Snowflakes to Bookbinding

                There’s something satisfying in working with your hands after a long day or week of working with, what feels like, exclusively your mind. And there’s something hypnotizing about watching someone else work with their hands as well, as I discovered when watching a YouTube time-lapse video on bookbinding over this past weekend []. Though our class has so far worked exclusively with paperback books, I found the techniques I observed in this video to be illuminating for my own work on my own Japanese Stab Binding Books, as well as how to adapt my earlier understandings of stitching and paper folding to this new art.

                Something that always stuck out to me about stitching and paper folding is the mathematical art of symmetry. The Basic Japanese Stab Binding technique expresses a simple symmetrical pattern achieved through symmetrical action in stitching. The repetitive and reversible patterns made it easy to adapt the technique to other designs, whether in stitching or in the shape of paper. As I stitched the binding of my book, all I could think about how this basic stitching would resemble the combined graphs of the sine and cosine functions with the holes as the critical points. I guess the trigonometric functions stuck with me better than I thought.

                Still, my high school experience with kirigami, or, as I like to call it, the art of making paper snowflakes, allowed me to see the potential modifications I could take with paper shape. Though folding a 45 degree angle against the grain is frustrating, I managed to rip enough sheets to make my triangular book, stitched together with the basic stab binding. Finding the symmetrical points to make the holes took an extra step of thinking, as a pleated triangle isn’t really a thing, but I managed without too much difficultly. It only occurred afterwards that I could have used a ruler.

[Photo: Isabel Sicree.] The bookbinding techniques used for these three projects all exemplify the symmetrical process of both the paper folding and the stitching, as well as its adaptability.

                The methodical nature of paper folding and stitching makes it easy for me to blissfully lose myself in the repetition, but it also makes alternative stitch patterns easy to identify and recreate for me. It’s comforting to know that I can change the paper type and shape, the number of holes, and the stitching pattern itself and still be able to make an adequate book binding.

5 thoughts on “Snowflakes to Bookbinding”

  1. Love where you took this, Isabel, into the math of symmetry and the fold. Books are patterned, intricately, with different symmetries–it would be so interesting to enumerate the symmetries at play in the codex, and the gestures at symmetry (like the facing pages of the open book). Conceptually, symmetry is such an interesting idea/l–for example, shoot, now I have another recommendation for you, a great one, for your senior project reading list: Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París, Christine McSweeney. (Someone from my Lit in Translation class last semester might be able to lend it to you.)


  2. As someone who worked blue collar, I also find that working with my hands is meditative after spending many hours studying material and writing thoughts and observations. (Oh, the irony in writing this reply!) I found your experience in learning better methods for your craft to be so similar to my experience when I did work as a plumber. We often need to do things in the inefficient manner before we can see the more efficient. In either case, the joy one feels in the finished product after laboring can be felt in both the material of the hands and in the intellectual space of our thoughts.


  3. It’s so cool that you mentioned the relationship between math (symmetry, geometry, etc.) and art. It’s a little strange to think about, but things like stab-binding, origami, and I’ll bet kirigami, too (though I haven’t personally looked into it), have these really rich mathematical theories behind them. As I was looking up some stab-binding patterns, I found this page on a blog called Becca Making Faces ( which describes some of the theory behind creating stab-binding designs. It’s an interesting read if you’re wondering how to design your own stab-binding patterns.


  4. First, I love your title! The title you chose for your piece really grabbed my attention and made me want to read more! Second, I love how your blog really engages with the beauty of composing something completely original and unique while also making an important connection to how this exercise can make us feel.


  5. I find it fascinating how deeply you delve into the mathematical aspects behind art; truly, the two are interconnected more than I would ever like to admit. (I don’t particularly like math. . .) It’s fascinating to see how you used this knowledge to create such interesting, unique stitching patterns, as well as overall shapes for your books. It draws to mind all of the future possibilities with stab-binding and bookmaking that we could all explore.


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