DIY: How to Bind Your Own Books & Journals

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I recently took a fine arts course in bookmaking and had to go through the entire process of making a book, from start to finish: writing, layout, printing, and binding. I was able to produce a slightly larger book because I had access to the correct printing tools, but you can easily create a small book of your own on letter size paper.

I won’t go into the technical aspects of bookmaking (i.e., InDesign, how to print booklets, etc.), but I will go over the basic steps needed to bind your own books! You can use this technique to make homemade notebooks and journals as well — they look beautiful and are so much more fun to write in when you’ve produced them yourself. And you can go crazy with selecting the perfect papers and creating your own covers.

(NB: This is a pretty detailed post, and I tried to include as much information and helpful instructions as possible in case you want to make your own books, notebooks, or journals. Feel free to just browse through the photos if you’re interested in getting a feel for it!)

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Before you begin, you will need the following items. All of these can be purchased at an art supply store:*

  1. Enough paper for your book, each sheet to be folded in half, of the proper grain direction
  2. 2 sheets of slightly thicker paper (card stock works perfectly) for your flyleaf
  3. Supplies for your cover: either a thick card stock if you want a softcover book, or book board and book cloth if you want to make a hardcover book.
  4. Bookbinding thread (or, if you want to save money, a really thick, coarse thread)
  5. Bookbinding needle (aka just a really heavy needle)
  6. An awl for hand-punching holes (this is the one I use)
  7. A bone folder (if you want to be a perfectionist; otherwise you could just use the edge of a pencil for folding and creasing)
  8. An X-Acto knife for cutting, with replacement blades
  9. A surface to cut on: a cutting mat is ideal, but a piece of cork board is an easy and cheap alternate
  10. A good ruler
  11. PVA glue
  12. Glue brush
  13. Waste paper to contain glueing

*I know some of the above items can seem daunting to find, and some of the terms confusing. They are really not! Binding a book is a very exact process, but you’ll get the hang of it quickly. You just need to pay attention to the details before you begin if you want the best results.

To make this a little less confusing, let’s discuss some basic terms for bookmaking.

  • Signature: A signature is a booklet of “text” pages (which can be blank if you’re making a notebook) in your book. Each signature is folded, hole-punched with an awl, and sewn as one set — so you don’t need to sew each individual page, just each signature. If you look at spines of some books, you can see these page groupings (although not all books have them).
  • Text block: All the signatures that make up the “text” pages of your book. Only two signatures are excluded from the text block: the flyleaves.
  • Flyleaf: Fancy word for the first and last signatures of a book. The flyleaf doesn’t have writing on it, and its main function is to allow you to attach the cover (if a softcover, you the flyleaf is reinforced and becomes the cover; if a hardcover, the flyleaf is glued to the back of the cover). Generally, the flyleaf is a thicker paper, like a card stock. Open any hardcover book and you’ll see the flyleaves at the front at the back.
  • Grain: All paper has a “grain direction” — one direction (long or short) will be weaker and easier to fold along than the other. I cannot stress how important grain direction is. If you want your book to lie flat and not pop open, you need to have proper grain direction. Most art papers will tell you the grain direction, otherwise you can test it for yourself: gently push against the long edge, and then short edge, of the paper as if you were going to fold it. Whichever edge gives you the least resistance is the way the grain runs — so make sure you cut your pages and structure your book so that you are folding along the grain at the center. The grain in your cover and flyleaves should also parallel the grain of the paper for the text block.
  • Bookboard: A hardcover board used to make hard covers. You can find it in the bookmaking section of any art supply store. It looks tough, but you can hand cut it with an X-Acto knife by making lots of shallow cuts along the edge of a ruler.
  • Bookcloth: Special cloth used to cover bookboard. Can be fabric or leather, and you can find many varieties online and in art supply stores. Also has a grain.

Here are some diagrams to explain all that (click to enlarge).

Basic grain direction:

grain direction diagram

Signatures (as viewed from the spine):

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Flyleaf in a softcover book:

softcover flyleaf

Flyleaf in a hardcover book:

hardcover flyleaf

Now that all the technical terms are explained, you can begin producing your notebook or journal. (Again, these same steps work for a printed book, but I won’t be covering them here.)

