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Friday, February 24, 2012

Tearing Paper to Make Your Own Journals

Last year I got a criticism on one of my teacher evaluation forms. (Yes it does happen.) One student wrote, "I don't know why we wasted time on learning how to tear down paper and didn't spend all the time on sewing."

Now the evaluations are anonymous but I can tell you something about this student—she already had a way to tear down paper that she liked, or she owned a large paper cutter, or she was a member of the MCBA Co-op and had access to their equipment, or she is used to taking classes where the teachers prepare all the materials in kit form (and therefore doesn't make books at home on her own because she really hasn't learned hands on all the steps).

The class however was open to students of all levels. And my approach to bookbinding is to tear your own paper without expensive equipment—something anyone can do at any level.

Frankly I can't see how you can make a book without knowing how to tear paper, so it's an essential part of the process of bookbinding to me. As an instructor I believe it's important to go over the process of tearing, and in that discussion also bring up the various qualities of the paper, and of course demonstrate the proper technique. As a time management tool it also eliminates a bottleneck of students at the cutting machines and keeps class moving more quickly than it otherwise would. It is even more important to teach this skill when a book structure requires fussy tearing of a sheet to get a page size that can't happen simply by folding in half and in half. Showing how to measure in those circumstances is an important skill to teach.

So while I'm sorry the student was frustrated and I do try to pay attention to critiques, I won't be changing my approach—it is a foundation of my philosophy.

I know a number of the readers of this blog either already make their own books or would like to make their own books. Some of you may not know how to tear down paper. Today on my blog Roz Wound Up I have posted a video demonstration of me tearing a 22 x 30 inch sheet of Folio (which is a heavy weight printmaking paper). Along with the video I have provided a few additional written tips and recommendations including links to my posts on determining grain direction and also how to fold and collate your torn sheets so that you have matching surfaces across a page spread (some papers have markedly different fronts and backs). I'll be following up with another post discussing fussy tearing.


  1. Terrific, Roz! I love knowing how you do it...and I agree that knowing process is important. I get the occasional complaint too...it is what it is!

  2. Thanks Kate. And I still laugh over this complaint because it just doesn't make any sense, at least not to me. Now if someone didn't understand a handout that I'd worry about and fix, but because someone doesn't see the benefit of learning to tear their own paper, well…

  3. Exactly.

    Someone's always going to have a different way of looking at the world, and I've learned to accept that rather than fight it.

    I'll make one attempt to explain, if it's appropriate, and then just have to accept that we have different ways of learning. I'm never going to tell people to take this brush and dip it in that color and make this mark, just like mine, 'cause I just don't think that way. Some teachers do, and some students learn best that way, but it's not me. It disappoints some people, but I can't change who I am...

  4. Knowing how to tear the sheets down is important to the look and structure of the final product! And I have learned a lot from your blog, Roz. Thank you!

  5. Thanks Vicky, I didn't see this comment earlier. I appreciate the feedback. I hope you have been happily trying out this method of paper tearing! Roz


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