Creative Project : Eco-printing on Paper & Simple Bookbinding

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly
— Franz Kafka

I made this book one week when I needed to stretch out from my usual way of working, to create something that combined my love of mark-making, making mistakes, printing with plants & flowers, fabric and paper... and well... something useful as well. I love making my own books, because sometimes they seem like the impossible thing that you only buy from a shop or that professional bookbinders make.

In my mind those professional bookbinders are old men with glasses perched on the tips of their noses, telling the rules of how to do. Totally stupid I know..... but I do think there's a lot of rules in bookbinding and enforcing of strict ways of working, and using the paper. I'm here to tell you that it's ok if you do it wrong. You're making this book just for yourself, the wonky, the wrong-ness.... none of it matters. It soaks into your heart in a way that someone else's perfections never can. 

And also - if you hang back and never make something because you're scared of it being wrong, chances are you'll never make anything at all. Just do it. Be wrong. But beauty-ful and heart-ful and soul-ful!

You'll Need:

  • Art paper... watercolour paper seems to work best (in my experience), but try something else if you want. We will be steaming it
  • A steamer & heat (stove, fireplace, etc)
  • Plants, flowers, leaves from the garden
  • Felt or beautiful piece of fabric for the cover of your book. A piece of leather could also work
  • Strong needle & thick (embroidery) thread (bookbinders coat their thread in wax simply by running it through a waxy candle... you can do this, but it's not necessary)
  • Thick string or twice, cotton is best - like cooking twine

Here's what you'll do:

Dyeing the pages:

Break down your book into pages. I use large pieces of art paper (A3), and fold them in half then half again. I don't cut the edges, I tear them because I like the frayed edges... they cook up beautifully and also add to the handcrafted imperfect feel. You'll end up with pages that are approx cm x cm in size, fold this in half to become a proper book page. Don't cut / tear this final page, you need the folded seam line for your stitching. 

Using leaves, flowers, kitchen scraps (onion skins are lovely) arrange them into your pages. Fill the pages as little or much as you want. Don't be too precious about how you're arranging them, because they will wiggle and move about as you're tying it up, but keep in mind that you want this as a book for writing or drawing into -  so you don't want to pages overfilled. 

Different leaves will give different colours and patterns. Try things like

  • rose leaves
  • maple leaves
  • eucalyptus leaves
  • onion skins (red or brown are best)
  • dark red flowers
  • seedpods, small ones, still attached to their stems, leaves - create lovely prints
  • ferns
  • mango leaves or flower buds
  • bits of rusty stuff - old nails or metal parts from the garden, or gathered from the streets.
  • try anything.... give it a go

Once you've filled all the pages, stack them up (in their folded size) and using the twine wrap the bundle as tightly as possible, without making the book / pages curl over. Cover the whole book with twine wrapping.

Steam in a steamer pot for 2-4 hours. Keep topping up the water as needed, turning the bundle over if needed to make sure both sides get access to the steam; it's ok if the water comes up and touches the book, but you don't want to boil it as such. Turn the steamer off, leave the lid on for overnight. The next day you can unwrap the bundle very gently and place the pages out to dry. Gently pull any leaf or flower parts off,  but if there's any that are stuck leave them as they'll fall off themselves when dried.

Binding the book:

Once all the pages are dry decide if there's any you don't love, or if you want to over dye again, arrange the pages how you like. This is a lovely thing to do - looking at the patterns and marks left behind.

Assemble the pages in lots of 2 or 3 only, this is often called a 'signature'. 4 sections of pages makes it a bit too thick, and the edge flaps protrude a bit too much. BUT don't listen to rules, and if you want to put 4 pages in a bundle, please go ahead and do it. This is your book afterall. 

Punch holes into the signatures, from the inside to the outside. You'll need an odd number of holes, mine has five, which is a good number to work with because it stretches across the pages quite nicely. Punch all the signatures in alignment with each other, so the holes match up on each signature. Again, don't be too worried about it being absolutely perfect.

Thread your needle - measure the thread like this: the length of the book x how many holes you have. Wax it up if you want. I use silk embroidery thread, but linen or thick cotton is lovely too. 

Holding one signature in your hand start threading / sewing from the inside middle hole. Follow the videos to stitch your signature together. Repeat with all the signatures. I sewed my cover one at the same time, stitching through the paper and the fabric as one. Stitch Video 1 & Stitch Video 2

My cover is made from wool felt with silk scraps stitched on. It was eco-bundle dyed in a similar way to the pages, but fully immersed and gently 'boiled' rather than steamed. This cooking allows the felt to shrink a little with the silk and stitches pulling up together and creating a beautiful rustic looking cover. Stitching through the paper and fabric at the same time takes dedication, it's a little bit hard, and wiggles about a bit but is so lovely that it's worth it.

{If you'd like to see videos of this whole process, then I have an online course that shows you step-by-step how to make this & other books. Being an Unfurl student I'm giving you 50% off to this course, just use the code UNFURL here and you can watch how to make this book. The shared Stitch Videos above are just a small part of this online course, which shows you other stitching techniques as well as the eco-dyeing process.}


This book has given me a space to write my words, feelings, thoughts, little poems..... It feels like something made from the Earth, but perhaps something that I made in collaboration with the Earth. Does that make sense? It's a beautiful thing to put your journaling thoughts - because it already has marks, mistakes, patterns, shapes that evoke a feeling when I open it then I don't get the "blank page" fear that sometimes happens. I know that it doesn't matter if my words are 'wrong', because the pages are already dirty and mucky. 

I feel like, with this book, I proved to myself that I can make a 'real thing' (a book is a real thing, some of my crochet works like mushrooms are fancies, and my woven artwork is just something to look at). Having something to hold and use that also feels so innately me, yet also connected with nature, makes me feel that burst of happy. 

Turning the pages of this book sparks ideas, generates new projects, and gives me space to slow down, to record those scattered random thoughts that can become part of the art of my making, but don't have to be shared or shown to the world. This is the most personal journey I'm sure you'll ever own.