Workshops New and Old, Taken and Taught

My workshops for the summer session at SFCB are live today! Visit my Workshops page for specific offerings. I am dialing it down a bit this summer to open space for Dominic Riley and Michael Burke, who were unfortunately prevented from visiting for their usual summer regime during covid shutdowns and later.

One workshop I am really excited about is an expanded Decorated Edge. It had always felt a little tight to teach sprinkling, graphite edges, stencilling on edges *and* gilded edges in one day, so now I have added suminagashi marbled edges and expanded the class to two days. This way, students can get practice decorating several book edges of each type, and may even have the time to try gauffering, a technique which employs decorative finishing tools to further adorn a gilded or graphite edge.

Something exciting to me about this class is being able to teach ploughing. I’m really no bookbinding historian, but ploughing seems to me to be an inherently bookbinderly thing to do. Guillotines will also clean up a book’s edge nicely if you know how to use them. But I think of guillotines as being more properly the domain of the printer’s trade, since they facilitate chopping large stacks of flat paper into manageable amounts for being printed. Ploughs accomodate smaller sizes that represent folded and sewn books. They are also aligned to bring the edge of the book to your attention. Since the edge is horizontal on a plough, the plough allows the binder to look at it as one would a blank piece of paper to draw on. And I do draw on my edges at times! Here is an example of some meandering gibberish scribbling I did for one book. The head edge was drawn out with frisket, then painted over with ink in one stroke. The foredge was treated with a light coat of graphite, then the drawing was done on the foredge with graphite.

This obviously would not be possible with a guillotine. I also like that many historical illustrations of binderies show someone ploughing… and don’t even get me started about ploughing in boards! We do this in my Quarter Leather binding class and it is soooo satisfying. Here’s a video of SFCB’s Exhibitions and Events manager (and bookbinding student and aficionado) Jennie Hinchcliff in the Quarter Leather class, taking a fancy to ploughing.

Ploughing is also ideal for edge gilding because the plough blade burnishes the edge as it passes over it, making the edge smooth and compressed. So, in the Deco Edge class, students will learn how to use the plough.

Last year, I taught a workshop on zoom for the Lone Star chapter of the Guild of Book Workers exclusively on suminagashi edge decoration. It was a hoot! Thanks to all who attended. After that experience, I thought it would be nice to add edge marbling to the Decorated Edge class. I enjoy suminagashi marbling very much, as it enables me to pay closer attention to my intuition. Rather than imposing a regularity to the design as is more common with western marbling styles, suminagashi is truly a picture of a moment. Does this mark me as a flaneur? Well, so be it.



Workshops I’ve taken:  
Sol Rebora’s Can-Can Binding and Michael Burke’s Roman Wax Tablet


Perhaps affirming that cloud-like, adventurous aspect of my personality, I got to take a couple of great workshops last year. One was taught by Sol Rebora, and the other was taught by Michael Burke. Sol’s class was on a binding she calls the Can-Can, because she first developed it when working on a book about a dancer who danced the Can-Can! Ha. I love Sol’s binding styles because they are heavily influenced by her teacher Sun Evrard, a conservator and bookbinder. Evrard has developed many versatile binding styles that can be adapted to purposes relating to conservation on one hand, or fine binding/design binding on the other. I love the light, airy feel of these structures. They are inherently noninvasive, eschewing the use of heavily backed shoulders and instead relying on flexible spine treatments and open joints, and the Can Can binding also shares these qualities. This class was also amazing in that I was able to observe Sol’s working methods, which are of the utmost precision. She uses materials in a slightly different way as well, laminating kozo paper to thin airplane cotton for a strong, flexible spine. She encouraged us to try several different thicknesses of each in order to achieve the perfect weight material for the project being worked on. This is a constant issue for me, especially as the number of paper suppliers in the US and worldwide continually dwindles. The books I am working on are all different, yet the new materials available to use are so limited. When a new material introduced into a repair is not a good match, it is noticeable, and can sometimes wreak havoc for the repair.

Sol’s husband, Juan Grosso, makes tools such as straight edges, rulers, triangles and squares. Sol showed how she uses two different tools together to ensure her work is straight and square. The author may have found herself going home with one or two of these and is finding them most useful.

My workbench, with squares and triangle
Sol demonstrating how she uses two squares to ensure the precision and accuracy of her work

For whatever reason, I thought it was a great idea to shoot this sole record I have of this class on film! I think I was using a slightly experimental set of developing chemicals so please forgive the defects. I’m kind of surprised they came out at all since I rarely shoot film indoors… so there ya go. Anyway, this was a great workshop, and I used the structure to bind my annual ‘braindump’ journal, just for practice. It’s an ideal structure for a journal since the binding is very responsive and friendly in the hand.

Just because I have to be weird, I used thin bookcloth for the endsheets instead of paper! It functions really well in this system because the thin bookcloth has great drape. I love how the colors work with the rest of the elements too. I am practicing color matching for a fine binding I am working on!
My spokeshave was not used for this binding, so I don’t recall why it’s in this photo. I made the decorated paper as gift wrap for my 4 yo niece. The spine material is very old buckram I have around (and perhaps hoard) because I love the natural quality of the fabric and dye.
In this binding style, it is important to be able to pare the edge of the covering paper you are using, so it provides subtle protection in the joint. Here is one of my practice pares!

The other class I took last year was with Michael Burke: the Roman Wax tablet. Like Sol’s class, this was a two-day class, and also like Sol, Michael is charming and entertaining, and enjoyable to spend two days with. My primary interest in taking the class was to get more experience doing woodworking in bookbinding projects, since I love making historical models with wooden boards. With Roman Wax Tablets, there is no paper involved–each page is a wooden panel, so it was an ideal way for me to get more comfortable working with wood as a bookbinding medium.

