Just Shelley

The Art of Books: perfect folds

The work on the star tunnel books goes slowly as I gather the material to make the volumes. Before I can even consider starting them, though, I have to master the fold. If I can’t master the fold, I won’t be able to master the concertina fold, which is nothing more than long strips of stiffer paper, in perfect parallel folds. The star tunnel book I have in mind consists of several overlapping concertinas.

I thought I knew folding, having previously spent a life time of folding things, such as dolls, letters, hope, books, arms, and t-shirts; but all this past experience does is build bad habits; habits which must be broken to do a proper fold. Contrary to what we might think a fold doesn’t just happen by luck. There is no natural perfect fold in nature, unlike the fractal. The fold must be precise, measured, and then firmly flattened using a bone folder, because your work is only as good as your fold.

As I study the art of book, I find that there is an esoteric element to folds, which adds a hint of spirtual mystery to that previously seen as commonplace . For instance, there are proper names describing how the fold is placed relative to the surface: if the fold is pointed up, then it’s called a mountain fold; pointed down, a valley fold. Not difficult to remember and makes for rather impressive explanations of what you’re doing if someone asks.

“I’m folding the end of this paper, here, until the tip meets the base of this mountain fold.”

Or something to that effect. Those people who are experienced at this are probably snickering right now, saying to themselves, “It’s not called a base, you amateur. It’s the spine“, or some such thing.

To practice my proper folding technique, I created a book called an Inserted Concertina, which is one concertina fold inserted into another, and looks rather nice for nothing more than two pieces of paper connected by slits.

First I had to make one 8-panel concertina, 6 inches high (sorry, if I try to keep up in metric, I’ll be here all night); and then a second, 4 inches high. I cut off the two end panels from the shorter strip (which are being used to make a small Japanese stab binding book). The paper had to be long enough, so I glued two pieces together, which itself is rather a production.

Place scrap paper underneath the edge and use it to mask all but 1/2 inch of the edge of one strip; use the paintbrush to spread a thin layer…

Once the long strips were made, I folded the middle of the taller concertina to make a mountain fold, and then folded one half to make another mountain fold and so on, until the stretched out piece easily collapses, edge to edge, all space eliminated.

It was then a matter than of cutting out the insides of the larger to make space for the smaller, cutting slits in both to align with each other and then put the two pieces together (easier said then done, something about cutting through six pieces of paper). To measure the cuts, I used the pointed end on the bone folder to score the paper, to avoid using pencil or pen, which, in a way, again makes use of the fold to accomplish my task.

As a finishing touch, I added orchid print outs, just as a fun detail and a bit of color, because the true spirit of the art of book is improvisation, each piece then being subtly unique.

I’m not sure if the photos do the book justice; it was difficult to photograph. It’s not perfect, and there are bends in the paper, and the photos warp the perspective, and I have made mistakes. Regardless, the amazing thing about it is how well the book collapses neatly and elegantly into its cover, and how stable the piece is, without using any clip or thread or glue to keep the concertinas together. It is a most cooperative work, as if the pieces decide to mesh for whatever reason even though there is no physical bond.

I can twist the work about and open and close it and pull it around to take photos, but the join holds and the piece remains steadfast despite the strain it undergoes. As you may guess by now, it is, of course, due to the compatibility of the folds; to the ends, really, because that’s what a fold is–the alignment of two ends.

I have no allusions about the stability of my little book. Brutal shaking of the piece will most likely break it apart, perhaps permanently if the slits are damaged, or the folds crumpled and lost. It is not a work that can be tossed carelessly aside for convenience, or thrown across the room in anger; too easily sat on or thrown away for scrap if forgotten. I think that’s why this style of book appeals to me: there is the very real possibility that it will not endure.

Since we can name these individual works, these book arts, I called this one My Virtual Friend.

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