Category Archives: My projects

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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Filed under Bookbinding techniques, My projects

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

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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Filed under Around, About, and Through, My projects

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

Nifty Folio Repairs

Hello again and apologies for the long absence. Since I last added to this blog, Book Island broke loose of its moorings and took float, settling just a few cattails from its former position. Improvements include more space for my growing family of bookbinding equipment (more on that in a later post) and for holding mini-workshops; and proximity to a large vintage Wedgewood gas stove. There are many tradeoffs to living and working under the same roof; working for oneself also has its pluses and minuses. Not having to commute long distances, and being able to do things like let bread dough rise or soup simmer while working at the bench are things I would identify as pluses. Of course, it is a more solitary lifestyle; and there’s the whole tax/admin angle that has to be dealt with. In any case, it’s where Book Island is at right now. After sharing some tips on guarding and folio repair, I will include some snapshots of the new studio and workspace.

One of the great advantages to having formal training in bookbinding was the multitude of sidebar-type techniques we all learned. Being in a two-year, full-time bench-centered program afforded my class a fair amount of time for goofing off in the nerdiest way imaginable. In teaching us paper and book repair and conservation, my teacher gave us lots of bonus extra tips and methods for saving time and making a better result. Some of them may be in wider use than I am aware of, and some I go through phases of using heavily and then not using for a long time. One of these is something I have nicknamed the Folio-Mat. Like many studio aids in bookbinding, it is simply fabricated from a few pieces of scrap materials you probably have laying around not currently helping anybody, but it is completely out of the question to discard: binder’s board, buckram, mylar, and your favorite archival spun polyester. Oh, and don’t forget the Scotch 415 double stick… Yes, from these humble beginnings, you too could create wonders! Observe…

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue , amtching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue, matching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

The Folio-Mat (trademark pending) allows you to easily unite two leaves separated by time and neglect in order to prepare them for sewing. I recently had to guard an entire textblock this way and was able to save some time. It was much easier to jog the separated leaves to the foredge, avoiding much of the stepping out leaves often do when regrouped into signatures. This paper was quite soft and fragile, having been in a mostly-disbound state for many years (burns and fading could be seen on the edges of the pages sticking out from the stack). To say this book was in tatters would be an understatement. I’m not sure the pre-treatment photos quite express the causes for trepidation I felt when approaching the repair… I’m sure we’ve all been there. It was very rewarding to see how it came out, however.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

no more tatters!

no more tatters!

Lovely illustrations now come through

Lovely illustrations now come through

Spine functioning normally

Spine functioning normally

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

More fun from Book Island:

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly aquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly acquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!



Filed under Bookbinding techniques, My projects

New addition to Book Island

Most of you reading this blog know how much I love bookbinding equipment. One of the special things about this profession is all the extremely specialized tools and machinery we have at our disposal, when we can find it! And usually it seems to take care of itself, once you learn to use it properly. Acquiring a piece of old bookbinding equipment is like receiving a postcard from a simpler time– remove a little rust and a little tape goo, plug it in, and there you have it: a perfectly designed labor saver with steel and cast iron parts machined precisely to thousandths of an inch. Well, finally, it is my time to receive such a gift from the past. This very day with the help of my friends I un-shrinkwrapped a lovely, cherry-red Kensol. It is not (yet) as nice as some I’ve used, better than many others, but at last it is mine. Enjoy some pictures of the new baby and some other examples of titling I’ve done lately.

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!


Setting brass type for heat stamping

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

Now we're starting to have some fun

Now we’re starting to have some fun

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio. The only font available that seemed appropriate was too small and narrow for this large field, so I used large spacers between each letter to make the words take up more space. The result is a modern, minimal appearance that complemented the student’s content nicely.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)


Type was hand-set and stamped on a Kwikprint; all other decoration done with hand tools


Filed under Bookbinding techniques, My projects, Tool Talk

Ten years!

Ten years!

This was my Grandma Roz’s copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Nothing left of the covers other than a scrap of the spine, I rebound it as a project in the bookbinding program at North Bennet Street School when I was there ten years ago. The book is still going strong through consistent use. It stays open flat enough to cook with without having to weigh down the pages or use some kind of cookbook stand contraption. Humble cookbook repair remains one of my favorite parts of being a book conservator in private practice, forming its bread and butter, so to speak. Anyone who has been to my kitchen knows I love cookbooks! I love to cook, so it’s natural that I like to keep those Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping etc books in good shape for all you home cooks out there.


