The Devil in the Retails

You know how it goes. To buy something hard to find (in my case, ink for a fountain pen) you end up at a big shopping mall. While you’re there you discover a sale on at a shop that’s closing down, and an intriguing new stationary chain, and suddenly you’ve swapped some of those thin rectangles of plastic (paper if your local currency is low-tech) for some pretty stuff.

I didn’t know there was a Borders at Doncaster. Well, not for much longer. It was having a closing down sale. Along with some novels and a book on art, I picked up these for 20% off (which probably equals 5% off considering that Borders prices were usually hiked up by 15% to begin with):

The finishing techniques one actually contained a few tips/techniques I didn’t know, so definitely worth getting. The other two ought to be polar opposites – classic vs latest fashion – and yet I found more than a couple of patterns inside both that I thought I might actually knit.

The stationary store was like Smiggle and Ikea got together and had offspring. Cute things, but lots made out of pale wood, pastel colour schemes and prices so surprisingly cheap for this sort of thing that the words ‘mass production’ and ‘third world sweatshop’ whisper at the back of your mind. I couldn’t resist these:

Today I found Interweave Knits Spring issue at my local newsagent. I asked him what happened to Interweave Knits Winter since I hadn’t been able to find it in the five or so newsagents I usually look for it in. He looked it up and discovered that, while they’d been ordered, the stock had never arrived. So I wasn’t imagining things. That issue never did show up locally. Which is annoying because I usually only buy the autumn and winter issues.

Trying Something New

Yarn magazine mainly because it contained a tutorial for making baskets out of scraps of yarn and raffia. I reckon these baskets are made with the same method. I decided to give it a go, using loom ends and some thick acrylic yarn my Mum used to make a hooked rug out of in the 70s.

I didn’t like the method. The main pro was that I could use up loom ends, the main con was that the constant joining in of a new bit of yarn and the sewing was time consuming. I kept thinking that I could probably do this using crochet, with one continuous strand. Then yesterday I saw a book reviewed over at Craft Leftovers that looked like it might be about that sort of thing. As I always do, I ignored the link to Amazon and went looking for it on Fishpond.

It is there, though with a much less appealing cover. I spotted something called Google Preview and discovered that it shows you the first quarter of the book. Unfortunately for the publisher and author, that first quarter contains all of the technical instructions. I only wanted to confirm that the method was the sort of think I was thinking of. Now I don’t need to buy the book at all.


Anyway, I looked at my macrame supplies and there were two thicker kinds of rope that would work well, in natural and black. What to crochet them together with? I grabbed some linen thread from my bookbinding supplies. It was originally purchased for weaving, then turned out to be great bookbinding thread, and now it’s being used for crochet basketry:

I’m really pleased with the result. It’s faster than the sewing method and I like the look and feel of the ‘fabric’ it’s making, which is flexible enough to mould into shape and stiff enough to hold it. I’m not sure what I’ll make this into. A bowl? A matching pair of waste paper baskets for the bedroom? A trivet for the dining table? I can see potential for plenty of projects: table runners and place mats, lidded boxes, carry bags…

And there is so much potential for using other materials. I’m thinking it might look interesting to match the black rope with the leftovers from the Peri Peri Floor Rug:

I could be even more adventurous, and substitute the rope with strips of paper or card, fabric, wire, or even electrical cord. The crochet thread could be any kind of string-like thread, from yarn to thin wire to audio tape. Most of these things have been tried already, somewhere.

The book went onto my wishlist at Fishpond. Though I don’t need it, it did have some good project ideas in it. If you’re curious, follow both the link to the Fishpond page (and Google Preview) but also the Craft Leftovers review.

One Piece Wearables & Canvas Remix

I ordered these two books from Fishpond recently, having seen them both on blogs.

One Piece Wearables is a book of garments made from one pattern piece (and the patterns are supplied within a pocket in the cover), using ties or elastic and avoiding zips and/or buttonholes – though I did spot one zipper. Having one piece of fabric make up a garment is meant to keep the process simple for new and time-poor sewers. I’m not entirely convinced that the patterns always achieve that, but most do and, well, you don’t know until you try them out. The book uses illustrations rather than photographs which is nice, but while some illustrations are well done, others aren’t as successful and it detracts a bit from the book overall. There’s also a theme of men fawning over women that’s a bit cheesy. Still, the approach of the book is interesting with a range of patterns to try, and there are definitely a few garments in this that I’d like to make.

