Tag Archives: bookbinding classes

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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Do Something Creative Every Day

photo credit: Linda Barrett

I was sorry to hear recently of the death of Sue Lindstrom, the creative founder of Paper Source.  For over two years, I managed the bindery staff for the small in-house bindery there. There were so many great things about the company, just like the fun, funny, thoughtful, lovely products on its store shelves. The grammatically correct tag line also always appealed to me (“every day” instead of “everyday”). The culture of the company was fun and invigorating while always driving us to do our best work.

I know that Sue could be hard on people at times, but she had a way of surrounding herself with the best and most interesting of everything, and that included the people who worked for her. Paper Source had some of the most wonderful people I’ve been fortunate enough to work with, including my direct supervisor, Linda Barrett.

I'm Krrazy Krrreative!

Linda was down to earth, yet romantic enough to believe that a store that sells fine paper should have its own in-house bindery staffed with skilled labor. Kind of stunning, but she made it happen. The bindery was already in full swing when I came on the scene around 2005. There were so many great people I remember fondly: James in the flat paper department, Gretchen, Nicole, and Tito in the third party vendors department, Cindy, Kitz, Annie in design, Luke, all around master of Making Things Happen… sooo many others as well. Fun times!

Paper Source History

I talked to Linda a little recently about Sue and about working for Paper Source. She said that Sue had started out studying textile and fiber arts at SAIC in Chicago. Sue’s father, Ross Wetzel, operated a frame shop in Wilmette where Sue often worked. She was always looking for interesting accent papers for the mats she made, which led her to develop a stash of decorated paper that couldn’t be ordered in single sheets. At that time, the only other store that carried fine decorated paper was Aiko’s Art Materials, a store that specialized in traditional Japanese crafts, books, ikebana, and tea supplies. At some point, Sue took over the frame business, and moved to the current River North location, though it was still known as Wetzel’s. River North at that time was home to many architects and designers who came to know Sue and would ask her advice in their projects. Linda was studying bookbinding at Southern Illinois University, and found she could get rare items such as Davey board and glue brushes through Sue. She remembers Sue going on a tour organized by Marilyn Sward of Japanese papermakers. During the trip, Sue made the decision that that’s all she wanted to do: focus the business on dealing in fine paper. According to Linda, that was one of the most impressive things about Sue, that she could make a decision and immediately put all her weight behind it.

Sue changed the name to Paper Source, though the store came to sell much more than just paper. Some of the things you’d find in the earlier stores are still sold at Paper Source, but since Sue stepped down from the company and moved to New Mexico, the personality of the stores has changed a lot. In the old days, there were so many unusual artists’ materials that did the job like no other! Strange fountain pen inks in hand-lettered glass bottles, unusual shapes of mop brushes in #0 and #0000 sizes that you’d never see at Utrecht, rubber stamps of puzzling images, and of course paper like you’ve never seen before (nor will again) because it was made especially for Sue. Twinrocker made paper to spec for Sue, and the store also carried St. Armand, as well as so many other fine papermakers. The annual warehouse sales, where samples, slightly damaged items, and one-offs were sold, were entirely magical. I still use the full set of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache and the intriguingly cracked bone folder I got at the warehouse sale, along with so many red polka dot envelopes and scallop-edged cards.

One thing that always amazed me about Paper Source was that it was by far a female dominated environment. And, there were no secretaries! Linda said there were also no titles, something that always frustrated me in my own role there since I was responsible for managing the bindery staff, yet I didn’t have the strict title of Manager. I didn’t realize at the time that was the case for most departments. In any case, Linda said each department head (?) had to rely heavily on her team. I do remember Linda having to spend a lot of time sending email, working late, traveling to new store openings, and even doing some of the scheduling tasks that might be done by secretarial staff in a differently-organized company. There was a lot of pressure at the time since the company was growing fast. Each Monday morning, I got to analyze the sales data for all the stores which would determine how many of each type of book we would make in the bindery. The number of stores doubled during the time I worked there.

PS Bindery

As far as our work in the bindery, we worked hard as well. Edition work makes you sweat, but the way I saw it, only in a good way. Doing multiples can help you develop your skills. Working in tandem with others also helps you develop. My teacher at NBSS told us that you had to do 500 of a binding to really learn it, and at Paper Source, I put in my 500 plus!

The Bench

Beach Books mostly complete

Our team of 5-ish part time binders cased in thousands of books per month, mostly blank journals and albums destined for sale at the chain’s 20-25 stores nationwide.

Working at Paper Source also helped me take a step back, and get some perspective on  the context of hand bookbinding in our modern world. Learning bookbinding at North Bennet Street School was harder than almost anything I’ve ever done. I had no idea how complicated book construction could be: how many different operations there are in the making of a book, how many choices of materials there are, and how the choices at each stage affect the whole. Book conservation, as well, seemed to be continuously fraught with ethical and moral decisions that I just didn’t feel at the time I had the experience or confidence to make. The position at Paper Source was much simpler, and yet the books we sold were incredibly significant to the people who bought them. Wedding albums, baby albums, personal journals and calendars that people carried with them every day were the staple of our work.

When I got the job at Paper Source, I was really fortunate to be working under Linda Barrett. Linda had been friends with Dominic Riley and Michael Burke during her time in San Francisco working for Kozo Art, and so while she readily accepted the pressure of working in the fast-paced Paper Source environment, she also knew and appreciated the type of fine bookbinding I had learned at NBSS.  Most of the materials we got to use in the bindery were terrific, starting with the main ingredient: the excellent textblocks made by Diarpell. To this day, I still use Diarpell notebooks and calendars. I just haven’t found anything better! (Full disclosure: I also have some in my Etsy store, particularly the square and panoramic shapes!) And of course, because of Sue’s love of Japanese design, we got to use fine Chiyogami and Yuzen paper when making our albums, journals, and calendars.

It was at Paper Source that I started teaching bookbinding workshops, always in the back room or stock room of one of the Chicago-area stores. In my workshops, I met people who had never made a book before. It was a transformative experience to search for the ways I could make the sophisticated aspects of bookbinding I had learned at NBSS relevant to the general public. I didn’t want what I taught them to just be a one-day fling; I really wanted people to make books forever! This started a love of teaching that still continues.

I know that Sue was tough on her staff at times, but as Linda said, “She wanted everyone to be tougher, to feel good about taking risks.” It was a great experience for me to work for Paper Source in that I got to experience a work environment created by a strong and courageous woman who also surrounded herself with so many intelligent and hard-working women.

Here is a link to Sue’s obituary in the Chicago Tribune if you want to learn more about her.

On the Bench

This shot, and all the shots of the warehouse/bindery/etc, were taken with my antique Sony digital camera, which took floppy discs to operate, so please forgive the focusing/lighting.


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