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May 16, 2013 · 9:09 pm

Another Installment: Pleasure Reading, Summer Updates

artwork by Vanessa Renwick

artwork by Vanessa Renwick

Last night I had the great good fortune to visit one of this fine land’s most fascinating libraries. It has no formal cataloging system nor many of the usual finding aids, inhabits a single room, and yet is one of the best-organized and most expansive collections I’ve seen. How can this be? For the answer to that riddle, you just have to visit… It’s located at the corner of Howard and Eighth Streets in San Francisco. You could also read Megan Prelinger’s own statement about how the library is organized and how it came to be.

Lucky for me, it’s just a short bike ride away, but for those of you who can’t make it in person, the Prelingers have digitized many of the materials in their collection.  Did I mention they’re appropriation-friendly? That’s what “Free Speech, Fear-Free” is about. Thousands of their books and other materials are available for viewing or downloading for free through the Internet Archive. One of my favorites is here: who knew that another term for shipwreck is ‘submerged cultural resource’?

Since I am able to visit the library in person, and since the Prelingers are so encouraging of snapshots, I’ll share some of my own here. They’re just from a very small section I browsed. I came upon many more happy coincidences while I was there—some recipes from Nance Klehm on sourdough bread starters turned up in a small publication on Soil that was hanging out on the Returns shelf.  I also found articles from the 1940’s journal Modern Industry with titles like, ”Six Ways to Tell if Your Employees Are Doing Their Jobs” opposite the biography of Frederick Winslow Taylor and other labor history and Situationist International books. So here’s just a little smattering of front covers and shelves I found…

…a page of Cage…

…some really great tips here!…

…Whole Earth Catalog… a few pages before this one had some very precise instructions for removing porcupine quills from your dog’s fur. aww…

…more Whole Earth Catalog…

…mightn’t everyone need these books someday?…

…vast shelves to be explored…


In early August, a friend and I took a road trip up the coastal highway of northern California. It was mysterious, magical, and so new for me, as I had never travelled it before.  Unfortunately I can’t come up with a single connection to bookbinding… though maybe that’s the point. I finally did something totally unrelated to bookbinding, and I actually had a great time! There are too many pictures to post here, so visit my flickr page for views.

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Filed under Around, About, and Through, My projects

New News

Hello there, and sorry I’ve been so horrible about keeping in touch.  …And me, with so much news to share! Late last January, I interviewed for the position of production manager at Taurus Bookbindery in San Francisco. I spent an entire day talking to Tim James, who has owned the bindery for 20 years. Some weeks later, he offered me the job, and I decided to close up shop in Chicago and head out to San Francisco. My first day here was March 8, over three months ago, and I’ve been learning a ton! We have had some really terrific work come into the shop, and I’ve been able to use some great labor- saving equipment, much of which is powered by an air compressor. And what may be to the chagrin of many reading this, I’ve come to really understand– perhaps, even love– the gluing machine. Amazing! Here is a photo of the bindery on a Saturday (which is why you don’t see anyone working). Several skylights offer good natural light, which is a nice plus.

All the binders I’ve met out here have been very kind,  generous, and welcoming. Here’s a meeting of the Hand Bookbinders of California, in a lush setting under some beautiful trees in Palo Alto, about an hour by train south of San Francisco:

It seems there is a very vibrant printing and bookbinding scene here in San Francisco! I’m really excited about being here, and hope to keep learning as much as I can.

Before leaving Chicago, I was able to finish a binding for an Estonian bookbinding competition. It involved binding Lauldud Sõna/ The Word Was Sung, a set book centering on Veljo Tormis, an Estonian composer of modern choral music largely based on folk song structures. I tried some new things, including sprinkling leather dye through stencils on the leather after covering, and using stencils to sprinkle patterns on the edges.  I used leather I got at the Guild Standards this past October, which was in San Francisco– the first time I ever set foot here, in fact.

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Filed under Around, About, and Through, My projects