I enjoyed positioning the boards to result in this herringbone pattern
I don’t really have the perfect tool for this, but I was able to figure out how to use the tool I did have in order to approximate. Michael was emphatic on the point that the wood can be ground out using a router, but since that postdates Roman wax tablets by some thousands of years, we should use small hand tools to improve the appearance of each surface. With 5 tablets, this took some time–great for me, more practice! Here I am carving out the well into which we pour our wax later.
It helps to wax all surfaces of the wood prior to filling with the tinted wax, to seal the wood and prevent the dye from seeping out to the edges. Michael knows a craftsman in England who makes interesting revival tools from the appropriate era, based on historical models. This wax spreader took a liking to me and ended up going home with me… hmm I notice a theme with these workshops!
Here the tablets are being filled with wax Michael tinted with bone black from Douglas and Sturgess, a fine art supplier in San Francisco that carries many interesting dry pigments and other products for historically correct painting techniques
Finis… you can see a few areas where my carving tool slipped, and the black wax leaked through slightly. However, I am quite fond of my tablet and am so glad I got to spend this time learning this quirky, ancient book structure!

Okay, well, that is it for today! Sorry for the double elephant folio sized post. See you next time and in the meantime, happy binding!


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Andragogical Musings

Brr, it’s been cold and rainy around here lately! Don’t get me wrong, California needs rain badly, but it is great weather to stay inside and partake in my favorite hobby–er, occupation–er, craft… well, you know what I mean. And I have devised a way to draw in more of you to participate in this enterprise along with me. Yep, more workshops at the San Francisco Center for the Book!

It has been a pleasant surprise that so many students have been interested in taking bookbinding classes lately. I love teaching bookbinding to people, in fact it is one of the most important things I do. It’s critical to me that bookbinding continues on.

In the next term at the San Francisco Center for the Book, I’ll be teaching the Bookbinding Core classes as usual, and a few special intermediate to advanced classes.

One class I love to teach is Hot Type. It wasn’t until after I graduated from bookbinding school and was out in the world doing photographers’ portfolios that I realized how important titling is. Photographers didn’t give a rip about joint size, tabbed corners, what type of bone folder I was using, or any of the things I was so intentional about. They wanted their names on the front, and their names better look crisp and bold! Since doing a few of those jobs, I upped my game with hot stamping, and would love to share some of my tips with you. I’ve also come to realize that the titling and decoration on leather known as tooling requires the same basic skills as hot stamping with machines. The mechanics of how much pressure to use, what temperature the tool should be, and dwell time in an impression are necessary to learn regardless of whether you’re using handle letters or a Kwikprint.

Another class I’ll be offering next term is Paper and Paste, an intro-level class for anyone interested in book repair. Some conservators argue that book repair shouldn’t be taught to the general public, since people may go too far with it. The way I see the issue is that members of the general public often repair their own books without any training anyway (sometimes covering them with several types of tape!), so why not give people at least some basic knowledge? I often get librarians in my classes whose collections are in deep need for repair, and their organizations have no training for them. This class is based on what an entry level conservation technician would need to know.

Paper repair

The Full Parchment Binding is another class I look forward to teaching again this term. This is a version of a parchment binding with stiff boards. It also has one gilded edge, and French double-core endbands. Ooh la la! We may even do a little foil tooling, time permitting.

Full parchment binding
Full Parchment Binding class portrait
first Full Parchment Binding class portrait

The links to register for any of these classes and more are to be found on my Workshops page.

Some of the classes I teach are strongly rooted in what I learned at North Bennet Street School, though since I have been practicing on my own for so many years, the techniques I teach have acquired a slightly different spin. A topic that has come up occasionally in discussions around teaching bookbinding is who owns a particular teaching material: the place where the class is hosted? The teacher? To me, this is a pointless question. What I teach is as old as the hills. I don’t own it any more than one can own the sky. Though I am sure someone has found a way to do that. But really, that is the great thing about bookbinding. I am just a link in a long chain of bookbinders, and the goal for me right now is to make sure I’m not the last link! That seems to be working out relatively well so far, but I’m not going to take any chances. I am going to keep teaching until every living person knows what a sewing station is, what a square is, and what is the difference between PVA and mix. Why is it so important that people know about bookbinding? Over the years I have been teaching bookbinding to people uninitiated to it, I have discovered that bookbinding serves some very basic human needs. Interacting with the objects in one’s environment, and having some kind of agency over them to create objects that best serve one’s needs are, like the techniques I teach, very old. Preserving one’s thoughts and observations in written form and having some control over the vessel for those observations is likewise very old.

It is a little ironic that the very task involved with preserving printed matter can’t be transmitted fully via printed matter. Bookbinding manuals have their place (many of them on my shelves!) but to fully learn a bookbinding task, it must be transmitted in person. Teaching this material in person involves a lot of give and take between teacher and student. I feel really happy to be involved in this work; it is, in fact, a lot of work on both the part of teacher and student. Any of you who are reading this who have already taken bookbinding classes know what I mean! It’s uniquely rewarding, though. You get more than just a nicely bound book in the end. Any of you reading this who have taken bookbinding classes know this, too.

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Every Color of the Rainbow, As Long As It’s Brown

Books are all so unique. This inalienable fact never ceases to impress and surprise me. Even books from a run of production of thousands of copies, after a few decades, all develop their own personalities. Perhaps because I am a conservator in private practice, or perhaps because it is just in my stubborn nature, I look at every repair project as a complete individual. In some ways I occupy a netherworld between conservation and restoration: all of my repairs must be sound functionally, but I do dip into making a book look good, perhaps more than a strict conservator would. Most of my clients are private collectors, and I just have this notion that if a book looks good, its caretakers will be more friendly to it. So even though I don’t have any background in studio art, I’ve tried to integrate artistic techniques into my work. One of these techniques I’ve had to teach myself is about color. There are technical manuals about color, and there are intuitive ways one can match color, and I’ve explored a little of both. Sometimes this takes a special eye. One of my students from my recent class in Alaska is a painter. Her color mixing palette blew my mind!

