Category Archives: Classes I’ve taken

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.



Filed under Classes I've taken, My projects

Workshop and Interview with Lori Sauer

I recently had the opportunity to take a class with Lori Sauer here in the bay area. The topic was stub bindings, or bindings which use  narrow hinges, flaps, or concertina folds to attach signatures and/or plates (images printed as single sheets). She is a fine bookbinder working in the U.K.,though she is originally American. Her work is highly skilled, her designs are subtle, and she teaches workshops established under the name BINDING re:DEFINED. You can see some of her recent work here.

I am always interested in meeting other bookbinders far and near, and the topic of her workshop intrigued me. In the past I’ve been frustrated by stub bindings, since I most often see them as books coming into my studio in need of repair.  Puzzled as to how to put these books back together, I study the interlocking stubs, trying to reverse engineer the sewn and glued areas laboriously. I also vividly remember my utter bewilderment about the set book for the Designer Bookbinders’ Water competition. So many plates! Some folded, some flat, and intermingled with folded text signatures; what to do?

In the stub binding workshop, we all discovered there are many ways to construct bindings needing stubs. Stubs can be glued or sewn; concertinas can be glued, sewn, or even nested. Stubbed structures can have hard casings for covers, or can be laced into their covers, or can use traditional binding techniques and be purely decorative. What drew me to the workshop was the possibility of looking directly at the problem of stubs and seeing what solutions would present themselves. There is very little written about stub bindings, possibly because they often seem to be made on an ad hoc basis to resolve the truly odd structural situation.

The class was very well-organized, with plenty of well-documented methods and techniques to try. It was fun for me to construct all the different models Lori demonstrated, and come up with potential design challenges each could solve. We did not make any finished books in the class, but getting to see the finished models she brought was inspiring. In particular, I was struck by the incorporation of fine binding techniques in her models. I will continue to puzzle over stub bindings, but now in a good way.

Some serve a purpose such as attaching plates; some are decorative

Some serve a purpose such as attaching plates; some are decorative

Lori was gracious in agreeing to answer a few questions for my blog about the practice of making stub bindings and about her new appointment as President of Designer Bookbinders UK. I’m so grateful for what I learned from her, and if you are interested in taking one of her workshops, I encourage you to check out the website

What got you interested in stub bindings?
I was asked to speak at a Society of Bookbinders conference a number of years ago on a structure and stubs was the suggested topic. I knew very little about them but accepted, thinking it would be interesting and a challenge. I discovered there was very little written about them so talked to as many people as possible to get information. I only located one article from the 1950’s by Thomas Harrison. The remainder of my lecture consisted talking about and showing experimental work and books I had made from descriptions or photographs.

How do you decide whether and how to use stubs in your binding work?
As with all bindings, a text-block is assessed individually before deciding on the appropriate binding. I will decide to use a stub if there is a narrow gutter margin or if the sections are especially thick, printed cross-grain or if I have plates in the book that need a full page spread across the centre fold. I also like using it because the pages will always open flat and this appeals to me enormously.

Have you been able to study any historical examples of stubs used in bindings?
I’ve only been able to look briefly at historical bindings while visiting some private libraries in the UK. I’ve also been able to have a close look at an old atlas binding lent to me by a friend. Others I’ve been able to take apart and reassemble in work that’s come in to me for repair. My plan is to spend time in the British Library doing some research specifically on stubs. I think there is a lot to be discovered.

What are some of your favorite paper stocks to use as stubs? What are the characteristics that make a particular stock work well?
I can’t say that I have a favourite paper stock, I tend to choose as I go. It needs to be a paper that folds well and is strong. Conventionally, stubs are discreet so the papers were often lightweight and folded many times, they are meant to be tucked away. For modern usage a stub can be used decoratively as well as structurally so choice of paper gets more complicated. It’s a book-by-book decision for me.

Are there other binders doing similar bindings whose work you admire?
There is a lot of contemporary fine binding in Spain that is done on stubs and some of the results are stunning. I sadly don’t know any of the names.

