Making Handmade Books with Meaning

I always thought it was ironic that, as a writer and editor, I had trouble filling the handmade books I created. Finished books would sit idly on a shelf, with no purpose to their lives. I think that’s why I immediately fell in love with Rachel Hazell’s handmade books—they’re beautiful and interesting to look at, and each one tells a story. When I discovered Rachel’s work I knew I had to ask her to do an article for the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. I’m sure I’m not alone in my fear of the blank page.

Her article was a revelation for me. The way Rachel approaches adding content to handmade books is easy to understand, and completely doable. We all have stories in us, and we need to get them out. These books are the perfect vehicle.

To start, Rachel recommends thinking about how you feel at the moment, what’s going on in your life—the here and now. I thought my books should have lofty, complex narratives, but that was just stupid pressure I put on myself. When I started this project it was a gray day, chilly and rainy, and it made me think about my connection with winter. Since moving to New England from Southern California a few years ago, winters have been both amazing and challenging, so I thought I’d start there.

“Reflect on your surroundings,” Rachel writes. “What can you see? Where would you like to be? What inspires you about this place? How does your immediate landscape affect your spirits?” These were exactly the prompts I needed to get going.

I dove into my pile of ephemera and came up with a few things I thought would help tell the story. Another of Rachel’s great techniques for handmade books is to generate text by circling words on book text that resonate with you. I quickly found several words and phrases that worked perfectly.

Ephemera for content for handmade books
My ever-growing ephemera stash was a great place to start to make these handmade books.

I wanted to keep the book structure simple, which would help me focus on content. I chose an accordion, which Rachel uses for her project. Accordions are incredibly versatile—you can go with just folded pages, sew into the mountain and valley folds, add tip-ins, or create pockets. For even more ideas, be sure to check out Rachel’s article, which features a number of her books.

I folded two pieces of a vintage map I found at a flea market, making the pages 3″ x 3″. Many of Rachel’s books are small, like little treasures. Between the map pieces I added shorter accordion folds of walnut-stained watercolor paper from a previous project. The yellow and light blue palette was a great foundation to build on.

Accordion pages for handmade books
Accordions are perfect for handmade books with content; you can easily add elements and extra pages.

From there, I used new and vintage ephemera to craft my narrative, including a book illustration of blackbirds, which I stitched around with embroidery thread:

Adding stitching and ribbon to handmade books
Adding bits of stitch and ribbon to the book gives it great texture.

A catalog page featuring tree branches in snow, to which I added a fussy-cut fabric bird and book text:

Page sewn in to an accordion fold
A page from a catalog was the perfect backdrop for this fabric bird.

A photograph I had taken in winter of a favorite walking trail, with some mesh stitched on top:

Layered page for an accordion book
Rachel Hazell’s beautiful embellishments inspired me to create to create my own; a photo peeks through mesh.

Here’s the page revealed:

Book text used to tell a narrative in handmade books
Text taken from books helps tell the story; here I used the words “a tree close by” and “heard.”

A painted and collaged winter scene:

A painting added to an accordion book
Simple paintings with acrylics or watercolor showcase your artwork and add to the narrative.

And a peek-though page made from a tag. The design was cut with a paper punch, and a postage stamp image can be seen underneath:

Paper punch used to create a see-through page
Even small elements, like this paper punch cutout, add interest to handmade books.

Here’s a view of the inside, which shows how some of the extra pages and elements were attached. Some were sewn with a pamphlet stitch to mountain folds, and some to valley folds. Others were glued onto folds or tipped in.

Pages added to an accordion with the pamphlet stitch
Extra pages can be easily attached to mountain and valley folds with a pamphlet stitch.

For covers I cut down an old book cover, and I added a closure by gluing a piece of vintage ribbon to the inside back cover.

Ribbon glued to the back cover of an accordion book
Strong ribbon makes a great closure for accordion books.

The last page of the accordion was glued over the ribbon, and the first page was glued to the inside front cover.

Accordion closure for handmade books
To secure the ribbon, glue the last page of the accordion on top.

The cover features the word ‘present.’ The word has multiple meanings: It reminds me to always be present in the moment, to think of winter as a gift, and to take in the here and now when creating books.

The lessons I learned from this article will forever have an influence on the handmade books I create, and that is huge. I encourage you to try Rachel’s techniques and see how much you enjoy telling your own stories, from cover to cover.

Looking for more handmade book ideas? In this tutorial, learn how to make a fabric collage book using easy techniques.

January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine
Get all the instructions for making your own handmade books with meaning in the January/February 2018 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.
Accordion Books Three Ways, with Erin Zamrzla
Discover three great techniques for making accordion books in the video Accordion Books Three Ways, with Erin Zamrzla.
Cloth Paper Scissors Folded Books and Paper Art: 14 Projects to Create
The best folded book and paper projects from your favorite Cloth Paper Scissors magazines are now all in one downloadable eBook! Folded Books and Paper Art: 14 Projects to Create includes accordion journals, book sculptures, and much more!


Blog, Handmade Books, Mixed-Media Techniques