Tag Archives: bookbinders

The aftermath of a conference

The aftermath of participating at a bookbinding conference is that your participation leaves you exhausted. Apart from all the new information you receive at said conference, you meet new people, make new friends and then proceed to attend the ensuing workshops. Because you can’t really not go learn from international teachers when they are in your home town.

After 5 days of recreating a replica of the St Cuthbert’s gospel with Michael Burke, I traveled to Sydney for another amazing workshop with Dominic Riley.

Personally, a workshop is an opportunity to learn, not to shine. If I knew these techniques already why would I be going? You could say that at any level there is always something new to learn, and that would be true. But unlike tango where I am actually quite proficient, in bookbinding terms, I am an advanced beginner.

Saying that, I can be amazed at the lack of basic binding knowledge in others; or perhaps I am amazed that I know more than I think I do. In fact, this always amazes me.  I wish I had started learning bookbinding in my twenties. I might appear self-confident, but like everyone else, can get drawn in the pits of self doubt.

But. This post is not about workshops; it’s about information.

I am not the neatest in any of these workshops. I work quickly, perhaps too quickly, a result of having worked at the bench repairing books on a schedule. It’s a bit like reading a novel; I want to get to the nitty gritty. I can practise neatness in my own time, just teach me the technique.

Both Dominic and Michael showed us techniques, or tricks you could say, that were so simple, it would make you cry for not having thought of them.

In the St Cuthbert’s, the method of attaching cord under the leather was ingenius (go to my Instagram for pictures)

The corner turn ins with tongues were also so neat. I’d read about them, had tried to replicate them; being shown how to do them was so much easier than reading instructions.

Dominic’s freestyle tool for creating shapes on leather was also very liberating. Worker Number 2 has been working on one for me at home. I had a half made one, after having heard Dominic at the New Zealand conference. Here, under his instructions, I finished it, and it worked. It enabled me to just write letters and make curved lines as I like them.

The image below illustrates two discoveries this last week end:


Freedom and that nothing is truly new.

The yellow book contains the papers of the first conference, held in Canberra in 1984, and which for many Australian binders seems to be a turning point. I’d never had a chance to flick through it. Boy, is it packed with good information. I sat in a restaurant this evening reading all about backpared onlays; I’d heard about them. I had imagined what back paring meant, but here were diagrams dispelling any myths in my head, and giving me a clear picture of what backparing is. (As in paring the leather from the back side – flesh side)

But where are those binders now?

I believe some have passed away. Others like June McNichols and Friedhelm Pohlmann from Queensland still attend any large meeting. Some have disappeared. I am too young in my binding years to have known many of the presenters of that first conference, all the more is the pity, because I would have loved to have met Beryl Bevis, Sun Everard and Heather McPherson, let alone Edgar Mansfield and Hugo Peller.

I was speaking with antiquarian bookseller Paul Feain just this week. He thought that someone should write a book on Australian printers. Maybe a book should be written on Australian binders, fine and trade.

As a trade, binding may be dying, but as an art there are more binders out there than we reckon. Often they work and learn in isolation. Just type “bookbinding” into Google and see what images you get.

Since 1984 there have been 3 conferences, not counting this year’s: one other in Canberra, one in Melbourne and one in New Zealand. Where are the more experienced binders? Where are the old tradies?

Perhaps people no longer want to join a collective. I think there is strength in unity; less re invention of the wheel, so to speak. Maybe we should just have a session at the pub, over a pint, like the folk musicians. The next gathering of binders will be in Sydney. Let’s see who turns up.

For my part,  amongst my many purchases this week, I have this great book;  one that has given me a bit more of a perspective on Australian bookbinding history.


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High tea at Claridges with Hannah Brown, Design Bookbinder

Going to a course is all very well, but I wanted something more out of this trip than simply networking with people with whom I may or may not share interests. From the outset I was determined to meet other bookbinders. Many of the bookbinders I have met in Australia are of the older persuasion; there’s nothing wrong with that, and I know there are younger bookbinders in Australia. I just wanted to meet some young book artists, designers who worked in private practise.

I heard of Hannah Brown through an online article. She had won the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Competition.

I contacted Hannah via email and invited her to High Tea. She had told me that her studio would be in a state of flux by the time of my arrival; I’d never been to High Tea, and neither had she. So upon the advice of some expat friends I booked into Claridges Hotel for a treat and a talk.

I didn’t know what to wear; I wanted to look nice but not too formal; I wanted to be comfy.

I arrived early and was seated towards the back of the room. The service was friendly, but the decor left me a little….underwhelmed. I had expected chic elegance;  it was rather  gaudy for my taste, plush but lacking in finesse. Anyway…

Hannah and I at Claridges High Tea

Hannah arrived and after a few tentative minutes we got on like a house on fire. We talked about ourselves and from where we had come, creatively speaking.  Hannah had a degree in Three Dimensional Crafts, and had come to bookbinding through evening classes. I used to make small wooden boxes, and wanted to leave the saw dust behind and find a more malleable medium. I too went to a vocational course. While Hannah continued to more formal education at The Institute in London, I learned most of my skills on the job.

She had brought samples of her work: a current commission, a small box with inlay and a sampler box, as well as a project journal.

The sampler box was filled with maquettes of her big projects; smaller versions where she tried out her designs. Because I don’t do any binding of my own, it hadn’t occurred to me to do small samplers. In my box making days, any prototypes might have been made out of cardboard. Here Hannah had the whole design mapped out on a smaller card version. When she brought out her project journal I felt very privileged to get a glimpse into a working artist’s mind. As a woodworker I had a diary or journal into which I jotted down ideas to be played with later. Maybe dimensions, ideas for wood, eventualities. In my hand at high tea in Claridges I had the birth of a book’s design right to its completion. Talking with Hannah made me realise how much there still was for me to see, to experience, to do.

For over two hours we chatted over champagne, exquisite sandwiches, scones and cream and cakes, while the tea went cold.

It was simply a lovely experience; to meet with another binder and find out about them as artist and human being. I hope to meet Hannah again should I go back to the UK or should she visit Australia one of these days.


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