Tag Archives: bookbinding class

Workshops New and Old, Taken and Taught

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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

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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