The Minnesota Journal Project 2000 Ten-Year Reunion—Binding the Group Journal

November 15, 2010

Go to the full post to see the completed journal and some views along the way during construction.

Above: view of the completed group journal which contains pages from 35 participants.

On Friday I posted about the MNJP2K’s Ten-Year Reunion. In honor of this event I volunteered to bind a group journal. Originally I’d envisioned a two-volume boxed set, but in the end I had to opt for a monster book approach, more structural in construction. It was however still based on the 9 x 6.5 inch journals created for the original year 2000 journals.



Left: top view of the completed journal showing the wide spine.

Since matching the bookcloth of the original project would be impossible I used a linen bookcloth from Japan and added green elements (the original books were bound in green)—the ribbon tie and the inset cover label.

The project began with me cutting enough Folio paper for each of the 35 participants to each have two sheets (four pages). I folded a tab, for binding, on each sheet and sent them, with instructions to the participants. I selected Folio paper because it is 100 percent cotton and sized in such a way that while it’s a printmaking paper it also takes mixed media exceedingly well. It is also thick enough and stiff enough for holding heavy duty collage. I knew this group worked with a variety of methods and media so it was a good choice. Also, it’s inexpensive and I had some on hand—since I was donating the materials for this book it simply made sense. (I have a lot to say about Folio. Search using this blog’s search engine for posts about Folio and other papers for visual journal keepers.)

When the completed pages were returned to me I prepared them for binding by obscuring any work that went outside the live area onto the tabs (which would appear between another artist’s pages). I then added glassine cover sheets before and after any entries which used smudge-able media, to protect the work of other artists. (Note to self: in future group projects request that no smudge-able materials be used. That also eliminates the use of fixative by artists.)

Next I had to punch the sewing holes in the signatures. This presented a problem because I tend to simply hold sigs in my hand over a towel when punching. Since I was working with a signature comprised of pages with interlacing tabs it wasn’t possible to hold these sheets in my hand and get a consistent, tidy, signature—I practiced on a “fake” signature first because I was ascertaining how many pages I could manage in each signature.

Happily I had purchased a punching cradle 10 years ago, and while I had tried to give it away on several occasions I am relieved to say now that I was always unsuccessful. I now have my name and a note written in permanent ink on the cradle: Never forget that this saved your life, and give it away!

Not the most grammatical of self-warnings, but I’ll always remember to keep this for those rare times when it is needed.

Because I had the punching cradle I could push the pages with their alternating tabs down into the frame to keep the base of each sheet square. Joy of joys.

Once the signatures were punched I sewed them with waxed Irish linen thread simply to hold them together while weighting them down. They were quite bulky after all the work that had been done on the pages. I needed them to relax before I sewed them to the cover. I couldn’t weight them without sewing because the pages would slip out of position and at best not relax, and at worst fold in odd ways.

Since I typically make books which are not yet worked in, it was the one issue I hadn’t thought out completely before hand. There was of course this simple fix, but it added 5 days of waiting for the pages to condense, to the project.

I couldn’t make the case, however, until I knew how thick to make the spine, so production halted.

Once the signatures seemed sufficiently compressed I determined a spine width that would allow sufficient space between sewing holes on the cover and signatures in the book, so that the pages would turn and holes wouldn’t tear out. The spine for this book ended up being 5.5 inches wide and it is the oddest shaped book I’ve ever made. I began to call it The Beast.

The following photos are from the construction process, with captions noting items of interest.

