model: Jenna Farro | Makeup: Jessie Glover | Hair: Lauren Bourgeois
Location: The Barn at Cedar Grove | Dresses: Whitney Deal from Hello Honey | Jewelry: Sisters of Nature | Veil + Headpiece: Eden by Zipporah & Mignonne Handmade | Ceramics: Handmade Studio TN