Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Containment Class Notes

Today I taught a short workshop on making books and boxes to 2nd year art students at Northtec, the local polytechnic. The students and tutors were a delight to work with and I promised I would post my class notes here for them to access. The following notes may not make much sense if you weren't there seeing the examples and demonstrations to illustrate. There are many excellent books available for teaching yourself how to make books and that is how I learned most of what I know. For beginners I recommend Shereen La Planz, Peter and Donna Thomas and Alisa Golden for easy to follow instructions and inspiration.

What do books and boxes have in common?

“A book is a sequence of spaces.” Ulises Carrion 1975 The New Art of Making Books.

Many of the techniques and tips which make a good box are the same for making book covers, but covers are much quicker and easier to demonstrate and practice.

Making a perfect accordion book block (the Heidi Kyle method)

Terminology: In the world of instruments an accordion is rectangular and a concertina is hexagonal. So unless you are making a hexagonal book this structure is correctly called an accordion fold (Thomas & Thomas)

Why use this structure? It’s simple, versatile, it opens out for exhibitions or for a long view.

It’s simple, but there is a trick to getting it right. If you measure and fold a strip of paper from one end it will be uneven and if you trim it you will lose the grain (plus potentially some content/registration).

Always fold with the grain, always align grain with spine. Finding the grain: flop, roll, tear, wet, rub finger along edge. Grain folds are cleaner and crisper; and minimise/eliminate warping from adhesive/ time/ damp. Use a bone folder or similar. Go slow. Paper is unforgiving of mistakes.

Fold strip of paper in half. Fold each end in towards middle fold to make quarters. Repeat so each quarter is folded in half one at a time. Accordions must be made with 4, 8, or 16 panels. If you want fewer panels trim or for more, fold separately and attach.

Refold as necessary to get alternate mountains and valleys. Put under weights for a while.


Making boxes is very fiddly. I don’t know of a quick and easy way to make a box from scratch. If you are in a hurry for a box and aren’t to worried about custom fitting, you can cover a found box, whether appropriated from the rubbish, another use or bought at a craft store.

So why bother making boxes from scratch? To have pretty much complete freedom to convert a flat piece of board into a three dimensional box of any size or shape: perfect fit, customised openings or compartments.

Tips for box making

  • Careful measurements: For snug fit without rubbing, the inside space should be a mm or two larger than object. Remember to allow for the width of the board where overlapping. Lip should be width of board plus cover paper.
  • Grain: board and cover paper should align grain, and grain parallel to any hinges
  • Covering box with paper: outside first, then inside.


Covering cover boards is similar to making boxes in terms of careful measurements and right angles, attention to grain. These notes are for covering separate boards, but a case bound book or a separate spine will follow more or less the same principles.

When cutting boards, measure off the book block. Cover boards should be 2-3mm bigger around than book block. Eyeball, then measure and mark, then eyeball again (and repeat as necessary until 100% confident) then cut. Make sure both boards match, are square, have smooth edges. Lightly sand if necessary.

Cutting: change blades frequently, between almost every cut into board; snap blades into a waste container, facing down; cut on waste side of the edge, even if you have to turn the board or paper; use light repetitive strokes until cut is complete

Cover paper: Use boards to measure paper about 3-4 cm beyond each edge of the board (eyeball, measure, eyeball). Make sure grain will be parallel to accordion folds.

Pasting: Wheat (wallpaper) paste and EVA/PVA have different qualities suitable for different materials and tasks. Board to board ie box framework, use EVA/PVA. Attaching paper or cloth to board, use paste. Half and half is what I use for general use ie paper to paper. Adhesive shouldn’t be too watery, or applied to heavily, or the paper will warp.

Always apply adhesive to the lighter material. Put on a very thin layer, start from middle and work out in star burst. Leave corners dryish. Use masking materials where appropriate so adhesive only goes where it is wanted and needed. Smooth air bubbles out with bonefolder and work the edges so they are square and tight. Trim corners after board is attached, making sure the corner tip won't be exposed when you fold over (2-3mm). Reapply paste to flaps and fold over. Get corners as flat as possible and smooth with bone folder. Protect with sticker backing or wax paper, place under weights to dry.

Attaching covers to book block: In the demonstration we used end panels of accordion as end papers/ means of attachment. If using a separate spine, attach it first, making sure spacing is even and sufficient for book to open and close smoothly and completely without stressing the paper. Put adhesive on paper, using masks and protector sheets. Carefully place on cover, smooth with bone folder. Place under weight to dry.

Being precise and accurate allows more creative freedom, as your concept is not obscured or undermined by sloppy presentation.


greggspen said...

Thanks Meliors for taking the time to come see us today. I enjoyed the experience immensely and received a lot of food for thought. I was particularly impressed by your fanatic attention to detail
Kind Regard
Gregg Spender

Anonymous said...

> Terminology: In the world of
> instruments an accordion is
> rectangular and a concertina is
> hexagonal. So unless you are making
> a hexagonal book this structure is
> correctly called an accordion fold

No. An accordion is an instrument where the buttons ("keys") are pressed at right angles to the direction of bellows travel, as against a concertina where the buttons are pressed in the same direction as the bellows travel. Since none of this makes any difference to books, either term is fine.