Above: The empty case showing a portion of the front. Because the spine was so wide I decided to add ribbon ties to the fore edge of the book. I cut holes and channels for the ribbons before adding the endsheets. I also used a slightly thicker book board than I normally do because of the weight of the pages. Additionally, before the cover boards were covered I cut out a depression for the label. The label was later made in QuarkXpress using ITC Veljovic—which was also used for the front and back matter of the book. All the front and back matter was created on the computer and then output onto 100 % cotton paper sheets which were then adhered to blank Folio paper pages with Xyron Permanent Adhesive. (Note I didn’t want to try and run the Folio through my printer as I wasn’t sure it would take the ink well. This method also allowed me to insert blank pages in the signatures to be weighted, and then add revised text at the last moment before sewing. This is one chipmunk who is always thinking about the future.) Note: Once the case was completed I glued the label in place. The label was printed on a color printer with lightfast inks, on cotton paper and covered with an acid-free lamination plastic. I glued it in place with PVA after roughing up the back for better adhesion. I could have waited to attach the label at the end, but by doing it at this point I could re-weight the case and ensure good adhesion. Once the signatures were sewn into the book I knew I wouldn’t be able to weight the book easily. Because the laminating plastic can scratch I created a belly band of bond paper around the front cover to protect the label while I manhandled the case during sewing.


Left: I created a hole punching template on the computer. Even for a one-of-a-kind book I find the accuracy of the computer template is greater than a hand-drawn one. In order to punch the holes on this wide spine I needed to support the case on a stack of books and five hand towels. (Note in the background a calligraphy book I had out to recommend to current students. You can read my review.)

MNJPHoles2681 Right: A view of the completed holes. I just love how neat and tidy they look.

Once the holes were punched it was time to sew in the signatures, removing the temporary sewing from each individual signature. It was also time to double check that all the pages were in the correct order both by author and within an author’s section. And of course I tripple checked that no pages were inserted upside down. I used a dash stitch that simply ran up the spine and then slipped out and into the next signature inside the case—until of course the case became too full to allow any flexibility. At which point I had to modify the dash stitch even more—but at least I had expected this and was ready for it.


Above: Sewing in the signatures. I needed a stack of books to prop up under the covers when I was sewing in the final signatures, to keep from tearing the endsheets at the hinge.

Before sewing the book I also double checked the entries against the front matter list of participants. Basically the entries are in alphabetical order by author’s surname, however to balance signatures some single-sheet entries were moved to the final signature—which was actually a great thing because they balanced out the back matter signature perfectly. Don’t you just love it! I know I did.

It only took 48 minutes to sew The Beast together. It was the simplest task of the entire procedure. Always pick a simple stitch for a complicated and iffy job. Every step of the construction of this book I was conscious that I might have to start over (e.g., the label depression on the cover is miscut, start over; the channels for the ribbons are miscut, start over…) so it was nice to have something simple to deal with at the sewing.

And that was it. Before starting the binding I had already broken the process down into stages—which is what I typically do. I knew where I needed to be each day in order to finish the book for the reunion. Even if you’ve done something like this before be sure to build in extra time for mishaps, or simply for the interruptions life brings us all.

This journal has now been added to the Minnesota Historical Society archives with the original journals from the year 2000. When it has been cataloged it will be viewable at MNHS in their reading room. If you’re in St. Paul I hope that you’ll go and look into some of the journals to get a glimpse of how the project participants captured their lives on paper both in 2000 and in 2010.

Note: If you would like to read more about this project and the 10-year-reunion party please click on this link.


  1. Such a gift of your time and talent! A very lucky group!

    • Leslie Schramm
    • November 16, 2010

    I use laminated titles and plates for books a lot, I put a second thinner sheet of paper behind the printed sheet before lamination.Then when cut out the lamination is free of the backing plastic and it’s easy to stick the paper backing onto anything, rather than roughing up plastic and using far more aggresive glue. Sometimes 2 sheets of titles back to back, and again save on laminating sheets and paper thickness ( not just because I’m a parsimonious Scotsman )

  2. Reply

    Leslie, you misunderstood my comments about roughing up the label back.

    I do not apply laminating plastic to both sides. I have the laminating plastic only on the front.

    The printed label is on an archival, thick, photographic type paper that has a very slick surface on its back.

    I rough up the back of that very slick paper surface so that it will take glue better when I pop it into the label depression.

    I use laminating plastic that doesn’t require a “sandwich” of plastic because I don’t want to have to deal with the extra thickness that would entail. I think it’s made by Grafix, but I don’t have a package at hand, having used the last bit of it.

    Hope that clarifies it.


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