Two Books for Levi Strauss & Co.

On July 6th I received an email:

Hey there

I hope all is well with you, and that you don’t mind me emailing out of the blue. […]

My client is Levi Strauss, the jeans brand. They’re working on a fascinating project right now that involves the creation of some beautiful, unique journals, and asked me to help them find some people to make them. I immediately thought of Etsy, and found the bookbindingteam blog.

Levi’s have been through all the binders on the blog, selected your work as ideal for this project, and would like to invite you to be part of it. […]

We’d need to have your involvement confirmed within the next couple of days.

Best wishes

That was of course exciting, and no question I was interested! Over the next days it turned out that this was real, and that I would be making 2 books for Levi’s! The is the project’s brief:

Levi’s Travelling Journal Project

Young women around the world today are transcending expectations that society imposes on them.  They’re shaping what’s to come for themselves and the world around them in unique and unexpected ways.  But, it’s not always easy – especially when you’re on your own, trying to navigate your own path in a non-linear way and discovering who you are truly meant to be.

For many women, success has been inspired or guided by other people – mentors, coaches, heroes, ideas and circumstances that led them on their journey to being happy, fulfilled and sometimes feeling absolutely fabulous about what they’re doing in the world – making a difference and achieving a dream.  Daring to be themselves.

The project seeks to capture the essence of what has shaped young women, what’s relevant to them in 2010, and what advice they would have for other young women trying to shape their own worlds.

So, we’re looking for the comfy palette on which the journeys of young women will be crafted in words, illustrations, photos and mixed media.  Each hand-crafted book will be adored and adorned by women from around the world. There will be a total of 16 books created.

When the books are completed, they will be featured in a professionally produced film along with some of the women who wrote within them.  In December, these books will appear in an art gallery event.

You are cordially invited to create some of these books and to be part of our project to capture they ways young women are shaping what’s to come in the world.

Other members of the bookbindingteam are in the project, too (links below). We were 8 in total, each of us made two books. The only requirement we had was the format (at least 10″x10″), the number of pages (exactly 72), and they asked for very good paper, suited for mixed media and ink. I was so excited – and scared. I wanted to make superb books, the best I could do, and feverishly started with first sketches and trials:

Ich habe ja die ganze Zeit über immer versprochen nochmal zu erzählen, welch großartigen Auftrag ich im Juli erledigt habe. Der Grund über mein Schweigen war, dass mein Auftraggeber mich gebeten hatte, noch nicht darüber zu bloggen. Aber endlich kann ich mein Schweigen brechen: Levi Strauss & Co. hatten mich und 7 weitere Mitglieder unseres bookbindingteams auf Etsy beauftragt, jeweils zwei Bücher zu machen. Das war ein aufregender Auftrag! Mit einer Marketingagentur zu arbeiten ist etwas ganz anderes, als für Privatleute. Ständig muss alles am besten gestern fertig gewesen sein, und selten spricht man mit jemandem, der wirklich Entscheidungen treffen kann. Aber es freut mich sehr, dass ich an diesem Projekt teilnehmen durfte, alle waren immer super freundlich, letztendlich hat alles trotz Zittern gut geklappt, und ich hatte selten so viel Freiheiten wenn ich Auftragsarbeiten erledigt habe! Es folgen einige Bilder von ersten Versuchen, Umentscheidungen, und letztendlich den Büchern, die ich eingereicht habe: Dark Sun und das Riesenmonsterbuch.

The pages above are from my working journal, and show my first thoughts about the project, and of course I made something very different in the end. I had my reasons. First they said, “at least 48 pages”. I wanted to make a book with Coptic headbands, because I thought that is the buechertiger specialty: one of my double headbands. But that would require the use of many more than 48 pages, which could fit more or less in one signature. So I though that, as a compensation, I’d made an Asian stab binding for the second book, sleek and strait looking. But then some of the requirement changed, experiments did not go as well as I would have liked, and so the books turned out different from the first vision. First problem I pondered: Such a large book is very wide for a Coptic binding. Coptic bound books should be small, or you need some kind of support or stabilize the spine. But first, I tried whether a Greek binding would do:

first greek binding
Greek Binding is a little more stable than Coptic, and it works well with the Coptic headbands.