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Above: I used a decorative flyleaf for my book.

1. Cut your paper, and assemble your signatures. Decide what size you want your book to be and make sure you account for the fold. For example, if you want each page to be 8×9″, each sheet of paper will be 16×9″. I would recommend no more than four large sheets per signature (so 16 pages in a finished book). If you are using thicker paper, you can do two or three sheets to make sewing easier. You should aim to have at least three signatures in your text block, in addition to your flyleaves — otherwise the book will look weird. Make sure your grain direction runs along the fold (as pictured in the first diagram for an 8×9″ book). Also cut your flyleaves at this point (the equivalent of two 16×9″ sheets if your book is 8×9″), and make sure the grain for those matches. Fold each group of signatures (and your flyleaves, separately) and cement the crease using your bone folder (or the edge of a pencil, but a bone folder is better).

2. Create a transfer paper. The transfer paper is a sheet of paper that shows you where to punch your holes for sewing, so that the holes align between signatures. The transfer sheet should be the height of your book . Fold in half lengthwise and keep folded. Widthwise, fold in half, then fold the ends in about 1/2-3/4 of an inch, then fold in half again. Unfold, and mark “holes” with a pencil as indicated. Lie your transfer paper flat on your cutting surface so that one long half is against the surface, and the other is perpendicular. Using your awl at a 45 degree angle (just estimate it), punch holes using the guide marks on the transfer paper. Unfolded, your transfer sheet should look like this, with the Xs indicating approximately where to punch holes:

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3. Punch holes in your signatures. Use your transfer paper to do this: align the transfer paper inside each signature, making sure either the top or bottom is always aligned. Use your awl to punch through the transfer paper and all the pages of your signature at a 45 degree angle. Make sure you punch all the pages per signature at one time. Repeat for each signature and the flyleaves.

4. Measure your thread. Measure the amount of thread you need using this count: the height of your book (generous), times the number of signatures (including flyleaves), plus two. You can thread your needle by flattening some of the thread near one end with your bone folder, threading the needle, pushing the needle through the flattened area, and tightening.

5. You are reading to begin sewing! This is where it gets a little tricky, but the stitches are easy and completely manageable. First, you’ll be sewing on your cutting surface. Assemble your signatures in the correct order (the way you want your book/notebook to read), and then place your book, front cover side down, with the page edges facing towards you. Flip the top signature towards you, so that you are looking at the spine (note: this should be the last signature in the completed book — the back cover flyleaf). Always start with the back of the book and work your way to the front. In all of the following diagrams, you are looking directly at the spine of the book — which is what you should see while you are sewing.

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6. Start from outside the signature on the right side and always pull the thread in the direction you are sewing. Push the needle through the first hole, then out through the second, and so on, until you reach the end. Pull the entire thread through, leaving a loose tail (about 3-4 inches) at the right side of the book. Flatten the signature with your bone folder.

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7. Place the next signature on top of the first. This will be the second-to-last signature in your completed book, or the last signature of your text block. Now you will be sewing in the the opposite direction, back towards the beginning. Go through the first hole on the left, and out the second. Then, loop the needle under the section of thread that remains on the outside of the first signature you threaded. Go through the third hole, out the fourth, and repeat this process until you reach the right end of the second signature.

8. Tie a square knot to secure the first two signatures. This is pretty straightforward: right over left, then left over right. (So you’re basically just tying two regular knots.) Be sure to tighten the thread as much as possible and flattening the book with your bone folder before securing with the knot. Always work on on a flat surface while sewing, and try and keep the book as flat as possible, with the spine aligned (preferably at the edge of a table).

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9. Add the third signature. For this signature, you will be sewing right to left again, as with the first signature. Go through the first hole on the left, out the second, and loop under the thread segment for the second signature only. Always, always, only loop under the thread for the signature directly under the one you are currently sewing. Repeat until you reach the left end of the signature, then tie a kettle stitch: push the needle towards the back of the book, going between the previous two signatures and before the final hole, and pull the needle out in the direction you are sewing (in this case, to the left). Pull the thread through to create a small loop. Loop the needle under the loop and pull straight up to tighten. (Again, remember to tighten all your thread and flatten your book with a  bone folder before this.) Repeat this step (with mild differences, depending on whether you are sewing to the right or the left) for all the remaining signatures. Here’s a slightly more detailed diagram of the kettle stitch:

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10. Finish the last signature with two kettle stitches. Essentially, the last signature (which will be your front cover flyleaf) is added the same way as all the other text block signatures, except you will secure it twice with the kettle stitch. Trim the excess thread to about 1 inch, but no further (if having it stick out bothers you, carefully secure each bit of excess thread to the spine with a dab of PVA glue).

