Sep 032016

This morning as I browsed through unfinished blog posts—yes, I sometimes write multiple posts at one time—I discovered a post I had begun a year ago. Wow, that’s taking procrastination to new limits, I thought to myself. But a year ago at this time, I began juggling a full-time job with writing, crafting, selling handmade goods, and of course leading some semblance of a personal life. Five months later, I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, underwent surgery, progressed through eight weeks of external and internal radiation treatments, and presently still find myself playing catch-up. Today, I guess, is as good a day as any to return to my half-finished blog post about a new design for an envelope book.


A year ago a grandmother contacted me to design a custom envelope book for a couple having their first child. She selected soft yellow, gray and ivory papers to cover the envelope pages of the book. I recommended she use dark gray envelopes to contrast with the soft colors, as well as a flexible accordion spine made of kraft-tex™, a durable fabric paper that can be painted, dyed, stamped, stitched, sanded, distressed, washed, ironed, embossed, tumbled in the dryer, and who-knows-what-else. In other words, it’s durable and will hold up well over time. It will also easily support the weight of envelopes filled with photos and other items.


This isn’t the best photo of the printed papers, as the actual colors are a little deeper than what is shown here. They give you, however, a general impression of softness.

Before I started the project, I mocked up a skeleton of the inside of the book. A prototype like this helps me to anticipate not only what the final project will look like, but also any potential difficulties that might arise. After I made the prototype, for example, I realized that I would prefer a landscape orientation over a portrait one. Having a prototype is also a good way to minimize material waste. I substituted plain white card stock for the spine, as well as for the envelopes. Each page has a half-inch of space between itself and the cover, or between itself and another page. This provides space for embellishments added to the envelopes. Because the spine is flexible, the pages of the book lie flat when you turn them, and the book is not as thick as it would be if you used a hinge-binding system or a hard-cover spine.

Prototype CollageI began the envelope book project with the accordion spine. I cut a rectangle measuring 7-1/4 inches by 10 inches. I saved the leftover kraft-tex™ because scraps are good for many projects, including bookmarks, buttons, die cutting, and many other things. Then I pulled out my score board, and scored the kraft-tex™ at 2 inches, 2-1/2 inches, 3 inches, and every half-inch until I got to the 8-inch mark. Next, I folded the kraft-tex™ like an accordion. You can see the finished piece below, attached to the covers of covers of the book.

It was extremely useful to use Clover Wonder Clips to hold the kraft-tex in place while the glue dried.

It is helpful to use Clover Wonder Clips to hold the kraft-tex™ in place while the glue dries.

Ahead of time, I had sealed white 5-inch x 7-inch envelopes, and cut off one end to form a pocket. I attached a flap to that end, and decorated both pockets and flaps with pre-selected papers.

Pocket and Flap Assembly

When all of the pockets and flaps had been assembled and decorated, I could see the book beginning to take shape.

Pocket Pages

The grandmother had asked me to personalize the pages so they would tell a story, so I attached sentence strips with brads to each page.

Sentence Strips

I also created some journaling cards to which the parents could adhere photos or on which they could write a note.


The pages had to be prepared for insertion in the book. I attached Scor-tape to each page and inserted the pages, one by one, into the folds of the accordion spine. I also added Scor-tape to the ends of the accordion spine. Finally, I adhered the spine-and-pages unit to the covers. Ahead of time, I covered the outside of the chipboard covers with printed and solid gray papers. I also adhered a ribbon tie to the cover.

Book Assembly

The last step was finishing off the inside of the book (not shown), and decorating the cover.


The result was a book whose pages accommodate both photos and embellishments without forcing the covers to splay open because of over-filling. The spine is sturdy and will not tear.

Finished Book

One of the fun aspects about this type of book is that you can turn the pages one by one as you would expect them to turn, or you can splay the pages flat (as shown in the bottom photo) like a deck of cards, making all of them visible at once.

This past spring I received a request for a different design: two 19-page envelope albums that would enable parents to celebrate the first 18 years of their children’s lives. The first page represented the child’s time of birth, with the subsequent 18 pages dedicated to the next 18 years, one envelope for each page and year of life. I realized that these albums, like the book shown in the above photos, would need to incorporate a kraft-tex™ accordion spine. No other spine would stand up to the weight of so many decorated pages, envelopes, photos and embellishments. Both albums are shown below.

