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Stab-bound Artist's Book

For our third artists’ book project, we were required to transform found objects and materials into book form. Not every aspect of the book had be ‘found’, but the objective was to think laterally about how the book form serves to reconstruct the found (or ‘disposable’) materials into new narratives. After much sifting around on the internet and bombarding my brain with a plethora of other artists’ work, I made a decision about what I’d like to do.

I’ve had a collection of vintage maps stored away in my closet for the last few years. An old housemate of mine used to go out dumpster diving, and we would both occasionally rummage around neighbours’ hard rubbish as we lived in a pretty ritzy suburb of Melbourne (our abode was somewhat of an exception, though). We would often find an abundance of weird and wonderful ‘treasures’ – stuff that would be a crime to throw in landfill. One day, he came home with a huge stack of old maps from just about everywhere, and they were mostly dated between the 70s and 90s. I loved the colours and variation of styles amongst them. I thought they would make beautiful pages, however a book with just pages of maps would be rather ordinary, no matter how beautiful they were.

From the beginning, I thought it would have been great to use old sewing patterns, just because I loved the delicacy of the paper and the patterned lines. It took a little time, but eventually I made the correlation between the directive lines and symbols on the maps with the lines of sewing patterns, and thought I could somehow come up with a narrative about ‘navigation’ or ‘directions’ with both of them.

I knew I wanted to include some collage with a few of the pages, and also some paper cutting and sewing. After a bit of ‘internet inspiration’ and looking through about a thousand images on Pinterest, I thought it would be a great idea to do some sort of ‘crossover’ between the sewing patterns and the maps, and add a bit of playfulness and subversion to the pages.

The first idea that came to mind was to collage the sewing patterns onto rag paper, and sewing a ‘map dress’ onto the page. I lifted this idea from a collage artist I had found from browsing the web. Katherine Allen-Coleman is an American artist who’s work consists of what she refers to as ‘dress paintings’. She combines a range of media (collage, patterned paper, thread, buttons, beads, even dresses) to create a visual feast of textured artwork featuring dresses. A few collages she did consisted of a maps cut out in the form of dresses and sewn onto collaged pattern paper. I thought this was a beautiful concept that could be extended upon, illustrating the relationship between map and sewing patterns – or sewing patterns as maps, and vice versa.

Here's a couple examples of her collages:

You can view more of her work here:

I had aimed to do five pages of collages for the book, but after the first three pages of sewing, I began to realise how much work this was going to be! First, I had to find dress ‘shapes’ to cut out from the maps, and I also had to ensure lines were drawn on the wrong side of the maps so I could pin-prick holes for sewing in the dresses. I used images of 1950s dresses from sewing pattern envelops (also found on the net), resized them and printed them out. I then traced the dress forms and lines on the wrong side of the maps, cut them out, and pin-pricked along the lines. I then glued the dresses onto the collaged pages and began sewing. I had to be sure to begin and end the sewing from the ‘spine end’ of the page, so that when the pages were sewn together, the ends could be tucked into the spine and hidden.

It took such an awfully long time to sew the pages – far much more time than I had anticipated. I decided to end it at three pages, and if I got a fourth in (which, I did), then that would be bonus.

The next thing I wanted to do was layer the maps and the sewing patterns so that the relationships between the two styles could be revealed. I was offered some clever advice by my lecturer to cut little windows in some of the patterns and maps so that underlying pages could come through. I thought this was an excellent idea, and I also thought that some of the lines in the maps made perfect forms for cutting out.

I also remembered that I wanted to add an additional ‘playful’ element of collage with modes of transportation – such as sailboats, trains and cars – onto the sewing patterns. I had an old children’s encyclopaedia lying around, and it had great illustrations of tall ships (which also happened to be the perfect size). I cut these out, and then realised that I also wanted to add some trains and cars. Of course, the easiest place to find illustrations of these was on the net, so I did a bit of searching for a few royalty free illustrations and printed them out in black and white (I thought the monochrome against some of the coloured patterns would allow them to stand out more).

After deciding upon my ‘plan’, I went forth and started measuring and cutting out pages. I had to ensure that each page was flat (ie, there weren’t any creases in the page). After measuring each of the ‘flat areas’ of the maps, I realised that long landscape pages would be best suited to the stab-bound book. Using a paper guillotine, I cropped all the pages and then selected which ones were best based on what was on the front and back on both pages. Many maps were from National Geographic, and so had large areas of text on one side (I was looking for maps that had map designs on both sides).

The next thing to figure out was how many pages I wanted to have, as it would have been easy to end up with too many! I decided upon four to five for each style. This allowed for a large range of styles, and also allowed for enough playful layering between maps and patterns.

I then had to decide how to order the pages (not all complimented each other so perfectly well). I actually left this step for last. I realised that I needed to cut out areas of the pages first and iron out the crinkled sewing pattern pages before layering them. I chose the sides of the pages that I wanted face-up on the right side of the book (and didn’t think much about the left side), and from there, I decided what I wanted to cut out.

After deciding up the layering and clipping the spine together with bull clips, I decided where I wanted to glue my little sailboats, trains and cars. I knew I wanted them hidden away from the windows, only to be revealed when the pages were turned. Because I had already ordered my pages, I simply went through and glued these onto the pages as I turned them. I also was sure to keep the modes of transport consistent with the styles of the maps.

When all the pages were finally complete, it was time for binding. I might not get into too much technical detail with how I did this, as there is a heap of information on the internet on how to do this. I tried to choose colours that were reflective of maps – green for land, blue for rivers, and red for roads. Since we had to create a stab-bound book – and since I was rather happy with how the pages were coming along – I decided to create a hard-bound book using two colours of thread. The only major issue I encountered along the way was choosing a thread that was too thick. This made it VERY difficult to sew, and I had to continually open up the holes in the spine and cover using a Japanese screw punch. If it weren’t for this tool, I never would have finished this book (in fact, I would have likely destroyed it)!

All in all, it turned out okay, and I would love to make another one. I think I need to build up the motivation (and energy) for it first, as I found this project utterly exhausting!

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