Inspiring ways to fill handmade books

For years, my husband and I have been passionate about using handmade books in our everyday lives and for special occasions.


But we do meet people — often at art shows — who aren’t quite sure how they would fill a blank book. “I don’t journal,” is a common refrain.

But that’s the thing. I don’t journal either, but I have many other ways in which I do use my books, along with those made by other great bookbinders.

With this in mind, I’ve started a new project to document all the ways that handmade books can be put to use. This way of thinking has already changed how I talk about my work, how I arrange my booth at art shows, and how I encourage students in my classes. I’ve also dedicated a page on my new website to showcasing these inspiring books in action, along with using the hashtag #myusedbook.

For starters, I’ve been looking closer at all the quirky and meaningful ways that my husband and I use books.

When we bought our first home we started a guestbook that began to be filled at our housewarming party and which continues today to hold messages from overnight guests. We’ve printed Instagram photos and bound them in leather albums. And we stash little notebooks in our pockets while traveling.

I keep a garden journal now. My husband fills in a “house book” with all of our home improvement projects and the ongoing story of our home. And I love the colorful sketchbook I made for myself.


We’ve found that keeping these books encourages us to observe our lives a little more closely, and to preserve the things that matter.

In turn, I hope this project inspires others to put their books into action and then share the results with others.

To take part, you can either email your photos and a story to me at or post a photo of how you use your book on social media with the hashtag #myusedbook — and you can tag me in it with @linenlaidfelt so that I take note. I hope you will!


Adventures in homeownership and a sneak peek into my new bookbinding studio

A few months ago my husband and I purchased our first home, a cozy little bungalow built in 1935. Since moving in, we've been happily spending our days getting settled and enjoying our new surroundings. 

The picture above was taken just after we finished signing all the paperwork and were handed the keys to our new abode. As soon as the house was officially ours, we picked up our dog, Riviera, and brought her over to explore her new yard and house for the first time. I think she was just as happy about the new house as we were.

Although I haven't been blogging much lately, I've still been keeping busy.  Most of the rooms in the house are unpacked, organized, and decorated, and now that the weather is warming up we've been starting to do some gardening in our new yard.

I've also been getting settled into my new studio space. My studio is located in a downstairs bedroom in the house with a big window overlooking a flower bed with peonies and lilies. 

While getting my studio set up is still a work in progress, I'm pleased with how it's all coming together so far. I've hung up my collection of art show posters from Porter Flea and Handmade & Bound above my worktable, along with a few other posters by local printmakers. 

I also invested in a some new shelving to get things organized in my studio. All of my inventory now gets safely stashed inside the glass cabinets, and the open shelves display some of the first books I ever made while studying in Italy, prototypes of new styles of books I'm working on, and other lovely little books that I've collected from other book artists. 

My studio is also full of plenty of books in progress. I've been creating new styles of journals and photo albums in preparation for the upcoming marketplace at Thistle Farms next weekend and the next Porter Flea on June 7. I'll be posting more updates here in the coming weeks, but in the meantime be sure to check out  my Instagram photos for more images of the new house, our garden, and of course, beautiful handbound books!

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The Skillery EXPO: One day, eight workshops

On Saturday, October 20, join The Skillery for a pop-up workshop series, featuring a collection of Nashville artisans, entrepreneurs and experts leading one-hour mini-workshops on a variety of engaging topics.The Skillery EXPO will bring the passionate and the curious together under one roof for a day of demonstrations, conversations and community building.

I will be teaching a workshop about variations of the Japanese stab binding, and participants will learn how to make four different books in one hour. You can read more about the class, see photos of what we'll be making, and purchase tickets here. My husband will also be teaching a juggling workshop that day! Read below for more details about the awesome lineup of classes scheduled for the day. 

An Introduction to Specialty Coffee
with Sean Stewart of BEVE Mobile Coffee
9:00 - 9:50AM; $10
Enjoy a tasting of coffees from various growing regions, and a discussion of processing methods, roasting profiles and the meaning of the term "Specialty Coffee."

Delicious Lighting
with Kyle Dreier
10:00 - 10:50AM; $10
Renowned photographer Kyle Dreier will share tips, tools and tricks to help you get what you desire when using your camera (or even your cell phone) to photograph the most delicious of subjects: food.

Inbox Branding: Components of Email Design
with Cynthia Price of Emma
11:00 - 11:50AM; FREE
A must for marketers and entrepreneurs, this class will explore how adding email to your marketing mix can strengthen your customer loyalty, drive more traffic to your site and grow your business in style.

An Introduction to Backyard Chickens
with Jesse Alvey
12:00 - 12:50PM; $10
Curious about raising chickens at home? This class will provide an overview of the backyard chicken experience, including how to get started, and tips for maintaining a healthy flock.

