Category Archives: Making

How to Make My Kind of Coffee

  An instruction manual for future reference

  1. Check that there’s water in the reservoir. Red coffee maker is sad without water.   water
  2. Flip the 0/1 switch to 1. Two lights will turn on. This starts the coffee maker heating up water; you’re going to want to wait until the COFFEE light goes off. While you do that…switch5
  3. Make sure you have the smaller of the two filter cups (those things with the holes in the bottom) in the holder.smallcup
  4. Get the canister of ground coffee from the fridge. Put the holder on the upturned lid of it, and spoon about a teaspoon and a half of coffee into it.grounds
  5. Use the tamper tool to compress the coffee. Feel free to give it a good whack with your hand (this is why I had you put it on the upturned lid! Won’t dent the counter.)tamp
  6. Put the holder into the coffee machine. Push the handle as far to the right as you can. You’re allowed to whack that, too. Coffee is a violent, violent stuff, historically, politically, and in terms of how the beans are made ready to drink. A little hitting is right in tune with all of this. Then put the little ceramic cup underneath it, because we are small, and from where we sit, we can only wait helplessly for the products of violent history to rain down on us. (We are more mighty later in the day.)handle
  7. Has the COFFEE light gone off yet?switch1
  8. When it does, flip down the COFFEE switch. switch2
  9. There will be noises. And the dark brew of sanity will flow. Let it about half-fill the ceramic cup, then turn the COFFEE switch back off. A person can only cope with about half a cup of sanity at a time, I reckon.brewed
  10. Stop the flow of sanity by flipping the COFFEE switch back up. It doesn’t matter what the light is doing.
  11. Remove the holder. Do it now, because later, there will be pressure and bad things. Put the grounds in the green bin. (If you forget to remove it now, leave it until the coffee is all the way made and the machine has cooled down. It won’t harm anything being left in place. Just don’t remove it during the steam process.)
  12. Flip the STEAM switch down. Note that the light below the COFFEE switch is now on. You have to wait for the COFFEE light to turn off again before you get steam, because some poor designer got overrulled in meeting after meeting. Pity them while you do the next steps.switchesx
  13. Because I am not sweet enough, I need sweetening for my coffee. Because I am not self-accepting enough, that takes the form of a zoetje. Put one of them in the coffee mug.zoetje
  14.  Add milk to the mug, leaving enough room for the coffee to go in later. Use the box milk on the top shelf of the fridge, or if you forget/we’re out, the normal milk. If you use the coconut milk, your life will become very interesting, because people whose coffee is messed with hold grudges for a surprisingly long time.milk
  15. When the COFFEE light is off, the machine is ready to steam milk. It may be doing very dramatic things, because it gets kind of excited about this stage. switch3
  16. Position the cup with milk so the steam nozzle is inside it.  I tend to put it on the larger filter cup. Make sure it balances!cupstand
  17. Put the thermometer in, and turn the knob on the right hand side of the machine.steamknob
  18. When the thermometer reads about 40, turn the steam
  19. Take the mug out, give the steam nozzle a wipe with a sponge or a damp paper towel, and turn everything off.switch4
  20. Pour the coffee into the milk. Give it to me and collect your hugs and kisses.done

Note that this is my optimized method. If you do it “wrong”, you’ll probably still end up giving me a lovely cup of coffee, and I’ll still be grateful.

Except if you do the coconut milk thing. Then it’s war.

Pamphlet Bindings

I’m really enjoying making little pamphlet bindings right now.  They’re simple: 16 pages of creamy unlined paper in a stiff cover, sewn with white or colored linen thread, cut to a neat size (14 cm x 10 cm), with rounded corners.

For the Vericon auction, which benefits a charity helping refugees in Rome, I’ve bound three sets of five pamphlet bindings in Florentine print paper laminated onto stiff colored card.  I’ve waxed the cover s to strengthen and protect them.

Here are some of the patterns – there are different ones in different batches.


I love Florentine print paper, but I so rarely have an excuse to use any of it.

Brown Wrap Cover Notebook

So I’m binding again.  In this case, it’s a notebook for auction at Vericon, to benefit a charity helping refugees in Italy.

Brown cowhide wrap cover binding. Longstitch structure with linen threads and stone beads. 96 blank pages with rounded corners.  Total measurement is approximately 6″ x 4.25″ x 0.5″ (15.4 cm x 11 cm x 1.5 cm, roughly A6 size).

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The sonnet muse is back from her vacation

In reply to a recent sonnet by Fragano Ledgister:

To make a thing, to bring it into being
Is intimate, like making love. The verb’s
The join, for making either one disturbs
A universe where knowing comes from seeing.
I dream a thing that doesn’t yet have form
Is risky as I love you. Both require
A trust that one’s interior desire
Is strong enough to make the world transform.
But reformations of the universe
Alarm a fair few folk. My age is cause
To say I mustn’t meddle with what was.
And thus they have a reason to reverse
That instant when I took the world apart
And re-assembled it to match my heart.