You are the incoming president of Designer Bookbinders UK (congratulations!). Do you have any goals for your term that you’d like to share?
I’m looking forward to my time as President of Designer Bookbinders. We were formed around the premise of being an exhibiting society with the members there as support. I feel things have moved on and we can do more than just put on great exhibitions. DB has a highly respected international position in the bookbinding world and I would like it to be more actively involved with its international counterparts. This might involve an exchange of lecturers, workshops, demonstrations or articles in newsletters. With screens and keyboards at our fingertips it is so easy to give and get information and it’s important that we all share in this craft that we love. This not only benefits us as binders but also benefits the members who support us, domestically and internationally.

There are some other things in the pipeline and they all take time. In the meantime, like everyone else, I want to put my head down and make bindings.

Stubs close up

Incorporating end sheets, sewn signatures as pamphlets, glued concertinas, and hybrids involving all of the above


Filed under Bookbinding techniques, Classes I've taken

Teaching and Learning

Everyone has his or her favorite cultural icon, right? I do too, and mine is John Cage. He grew up in southern California, lived most of his life on the east coast of the US, and was a composer, among many other skills and specialties. His music is sparse, abstract, noisy, at times loud and harsh and at other times perfectly quiet and peaceful. In some ways a product of American culture and history, in others a radical departure, Cage was at all times a hard worker, completely devoted to creating music and bringing sounds together. He brought this same focus to his side pursuits, such as mushroom gathering and macrobiotic cooking, as well. His whole life, as a synthesis of all of these dynamic activities, went into his compositions and recordings.

Cage's mycological collection is at UC Santa Cruz!! Let's go!!

Cage’s mycological collection is at UC Santa Cruz!! Let’s go!!

We also have just a few books containing his lectures and poems, such as Silence and Indeterminacy. There is so much more to explore about Cage’s life, music, and philosophy, but this is a bookbinding blog. What I wanted to share about Cage is one of his writings I happened across, very much in chancy Cage-like fashion, at the Prelinger Library. Cage had mixed opinions about formal schooling, having dropped out of Pomona College as an undergraduate, though he was valedictorian of his high school class. I think it can be comfortably said that he continued to learn, study, and teach throughout his life, and that the concept of lifelong learning–questioning assumptions, gathering data, and growing and adapting–was central to his thinking. I wanted to share the following piece in light of the classes I will be teaching soon, as well as the classes I have been taking lately. The past year has been a very active one for me, filled with growth and change. It has been over eleven years now since I received my diploma in bookbinding, and so I have had nearly adequate time to begin to practice and reflect on what I learned there. But now, it is time for me to resume my pursuit of learning, growth, and adaptation. Last summer, I took the Design Binding Intensive class from Dominic Riley. I think Dominic is a very Cage-ian instructor: eccentric, with unparallelled skill, completely engaged in his classes, often taking us on field trips and giving us lots of concrete information.

Dominic demonstrates board chamfering

Dominic demonstrates board chamfering

I also taught some classes, some at home and others further afield.


Creative interpretation by a student in one of my classes. Brilliant!!


This summer, I will be taking some classes at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation in northwestern Illinois. And last weekend, I took a class in finishing with gold leaf taught by Gavin Dovey to refine my skills. I believe there is always more to learn in any field, but especially in a field like bookbinding, and I am grateful to have found a profession for which there is always room for expansion.

I have been teaching bookbinding for years, and feel that I often learn more from my students than they learn from me… Perhaps these few lines from Cage explain why.

 Some Rules and Hints for Students and Teachers
John Cage

RULE #1: Find a place you trust and then, try trusting it for a while

Pull everything out of your teacher
Pull everything out of your fellow students

Pull everything out of your students

RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE #5: Be self disciplined.
This means finding someone smart or wise and choosing to follow them.
To be disciplined is to follow in a good way.
To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE#6: Follow the leader
Nothing is a mistake.
There is no win and no fail.
There is only make.

RULE #7: The only rule is work
If you work it will lead to something.
It is the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans but not the players.

RULE #8: Do not try to create and analyze at the same time.
They are different processes.

RULE #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it.
It is lighter than you think.

RULE #10: We are breaking all the rules, even our own
How do we do that?
By leaving plenty of room for ‘x’ qualities

Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully and often. Save everything. It may come in handy later.