One of my students is a painter, so color matching was right up her alley!

so. many. colors

Color matching for book repair takes more than just a good understanding of color. You need to be able to see the color of the book for what it really is, and more often than not, that color is brown. Over the years since I’ve been doing cloth rebacks, I’ve done a lot of color mixing, and one thing I can say about the process with certainty is that all books turn brown over time. Some get dirty, some fade, but whatever the cause, it seems I go through a stunning amount of raw umber acrylic. I describe this color to my students as the color of dirt. The thing about color matching, though, is I find I still have a strong tendency to see the color of an old book as what it once was. So I start out by picking blues, or reds, or greens… Time and time again I find that the actual match is only about ten percent of that color, whatever it may be, and 90 percent brown. One might take this as a cause for disappointment or dismay to find that the book is now discolored, as one might say. Or perhaps I should try not to be so optimistic! Toss out those rose colored glasses…  here is a shot of some color matching tests I did for a leather book recently. I find that leather books are the hardest to match, since I don’t have that initial starting point of a color such as red, blue, or what have you. And quite often, the cover and spine of a leather book will contain all of the colors in the sample piece below! So then it becomes a matter of choosing the best color for the base, then stippling on additional colors. I try not to let things like this set the work back too much timewise, but with experience, they can be accomplished somewhat more efficiently.

color matching experiments

a rainbow of brown

In any case, I sort of enjoy the reminder that the book is more brown than I perceive it to be. I like the fact that I initially see it as it once was, but I also enjoy matching the color to acknowledge what it is right now. One of many life lessons learned through bookbinding… Contemplating the future of the repair as I always do, I have to acknowledge as well that the new acrylics will not likely age at the same rate as the book’s original dye. Will they both turn more brown together, I wonder?

Cloth reback

Does this book look red to you? It’s really brown, trust me

cloth reback with faded spine

This book was a challenge for obvious reasons. Most books do not have this dramatic of a difference between the covers and the spine, but the covers and spine are rarely the same color exactly.

Cloth reback spine

In the end, this is what makes me happiest when a cloth reback is complete. The lovely round shape is restored, the lifted areas are nearly imperceptible, the paper repairs are also subtle, and the overall spine shape is ready to function as it should! Go forth, little book.

One last thing! I was interviewed by Robert Hannon when I visited Alaska last June to teach there. He produces an excellent and insightful radio program called Northern Soundings. If you listen to podcasts, he posts his shows in podcast form, and the interview with me is here. Give it a listen, and enjoy all his other programs, too! I forgot to mention in my last post about some of the cool gifts my students gave me. Thank you!

Some of the birch bark my host gave me from her kindling pile. I have got to work this into a binding somehow…

Decommissioned rubber stamp from the Fairbanks Public Library…don’t be too jealous!

Tiny book for carrying sewing needles! So cuuuute and useful too!


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Alaska Dreaming

This past June, I got to visit Fairbanks, Alaska to teach a comprehensive workshop in book conservation. I was invited by the Alaska Literacy Council, who funded most of the costs of the workshop. It was an amazing opportunity for me, and one I did not take for granted. I put a lot of work into preparing for the workshop, and the students worked hard at their projects throughout the class. Several of the students had little to no experience in repairing books, but I was very happy with their results! Most of the pictures I took were outside of class, because we were so busy in class. Click on, or hover over, the photos for the captions.

Many thanks to my exceedingly kind hosts who indulged my every whim, and served me Alaskan salmon every day I was there, and even allowed me to cull some birch bark to take home from their collection of kindling. Where I grew up in Wisconsin, there were many birch, but hardly any where I currently live in California, so I was thrilled to be able to bring home some bark!

This was also one of the rare times when I have given a public lecture on bookbinding. It was part of my duties in teaching the class, and I saw it as an opportunity to set the context for the students in the class (who ALL attended–thank you!), and to educate the general public about book conservation, something I love to do. Surprisingly, I didn’t choke on anxiety during the lecture as I have before, and was able to keep within the time limit as well. Success!

Being a private practice bookbinder involves a lot of very quiet time spent in my studio alone, so I cherish these opportunities to get out and meet people of my ilk. All the Alaskans I met were very down to earth people I could really identify with. I hope the knowledge they have gained in my workshop fuels their ambitions to repair all the books they can for many years to come!


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Stitchery in the Bindery

I have been sewing since the age of 5, which seems impossible when I think about it, but I know it to be true because while in kindergarten, my best friend’s mom owned a fabric store. The store was in bustling downtown Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and Karen and I would regularly hang out there. Karen’s mom held sewing classes in the shop, and so we would make duffel bags and other odds and ends in the classes. Throughout my life, I have had several hiatus periods from sewing, but I always end up going back to it sooner or later. When I was in college, my grandmother Blouin passed on to her great reward, and I inherited her magnificent Singer 401A.


This was made in the last great heyday of sewing machines with steel gears. It is built like a tank, which is a good thing because I still sew things similar to duffel bags: backpacks, handlebar bags and panniers for my bike; and I have been known to alter heavy canvas work pants for the man-friend on several occasions. This machine can sew eyelets on a whisper of tulle, or plough through five layers of denim all in the same day!

Recently I have been able to put this experience and solid prewar industrial design to good use in a slightly unusual bookbinding project. I had a client bring in a leaf from a parchment psalter that was badly warped. It had been the prize possession of a relative, and she had inherited it. Unfortunately, the previous framer did not tend to the extreme warping of the piece, but just framed it as it was, attaching it to the mat with some now-gooey fabric backed tape.

A couple summers ago, I participated in the fantastic class at the International Preservation Studies Center on the preservation of parchment taught by the incomparable Sheila Siegler. This was a truly comprehensive class, looking at the physical makeup of parchment, the types of coatings some scribes used to make it take ink better, ways to cook parchment scraps to make gelatin-based glue, and so on. We had over 20 articles to read on the history, physical makeup, and historical context of parchment, and many hands-on exercises in diagnosing common problems of parchment and repairing them, including one of the more common issues with the material: flattening the warping that so often happens to it. So I felt like I would be the perfect person for this client. Here’s a shot of the parchment leaf before treatment:

Parchment Leaf before treatment

sad state of affairs

The relative who originally purchased the piece made some notes about it on the back of the original frame’s kraft paper backing. Lots of notes!

I really liked that this sheet was included in the original frame on the back side. It contains all that the client’s family member had learned about Gregorian chant, where she bought the piece and why (including some information on the tear along the bottom edge of the parchment!), and about how she stored the piece and why it became warped. But the page was simply placed in an extra piece of acidic kraft paper that was taped to the back of the frame. The client didn’t actually realize it was there; I drew attention to it in our first consult, and she was then able to read it. You had to pull the page out of the pocket to read it, and the paper itself was already fragile.

