Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Shaggy Dog Story

Here's the link to the Plainly Spoken online catalog:
I could not help laughing when I first viewed it. Amid the truly beautiful, technically-exquisite and historically-knowledgeable bindings, mine stands out—as the “shaggy dog” among the purebreds! But I'm happy to be in the company of my betters. One of the exhibitors encouraged me with a gracious comment using the apt phrase, "brawny materials." This was the right opportunity at the right time for me, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Thank you, Midwest Guild.

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Plainly Spoken" on view at University of Kansas

I am excited that this article about the Plainly Spoken exhibit includes a photo of my binding! I wish I could attend the gallery talk this week. .
Another highlight for me this year: I attended my first Guild of Book Workers Standards Seminar, in Washington, DC. I am grateful for the generosity of the Guild in awarding scholarships to several people, including me. One day I will be able to pay it forward.

Friday, October 18, 2013

"Plainly Spoken" Binding

This post will have more text than usual. Here goes!

My husband’s discarded work boots caught my eye last fall. “Wouldn’t this make a great spine-piece!” I thought as I snagged them from the trash. Later, I added his work-stained Levis jeans and a Faded Glory cotton shirt. The Samaritan’s Purse T-Shirt came from his volunteer service in Biloxi, Mississippi, three weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated that area. He and a group of contractors from our church used their carpentry skills to repair blasted homes.
I had ordered BOOKS WILL SPEAK PLAIN, Julia Miller’s history of bindings that reflect their eras, unbound from the author. I couldn’t wait to read it, so I slit the foredges and read the book in sheets.
           This summer, I learned that the Midwest Guild of Book Workers would sponsor “Plainly Spoken,” a juried exhibition of bindings for this book! Here was the motivation I needed to create the binding I had in mind.

            I cut away the sole of the boot and as much of the icky lining as possible. I spread the leather wrong-side-out in the sunlight for days to kill off bacteria and get rid of odor.  When I pared, cut, and sewed the spine, I experienced the full meaning of “tough as an old boot.”

            Then I began the task of tailoring the shirt and jeans to a book. As I worked with the well-made jeans and shirt, I measured and stitched and pulled out threads and snipped 4, 6, and 8 layers from the seams.

            I had no idea what I was getting into (an all-too-common situation for me). I solved problems at each step of the process, which took longer than I ever thought it would. Thank heavens the deadline was extended. I pulled my first all-nighter ever on the final night in order to complete the clamshell box and Fed Ex the book to meet the deadline.

            Throughout the process, I reminded myself, “This is my book. I can do whatever I want!” This binding is made from my husband’s work clothing, honest materials stained and paint-spattered from honest work. The earbuds bring this classic outfit—T-shirt, work shirt, Levis, and leather boots—into the 21st century.

            So now Julia Miller’s wonderful book is truly clothed in the “just the Dress his Century wore.”

            Yesterday, I learned that my binding had been accepted and will travel to five venues over the next year and a half!


Nov 2013 – Jan 2014   Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas. Lawrence, KS
Jan – Apr 2014   University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, MI
Apr – Jul 2014   The Newberry. Chicago, IL
Aug – Nov 2014   University of Iowa. Iowa City, IA
Jan – April 2015   Minnesota Center for the Book. Minneapolis, MN
The earbuds are a visual reference to a “speaking book.” The long single-strand end (tucked into the pocket) doubles as a “ribbon” place marker. (

Shirt fabric is “tucked” into the waistband for the turn-in. The foredge can be buttoned. A bit of T-shirt peeks out from the front cover, as if worn under the shirt.

Jeff Peachey’s paring knife passes the ultimate test.

The drop-spine box is covered in denim cut from the legs of his work jeans.

Classic clothing, stained and paint-spattered from honest work.

My husband sanded the head and tail of the text block. I didn't want to remove all the printer's marks.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Dead Sea Scrolls

     “The Dead Sea Scrolls!” my client exclaimed when I showed him the “before” photograph of Bible pages, shredded from 30 years of use, laid out on my worktable. Then I handed him his mother’s study Bible with the pages restored and resewn, her handwritten notes peeled away from the laminated flyleaf and included in the new endpaper attachment, and a new leather cover with the same look and feel as the original. He paid me for my work, of course, but his amazement and gratitude were also a meaningful part of my compensation.
        Bookbinding, like writing, is a solitary occupation. When I apply sentences to an empty page, hoping they will come to life and reveal something true, I’m thinking and working alone in a room. When I apply Japanese tissue to a torn page, with a pile of damaged pages yet to restore, I experience the same kind of hope.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lincoln’s Devotional

My friend Cathy loves Civil War history. When I found a facsimile of Lincoln’s Devotional* at Wonder Book, it seemed a perfect gift if only I could make a special cover for it. However, I would be seeing her the next day at her home near the Gettysburg battlefield, so I couldn’t do a traditional binding. (I’m no good at all-nighters.) Then I envisioned a battle-weary soldier reading his Bible or devotional book by firelight, the book protected with a rustic scrap of leather. My leather stash had a piece with an untrimmed edge. After refining my design with a paper template, I cut the leather and adhered a paper liner with wheat paste. I wrapped the book first with plastic wrap to prevent moisture migration, then in the slightly-damp leather, and swaddled the whole thing with an elastic bandage overnight. The next morning, the leather had dried and fitted itself to the book. The book’s back cover slips under an inside paper strip and the natural flap slides through two parallel lines cut into the front. The simple binding complements her Civil War re-enactments, and the pages contain the same spiritual truths that Lincoln found.

*The Believer’s Daily Treasure, London: The Religious Tract Society, 1852

Monday, March 11, 2013

James Hayday’s Bible


This 1848 Bible appears to have been left open on a flat surface for years (decades?). The text block was completely broken in half lengthwise, held together only by the cracked leather spine glued directly to the backs of the signatures. As I began the repair process, I told my friend and bookbinding mentor, Linda, “Getting that spine off was like getting bark off a log!” I even emailed my client that the original binder must have intended his work to last for the ages and just didn’t know that his materials would fail.

            I felt I was getting to know the binder through his craftsmanship. During difficult portions of the repair, I assured him I was doing my best to honor his skill. (If you’ve read my previous entries, you know already that I talk out loud while I’m working.) Finally I paid attention to the small gold letters stamped along the bottom edge of the cover pastedown: “Bound by Hayday.” The binder’s biography on Wikipedia confirmed what I had already sensed about him.

            “HAYDAY, JAMES (1796–1872), book-binder, born in London in 1796…. To make the back tight he dispensed with the ordinary backing of paper, and fastened the leather cover down to the back. [Boy did he fasten it.]… Works bound by Hayday became famous, and his name attached to a book raised its value twenty-five per cent…. Unable to compete with other and cheaper binders, he was adjudicated a bankrupt on 10 June 1861.”

            So Mr. Hayday was a craftsman, not a businessman, and apparently didn’t charge enough for time and materials invested. How many of us can relate? You can read the complete entry on Wikipedia or in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 25.

            I can imagine that Mr. Hayday fretted about his business failure. Did he have hope that his work would stand the test of time? All I know is that his craftsmanship remains a palpable presence that spans 165 years, from the time the book left his hands in the mid-19th century till my hands reverse-engineered parts of it in the 21st century.