How to Make Fabric Accordion Books

We love looking through back issues of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine and rediscovering favorite projects and techniques. Take, for example, Laura Cater-Woods’ dimensional handmade books from our March/April 2007 issue. These accordion-style books combine screen-printed fabric and photos with stitching, embellishments, and more mixed-media goodness—and the result is absolutely incredible. Follow Laura’s tutorial below to learn how to create your own fabric accordion books!

accordion books
A thread-drawn image, selected for the flow of line, centers this page. (Art by Laura Cater-Woods and photos by Larry Stein.)

Out of the Blue and Onto the Page: Creating Dimensional Mixed-Media Books, by Laura Cater-Woods

“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.” — Henri Matisse

“I could never tell where inspiration begins and impulse leaves off. I suppose the answer is in the outcome. If your hunch proves a good one, you were inspired; if it proves bad, you are guilty of yielding to thoughtless impulse.” — Beryl Markham

Quotes like these are everywhere in the literature about creativity. My experience is that there’s a truth to them that every working artist knows: it is in the work that new ideas are born.

My new series began innocently enough, with low-tech processes and simple materials. I had a goal clearly in mind. I wanted to make an accordion-style, folded paper book to hold small cards. I was on the road, about to complete the journey, when a quiet voice grabbed my attention: “Hey, what about…?” The voice became louder, more insistent: “What would happen if…?” and then: “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if…?” I was sunk. My thoughts shifted from the project at hand, different materials came out to play, and new processes filled in. Off we went in a new direction, my Muse of the Easily Distracted and I. What about folding Lutradur® instead of paper, she whispered? Wouldn’t it be cool to print on the material and stitch it, and maybe use beads too? I soon found myself in “flow”—that highly desirable state where almost anything can happen. I remember recognizing the potential each leaf of the folded structure had to carry images. Aha. From there it was a hop and a skip to the two-sided structure. The ability to change the visible image, depending on which panels were adjacent to one another, was exciting.

When I was in graduate school I experimented with “books” that could be read in a non-linear fashion. Today I’m finding a deep satisfaction with manipulating the three-dimensional object. I am enjoying combining handwork with machine work, mixing all sorts of materials and learning about their structural possibilities. For the first time, I love working in multiple dimensions.


  • Base layer (photos, parts of another work, or screen-printed fabric)
  • Timtex™Interfacing (enough to make a 3″ × 5″ to 4″ × 6″ panel for each of your pages)
  • Heavyweight fusible Pellon® interfacing (same amount as Timtex)
  • Sulky® Totally Stable™
  • Drawing, painting, and collage supplies of choice
  • Embellishments such as beads and found objects
  • Needles for hand sewing, beading, and embroidery
  • Embroidery thread
  • Strong hand-stitching thread
  • Acrylic gel medium (for collaging and gluing)
  • Fusible medium (such as powder or fusible web)
  • X-Acto® knife and cutting mat
  • Optional:
    • Sewing machine
    • Tiny crochet hook
    • Tweezers
    • Pre-treated photo cloth
Standing on small beaded feet, this book alternates screen-printed cloth, which is then altered and stitched, with hand-altered digital photos.


1. Choose a base layer for the end panel. This might be a photo, a small section from a larger piece of art, or perhaps a section from a screen print or batik. What you start with may be determined by an idea you already have; working in a more improvisational manner is also interesting.

One of my pieces was made as an exploration of walking near the river. Another is a meditation on leaves.

2. Select the images for the 2 end pages. Layer the base on top of Timtex and cut to size.

Appealing sizes are in the 3″ × 5″ to 4″ × 6″ range. Panels larger than this will require a heavier core in order to stand up. Some pieces are built without interior stabilizing. Take care to evenly balance the surface weight of each panel. “Floppy” panels need additional core stabilizing.

3. Begin working on the interior panels, in order to establish a flow across the surface.  Interior panels are layered with heavyweight Pellon interfacing. Cut your panels to size, being careful to keep each panel exactly the same size, otherwise the assembled unit will not fold up properly. I prefer an odd number of panels (5 or 7); experiment to find what suits you.

4. Begin adding base layers to the reverse of each panel.

NOTE: I flip the panels regularly while working in each phase. This keeps my eye and mind tuned to the double-sided image.

While working like this, remember the basic composition guideline: keep the eye moving across the surface and circling back. The challenge is to treat each panel as a complete unit that is also a component of the larger composition.

5. Once you have the general sequence or arrangement established, develop each panel’s imagery further by drawing, painting, or collaging. (Any of the approaches you have taken with fabric postcards will work here.) Use Bo-Nash bonding powder, fusible web, double-sided interfacing, gel medium, or stitching, as appropriate to your materials.

6. Enhance the surface further with hand embroidery and beading. Additional embellishments might include trims, found objects, or  jewelry findings. Choose according to the theme of your piece and your aesthetic.

7. Finish the edges. Possibilities include: blanket stitch applied by machine or hand; zigzag machine stitching; couched cord; beaded edging; or an unfinished edge, sealed with gel medium or left raw.

8. Join the panels. Adjacent panels can be joined by hand with a cross-stitch using strong thread or by machine.

I use a 9mm-wide decorative stitch on my machine. It’s a variation on the blanket stitch, with the straight line stitched in between each panel and the cross bar stitched across the edge of the panel.

The left panel is a layering of a block print on lightweight Pellon, inks, paint, and gel medium.

Photos on cloth

I’ve been working with photo images in the past couple of years. In these folding panels, some photos stand alone, some are altered, and others are collaged with other materials.

Generally, when printing digital photos on cloth I use a low resolution (75 dpi) or print at draft quality. This creates a softer mood. I have used Lutradur®, silk, cotton, and linen, with photos printed on them, as a fabric base in these pieces.

Before printing on Lutradur or untreated cloth, I iron the material to a sheet of Sulky® Totally Stable™. It is pliant, goes through the printer easily, and is reusable.

Alternate structural approaches

  • Join related artist trading cards or postcards
  • Salvage sections from an unsuccessful larger piece
  • Create one long image and cut it into sections
  • Make each panel individually
  • Folding one long panel is an option, but can be very bulky
Water and rock are enduring sources of inspiration for me. This sequence uses paint, thread, and digital photos on cloth.

Laura Cater-Woods is a compulsive mark maker, working in mixed media and fiber. Her abstract imagery explores textures, rhythms, and details from the landscape, often interwoven with eccentric grids. Laura’s career includes an extensive international exhibiting record, curating traveling exhibits, and presenting workshops internationally. Her work can be found in public, private, and corporate collections. She holds an M.F.A. in painting from Ohio University. Visit Laura’s website at

Check out this Studio Saturday blog for another great way you can create handmade books with meaning.

In our new eBook, Making Books: Cover to Cover, we’ve compiled the best bookbinding articles from past issues of Cloth Paper Scissors and Pages. We’ve also included two brand new, exclusive articles: a guide to getting started, which includes helpful tips and tricks, bookbinding terminology, and basic supplies; and a project that incorporates collage and book making.
Celebrate handmade books with our Bookbinding Collection! This new collection includes the Lineco Bookbinding Tool Kit and four fantastic resources that will teach you how to use your new tools. With top instruction from Erin Zamrzla, Paige Martin, and our talented editors at Cloth Paper Scissors, you’ll soon become passionate about creating handmade books.


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