Succulent Design and Closed Container Gardening
with Emily Marlow of 400 Moons
1:00 - 1:50PM; $10
What are succulents, and why are they becoming so popular? Learn to break away from the boring clay pot, with a better understanding of succulents, air plants, terrariums, and closed container gardening. 

Juggling: Anyone Can Learn
with Tony Gonzalez
2:00 - 2:50PM; $10
Anyone can learn to juggle! So says award-winning juggler Tony Gonzalez, who will teach classic three-ball juggling, and let you try out other juggling props, like the diabolo, kendama, juggling clubs and rings.

Bookbinding: Make Four Fast Books
with Katie Gonzalez of linenlaid&felt
3:00 - 3:50PM; $10
Create four small softcover notebooks in just 50 minutes! Bookbinder Katie Gonzalez will teach Japanese Stab Binding and other techniques, including tearing paper by hand and working with sewing templates.

Bicycle Maintenance 101
with Dan Furbish of The Oasis Center
4:00 - 4:50PM; $10
Got a bike? Bicycle advocate Dan Furbish will teach basic maintenance skills such as changing a flat, basic tune-ups to increase the life of your bike, and the best tools to carry with you. 

The Skillery launches, and I'm teaching book arts

I'm excited to announce my latest bookmaking class and the awesome organizing force behind it: The Skillery, a new project in Nashville promoting interesting classes and lectures. The Skillery community connects people looking to teach (all sorts of things) with neighbors interested in learning.

Launched on 11/11/11, The Skillery is busy promoting four classes, including mine about miniature books as holiday ornaments. And if you're reading this today, Saturday, Dec. 3, you can use a special discount code to save 20% off the workshop price (note it's only available today). Details below.

Connecting with Matt, who launched The Skillery, is just the latest great connection that has cropped up in East Nashville. He found my work online, we grabbed coffee together, and it's been an exciting time ever since, as this project gets started. I'm pretty sure that even my husband will soon be teaching classes: Most likely juggling!

Here are the details for my class, just four days away:

Wednesday, Dec. 7, 7-9 p.m.
What If Studio, 69 Trimble Street, Nashville, TN 37210

Create eye-catching miniature book Christmas ornaments in this introductory bookbinding class. We’ll make sculptural books with surprising folded structures and functional journals that can be given as gifts to friends and family. This introductory class explains the fundamentals of bookbinding, including proper techniques for folding, stitching, and gluing, as well as varied binding styles using high-quality decorative materials and traditional binding tools. All materials will be provided. This class will give you the techniques, ideas and resources to continue making handbound books.

Admission: $28, and includes all materials and supplies
One-day promo code: PORTERFLEA

The Skillery: website | twitter | facebook

Guest post: Above the fold

Thanks to Katie's lessons and patience, hers were not the only books on display at the linenlaid&felt booth during the Handmade & Bound show at Watkins College this past weekend. Titled the "Husband's Corner," I showed off my newsprint books, bound in the Italian long-stitch style and featuring my favorite clippings from Sunday editions of The New York Times from 2010.

Before the show, I'd only made these books for myself and a few friends. I first got the idea when Katie made me a book from pages of Italian newspapers during her study abroad program. As a devoted reader of the Sunday edition, all these years later, I began to save page spreads.

The process for creating the books is pretty specific. In most cases, I repeatedly fold the news page in half, then tear it, and repeat until I arrive at the size seen here. This means that each sheet for the book is one-eighth of a page. Many articles and photos and spreads end up being torn into separate sheets, ultimately allowing me to juxtapose the clippings in interesting ways. On some occasions, when I didn't want to cut something in half, I would toss out the "system" and purposefully select a portion of a page to make one of my little sheets. As I answered one fair-goer on Saturday: Yes, the pages are carefully selected. Because of the style that I chose, there is a "center spread" in each signature. I put my best clippings there.

I assembled about 15 sheets per signature, and there are five signatures in each book. The covers are a cardstock that Katie and I both really like. I used simple brads and thread for enclosures.

I often found myself clipping sports and travel stories because of the amazing photography, infographics, and maps that come from those sections. Other favorites included an obituary on a tuba player, a feature on a bail bondsman for celebrities, all sorts of World Cup graphics, and a text-only movie poster for "Black Swan" ("WICKED, PYSCHO-SEXUAL THRILLER"). I tried to include all of the little things in the paper too, like the wedding announcements, the chess column, and corrections. I also selected pages with friends in mind, snagging particular baseball coaches and pop stars for their books.

At this point, I still have two books that haven't sold. But I've been saving the 2011 Sunday editions as well, and plan to bind those in the new year. I also have a special little collection of Supreme Court articles and graphics for a smaller book. And I've been thinking about some wide-format styles that could use the entire width of the broadsheet spread. A wide shape will allow me to show off the front page, as well as the six-column photos that often grace the section fronts. After all, I do call these books "Above the Fold," so I may be able to do a bit more justice to the big impact put out by the paper.

