A few new journals, and Kris’ books, in my ETSY shop

I’ve been trying to photograph and write the listings for some new journal designs to post to my ETSY shop this past week, but there have been so many social commitments, lately…I can’t believe the number of my friends with their birthdays in September, there sure was a lot of baby-making going on during the Christmas holidays! Oh, curious thought: Maybe Santa’s your real dad?

Here are four new journal designs in my ETSY shop…these are made with Spoonflower fabric designs by other talented designers, not me. Sometimes it’s nice to see someone else’s ideas on a journal cover, I get tired of my own style.

Clicking on the image will take you to my ETSY shop. If you want to purchase the fabric, instead, click on the designer’s name under the picture.

Hither & Tither journal. Fabric is “Time Travel” by nadiahassan
Little Mothers journal. Fabric design is “Matryoshka Russian Dolls” by LittleSmileMakers
Tweet Forest journal. Fabric design is “Fun Trees” by Bethan_janine on Spoonflower
Der Deer Party journal. Fabric design is “Oatmeal Spice Deer” by scrummy on Spoonflower

I only bought a fat quarter of each design, so there are only four journals of each. This is pretty much the last bit of bookbinding that I will be doing for a while, so if you’ve had your eye on something in my shop, best grab it now! I can’t take these with me when I leave Darwin (too heavy!) and I will have to put my shop in stasis until I manage to make something new on my travels. I know this all sounds so vague, but I feel as though I am standing at the edge of my known world, about to hurl myself into an abyss! I don’t know any more than you do about what is coming…only that I’ll be with my love, again, and that makes up for everything else!

Speaking of Kris, he left me some of his self-published books, and I have decided to put them up for sale on ETSY, as well! They were printed by small presses in the Philippines, but Kris bound them all by hand (very roughly, but the point of these books is the story, not the binding), so they can legitimately go on ETSY. (As of this listing, Kris is in Africa, cycling through Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.)

I am selling his two best books:

Monsoon Dervish by Kris Larsen

“Dream. The day you stop dreaming, you are as good as dead.” —the Monsoon Dervish motto.

On a home-built Chinese junk that had no engine, electricity, radio, GPS, not even a compass, my partner, Kris Larsen—a carpenter by trade, an adventurer at heart—crisscrossed the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific for seven years, from Australia to Madagascar and Japan, covering a total of 45 000 miles.

Forever broke, dodging officials and flying by the seat of his pants, Kris found himself trading spices in Zanzibar, collecting sea-cucumbers on a deserted island, and entertaining gangsters in a Japanese night-club. In Sri Lanka he was arrested as a suspected Tamil terrorist; in Comoros he was chased out of the harbour by gun-waving policemen. He survived a 360º rollover in a typhoon off Taiwan, finally stopping on a beach in the Philippines to write this book.

For the next seven years he tried to find a publisher for his work: anywhere, anyone. Nobody was interested. Frustrated, he typed the text onto a CD and on the next trip to the Philippines he paid a printing press in Davao to run 200 copies of the book. Each book has been bound by hand and covered with old sailing charts, and every copy is different. The first printing sold out in 4 months around the Darwin waterfront. Roughly bound and roughly written in Kris’ pronounced Russian-English, this book is surprisingly funny, entertaining, and inspiring, too…it’s gathered a small following of readers from around the world.

Out of Census by Kris Larsen

“If I could choose one thing to take with me on a round the world trip, I would take a warm sleeping bag. If I was allowed two things, I would add a good passport. In that order.” — opening lines of Out of Census

This is the first volume of an autobiography by my partner and belovéd—a mad adventurer and prolific writer— Kris Larsen. It follows Kris’s growing up in Eastern Europe under communist rule, his days as a tramp and a rock climber, his brazen escape into the West, going half way around the world as an illegal alien with dodgy papers, over-landing to India and beyond.

It’s a humorous take on the life of a would-be refugee that nobody wanted, showing how little you really need in order to do the things you always dreamed about. You want to go on an expedition? Put on your boots and go.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Get thee to a bindery…


Got my bookbinding groove on last weekend and put together a diverse bunch of journals (some orders, some for the ETSY shop, and some for the shelves at Jackson’s).

There are two things I am excited about with this new batch of journals:

The paper.

Last weekend I cracked open the first pack of my new paper stock, Bianco Flash. I bought a thousand A0 sheets of this luxurious paper, which means that my next 250 journals or so will be of this stock. This heavy (120 gsm), creamy, smooth paper is made in Italy by the Favini Crusallo mills…the same mill I used to buy my beloved Shiro Alga Carta paper from (Alga Carta replaced up to 30% of regular paper pulp with algae that was choking the canals of Venice…saving trees and lagoons at the same time) when I first started binding books in 1996. My Manila supplier had discontinued Alga Carta by the time I was ready to buy my next batch of papers (although Favini still produces it), so I chose Bianco Flash, instead.

