Parallel Practices: How to Make a Zig Zag Notebook (and keep the carpet clean)

I guess it’s fine to feel a bit anxious right at the very beginning of something and I spend a few sleepless nights wondering how this project will work out. Apart from spreading the word that I am here, it seems important to get making with students really quickly, to connect with them. I’ve met more than 150 of the first year adult pre registration nurses (this is the term by which they are known because nurse training is an apprenticeship culminating in registration) but that’s less than half of the cohort, and only one year. I’ve watched them learning to take blood pressures, assess urine and stool samples and carry out skin analysis, especially important for patients who will spend a lot of time in bed or are recovering from long surgery and are at risk of developing bedsores.  Now it seems time for me to do something.

The first years are all off on placement in a couple of weeks, their very first one, and I like the idea of giving them the opportunity to do something with me beforehand. I decide on a simple bookbinding workshop, hands on making with something to take away at the end.

A room is booked and an email sent. I do all the preparation ahead of the day: cutting the card, stiff book covers and so on, this turns out to have been a good move. The room is smaller than I had imagined and set up very differently to the familiar art college layout. Only one table and all the chairs with pop up integral tables that are very small, it’s also a carpeted floor – I imagine myself scrapping EVA off this at the end of the session. I’d thought there might be twelve or so students in attendance, so was pleasantly surprised to find well over thirty coming through the door. I’m glad that Beatrice (who is my Crafts Council link) offered to help out; she kneels in the corner cutting book cloth for the covers.

I demonstrate how to make a concertina or zig zag book, circulate a few I’d made earlier, give everyone a handout and then we’re off! Well, we do it all in stages – folding the paper, gluing book cover cloth to card and so on. It all feels a little chaotic, but there’s lots of chatting and laughter. Everyone manages really well with the space restrictions; they are good at improvising. Most of the students came alone and they are mostly from adult nursing and mental health. There’s lots of commentary and they all seem to get along, they are particularly excited when they come to choose their book cloth from the vibrant selection.

One of the things I am interested in is how they follow instructions for unfamiliar processes. Some are meticulous, following my handout and checking in with me every step of the way. Others seem to make it up as they go along and quickly become unstuck - concertinas that don’t zig zag, glue on the wrong side of the fold, glue on the right side of the cloth cover – most things are easily fixed. A couple are quick to work out that they can make their book bigger by adding in another length of concertina and this causes a run on card, which is pleasing. They laugh when I suggest that the best way to fix the folds and flatten their book is to sit on it.

The session flies and we are soon choosing hemp threads to tie the books together, this often involves requests for advice of the ‘what goes best with this?’ sort. I take a few photos; get them to fill in a feedback card and one by one they leave. I look at some of the comments, many write about feeling relaxed, how they feel good to have accomplished something new or different. One student tells me he will gift his book to his little brother, another that he will use it as his notebook on placement. After the tidying up, and there’s lots of it, we look down at the carpet – no evidence of us being here, mission accomplished.