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11. Once the text block and flyleaves have been bound with thread, add the covers to your book. There are many ways to do the covers, and you can get creative with them. Here, I’ll go over two very basic ways to do covers: softcover and hardcover, both with exposed spines (although it is fairly easy to modify so that the spines are covered). The initial diagrams I used to explain the role of the flyleaf can also be helpful in visualizing these two alternatives.

Softcover:

Notice that each flyleaf creates four pages within your book, and that the interior two pages of each flyleaf can be glued together to create a thicker cover. While you can elect to glue them directly together, it is more prudent to glue a piece of card stock between them as reinforcement, so measure out a piece the size of your book (slightly smaller so that the edges don’t stick out), keeping proper grain direction in mind. Slip a sheet of waste paper between your flyleaf and text block to catch runoff glue, and keep it from ruining your book. Then, apply glue directly to the entire card stock insert (not the flyleaf paper) on one side, and attach to the interior flyleaf page on the right (the left if you are doing the back cover). Smooth with your bone folder to avoid bubbles, and repeat with the other side of the card stock to create a softcover. Then, you’re free to decorate the cover however you like — applying a label usually looks nice.

Hardcover:

This is a bit more complicated because you need more materials, so I’ve drawn out the key steps (click to enlarge):

hardcover binding

Essentially, you need to measure the size cover you would like out of the book board (again, be conscious of the grain). Remember to add a little extra length and height so that the cover hangs over the edge of the text block a bit — I recommend 1/8 of an inch per side. Don’t forget that you don’t want overhang on the edge with the spine — so you’ll add 1/8″ to the width, and 1/4″ total to the height of the book. Next, spread glue directly on the bookboard, and place on the cloth cover you would like for the book, keeping the grain lined up. Be sure to smooth out immediately with your bone folder. Cut about a 3/4″ around the edge of the bookboard, and then cut off the corners as marked in the diagram. Before measure the 45 degree angle, leave a bit of edge the thickness of the bookboard (you can use a piece of scrap bookboard to do this). Glue each edge of excess cloth onto the back of the bookboard — place glue directly onto the back of the cloth and stand the bookboard up to press the edge in before folding the cloth over. Secure with a bone folder. Do two opposite edges first, then the next set, being carefully to glue the corners in. Repeat to create the back cover. Secure the hard cover to the flyleaf by applying glue directly to the first page of the flyleaf (remember to use waste paper) and pressing the cover onto it. Smooth out imperfections with your bone folder, and repeat for the back cover. Add a label to your front cover (or not), and you’re good to go!

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Congratulations, you’ve just made a book!

Whew, okay — I think that’s it in terms of the technical process. To expedite the process of hand making gorgeous notebooks, journals, and personal books (all of which make great gifts, by the way), here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • Be precise. Try not to skip the little steps — these are what truly make your book look well done. Specifically: pay attention to cutting precisely, grain direction, tightening your thread constantly, pulling in the direction you are sewing, and ALWAYS using your bone folder to flatten paper.
  • Be creative! Above is the basic formula for bookbinding, but experimentation makes it great. Use an art paper for your flyleaf (or, if you’re doing a hardcover, cut art paper to the size of your flyleaf, place it inside the flyleaf, sew it into the book, and glue to the interior pages of the flyleaf). Experiment with different ways to design your cover — labels, collage, etc.
  • Learn how to cut properly. When you’re hand cutting anything, always, always cut towards yourself. Stand up to give yourself leverage, and hold your ruler firmly in place as you cut against it.
  • Take your time. Sure, bookbinding can take a while. But its kind of like knitting (or, at least I assume so) — its relaxing as a result. This goes hand-in-hand with being precise.
  • When it comes to glue, thinly and quickly cover the entire surface you are applying glue to. Start at the center of the surface and work your way out with a brush to get an even coating.
  • Quality of materials will make a big difference in the final product — especially the paper you use.
  • Don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the comments if you have any specific questions!
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12 Steps to Better iPhoneography

