Miniature books (handsewn, of course)

19 Aug
Close up of a miniature book, about 1in(just over 2cm) tall, open to show the blank pages with gold edges, and the magnetic closure. The cover is a black material that's  about 1mm (1/25th in) thick and flexible. It has jump rings on the top of the spine, to wear as a charm. There's another finished miniature book in the background, closed, and also some signatures for another book.

I have been hit with manic crafting energy for a couple of weeks, jumping from one thing to another. Last week I made over a dozen miniature books in a couple of days, until I got all the kinks worked out of the process.

(This is an image-heavy post, so feel free to skip it.)

Three miniature books, all black. Two are about half an inch (approx 1cm) tall and wide, the third one is about 3/4 inch (about 2cm) tall and wide. All have a strip of the same black material of the cover acting as closure. The bigger one has two jump rings, so it can be worn as a charm/pendant.

It all starts with used, dry lens cleaning wipes. I save them because they make good filters for cloth masks, but they are also both thin enough for miniature pages, and sturdy enough to accommodate sewing.

Two piles of dried lens wipes; the left hand one is quite bright white. The right hand one is sepia. They still need ironing

I guess I could use the paper as-is once it dries, but it’s so starkly white! And my brain insists that handsewn, blank miniature books must have gilded edges and sepia pages. Enter coffee!

(Obligatory disclaimer: most miniaturists and crafters I know of use tea to die paper sepia, but a) I don’t drink black tea (or much tea at all), and b) I learned to use café au lait to die paper (and indeed, to paint papier maché pieces), as a very young child. Ergo, it’s coffee for me, thanks all the same.)

After dyeing, I iron and cut the paper to double the width of each page, then stack five of these and fold them in half; these are called ‘signatures’ in book binding.

Close up to a series of signatures, folded but not yet perforated, fanning on my cutting mat. They are about an inch tall and just under 3/4 inch wide.

The signatures are sewn to a bit of muslin (my mini equivalent to the cloth tape used for book binding full scale books), to make a book block. I used a bit of paper glued to the muslin to guide me while sewing the signatures.

Close up of my working mat; there are a couple of bits of muslin (just over half an inch square) with a strip of paper glued to the center, vertically. The paper has a four lines of dots where I'll poke holes with the needle tool at the top of the photo. There's a small butterfly clip on the left, holding folded signatures, which will have corresponding holes poked through the fold.

Sewing signatures to book cloth, essentially forming the spine of bound books, is a pretty straightforward process in full scale books, but it gets really fiddly when dealing with something under an inch tall that still needs at least four to five points of attachment per signature. (My phone decided to focus on the needle rather than the book’s spine, sorry about that.)

Close up of a finished miniature book block, with the spine up; it has five signatures

If you’ve ever tried folding several piece of paper of the same size in half, you’ll have noticed that the edges opposite the fold are never completely even. Enter the utility knife and the metal ruler!

A stack of cut pages, not yet folded into signatures, with the cardstock template I used to poke the holes evenly across signatures lying on top; another pile of smaller pages; a finished book block, a utility knife and a metal ruler, and on the edge of the image, the bits of paper cut off to even the block edges

Once all edges are squared and trimmed properly, I used an oil gold marker to gild them. I learned the hard way to let the paint dry with the pages fanning open–otherwise, they can stick disagreeably or the paint may run onto the page rather than staying mostly on the edge.

Four finished book blocks, their edges gilded, laying on the cutting mat, with the pages fanning open to different degrees

Due to the size of the books, I chose to use cardstock from packaging for the covers, and over that I used more of the lens cleaning paper as endpaper; for some of the books, I painted it gold, but for most of them I left it sepia with gilded edges.

For the outer cover of the books, I used the same velvety/rubbery material I had used for the hinges in the miniature guitar cases. I like them quite a lot like this, but I think I’ll experiment with painted cloth to try to make miniature ‘leather’ for a future batch.

Overhead shot of my cutting mat, showing a utility knife on one side, a pile of died cleaning lens paper already cut to size, several butterfly clips holding more paper already cut and folded into signatures, a piece of thin cotton fabrid, a box of tiny magnets, and some offcuts of the black material used for the books' covers.

Once the books were bound, I added tiny magnets (also used in the miniature guitar cases) and a bit of steel to a strap of the same material for the closures.

Two finished books; the one on the right has the strap pulled from the cover, showing the magnet embedded in the cover material, and the tiny piece of metal glued to the underside of the strap. The other one has the strap in the closed position

I got fairly addicted to the process, making several books at a time. You’ll notice that there are mostly two different sizes; the ‘large’ ones are just under an inch tall, probably 3/4 inch wide, with five signatures. The smaller ones are about half an inch square, with four signatures.

Five miniature books, finished, laying on shinny green metallic paper.

I added jump rings to all the books I made during this miniature making spree, so they can be used as charms; the lovely willa suggested making earrings with them, which I had not thought about but it’s obviously an option. (Please forgive the terrible thumb.)

Extreme close up of a finished book, focusing on the top of the spine, where a jump ring passes through the binding with second jump ring through the first; my pretty horrid looking right thumb is holding the book down

As is usually the case, I learned a lot while making these–one of the lessons I had to learn (again) the hard way is to change blades often. Paper tends to dull blades pretty quick, and when that happens, a knife can chew rather than cut. No clean edges for you!

A finished book block, spine down, where the pages fan open, and some of the edges are visible uneven and almost torn, rather than cut cleanly

If you’ve stuck with me all the way to the end, thank you! Please do forgive the bad angles, the poor cropping, the blurry images, and all around shitty photography. Some people can do amazing things with an iPhone, I…can not.

8 Responses to “Miniature books (handsewn, of course)”

  1. Laura Vivanco 19/08/2022 at 7:10 AM #

    They’re lovely!

    • azteclady 19/08/2022 at 7:21 AM #

      Thank you!

      The part of me that’s obsessive feels that I cheated by using a material that doesn’t fray as a cover; “real” old hardbound books have either leather or fabric covers, after all.

      Of course, one would need paper-thin leather at this scale, which is not really easily accessible.

      • Laura Vivanco 19/08/2022 at 7:44 AM #

        I thought real leather doesn’t fray either?

        I know what you mean about the feeling of cheating. I worry I’m not doing proper embroidery if I don’t cover everything with stitches. So, sewing together bits of felt feels a bit like cheating, and making needlelace feels like cheating. For some reason, I’m alright with using one bead for an eye and that doesn’t feel like cheating. Although it probably will now that I’ve said that. It’s just amazing how illogical guilt can creep in to spoil things!

      • azteclady 19/08/2022 at 7:50 AM #

        Leather doesn’t fray, but it’s generally too thick a material for this scale. I have a few precious scraps of very thin leather, but I’m not sure I want to use the to try binding a mini book until I’ve tried the technique with something I don’t mind messing up.

        Illogical (crafting) guilt: right? I know it doesn’t make sense, but I still feel that I should have gone all the way, made them accurately, no shortcuts.

  2. Miss Bates 19/08/2022 at 10:26 AM #

    They’re beautiful!!!

    • azteclady 19/08/2022 at 10:45 AM #

      Thank you! I’m so happy with them (and yet, looking for ways to make them better, heh).

  3. willaful 19/08/2022 at 2:22 PM #

    My mom will be tickled that her little book contains coffee. 😉

    • azteclady 19/08/2022 at 2:34 PM #

      Not decaf, either! Freshly brewed, with just a few drops of milk (I don’t know the scientific explanation, but it helps fix the color on the paper; black coffee does not stain as well)

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