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On a bookbinding adventure in Pohnpei

I don’t “do” tourism very well; I can’t lie still on a beach for more than a few minutes. Four of us had decided earlier in the year to visit our friend on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei. As the time approach, I wondered how I would amuse myself for 2 whole weeks.

 

I can tell you now that I re filed over 10 000 photos of ornaments and initials. That took up a bit of time.

We knew that the island would be small, and that our movements would be limited. So when a colleague from work reported that there was a library on the island, it occurred to me that I might be able to teach bookbinding on my off-excursion days.

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I sent my CV and bookbinding workshop proposal to the Pohnpei Public Library (PPL), and with a bit of help from the Australian Consulate,  three morning workshops began to take shape. I had also visited their website and found that they had a wish list of books to complement their holdings. So the girls and I decided to bring a few kilos of Australian children’s and youth fiction with us.

I had hoped that teenagers or children might be involved, but I had not reckoned on how the island works. Let me say here that this blog is not so much about the bookbinding aspect as it is of  social ramifications of a visiting teacher might engender in a small community.

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This is Lester Ezekias, the director of the PPL. He contacted his local librarians group, the equivalent of ALIA in Australia,  in the hopes of creating interest. Even on the Friday before the start of the workshops, he was emailing people to gauge interest.

Things on the island work by word of mouth or social media. Therefore on the first day we had 6 people who didn’t know what to expect. IT was lucky that Lester had attended a previous book repair workshop as he had bone folders and a few bits and pieces that were to come in very handy.

I’d come prepared with electronic notes and a presentation, but not the correct hardware. On that first day we had to crowd around my laptop to view some power points. I had made up small shows about the various different exhibitions, of Pacific and Islander material, that I had chanced upon during the year. One was a visit to the Museum of New Caledonia, compact exhibition space, but full of interesting information and artifacts relating to Kanaka culture as well as Pacific cultures in general. Another was a glimpse at the Tapa exhibition at the National Library of Australia, where the conservators had cleverly used camouflaged magnets to hold up a long tapa cloth.

And of course, a power point on a very brief history of the book in images.

My friend Kath, we whom we were staying, saved the week by providing her laptop and hardware to connect to the big screen. And as we bound books and had morning tea, the shows ran on a loop. But enough of electronic things, let’s get back to the meat of things, learning bookbinding.

Waiting for students, and Kath and Lesley helping out on the first day

I introduced the students to the wonderful uses of the telephone book and the versatility of pamphlet sewing.

At the end of the first session everyone had a few small booklets.

Bush telegraph and the next session was full; librarians from public schools and the Micronesian community college turned up to learn how to make simple housing. Wallet, four flap folders, phase box, using material locally available.

 

By the third session we were overfull; but no matter I was happy to share my knowledge with those I hope would be sharing this , in turn, with their students.

On the third and final session we made sewn board bindings. Everyone happened to be skilled at sewing, even the men. What pleasure to see surprise and smiling faces at the end of the day, book in hand, students marvel at the immediacy of the result and at having gained an understanding about the construction of books.

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My friend Lesley H. had been my assistant throughout, and for a complete novice she was a great help to others.

I have to thanks Kath Grant for her invaluable insights, as well as for inviting us for a visit. Thanks also to Lester Ezequiel for his unfailling support and to his staff who were completely in the moment, in between answering phones, checking out books to patrons and helping with passport applications.

On our penultimate day the four of us trouped over to the library to donate Australian books we had brought with us.

img_9039I think that carrying 20 kilos of books was very worthwhile.

The whole experience was all about the people; how we interacted, how different cultural views can be, how adaptable humans can be.

Perhaps I hope to go back and teach again.

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Different books for different nooks

In this post I will not talk about my own book(s). Neither will this be a book review, however it was prompted by my latest purchase. Through a Facebook post I was alerted to Karen Hanmer’s latest publication, Contemporary Paper Bindings: A guide to bookbinding techniques, tools and materials, available via print on demand at Lulu.com.

I’m a bit fussy about the sorts of books I buy. I know some binders just purchase anything that comes out so as to have a reference library, others just borrow books when they like. Two ends of the scale.

I’m a visual sort of learner; I like pretty pictures, especially in colour. Too much text and I get lost; not enough text and I get lost.

I also like to try before purchasing. So if I see a great book at the library, I am more likely to buy it than by browsing online. I’ve been caught out a few times not quite getting what I expected.

Anyhoo. Different types of books serve my different purposes. For example I have many books which are visual galleries.

 

books where i get ideas

Penland book of handmade books, making handmade books, 500 handmade books

I use these as a source of inspiration. Perhaps I do a bit of technique research.

As reference books, I stray from the path and have books on collectors, the history of reading, calligraphy and so on. I think these also bring me ideas for creating books. Newsletters are always a great source of information. They send me to various places online, maybe where I wouldn’t think of searching.

Lastly I have books from which I learn, and from which I now get ideas for teaching.

The Bonefolder eMagazine was brought to my attention by print maker and artist Dianne Fogwell.  I loved it so much I downloaded the PDFs and bound them, experimenting with bindings as I went along. They are not great books, but I made three differnet types: case binding, laced in binding and a split board binding, with sewn endbands and some edge decoration.

I once was a young woodworker, and specialized in boxes. When I found Zeier’s Books, Boxes and Portfolios I was in heaven. It has great diagrams on how to make the boxes and cut the material for the covering. Constructing and covering boxes is also a great book for cardboard box makers.

And we get to Arthur Johnson’s Bookbinding. I love it. I recommend it to all my students because he wrote really precise instructions, as well as examined a whole range of binding styles in a very simple way.