Anniversaries, the traditional way

Earlier this month my husband and I celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary. We exchanged gifts made of cotton. Last year, we exchanged gifts made from paper. 

We've decided that we're going to follow the year-by-year categories of traditional wedding gifts. Since I'm a bookmaker, I was especially excited about year one's paper gifts and that's probably why we started off with the tradition. I think the themes make the gift giving so much fun. The materials give us a place to start with the gift-giving brainstorming, and then we get to come up with a contemporary idea to fit within the traditional boundaries.

Last year, Tony surprised me with a little handbound book made by Ruth Bleakley. The book features hand-drawn jellyfish illustrations, which was especially fitting because jellyfish are some of my favorite creatures and they often appear in my own artwork. (Ruth is a book artist and illustrator living in Cape Cod. To see more of her work, visit her etsy shop or her blog.)

I know I've mentioned before that my husband loves maps. (He couldn't resist getting one of the East Nashville maps at Porter Flea a few weeks ago.) So for his paper gift last year, I got him a silkscreened world map from These Are Things. We also own their map of Europe, so between all of these we have quite the map theme developing in our home decor. 

This year, the theme was cotton. Tony picked out a bird pillow for me, which is now adding a lively splash of color in our new living room. The pillow was made by Janae Easton of Platypusfile, who I met back in May at the Athens Indie Craftstravaganzaa. Each of her bird pillows is made from vibrant fabrics and a vintage button, and each one is named after an opera singer. My bird's name is Josella Ligi. 

I got my husband two cotton t-shirts from Out of Print. I settled on the To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye shirts, because I liked their designs best, they are some of our favorite classic novels, and because we read them together in high school back when we first started dating. The shirts from Out of Print are based on book cover designs, and with each shirt sale they donate a book to a community in need. 

Next year our theme will be leather. I've already got my eye on these lovely handmade leather bags...

Packing for the art show

Artists may exhibit their handmade wares in "trunk shows," but the suitcase is the real darling of art show booths. The bigger the clasps -- and the brighter the stitching -- the better. Serving as Katie's heavy box lifter, snack gopher, and bookkeeper (as the tax department refers to me) it's this sort of acute observation that I bring to the table for linenlaid&felt. I'm Tony, the newspaper reporter husband, and in this exclusive guest blog post, I bring you a special trendspotting story. 

The suitcase photo that leads off this post comes direct to you from Porter Flea, a handmade market that debuted in East Nashville this month. Although not immediately involved in the displaying of crafts, its presence alone adds style to the whole affair. I am, of course, only half joking. I really do like the style of vintage suitcases, but I'm not totally sold on the best way to use them.

The pictures immediately above hail from the Athens Indie Craftstravaganza in May. The quadruple stack was something new to me, practically a monument dedicated to the indie art show suitcase. Joking aside (sort of) both of these photos show off what happens to be the most beguiling part of the suitcase: the bunchy and silky interior divider. From the first time we considered using a suitcase, that interior has always given me pause. That area is designed for storing socks, I think, and making it practical for anything else may not be possible.

This photo shows another Athens effort in putting the suitcase to work. Such displays really are handy for browsing, even if I haven't yet met a suitcase that can pull off "classy." Which is not to say that we haven't given the suitcase a chance as well, as seen below, displaying prints and photographs.

For the moment, this is the best that we've come up with. When hauling art to our booth, I love being able to easily carry considerable weight inside the suitcase. And once it's there, I think we feel obliged to work it into the display in our own booth.

We got ours for no cost at a church "free sale" back in Virginia, so there's no pressure, but I'd like to see your great ideas for putting a vintage suitcase to work, so please share links or descriptions in the comments.

Handmade treats for Valentine's Day

My husband showered me with handmade delights this Valentine's Day. First, I got a box full of cranberry-orange gumdrops, made by fahrenheitgoods on Etsy.  They are soft and delicious (I had to hide them from myself so I wouldn't eat them all this evening!), and the box was wrapped in a beautiful paper too.  I'm sure that paper will make its way into a handbound book in some way or another.

He also got me a beautiful pair of copper enamel earrings from tekaandzoe, and I couldn't be more thrilled.  (You might remember that I've been lusting over them for months...)  I already planning my outfit for work tomorrow so I can wear my new earrings. 

And last but not least, Tony picked out some handmade perfume for me from Sweet Anthem.  I've been obsessed with the "Anita" scent for the past month, after ordering a perfume sampler with a gift card my friend Chase gave me for Christmas.  All of the fragrances I tried were quite nice, but that particular one really stood out to me.  "Anita" smells just like a peppermint mocha, my all-time favorite coffee drink.  And as my sample of that scent was starting to run low, I'm excited to now have a full-sized bottle of it.  

