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"

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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! 

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 

Photo Journal: Gearing Up for Handmade Goodness

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If you've known me for any amount of time then you already know this coming weekend is a huge milestone for me! I mentioned here that I'll be attending my first market and the time has almost come.

I've spent many hot southern summers perusing craft fairs and art shows and now I'm finally going to be on the other side of all the action. I will be talking about my handmade books and selling them to complete strangers for the first time ever. This is a lot different from friends, family, and acquaintances of my friends/family asking me to make books for them after already seeing my work.

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This is me going out there and literally putting it all on the table and seeing what the world thinks--- EEEEP! I am so excited / nervous / scared / proud that I almost don't know what to do with myself! 

Almost being the key word-- I've managed to spend every spare moment making as many books as possible. I've been waking up early, making books in cars, stitching pages together while watching Orphan Black, and folding paper until my fingers hurt and I can't find anymore podcasts to listen to.

It's actually been pretty wonderful-- despite all of the unknowns. I've made lots of mini books, reclaimed leather books, and other fun things. I'm trying to find ways to display my books using different items I already have around the house, though I am meeting with Elizabeth this week to paint some props and get my layout nailed down.

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That's what I've been up to the last few weeks! It's big and exciting and I know that I have so much to learn-- I can't wait to share it all with you! And since I've been talking about opening my business and doing things like this for so long, I know I'm not the only one with this dream. So please, if you have ANY questions then ask them below. I would LOVE to pass on everything I learn— the good, the bad, the scary! I don't even know what I don't know yet, but once Saturday is over, it will be nice to have those "first show jitters" out of the way.

If you're in Nashville, stop by theSummer Solstice Party for handmade vendors, food trucks, music, and local brews on Saturday. Otherwise, give me all your wisdom and your questions and I will see you on the other side of this madness-- yay!