Category Archives: My projects

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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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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Bookbinding lore and its collectors

Hello again! Sorry for being away for so long! It’s been an incredibly eventful couple months! And it’s going to take several posts to catch up with all the things I’d like to post for your very own pleasure- viewing.  Ooh, that sounds prurient, doesn’t it? Well, I do have some of that (bookbinding- related, of course!!), but for later. For now, I’ll just ease back into blogging by showing some recent projects and some items from the special private gallery of Ken Grabowski.

I’ve been waiting a looong time to share this one…

How to Bind Books for Fun and Profit

Yes, those are coins and dollar bills inside the words ‘Bind Books’. Look closely, ladies and gentlemen, for this is the only time you will see money and bookbinding so close together!

Its companion being…

Absolutely fantastic business!

I may joke about the business of bookbinding lightly, but perhaps this is a good opportunity to mention a new book coming out soon about bookbinders in private practice, called The Thread That Binds by Pamela Leutz and published by Oak Knoll. It comprises 20 interviews with living, breathing bookbinders in private practice. I’m really looking forward to it.

But in the meantime, here’s one more item from the Grabowski Collection for those of you who may enjoy a spin down the pines from time to time:

Bookbinders bowlers


I still need to get back to work for the moment– that is, this kind of work:

Sewing tapes

Yikes! But luckily, I have the help of some of my trusty elves:

Kittens helping!

(Many thanks to Ken G. for his fierce ability to collect bookbinding manuals. I am really hoping that with some gentle pressure, he will publish his results eventually.)

Another book about bookbinders I’ve been reading is The Journal of Dora Damage. Published by Bloomsbury, it’s been really keeping me in stitches lately. I highly recommend it to anyone in the craft of bookbinding, especially sole proprietors. I haven’t finished it, though, so I can’t give a full review yet.

So, finally, here’s a small sampling of some of the things I’ve been doing over the past couple months. Some portfolios, some book repair, some calligraphy, even.

Doolin Portfolio

How nice when a portfolio can be sewn through the fold!

Johnson's Dictionary box label

Leather label for drop spine box for…

Johnson's Dictionary repair

Minor hinge repair for a copy of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, 1794

One of the place cards I did for a small benefit dinner:


And finally, I’ve also continued to volunteer at the Field Museum Library, where I’ve been working on a book about les grenouilles


There’s a lot more where all this came from, so… stay tuned!

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Apparently I am in the correct profession.

I have been revisiting a lot of Emily Dickinson’s poems lately. I love reading Dickinson, especially the giant editions of The Complete poems. There are some I understand and enjoy right away;  others I save for a gripping moment of discovery in the future.  As she herself wrote:

The Riddle we can guess/We speedily despise–/Not anything is stale so long/As Yesterday’s surprise (Number 1222, c.1870)

Having received a copy of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson from a very good friend, and not having very much work after being out of town, I had much to mull over. Feeling somewhat greedy for answers to some of Dickinson’s more obscure poems, I turned to some books about her I had picked up years ago at the Chicago Public Library discard sale. Promising though the content seemed, the bindings were a complete turnoff. They were so atrocious it was distracting! I think you can see where this story is going. I told my neighbor about how I had to rebind a book in order to properly read it, and she said, “Wow, you really are in the right profession.” As I write this post on Labor Day, thinking about the nature of work and so on, it is nice to have that affirmation.

Following are some before and after pictures of the book, and the in- between stage as well.

The old cover– that weird old cellophane/ plasticky stuff. It made noise when I opened it!

old cover

The new cover, using Dickinson’s silhouette as a sixteen- year- old inlaid into the cover boards with gray leather.


Some paste paper I happened to have around…



Ahh, now I can read it and finally unlock the answers to all of Dickinson’s mysterious riddles.


Although I generally do not recommend mixing fine books and fresh figs, it was pretty satisfying just this one time.


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Road trip!

A few weeks ago, I got to help a friend move out east to go to grad school. Two of her oldest friends in the area had access to a Chevy conversion van and trailer, and are dyed-in-the-wool campers, so with their  preparation, all of her earthly belongings, and my inborn skill for long car trips, we set off on the classic American road trip.

But several days before, I got a phone call from a woman who needed to rebind a road map as a gift. Somehow I worked her project into the necessary preparations for my trip, viewing care for a map (perhaps superstitiously, I’ll admit) as good luck for the upcoming adventure.  Here are some before-and-after snaps of the book.


old back cover

Although the client said it would be ok to toss the original covers, I wanted to save the Wall Drug sticker on the front and the full US map with driving distances on the back, so I did some paper repair before sewing and putting on the new covers. I think it was worth it!

new cover

new inner cover

The back cover had lots of tears. Although one side was plastic- coated, I used wheatpaste and kozo tissue instead of heat- set tissue. It took the repair very well. You can see (or can you?) the tissue going just south of International Falls, then it takes a turn north above Thunder Bay and Nipigon. The map was quite dirty, having obviously been well-used on many trips. I did some dry surface cleaning, but did not attempt any stain removal.

paper tear

paper repair

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Lately I…

I recently completed work on a family Bible for a friend’s aunt.  It was dated 1879. These Bibles were sold door- to- door during that era, and range hugely in their production methods. Generally they are characterized as having heavy boards, often 1 cm thick each, ornate gold decoration stamped from one or two plates, and highly polished sheepskin.

For families who own them, they are repositories of all kinds of family memorabilia. This Bible contained several pressed flowers which stained several layers of adjoining pages, two death announcement cards, a green “pleather” bookmark displaying the Irish blessing “May you be in heaven for half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead,” and a marriage certificate from 1879. The marriage certificate was severed along its two folds, which I repaired with heat set tissue. Since the certificate did not fall within the parameters of what I was originally assigned to do, I did not attempt to reduce staining or acidity with it; I only repaired the tears, did some light dry cleaning and made a folder for it. It turned out that the current owners of the Bible had never seen it, and its appearance was a complete surprise to them! I might assume that since the Bible and the marriage certificate were dated from the same year, the certificate shows the original owners of the Bible. It was an odd coincidence that I found it as I was paging through the book’s vast quantity of illustrations, historical information, verses, &c.

Click on each picture for more in-depth treatment descriptions and larger photos!

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Read to me!

I recently made a book for an organization called K-9 Reading Buddies of the North Shore, which encourages kids to read aloud to therapy dogs! Kind of funny? Check out the great press about this terrific idea:,04npaws0707.article

I’ll post a photo of the book I made as soon as I have one.

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