Bookbinding Workshop Process & Experience

Last week our Process and Skills class was in a workshop format, where we all learned the actual process of creating a book. This Bookbinding workshop was run by the experimented Mary Ellen Buxton, who patiently and passionately shared her knowledge on the subject.

Before class, I went to go to Talas in Brooklyn, to get all of my supplies. However, I ended up going and it was closed :/ However, I found another shop about a stones throw from the Graham stop, called “Artist & Craftsman Supply” (761 Metropolitan Ave), that had everything I needed.

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The first part of class Ms. Buxton showed us the way to properly detect the direction of the grain in a piece of paper, by gently bending both sides of the paper just slightly enough to detect which side has a harder bounce. She then explained how it is very important to fold along the grain, otherwise the paper (most often when it’s a slightly thicker stock) will end up buckling, or ripping over some time. It is also important to correctly use the bone folder to achieve the cleanest fold possible. When looking for the grain, it is best write in pencil little arrows and numbers to help you remember and ease the process when you are finally ready to trim the paper.

She also emphasized the fact that when composing different books, she often makes cheat sheets, with her notes all over the test booklet, so she can make a bunch of mistakes and create several versions sometimes of a book before producing the perfect final product. This was reassuring to know that she doesn’t always get it right the first time! This is all in part of the process it takes to get the best end result.

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For this first book, we chose to have the cover paper in a color and the inside in white. I started with various paper at 12×18 and trimmed 4 pieces down to 4”x 18”. I folded the outside sheet in half, along the grain, and the white interior sheets were folded in three parts. One piece of each was taken off and then folded again in half – this part was then used to create the mini pamphlet inside the larger part of the book, where the bigger white pieces were stitched into create a French fold.

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When stitching, it was important to use the bulldog clips to hold the book together, so all the pieces stay perfectly in place while putting holes and string through the book. In order to stich, you needed to use an awl (not the one I bought, which was very flimsy, I don’t recommend you get it) to poke three holes, and mark up inside numbers for each hole so you don’t confuse yourself when stitching. Luckily my thread was already coated in wax so it was easy to set up the thread and needle.

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We ended up doing a Japanese stiching on the outside of the cover. Unfortunately, at the very end I realized that I had stitched incorrectly, and accidentally left one flap outside the book. However, throughout the workshop I realized that the entire process is a planning, trying and testing  game – if something ends up not working, or going as plan – you find a solution. So, we analyzed my book and found out how I could re-stich in order to make the book work. Success! I will be sure to think of this when creating my next book.

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Another thing I thought was really interesting about the class was how we talked about how each book is created in a certain way to reflect its content. It was really great to see some of the complex bindings that Ms. Buxton brought in and hear and see how well they were thought through to reflect the authors message/the meaning and purpose of the book. To be honest, this was not always something that I considered whenever picking up a book, but it is now something that I am definitely going to think of when browsing the stocks and when creating my own books in the future.

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(Amy Staropoli)

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One thought on “Bookbinding Workshop Process & Experience”

  1. Thank you for sharing your new find -“Artist & Craftsman Supply” store and your bookbinding experience.
    Amy – a request – please go back and tag your post so the search for bookbinding,books,hand made books, etc is available to all who blog P&S. And, always tag.

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