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.
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.
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:
A catalog page featuring tree branches in snow, to which I added a fussy-cut fabric bird and book text:
A photograph I had taken in winter of a favorite walking trail, with some mesh stitched on top:
Here’s the page revealed:
A painted and collaged winter scene:
And a peek-through page made from a tag. The design was cut with a paper punch, and a postage stamp image can be seen underneath:
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.
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.
The last page of the accordion was glued over the ribbon, and the first page was glued to the inside front cover.
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.