Originally posted on Making Light

Your books love you when you use them

You pull me from your shelves and lay me out:
My spine against the sun-warmed tabletop
My leather covers let to gently drop,
My coloured endsheets falling all about.
O straighten them, I beg of you, be quick!
Then spread my blank and creamy pages wide
And with an inky pen inscribe inside
Your formulae in lines both thin and thick.
The paper shivering as it receives
The graphs you draw on it. You fill my soul,
And still you write, until the proof is whole,
Then press your knowledge tight between my leaves.
You have your fleshy pleasures, but I find
I’d rather far be ravished by your mind.

Originally posted to Making Light.

Containing Knowledge II

All knowledge is contained, but not in words.
The sparrows cannot tell the mice below
The art and joy of flight. The things they know
Just fit inside the hollow bones of birds.
And so it is with books, although I try
To case in words the things that only hands
Can truly hold. The body understands:
I love to bind as sparrows love to fly.
The feel of book blocks in the nipping press,
The fragrances leather, glue and glaire,
The paring of a hide, the ways that papers tear –
The body knows things language can’t express.
My books contain so many things I know –
Some things they say, and some they simply show.

Originally posted on Making Light, part of a meditation on books and knowledge (starting at comment 135).

Containing Knowledge I

All knowledge is contained. Each box enclosed
By bone, or paper, or HTML
Constrains the facts inside it all too well,
And separates things better juxtaposed.
For knowledge is inert until it’s mixed,
Until the facts spill out, and we compare
Our unrelated notions, stop and stare,
Assumptions overturned, at truth unfixed.
The way papyrus rolled and vellum curled,
The spread of trade as social classes changed:
These unrelated facts, when well arranged,
Can show us not just books, but all the world.
And thus the knowledge that appeals to me
Is uncontained, and unconstrained, and free.

Originally posted on Making Light, part of a meditation on books and knowledge (starting at comment 135).

A Brief History of Bookbinding 5: Let them read books

In the years between the birth of Jane Austen and the death of Oscar Wilde, books changed from being the exclusive property of the wealthy to the pleasure of the professional classes. Bookbinding played a large part in that change. But that was nothing in comparison of what was to come.

The classic late Victorian book was a hardback, its covers made of strawboard (medium density cardboard, basically) and covered in cloth or thin leather. The signatures were sewn onto thin cotton ribbons, and pre-made headbands were glued onto the spine along with a cotton lining. The book block was then pasted into a separate case, with the endpapers providing the adhesive surface.

A copy of Pride and Prejudice, bound like that, could be purchased for 3s 6d in 1900 – about the same price as a week’s food for an adult. The book would still be structurally sound and readable now.

But the economic pressures that created the Victorian book didn’t stop at the turn of the twentieth century. Literacy, leisure time and affluence spread, andeveryone wanted to read. To meet this demand, the mass-market paperback was born, with a stiff paper cover wrapped around three sides of the book block. It had no endpapers or headband, and made no attempt to look like the seventeenth century Book Beautiful*.

Up until the 1930’s, paperbacks were often sewn, though without any supports. But even when automated, sewing was too expensive, so publishers returned to an idea from the mid nineteenth century – the glued spine, now called perfect binding. Twentieth century chemistry delivered glues that stayed flexible longer than India rubber. After World War II, polyvinyl acetate (PVA, a variant of Elmer’s Glue) became the adhesive of choice. In various formulations, it still is.

Now, in the twenty-first century, the downward pressure on book prices still continues. Its current effect is not on the mass-market paperback, which is already as inexpensive as it can be, but on the hardcover book. Until the late twentieth century, hardbacks were throwbacks to late Victorian bookbinding – sewn book blocks, cased in. The boards were covered in plasticised paper rather than cloth or leather, but the structure was sound. Current hardcover books are really mass-market paperbacks with hard boards – they are more often perfect bound than not.

This combination of a paperback’s spine and a hardback’s case is disastrous. Books with hard covers generally have squares, meaning that the covers are larger than the book block. Squares look nice, and they allow space for headbands. But they also mean that the edges of the pages of a shelved book hang suspended in the air. Gravity being what it is, the bottom fore corner of the book will slowly drop down, pulling the spine forward at the head of the book. A sewn binding has the integrity to withstand this, but a glued binding does not. Perfect bound hardbacks, given time, last less well than paperbacks, where the entire bottom edge rests on the shelf**.

Perfect binding may be a misnomer, particularly in hardback books, but it has its place in the wider picture. I can buy a new paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice for £1. A loaf of branded bread in a supermarket costs just about the same amount. In just over a century, books have become as affordable as bread.

Pause a moment and think about that, and the lives that have changed as a result.

