A few weeks ago I took a “Recycled Journal Workshop” at Inkwell Boutique. Rhonda Miller of MyHandboundBooks led the workshop, which focused on making books from recycled material or “junk,” as Rhonda says. Emma Fraser, at book and paper conservator at the University of Dundee in Scotland, created what she called “Secret Scottish Rubbish Binding” as a way to reuse materials that would normally end up in the trash can. When Emma met Rhonda at a bookbinding conference, she decided that it was time to divulge her “secret” and let Rhonda bring this unique and environmentally friendly form of bookbinding to Canada.
To make a recycled journal you need the following:
- Cutting knife
- Bone folder
- Cutting mat
- Awl (or a thick needle with the eye pushed into a cork)
- Two plastic bags (or one very large bag)
- Recycled paper (scraps that are reusable/can be written on)
- Box board (for example: cereal, beer, or cracker box)
Cut your paper so that it is all the same height and width (my paper measured 5″ x 8″ so that, when folded, each page is 5″ (h) x 4″ (w)). Take six of the sheets and fold them together to make a book signature of twelves pages. Use the bone folder to get a nice, crisp fold. Repeat this step to make additional signatures. The recycled book I made had six signatures of six sheets each, which gave me a book with 72 pages (6 x 2 x 6).
Once you’ve determined the height and width of your pages, you can measure your book cover. The size of your book, of course, also depends on how large your box board is. If you use a small cracker box, you will need to make a small notebook. If you use a cereal box, on the other hand, you can make a larger book. The centre area of my front and back covers measure 5″ (h) x 4″ (w), but you should cut out twice that length plus an inch of box board so that you can fold each cover into three sections (below). The two pieces of box board that fold to the back of each cover should overlap each other.
With your leftover box board, cut out eight strips, or one for each signature as well as the front and back covers (above). These are called “stays” because they give the binding support by making it stay in place. These should measure the same height as your paper and be about 0.5 cms wide.
Rather than sew the book together, the recycled book is bound with plastic bag. Depending on how many signatures you are joining, you will want to use a long or large bag. Flyer bags like these Canadian Tire bags (above) are perfect! Please note that the bag binding will show, which means you may want to keep the colour of the bag in mind. I chose green bags to match the green Fruit Loops on my box board. The fold of the signatures will also be visible along the spine of the book, so rather than show white paper I used red paper for the outside sheet of each signature (shown below).
Cut your bag(s) so that you have two wide strips. For example, I cut each of the two Canadian tire bags (shown above) along one seam on the side and then along the bottom seam. This left me with two long, wide sheets of plastic. The width of each strip of plastic bag depends on the thickness of the bag. A blue Sears bag, for instance, uses a much thicker plastic than a flyer bag. Once you start binding, you’ll be able to tell if your bag is too thick and then trim it down accordingly.
Choose which piece of your cut-up box board you want for your front cover. On the fold on the left-hand side of the front cover (with the front cover facing you), punch one hole into the box board with your awl one inch from the top. Go down the fold another inch and punch a second hole through the box board. Then punch a hole one inch up from the bottom, and another hole one more inch up from that. You should now have four holes on the left-hand fold of your front cover.
Take your blade and cut a line from the first hole to the second hole so that you have an inch-long slit. Do the same between the third and fourth holes. You should now have two inch-long slits on the fold of your front cover. Punching the holes before cutting helps to ensure that you don’t accidentally make your cut too long with the slip of the knife.
Repeat these steps with your back cover, but be sure to make your holes and cuts on the right-hand side fold of the back cover (with the face of the back cover facing you) or else your back cover will be upside down when you attach it to the signatures.
When you’re done cutting slits into the covers, repeat the same procedure for each of your signatures, making sure that the cuts on your front cover, signatures, and back cover match when all stacked together.
Now you’re ready to bind your book together. Take one of your strips of plastic bag, bunch it together lengthwise, and then feed it through one of the slits on your first signature, going from the outside in. Take the other strip of plastic bag, bunch it together, and feed it through the other slit, also going from the outside in. Pull each bag through the slit until there is about three inches left outside of the signature.
Both strips of plastic bag should now be through your first signature. Open the signature. Take one of your “stays” and place it in the crease of the open signature, next to the plastic bag. Then take your first strip of plastic bag, move it over the stay, and feed it back through the same slit it came out of. Do the same with your second plastic bag in the other slit. Tighten your bags around the stay so that it’s secure (below).
At this point, each strip of plastic bag should be back on the outside of your signature. Place your second signature on top of the first, and then take your plastic bags and weave them through the slits in your second signature. Tighten the bags so that your signatures sit snugly together. Add the stay and repeat with each signature until they have all been weaved together by the bags. Pushing the plastic bag through the slits in the box board can be tricky, but have patience. You can also use a pencil or your awl to push enough of the bag through the slit so that you can pull out the rest.
Once your signatures are bound together, you are ready to add the front and back covers. Take the pieces of plastic bag left hanging out of the final signature and weave them through the slits you made in your cover. Add a stay to the inside of your cover and then bring the plastic bags back through the slits in the box board (below).
Once you’ve secured your stay in place, your plastic bag will now come out in between your cover and the signature to which the cover is attached (below).
In order to hide the ends of the plastic bags, cut another slit in the cover about 3/4″ up from the slits that sit along the fold (above). Then weave each plastic bag through this second slit so that the space between the cover and the signature looks like this:
The inside of your cover (with the flaps open) should now look like this with the remaining pieces of plastic bag showing:
If necessary, trim the remaining pieces of bag down a little bit, but not too much. Then secure the two folds of the cover together (to hide the ends of the plastic bag binding) by cutting opposite slits along the edges of the box board and fitting them together, like this:
Add the opposite cover to the signatures using the same steps as above with the 3″ strips of plastic bag you left outside of your first signature. And then you’re done!
Here’s the finished book: simple, unique, and environmentally friendly!
I’d like to thank Rhonda Miller from MyHandboundBooks for showing us Emma Fraser’s “Secret Scottish Rubbish Binding.” I’ll certainly think twice now before I throw out my trash.