Uncommon Handbound Books by Cindy Leaders

Useful Books is now Free Range Bookbinding

Friday, May 29, 2015

After almost eight years and over 1800 sales on Etsy, Useful Books is getting a do-over.  It's a little scary to make a change after such a long time and good success, but my new business name reflects the character of my work so much better.

So without further ado, please allow me to proudly introduce . . .

Like so many makers, I started my little Etsy shop on a lark, never imagining that it would become a full time job and such a huge part of my life.  When I began, "Useful Books for Putting Things In" had meaning for me.  The name was inspired by Winnie-the-Pooh's Useful Pot for Putting Things In.  (Pooh and I go way back.)  I love pockets and envelopes and planned to include them in every book.  Yeah, I'm still digging pockets and envelopes, which you know if you've followed me at all.

I started with a very Pooh-ish bunny . . .

And moved on to a slightly more sophisticated bunny . . .

The more my work evolved, I realized that my dear bunny and I needed to part ways.  (It's not you, it's me.)  I had a dear friend create a new logo . . .

Now in 2015, I'm making a whole new start, and embracing a new critter . . .

Here's the definition of free range: adj. (1) permitted to forage rather than being confined to a small enclosure; (2) produced in natural non-intensive conditions.  What I like best of all is finding cool things, old and new, and using them in books in unexpected ways. Why stop with book board, cloth and paper when there's a million other flat things in the world that can be a book or part of one?  Coupled with creating in my sunny home studio in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains and my lighthearted approach to the whole thing (restore your precious family Bible? no thanks), the definition fits me perfectly.

Come visit my new home on the web at FreeRangeBookbinding.com.    I'll be posting in both places for a while, but will be transitioning over there by the end of the year.  


Wandering into the Wedding Forest

Monday, March 19, 2012

I've been thinking for literally years of developing some wedding guest book designs. It took someone asking me to make one for them to spur me on to actually do it.  A local friend wanted something for a simple, rustic wedding, preferably with a tree design, maybe to use for photos as well.  So this is what I made for her: 

I made it with an expandable spine so that added bulk from photos won't make it splay open.  Since it grows to three inches in width, there's plenty of space to add up to 80 photographs, one on each side of the 40 heavy pages.  

The book will lay nicely flat for signing or adding photos.  I've used my luxurious heavyweight Italian Velata for the pages, all hand torn of course.  It will work great for mounting photos or writing.

The design is printed directly onto book cloth I made from simple unbleached muslin.   It has a rustic elegance that I really like.

I'm offering these made to order in my Etsy shop.  I have some other tree motifs, as well as sea shells and a few other fun things to use if a bride prefers.  You can see it here if you like.


The Happiest Place on Earth

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Last month, my sister and I spent a week at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. This was my second trip to the Folk School. The first was four years ago when I learned to make BOOKS! This visit was more of a sister trip than anything else. And what a wonderful sister trip it was.

We heard the Folk School described as "a little cruise ship in the mountains" and "a corn pone Brigadoon" among other things. Set in the idyllic Smoky Mountains, far from any place in particular, the Folk School transports you to a world where music, art and storytelling are the things that really matter. For all its down home feel, it's a big place with some state of the art teaching facilities. (Don't judge it by my photos! Go visit them at their website.)

We were there during music and dance week so everywhere we went, musicians serenaded us. The folk music of choice here is thoroughly American, rooted in these mountains, but it resembles Celtic music more than the bluegrass you might associate with the deep south.

My sister took a raku pottery class


I learned a smattering about screen printing and surface design.

We ate like kings,

made cool stuff

and enjoyed every evening watching the fireflies flickering in the woods and listening to the birds' evensong.

We hated to return to the harsh world of televisions and road noise. But we came back refreshed and more in touch with each other and things that really matter most.


I'm getting published! Twice!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I told you a month or so ago about listening to April Bowles-Olin's "Achieving Your Creative Dreams" talk from the Etsy Success Symposium in February. She really inspired me to set some higher goals for my creative business. I told my accountability partner the very next week that I wanted to be published in 2011. It seemed kind of an outrageous thought to me. Like many other creative types, I discount my own work and have a hard time seeing myself as a "real artist." I just make books. But I decided to go for it and committed to submit a book to GreenCraft, a Stampington & Co. magazine that focuses on art made from recycled and reclaimed materials.

