Collected and Bound: The Handmade Books of Marcia Derse

There are those of us who have a love of books that runs as deep as our need for food and water. I actually jokingly refer to myself as a book hoarder because I collect them with varying intentions; sometimes to read, and sometimes just to have in my possession, knowing that they’ll have a welcome place on my shelves. Books are stacked on my nightstand, lined up in my hallway, and even tucked under the front seat of my car, because I never know when I’ll find a minute to read.

There’s something about the type, the paper, the covers, the binding, that I adore. And when it comes to handmade books, all of that comes into play in a much more meaningful way. This is celebrated in the September/October issue of Cloth Paper Scissors in a big way, with feature articles from mixed-media artists such as Dea Fischer, Seth Apter, Jen Crossley, and Marcia Derse (see her article below!). With a love of books, ~Cherie

Handmade books by Marcia Derse |
Featured art by Marcia Derse (PIN this!)

Handmade Books: Collected and Bound by Marcia Derse

Books have always been pleasant, inescapable companions in my life. My parents would hound me for constantly reading, but I barely heard them, as I was lost in a book in the backseat of the car, or in the garden, or in my paisley wallpapered bedroom. My love of books led me to pursue a nearly pointless university degree in typography.

After graduating, I bought a printing press and tons of type and printed limited-edition small press books for a short time until I channeled my passion into opening a children’s bookstore, where I happily spent 25 years. In the meantime, I created and cultivated my other passion, fiber art.

As my work in fabric evolved, I never let go of my penchant for bookmaking. In my current studio I surround myself with what some might call clutter, but I consider carefully curated eye candy–the walls and surfaces are jam packed with postcards, trinkets, and collections of all kinds. I pin and pile these treasures on my ever-changing inspiration walls to help me compose new artwork and direct my fabric collections.

Inevitably, with my limited wall space, each surface has to eventually be cleared to create a clean slate for the next project. My favorite solution has been to create books filled with the jumble of information I have been looking at, instead of tucking all those pieces away in a box. The resulting books are usually an exploding mixed-media sculpture, with scraps hanging out and off, and pages bursting at the seams.

Play and exploration are essential ingredients of these books. When working on pages, I never limit myself to using the things I am clearing away. As the book takes on a life of its own, it might need elegant washi tape to hold something in place, or a colorful grommet or staples. Envelopes and bags that stick around too long find a new life holding little surprises as the page is turned or folded out.

Handmade books by Marcia Derse |

Sometimes the books are created at the end of an artistic journey, like these clean slate projects, and sometimes they are made at the beginning. I find that sometimes I can better understand a new tool or medium if I start my exploration with a little book. Case in point: I made a quick handmade color chart book for a new tin of Winsor & NewtonTM watercolors. This color chart was a handy guide to the palette of colors available.

In another roundabout exercise I learned to use a new medium through an accordion book and a particularly threatening tube of black gouache. I had just seen a wonderful exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago and was thrilled to find some masterful children’s book illustrations in gouache, a medium I had not previously tried. As a result, I immediately ran out to buy gouache, and started with one tube of Ivory Black.

As with so many materials in my studio I was reluctant to upset the pristine tube, and had no idea where to start. So it sat for months, possibly a year, before I rediscovered the paint and paired it with a journal from my stash of blank books. Finally, I realized there was no harm in using the whole tube for a book experiment; I could always buy more. I dove in and painted different marks with different intensities of gouache on all the scraps of paper I could find. These scraps came together in the pages of the blank book, which served as inspiration later while painting fabric. Using different tools alters familiar marks and creates movement that filters into my work with fabric.

Handmade books by Marcia Derse |

Cloth Paper Scissors, September/October 2016 |
As seen in Cloth Paper Scissors!

Occasionally my books have a more focused purpose. A conversation among fiber artist friends became a challenge to do a monochromatic white quilt. Instead, I answered the challenge with a book. I limited my collecting around the studio to only white items, such as vintage lace pieces, fabric and ribbon scraps, and buttons, and organized them onto pages of an old ledger I had snatched up at an estate sale back in the Midwest. The journal pages proved a more enticing backdrop than I had anticipated, and the white book grew into a new project that I used as a display to feature my Bookends fabric collection.

On top of the other journal pages I added an alphabet cut from the new fabrics, plus bits and pieces of studio ephemera that spoke to me. The collage eventually became a piece of fabric in my latest collection, Studio Alphabet. A one- and-a-half-yard piece is a complete alphabet.

I never know where these book projects will take me. Most times I make them entirely for my own amusement, but when they do occasionally see the light of day I’m pleased that I took time out from designing fabric to indulge my passion for books.

Bio: Marcia Derse is a fiber artist and fabric designer living and working on Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest. Her work is known for its vibrant colors and bold painterly patterns. Marcia is a full-time artist, showing her work in galleries, museums, and art fairs around the country. For the last five years she has focused on commercial fabric design, and currently designs collections for Windham Fabrics. Visit her site at


Blog, Handmade Books, Mixed-Media Techniques

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