Harrison's Book

Graeme's Book

In Naked envelope spine, spiral binding or hinge binding system? I asked readers to identify which method of binding they liked best for a thick envelope book. Many folks do prefer a hinge-bound book, which utilizes a hard-cover spine. However, the more pages, photos, journaling cards and embellishments you add to a book of memories, the less flat the cover lies, and the more stress is placed on the spine. Of all the methods with which I have experimented, the kraft-tex™ accordion spine is probably the sturdiest and accommodates best the weight of many pages without falling apart. I, too, like the appearance of a hard-cover spine, but for thick books it is in some ways like an oak tree that doesn’t survive the onslaught of a heavy storm. A book with a kraft-tex™ accordion spine is flexible and strong, and is presently my first choice for books with many pages, photos and embellishments.

You can purchase kraft-tex™, by the way, from C&T Publishing. It sells for $12.95, comes in white, black, natural, chocolate and stone—and I promise you’ll use every inch of the 19-inch by 1-1/2 yard roll. It is also available in 10-yard bolts at $69.95, and you can pre-order the newest product, a 10-sheet, five-color sampler for $16.95. The sheets are 8-1/2 x 11 inches, so you can run them through your inkjet printer.


If you bind books, what’s your favorite method of binding thick books with lots of pages, photos, journaling cards, and embellishments?

© 2016 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

Jun 032015

I need an opinion for a binding system for a journal I already sell in my shop. The choices are the exposed envelope spine system I discuss in this post, or a spiral or hinge binding system. Let me know in the comments below what you think.

Late last night, I completed another custom order, one of my “The Love We Share Journals.” This is a book made up of six envelopes that are adhered together and folded to form a dozen pockets for journaling cards. The spine in this book consists of the exposed edges of the envelopes, which I ink with Tim Holtz Distress Ink. After exchanging several convos via Etsy to identify the paper preferred by my buyer, she settled on a gorgeous paper collection called Beautiful Moments, designed by Carina Gardner for Carta Bella™.

Beautiful Moments Collection

I have blogged about the process involved in this book previously in January challenge: new techniques, which I made for the first time 3-1/2 years ago. However, instead of using a “soft” cover as the tutorial suggests, these days I use thick chipboard, which makes the book much more durable. I covered the chipboard with Bazzill Basics solid card stock in Walnut, then cut out and adhered a rectangle from the Beautiful Moments collection. Notice that the front cover and back cover are not the same. This adds interest, I think.


The book always begins with a skeleton of business-sized envelopes, although you can technically use any sized envelopes you prefer.

Envelope Skeleton

Because the Beautiful Moments collection features dark brown as one of its accent colors, I inked the edges of the white envelopes with Tim Holtz Distress Ink in Walnut Stain to match it. If you didn’t know what comes next, you’d think what you see below looks pretty unattractive, but in reality this gives the book a soft vintage appearance.

Inking the Edges

Once you cover the envelopes with decorative card stock, you can see how much better things look.

Pocket Pages

When the book was completed, it was a rainbow of earthy colors in wine, dusky pink, chocolate brown and gold.

Beautiful Moments Envelope Book

One thing that I’d like to change about this book is the binding. As you can see in the photo below, the covers don’t lie flat as you fill up the book with journaling cards and photos. The hemp ribbon tie does keep the book closed, however.


To solve this issue, I’d like to experiment with some other binding methods, possibly a spiral binding, or maybe a hinge method, resulting in a hardcover spine. If you had to choose one of these bindings, keeping in mind that the envelope pockets would still comprise the “content” of the book, which would you prefer? Although these books are not the same as my envelope journal, the photos below show the difference in binding methods.


Spiral binding using double owire

"Cherish" Photo Journal

Hinge binding system with hardcover spine, measuring approximately 1-1/2 inches

I guess a project like this proves that you never stop wanting to improve your products, and you can certainly learn something new with each project you complete. What have you learned lately about a product you make?

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

May 272015

I enjoy custom orders. They give me a chance to do something different, to experiment, to learn something new, or simply to explore new techniques. Recently a buyer-and-friend asked me to design a “celestial” gratitude journal for her—basically, a book with a cover featuring the sun, moon and stars. Because so many of my handmade books feature flowers or a floral theme on the cover, a celestial-style journal represented a welcome departure from the norm. This post is about what happens behind-the-scenes after you click on the “Request Custom Order” button of my Etsy shop, MisterPenQuin.


The Request Custom Order button opens up a private conversation (convo) between you and your seller, initiated by you, that enables you to inform the seller about your preferences, and allows the seller to describe, both in words and pictures, how your wishes can (or can’t) be granted. I don’t know exactly how many messages are typical for a custom order convo stream, but I would guess it’s a half a dozen or more. For this order, 12 messages were exchanged, but I’ve done custom orders that involved as few as five messages or as many as 19. In any event, communicating clearly with my buyer before I click on the “Make this a Custom Order” button is a great way for me to “get things right.” I nearly always attach a PDF document with thumbnail photos to one of the messages within a convo stream. This helps my buyer narrow down choices and for me to ask questions that enable me to fill the order.