instagram coverI was initially a little resistant to Instagram. (Yes, I’m a photo snob for no reason. Don’t you hate me?) Although it’s a simple app with limited editing options, it’s definitely a fun way to stalk people follow friends or self-proclaimed “iPhoneographers,” who actually take their work quite seriously — it’s amazing what someone can do with an iPhone today. Most of all, it’s convenient.

I thought it would be fun to share a few key I’ve used to produce really cool photos with my phone. Obviously this doesn’t apply so much if you use IG as more of a social app, but it’s always fun to test out what your phone is capable of. And it’s a great way to get creative (and play around with the basics of composition, lighting, depth of field, etc.), especially if you don’t have your own camera.

I’ve rank each part of this post in order from least to most involved/complicated.  I’ve also included some examples throughout (all my Instagrams) to help illustrate!

lighting1. Be conscious of lighting. If your photo is underexposed (dark), it will look grainy once editing. With an overexposed picture, parts of the image will be less clear. You can also play around with lighting to create contrast in your photos. The beauty of having a portable phone camera is you can practice with as many photos as you want! See above for a couple examples.

2. Take photos with your camera, not the IG camera. The quality will be better and you’ll be able to edit your photo on other apps as well (see #10). And make sure to use your camera’s focus by tapping the part of the image you want to highlight before taking a photo.

contrast filter3. Don’t abuse the lighting enhancement feature. This is the button that looks like a half dark, half light sun in your IG editing tools. It doesn’t really up the contrast, but it WILL blow out your picture. See the difference in the images above?

food filters4. Be careful with filters for food! Food is one of the hardest things to photograph (I struggle with it A LOT), regardless of whether you have an iPhone or a Nikon DSLR. Make sure you have lots of bright lighting to capture colors correctly, and choose a filter that doesn’t discolor food (Amaro is usually good). See the above photos — the one on the left is yellow-y and dark, while the one on the right is brightly lit (but not overexposed) and shows colors accurately.

5.  Don’t overuse frames. You can turn this feature on and off using the frame editing button, but in general they only detract from your photo.

cropping6. Crop carefully. IG uses a square format, so keep in mind that you’ll be cropping to those proportions as you’re taking photos on your phone. Pay attention to the way the subject is framed and the way your eye is drawn across the image. You’ll get better at creating good compositions with practice! In the above example, the photo on the left is far too busy and it is difficult to figure out the subject. On the right, positive and negative space are used relatively well, and the focus of the image is clear.

blurring7. Use focus to create depth of field. You can use your camera focus to do this (which is more effective), but you can also fake/enhance depth of field with the blur feature on IG. Just be discriminating with when you use it — if you can see the edges of the blur clearly, you should probably skip it. The image on the right disguises the added focus on the subject’s face, whereas the blur on the right just makes zero sense.

8. Layer filters. Play around with different filter combinations to create your own effect. To do this, start with a filter of your choice, then screenshot the entire image. Editing the screenshot by cropping to the original photo and choosing a new filter to layer on top. You can do this as many times as you want!

9. Use Statigram to view your photos online. Statigram is an Instagram web viewer where you can sign in with your IG login to view your photos, and view and like friends’ photos. You can also enter Instagram contests. It’s ultimately just an easier way to view your pictures if you’re an avid user. They also collect stats for you based on your Instagram usage (ie, number of likes, favorite users, favorite filters, etc).

beautified10. Use external apps to help with the editing process. There are many external apps that you can download to edit your photos before instagramming (or just to use for fun!). A few (free!) apps of note:

  • PhotoGrid — lets you grid multiple photos in one frame (you may see these on Instagram sometimes)
  • PS Express — short for PhotoShop express. Super easy to use, but gives you greater editing features (ie, brightening and contrast) that you won’t find on the IG app.
  • Photosynth — awesome app for taking easy panoramas.
  • Photo wonder — developed to slim features and smooth blemishes, this app also works to smooth out harsh edges and noise in photos with non-human subjects. It definitely can help add the right mood to select images (see photos above).

