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.