Canvas Remix is a book written by Alisa Burke, an artist whose blog I follow. I’m drawn to her bold, painterly style with its graffiti inspired spontaneity, and the book explains her techniques well and has a range of tutorials for fun projects. I want to explore the layering demonstrated in this book, but I can’t decide whether I want to produce fabric to make things with, or paintings. Maybe both. I’m thinking that, either way, it has all the satisfaction of playing with texture and layers that attracts me to art journalling, without the journaling part that doesn’t interest me as much.

Russian Book Bag – Finished!

The last few stages of my book to bag conversion involved attaching the magnetic clasp, hand sewing the base to the sides, removing the tape from the handle (there was tape sewn onto the braid so it could be sewn to cushions, etc.) and sewing it to some cotton tape. Then the gluing began: first the cotton tape to the spine and then covering it with lining:


Then finally gluing the bag body to the cover. To my relief, the magnetic clasp lines up perfectly. Here is the finished bag:

Front view, closed:

Front view, open:

Back view, closed:

Overall I’m very happy with it. The process was rather fiddly, but I’ll happily go through it all again because I have to make a bag for myself out of the cover with the chain-mail bikini-clad warrior woman. As for the other two… we’ll see. I need to streamline the process a bit more. I reckon I could eliminate some of the sewing.

Russian Book Bag WIP

Before I even saw Playing With Books, I’d come up with the idea of turning some of my excess foreign edition books into bags. In particular, these Russian editions, which have wonderfully cheesy covers:


(BTW, there are no chain-mail-bikini wearing women or Nordic-looking warriors in my books.)

I found a few tutorials on the net. All, as well as the instructions in Playing With Books, have you use a hardcover book cover as the body of the bag. This means the width of the book defines the size of the bag and how much you can fit into it. I had other ideas:


I pictured the cover becoming the back and flap of the bag. This meant that the the bag could be wider than the spine at the base, and I’d gain a bit more space inside. It also meant the bag would be a bit more secure. I’ve always referred to bags that are open at the top as ‘pick-pocket’s delights’.

I found some fabric for the lining and exterior – both which I’d conveniently already made some book cloth out of. And card to stiffen the bag and elastic for the sides:


Cutting the pages out was easy:


I cut two cardboard panels the size of the book and a base that looked ‘about right’:


Then I cut out fabric and lining, adding some pockets:


A bit of glueing and sewing later, and I’d got to this point:


When I had to stop, because I needed to buy a closure and a handle before I could continue. These I now have:


I’m just waiting until I have the time to put everything together. Then I have the perfect event to wear it to, this coming September.

Smaller is Better

Though my book pear looked fine in photos, in person it was much too bigger-than-life-sized. So I cut the template into two smaller fruit shapes, then carved up the big pear.


I like these even more!

Funny thing about representing objects at a different size to reality. Smaller than life size is fine, possibly cute. But if the representation is going to be bigger than life size, it kinda needs to be a LOT bigger. Just a little bigger looks odd and unsettling.

Book Sculpture

The first Playing With Books inspired project I finished (but not the first I started) was a sculpture of a pear. First I cut a template:


And got cutting:


It was a relatively thin book, but as I got toward the end I found there was a little bit of creep from the line imposed by the template. On a thicker book this could be much harder to compensate for. When I finished, I fanned the book out:


Opening up the book took more work than I expected. The spine was very well made and resisted being bent back on itself. The instructions were for a paperback book, and while this is a paperback it has a spine construction more like a hardback, with stitching and glue rather than just glue. But after much folding and bending I got it to open fully:


I dabbed ink along the edge of the pages before gluing the front and back pages together and clamping them while they dried. I’ve since added a little twig as a stem.

It came out rather large for a pear. The instructions recommended making the template the full height of the book to avoid having to cut through the spine. I think two smaller pears would have been better. But the full height would be fine for a vase shape. I may cut this one up again. Depends if I can unstick the front and back pages without damaging it too much.

There are plenty of other shapes to try. I like the idea of a fairy ring of mushrooms. I also like the topographic effect you can get by cutting sections of pages in an unopened book. Perhaps with added castle…

Playing With Books

Warning: Look away now if the idea of cutting up books bothers you.