11. Print your shots with Printstagram. This web app is a great way to share your photos! The prices are super reasonable, with 24-48 prints for $12 or a set of two 50-photo minibooks for $12.

12. Consider using add-on phone lenses to enhance your iPhone’s photo-taking capabilities. Photojojo (an awesome site for photo junkies) has a great selection of these, ranging from $20 to $25 each. They also offer a flash attachment for $30 or a macro lens band for $15. I’m just a little bit obsessed.

Have you tried any of these techniques/apps to edit your iPhone photos? If so, I’d love to know. Happy editing!

My Favorite Baklava

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Hello, readers! Sorry it’s been a while. I’m in the midst of finals at the moment (read: procrastinating on my philosophy paper), but I’ll be able to catch up on all the posting I’ve missed soon…and thank you ALL for your lovely comments (and emails)! I read all of them — they really do make my day, and I promise I will try to respond to everyone as soon as I can.

Here I’m posting my favorite baklava recipe. This stuff is so good that my aunt was sneaking it out in napkins during our family’s annual Christmas party. If you’ve never been a baklava fan, I hope you still give this a try — it’s made with walnuts and rosewater (as opposed to pistachios and honey) and is divine when served cold so that the sugars all have adequate time to soak in. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of baklava — I’ve tried baklava at every restaurant I’ve been to that serves it, and nothing has even come close to this.

This is a Lebanese recipe, and you can find it buried in this ancient New York Time’s article (1989 what up), but I’ve also reproduced it below, with a few edits that really help simplify the process. Making baklava may seem intimidating, but I promise — it’s one of the easiest things you’ll ever do. You need to be patient and thorough, but otherwise no special skills are required! See my pointers below before you begin if you’re hesitant.

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Some tips for making baklava:

  • Make sure you butter thoroughly between every layer of phyllo. There is no such thing as too much butter! (Also, if you don’t use enough, the pieces will flake apart). Also be sure to give the corners special attention.
  • Use a glass/pyrex dish — it makes baking and clean up super easy.
  • Baklava stores at room temperature for days — just be sure to cover with aluminum foil/cling-wrap/etc.
  • If you can’t find rose water, you can also substitute orange blossom water (although I don’t really see how that would be any easier to find). You can usually find both in specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods, etc. If all else fails, you can order online (I promise, it’s totally worth it).
  • To thaw the phyllo dough, simply place it in the fridge the night before you plan on making the baklava. This will ensure that the sheets are not too brittle or too thawed, and will be easiest to handle! Sometimes they can still become a little flaky, though — not to worry! Just patch up the layers as best you can (with butter, of course) and the baklava will be just as delicious.
  • Don’t be a perfectionist about clarifying the butter. It will taste the same in the end.

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Ingredients:

For the syrup:

  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons rose water

For the pastry:

  • 1 pound unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons rose water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 16-oz. package frozen phyllo pastry, thawed (should contain 2 separate rolls of pastry)

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Directions:

  1. To make sugar syrup, boil together sugar and water for about 2 minutes over high heat, being careful it does not burn or boil over. Just before removing from heat, stir in the rose water. Let cool slightly, then refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. To make the pastry, first clarify the butter. Melt in a pan over gentle heat. Spoon off the milky froth that rises to the top and the solid residue that settles to the bottom. One pound of butter should yield about 1 1/2 cups clarified butter. You can pour the butter into a mug for ease of use later on.
  3. Place walnuts and rose water in bowl of food processor and process in spurts until walnuts are minced. (The rose water helps keep walnuts from getting oily.) Add sugar and process briefly to mix well.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Spread a sheet of plastic wrap or aluminum foil on a work surface. Open phyllo pastry and spread on the surface.
  6. Using the clarified butter and a pastry brush or clean paintbrush, butter a 10- by 14-inch baking pan liberally, bottom and sides. Place one sheet of phyllo pastry in bottom of pan. Butter surface of pastry. Proceed with the remaining sheets, buttering each one, until you have used about half the sheets in the box (aka one package). The phyllo sheets may be somewhat crowded in the pan, folded up a little along the sides and at each end. Be sure to butter the corners of the pastry.
  7. Distribute the walnut mixture over the pastry in an even layer.
  8. Place the remaining phyllo sheets over the walnut mixture, again buttering liberally between each layer. When all the sheets have been used, cut the pastry with a sharp knife lengthwise into strips about 1 inch wide, then on the diagonal to make diamonds. Be sure to cut right down through to the bottom of the pan. Pour any remaining clarified butter over the top of the pastry.
  9. Place in oven for 30 minutes, then raise temperature to 425 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden brown on top. Remove from oven and immediately pour cold syrup over hot pastry. Set aside to cool to room temperature before serving.

