So You Need Some Weight

We all do, at one time or another. Not weight *on our body*, no. But weight: small, tidy bits of weight on the corners of tracing paper or big, heavyweight weights to press drying books or clean, smooth weight for working with fabric or paper. For years, I didn’t really think about having weights. When I worked with fabric and needed to hold down a corner of a pattern, I’d grab whatever was handy: a book, a bowl, a cup of coffee. After maybe the second or third time (I can be a slow learner) I sloshed coffee onto a brand-new project, I realized it was time for a better solution. Luckily for me, I live in a part of the country where oil production is The Big Deal, and there are a lot of people doing work with huge, unwieldy maps. Or at least that’s how they used to work, back in the days before computers. So when these guys (mostly guys back then) retired, they often had a collection of map weights, these cool leather disks filled with something heavy (ball bearings? shot? I’ve never opened one, but the websites say they’re filled with steel shot). You can buy new ones, but I love the ones you find at garage sales: soft, stained, worn smooth.

Freeman-Zachery weights 1

Freeman-Zachery weights 2

These are perfect for holding down the edges of patterns. They’re smooth, so they don’t snag even the finest of fabric. They would be perfect for any kind of work needing just enough weight so the edges won’t curl up. And, of course, you could make your own: they’re really just a fancy bean bag. Heavy smooth fabric, some dried beans or fine gravel or even clean (unscented) cat litter, and you’ve got all the little weights you’ll ever need.

What about, though, when you need something heavier? Like for weighing down something that’s drying, like a handmade book? For that, you need capital-w Weights. Back when I spent over a year making books by hand—meaning: a LOT of books by hand—I tried all kinds of things: big dictionaries, clean rocks, hand weights, stacks of cans of food. Then somewhere I heard of or saw or imagined or *something*: covered bricks. Wow. Not only the perfect book-press weights, but something you can find almost anywhere. Almost everyone has an old brick somewhere (if not, you can try to buy a couple from a brick company, although I’ve found they will laugh at you and give you some bricks just from the sheer novelty of someone showing up and asking to buy individual bricks, which is apparently like trying to buy just one cup of cement).

Freeman-Zachery weights 3

To make these, you’ll need bricks (new bricks, old funky chipped bricks—it doesn’t matter), some paper, tape, fabric and heavy-duty thread and a good sturdy needle. I used heavy brown craft paper, but you can use whatever you’ve got lying around: a couple layers of old wrapping paper, flattened grocery sacks, taped-together sheets of recycled printer paper, yesterday’s newspaper. Whatever: you’re just covering the rough edges and adding a bit of padding. Use a couple layers of this paper to wrap the brick just as you would a gift, making the edges and corners neat and using enough tape to keep it secure. You want it nice and tidy, not loose and sloppy. Then wrap it again, this time with the heavy fabric. Or, if you don’t have upholstery scraps, as I did, you can use several layers of whatever you’ve got. Miter the corners, make everything neat, and use the heavy-duty thread instead of tape to hold it all together. Depending on what you’re going to do with these, you might want to include a thin layer of batting. Pull it all very tight: the tighter the package, the better. You want to end up with a solid, sturdy, padded weight.

Freeman-Zachery weights 5

Freeman-Zachery weights 4

The stitching doesn’t have to be pretty, obviously. Just tight and sturdy. I’ve been using these for years, and although I don’t bind books any more, I still find myself using them for all kinds of things, and not just in the studio. Doorstops! Book-holder-openers! Flower press! Bookends!

You get the idea. Plus, you know, making these is just fun: you turn an ugly chipped brick into something totally useful.


Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

Z2489_BookplusArt_CM.inddFor more about making your own books, check out the Book + Art eBook by Dorothy Simpson Krause.






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One Response to So You Need Some Weight

  1. linnerlu says:

    Wow, I just tried to find some of these old map weights on eBay (since I don’t have your lucky access to them), and the prices are kind of high! So then I remembered that I have some very old, soft pieces of tanned deerhide that I could use to make my own. (My grandmother shot the deer back in the 1950’s.) Thanks for the great idea!
    Linda Teddlie Minton