Handmade Collage Book

Ali Manning taught us how to make this handmade Collage Book in a Zoom workshop. She sells her books and teaches through her website, Vintage Page Designs. I’m a member of her Handmade Book Club. She gave the workshop up in several segments throughout the day with ample breaks in between. Ali used Zoom features to make it similar to an in-person workshop experience. A note about the timeline of this workshop . . . She’s in Massachusetts and I’m in Arizona, so we, “we”, were starting at 5:45am my time. I got out of bed around 7 my time, (I think?) and tuned in to the current meeting.. All I brought to the computer was my coffee and the theme I chose for my book: Dream.

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Oh boy. I admire collage, I am still new to it and I never make the time for it. Ever. I’d rather draw. BUT when presented with the opportunity to spend some time sitting with it, I enjoy it. Different neurons start firing and I start to run with it. Ali’s second video of the day, first one I tuned in to, was about making the collage. (The first one was about making the covers, totally missed it). We were to grab a large piece of paper and glue other lightweight papers to it.

On the break, I ran upstairs to collect materials that were blue and purple for my theme. I riffled through old Smithsonian magazines, tearing out pages of dreamy colors and surreal landscapes. I grabbed some photos, crumpled purple tissue paper, and old scrap and practice calligraphy pieces. Several of them happened to have the word “dream” written on them. I also quickly zipped through a casual box of paper scraps I’ve saved to have enough for both sides of my big page.

One thing I recognized as I was working with the collage was the exercise in non-attachment. At first I remembered we were going to cut down our large pages, but as I worked, my collage pieces got smaller. I was trying to plan for the pages to be perfect. I was also hesitant to cut up others’ work (magazine photos) and my own old calligraphy. The materials I chose for the collage are things I’ve had for 4 years or more. What *perfect* thing was I going to do with them?

Once the pages started coming together, or rather as I cut them apart, their energy and composition were so much more magical than what I could’ve created on my own. That is to say, than what I could have created without letting go and trusting the process. Not that there isn’t a place for meticulous planning, but this was a juicy experience that freed me from getting lost in the details.


In the next session as Ali gave instruction on cutting down the pages, I was still slapping my pieces down. I put my big page in the Arizona sunshine to dry quickly and chatted with the nice people in my breakout room. As I started cutting my pieces down, I couldn’t believe how cool my pages were coming out! I loved what was next to each other and the continuity throughout the book of torn up pages reappearing. My large sheet made 16 signatures, or folded pages, in all. I set the spines of my signatures in a dictionary and punched evenly spaced holes in the signatures using an awl.


I used cardboard backings from blocks of watercolor paper as my covers. I’ve had them for longer than I even know and I was saving them . . “in case I needed some good cardboard”. And now I make books so I will go through it. Though I only have like 4 . . Anyway. It took me some time to find an appropriate paper to cover my boards with. I still wanted to use purple and blue, but the paste paper I was going to use (I have so much right now!) was just too bright and peppy for the gravity of my book. I found some thin dark purple handmade paper with gold leaves in it –perfect for the feeling of my book.

Stitching the Binding

I. Do not have bookbinding needles. Yet. But I do have a few (now bent) tapestry needles. The stitch Ali taught us was pretty simple. Again, I’m not very experienced but I know there are also Coptic stitches with 2 needles. My thread did get caught on my collage pieces a little at first and there is one page toward the beginning of the book that has bookbinding thread permanently wrapped around the corner of it. I call that loop “part of the collage”. If you imagine a kitten playing with a ball of yarn for the first time, that’s kind of what I looked like while sewing — at least at first — so there are no photos of this step. I only have purple and white binding thread at the moment and for this book I chose purple. I didn’t arrange the pages at all — I liked the way they arranged themselves as I cut them, so I left them in that order.

My very favorite page in the book and it happens to be right in the middle.

Ribbon Closure

I did finish binding the book on the day of the workshop and left it under a big stack of heavy books for the night. This helped to squish the pages down and flatten them out so the book won’t spring open every time it’s held. The next morning, I figured out how to close that little baby — with a hand-dyed ribbon sample that’s been sitting on top of my dryer since I got the sample . . a while ago. I threaded the ribbon between the pages and the covers so the ribbon goes across the spine.

End Pages

I used glue to tack the ribbon to the inside of each cover. I knew I couldn’t just glue a magazine page over the ribbon and the stitches on the inside of the cover. I used the cover of the watercolor pad I got the cardboard from, cut it to size, and covered it with the magazine pages as if they were covers too. I glued these over the ribbon and the stitches, pressed it for a few hours, and tied the ribbon.

The front inside cover of the book, end page hiding the ribbon and cover stitches.

Over the next couple days, I added more pictures and pieces and wrote some info and affirmations in the book. I also added an envelope I made out of a calligraphy practice page to the back of the book. I’ll write a little something about why I made the book and tuck it in there.

The envelope I made from calligraphy practice and glued down at the back of the book

I am still adding to this book. I write affirmations and flesh out the collage here and there. I still have it sitting on my desk and I really love it. I enjoyed this experience of the workshop, branching out with the collage, and learning how to bind this ample little book. I will be more experimental with it next time! I plan to slowly compile a book of bookbinding stitches and knots for me to refer to when I forget how to do them! Until the next project,


The book from the top

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