Liam’s Red Dragon

Warning: This is a long post about a book that took me a long time to finish. I really wanted to punch it in the face. But it was a book and didn’t have a face, which sucked.

The making of the book was put in motion by a monthly bookbinding challenge on Instagram called Are You Book Enough? Each month, a theme is chosen and participants create a book incorporating that theme. Bookbinders are encouraged to share their process and final books on Instagram using the tag #areyoubookenough. January’s theme was light, which gave me the momentum I needed to get moving on a much-delayed project.

It all started with an awesome sheet of Chiyogami I bought in New Mexico back in 2006 (just pretend that I’ve offered you a rationale for my long-term paper non-use). The paper is bright red with turquoise dragons and at the time I bought it, I just knew that it would have a fabulous future. It was absolutely destined for the project I’m about to blabber on about – a journal for my nephew with a cover that has light-up dragon eyes.

I’m not going to show you the paper just yet, so stay with me here. My initial plan was to use paper circuitry to light up the book. I bought a Chibi Lights LED circuit stickers kit at the Movable Book Society conference last year and was itching to use them.

I made a mock-up of the circuit so I would know how to place the lights on the front cover with the battery on the inside. I carved an inset for the battery and designed a “door” that could be closed and secured with metal turn mounts. The turn mounts are secured to the cover by drilling holes and attaching small metal brads.

Mock paper circuitry

Unfortunately, after I made my model, I only had one brad left. So off to Jo-Ann’s I went, thinking that brads were a common scrapbooking item and that I’d be back to work in no time.

Except that didn’t happen. Apparently scrapbooking isn’t a big deal at Jo-Ann’s anymore and they had no brads. Boo.

So I did what any me would do and pouted my way up and down the aisles, looking at random crafty goodies. And then I found something interesting in the floral aisle – a mini LED light set.

Mini LED light set

I decided that it could be a workable alternative because the battery pack was fairly thin. And even better – it had an on/off switch, which was ideal for a book for a 10 year-old. I bought it and returned to the studio.

After some experimentation, I discovered that the thickness of the battery pack was equivalent to 2 layers of bookboard and 1 layer of mat board. Now I was getting somewhere!

Book cover and LED lights testing

After gluing the many layers and putting the covers into the press, I cut out the battery pack nook in the front cover. I decided to add two layers of handmade paper to the front cover so I could carve deep enough channels for laying the wire and lights.

My chosen book structure was the buttonhole binding, so I assembled the cover first using a turquoise satin bookcloth (also purchased in 2006) for the spine. This process was really difficult, as the covers were a massive 1/4 inch thick. I had to cover the spine pieces first so that no board would show in the corners. There was much finagling. And swearing.

Assembled covers for buttonhole binding

And then more swearing happened when I noticed that the cut bookcloth edges revealed its white paper backing. I mixed some paint and had moderate success in matching the color.

Mixing paint to match bookcloth

I only needed four lights so I cut off the extra eight – yep, you can do that and these things will still work. The light strand was 1.5 yards long and there was a fair amount of distance between lights, so I bunched up the wires and bunched them together with electrical tape.

By the way, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I was totally making this up as I went along.

And now I’ll finally let you see the cover paper – check out this beauty:

Red and turquoise Chiyogami with dragons and red Unryu

Because I wanted the dragon eyes to be red, I lined the Chiyogami with red unryu. It worked like a charm. I placed the paper on the cover and using the tip of a bone folder, I made impressions where the lights had to be located.

Next, I mapped out the layout for carving the wiring channels. It kinda looked like ovaries.

Mapping out front book cover wiring

And then the carving happened. I taped the lights in place and finessed the final positioning to make sure that the lights lined up with the dragon eyeballs.

Book cover with dry fit of LED lights


Red and turquoise Chiyogami with dragons and LED lights

The wires and lights were secured using PVA and wadded-up unryu – basically an improvised spackle. I also glued on small pieces of unryu over wires that wouldn’t lay flat. The final result was not attractive.

Book cover with LED lights

After the wiring was complete, I glued on the Chiyogami. I didn’t want to use a wet glue on the wires and lights, so I chose CODA cold-mount double release adhesive for the task.

Handmade book covers for buttonhole binding

For the inside covers, I used a red embossed paper – oh man, do I love this paper. I glued card stock to the back of one piece to stiffen it up – I figured it would help to minimize the bump from the battery pack and smooth out the inside front cover.

Inside of handmade book covers for buttonhole binding

Then I noticed that the battery pack wasn’t reliably powering the lights. I swear, I just couldn’t catch a break with this book. It seemed to be a pressure issue – if I pushed down on the pack, the lights stayed on. There was still a thin space between the battery pack and the front cover paper, so I gently slid in small paper shims until the pack behaved.

The next day, I prepared my pages for sewing. I decided to wrap the signatures with one of the papers I bought during my trip to Japan last year, a bizarro red nylon webbed dealie – see for yourself:

Book signature with red webbed nylon wrap

I figured that the sewing would go smoothly as I’d done the buttonhole binding before. Nope.

Don’t ever, ever, ever do a buttonhole binding on a book with 1/4″+ covers. It’s really hard. I had to redo the first half of the binding because my stitches were so crappy.

And then magically, the book was done. After so many hours. I swear, if this book hadn’t been for my nephew, I’m not sure I ever would have finished it – the thought of him kept me motivated.

Now I look at my book without wanting to punch it in the face. Yay!

Journal with buttonhole binding and LED lights

Journal with buttonhole binding and LED lights

Journal with buttonhole binding and LED lights

I am so in love with the nylon signature wraps.

Journal spine with buttonhole binding

And those dragons are really hypnotizing.

Journal with buttonhole binding and LED lights

Look into my eyes…

Even though I’m thrilled that I finished my book, I do have one regret – I missed the Instagram challenge deadline. 🙁

I hope my nephew likes the book!

13 Responses to “Liam’s Red Dragon”

By jason.lemieux - 9 February 2017 Reply

Oh my oh my it’s even cooler than I thought it would be. You are aunt #1 for sure.

By Elissa - 10 February 2017 Reply

Jason –

Technically I’m the only aunt, but thanks. 🙂


By jason.lemieux - 10 February 2017 Reply

I knew that. That’s the best part!

By abqcarrol - 9 February 2017 Reply

I love it!!
Is the on and off switch on the bottom edge of the front cover, it’s hard to see in the images.
Thanks for sharing!

By Elissa - 9 February 2017 Reply

Caroll –

Thanks for making me take a close up shot of the switch. Here it is:


By abqcarrol - 9 February 2017 Reply


By marcia - 9 February 2017 Reply

Elissa, beautiful use of paper ( I’m extremely jealous) and super macgyver-ness on the circuitry!

By Elissa - 10 February 2017 Reply


I don’t recall MacGyver swearing, but maybe he was muttering under his breath…


By Karen Krieger - 9 February 2017 Reply

This one is amazing — he better love it….forever! What a labor of love and how satisfying that you figured it out without punching anyone.
Incredible and gorgeous.

By Elissa - 10 February 2017 Reply

Karen –


I am pleased with the no punching result. Lack of jail time = happy Elissa.


By Amy - 10 February 2017 Reply

This is a totally amazing book and I am even more impressed now that I hear the trouble it put you through. You have a loved and lucky nephew! BTW, pouting my way up and down aisles is what I do to solve problems, too 😉

By Elissa - 10 February 2017 Reply

Amy –


Now that it has proven to be a successful creative “strategy”, I have reason to pout and stroll in the future. 🙂


By Amy - 10 February 2017 Reply


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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