Sometimes I think to myself in French








I love quirky lifestyle blogs by creative people as much as the next person, but sometimes I get an icky feeling that this film (actually an advertisement) captures brilliantly.

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Pants Plus

When we were away over the holidays, I brought some origami paper and a book of simple origami animals for the kids to occupy themselves when we were hanging out. Of course we got into it as much as the kids, and we ended up with a Christmas tree festooned with colorful mice, hippos and birds.

What I realized while we were doing all that folding was how difficult it can be to make a good fold, and how important it is in bookmaking (or any of the thousands of papercraft projects I’ve got bookmarked to try sometime.).

After burning through the Keith Smith book, I picked up another book by Alisa Golden, a little more whimsical and filled with great ideas. This book is extremely simple, but can take all different sorts of content. Called an accordian (affectionately known as a “pants” book for the “legs”), it can be seen either as a whole, large piece or as a smaller book.

I started with one sheet of 9 by 11 70lb drawing paper, painted with ink and gesso relief, so the end result is a little book about 2 1/4 by 4 1/2. When it was finished, I sewed in a little blank book. I can imagine using this with image transfers as well, combining pictures on a theme. I could also see this as a great project for kids.


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The world vs my world

I haven’t quite succumbed to the temptation to listen to issues of New Yorker, but the New Yorker podcasts (and their blogs, for that matter) offer a pretty rich pool of stories.

On the weekly Political Scene, some of the magazine’s best writers, including Hendrick Hertzberg, George Packer, Evan Osnos, Amy Davidson, Jeffrey Toobin, Elizabeth Kolbert and editor David Remnick discuss various themes, from Syria to the Supreme Court to Global Warming.

The fiction podcast is often great, with New Yorker fiction writers picking a favorite from the magazine’s archives, reading it aloud then discussing it with Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman. In recent shows, James Salter read Reynolds Price, another featured Daniel Alarcon reading Roberto Bolano.

Most unpredictable is the Out Loud podcast, which can be very interesting (Dexter Filkins and George Packer discussing the legacy of our involvement in Iraq) or less so.

A recent Out Loud featuring critic Daniel Mendelsohn veered off in interesting directions when he touched on the human tendency to think that whatever is going on now in culture and in the world is, essentially, the end of the world. It’s been going on for generations (rock and roll and TV being more recent indicators of impending doom), each of us believing that this time it really is the end of the world, or at least of civility, or thoughtfulness or what have you.

In his criticism pieces, Mendelsohn often touches on Greek and Roman culture. The word “idiot” he points out, is derived from the Greek meaning “private person.” Privacy was incredibly important to the Greeks, and those who showed themselves too much were labelled “idiots.” Meaning we, with our constant tweets and Facebook postings, are all idiots by the classic Greek definition.

He prefers to take the long view, Mendelsohn said. Everyone thinks the world is ending but all these shifts are so small when you step back and look at history through a long lens. Where we are now, he said, “It may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of my world.”

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Another Longstitch Book

About a year ago, I got a shipment of mixed decorative papers. They’re of all different types — rice paper, banana paper, sheets with (slightly annoying) glitter (which ends up all over everything and a piece of which is invariably picked off my eyelid by one if the kids later that evening). The point is that each sheet is unique and I have a difficult time using them. Well, to make this next Keith Smith book, I opened the special paper drawer and pulled out this thick embossed floral sheet.

I had already done a longstitch book, but wanted to try another, this time with an accordian spine insert. As much as I loved how the last book turned out, the space between the folios bothered me. An insert solves that problem. I used kraft paper for the insides and cut the insert from thick coverstock. I have to say that folding the insert was one of the hardest parts, getting each fold of the accordian to match up.

Second in difficulty was sewing the first few stitches. The insert shifts, making it difficult to match up the holes of the insert and the folios. I used heavily waxed Irish linen thread in a contrasting but complementary color, because with the longstitch binding that’s pretty much the point.

I really like the way the book turned out. It was much easier than it looks. I pulled a bit too tight when I was sewing, causing some of the cover slits to crinkle, and would be more careful with the slits next time. I could see that it would be nice binding for a photo book, or any book that breaks down naturally into sections. In any case, it’s definitely one I’ll make again. 

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Alphabet Book

Part of the challenge of making my way through the bindings in Keith Smith’s first book has been trying to come up with interesting covers. I’ve been working a lot with Tyvek, which is my new favorite material because of its strength and versatility. Tyvek is the material used in house wrapping and for mailing envelopes. It’s thin and flexible and takes paint in a way that’s sometimes unpredictable but always interesting.

The next book involved two cover layers – an inner cover to which the folios were stitched  using a slight variation to the last longstitch book, and an outer layer. Tyvek was perfect for the inner layer; the outside required something a little stronger. Combing through my studio, I came across the vellum I’ve been using to practice calligraphy (lettering and calligraphy being another recent obsession). The vellum is thick and strong and ideal for the cover.