That was when I still thought I would go with my favorite paper for fountain pens. In a first test it had turned out o.k. for mixed media use, and great with inks. It is still my favorite choice of paper for guest books, being so well suited for pens and markers. But when they said they want a paper with no bleed through at no circumstance guaranteed, I decided to use a different paper. One that you can spill your ink pot on, and it will still show no bleed through. Turned out Sanders Waterford cotton rag watercolor cardstock.
So next due was another test book with the paper I was now going to use. With the full width because what makes a book too large for a binding is not how tall but how wide it is. Being too tall can be compensated by more sewing stations. Being too wide is much harder to take care of. In any case. This here was the second prop for the first book:

Sun, Moon, and Stars
second prop - the most gorgeous paper I ever used
Sun, Moon, and Stars
same prop, other cover - this has a day and a night side

As I said, this paper is absolutely delicious – and costs a fortune, so I won’t use it too often. I was not too sure about the binding, though. Although it seemed to work, I was not convinced that it was the best I could do.

About the same time I made the first prop with the Greek binding, I had thought about the other book I was going to make, and had decided to rather make a monster book than an Asian binding. I wanted to try a supported binding (same problem as before with the Coptic), and chose to use an open spine exposed tape binding (I showed it to you before in more detail and now you also know why I bought the huge eyes: For a huge monster book for Levi’s!)

book by H.Kurzke
The monster book trial with exposed sewing on tape

That book and structure, too, were o.k., but not up to the high quality I wanted to provide for this project. And so I decided to bind both on double cords, and like some of the pictures above you may have seen these books before:

H.Kurke sewing a book
sewing of the first book - dark sun
book by H. Kurzke
dark sun finished
detail of dark sun by H.Kurzke
detail of the embossing on dark sun
more paper for another book block on my working table
H. Kurzke sewing a book
book two with a heringbone stitch

covers for the monsterbook by H. Kurzke
covers for the monsterbook

And of course both got boxes – but I don’t want to bore you with details about constructing those, just two more images:

box and book by H.Kurzke
dark sun with its box

monsterbook with its case partially in the picture

It was so hard to make a good photo of the monster book in its box! – It was just too large. Do you remember the big googly eyes? Those that almost completely filled my palm. Yes, this is the eye you see there.

They said they were very satisfied with the books, and especially liked the monster book. I think the construction of the monster book’s box is better, because it is more secure and complicated: There is a box with a lid (you can see standing in the lower tray, the upper tray is completely removable) and a case, firmly attached to the lower tray, wraps around both, box and lid, and then closes above the closed lid. Of the two books, I think I like the leather book better. In addition to the elk leather on the outside (I like how matte and soft it is) it also has fly leaves made from a very nice gray-blue Lokta paper, and so gives a more finished look. But I don’t really know which one I love more. I liked making them both.

Next time, however, I would make them smaller, I think. These turned out very large (11″ x 12″) because I wanted to keep the natural deckle edges of the cotton rag paper that is now inside the books.

Well, an exciting project finally finished! It was definitely something special, making books for such a large company.

Here are some links to photos of the books others created:

Kristin Crane

8 replies on “Two Books for Levi Strauss & Co.”

  1. Lieber buechertiger,
    das war ja eine spannende Zusammenarbeit. Wie um alles kommt man denn an so einen Auftrag?! Ich fand die Idee schon klasse, aber jetzt Deine und die Bücher der anderen Teilnehmer zu sehen macht es ja wirklich zu einem interessanten Erlebnis.
    Klasse Arbeiten, Respekt!
    LG Heike
    von Made-by-May

    1. Schön, dass dir die Bücher gefallen! Wie ich an den Auftrag gekommen bin? – Anscheinend weil ich im Etsy Bookbinding Team Mitglied bin. Etsy ist eben die handmade Plattform im englischsprachigen Raum, größer als DaWanda, und so haben sie dort nach möglichen Kandidaten gesucht.

  2. That’s fantastic! The books came out great. So very appealing in their very different ways. I’m glad Levi’s appreciated them. It will be interesting to see what they wind up adding to the insides.

    1. Yes, I am looking forward to seeing them filled, too! All I know about this at the moment is the following:
      A short film will be produced in November to tell the story of the books and the ideas that emerged. Some of the women who inscribed the books will be featured in the film. The film will be premiered at the first TED Women’s event, December 7-8 in Washington DC. The books and excerpts from their contents will be displayed and shared at a gallery event
      So I hope I will be able to see that film some time, even if I cannot make it to Washington. I have no idea, whether the gallery event they are talking about is at the same day and place or something different. We’ll see, and I will sure let you know when I hear them sharing more of this via the internet.

      1. I do hope it all gets posted online–I find it hard to believe it wouldn’t. I look forward to it! I’m thinking whoever gets yours to work in will enjoy them very much.

  3. Thank you for sharing your work in progress and your project, it has been a really interesting reading =P

    I love both, but particularly the monster book is just sooo cute!

    And, of course, thank you for the mention =P

  4. Congrats on this assignment Hilke, very special! You made two wonderful books and boxes. I especially like it you made two totally different ones.
    Keep us posted on the project!

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