Tony and I will be staying in this evening, cooking dinner together, and watching a movie.  On the menu: homemade chicken curry, chocolate souffle, and a bottle of wine we've been saving since our honeymoon.  It should be the perfect evening.

I hope you've all had a very happy Valentine's Day!

Congratulations, Joy and Chris!

On this chilly winter day, it's hard not to think back on my tropical getaway from November. My husband's cousin, Joy, planned a fabulous destination wedding and we were lucky enough to be able to attend. The whole family set sail on a cruise leaving from Charleston, SC and heading to two ports in the Bahamas before arriving in Key West. There, Joy and Chris said "I do" on a beautiful Saturday morning just a few feet away from the ocean. It was such a lovely backdrop for the ceremony (and all of the guests enjoyed dipping our toes in the water before heading off for a delicious lunch reception).

Our gift to the couple was a handbound wedding guest book, pictured above. The book doubles as a photo album, and Tony helped me to fill it with plenty of photos of Joy and Chris. With the help of some sneaky relatives who helped track down all of the photos, we were able to include photos of Joy and Chris's first date, their travels together around the globe, their engagement, and many more. Wedding guests enjoyed flipping through the photos and selecting which page on which to write their congratulatory messages. Check back later this week for a more in-depth post about this wedding book with lots of photos.

And now for a few more photos from our trip, as I reminisce about our tropical adventure and look forward to the warmer days ahead.

The photos above were taken in Key West as Tony and I enjoyed splashing in the ocean after the wedding ceremony.

Despite the overcast weather during our day in Freeport, Bahamas, we made the most of our day at the beach.

Before one of the formal dinners on the cruise ship, we stepped outside to take a few photos together as the sun was setting (and the wind was blowing). This is one of the only photos from that evening where we don't look completely windblown.

The Borders Within

This past Sunday, the newspaper where my husband and I work published a special report called The Borders Within. For my husband Tony and our good friend Chase Purdy it was the culmination of a year's worth of reporting about the growing Hispanic population in our town.

And for me, it marked the end of an incredibly busy week spent designing the six-page section. This is undoubtedly the project I am post proud of during my two years designing for The News Virginian. I'm also quite proud of the work that Tony and Chase completed with their reporting which makes this even more meaningful to me. I don't often share my graphic design work on this blog, but I wanted to make an exception for this particular project.

Click on any of the images for a closer look at the design, or view a pdf of the full section here.

One aspect of the design that came together even better than I'd expected was the map on page two. I created a map of our small town, and used it to plot different points of significance to Waynesboro's Hispanic community, like the a church offering weekly services in Spanish and a park where many people -- including former Mexican professional league players -- play fútbol. Local and regional statistics surround the map to complete the infographic.

Everything for this section was completed by Tony, Chase, and me. Reporting, writing, photography, design -- we did it all. So we all feel a real sense of ownership about this section. The photos that Tony and Chase took turned out so well, and they drive the design for the section. I was able to use a variety of large dominant photos and truly give a face to this community that is often overlooked.

We were also all excited to see that our section had been featured on Charles Apple's The Visual Side of Journalism blog. Charles had many complimentary things to say about The Borders Within, and specifically appreciated the visual appeal of the infographics, and the design of the section overall. Reading his post truly made my day, and was ceretianly a highlight after such a hectic week (and weekend) preparing for the section's publication.

And here's a bit more about the section, in Tony's words:

At its most basic, the idea behind the reporting in this section is not new. Like many reporters, we chose to explore an unfamiliar immigrant community and one that struggles with a language barrier.

But we thought we could deliver something meaningful to readers by bringing our curiosity to Waynesboro’s Hispanic community in particular — a community nestled into a small town and one that still remembers the first who came from Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, and elsewhere. They remember because those pioneers arrived not so long ago.

Because of the short time these families have lived here, we find them on the cusp of transition. As that population meets more frequently with the broader community, those unfamiliar words and nameless faces become harder to ignore, or to refuse to understand. Their needs have grown. Their successes are mounting.

We chose to approach in Spanish whenever possible, no matter how much we’d stumble. We focused on people, not politics, and the ordinary as often as the extreme.

This project first arose in fall 2009, but it might not have started without an unsolicited call and a soft threat. The caller told us to feature Kim Romero’s struggle to bring her husband Rigo back from Mexico, where he’d become mired in immigration bureaucracy. If we wouldn’t write the story, some other reporter would, the caller said.

The Romeros’ story turned from one chapter to the next just after midnight Sept. 10, when Rigo came legally into Kim’s arms at Dulles International Airport. We were there. Rigo has since gained residency through 2020.

Their story isn’t over. Nor is our work.

Tony and Chase had already won the International Perspectives award from the Associated Press Managing Editors contest for their coverage of the Romeros earlier this year, and I think that is just the beginning for the recognition they will receive for their work. Read all of the articles in The Borders Within series here.