So since I was using the vellum, why not do some calligraphy. I started by painting the cover with a mix of acrylic and glaze, then penciled in the alphabet, later going over it using a dip pen and blue black ink.

The inner part of the the book is the core, and was pretty easy; it’s a basic longstitch book. The outer cover is attached with tabs at the spine. The tabs are cut at the exact spot of the gaps in the inner cover’s stitching, then woven in. I thought the measuring would be the tricky part, but it turned out to be pretty straightforward. The hardest part was sticking the tabs into the inner book’s spine. The Tyvek crinkles easily. I ended up cutting the tabs shorter.

In the end, I think it turned out pretty well. It’s a good, solid book, one I’d like to do again, next time with a more contrasty spine. 

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Cat Tails

Embroidery is something I never learned to do as a kid, even as I was needlepointing Snoopy pillows and knitting endless (in length and quantity) scarves. It always seemed a bit old-fashioned, the sort of thing you’d do on a doily.

The home crafting explosion has modernized all those seemingly granny-like skills (and the needlepointed cover of the re-issued Jane Austen’s Emma was so beautiful I actually bought it despite having two other editions); a new book cover seemed a good place to try something new.

The binding is the longstitch through slotted cover. Because the cover has to be cut to allow stitching to pass through, I used a sheet of Tyvek, painted with a mix of acrylic paint and glaze. I added flaps on the front and back, so the cover piece ended up being very long. The cover design, a cat, was inspired by the iconic Chat Noir. It’s sewn with some of the  Irish linen thread generally used for stitching bindings. For a book block, I cut and folded bright card stock in four different colors. The thickness of the pages makes the book feel much more substantial.

There are four sewing stations in the book, and after making the holes in the folios, I matched them with the cover and slashed across the spine at the point of each station. The Keith Smith book (where this project originated) has an excellent description of each step in sewing, which turned out to be pretty easy, one of my favorites to execute.

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Concertina with Sections

I’ve always loved the idea of concertina books, but they struck me as very complicated — and a little fussy. Wrong.

This smallish (about 4 by 6 inch) book was surprisingly easy to put together, and is incredibly sturdy. Each section is sewn with a stab binding; when the book is folded together, you can see only the thread on the outer edge of the binding, horizontal threads which create an interesting pattern.

I used 60 lb drawing paper for the folios and some thick decorative paper for the cover. The cover is one long piece, the center creased into several consecutive accordian folds. The folds on either end are left empty, and folios are sewn into each of the folds in between.

The most complicated part of making the book was piercing the sewing stations (each fold in the cover and folio had to be pierced together) but once that was done, sewing was pretty easy.

It would be a great format for anything with sections — a chapter book, for example. It would also make a nice photo book, the flaps between each folio are natural dividers and create a nice effect. It’s definitely a book I’ll try again, maybe next time with the kids.

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Christoph Niemann on How Yoga Ruins Creativity

“It’s all about enthusiasm,” says Christoph Niemann in a presentation at the TED-like series of inspirational talks called Creative Mornings. Niemann’s work may be familiar from his regular features on the New York Times blog and the New Yorker.

His take on the creative life follows the familiar inspiration/perspiration formula, but Niemann’s presentation is well worth watching for his extremely funny take on the various blocks and struggles associated with dedicating your life to your art.


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The Poetry of Science

On the surface, the connection between the arts and science might appear to be a slight one, but then you listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson describe the poetry of the cosmos, or defining science as “a way of equipping yourself with the tools to interpret what happens in front of you” and you begin to see it.

Pretty much every other sentence that comes out of deGrasse Tyson’s mouth is thought-provoking, yet so simple. This video, in which he is interviewed by Stephen Colbert (via) includes a number of jewels, including his call for a scientifically-literate electorate and his assertion that the universe is in us (and his nerdy thrill in riffing off that).

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Tortoise-Shell Stab Binding

A few years ago at the kids’ school fair, another mother and I were in charge of the craft room, which entailed coming up with crafts that could be done by kids of all ages. I knew one of them had to be a book, something do-able for little kids but challenging enough for older kids to get into it. I came up with a Japanese Stab binding.

Stab bindings can be easy or more complex. Keith Smith’s book has a number of them, some quite elaborate. I started with the relatively easy tortoise-shell binding.

It starts with the basic front and back cover (here it’s Tyvek printed with a photograph of beetles — I love beetles) and a handful of single sheets (unfolded). I put together a template, seen at the bottom, to poke four clusters of three holes and used an awl to get through all the layers at once (this was the hardest part, keeping the book still and intact while poking the holes).

I used waxed Irish linen thread to sew the book together, keeping it intact with clips on either side of the book. Because stitching involves going through some of the holes several times, I had to use the awl a few times to expand the hole slightly, without breaking the thread.

I ended up making a slight variation, not sewing around the top and bottom of the book, and leaving out the center stitch on the ends, but I like the way it looks. Another sturdy book, it’s also on the smaller side — 4 by 6 — so I might just put it in my purse for notes on the road. 

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