Based on my experience in the parchment conservation class I took, I was very comfortable with the flattening of the parchment. Most likely due to improper previous storage, there were areas of ink on the front side that were flaking off, so I had to be extremely careful. I would have liked to flatten the piece a second time, but I felt that the risk of losing ink would be too great. One additional wrinkle in this project was that when the parchment was flattened, it had grown over 2cm taller, and the original mat had to be recut to accomodate the new size.

Due to some extra research I did on mounting systems for parchment, I was able to come up with a good way to mount the parchment to the mat, using expandable mylar joints that would allow the parchment to shrink or expand according to its will (and, sigh… it certainly will). Here is a closeup of one of the expandable joints:

The slits in the mylar allow it to expand if necessary. There is a tab made of kozo paper that was looped through a slit in the mylar and attached with wheat paste to the front and back of the parchment leaf. The final attachment looked like this:

TabsOnParchmentI was happy with how the project was turning out so far. But what would I do with the page with the notes written by the client’s relative? Making a typical folder or four-flap enclosure that would not be attached to the frame, and could possibly be misplaced or otherwise separated from the item seemed less than an ideal solution. I mulled over the issue for a few days while working on other projects.

Finally, I remembered a presentation given by one of the conservators at the University of Washington conservation center I had attended while on a tour organized as part of the national conference held by the Guild of Book Workers, called Standards of Excellence. We visited the new conservation lab at the University of Washington, which is fabulous and amazing in itself: . Standards was a huge rejuvenating force for me this year. I loved getting to visit Tacoma, which I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise (though I’ve been to Seattle numerous times). I enjoyed talking to people on the bus on the way to the tour and back. I got to see lots of bookbinders I haven’t seen in years. I got to take care of some important shopping errands among the vendors for my bookbinding business. I also met some new vendors, which was fun. The hotel, with all its examples of glass art on every floor, seemed perfectly suited to GBW. Every Standards is great for me because I truly believe in its educational mission, but this year had a particularly exciting energy.

While visiting the lab during the tour, one of the conservators showed us a preservation solution she had devised for some of the library’s larger photographs, particularly those in wide landscape format. The photos needed strong support from below while allowing visibility from above, so she layered thick folder stock for the support layer and mylar on top… and she sewed them together! (!!!) I thought this was pretty brilliant. Here it is in action, accompanied by their sewing machine station:


Simple zigzag stitch with invisible thread


The conservator at UW was able to do all kinds of interesting things with sewing the mylar that might be more difficult with an encapsulator, accomodating extra large sizes and making pockets for long polyester stiffening rods (shown in the hanging enclosure at left).

After doing some tests of different threads with mylar and folder stock, I arrived at a way to use this technique to preserve the handwritten page of notes from the client’s family member. I ended up using plain tan-colored sewing thread instead of the invisible kind:

Mylar EnvelopeAnd here’s a shot of the full reverse side of the frame:

NewParchmentBackingYou can see from this photo that the original frame was just about exactly the size of the parchment leaf. This page from a very old psalter is in a much better home now, and as it is destined for foggy San Francisco, the client and I will be monitoring it carefully to make sure the attachment system is working.

After Treatment

As I mentioned earlier, this was a slightly unusual project for me. It didn’t fall under the typical set of repair work I tend to do, especially recutting the mat for this framed item. But in many ways I was able to use the knowledge I’ve gained throughout my life, from the conferences and classes I like to attend where I learn more about my field, to my own personal background in things like sewing, something I’ve been doing since childhood. I feel fortunate to have a job where I get to serve people’s needs using so many of the things I can bring to each project.


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Do Something Creative Every Day

photo credit: Linda Barrett

I was sorry to hear recently of the death of Sue Lindstrom, the creative founder of Paper Source.  For over two years, I managed the bindery staff for the small in-house bindery there. There were so many great things about the company, just like the fun, funny, thoughtful, lovely products on its store shelves. The grammatically correct tag line also always appealed to me (“every day” instead of “everyday”). The culture of the company was fun and invigorating while always driving us to do our best work.

I know that Sue could be hard on people at times, but she had a way of surrounding herself with the best and most interesting of everything, and that included the people who worked for her. Paper Source had some of the most wonderful people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, including my direct supervisor, Linda Barrett.

I'm Krrazy Krrreative!

Linda was down to earth, yet romantic enough to believe that a store that sells fine paper should have its own in-house bindery staffed with skilled labor. Kind of stunning, but she made it happen. The bindery was already in full swing when I came on the scene around 2005. There were so many great people I remember fondly: James in the flat paper department, Gretchen, Nicole, and Tito in the third party vendors department, Cindy, Kitz, Annie in design, Luke, all around master of Making Things Happen… sooo many others as well. Fun times!

Paper Source History

I talked to Linda a little recently about Sue and about working for Paper Source. She said that Sue had started out studying textile and fiber arts at SAIC in Chicago. Sue’s father, Ross Wetzel, operated a frame shop in Wilmette where Sue often worked. She was always looking for interesting accent papers for the mats she made, which led her to develop a stash of decorated paper that couldn’t be ordered in single sheets. At that time, the only other store that carried fine decorated paper was Aiko’s Art Materials, a store that specialized in traditional Japanese crafts, books, ikebana, and tea supplies. At some point, Sue took over the frame business, and moved to the current River North location, though it was still known as Wetzel’s. River North at that time was home to many architects and designers who came to know Sue and would ask her advice in their projects. Linda was studying bookbinding at Southern Illinois University, and found she could get rare items such as Davey board and glue brushes through Sue. She remembers Sue going on a tour organized by Marilyn Sward of Japanese papermakers. During the trip, Sue made the decision that that’s all she wanted to do: focus the business on dealing in fine paper. According to Linda, that was one of the most impressive things about Sue, that she could make a decision and immediately put all her weight behind it.

Sue changed the name to Paper Source, though the store came to sell much more than just paper. Some of the things you’d find in the earlier stores are still sold at Paper Source, but since Sue stepped down from the company and moved to New Mexico, the personality of the stores has changed a lot. In the old days, there were so many unusual artists’ materials that did the job like no other! Strange fountain pen inks in hand-lettered glass bottles, unusual shapes of mop brushes in #0 and #0000 sizes that you’d never see at Utrecht, rubber stamps of puzzling images, and of course paper like you’ve never seen before (nor will again) because it was made especially for Sue. Twinrocker made paper to spec for Sue, and the store also carried St. Armand, as well as so many other fine papermakers. The annual warehouse sales, where samples, slightly damaged items, and one-offs were sold, were entirely magical. I still use the full set of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache and the intriguingly cracked bone folder I got at the warehouse sale, along with so many red polka dot envelopes and scallop-edged cards.