But just a few days later, before I'd even started on my GreenCraft project, I got an Etsy convo from a woman at Lark Publications asking me to submit two of my books for a book they are publishing next year about handmade mini-books. Out of the clear blue sky, just four days after I had spoken my goal aloud to my friend! I was completely blown away. I ended up submitting five books, and two were selected. Not the two she had originally requested but two different books. They chose one of my little record books made from a transparent red 45 record. You'll be familiar with these if you've followed my shop for long.

And also a small variation on my versatile travel journal. What a blessing! The book won't be out until April of 2012. I'll blog about it again when it comes out.

So in March, I followed through and hopefully packed up one of my creations to send to GreenCraft. The submission guidelines said they get thousands of submissions, you might not ever hear anything and they may keep submitted work as long as a year. So I was SHOCKED when I got an email a few weeks later that they had selected my book for the August issue! I'm happy that I'd snapped a picture before I sent it off. It's not a great picture, but it's something!

I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to get my work out in a whole new way! I'm excited for what this year will bring.


Dark Roasted Guest Book

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A young friend of mine asked me to make a guest book for her graduation out of a Starbucks gift bag. Another excuse to play with kraft paper! I prepared the bag by fusing tissue paper to the back with iron on adhesive so that the glue wouldn't bleed through. I was pleased with the way the bright green stripes lined up on the spine and edges. It turned out to be a rather elegant little book to hold well-wishes from her many friends as well as some photos of a special day.

I love using Starbucks bags because of the invitation they print right on their bags to reuse in any way you can.


A Special Special Order

Thursday, May 19, 2011

I don't do a lot of local work in my small town, but a friend recently commissioned me to make eight journals for a group of friends who are going through the book "One Thousand Gifts" together. One of the challenges of this book is to write down literally one thousand things that God has given you for which you are grateful. Good, bad, easy, hard, painful and pleasant. It's quite an undertaking with the potential to totally transform a life.

So these are the books that will hold each ladies' 1000 gifts. They're made from my "better-that-leather" material made from painted, stamped, printed, glazed, distressed kraft paper layered with Tyvek and more kraft paper. Layered vintage images are printed onto heavy paper for the cover adornment, which is layered over more kraft paper (I love kraft paper) and anchored with snaps on the corners. They're stitched around the edges, and the cover wraps around the text block and fastens with a closure so they can be carried safely tossed in a bag.

I printed various verses and phrases related to gratitude on the covers as well. I'll eventually have some of these for sale in my shop. Let me know if you'd like something specific.

Thanks to my friend who took these beautiful photos.


A Book Review and My Elephant

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In February, Etsy broadcast a success symposium featuring speakers talking about various aspects of creative business. I particularly enjoyed April Bowles-Olin's "Achieving Your Creative Dreams." (You can still see that talk if you like here.) She spoke in part from a book called "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard" by Chip and Dan Heath. I highly recommend this book! Though it has a somewhat "business-y" slant, I took away some great personal application that has really made a difference in how I approach my business and other areas of my life as well.

This very engaging book is a study of change, why it's hard, why we fear it and what might be done to make it easier in multiple contexts. A metaphor the authors use throughout has stuck with me. They suggest that in order to make successful change, we must have our Rider (our rational side) and our Elephant (our emotional and instinctive side) working together to make progress on the Path (the environment where the change will happen). If my Elephant isn't on board with my goals, my tiny little Rider won't be able to keep him on the Path. Which is why you will eat that cookie even if you're "on a diet" unless your motivation is very strong. There must be a strong "why" that motivates on a deep level. We have to engage our mind, will and emotions and tweak our environment to make positive change happen. Of course, there's so much more than that! Read the book.

Here's my Elephant as he was: Old Mossback George. Half asleep, rooted to the ground, not exactly nimble and lithe. Having worked with him for a few months now, he's getting much more lively and engaged in the business at hand. We've been able to set some ambitious goals and actually accomplished some of them! More on that soon . . .