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Book Porn: Behind the Scenes with McCall Handcrafted Goods

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As a very particular kind of witch, it takes a very particular type of journal to satisfy my grimoire needs. No two dollar composition notebook from Wal-Mart is going to cut it. I want leather, I want hand-tooling, I want paper so thick I can hear my pen scritch as I write down my spells and incantations. In a word, I want what the McCall Company Handcrafted Goods is selling.

Nate McCall began as a bookbinder as an escape plan to get out of IT work. When asked how he learned his craft he said, “I learned the basics from a blog post I found back in 2013, but the majority of my ‘education’ has consisted of scouring tons of repeat information for little tidbits that I hadn’t read before, hours spent working on problems in my head, reverse engineering old books, and lots and lots of trial and error. As far as I’ve come in my skills, I know I have so much more ahead of me…it’s daunting, but mostly just exciting. Sometimes I’ll just stare at a ridiculously gorgeous binding I find on eBay or wherever, and plan out how I’ll get myself to the point that I could make something similar. Every book I make, I try to improve some aspect of my bookbinding, and I know that I’m basically going to be learning this stuff for the rest of my life, which I’m definitely cool with.”

When I approached him with a request for a journal of my own, Nate was kind enough to walk us through the process of making a bespoke journal, from the very beginning of the design to the end product. At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the process (at least on my part) is pretty simple: work with Nate to build a design and then let his genius make the rest.

Using archival quality materials, these journals are not only beautiful, but also meant to last not only through your life, but that of whomever you would chose to pass the book on to.


Folding the signature. Image credit: Nate McCall

The first step to creating the book itself is folding the signatures, which are the larger pieces of paper from which the journal pages are made. This is done by hand and makes the book much more unique than any machine-churned journal that you can buy at Barnes and Noble. You can tell that there was a human hand behind the creation of even the very pages the book is comprised of.


Sawing holes for sewing. Image credit: Nate McCall

Next, the signatures are clamped and prepared for sewing. The holes are sawed through the spine at regular intervals to allow for the thread to be sewn through it later.


Drawing the thread through beeswax. Image credit: Nate McCall

The French linen thread is drawn through beeswax to keep the friction down when the linen thread is pulled through the paper – it keeps it from tearing. Nate also explained that it helps keep the binding tight when he sews the pages together.


Sewing the signatures together. Image credit: Nate McCall

The signatures are sewn together with the beeswaxed linen thread, using a corseted pattern to help secure the pages and the supportive cloth.

Here the end bands are sewn to add an extra layer of structure and a lovely touch to the top and bottom of the book.


Secured and glued. Image credit: Nate McCall

From here, the cover is added and the headbands are attached or hand embroidered. Here they are glued and provided an extra support structure in the mesh.


Covered and drying in the press. Image credit: Nate McCall

After it is assembled, the glue needs to dry and the book is pressed to ensure that it retains its shape.


Tool collection. Image credit: Nate McCall

Nate has a wide variety of tools to use to decorate the exterior of the book, and many shapes to choose from to make the perfect cover.

Finally, the gold foil is done using a heating and pressing method to ensure the gold leaf sticks to the leather and that the patterns are long-lasting. The above video shows his process and how he decorated my book.


Finished journal. Image credit: Nate McCall

The final product was an absolute delight to possess and I highly recommend the McCall company for your grimoire, journal, or other writing needs.

When I asked him what part of the process is the most time-consuming, he said, “My knee-jerk reaction to this question is to say that binding the pages is the part that takes the most work, since it’s the most tedious part of the process, and it definitely isn’t quick. But realistically it’s the gold tooling that takes the most time and effort – I just love it so much that it doesn’t really seem like it! I seriously love the challenge of designing a book that I don’t know how I’ll pull off. I always create a mock-up on paper or in Photoshop several days before I start tooling a book, and a good 75% of the time it presents a certain practical challenge. I work it over in my head for days sometimes before I figure it out, and it’s always such a great feeling once I get it tooled into the leather and it actually works. Definitely my favorite part of the process!”

If you would like to experience the process for yourself, he does accept custom requests and will work with you on making a journal of your own. If you like this journal, it is available in the McCall Company Etsy store under the name “The Darkling Vade Mecum.”

You can find Nate McCall’s work on his Etsy or on Instagram.

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About The Author

When not fighting crime or tinkering with Tarot spreads, Vivian Caethe writes weird fiction, science fiction, fantasy, quirky nonfiction and everything in between. She also crafts, crochets, and goes on long quests to find the perfect knitting pattern. She lives in Colorado with a super villain cat. She can be found as a writer at and as an editor at

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