If I had a secret weapon in my war to be a creative productive person, it is the mighty pamphlet book! A pamphlet book is a simply stitched book with a soft cover. It's basically what you would make if you have one of those beautiful long arm staplers. Without one of those toothy beauties, you can still make a pamphlet book you can make yourself.
Why make a pamphlet book?
I use my pamphlet books in two main ways. One, I use them for my bullet journals , which are my everything. . .my calendar, schedule, goals, to-do lists, sketchbook, all in one. I make them monthly, and they keep me focused on what needs to get done each day, week, month. . . you get the picture. You may remember reading about my bullet journal process in an earlier blog post.
The other main use for my pamphlet books is to contain a big idea. What does that mean? I create a book each time I have a new project idea that is substantial enough to exist on its own. I usually get a flutter of disparate thoughts for my next big plan, and I need a way to contain, organize, and see them. Making a pamphlet book is my first step in making the next big plan come to life. Having a tangible object filled with chicken scratch, mind maps, and sketches helps me to move into logistics, timelines, goals, and eventually the bullet journal (full circle).
I remember reading a piece by the superbly creative choreographer, Twyla Tharp. Tharp was writing about her own creative process in designing dance performances. (Forgive me for my lack fluency in discussing this art form. I am probably misnaming something here.) It turns out she would fill boxes with the bits and pieces that inspired her. The boxes would have labels and contain anything from pages torn from magazines to articles of clothing to recordings of music- - - anything that would help to inform her choreography for a particular project.
For some reason this was so striking to me. Dance seems so abstract, and the idea of choreography so intangible. I loved the freedom Tharp gave me in conceiving of having a material locus for ideas. Something happens in capturing them, collecting them, that makes it easier to manifest that project.
So, if you want to make your own little container for ideas, shopping lists, or journal, check out this very simple way that I make my pamphlet books. This is a basic structure, and there are many ways to vary it. Also, if you want to dive deeper into bookmaking as your next creative adventure, the pamphlet is a foundational element to making a larger hard bound book. So, here is your first step!
I think that 11" x 14" paper is a nice size to work with. Your final book will be 7" x 11", but any size paper, within reason, will work.
I like bristol weight paper for the cover because it adds an extra heft in protecting the precious insides. You will need one sheet.
As for the insides, I like Strathmore sketch paper for bullet journals and general scribbling, but if I am going to be painting in the book or using markers, I prefer Cansons' XL Multimedia paper. Of course, the thicker your inside paper is, the fewer the sheets you can use.
Since the number of sheets depends on the thickness of the paper and the purpose of the book, it's hard to but a number on it, but I use anywhere between 6 and 15 sheets of sketch paper in a typical pamphlet book. Whatever number you settle on, you will have to be able to fold the cover and the inside sheets easily.
Also handy, an awl (really sharp tool for poking holes), bone folder (flat smooth thing to make tight creases), 24" of string (embroidery floss or something similar in heft), large eyed needle (able to thread hefty string), tooth picks, and a cutting mat or surface on which to poke holes.
Honestly, if you wanted to give this a try without investing in the bone folder and awl, the most critical components are the needle and thread. The other items just make the process easier, but aren't absolutely necessary.
Preparing the Pamphlet Book to be Sewn
Begin by shoring up all of your papers with the bristol paper (or cover paper on the outside). Get all your papers in alignment before folding them in half.
Use your pointer finger to make a crease in the middle of the fold.
Then use your bone folder, finger, rulere, credit card, or something to crease your spine starting from the middle crease out.
Run the bone folder along the spine a couple of times, flipping the book over to crease the backside as well as the front. This just ensures a nice creasy crease.
Yay! Your paper just went from paper shape to book shape! Congratulations!
Next you are going to open that nicely creased book up to the center page. Place the book cover side up on your cutting mat or safe surface, and grab your awl or sharp poker.
With your awl at 90 degrees to the book, poke a hole in the middle-ish of the book. Pole two more holes, one at each end -- close to the edges of the spine (like an inch from the ege of the paper).
Note: You can bump up your hole count to 5 or 7. Really, any odd number should work, but 3 gets the job done.
Use toothpicks to hold your holes and papers in place as you poke your 2nd and 3rd holes and pepare for sewing.
Sewing your Magical Pamphlet Book Binding
Now lean in because I am going to tell you something that will likely change your life. If you are someone who finds herself with a needle in her hand on the regular, you need to know this. Thread your needle like usual but instead of leaving the excess dangling free with only the fates of the universe to ensure that it will not come unthreaded, pierce the thread with the needle and pull the excess down towards the eye. This will ensure that your thread won't slip out as you work. What a relief!
Note: this is not necessary for making the book, but if you sew a lot - especially hand quilting - this is required learning!
Okay, with your needle threaded with approximately 24" of string, begin from the inside of the pamphlet book. Push your needle through the center hole, pulling your thread through the hole to the outside of the book. Leave about 6" of string hanging out in the inside.
Then, from the outside, poke your needle into the top hole and pull your needle and thread into the center of the book. Don't pull so hard that you pull that precious tale through, though.
Okay, now open up the book and look at that beautiful inside. It's time to pass your needle through that middle hole, again. This time, be careful not to put your needle through the existing thread. It can just make it messy and tangly.
Pull needle and thread through middle hole to the outside of the book.
Then, from the outside, put the needle through the bottom hole (the only open hole left) and pull the needle and thread towards the inside of the book.
The spine should look something like this!
Now, on the inside, pull everything tight and snug and tie a knot at the center hole. Make sure to get your needle under the thread of the top half.
Pull everything tight and snug.
Trim the excess threads.
Yay! You did it! You made a pamphlet book. Now you can decorate the cover and start filling up the insides with your brilliant ideas and plans! I hope to see you taking over the world soon.
BUT if you want to know my special sauce for protecting the outside cover. Read on. . .
Decorating and Protecting the Pamphlet Book Cover
I typically use markers or watercolor to write a title and decorate the front of the pamphlet book. For this book, which is my natural dy book, I used cyanotype papers from an earlier project to jazz up the cover.
I fixed the papers to the cover with Modge Podge, a glue.
I added some tissue paper to the areas that the cyanotype paper did not cover. Tissue paper is fun because of its transparency.
Once the cyanotype paper is dry --or after you are done drawing, painting, or whatever on your cover, I always paint on some gloss medium. This one is Liquitex gloss medium and varnish. The gloss medium adds a protective layer to the cover. (I am always spilling, dribbling, or just accidentally sitting in puddles.) It also makes the cover thicker, yet still plyable, like a coating of plastic. I don't know. I like the texture it gives, and I just feel fancy and professional, honestly.
Just squirt it on and spread it around. Let it dry, and you are done baby!!!!
My dye book in action!!!
Hope you enjoyed this post and can't wait to hear what projects are in your future! Let me know how you like capture your ideas and plans? Boxes? Books? Bulletin Boards? What works for you?
Anna Lentz, artist and writer, blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.