Making Tactile Books
More Detailed Help – How I Made A Book
To help me write these guidelines I have had a go at making a fabric tactile book myself. I have also examined the lovely tactile books donated so far to the ClearVision library. I am not a skilled or experienced needlewoman, so please do not expect anything too technical in the way of instructions. Having said this, my tactile version of Little Red Riding Hood proves that it quite possible for someone without advanced sewing skills to produce a satisfactory tactile book which will be enjoyed by young blind children.
What you will need
Approx. half a metre of plain fabric to make the pages themselves. Bear in mind that lots of small hands will be feeling these pages. Choose a shade which will not get grubby too quickly, and ideally a smooth finish which will repel rather than absorb dirt. The colour should provide a good contrast with the illustrations and the text (if any). The text can be sewn to the page, or written in neatly with laundry marker, or printed and laminated then sewn in (if you have the right equipment). It is possible to buy clear plastic sheeting by the metre; if you have some of this you could print the text onto paper and then attach it to the page by sewing a rectangle of clear plastic over it. It is not a good idea to try to put a brailled text in your book unless you are a competent braillist.
Something to stiffen the pages. Plastic canvas is ideal for this, as it is washable. I am told that washable Vilene is also appropriate. Plastic canvas is available from some sewing or craft shops (including Specialist Crafts Ltd in Leicester – 0116 269 7711) and John Lewis sometimes has it in stock. It can also be bought by post from Craft Depot: 01458 274727 or email email@example.com, and elsewhere. It is not cheap. Standard 7-mesh sheets cost 80p to £1 each from shops or about £7.00 for ten from Craft Depot, but there is postage and packing to pay in addition. You will probably need one sheet per page for an average-sized book. You can stiffen three average sized pages from a giant sheet of 7 mesh plastic canvas (from Craft Depot). If you decide to make the pages a bit smaller you will, obviously, need less plastic canvas. Or you can cut up some cheap plastic folders and use them –anything lightweight which will stiffen the pages and not disintegrate when sponged is fine – especially if you can sew through it (see below).
Some padding so that the plastic canvas cannot be felt through the pages. I used a layer of fleece fabric for this but other padding – perhaps a bit thinner than fleece - would be just as good.
An indelible pen to write the text, unless you have decided to embroider or print it – or to make a book without text.
Bits and pieces to sew into the book. Consider some of the following:
velvet, fur fabric, pvc, net, lace, fake leather, kite fabric, quilting, gold lame;
scourers, sponges, non-slip matting, rubber car mats, garden netting, carpet;
objects made from Fimo or other clay; balsa wood; spoons, lids, lolly sticks, baby socks, hair ‘bobbles’; christmas tree decorations, stocking fillers, dolls’ house items, joke shop insects; squeakers, sound buttons, bells, lavender bags, crinkly materials; artificial flowers and leaves, dismantled plastic Christmas wreaths; buttons, beads, pompoms, feathers (shop-bought), braid.
It is sometimes easier to gather some ‘feely’ bits together and then think of a story or theme. You may choose, for example, to make a simple one to five counting book with buttons, lolly sticks, artificial flowers, bells and a toy spider if these are what you have to hand. A useful book of opposites could be made from rough and smooth fabric, large and small buttons, long and short braid, narrow and wide ribbon, and hard and soft shapes.
A simple story can be created around a few objects. Any interesting reasonably flat objects can be incorporated into a story along the following lines: Peter was looking for his key. He looked in his pocket and he pulled out a (toy snake). ‘That’s not my key,’ said Peter. He looked in his drawer and he pulled out a (sock). ‘That’s not my key,’ said Peter. He looked in his bag and he pulled out a (toothbrush). ‘That’s not . . .’ The more ridiculous the objects, the funnier the book!
Remember: all objects must be completely safe. Avoid anything sharp, toxic, or which could crumble, splinter or shred and cause choking.
All objects will need to be stitched very securely to the page. You may need to make some holes in the object so that it can be sewn. If you are making an object out of clay, make the holes before baking.
Putting it together
This is how I did mine. You may well have better ideas.
My book has seven pages, including the front and back covers, The covers and the inside pages are all made in the same way. The format is portrait rather than landscape (taller than it is wide) – but landscape is just as good.
The story is written on the left hand pages and the illustrations are on the right-hand pages, but you may choose to do it the other way round, or to have text and illustrations on all the pages – or no text at all.
First I measured and cut seven rectangles of plastic canvas, each 18 by 23 cms. Then I cut seven rectangles of fleece 36 by 23 cms, folded them around the plastic canvas and tacked them roughly in place as padding. I put all these padded rectangles aside for later.
Then I cut thirteen rectangles of plain fabric 26cms by 28cms to form the pages. I had decided to make the front cover out of a different fabric, so the fourteenth rectangle was cut from this. These measurements allowed 2 cms for each seam, plus 4 cms for the unstiffened binding margin, designed to make the pages lie flat (see sketches). I turned over the four edges of each rectangle and tacked them down to form rectangles 22 by 24cms. Then the fun began ....
First I gathered together and prepared the bits and pieces for the illustrations. Then I arranged them on the pages, leaving 4cms blank at the left-hand-side of each page for binding (you may like to mark this margin with pins or tacking stitches to give you a better idea of the space available). Then I sewed them in place.
For the text pages, I left a 4cm margin on the right-hand-side of the page and wrote the text as clearly as I could with an indelible pen so that it would not smudge if sponged. I double-checked the text as it is much easier to re-do the page at this stage than put right any errors spotted later when the book is assembled.
I pinned each illustration page onto the padded canvas, leaving the binding margin loose on the left. I then reinforced the sewing of some of the objects by sewing them to the plastic canvas. This is especially necessary for buttons, beads and anything which can be grasped and pulled at and/or swallowed. (This reinforcement can only be done for the first of the two pages to be attached to the padded canvas – so you will need to plan you book accordingly if you have illustrations on every page.)
I pinned the text page to the other side of the padded canvas (leaving the binding margin loose on the right). Then I sewed round all four edges to complete the page. I did this by hand but it would, obviously, be quicker by machine although you may need to make the pages slightly larger in this case.
Lastly I put the pages together and sewed the spine edges of the binding margins together. The book was too thick for me to push the needle through all the pages at once, so I did half at a time. An alternative would be to make the binding margin wider and make button holes, or eyelets, then tie the pages together with ribbon, string, shoelaces, shower curtain rings, or whatever.
It took me about 17 hours altogether to make my version of Little Red Riding Hood and I greatly enjoyed it. It would probably have taken less time if I had used a sewing machine – but then I would not have been able to do so much of it on the train!
I hope all this is some help. Good luck with your book and please remember that your ideas may well be as good or better than the ones in this handout.
Marion Ripley, ClearVision.