One thing that always amazed me about Paper Source was that it was by far a female dominated environment. And, there were no secretaries! Linda said there were also no titles, something that always frustrated me in my own role there since I was responsible for managing the bindery staff, yet I didn’t have the strict title of Manager. I didn’t realize at the time that was the case for most departments. In any case, Linda said each department head (?) had to rely heavily on her team. I do remember Linda having to spend a lot of time sending email, working late, traveling to new store openings, and even doing some of the scheduling tasks that might be done by secretarial staff in a differently-organized company. There was a lot of pressure at the time since the company was growing fast. Each Monday morning, I got to analyze the sales data for all the stores which would determine how many of each type of book we would make in the bindery. The number of stores doubled during the time I worked there.

PS Bindery

As far as our work in the bindery, we worked hard as well. Edition work makes you sweat, but the way I saw it, only in a good way. Doing multiples can help you develop your skills. Working in tandem with others also helps you develop. My teacher at NBSS told us that you had to do 500 of a binding to really learn it, and at Paper Source, I put in my 500 plus!

The Bench

Beach Books mostly complete

Our team of 5-ish part time binders cased in thousands of books per month, mostly blank journals and albums destined for sale at the chain’s 20-25 stores nationwide.

Working at Paper Source also helped me take a step back, and get some perspective on  the context of hand bookbinding in our modern world. Learning bookbinding at North Bennet Street School was harder than almost anything I’ve ever done. I had no idea how complicated book construction could be: how many different operations there are in the making of a book, how many choices of materials there are, and how the choices at each stage affect the whole. Book conservation, as well, seemed to be continuously fraught with ethical and moral decisions that I just didn’t feel at the time I had the experience or confidence to make. The position at Paper Source was much simpler, and yet the books we sold were incredibly significant to the people who bought them. Wedding albums, baby albums, personal journals and calendars that people carried with them every day were the staple of our work.

When I got the job at Paper Source, I was really fortunate to be working under Linda Barrett. Linda had been friends with Dominic Riley and Michael Burke during her time in San Francisco working for Kozo Art, and so while she readily accepted the pressure of working in the fast-paced Paper Source environment, she also knew and appreciated the type of fine bookbinding I had learned at NBSS.  Most of the materials we got to use in the bindery were terrific, starting with the main ingredient: the excellent textblocks made by Diarpell. To this day, I still use Diarpell notebooks and calendars. I just haven’t found anything better! (Full disclosure: I also have some in my Etsy store, particularly the square and panoramic shapes!) And of course, because of Sue’s love of Japanese design, we got to use fine Chiyogami and Yuzen paper when making our albums, journals, and calendars.

It was at Paper Source that I started teaching bookbinding workshops, always in the back room or stock room of one of the Chicago-area stores. In my workshops, I met people who had never made a book before. It was a transformative experience to search for the ways I could make the sophisticated aspects of bookbinding I had learned at NBSS relevant to the general public. I didn’t want what I taught them to just be a one-day fling; I really wanted people to make books forever! This started a love of teaching that still continues.

I know that Sue was tough on her staff at times, but as Linda said, “She wanted everyone to be tougher, to feel good about taking risks.” It was a great experience for me to work for Paper Source in that I got to experience a work environment created by a strong and courageous woman who also surrounded herself with so many intelligent and hard-working women.

Here is a link to Sue’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune if you want to learn more about her.

On the Bench

This shot, and all the shots of the warehouse/bindery/etc, were taken with my antique Sony digital camera, which took floppy discs to operate, so please forgive the focusing/lighting.


Filed under Around, About, and Through

With appreciation

Recently at the Center for the Book where I teach, the Studio Manager received a phone call from the family of a bookbinder who had passed on. Instead of selling her tools and materials, the family wanted to donate these precious items to a place where they would always be used and appreciated. As one of the Center’s many bookbinding instructors, I have a deep appreciation for this impulse. Any additional tools and materials available in the classroom save time for students, who are ever eager to dive into the next step in a project. It is a critical part of my job as an instructor to show students the correct use of these tools and equipment to ensure their longevity. This will also (I hope) widen the understanding of these tools so when the students see similar items out in the world, they will know how to properly use them.

As someone who has been involved in bookbinding for over 15 years now, I have seen the tools and materials of binderies change hands. Occasionally I have been the beneficiary, though more often not, but it’s always interesting to see what other binders save and what they use. There are always little home made or DIY jigs, guides, workarounds, and even whole pieces of equipment that people have fabricated to achieve the highly specialized goals we need to attain in our work. These are the unpaved footpaths of bookbinding. Often a secondhand piece of equipment is covered with notes or markings (usually on dried-out masking tape) based on the settings a repeat job has required. Sometimes I think I could write a whole separate blog on this topic alone.

For all these reasons, I have a strong need to be a good steward of the tools and equipment I use, and a need to use the highest quality materials I can find and afford. This principle affirms high quality work all around. But it also allows me to repay the debt of trust I owe to the people who have given, sold, or traded their items to me. Bookbinding is not possible, or at least not feasible, without highly specialized equipment that is generally no longer manufactured. With few exceptions, everything I use daily in my work is something handed down from the past.

One example is this wooden sewing frame. I did not look for one of these for my bindery for many years, not really needing one too much, or at least, not believing I did. But since I have had this one, I have found reasons to use it, and it has been amazing! When it first came into my possession, I immediately purchased 5 sewing keys for cord and 5 for tapes, to make sure it had the correct accessories. I know not everyone in bookbinding likes using sewing keys, but once I got used to them, I have never looked back.

wooden sewing frame

this bad boy

In the past, I have not often had a need for a sewing frame; sewing on external raised supports, or even sunk cords, is not something I do too often professionally, so I have never pursued finding one. Even when sewing multiples, I have often used a simple hobby-frame I acquired while in bookbinding school, and that’s worked well.

