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February Book in a Box

Giving myself permission not to follow 'the rules'


The Endpoint (for those who want to cut to the chase)

The Book

A square format book with 9 sections, each comprising 3 sheets of 450mm x 225mm Munken pure rough cream 120gsm (short grain) folded to give pages 225mm x 225mm.  The structure is sewn on exposed tapes using French link stitch and kettle stitch.  Endpapers tipped on – I can’t recall the name of the paper but it’s a mid-weight pale green.  Covers are made from 2mm greyboard covered with Munken lynx 150gsm.  These were printed using gel printing monotype techniques inspired from embarking on the brilliant Sally Hirst’s ‘Monotype and More’ online workshop.


The Box

A square ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ box constructed from 2mm greyboard, also covered in monotype prints on Munken Lynx 150gsm. The instructions are in an excellent video by Bep van Gasteren.

The Journey
Life with all its twists and turns...

At the start of January, I set myself a challenge for the year ahead – to make a book in a box each month. I defined some criteria, mentally constructed 'the rules' I would follow and planned an outline for each week. It was a super-busy month, with much of it spent in Venice, but even so, everything clicked into place and by the end of the month I felt that I’d achieved what I’d set out to do.


February has been a polar opposite!  In the face of a family crisis as my father entered his final days of life, I found it impossible to give mental space, let alone actual work time, to my monthly project. Quite rightly, other things (life and death) had to take precedence. 


During January, when we knew that Dad had very little time left, my stepsister, Selina, asked me if I might consider making a book to be used as a memorial book for people to record their memories of Dad. It seemed very appropriate – a handmade book for a man of books


Dad, Gerry Mosdell, was well-known to dealers and collectors of antiquarian, rare and second-hand books all over the country.  He was the founder of the Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association back in 1972.  Along with my mother, Sue, they opened their first bookshop ‘Porcupines’ in Barnstaple in 1964. Growing up in a bookshop, for a child who loved to lose myself between the pages, was perfect. That early nurturing of a love of books has certainly been a significant part of my journey into making my own books. Making a memorial book for him was something that I had to do. 


Not surprisingly, following his funeral, I struggled to find the motivation and the creative energy to come back to my project.  Adrian and I discussed whether Dad’s book could be my book for February but somehow that didn’t sit right in my mind.  I felt stuck; the very rules that I’d made for myself just a few short weeks ago, thinking that they would supply the structure and a format to drive me forward, were in fact paralysing me.  Knowing that I’d failed to complete the weekly steps along the way, felt like failing at the whole challenge.  For a few days, I wallowed in that feeling of failure – beating myself up for time spent doing nothing, rather than in productive, creative work. 

Art to Ease my Mind and Soothe my Soul


After more discussion and introspection, I decided that I needed to just do something creative for the fun of it, without constraining myself with rules.  After one of our workshops last year, Rosie C had pointed me in the direction of Sally Hirst, recommending an online workshop that she’d very much enjoyed.


I had promised myself that I would sign up ‘one day’ but of course life got busy, and months slipped by!  I revisited Sally’s website and decided to go for it, signing up for her ‘Monotype and More’ workshop. I’ve been dabbling with printing using gel plates for a while now, sometimes using the resulting papers to cover books but always on quite a random way.


I set to, watching the first video lesson and very soon was itching to clear a space in the studio to set up my material, tools and plates. Sally is so knowledgeable about printmaking and has a very engaging style that encourages you to just jump in and experiment.   For most of last week, if I wasn’t sleeping or doing the essential daily tasks, I was totally engrossed in watching each lesson and then playing, seeing what I could do…making a considerable mess along the way! It was a thoroughly self-indulgent time and just what I needed.  By the end of the week, I had a huge pile of papers and of course those then became a natural motivator for making a book to contain some of the more successful…and space to add more as I continue with Sally’s lessons over the coming weeks.



Sometime last week, an email landed from Margaret at The Society of Bookbinders – Western Region.  I was so engrossed in printmaking that I didn’t open it until the weekend.  It contained the latest Society of Bookbinders newsletter which included a great article by Mylyn McColl ( ) about the joy of workshops.  It also reminded me that there are videos available for members to watch on the SOB website.  I needed inspiration for the form of book to make to put some of my prints into.  Scrolling down the page, I found Mylyn again, this time demonstrating a binding which I hadn’t yet attempted – a binding sewn on tapes.  Her variation was a beautiful butterfly stitch on exposed tapes.  I watched the video through a couple of times and decided to try it.


I started by making my tapes using some dark blue ‘Colorado’ bookcloth and let them dry overnight. I cut my paper (Munken Pure Rough Cream 120gsm) down to a size to accommodate my square prints, folded and pressed the sections ready to start the book proper the following morning.  I estimated the area of paper I’d need to cover the board for the covers and then used my hand-cut stencils and a limited palette of colours to print covers, adding a title using the laser transfer technique.


Over the weekend, I made my sewing template, and marked up the book sections ready to sew.  I chose a deep purple thread from Proatelier, set up my sewing space and set about sewing the sections, returning to re-watch Mylyn’s very clear instructional video several times.  I found the butterfly stitch very challenging!  I could make the stitches, but despite lots of manipulation, I found it almost impossible to get the knots elegantly lined up in the way that Mylyn achieves!  It’s something that I’ll return to but for now, my attempt just wouldn’t pass muster.  I decided to unpick and re-stitch, this time using French link stitch, which I know I can make a reasonable job of.  It’s fine to break the rules and not give yourself a hard time over doing that!  I swapped the purple linen for a bright green hemp thread that I’d ordered last week.  It was thick and quite tricky to manipulate but I rather liked the effect.  Having sewn the book block together, I measured and cut boards for the covers.  I glued my cover papers onto the greyboard and put them to dry and press overnight.  I tipped on end papers to the book block and put that to press as well.


On Sunday I retrieved the component parts of my book and attached the boards to the book.  The end papers had separated slightly from the book block – I think my PVA needs replacing – so I needed to apply a little more. Though not perfect, I felt happy enough with the completed book. 

The Box of Delights


I almost didn’t make a box this month.  I even gave myself permission not to and was even managing not to feel too guilt-ridden about that! But then during Sunday evening down-time, a little video popped into my FaceBook feed from one of the groups that I follow.  It reminded me that I’d watched a video tutorial by the amazing Bep van Gasteren last year where she made a Jacob’s Ladder box.

I watched it again and wondered if it would work to make a much larger, square version.  I couldn’t see why not.  I worked out the size of board and paper that I would need and started by making the monotype papers so that they could dry overnight.  I decided to also print the paper to make the hinges.  I miss-cut the first set of boards (note to self, measure twice, cut once) so ended up cutting all the pieces again.  I guess that will be another box in the making then!


I glued the box walls in place then left them to dry for a few hours before covering the boxes in my monotype prints.  I then let everything sit overnight.  Adding the hinges/strips was a challenge as the acrylic paint was quite resistant to the PVA.  Although it’s a good quality one from London Centre for Book Arts, it’s been decanted into a jar for easier use and might have had a bit too much exposure to air so probably needs replacing now!


I had some off-cuts from the hinge strips left over so decided to add a piece to the book tray, to make it easier to lift the book out and to add a bar across the other tray so that I can also put in some loose prints.


When I checked the movement of the ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, the hinges were a bit too close together.  I managed to release the glue and move the inner set slightly. 


There is something beautifully magical about the way this box behaves.  It may not be entirely practical – maybe I need to add a closure of some sort – but for me, after the challenging journey of this month, it has ended in ‘The Box of Delights’.

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