On a lazy morning, I realised it had been a long time since anything interesting had happened in my life. And with extra time on my plate, I began thinking of the last time I went on an adventure and got an adrenaline rush.
To my surprise, the last most adventurous thing I did was making a notebook – from a little above scratch.
They say that reading a book is an adventure, but I wondered how adventurous the process of making one is. In this digital era, I got a chance to ‘make a book’ and it was more or less like trekking. The amount of energy that one puts into making a handmade book is tremendous. It’s a long way up but the view is worth it.
It began last year with a ten-minute ride on a lethargic Saturday morning, to Fabindia in Chennai. A ‘handmade book-making’ workshop was going to be conducted by Little Black Book.
When I finally got there – 30 minutes early – I made my way through beautiful Fabindia interiors and fabrics up a staircase where loose pages were waiting to become books. Shweta S., the mentor of the workshop, greeted me. We waited for everyone else to show up. “I have learned the art of bookmaking from my grandmother,” she said.
For every individual, the ingredients required were laid out: a set of 20 thick white sheets, millboard, OHP sheet and a piece of fabric were given. To my right, there was a new white thread roll with a needle and a handy blade. To my left lay an empty paper cup, a black sandpaper and a hard white square plywood piece.
Shweta demonstrated the process. “You would all like to think that this is difficult, but it isn’t,” she smiled as she began the process. For the next 20-25 minutes, she sewed in and out, glued up and down. Her hands moved swiftly with the flutter of the pages and the slides of the blade. When she was doing it and explaining it to us, it seemed easy.
When she was done making a notebook with her own bare hands, she passed it around. It was an A4 sized book with a black and white fabric cover. It looked like one of those books sold at Starmark. Everyone was baffled by the simple yet intricate process. I think the idea of the process being easy gave a kind of adrenaline rush to us. For after that, everyone began making books with much enthusiasm.
I began too, first with folding the OHP and white sheets in half. Then, made three tiny dot sized holes with the needle of the handy blade. And this was the most difficult and tiring part for me for the holes had to be aligned properly; I couldn’t do it as easily as Shweta did. After what seemed like forever, I finally managed to align them perfectly. Whispers began, “It looked easy when Sweta did it,” said a girl.
I inserted the thin white thread into the needle, tying a knot of the two parallels. And I began sewing the loose sheets with the millboard, in and out, out and in. I did it exactly as my mentor demonstrated. I tightened the papers after each stitch and tied a knot at the end.
In the beginning I struggled with sewing and knotting but eventually I got it right. “The book is half done”, Shweta said to everyone who’d come this far. On the table opposite to mine, a five-year-old was begging her mother to let her sew. Her mother reluctantly said, “You do the fabric-part, I’ll do this.”
Now before people got to the “fabric part”, I had to level the sheets accordingly. For this, I held a scale on each side to cut out the uneven parts with the blade. A wee bit of force and tight grip will make this job a piece of cake – but it wasn’t for me. The pieces of paper began separating like frizzy white hair. And just like that, the clean table which I sat on, became a horde of untoned paper.
The empty paper cups were filled with slimy white fabric glue and it was just satisfying to look at. I opened my newly-stitched book and placed the OHP sheet between the paper and millboard.
The trek is about to come to an end. Now, after this, all I had to do was to place the piece of fabric on the millboard and wait for the glue to dry. And I did wait.
I looked around.
The five-year-old had reached the fabric part too. She placed the neon green floral cloth that she held on her book and jumped up with joy. She leaped front and back and smiled innocently.
Another person, next to me was done with her book. Her stitch was a little loose but everything else good. We relaxed for ten minutes. It felt like we had trekked up a high mountain and were waiting for the view. Taking one breath at a time.
After the glue dried, I tucked the ends of the fabric. And there it was, amidst the horde of white paper strands and spots of glue on the table, a blue Ikat notebook that I had made with my own hands.
For a girl who has never stitched her clothes, hand-making a book felt like a big achievement. Holding the book, I felt the same thing which I felt at the end of my first trek in Bali – ‘immense satisfaction’.
Well, the happiest of us all was the five year old. For her, it was more than a trek, it was a trip to Mars and back. With eyes full of joy, she held her grey notebook high and ran around the entire shop, showing it off to everyone.
“Look. I made a book that matches my mother’s dress,” she exclaimed.
Amrutha Kosuru is a freelance journalist based in Visakhapatnam and is a graduate from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai.
Featured image credit: Amrutha Kosuru