Let me know if you end up trying this recipe — it’s one of my favorites, and I’ve made it more times than I can count. If you like Middle Eastern/Greek food or simply awesome pastry desserts, you’ll love this stuff. (And sorry I don’t have more photos of the actual process…I realize in retrospect that would have been helpful for this recipe.)

Also, I’ll be posting more in a week or so…look out for some more DIY and travel posts next!

DIY: How to Make Handmade Postcards

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Snail mail is one of my favorite things to receive. There’s nothing like opening your mailbox and (after sorting through all the junk catalogues and bills) finding a letter from one of your best friends, or even a Christmas card from distant relatives. There’s a quality to handwritten mail (and postcards, short as they may be) that just can’t be surpassed with smart phones, Facebook, and tweets.

As far as postcards are concerned, they’re super easy to send and require much less effort than letters, but are just as wonderful to receive! In my experience, the funnier and shorter the message the better — the dull (and jealousy-generating) “We’re in Ireland, it’s so beautiful here! Miss you!” will never beat something hilarious or an inside joke. I’ve gotten some pretty funny postcards from friends, and I’ve saved every one.

Postcards are not only a great way to catch up with faraway friends you haven’t seen in ages, they are also super easy (and economical) to make — chances are you can create an endless amount of original and beautiful postcards without spending a dime. They’re fast, too, which means you can mess up over and over without wasting time or money, and you can perfect your postcards to a design you love. So, without further ado, here’s my guide to building gorgeous do-it-yourself postcards for friends and family!

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Supplies

With just a few simple ingredients, you’ll soon be on your way to creating your own snail mail confections!

Some basics you’ll need:

  • 4×6 inch blank flashcards or 4×6 inch template
  • Cardstock — white is preferable, but you can experiment!
  • Scissors
  • Colored pens, pencils & markers
  • Metallic Sharpies
  • Mod Podge/glue (Mod Podge is really preferable because it acts as a sealant)
  • Glue brushes
  • Food coloring
  • Plastic disposable cups
  • Old magazines & newspapers

Optional but fun:

  • Colored ribbons
  • Needle & thread
  • Metallic paints
  • Watercolors
  • Sequins
  • Artists’ paper with various designs
  • Old photos
  • Old film
  • Fortune cookie fortunes
  • Anything else you can think of that could theoretically be glued to a postcard

I’ve separated the remainder of this post into two parts: I’ll start with the basics, then go over some more detailed instructions for the example postcards I’ve used here.

The Basics

Step One: Prepare your work surface. Since you’ll be working with glue and sharpies it can get a little messy, so you’ll want to put down an old newspaper to prevent getting any glue on your desk or counter. You’ll also want a plastic disposable cup with a little whatever to store your brushes in between dipping them in glue. Additionally, a few paper towels isn’t a bad idea.

step2 {Tracing a 4×6 postcard onto cardstock}

Step Two: Cut out a 4×6 piece of white cardstock, or glue two 4×6 index cards together (they tend to be flimsy, so you’ll want to reinforce them for the mail). When you add layers to your postcards they will also become thicker. Make sure the glue is even and get the corners! Be careful not to drip too much glue on the back because you won’t be able to write over it.

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Step Three: Prepare the back of the postcard by drawing a line down the center as shown (I prefer to draw mine a little to the right so I have more writing space) and then by drawing 3-4 perpendicular lines on the right for the mailing address. I just eyeballed these and used a ruler for a straight edge — don’t worry if they’re not all perfectly in-line. You can also make little designs on the back around the edges or just leave it plain. (And yes, that is my super cool presidential ruler, circa second grade.)

