Tag Archives: conference

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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New Zealand Book Symposium – Inside Outside

The Association of Book Crafts 2014 Symposium was like a breath of fresh air. The keynote speakers, Julie Chen, Dominic Riley and Michael Burke were funny, interesting and very approachable.

I was asked what I thought about the conference. Interesting was my initial reply. I don’t think that word does it justice. Symposiums of this calibre allow for ideas to be freely exchanged, explored and lack of funding bemoaned.

I gained great vigour of thinking when Lesley Kaiser showed us around her bindery at Auckland University of Technology. I was inspired by her enthusiasm for teaching paper engineering to her design students and that the University had a pretty well equipped bindery.  I could only wish for the same.

Lelsey KaiserHer design students certainly embraced all aspects of paper engineering and basic bookbinding to create wonderful artist books. We were able to see some on display in the foyer:

AUT student work 1

AUT student work 2

The conference proper included a variety of talks on book arts: about letterpress, about conservation, about career decisions. The trade tables were small, but there was a lot of letter press to be examined and bought, much more than at the previous two conferences I had attended.

Australian book artists formed quite a good contingent, and it was delightful to renew acquaintances, as well as meet new bodies.

I am still young in my bookbinding journey; the paper I gave on historical bindings in the National Australian Collection was very well received, and I got some excellent feedback, very useful for my next presentation this year.

Italian endbandsI was very excited to show images of all sorts of interesting historical binding techniques not usually seen by the public.

Comb lining of recycled materialComb linings, often made of recycled materials, are not visible if the book is intact.

Peter Whitehead’s talk on the history of stationery bindings proved to be a good introduction to my own, as we were both speaking on the same era of bookbinding, and he had also done Prof Pickwoad’s course 15 years ealier.

Michael Burke’s introduction to the Nag Hammadi codexes was fascinating and riveting. Discovery, murder and revenge make it all sound like some Agatha Christie plot. His images and explanation of the 13 codexes really made me want to take his workshop in Canberra. However I can’t do everything. Maybe next time.

We had morning teas, lunches and afternoon teas at which to talk, network, exchange ideas and opinions. The NSW Guild  is scheduled for the next gathering; however I don’t think we need to hurry to meet again. Maybe 2016 sounds good for a few more exciting speakers and amazing demos.

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