…and speaking of “Come or go to everything,” here is an event not to be missed for anyone who was ever curious about how fine bindings are made:

HBC Codex Event

It is sponsored by my local bookbinding organization, and will be a great way to begin the festivities relating to Codex and the Antiquarian Book Fair. I’m hoping we will record it in some way, but the best way to experience it will be in Cage-ian fashion: be there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classes I've taken, Classes I've taught

New Work, New Classes

I am excited to be doing some work for Dana Smith and Steve Macdonald. I’ll be binding a total of 27 copies of their book Sweet Call and Response. I love this work and how the printed imagery combines with embroidered shading, blocks of color, and detail work. They’ve dropped off two giant stacks of raw pages for me to sew and bind into hard covers just today, so I’m about to get cracking at it! I’ve already bound some advance copies for them, and here are some images of those books that are already complete. You can see more of this book, and Dana’s work, here.

Printed cover cloth

Fly fishing with satin stitch edge

Geometric pattern with full moon

Embroidered shading outlines this black and white palm tree

Detail of embroidered edge– you know how I love edge decoration…

Local Interest

Soon another round of Beginning Bookbinding at the San Francisco Center for the Book will begin. As of today, there are only three spots left in this class, which runs on Wednesday evenings in June and July. Beginning Bookbinding is the first half of the certificate program at SFCB, and is structured to provide a hearty, solid foundation in bookbinding, focusing on hand sewn books with hard covers. It is heartening for me to work with such students as I have been extremely lucky to have! It’s been a lot of fun, and much has been learned by all.

Lovely *and* fun

Various styles of books we make in Beginning Bookbinding, all sewn by hand with hard covers

Speaking of classes, I just completed a round of calligraphy classes (as a student!) through the Friends of Calligraphy. Judy Detrick was our amazing instructor for (you guessed it) Book Hand. I love the legible, circular shapes of Book and Foundational hands and their connection to greater developments in the history of the book. I’ve tried to learn Book Hand on my own, reading, absorbing, and practicing for a few years, but nothing compares to personal attention from an extremely skilled practitioner of the craft. My writing is still pretty humble, but much improved, and much easier and enjoyable to practice now that I know some tips from a pro!

Practice, practice, practice… and more practice, and perhaps some. more. practice

However, it is now time for me to, as they used to say, “return to our regularly scheduled programming” (live television broadcasts seem so far removed from me these days, yet ingrained my memory!)… Anyway… back to the books!

Leave a comment

Filed under Classes I've taken, Classes I've taught

Books with Friends

The Friends of the Public Library giant spring book sale at Fort Mason Center happened a couple weekends ago, and I helped out this year again as a volunteer cashier.

So many books! So little time to shop…

Compared with antiquarian book fairs such as last weekend’s in New York (for a bookbinder’s-eye-view, see Gavin Dovey’s post here), the offerings at the Friends sales are somewhat more humble (though I have seen some rare editions go out the door for the mere $3 for a hardcover). But what I love about the Friends sales is that they are for people with a Serious Reading Habit, who have to have the real deal: a Book. I like to work the checkout lines at these sales to see what people are buying and chat with them about the thing that has brought us together: reading!!! That way, I also get to pair up with another volunteer, which makes the time go by quickly. Laurie, who I worked with, is a retired math teacher from San Jose, and was superfun to work with. When our shift was over, I got to pick out some things for myself (as well as for my Intermediate Bookbinding class). I love to see all the books at the sales that reflect life in the San Francisco Bay Area: tons of back issues of Sunset magazine, hiking books up the wazoo, coffee-table photo books of highway 1, and tables full of books about Linux and other code- related endeavors. I was pretty happy to find a rare vintage copy of the 1971 Anybody’s Bike Book, published by Berkeley’s own Ten Speed Press.

Another thing I did that same weekend was take a printing class at the San Francisco Center for the Book! As an instructor, I get credit to sign up for their other classes, and I never miss an opportunity to do so. This time I picked Double Trouble: Type and Image on the Vandercook with Adam Ewing. Check out his work here. So beautiful! In the class, we all carved linoleum blocks with images, then used the Center’s wood type as a base to transfer from and carve letterforms in our lino as well. With just two inkings, we made these cool posters.

The field of printing and printmaking is totally new to me, and it’s a great learning experience for me to branch out a bit from bookbinding. Next week I will start one of the Friends of Calligraphy classes– of course I had to choose Bookhand. Typography, calligraphy, graphic design, and printmaking as well as bookbinding truly flourish here in the bay area– there is always more to learn.

Leave a comment

Filed under Around, About, and Through, Classes I've taken, Classes I've taught