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!

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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.

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New toys… I mean, new tools! …For new toils.

Though I have heard for a long time and from many bookbinders that knives made by Jeff Peachey are sharp and hold their edge well, I have never had the opportunity to test them out myself. As I am a graduate of the North Bennet Street School‘s bookbinding department, I and all my colleagues made our own knives for conservation and leather paring. We valiantly (and at times less than valiantly) struggled with it, grinding and honing the traditional way with steel blanks and Japanese water stones. I have used these knives since 2002 when I made them, and they form a cornerstone of my practice as a bookbinder, almost more important than my bone folders!

Leather paring knives allow you to reduce the thickness of the leather you use to cover a book, which in turn allows for complex and subtle shaping of the movable parts of the book you are making. Lifting knives, used in conservation, allow you to separate the covering materials of an old book in such a way that when you put them back together after the structure has been appropriately strengthened, the fissure is inconspicuous. Thus, a good set of knives is essential to the livelihood of a skilled craftsperson, and when they’re hand made, knives express even more deeply the expertise and respect with which one practices one’s craft.

Some of the first results from the new Peachey knife

Right away I can tell I will enjoy using Jeff’s A2 English leather paring knife. The shaft has a contoured shape and is rounded on the edges, which will make it easier to hold through hours of leather paring. The English leather paring knife is different than the rounded French knife I have been using– with the French knife I can pare on either side of a cut edge of a piece of leather, whilst the English knife is limited to paring on the left side. However, possibly because of the straight edge of the English knife, it seems to be easier to cut a broader bevel on the leather, and thus pare large swaths thinly enough to create leather labels and onlays of .1-.2mm thickness easily. I typically use a Brockman for this kind of work, but it’s nice to know there’s another way. The long bevel would also be useful for the long edges of the new leather introduced in leather rebacks, where a very gradual change in thickness of new leather is desirable underneath a layer of old leather.

The A2 steel is quite a bit thicker, and thus heavier than the knives I’m used to. That makes it more tiring on the hand, but I can tell the difference in how it holds its edge during paring. It did need to be stropped once while I edge pared six edges each about 30 cm long, but the leather was fairly stiff, so I thought the knife performed well. This will be a great addition to my happy family of bookbinding knives.

From top to bottom: Leather corner cutting knife, lifting knife, small lifting/ board corner cutting knife, Peachey English leather paring knife, round French leather paring knife, dull cobbler's knife (sharpened for paper slitting). They are kept on a magnet so they are close at hand, yet out of harm's way, and the edges never abrade against a sheath.

This week I will be making a very large full leather cover for a collection of heirloom photos and ephemera for a local family, so I will have the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with my new tool! I look forward to it. If you are interested in looking at some of the other very thoughtfully designed tools Jeff Peachey produces, or would like to read his blog, I have linked to his website on the sidebar to the right.

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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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Death of a Bookbinding Organization, Birth of a Bookbinding Supplier

I just received in the mail the following cards:

CHB Farewell

(As the type appears somewhat small, I’ll paraphrase:  Sadly it seems we must declare that Chicago Hand Bookbinders is no more. Please join us to say farewell… In order to legally dissolve the organization, we must have two- thirds of the membership vote for dissolution. Please use your rsvp to cast your vote. If you wish to keep the organization alive, please only do so by indicating which office you wish to assume. –There are options for President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.)

I’m not sure if I was sent two ballots with the intention that I might stuff the ballot box for dissolution, or whether I was being asked to nominate myself for two board positions, but I’m only returning one, whatever I decide. The imminent demise of this thirty- year- old organization has been in my awareness for some time now, possibly even a year (since the last election, when no one ran for President). Kind of a bummer, I guess, since as the sometime secretary, newsletter- producer, and evangelical recruiter, I had something of a stake in keeping it alive. Of course, I would not have any regrets if CHB had to dissolve. It is not easy to maintain an organization along with all the things we all have to do to keep our lives going. The field of bookbinding in Chicago has dissolved in many ways, too, since the inception of Chicago Hand Bookbinders.

The big excitement for me about Chicago Hand Bookbinders was that it was born in what seemed to be a golden age for bookbinding in Chicago. Bill Anthony’s studio was in the Old Colony building at that time.  Several people I know or have met studied with him there, including Mark Esser, who established the program at North Bennet Street School in Boston, where I studied.  All kinds of bookbinders and others in the bookbinding- related arts (particularly paper marbling) were doing great work then– more than I can name here, and I discover more all the time. There was a supportive and highly- skilled community– many were professional bookbinders,  some not. It seems they showed their “extra” or fine work relatively often, especially after CHB came into being. Chicago Hand Bookbinders also hosted the Guild of Book Workers Standards Seminar that was held in Chicago in 1988.

This time period is one that bears much further research, and anyone who was around at that time is warmly invited to chat with me about it as I continue to collect more information. For the moment, I am taking CHB underground. If you are interested, contact me. I know who you are.

…   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   …   … …   …   …

I received word through Book Arts-L last week that a new conservation supply company has been formed. Their products have obviously been carefully picked by the founders, as they seem to be of the highest quality.  I think we all breathe a sigh of relief to know of a plurality of suppliers to our trade in order to have a range of options available to us. Just to clarify: I have not been paid to offer this observation, and I don’t know any of the people at the firm! But something I truly loved about their website for its nerd appeal was the fact that in each photo of each product being offered for sale, a color- bar strip with ruler was included. Do visit:

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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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