However, by hook or by crook, this beautiful old sewing frame seemed determined to find its way to me, and I must admit it has cracked the doubting facade of even this stubborn bookbinder. I found an excuse to give it a whirl, and while it has its challenges, it has a strong draw. I have to be careful in using it, and navigate around its highly charactered nature. But I wanted to share some pictures of it to give you an idea of how important it is (to me, anyway) to preserve and respect the tools of the past.

a little beausage on the bar

Just a little beausage to remind me I’m not the only one who really uses stuff! I’m not even this bad.

Another item is the giant press and plough which takes up the bulk of space in my tiny bindery. It was passed on to me from a bookbinder who had stopped practicing, but had learned from Bob Futernick in years past. Bob, a bookbinder and woodworker both, made the tub for the press. A press this large is highly susceptible to damage without a proper tub, and this tub is proper! When this came into my possession, I knew right away it needed a plough to go with it. As luck would have it, a student had emailed me some months prior to let me know she had one that she was looking to sell. At the time I thought in the back of my mind, “Good luck! That plough is humongous; you’re not likely to find someone with the right size press for it.” Well…

Wooden press and tub

This side gets the most use

Press, plough and tub

Press, plough and tub

Traditional joinery by Bob Futernick

Traditional joinery by Bob Futernick (a bookbinder!)

Another set of items for which I will be forever grateful is from fellow bookbinder Margaret Johnson. She has been a great friend and mentor to me. She sold many of her tools and equipment when she decided to stop binding at 92 years of age. Always concerned with the future of her favorite craft, she generously donated the proceeds from the sale to the Jane Aaron Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to Hand Bookbinders of California workshops. There were many odds and ends left over, and those she offered to me in exchange for wrapping up some of the bookbinding projects she couldn’t finish.

Bone folders and brushes are what it's all about

Bone folders and brushes are what it’s all about

I was honored to have this opportunity. It’s a rare thing when you get to do work for another bookbinder. I always do my best work of course, but it’s got to have more meaning when you know the recipient will recognize the things you did to make the work shine.

13 Clocks (before treatment)

13 Clocks (before treatment)

Margaret had peeled the decorated pastedown from the board

Margaret had peeled the decorated pastedown from the board

13 Clocks after treatment

13 Clocks after treatment

I was able to save and remount the original pastedowns that Margaret had peeled

I was able to save and remount the original pastedowns that Margaret had peeled

One small piece of news this month somewhat related to the topic of Appreciation: bookbinding supplier Colophon Book Arts has recently changed hands. This is a big piece of news to me, since I’ve been making a point of purchasing from this small, dyed-in-the-water (the former owner was a marbler) bookbinding supplier for years. I’ve been very happy with her choice of stock, and her way of doing business. I thank Nancy Morains for her many years of service to the bookbinding community, and wish her well! The new owner is also someone very active in the bookbinding community, and although the business is moving quite far away from me to Indiana, I look forward to continuing to order from Colophon. You can see some pictures of the move here on her Instagram.

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In the studio

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to update this blog too much over the past year, but I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve been working on. I wish I had more time for blogging, but there has been no rest for the wicked (bookbinder), as I’ve been teaching or doing private work nonstop. I’d like to use this space to catch up a bit with some of the exciting projects I’ve been very lucky to have worked on over the past year. I hope my sharing something about them will make others feel inspired.

Custom box for memorial cards

One of my dearest repeat clients, a photographer who specializes in family portraits, came into my studio one day with a small paper bag filled with remembrance cards, other mementos, and a beautiful glass framed portrait that all needed to go into a box for a local family. This was a challenging project, since all the items were of widely varying sizes and shapes. I made a drop spine box with two separate compartments, a four-flap, and created a new frame out of contrasting book cloth for the portrait.

Remembrance Box Compartments

I created two side-by-side compartments to house most of the cards and letters. They were in honor of a woman who had a deep connection to the area’s redwood forests, so I felt a bit of a connection to her, too.

Remembrance Box Inside View

This is how the inside of the box would be viewed when opened.

Remembrance Box Front

This was the front of the box, with the woman’s name stamped in gold.

Working large

Last year I ended up doing a series of three oversize repairs for completely unrelated clients. At the outset, the complexity and challenging nature of each one seemed overwhelming, not to mention three at once. Here are some anecdotal photos of them, with brief explanations, though I might like to post an entire entry at some point, just on these projects.

Illustrated Atlas of Alameda County

This was an illustrated atlas of Alameda County from the 1800s. There were foldouts, text folios, single sheets and even a few double foldouts. The inside of each foldout had a map, and the outer sides of the map had charming illustrations depicting farms or other points of interest in the area of that map. Each page was a slightly different width, calling for the complicated series of stubs, hinges, and guards you see in this detail photo.

Big Book Board

This picture shows the mind-bending immensity of the largest book I have ever repaired (one cover board of it, anyway). I weighed the cover and a single board alone weighed over 6.5 pounds. The main challenge in repairing this particular book was to handle it throughout the repair process with the care it needed in spite of its heft. Good thing I exercise!

Monograph of the Ramphastidae before

This was the initial state of the third of these large books I repaired. All three books also presented challenges simply in the documentation I do for my internal record keeping. I had to move the camera so far away that I couldn’t get very clear photos at times. I took a lot of detail shots to fill in the gaps.

Monograph of the Ramphastidae After

This is the previous book after treatment. Two of the three books required a technique known as a leather reback; the Atlas got a brand new set of covers, since its original covers were severely water damaged.

Prelinger Treasure

Some of the first book conservation I did after moving out to the bay area was for the Prelinger Library, and last year, I was able to do some more work for this innovative collection. They house certain volumes of government publications discarded by other libraries for lack of space, and have happened on some interesting books. One of these that happened into my studio for a time was a record of a US military expedition from Missouri to San Diego conducted in 1841, passing through and reporting heavily on the region now known as New Mexico and Arizona. A researcher at the Prelinger felt the book was important enough to donate the funds to have it repaired, and so I did my best.


This was the initial condition of this book, with ragged folds at the spine, broken sewing in several places, an odd section of stubs with no pages deforming the rest of the textblock, and many tipped-in illustrations in various stages of attachment.