Sample PDF

Because I didn’t already have celestial-style paper in my inventory, I made a trip to my local scrapbooking store, and discovered it only had paper with plain stars on a solid background, and Halloween-style paper that looked a bit garish for the purposes of this journal. The next best option was digital paper from an Etsy seller—something I can also re-use for other books. I researched a few options and shared them with my buyer, presenting a few ideas about how they could be combined with other options. In the end, the choices were narrowed down to one of the papers in the Galaxy Night Sky collection from FishScraps, and three celestial images from Sun and Moon Digital Collage Sheet, designed by Graphics Digital. If you use digital papers in a project you sell, by the way, make sure you check the seller’s policies. Some allow you to make and sell projects with their images, while others only allow for personal use. If in doubt, don’t make assumptions; check with the seller.

Sample Papers

The blue of the Galaxy Night Sky paper keeps changing in this post, as I took photos at different times of the day. The final photos are pretty close to the correct shade, as they were taken within a light box.

The first thing I had to figure out, once I began working on the order, was how to incorporate the celestial images. I had proposed making dimensional tiles with them, but the collage images were designed as one-inch tiles—a quarter-inch too large for a 4-inch by 4-inch journal after they are matted. I adjusted the settings within my printer’s dialog window, and “tricked” the printer into treating my paper as only six inches wide. This caused the collage images to print out as three-quarter-inch-wide tiles. Perfect! I matted them against one-inch squares of Galaxy Night Sky paper by running the celestial image squares through my Xyron® Create-a-Sticker™ (figure 1), then inked the edges with Tim Holtz Distress Ink in Stormy Sky (figure 2). I subsequently adhered the squares to craft foam to create dimensional tiles (figure 3). The last step was applying a sealant called Tim Holtz Distress Micro Glaze that makes the paper water-resistant (figure 4).

A Tile work

I set the tiles aside and began working on the cover. I always begin by cutting the chipboard and papers to size.

5 Cut out chipboard and paper for cover

Then I adhered the paper to the chipboard and let it dry for a minute or so (figure 1). I sliced the corners off the paper for mitering purposes and scored around the edge of the chipboard (figure 2) with a bone folder (figure 2). This helps “train” the paper to fold more neatly around the edge of the chipboard when you adhere it to the chipboard (figure 3). I also applied silver ribbon down the front cover at this point, wrapping it to the inside cover. The last step involved adhering squares of paper to the inside front and back covers (figure 4).

B Cover work

While I worked on the inside pages, I tucked the covers between two sheets of wax paper inside a book press. Without this step, the covers have a tendency to warp. I typically leave the book covers in the book press for at least a few hours, or overnight.

10 Press covers in book press

The inside pages were printed with my laser printer, four pages to a letter-sized sheet of paper. These were trimmed to size with my RotaTrim paper cutter (figure 1), after which I rounded off their corners with a Crop-A-Dile Corner Chomper (figure 2). Did you know that rounded corners tend to tear less than right-angle corners? That’s one reason for this extra step, but I also think it looks nice. The pages were pre-punched for spiral binding, for which I used my Cinch (figure 3). You can follow the directions on the platform of the Cinch to punch your papers, but I always use a paper jig for positioning because I think it’s faster and easier. This is simply a piece of cardstock that is the same size as the page, pre-punched with the appropriate number of holes and marked with a center line that aligns with the centering arrow on the Cinch. You can see the completed stack of punched pages in figure 4.

C Page preparation

After I removed the covers from the book press, I applied micro glaze to them (first image). This is especially important for inkjet-printed papers, as you never know how colorfast the ink is. The protectant does not waterproof the paper, but it does make it water-resistant. I punched holes in the cover to match the holes in the pages (second image), and finally assembled the entire book, fastening everything together with an owire (third image).

D Micro glaze and book assembly

The last stage of book design is always my favorite: embellishing the cover. As you can see below, I adhered the foam-backed tiles to the ribbon. Then, because I knew my buyer/friend likes a little bling, I adhered some tiny crystals to the Galaxy Night Sky paper, which give the appearance of twinkling stars. I reinforced the sticky-back adhesive on the crystals with Ranger Multi Medium Matte to make sure they won’t come off easily during the life of the journal. Finally, I tied some silver ribbon “bows” to the owire, something I do with nearly all of my journals. When the book was done, I took photos for this post and for my own records.

Celestial-Style Gratitude Journal

To be fair, most of the stages of development for this celestial-style journal are involved in my entire bookmaking process, except for the series of messages that initiated this particular order. But if you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of one of my books, from “conception” to “giving birth”—especially if you have a custom request—now you know how things work. I really enjoyed customizing this gratitude journal for my buyer.

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.