I’ve mentioned now and then that my day job is writing books. Some of them have been translated into other languages. Most of the time I get copies of the foreign language editions. Sometimes I get far more copies than I have time to find homes for – or else I only have one or two from a series and it seems unfair to lob them one someone when they can’t get the missing book/s. The growing towers of boxes filled with books has been getting to be a problem lately.

So when I spotted this book on a blog I got very excited:


I lost my reluctance to cut up books waaaaay back when I worked for a travel guidebook company, where we sometimes chopped up books to make them easier to work with, and where it was recommended that travellers cut out the sections of a guidebook you didn’t need, to reduce weight in your luggage. (The books were sewn and glued so that they wouldn’t fall apart if you did this.)

Also, working in the book publishing industry, you learn that millions of books are pulped each year. Turning a book into art or practical items seems a better destination, compared to that.

I also lost any delusions that old books have value after talking to an antiques valuer. Most books have little or no value as collectables. Some do, of course, so when in doubt it’s best to check before hacking up a book. (Unfortunately, the prettier the book the more you want to cut it up, but the more likely it has value as collectable.)

Anyway… you can’t really see it in the pic above, but there are a LOT of bookmarks in the book. Here are just a few of the projects that I want to try:


Envelopes. I also want to make cards and gift tags.


Mats made of rolled up pages. I can see place mats and a table runner in my future. Maybe coasters. Maybe even covers for a bookbinding project.


Various ball-shaped ornaments. I might do more non-Christmassy Christmas decorations this year.


And – I’m sure you’ve seen this before – books cut up to form sculptural objects.

I spent most of the last weekend trying out projects in the book. I have four of them in various unfinished states, and one completed one, so there’s going to be plenty of creative blog fodder in the coming weeks.

My Cunning Plan… & Eco Books

A couple of years ago we had a housewarming party, and I asked guests to donate any old jeans they had to ‘a craft project’ I was planning. I got a lot more jeans than I was expecting. The project was a rag rug, which has been in my lounge room ever since, and I’ve decided to make another one. To do that I needed more cotton rug warp so recently I rang Glenora Weaving & Wool and, of course, a few more things slipped into my order:


It turned out I was three issues behind on Handwoven. Quite good issues, too.


I also ordered a sample card of linen, because I noticed that the price of a reel of linen for weaving (right) is about the same as the price of a reel of unwaxed linen bookbinding thread (left), yet there was four times as much in it and came in a range of colours.

Only down side is that I don’t really need four times as much. Especially if I buy a colour I’m not likely to use too often.

Another recent purchase, thanks to Fishpond for giving me a $10 off voucher, was Eco Books:


Though I was lusting after it, I’d hesitated to buy it because I’m getting quite a collection of books. But my justification for getting yet another bookbinding book is that it has one technique in it that none of my books appear to include: coptic binding. Like on these cassette tape books:


This palm leaf book gave me an idea for using up excess photos from holiday albums. (Though I’m not doing the tree bit.) I’ll be posting about that one later this week.


This one caught my eye and made me wish I liked coffee. It’s made of coffee filters and looks like some sort of tribal artefact.


I do, however, drink tea. But I’m not sure I’d want to attempt to save all the teabags required to make this Faux Leather Journal. And I suspect that the tea bags used in this are the cloth type, whereas the tea I drink uses paper bags that break down in the compost.


And does this look familiar? Yep, some books made from fused plastic bags.


While the book is full of interesting (and sometimes amusing) ways of turning stuff you might throw away into books, I found the format a little lacking. The actual bookbinding methods are at the back, and are described rather than step-by-step, which is a bit vague and seems to assume familiarity. But the individual project instructions can be a bit in the other direction – telling you to how to do something that’s a bit obvious. Some of the projects are followed by featured work by the creator, some don’t. Some have multiple photos and cover more pages than they probably need, while others get only one page and you’re left wondering what they look like inside.

It has the feel of a book that was cut back and re-arranged at the last moment. Another bit of strangeness is how some projects have been blurred to hide the brand name of the packaging they were made of, if they were made from cigarette packs, credit cards or bar coasters (but not beer cans). While I don’t question the need, I wonder if the artists were warned not to use such products, and why the projects were used if they ignored the warning.

But overall the ideas in Eco Books are fun, inspiring and instructive, whether practical or not, and I have plenty of bookmarks in it to remind myself of materials I’d like to recycle, and binding methods I want to try.