Review: Book Arts by Mary Kaye Seckler

It's been awhile since I've written more about bookbinding or binding techniques. This week I return to my series of bookbinding (which started here and ended here) by giving you a review of one of my favorite bookbinding starter books. There's a lot of good books out there about bookbinding and more are being added to the shelves. If you have the time and desire, I recommend that you go to spend some time at your local bookstore and read through some of the various books. It can take time and some research to discover which book's instructions help you in making your own books.

Ever since I turned from journal connoisseur to journal maker, I've been trying to find those rare books that teach me how to make interesting styles of books without the technical jargon and confusing stereo instructions written in some language requiring babel fish to decode. I prefer reading instructional art books that contain numeric step-by-step instructions and lots of pictures. After reading a few books in the stores on the subject and finding that most of them seemed to be written in that stuffy, old, college text book style with vary little pictures to reference, I was glad to find this little gem. It's called Book Arts, by Mary Kaye Seckler and it's published by Design Originals. If you decide to buy it, I've attached a link for you to purchase it at at the bottom of this article.

Book Arts follows a project structure, meaning that it doesn't spend too much time on the history or rhetoric of bookbinding. Instead, Seckler drops you right into the process by quickly going over a few common terms (in list format, similar to my first introduction article) and giving you a general overview of common tools used in the process. After these 3 brief pages of introduction, she starts right on on the first project. There are a total of 12 different book projects, utilizing a few different types of binding techniques, ranging from easy (the first project is a no sew) to hard (two needle coptic stitch binding). By name, these books are:

  • Memories of Paris (no sew)
  • Atlas' Secret Pages
  • Tag Flag Book
  • Chinese Star Book
  • Asian Serenity Book
  • Sewing Over Tapes
  • Long Tail Sally
  • Raven's Foot Binding
  • Geisha's Hideaway
  • Serengeti Piano Hinge
  • Two-needle Coptic Stitch Book
  • French Tunnel Vision Book

So what makes this book so much better than many others? Well, for starters, it meets my top 2 criteria for instructional art books. The book is printed on glossy, full color paper and includes more than ample pictures and samples of hand made art books using the instructions within. Each project gives a complete materials list as well as easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions (some numeric and others not) that help you create the featured book from scratch. She also includes any corresponding templates for many of the binding projects. Seckler wrote the book in plain, friendly english and she offers many friendly suggestions while you attempt the projects. Depending on what my mood is, I can create a simple project and be done within a few hours or spent a lot more time on a more complex project.

My favorite projects in Book Arts include the Asian Serenity and the Piano Hinge Books. I also enjoy the no sew book as it's one of the nicer hard-bound book projects that doesn't require sewing with needles and a steady hand. On a side note, a great thing to do and use for the piano hinge books are chopsticks. They make perfect binding sticks! I'll frequently go to Chinese restaurants and horde everyone's chopsticks so that I can use them as the sticks that get bound into the piano hinge books.

Another big benefit to this book is its reasonable price. At $16.95 USD, it gives you a broad and artistic look at how to make several different styles of books with minimum knowledge and tools. Doug and I were talking the other day about how some books out there are written in such a way that they expect you to have nothing but the best tools and the most expensive leathers or materials to put into your books, not to mention the time and dedication needed to make such a tome. With Book Arts, you can start creating your own books with tools and materials that fit within your own budget.

I will admit that this book is geared to the art crowd, so many of the projects may look and feel a bit more artistic or "different" than your average everyday journal. But don't let that turn you away from looking at the book for what it is, an instructional device that gives you a quick overview of all the different types of books you can make and how personalized creating these books has become. The projects are standard enough that you can select the materials that you want to use to make each of your books personalized; you can either tone it down or spice it up, however you desire.

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Is there an Third article??

Hi there,
I've been looking around for online instructions to making my own sketchbook. I was very interested in your first 2 articles on the subject, an you mention a third... but I don't see one.
Did you post one, and I'm not seeing it (a possibility... can't keep track of much anymore) or is it still in the works?
Many thanks!!

Total of 4 Bookbinding articles


Thanks for your interest. I have the following bookbinding articles here on DIY:

Introduction to bookbinding
Your First Book
An Intermediate Book
Bookbinding Wrap-up

In addition, you can search for artist journals or sketchbooks in the Search box on the right side and navigate to many other articles on how we artists put inside our sketch books.