I carefully took apart the entire textblock page by page, then applied paper made from kozo fibers with wheat paste to give the folios a stable footing to be resewn and rebound. Note that only about two thirds of the signatures are in this photo-there were over 40 that all needed extensive guarding.


Typical illustration from the text, one of many. Old Santa Fe. If you think the illustration is interesting, you should read the text! For a military report, it is a real page turner, filled with encounters with Native Americans of several different tribes as well as investigations of plants, geological formations, and animals that were completely foreign to the group of topographical engineers authoring the report. This book is available to see, read, and handle at the Prelinger Library. No academic credentials required.

Prelinger After

This is the spine after treatment.

Prelinger After Cover

This is the cover after treatment.

New bookbinding class at SFCB

I have been teaching classes in bookbinding at the San Francisco Center for the Book since 2011, and have most often focused on offering a foundational series of classes to give students a slice of what I got at the North Bennet Street School. I don’t see any use in hoarding what I know. I have met so many fascinating people while teaching, some becoming clients, friends, or both! So last year, I decided I wanted to push things a step further and offer an additional advanced class in leatherwork for bookbinding. This would be an idealized (for me anyway), traditional style of binding in many ways, though the class would be limited to two or three days of in-class time, depending on which option the Board of the SFCB voted to approve. Lucky for me, they approved the longer three-day version, and the class was held two weekends ago, over the holiday weekend to allow those who travel from long distances to take the class in three successive days.


This binding included lining the boards, sewing on four raised cords, using loose guards, ploughing, sprinking the edges, sewing silk endbands, lacing the boards through twice, and of course covering the spine in specially-pared leather. We also did some blind tooling around the raised bands for a traditional look.

Quarter Leather Binding x6

These were all of our books at the end of the class! Everyone survived, and I think we all had a good time, too.

Life has been full; I look forward to more fun on Book Island!


Filed under Classes I've taught, My projects

Deep Listening and Bookbinding Practice

OK, at this point I feel I need to come clean a little bit and admit I have hobbies. I feel guilty taking time away from bookbinding which for so long has been the primary occupier of my mind and heart. But sometimes I find it’s healthy to get out of the studio, step away from the bone folder…  One of the side pursuits I enjoy is singing. For the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the good people of the Cornelius Cardew Choir, and sing with them in rehearsal and performance. Cornelius Cardew was an eccentric English composer of abstract music in the utopian vein. Readers of my blog may already know I enjoy and take inspiration from abstract, or sometimes called new, avant garde, noise, what-have-you, music… As you can tell, I don’t get too involved with labels, but ever since I was a teenager and discovered the radio program New Sounds, I have loved it. So as soon as I moved out to the bay area and discovered the Cardew Choir, I started attending rehearsals. The signature event of our group is the performance every year at the Garden of Memory. The Garden of Memory is an extraordinary musical event held in a columbarium every year on the summer solstice. Yes, that’s right, a music event in a building erected to store urns containing ashes of the deceased. Oakland has an unusual columbarium designed and built almost a century ago by a famous lady architect, and that’s where we perform in the event called Garden of Memory.

Circle of singers: some are regular choir memers, others are general public. This was very early in the evening; the circle is rather small at this point

Circle of singers: some are regular choir members, others are general public. This was very early in the evening; the circle is rather small at this point

Many of the urns are shaped like books, recalling a passage from Laurie Anderson: "When my father died, it was like a whole library had burned down"

Many of the urns are shaped like books, recalling a passage from Laurie Anderson: “When my father died, it was like a whole library had burned down”

It’s an extraordinary setting for an extraordinary piece: the choir invites participation from the audience, and due to the nature of the larger event in which we play a small part, audience members sift through the crowd and come and go as they like. The piece we perform was created by Pauline Oliveros and is called the Heart Chant. The general instructions for the piece are as follows: Rub your hands together to warm them. Place your right hand over your heart. Place your left hand on the back of the person to your left (thus a circle is created). Sing and hold a single tone for a full length of breath (though without strain). That’s pretty much it. The pitch we as choir members choose is often based on a practice our confounder calls “pitch shopping”: listening to the pitches of the rest of the group, and choosing one that is comfortable for your range (though you can initiate a new one if you feel it’s necessary). The performance can continue as long as the performers desire it; we generally perform from about 5:30-9:30 pm (phasing individual singers in and out to take breaks). Last year, the performance continued longer, since there were so many joining in; we even had to create a second circle to accomodate all who wanted to participate! As the performance continues, it evolves based on who is present at which time, and what tones they (we) are singing. We pick up on each others’ pitches and perpetuate them, provided they are within a comfortable range. As each note lasts the length of one breath, you need to choose something you can live with for that long. It is surprisingly harmonious. We all hear, or hear about, those singers who are always off pitch in a group, right? Well, this event/piece never ceases to amaze me in how closely people listen to each other, and how wonderful it always sounds.

There are so many great things about this piece, and practicing it at least once a year as I do, I learn something new every time. It is a powerful experience to practice listening to others in this era when most people seem to be wearing headphones alla time. In all vocal work, it is necessary to listen, since your voice is not like a piano where you press a key and the same note comes out every time. It requires a lot of focus and concentration, because you must listen and sing at the same time.

Bookbinding requires being a good listener

Thinking about this process, it struck me how similar it is to conservation, teaching, and bookbinding in general. In conservation, listening to the object is the first step in treating it. You must take pre-treatment photos that tell you the item’s history and what its weaknesses and strengths are. You inspect it further, and write about how you see it, and what your plans are for fixing the problems as you see them. As you treat the item, you are continually ‘listening’ to it: the thickness of the paper, the depth of the tear, the qualities of the original sewing, the nature of the boards and covering materials. What will hold and what won’t? You need to pay close attention to the item in front of you in order to achieve a harmonious result. Extending the metaphor, your work must also match the pitch of the item’s.

I find this metaphor to work in teaching as well. It’s important to meet each student where they are, so to speak. The results of being able to do this, when possible, are really satisfying. I’m so happy when my students find bookbinding to be something they can use and incorporate into their lives in meaningful ways.

