Looking for a great gift to make this holiday season? Try Mandy Russell’s felted Bubble Book. This book cover is easy to create and fun to give. Here’s Mandy’s tutorial, as featured in our November/December 2016 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine!
Bubble Books by Mandy Russell
I am enamored with these little felted books; they are one of my latest obsessions. They are inherently soft, have an endearing texture, and certainly embody that handmade look. I discovered this unusual felting technique in the book Knitting Never Felt Better by Nicky Epstein, and I immediately applied the bubble-like texture process to my love of book making. There’s no need to knit here, however, as the felted bubble book journey can be jump-started by picking out a large, 100-percent wool sweater at your local thrift store. Wool, alpaca, cashmere, and angora sweaters will all felt well in your home washing machine.
- Fabric scissors
- Wool sweater (One hundred percent wool is best. Other natural animal fibers, like angora and cashmere, will also work.)
- Ruler or tape measure
- Small hard objects: polished stones, marbles, knobs, wooden shapes, etc. (These objects must be machine washable.)
- Small rubber bands
- Washing machine
- Laundry detergent
- Rotary cutter
- Acrylic ruler
- Self-healing mat
- Craft felt, wool blend
- Straight pins
- Polyester fiberfill (stuffing)
- Embroidery floss (I used a contrasting color.)
- Embroidery needle
- Paper for pages (I prefer heavier weight paper, like 140-lb. watercolor, to give the book more heft.)
- Bone folder
- Scrap paper
- Marking pencil (I used a colored pencil.)
- Waxed linen thread
- Sharp needle, large-eye
- Heavy-duty corner rounder
Create the felt
1. Cut apart the wool sweater at the seams with scissors, and then cut a rectangular piece from it, measuring roughly 17″ x 11″, for your book cover. This measurement will vary depending on the size book you want. Keep in mind that the wool will shrink considerably when felted. This size piece was approximately 7″ x 11 1/2″ when felted.
2. Lay your sweater rectangle out horizontally, right-side up. On the right half of your sweater rectangle (which will be the front cover of your book), place one of the objects under the sweater fabric, snug the fabric tightly around the object, and secure it well with 1–2 rubber bands. Continue embedding objects as desired to create a pattern, avoiding the spine area. (FIGURE 1)
3. Place the sweater piece in the washing machine with other laundry, add detergent, and wash on a heavy-duty cycle. Select a cycle with a water temperature change, such as a hot wash and cool rinse, or vice versa. Felting occurs much quicker if the water temperature fluctuates. Repeat this process at least once, or until the sweater fabric has shrunk to a dense, mat-like material. Note that the sweater fabric wrapped around the objects will not shrink at all.
NOTE: Sometimes I have to wash my covers three or more times, especially if I’m using cashmere or mohair.
4. Remove the rubber bands and the objects from the felted material, lay the felt out flat, and let it air dry. (FIGURE 2)
Finish the cover
1. Trim the felted piece to a crisp rectangle, using a rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and a self-healing mat. Round the corners with sharp scissors.
2. Using the rotary cutter, ruler, and mat, cut a piece of craft felt slightly smaller in each direction than the wool to use for the lining, again rounding the corners with sharp scissors.
3. Pin the craft felt to the inside of the felted cover. Position it carefully so that it is centered well on the felted piece.
4. Stuff one of the bubbles with polyester fiberfill. (FIGURE 3) I fill the bubbles pretty firmly, as they often soften over time. Using a needle threaded with embroidery floss, complete a running stitch around the base of the stuffed bubble, beginning on the inside of the cover. This secures the felt to the cover, keeps the stuffing in place, and forms a lovely bubble shape. Repeat for all of the bubbles on the cover. (FIGURE 4)
5. Using the same embroidery floss, secure the edges of the rectangle with a running stitch, sewing the felt lining to the cover. (FIGURE 4)
TIP: Wool felt can be quite thick and springy and, even with pinning, you may need to massage it into place ever so slightly when you are stitching, pushing or pulling it a bit here and there.
6. Stitch 2 straight lines through the lining and cover, approximately 3/4″ apart, down the center of the rectangle with embroidery thread to isolate the spine area. (FIGURE 4)
Bind the book
1. Measure and cut rectangular sheets of paper about 1/4″ – 1/2″ shorter in length and height than the felt lining. Score them down the center with a bone folder and fold them in half. Using 140-lb. paper, 6 folded sheets fill the cover nicely. Nestle together 3 folded sheets to create a signature.
NOTE: I rounded the corners of the pages with a heavy-duty rounder.
2. Fold a piece of scrap paper in half, and cut it to the same size as the pages. Draw 2 dots in the center about 3/4″ apart, 2 dots near the top about 3/4″ apart, and 2 dots near the bottom, again 3/4″ apart.
3. Place 1 of the signatures on the self-healing mat, center the template on the signature, and pierce through the marks with an awl. Repeat for the other signature.
4. Use the template to mark the stitching dots on the felt. The goal is to have 2 evenly spaced columns of 6 dots each in the spine area that correspond to the hole spacing in the signatures. Line up the first closed signature in the spine area where it will be stitched into the book. Transfer the hole placement in the signature onto the felt lining with a colored pencil. (FIGURE 4) Repeat for the second signature.
5. Thread a needle with about 3 1/2″ feet of waxed linen thread. Start on the inside top hole of the first signature and stitch through it, leaving an 8″ tail on the inside. (FIGURE 5) Stitch through the corresponding mark on the inside of the spine to the outside.
6. With your needle on the outside, cross over to the next column of marked dots and skip down 1 dot. Probe the outside spine and find the corresponding mark on the inside of the spine with the needle. Pull through the cover and stitch into the corresponding hole in the second signature. Pull the thread tight. Go up to the top-most hole on the second signature, pass the needle through, and then stitch through the corresponding mark on the spine to the outside. (FIGURE 5)
7. Cross back over to the first column of dots and skip down 1 dot. Again, probe the area to find the corresponding mark on the interior of the spine, stitch through the spine, and pass the needle through the corresponding hole in the first signature, completing the first of 3 cross-stitches. Bring the needle down to the next hole, exit the signature and the corresponding mark in the spine, and continue the stitching process for the next 2 sets of dots.
NOTE: While sewing the signatures in place, keep checking that your stitches are snug by pulling the thread parallel to the spine.
8. After completing the third cross-stitch, you will have a tail left on the inside of the first signature. Slip the thread under the nearest stitch and tie a knot; do the same with the beginning tail. Trim the tails to 1/4″. (FIGURE 6)
Mandy Russell is a full-time artist with a small teaching studio in downtown Brunswick, Maine, called The Painted Dog. She particularly loves making books of all kinds. She has an awesome dog, too. Check out Mandy’s class offerings and read about her studio adventures on her website: mandyrussell.com.
Want more mixed-media gift ideas? Don’t miss our free ebook, 6 Quick and Easy Gifts to Make: Free Homemade Gift Ideas. Inside you’ll find tutorials for creating festive fabric cards, a holiday banner, and much more.
Shop these holiday and gift issues of Cloth Paper Scissors for even more great project ideas!