And lastly we are approaching the books from which I learned:

The books from which I first learned the craft

When I think back to my early days and reading the instructions in these books, I remember that I just couldn’t understand some of the instructions. This is when I decided to actually enrol in a class because I needed someone to explain stuff to me. Neale Wootton gave me those class notes in 2006, and they  form the basis of my current class notes.

The notes I got in my first ever class

As a teacher what do I really need to get across to students? paper grain would be a pretty important subject. So my notes are a combination of instructions from my own head with diagrams taken from books I love (and acknowledge). I get beginner students to bind their own notes and to bind J. Kay’s  Beginner and Advanced Bookbinding as well. the problem with that is that the students can’t actually use their own notes because they are too busy constructing a book. What I do like is that there is always a product they can take home at the end of a week (or two)

But what started this post was Karen Hanmer’s new book. It is terrific. So let me just stray for a minute on other books that have come my way. On the left is Silvia Ramos Alotta’s Exquisite Notes, which is a fully visual book, one of it’s kind. It takes the reader through about ten projects from beginner to advanced. It’s diagrams are very good. It has no written instructions. If you are a completely visual learner then you could learn quite a few techniques. This book is suitable for beginners and intermediates alike.

Kathy Abbott’s Bookbinding a step by step guide is also good for various levels of binders.

Jen Linsday’s  Fine Bookbinding is complex. I think this is not a book for beginners. In fact, it is suitable for middle intermediate binders because prior learning is needed to understand the instructions. As an intermediate binder,  I did have some difficulties understanding the instructions because there was too much text for me.

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I don’t teach anything I can’t do well. I don’t believe that 5 minutes of training allows you to teach, which is what you get with YouTube. I probably know more than I think; but there is so much more going on out in the world. This is why the Bonefolder was such a great resource. And bookbinding is a life long learning journey, so there is much more waiting for me out there.

ABC of bookbinding -Jane Greenfield

I love all of Jane Greenfield’s books. Her ABC of Bookbinding has helped me write my own book on bindings. But it is her Headbands and how to sew them, that is one of my bibles. I love sewing endbands; I can’t see the point of using machine made ones, and there is something Zen about the actions of making the endbands. Jane’s book show you a multitude of ways to decorate your head and tail.’

So Karen’s book is my ideal beginner student handbook. It has a good balance of photos ( B& W)and text.  It should be required reading for anyone learning the basics. If I could get CIT to pay for it I would, but funds being low I will just encourage the students to get it on print on demand. I think that all levels of binders would benefit from this book.

 

 

 

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Filed under bookbinding, conservation, libraries

A year of teaching

The end of the school year is looming; this week is my last class at CIT (Canberra Institute of Technology). I inherited a class of my very own at the beginning of the year. How lucky am I?

Neale had actually thrown me in the deep end last year when he suggested to the vocational course co-ordinator from tech that I could so some casual replacements. Neale, colleague and mentor, was my first teacher in 2006. I’m still a newbie myself and so it was with some trepidation that I did a few replacements for Sally, and when she decided to hang up her bonefolder, the college offered me the job.

My inheritance included messy cupboards full of half finished work from bygone students, some sad looking brushes and glue pots and a jumble of papers and book cloth. This space is shared with the screen printers, and more often than not there is ink left on the tables.

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Cleaned out cupboards

Every Thursday Bookcraft services experienced binders who come in to do their own projects and beginners who come bright eyed to discover how a book is made. It’s been going for years, and has more or less remained in the same format. Unfortunately we are now in separate rooms and the newcomers don’t get the benefit of watching the more experienced binders at work.

I’m new, keen and have a plan. Actually, it’s Neale’s plan; I basically devised an eight week course that mirrored what he taught me. I had found his teaching schedule useful and great because it took me slowly from the basics, like finding theIMG_0548 grain of cloth and paper to making a book of my very own, like a bought one.

In my first class I inherited 2 new students. I simply continued from where they had started; the next term I had a full class of 7 plus more return students. My class plans aimed to get the students to go home with a finished product at the end of every week. The tasks get progressively harder, building on skills learned the previous week.

I love teaching beginners; I love showing them basics ways of making a book, of sewing a few folios together and getting something worthwhile.

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Throughout the year I get a different bunch of students; I teach them a bunch of stuff from my plan; I hone down the teaching palaber until I find the correct words, the words that they will understand, that will make them do the task more easily. Teaching makes me better understand what I am doing.

Mostly I enjoy meeting new and different personalities. I try to remember their names; I think the more new people you meet, the easier it becomes. Bookbinding attracts a certain type of person: not so much fussy as patient and who pays attention to detail. Some people have more hand dexterity than others; some are more artistically inclined.

I’ve learned that I can’t push the students too fast; they will work at their own pace and the class plan seems to grow organically. IMG_0550

Alf waiting for his book

Historically bookbinding was a man’s trade. Now it seems this art is, in this country at least and in my classes, dominated by women. We’d like to have more men, I think it changes the dynamic. Ultimately though, the tasks at hand make us silent. There’ll be a brief flurry of conversation, and before concentration takes over once more. Cheese is de rigueur at teatime. Here we gather with the more experienced clan: Peter and Helen reminisce over the good old days with Neale, and I talk about the future. Over cheese and a cup of tea we find out how each of us came to binding, what makes us tick.

I have further plans for this course. I’d like to start a continuing class on another day, where I would have the occasional guest teacher showing them something wonderful. I would like to make an excursion to the Canberra Bookbinders Guild (who meet on Thursdays!). I don’t want to keep just teaching beginners because I know I will reach a saturation point; if I see that they are heading in a direction, that there is a better goal for them to achieve, then we will have more and better skilled bookbinders and the art won’t die. The powers that be just need to give me a classroom.

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