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."

handmade miniature books inside a book .png

(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!