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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:

  • Scissors
  • 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)
Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

What you will need to make a recycled journal.

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.

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Making the front and back covers and stays.

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.

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Making the binding.

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.

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Plastic binding on finished book.

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).

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Plastic bag binding around stay.

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).

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Inside fold of cover.

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).

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Adding the covers.

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:

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Hiding the ends of the binding.

The inside of your cover (with the flaps open) should now look like this with the remaining pieces of plastic bag showing:

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Inside of cover.

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:

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Attaching the two folds of the cover in order to hide and secure the binding.

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!

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Finished Book with box board cover, recycled paper book signatures, and plastic bag binding.

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Finished Book. Inside Pages.

Recycled Journal Workshop at Inkwell Boutique

Finished Book.

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.

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Moveable Type BoardKyle Durrie, the proprietor of Power and Light Press in Portland, Oregon, has always been in love with art. She studied drawing and printmaking at a college in Maine, and developed a fascination with open and empty spaces. But even though her drawings emphasized empty spaces, she felt stifled in the world of art galleries and showrooms; she found she had no inspiration left to draw once her drawings were out in the world.

That’s when Kyle decided to move to Oregon and begin fresh. While looking for work, she decided to occupy her mind by taking a letterpress class. Letterpress did more than occupy Kyle’s mind; it took root in her heart and she was in love. She decided she needed to learn more about letterpress and worked as an apprentice for a while in North Carolina and Maine. She then decided to move back to Portland, Oregon and being Power and Light Press in 2009. Power and Light Press focuses on custom jobs such as business cards, wedding invitations, posters, and broadsides.

Although Kyle loves the work she does at Power and Light Press, she still found that something was lacking — she was becoming too caught up with client relations and losing touch with the art she first fell in love with. She decided to recharge by taking a road trip with her partner’s band. Not only did she feel inspired by the beautiful landscapes she drove past, but she felt inspired by the band she was with, and bands in general — how they share their music, meet people, and connect. “How can I make this work for me,” she thought. That’s when she came up with the idea for her Moveable Type Project.

When Kyle got home, she did some research on letterpress and found out that there was a historical precedence for travelling presses. As early as the 15th century, apprentices would travel around Europe with master printers to learn and develop their craft. And even in the 1950s and 60s Vandercook Press developed mobile print shops.

Vandercook Mobile PressThe only thing holding Kyle back at this point was money. She knew it would take a lot of funds to be able to convert a van into mobile print shop. She decided to try, which is a fundraising platform where an artist, designer, filmmaker, musician, inventor, etc., makes a video pitch, stating the purpose of the project, the financial goal and a proposed timeline, and if there are any rewards offered for donations. Kyle liked the idea of Kickstarter because she felt it was a much more grass-roots, community-driven way to fundraise than to apply for government arts funding.

Moveable Type: Inside of Kyle Durrie's "Type Truck"Kyle didn’t expect the response she received. Her pitch was hugely successful and she raised more money than expected, allowing her to go through with her project sooner rather than later. Through Kickstarter she was also able to start planning her tour because people emailed her with ideas on places to visit.

Kyle found her “Type Truck” on her local CraigsList. It was initially a delivery van, but the previous owner had essentially turned it into a recreational vehicle. He filled in the back delivery door and installed a bathroom and kitchen, but in order to make a useable workspace, Kyle had to rip everything out except for the metal framing for the kitchen cabinets. She cut windows in the sides of the truck and vents on the top. She then had a carpenter come in to build cabinets and drawers for her type and supplies and to make the truck a livable, workable space. The Type Truck holds two small presses: a Golding Official #3 Platen Press from 1873 and a tabletop Sign Press that was initially used by Sears to create store advertisements c. 1960.

Moveable Type: Kyle Durrie's "Type Truck" sitting outside of Inkwell Letterpress Boutique on Market Street in HalifaxKyle has been travelling in her Type Truck since mid-June. She visits schools, libraries, community centres, publishers, letterpress shops, farmers’ markets, craft shows, and so forth. One of the many things that Kyle loves about letterpress is that it can be approached from so many different angles such as art, design, literary, and historical standpoints.

A map inside the "Type Truck" marking all of the places where Kyle Durrie has been with Moveable TypeKyle’s Moveable Type Truck is approximately 30 years old so it has had some issues on the road. In the three months she’s been on the road, she’s had four flat/blown tires and had to replace the front two; her tire problems have always happened after 5:00 p.m. when auto repair shops are typically closed. She’s run out of gas after dark in the middle of nowhere. And just as her truck has broken down, she’s broken down out of frustration, doubt, and fear. But, all the same, she finds a kind of comfort in travelling alone in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception.

At this time in her schedule, Halifax was the only Canadian stop for Kyle. She plans to continue travelling in the U.S. for approximately another six months (perhaps until early April 2012). Kyle currently has an intern filling orders for Power and Light Press back in Oregon, but she isn’t yet sure what she’s going to do after she gets back home. But, no matter — she’s okay with not knowing what the future holds for her. Kyle lives in the present, and right now she’s enjoying sharing her art, teaching letterpress to the curious, and instilling the craft that she loves into others.

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