It’s a wonderful paper to write on. I took a juicy dip pen and strong Rouge Hematite ink (by J. Herbin of France) to it, and the ink didn’t seep into the paper…it dried sitting crisply on the surface of the paper, slightly raised, making it look like a print made from an engraving. I turned the sheet over and there was no bleeding through to the back of the paper. I could hardly see the blood red writing on the reverse. It should be good for pencils (graphite, charcoal or coloured), inks, pens, maybe even small touches of wash, though it’s not a paper for wet media.

The second thing I’m excited about is Spoonflower’s cotton-linen canvas. This is the first time I’ve bought fabric from Spoonflower, though I have stalked their blog for years. I ordered some fat quarters (other people’s designs) just to check the quality of this print-on-demand fabric…whether the designs are still crisp, and what the cotton-linen canvas would be like to make cases for journals with. I have to say that I was delighted on every point. The canvas is strong and full-bodied without being difficult to turn, to mitre, or to glue; the designs were every bit as gorgeous in the cloth as they looked on the website, and the canvas texture makes the surface of the journals more rustic and lively.

I had been hemming and hawing about getting my own fabric designs printed for bookbinding, but seeing these fat quarters has finally convinced me to jump in and do it. I also really like the way the Spoonflower company handles orders, the personal touch of a note from one of the staff when your order arrives, the down-to-earth language they use on their site, the fact that they try to find shipping solutions that are affordable. Their products are awesome, and I wish I was as adventurous as many of their regular designers, who seem to churn designs out by the dozens each week, for everything from gift wrap and stickers to fabrics and wallpaper. Maybe it’ a confidence that grows with use, and I’ll get the knack of it when I’ve uploaded a few designs and printed fabrics of my own.

The three fabric designs I used (click the thumbnails below to visit their pages on Spoonflower.com) are:

Dragonflies by Bettina Pedersen

Aztec Armor by spellstone:
Aztec Armor

Tropical Fronds by cricketnoel:
Tropical Fronds

Fancy wooden journals by Kris

East Timorese man & woman carvings on merbau, with barramundi fish leather spines

Kris has written another book called Out of Census (his fourth! And I’m convinced it’s his best! More about that in the week) and we are throwing the official launch party on the 1st of February at the Darwin Visual Arts Association (although actual copies of the book are going to start circulating tomorrow…he’s sitting across from me, stitching signatures, as I type this!)

The launch will take place alongside an exhibition called “Publish, and Be Damned”, all about the joys, pains, and craziness of self-publishing, and of the world of books in general.  Kris has done a whole bunch of pen and inks that center on the theme of the writer and his muse, and is binding some very one-off journals, as well. A diverse gang of our creative friends will be participating in the show as Kris’ guests…I will try and do something along the lines of bookbinding and printing, too, if I manage to pull myself together in time.

The figures on the covers in the top photo are a traditional man and woman pair of carvings that we bought several of when we were in Dilli, East Timor for 2 months. They are carved from a single thick branch, and when we bought them, they were joined together by a short length of braided raffia. The leather on the spines of both books is tanned barramundi fish skin.

Here are some of the other journals Kris has made for the show:

wooden journals: mandala and dragonfly

Mandala and dragonfly wooden journals (above), made from ipil or merbau (Intsia bijuga).

Above and below: A book bound to fit the shape of a very large pair of oyster shells. Mother of pearl and barramundi spine.

And if you think these are different, well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

via Kris’ post Fancy books.

Rocking House Recipes : : a new cover for an old book

 Rocking House Recipes

This handbound book is only 15 years old, though it’s had a lot of use and so it looks older.

I made it when Kris and I moved into a ramshackle fisherman’s house on the beach in El Nido, Palawan. The elevated plywood and bamboo house was so flimsy that it shuddered every time one of the cats jumped from table to floor, it swayed giddily on its hardwood posts during storms, and, once, an entire wall facing the beach popped out while Kris and I were having a romp in bed (turning our bedroom into something like those glass-fronted rooms, open to the street, in Amsterdam’s red light areas…good thing no one was walking down the beach when it happened!)

After this episode we jokingly nicknamed the construction “Rocking House,” after Stevie Ray Vaughn’s song The House is Rockin’…When the house is a’rockin’ don’t bother knockin’

The nickname stuck, because we’ve mostly lived in boats on the water since we left El Nido (and a houseboat doesn’t just rock, it rocks and rolls…and pitches) and it’s come to be the name of our household, more than any individual house we occupy. So when I wanted a title for my household cookbook, Rocking House Recipes was the obvious choice. I made a large book (A4) of 600 pages, using a beautiful white watermarked 25% cotton paper from India, rounded spine and half-leather kidskin binding. I used primed artist’s canvas for the cover panels.