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{An example background made of magazine text blocks}

Step Four: Decide what you’re going to put on the front and gather the necessary materials. You can do a simple design or you can make a postcard from a specific place (I promise this looks cool regardless of whether or not you’ve actually been to Paris, Italy, or wherever). You can cut out magazine ads or words, draw something and cut it out to use, color directly on the postcard, or create multiple layers to your postcard using more cardstock (more on this technique later). Either way, I recommend gluing down a basic background first — whether it’s colored newspaper, shimmery art paper, or a magazine ad — to serve as the canvas for your design.

Step Five: Finish adding layers to your postcard. Give the entire front a coat of Mod Podge — this will act as a sealant and waterproof your design for any tumultuous experiences in the U.S. postal system. Important: do not coat the back. This will back it impossible to write on. Also, be careful going over colored pens — they may run.

Step Six: Write and address your postcard, pop a fun stamp on it, and send it in the mail!

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Specific Designs & Techniques

Here I’ll provide examples of some of the cards I’ve made and details as to how you can achieve the same result.

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Postcards from Magazines

One of the easiest ways to create postcards is to grab a stack of fashion or travel magazines, cut out one (or a few) of your favorite pictures and words and layer them — you can make a detailed collage or keep it simple, as I’ve done here.

For the New England postcard, I used a Ralph Lauren add and cut my own strips of cardstock to glue on top. This is an easy way to add text to your postcards without writing directly on the background. Finished with sparkly Mod Podge.

For the shoes postcard, I used metallic paint and a thin brush to paint over a Calvin Klein ad. If you find a simple image from a magazine, it is fun to add details to it using this method. I would recommend a metallic Sharpie for this — it is much more precise and easy to work with than metallic paint. Finished with a cut-out word and sparkly Mod Podge. Also: this postcard doesn’t make much sense, but I still like it. Point is — yours don’t have to make sense either. Just let your creativity lead you where it will.

butterfly

Incorporating Your Drawings

It is also possible to create your own drawings or designs (I recommend doing this on pieces of 4×6 paper or index cards so you have a rough idea of how they’ll look once transferred to the postcard) and make them part of your postcard. Colored pencil is also great because the colors won’t run, even if you liberally apply Mod Podge.

butterfly-process

For this butterfly postcard, I drew this butterfly freehand and colored it in with some pencils. Then, I cut it out with scissors, leaving a white border — you don’t have to leave a border, but it’s all about how you want your final postcard to look. I had already prepared a piece of 4×6 cardstock with colorful yellow and gold artist paper glued down as a background, and I simply glued the butterfly design on top. Finished with a thin metallic paint coat around the butterfly and a sparkly Mod Podge sealant.

fortune

Using Dyes

The main technique this particular postcard makes use of is the application of food coloring. You can get the same effect with pricey artist inks, but for the purpose of making basic postcards you really don’t need to be spending that kind of money. Food coloring is also great because it doesn’t dry out over night. I used neon food coloring to achieve the colors on my postcards; I imagine regular food coloring will come out slightly different.

dye1

For this design, I used an index card to paint the background before gluing it to another index card to form the whole postcard. You will want to make the painted part separately and let it dry first, because the food coloring will soak through. To make the inks, use a plastic disposable cup for each color of food coloring. Put in 10-15 drops and add very small amounts of water slowly. Use a brush and a spare index card to test the color — you may want it darker and thicker (less water), or lighter and more watery (more water). You can see the amounts I used for about 15 drops/cup above.

Next, simply use a brush to add color — don’t be afraid to let it get messy! I only used one brush, and I just dipped it in water before switching colors. Once the dye dried, I added a few splashes of gold paint and finished off the postcard with an old fortune cookie and matte Mod Podge.

fortune-back

As you can see, I added some details to the back of this card. In this case, I had gotten some splotches of paint on the back and didn’t want to glue a second backing on (although that is always an option, so don’t worry!). I just dabbed some gold paint over the mistakes and drew some swirly flowers over it with a thin Sharpie. Problem solved!

ny

Using Newspaper

The same food coloring method used for the previous postcard can also be applied to newspaper — simply open to a sheet of paper (preferably one with a lot of small print) and swipe on the dye. Let dry before cutting out and gluing on to your postcard.

newspaper

To complete this card, I colored over the newspaper with black Sharpie and did a more graphic design. This is a really easy method — you don’t have to make a “New York” postcard, but you can just doodle over the newspaper with Sharpie! To give the card a polished finish, I used the matte Mod Podge.

cairo

Postcards with Multiple Layers

Using multiple layers of cut out cardstock is a really easy way to add dimension and depth to your postcard and also maintain clean lines.

