Picking up the Pieces: Weaving a Book

Strip Binding My Book

I had a wonderful infusion of book art love over Valentine week. First, a brief but fertile visit to the Codex Book Fair. No pictures: too busy looking, absorbing, visiting. Then a few days later, a workshop about strip bindings with Claire Van Vliet at San Francisco Center for the Book. Again, no pictures: too busy cutting, poking, folding and weaving. And now I have made a little book to practice some things I learned. I loved making this book without glue or thread, entirely woven with paper strips, with pages that open flat.

Claire’s workshop was fast-paced, focused, and a whole lot of fun. I consider myself a beginner at bookbinding. I know a few simple structures that I seem to return to again and again. So I was heartened when Claire told the class early on that she doesn’t consider herself a binder. She makes structures as a solution to the content of the book. Learning these skills from her while sitting next to her amazing exhibit “The Janus Press at 60” was illuminating to say the least. This fascinating retrospective of six decades of her work will be showing at San Francisco Center for the Book through May 24.

As we powered through six structures and a slipcase in two days, I knew that I would have to come home and practice these techniques if I was to retain them. I have to admit I have been a bit stalled in the studio, unable to pick up an interrupted project from last year. A few months ago, a book friend at Dreaming Mind suggested it might be fruitful to revisit some older work, look at what I have made in the past.  So after the workshop, I pulled out a box of scraps from the Beautiful Mother series. I cut pages and threading strips from offcuts of my paint and writing trials. I used the same spine template we made in class, for a six-inch spine, with three-quarter-inch binding strips.

Strip Binding Workspace

These photos and captions are merely meant to illustrate a few of the techniques we learned.

Strip Binding Piercings

A good awl for making holes in the paper is essential. On this page, next to the pierced holes for the slot on the fold, the edge of the paper already had other piercings made by dividers, to mark equidistant lines for writing, a medieval scribal technique I often employ.

Strip Binding Slot

Some of the slots are made on the page itself and not on the spine fold. Keeping the slot rounded at the ends keeps the paper from tearing there.

Strip Binding Locking Sheet

Each signature begins with a single “locking sheet” at the center and is built outward. Claire describes these bindings as “paper Coptic bindings.”

Strip Binding Locking Sheet

A micro spatula is excellent for guiding the paper strip to the right destination when working with multiple folios. The metal guide is inserted first and then the paper fed along its path.

Strip Binding First Page

Making holes in the cover, in this case painted 2-ply museum board, is easier with a Japanese screw hole punch in the 1.5 mm size (or 1 mm for thinner stock).

Strip Binding Cover Slots

Then two careful cuts make the slot.

Strip Binding First Page

I like how the lettered strips look woven on the page.

Strip Binding Last Page

On the last page, I included a foldover, which I like to do in journals. In this case it hides an unfinished bit, the strips ends unwoven. This will make unweaving easier, and remind me about rounding the strip ends for easier weaving. A model book of this kind is only good if you can deconstruct it to see how it was put together.

Strip Binding Page Askew

Now I have a curious little book, full of different-size papers. I was so intent to include lots of pages that I wove in half pages onto a single strip, which as you can see in the photo above does not really make it stable to the spine. Also more pages made fatter signatures, which left me with gaps between sections. I will try Tyvek strips, as the thinner and stronger the binding strips the more flat the book will lay and the less gap between signatures. This is how we learn, by jumping in, by making mistakes.

Strip Binding Claire Books

I have a copy of Woven and Interlocking Book Structures (now out of print), written by Claire Van Vliet with Elizabeth Steiner, which has some structures similar to some we made in the workshop. I also have the trade edition of Aunt Sallie’s Lament. I am looking at both of these books with new eyes. These structures seem full of possibilities and applications, ways to bind together disparate materials.

Strip Binding Front Cover

As my hands worked, my mind mulled over some things.

At the Codex fair, Suzanne Moore, a book artist and teacher who has taught me so much, shared some of her “archives” with me. It was fascinating to see her working papers. She explained they are wanted by a collector to accompany the finished book.

One of Claire Van Vliet’s most well-known works uses a book structure that builds on the visual patterns of patchwork quilts.

With these scraps of inspiration and example in mind, I felt like I was picking up pieces of the past, to make a new work, a book of painted papers and calligraphy that is a sort of archive.

This sifting through past creative work parallels a similar inventory of my personal and family archives which has been frequently occupying me over the past year. So it should come as no surprise that the studio will yields up its share of dross and clutter to my sorting hands, to be tossed, to be recycled, and sometimes, if I am lucky, to transmute into little treasures.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Jane Brenner 02/25/2015, 2:25 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Cari! I’m taking Suzanne’s one-day at the conference at Sonoma State this summer. Will you be there?

    Beautiful work.

    • Cari 02/25/2015, 2:32 pm

      Hi Jane, thanks for reading! Undecided about the Passionate Pen conference as yet. Wow, Suzanne’s one-day looks like so much fun!

  • Conni R 02/25/2015, 2:50 pm

    Inspiration comes from many sources and your posting was a reminder of how that can happen. Thanks for sharing this simple but lovely binding. I have a sample one that I made and am loath to give away. I like your use of the binding to archive samples from projects. Good luck with the project!

  • Jane Robertson 04/14/2016, 2:25 pm

    Since Claire van Vliet’s book is out of print and way out of range to purchase, is there any chance you could share the steps in making the book you have shown here on “Weaving the Book”?

    • Cari 04/16/2016, 1:25 pm

      Hello Jane, I would love to share the techniques used to make this book, but Claire mentioned in class she is considering writing another book specifically about these paper strip bindings. I shared quite a bit and much can be deduced from the pictures I included, but I would surely be treading on her intellectual property by sharing her step-by-step process. I can tell you that these are not exactly the techniques shown in her book Woven and Interlocking Book Structures but do build on them. Thank you for your interest and if I ever do hear from Claire that I may share more specific techniques, I will get in touch with you.

  • Lynn in Tucson 07/31/2020, 8:52 am

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful photos. I was thrilled to discover that Woven & Interlocking Book Structures, while out of print, is available as a free download:

    Be well,

    • Cari 07/31/2020, 9:32 am

      So nice to hear from you, Lynn, on this old post. I am glad you found it useful. And yes, Claire is being so generous with her wisdom. Thank you for posting the link.

Leave a Comment