What is the future of the book as a physical object? The Internet has already dropped the price of reading matter to effectively free, but I can’t take my laptop into the bath***. Will electronic paper mean that we each only own one book, and change the content at will? Will the next generation read onscreen as well as I read on paper? Will civilisation fall, leaving me with a new career as a skilled bookbinder in a wasteland of crumbling perfect bindings?

* I am excluding discussions of paper quality from this overview. Trust me that it declines in tandem with the other elements of binding durability.
** And I can’t rebind them. Did I mention that that bugs me?
*** Not twice, anyway.

Originally posted on Making Light

A Brief History of Bookbinding 4: Filthy lucre and the middle classes

The eighteenth century started out a lot like the seventeenth, in bookbinding terms. Books were beautiful, well-structured, and expensive. Rare.

But the eighteenth century also saw the growth of the merchant and middle classes in America and Western Europe. These people had money, and they wanted to have libraries. So binding styles changed, for the first time in fourteen centuries, due to economic pressures rather than the pursuit of quality.

The French started it, introducing the hollow back. This meant that the leather across the spine of the book was not attached to the backs of the signatures, but floated free of them. The book block was sewn on cords sawn into the signatures, or onto linen ribbons that lay flat across the spine.

English binders followed suit, since hollow backed books are faster to make and open more easily. Then they went one step further, creating the cover and spine separately from the book block and attaching the two by pasting the endpapers inside the covers. The ends of the tapes or cords (frayed flat) were trapped between the endpapers and the covers. It’s called casing in, and commercial binders still do it today.

Books with hollow backs (cased in or not) don’t open well unless there is a gap between the shoulder of the spine and the edge of the cover board. This gap – called the “French groove” in America* – persists in binding to this day. Go look on your shelves; you’ll see it on every modern hardback.

Other cost cutting measures followed, as economic pressure spurred innovation.

Hand-sewn headbands look nice, but they take time to make. Nineteenth century binders started making the headbands separately and sticking them onto the spines. Sometimes they’d sew them, sometimes they’d fold striped fabric (often shirt fabric**) over a piece of string.

Leather, while strong and durable, is expensive. In the 1700’s, binders began saving it for the spine and the fore corners, where the worst cover wear occurs, and using marbled paper for the rest of the boards. This is called half binding. Then they stopped doing the corners, creating the quarter binding style. Going one step further, Victorian commercial binders moved to cloth and paper bindings for all but their finest editions.

Some binders even considered giving up sewing. In 1836, the first patent was granted for a glued binding using caoutchouc (India rubber). Other patents used gutta-percha (a form of latex). Unfortunately, both adhesives become brittle with time, shedding leaves within a few years. The process was abandoned.

The upshot of all of these innovations was that, by the end of the nineteenth century, books were affordable by even the working classes. They weren’t pretty, they weren’t bound to last four hundred years, but they were being read.

* And the “American groove” everywhere else.
** I’ve seen photos of a modern equivalent from India, where someone used half a zipper track.

Originally posted on Making Light

A Brief History of Bookbdinding 3: The myth of the ideal binding

Every discipline has its mythic Golden Age, when sordid financial concerns didn’t interfere with the practice of the Art. For bookbinders, it’s the seventeenth century*. Our standards of “fine binding” are based on the work of the time.

A fine binding is generally covered in leather. It’s pretty – usually gold-tooled – and many have gilt page edges. The head and tail have bright silk headbands sewn directly on the book, not stuck on, like modern headbands. Endpapers are generally marbled.

Structurally, the seventeenth century style consists of signatures sewn on raised linen cords (usually five). The leather of the spine is attached to the backs of the sections, usually with a couple of layers of paper, fabric or leather padding. This is called a tight back, or a flexible spine. The spine itself is rounded and backed, meaning it’s shaped like the letter C, wider than the book block itself. (The difference in thickness leaves space for the cover boards.)

The greyboard (high density cardboard) covers are laced onto the book block with the ends of the cords (the ends of the cords are pressed and frayed so that they don’t lump up). What’s interesting to someone used to modern book styles is that there is no groove between the spine and the rest of the cover. It’s called a tight joint, and it means that widest part of the shoulder nestles against the spine side of the cover board.

If you’ve never held a book with a flexible spine and a tight joint, I can’t explain it to you. It feels right, in a way that makes the modern hardback book a mere pastische of what a book should be.

It’s not an ideal style – it includes some compromises to make the covers open smoothly. The leather at the hinges is generally pared a bit thinner than is sustainable over centuries (a lot of these books have split there.) And it’s time-consuming to bind, meaning that books in that style are expensive. I’m too much of a populist to approve.

But I love holding, reading, and opening this style of book more than any others in the world.

* This is mostly due to an Arts and Crafts-era bookbinder and printer, Thomas J Cobden-Sanderson. Although he was a forward-thinking man, adding his wife’s name to his on marriage and paying his workers a living wage for a limited work week, his taste in binding was nostalgic.

Originally posted on Making Light