Impromptu Bookmaking

March 19, 2012

I was working with first graders today when something unexpected happened.

Colorful miniature book

I have visited this school for many years, helping first graders to make lovely books, which they fill with their own original poems. (I’ve written about this project in detail at

https://bookzoompa.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/books-for-poetry-by-first-graders/), and here’s a sample of the the completed project made by first graders in 2010.

Today, when I walked into the class they were finishing up going over math problems that had been copied on to half sheets of paper. When they were done the teacher asked them to put away the papers, and we got to work.

My agenda was to guide the students through making an origami pamphlet out of a 19″ x 23″ sheet of paper, followed by making a book cover with pockets. What was unexpected is that they finished this all in 48 minutes, which left us with an extra 12 minutes. This rarely happens. I was about to hand to class back over to the regular classroom teacher when I remembered those math sheets.

We had just made the origami pamphlet out of large papers, and I had gone over the directions slowly and explicitly, so I thought that these first graders would enjoy making tiny little books using the very same methods of folding as they did in the bigger books.

They were stars. They remembered the steps and made their new little books in about a minute. Then they got to work.

Now, remember, these are first graders whose writing skills are just beginning to emerge, but, for the most part,  the fact that their writing skills were limited didn’t  bother them in the least.. I was lucky enough to hear an exchange of thoughts between two students: one child immediately got to work writing about rainbows and ribbons. The girl next to her bewailed that she didn’t know what to do. The prolific child told her classmate to just write words, but the girl said she didn’t know any words. Undaunted the rainbow girl advised her friend that she should just make up words. This turned out to be a satisfying suggestion, and the formerly clueless child got right to work.

It’s been my experience that if children are given little blank books they start writing.

Today I saw this happen again. As soon as the class finished constructing their books there was hardly another word spoken in the room as they all wrote, drew and imagined.

Milk Cap Cover Book

March 4, 2012

I recently had a hankering to locally source (scavenge) some materials to use to make a book.

I have a bit of a collection of materials from a couple of fine local businesses. One is Blind Buck Interiors, a drapery and upholstery business, which has provided me with a many wallpaper and fabric sample books. Another is the Battenkill Creamery, a dairy which has a dedicated herd from which they process their own milk right on the farm. The milk can be bought in returnable glass bottles topped with a substantial plastic cap, which is not returnable. I have lots of caps.

I took some milk caps and sewed them on to some upholstery samples.

I started this project mostly because I had been admiring some circles that my daughter had been coloring in. She had made a graphically lovely pages of colored in circles, and I wanted to do some colorful circles too. I had some leftover scraps of watercolor washes lying around, so I punched out some circles and glued them to the caps.

I sewed in just a few signatures, using a simple butterfly stitch that I picked up from one of Keith Smith’s books. I used round shoe laces instead of thread, as the proportions seemed right and they were handy. One thing I like about making books is being able to use anything I feel like using to assemble a book.

This little book stands alone in how it stands alone. It already has a new home, but while it was still here every time I saw it I felt happy. It just looks so silly and lovely.

Pamphlet covers  made from salvaged wallpaper sample books have captured my attention.

Beads if Wallpaper-Boiund books

Up until recently I have not been a fan of using wallpaper sample books as part of anything that I do with bookmaking. The fact is that no matter what you do with wallpaper it still always looks like wallpaper, a quality which I found unappealing.

Book made using Wallpaper sample

An elementary schoolt teacher named Kelly changed my point of view. This is an excerpt of a letter she sent, last year, to Kassandra, Kelly’s arts-in-ed liason.

“When Paula was here at our school last year, I asked her if she knew how to make books with wallpaper covers. I was interested in learning how to do this because I wanted the 5th graders to use what they learn about immigration to write a journal from the viewpoint of an immigrant coming to America in the late 1880’s – early 1990’s. I thought the wallpaper journals would be great for this project because you can make them look old-fashioned.

Paula figured out how to make them and then showed me. This year, I did this project students, and the journals came out great. The kids choose the paper they wanted for their covers from old wallpaper sample books. The kids have been very inspired by these to do some of the best writing I have ever seen from some of them.’

Pocketed Wallpaper-bound book

I was humbled by Kelly’s successful experience of making books using wallpaper samples. The students loved browsing through the samples and picking out the patterns for themselves. The books looked great, too: sturdy and varied. It seems that most wallpapers are made out of a material that does not tear easily, and is thick enough to hold its shape well.

Books made using Wallpaper Samples

Since using outdated wallpaper samples is form of recycyling, this is certainly a politically correct activity.

Blue book with Rowan's Chain stitch variation

The variations are endless….

Wallpaper-bound book

…and there always seem to be little bits of extra scraps around to place in unexpected places.

In two weeks I will get to work with several fifth grade classes, making books with wallpaper covers. Since I will be working with dozens of students in a limited time, the binding method will be different than the books pictures here (ie more friendly for elementary students). I will post pictures and directions when we’re finished.

In the meantime, if you have something against wallpaper as a book arts material, my suggestion is: get over it.

Grama's-Wallpaper Book

This one reminds me of the walls in my Grandmother’s bathroom.

This past Friday I had the good luck of being able to work with students to test drive my instructions for making cut-paper Antique Jumping Jacks. The students were young, only in grades First through Fourth, but they were a surprisingly competent group.. Some of these childrens live nearby in Vermont, the others are from New York City, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

After seeing the my sample Jumping Jack, the students, knowing we had just under 2 1/2 hours to work, asked me how long it took me to make mine. I told them that I worked on mine for several hours,but that it would become boring to work on after awhile.so kept I kept putting it aside and coming back to it later. It’s not good to be bored while working, so I told them I was structuring the class in a way that would keep things moving.

We started by cutting and gluing together simple shapes for the head and torso, using scraps of cover weight copy paper.

I told them we would work on the torso for only 25 minutes. If it wasn’t finished by then, we would still move on to the limbs, but they could come back to the torso later.
Before any ennui set in, I brought out some paper punches (of snowflakes. cirlces, stars and hearts) which kept things exciting.

These kids seemed to have no problem keeping focused on their creations.

As soon as the limbs started getting attached, the work pace picked up.

Here’s a line-up of Jumping Jacks at rest….

…and here they are again, jumping.

“Wave good-bye, Jack!”

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