First, decide on the design you want and sketch out your layers on a 4×6 card (I’ve only used one extra layer here, but you could probably make something really awesome with a bunch). Skyline silhouettes often make good layers. Cut out your layer carefully and arrange over a second 4×6 index card — this will form your postcard. Color both the layers separately — for this design, I used a dark blue marker for the background and then colored in the top layer a light pink. I detailed both with blue ink and gold paint after gluing the layers together. Finished with a heavy coat of matte Mod Podge to keep the layers together and waterproof the design.

paris

Adding Embellishments

This multi-layer postcard uses the food coloring dye technique and is tied up with a pretty ribbon.

parisprocess

To create this postcard, I drew on a blank card with pencil and then black Sharpie/colored pens, and used a light coat of the dye over the drawing. I glued an extra layer above the drawing to frame it. To add a bow like the one here, first tie it from ribbon and then secure with a needle and thread. I know, I know…it’s a pain. But glue — even hot glue — is NOT going to hold up in the mail. after sewing the ribbon on, you can glue a new back onto your postcard to hide the knot from the thread.

paris-back

…Now all that’s left is to write a short message on your card and pop it in the mail! Your friends will appreciate it, especially now that you have a stack of gorgeous homemade postcards to send them. You can also try making more by printing out your favorite photos and gluing them to an index card — whatever you choose to do, the combinations for these are endless. So get writing!

writing

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post — please let me know your thoughts by dropping me a comment below!

9 Ways to (Tangerine) Tango

For me, orange has always been a love-or-hate color. I know people who are absolutely obsessed with it, and others (like myself) who can’t get anywhere near it. I do not own a single piece of orange clothing; I do not have a single orange accessory; I have never decorated with anything orange. Despite my love of pinks and reds, I have never shared the same affection for oranges or yellows (and perhaps justifiably so — they both look terrible with my skin tone).

That being said, I do believe that Tangerine Tango will be an excellent color to represent 2012 as Pantone’s Color of the Year. Honeysuckle pink was chosen for 2011 — a bold, energizing hue — and tangerine takes this concept even further. It is revitalizing and vibrant, perfect for a bright and sunny new outlook.

Despite my personal distaste for wearing orange, the pops of tangerine color that have been appearing on the runways as of late have been oddly appealing. Sometimes I think orange is incredibly ugly, but when used right, it can also be incredibly chic and refreshing. It looks amazing with some good color-blocking, and is a great burst of color in chunky necklaces or skinny belts, cinched at the waist. Fashion aside, it is also a great accent color for decorating (just don’t paint an entire room in Tangerine Tango — try a few squares of accent color instead).

Anyway, so without further ado — 9 chic tangerine pieces I found online:

And the all-important shopping information:

  1. Pleated Bib Dress, $25, forever21.com.
  2. Nantes Pennon Earrings, $98, anthropologie.com.
  3. Block Print Pillow, $20, worldmarket.com.
  4. Sparkle & Fade Suit Short, $49, urbanoutfitters.com.
  5. Roseblossom Kerchief, $14, madewell.com.
  6. Fire Ring Drops Earrings, $32, anthropologie.com.
  7. Qupid Athena Sandals, $29, piperlime.com.
  8. Edie Purse, $238, jcrew.com.
  9. Classic Wide Bangle, $28, jcrew.com.
And with that, I shall return to the comfort of my all-black wardrobe. This has been quite enough orange for one day.

 

So what are your thoughts on tangerine for 2012? Love or hate? (Please, I know there’s no in-between.)

 

{Image Sources: imagesmith.com, forever21.com, anthropologie.com, worldmarket.com, urbanoutfitters.com, madewell.com, piperlime.com, jcrew.com.}