Apprentice

When I was in my late teens, I became interested in nice books.  I wasn’t really sure what a nice book was.  At that age I thought a paperback would last forever – probably even over 50 years!  I was given a couple of early edition T E Lawrence books; a forth imprint of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and a first edition of The Mint.  These books had such nice paper and unusual features like uncut pages and in general were so much nicer than a paperback.  I started to look for books that had a feel of quality about them, even if I didn’t know what this was.  Because of this interest in books the next present I was given was an introduction to bookbinding course given by the Queensland Bookbinders Guild.  30 years later I am one of the teachers of this course.

I don’t know why you want to bind a book, but I do know that once you decide to it can get a bit obsessive.  There is a good chance the first piece of advice you will get is to sign up for a local course which will be in 3 to 6 months time, and you’re only on the waiting list.  It’s good advice but doesn’t match this burning obsession you’ve just gained.  Wait how long?  I don’t want you taking up lace making instead.

I agree, you have to get started right away.  Do the course, you’ll learn so much at this.  But you’ll learn twice as much if you’ve been teaching yourself for months before hand.  You’ll have great questions about folding paper, tying knots, and what are the differences in adhesives.  Most importantly you’ll know by then that bookbinding is something you’ll want to keep doing and you’ll ask the question, what should my next projects be, and where do I get the tools and materials to accomplish this?

So, what should your first project be?

The QBG Introduction to Bookbinding course is a full 2-day course binding a multi section book rounded and backed with a cloth covered half case binding.  It is a great introduction covering many of the foundation skills of bookbinding with a really nice book at the end of it, which you will use to take bookbinding notes in for years to come.  This is not the book to try yourself.

After the Great War there was a resurgence in craft.  Some of it was to do with recovery for soldiers physically and mentally wounded in the war.  The other was about education of the young and preparing them for trades.  Bookbinding was still a significant trade at this time.  There were a number of authors from this period that published books on craft bookbinding which started with a single section book.  The instructions are now very dated often referring to everyday items which are now only seen in museums.  But it remains a great starting point.  I’ve put together an updated set of instructions for a single section book which is solidly founded on the projects from these great authors.

The DAS single section booklet or pamphlet instruction book

Single Section Book

But you don’t have to start with the single section book.  There has been an explosion of people doing wonderfully creative things which I’m going to call the artists’ book movement.  A very popular structure uses Coptic sewing.  The very earliest forms of the modern book, the codex, are known as Coptic bindings.  The modern artist book is not a Coptic binding but it does borrow from the sewing method and the boards are attached via the sewing.  It is a multi-section book which makes a wonderful journal or note book and with creativity can make a beautiful present.  I will admit that I found attaching the second board not obvious the first time I tried it.  A search on YoutTube will find many tutorials on this subject and at some point I’m going to take a shot at walking you through this one too.  And once you master this first one there are endless variations which build upon the basic structure.

A great thing about these artists’ books is that many of them don’t require specialist tools and the more creative you are with material choices often the better the results.  Creativity can be subtle in traditional bookbinding and often it feels like it is restricted to the step known as finishing.  But with artists’ books the skies the limits!  I’ve picked a few projects that can be done in an afternoon or less, which help develop basic skills and produce wonderful little books.  They make great kids projects too.

Reverse Piano Hinge

I hope you’ve made it this far.  You’re probably thinking that the course doesn’t feel that far away after this long introduction.  I hope you’ve hung in because there are a few other things I want to tell you before you start cutting and folding paper.  I’ve got a post about the material I just mentioned – paper.  It’s really important you know something about the properties of handmade and machine made paper.  It is especially important you know something about the property called the grain of paper.  Some of artists’ books are interesting because they can be made adhesive free.  But you’ll be ahead of the game if you know a bit about the simple adhesives used by bookbinders. 

Paper Grain article

Paper Grain Video

Bookbinding adhesives article

Making Starch Paste on the Stove and in a Thermomix
Making Starch Paste in a Microwave

May your bookbinding journey begin!