Then I drew in the lines for a busy, messy allover pattern of stylized flowers and fruit, but never got around to painting it. The book gets used almost daily, but the covers have remained in this incredibly ugly state all this time. Annoying. Clearly, I hated the design I’d drawn—which is why I never finished it—but was dragging my feet about sanding it off, re-priming the surface, and starting over.

unfinished cookbook cover (old)

I finally decided it was time to give the book covers a make-over this weekend. I wanted the book’s title to be on the cover, and for the design to be relevant to the book’s purpose and content. What is the point of a cookbook you painstakingly bind by hand, if you are going to put nothing but a meaningless pattern of floral barf on it?

I tried to stick to a very restricted palette of yellow ochre, prussian blue, opaque white for mixing tints, and black for the letters. I couldn’t resist, at the very end, adding tiny cross-hatches of red ochre (on the ham, the tomato, the chilli, the wine bottle) to pull in the reddish brown of the leather binding. I worked with a triple 0 sable pinstripe brush, thinning my paints with a low-viscosity liquefying medium, and made tiny cross-hatch marks to form the shapes…also, I really enjoyed building up the plaid tablecloth pattern this way!

Rocking House Recipes

Rocking House Recipes is more than just my cookbook…it’s my diary, too, of cooking experiments as well as anecdotes from memorable meals in cherished company. I made it to gather all my beloved recipes together in one place. It’s still mostly empty because I don’t use it for new, untried recipes (no matter how nice they sound) copied out of other books and magazines, in the hopes that I will be able to use them someday (I’m very wary of degenerating into an armchair chef, she of the fabulous kitchen and huge collection of gorgeous ‘for-display-purposes-only’ cookbooks…but who serves soggy stir-fries, shriveled hard pork chops or microwave dinners to her family on ‘ordinary’ nights)

In this book are the recipes that I have learned and embraced as my own…the ones that I am confident about, that I feel I have mastered enough to play with, to change and shape as the need arises…also, these are the dishes that we have enjoyed, by ourselves or with friends and family, many, many times over…not just the recipes that I reserve for guests or special occasions, but the ones I make almost daily because the food is so simple and beautiful, and the slow act of preparing it is grounding, and makes my soul sing.

The Basic Principles of Bread
Coq au Vin

bijou books: biscuit


Couldn’t concentrate on bigger projects, yesterday, so I resolved to push everything aside (literally…I always start with an orderly table, but by the end of an afternoon it is so piled up with tools, materials, books, junk, that I end up doing all my work at one little handkerchief-sized corner of the desk) and took a break to make a miniature book. A bijou book, if you like.

A great way to test out new binding techniques and use up small scraps that you’d normally throw away, this miniature book took less than two hours to make.


On the technical aspects of this binding, I’ve used the instructions in The Penland Book of Handmade Books—Eileen Wallace’s ‘Simplified Binding‘ to be precise—to make this. It’s certainly a quicker way of putting a book together, but I have to say that I don’t have much confidence in the way the covers are attached to the rest of the book…it just doesn’t seem strong enough to me, gluing the covers to spine material and the twill tapes, and then a little bit of extra holding from the endpages. But I am probably being paranoid, and unless the book is massive, this technique should hold it together just fine.

biscuit book

What I really do not like about the Simplified Binding, as it was presented in the Penland Book and as you can see in this biscuit book, is the way the spine fabric is visible on the inside of the covers. Aesthetically speaking, it jars, it looks unfinished, exposed, crude.

Which is fine, and which is why you have to try each technique out for yourself…learn the process, in order to improve the process. While putting this biscuit book together, I could visualize very clearly how to get rid of the problem. I’ve started another miniature book and so far so good, I think the solution is very workable. I’m also sure that what I have had to come up with, myself, is standard practice among professional bookbinders, it makes that much sense! But it’s more fun when I come up with these things on my own…

Show you tomorrow!

Week 17 ✂ Wheatear Stitch (TAST 2012)

Wheatear Stitch (TAST 2012)

This week’s stitch was Wheatear Stitch.

I’ve done a small, no-frills sample on a piece of fabric patchwork that is going to become a blank journal’s cover. Not very spectacular, but it gives a nice spot of hand-stitched detail to the otherwise machine-stitched patchwork. The book’s just mocked-up, in these pictures…haven’t turned the patchwork into a case, yet.

Wheatear Stitch (TAST 2012)

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This small embroidery sample is for Sharon Boggon’s Take a Stitch Tuesday 2012 Challenge