Soon I will be leaving the bay area briefly to teach some conservation workshops in the San Diego area. It’s exciting, but there are always some unknowns involved in teaching far away. I’m excited to have this experience in deep listening to guide me through!

Some of my recent work

I recently repaired a first edition of Twelve Years a Slave. While the repair of this book probably merits its own blog post, I will just briefly include a couple photos here. It was very important to save every tiny piece of the original cloth spine, which was quite a challenge.

The original front cover

The original front cover

The original spine. There was a lot missing, but I saw some potential here because most of the titling was still there.

The original spine. There was a lot missing, but I saw some potential here because most of the titling was still there.

The end result of the spine: I was able to harmoniously tone the material underneath the original spine material to blend in. It is still obvious that the book is old; no one is being fooled here. But it is all intact; the areas with titling have been preserved, and the integrity of the object has been maintained.

The end result of the spine: I was able to harmoniously tone the material underneath the original spine material to blend in. It is still obvious that the book is old; no one is being fooled here. But it is all intact; the areas with titling have been preserved, and the integrity of the object has been maintained.

The rest of the covers have also received some attention though kozo paper that has been toned to match. The cover boards will now be able to provide adequate protection for the text.

The rest of the covers have also received some attention though kozo paper that has been toned to match. The cover boards will now be able to provide adequate protection for the text.

More about my workshops in San Diego

More about Cornelius Cardew’s graphical scores

More about Pauline Oliveros and Deep Listening


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Books Are Round; and, My PSA on PSA

Many of the materials that go into the making of a book are flat: paper, board, bookcloth. Of course, all of these things, including the finished book, are at least three dimensional. But have you ever heard of a book being round? A-round, sure… for some of us more than others. But really, truly, round? In my work repairing old books, I have seen many a round book, meaning the book is no longer a book per se–it has become a receptacle. This is most often the case with family Bibles, but it happens to other books as well.

I recently had the opportunity to repair one such book for a class I taught in book repair. I usually shop for books for students to repair at Friends of the Library sales, and that was where I found The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. I wanted to write about my work on this book for several reasons, the primary one being that people are often surprised at what I do for a living, and don’t believe that books can in fact be repaired. As you will see here, even when a book has so many problems that they can’t all be repaired at once, the book’s condition can be so vastly improved as to make a huge difference to the future of it. I also wanted to write about this book because my work on it brought up some interesting issues in conservation I thought worth discussing. Finally, there were some things I learned while repairing this book that I wanted to share.

The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar front cover

front cover

Inside front cover

front pastedown: some gummed kraft tape, early cloth medical tape, acid migration…

inside rear cover

rear pastedown…early pressure sensitive adhesive worthy of further study

title page and photogravure portrait of Dunbar

title page and photogravure portrait of Dunbar

These informal photos taken prior to treatment may begin to give you an idea of what I mean when I say this book is a receptacle. In these four photos, we already see six newspaper clippings. And as I continued to observe the book’s condition, I came across many more clippings, pamphlets, three small pages of handwritten notes for a radio address, a church directory, and so on.

Post-treatment: the book plus all the inclusions that weren't glued, taped, or nailed down

Post-treatment: the book plus all the inclusions that weren’t glued, taped, or nailed down

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born only seven years after the end of the Civil War. His parents had been slaves, so he was the first generation of free African-Americans in his family. He wrote poems, novels, and plays, some in dialect, some not. He died young of tuberculosis, dying well before the Harlem Renaissance gained steam. However, many writers from the Harlem Renaissance onward have cited Dunbar as an inspiration, and many feel that he was America’s earliest great African-American literary figure. It makes sense to me, in view of all this, that someone chose to place all their most important notes, desires for self-betterment, news articles on Wendell Willkie, and even Christmas greetings within this volume.

Something I happened to learn while I was repairing this book, through an unrelated string of concurrent events, was how a photogravure is made. Though common in image output generation in book production, I guess I never had the reason to study the making of photogravures before. Someone I know told me he had made some, and when I said I didn’t know what they were, he described them. At that point, I realized that the book I was working on contained one. A pretty nice one, I thought.

Photogravure Portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar

A photogravure is basically a way of using a film positive to burn an image into a copper plate suitable for use in printing with ink, combining photography with intaglio printing.

I’m happy with how my repair of this book came out–the book opens well, and all the pages have been stabilized. I’m even more pleased with the repairs completed by my students in the class. The students did so well we even had time to create protective four-flap enclosures for our books, so in my case, all the inclusions now have a contained place to reside that does not compromise the opening and closing of the book’s covers. However, there is one topic that is not addressed in the limited time available in that particular class: tape removal. Tape removal often requires the use of toxic solvents, requiring a vacuum table, a fume hood, and/or a fitted respirator: equipment and materials we do not have at SFCB. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar has several kinds of very old tape that are all causing various kinds of damage to the paper. The worst instance of this is on the reverse side of the lovely photogravure portrait.

There are many types of tape, and they all age in different ways and at different rates, causing different effects to the paper they’re stuck to. Some of the adhesives dry out and flake off or can be gently scraped off, as was the case with the opaque white tape on the inner front pastedown. Others melt into the fibers of the paper they’re stuck to and create an inextricable bond, and an irreversible stain. This process can take decades, but once it happens, there is not much to be done about it. Holding this page up to the light shows where the tape on the reverse side of this page is located, and where the stain might be headed.

Tape StainLet this be, then, my one and only Public Service Announcement on Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive. Just say no, okay? It does not matter if the product says it’s archival. ‘Archival’ is an even vaguer marketing term than ‘organic’. Believe me, I understand the challenges of possessing an item in need of repair. The temptation to use a quick fix is strong. There are many book repair manuals out there that instruct on the use of tape–unfathomably. But, as common sense dictates, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Books are really amazing. The more I repair and make them, the more respect and awe I have for the ones that stick around. I have seen and repaired many fine and treasured books, but the ones that amaze me most are the ones that seem the least likely to succeed. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, despite all appearances, has “good bones”: it was sewn through folds and was printed on decent paper. And despite the copious use of tape by one of its previous owners, I was able to put it back together and give it a gentle push down the road. When things slow down, I may be able to give it some attempts at removing the tape, but for now, the tape will have to stay where it is, unfortunately.

New beginning


Filed under Around, About, and Through, My projects