Interview with Hannah Brown Part II – Techniton Politeia


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Welcome back for the second part of this interview with Hannah Brown.

If you missed the first part you can read it here.

What is the first thing you observe when you examine a binding made by someone else and why?

Definitely the overall visual aesthetic of the design and how it works across the covers, as well as how the design concept is carried through to the doublures and endpapers, plus the edges and the box. As I have never had any formal bookbinding tuition (I have learnt through observing, doing and partaking in short courses) my forte has always been the design of a book cover – it is just now that I feel my forwarding skills are catching up! The designs of my book covers are often quite literal, so I really admire binders that work well conceptually or in an abstract manner as that is very different to how my mind works.

On a similar note, which is according to you the most important aspect of a good forwarding and which of a good finishing?

Having learnt through doing, I have made mistakes along the way with some of my fine bindings and have endeavored to rectify these in each proceeding binding. For example, not quite adding enough paper layers and infills on the inside of the boards before the doublures get stuck down and seeing bumps underneath is a past nightmare of mine! Or not-quite-square squares!

I think attention to detail is absolutely key in both good forwarding and finishing. I have always been told that you have to perfect every step of the way with your forwarding as every mistake made will be magnified as you continue through the process. I have learnt from having my work critiqued on a number of occasions how small adjustments can make what would otherwise be a mediocre binding a fantastic one. When it comes to finishing it is also important to know when to stop too – a trap I often find myself falling in to!

I would like to focus on two aspects of your bindings: endpapers and bookcases.
You favor a particular style of wooden box with lid. Could you explain why is this your choice over the more “bookbind-y” ones, say a leather/cloth slipcase with chemise or a clamshell box?

During my time working at the Victoria and Albert Museum I spent all my time in the workshop making mounts for a huge variety of objects. These were made from a variety of materials including steel, brass, perspex and wood. I was surrounded by some very talented colleagues (everyone in my department seemed to have a crafty sideline of some description!). One particular colleague of mine was a brilliant woodworker and held a keen interest in my work so we often used to talk about options for boxes. He taught me how to work wood with the equipment we had in the workshop to make impressive boxes for my bindings and the habit stuck.

I love the way that the wooden boxes can become an extension of the binding and I think the look and feel of wood is wonderful so that would always be my preferred option to offer clients. I have the ability to make more “bookbind-y” ones though, just little need to do so! I always order pre-made cardboard conservation boxes to house the wooden boxes in for extra protection too on bookshelves.

Your endpapers really stand out by always being imaginative and an integral part of the design, while the cases appear as a discreet extension of it. There’s also often a playful attitude when it comes to both, as if they veer a bit off the strict planning required by your elaborate designs, lending themselves to various experimentations (f.e. feather painting in “British Birds”) or quirky little details (f.e. the bird figures in “Fables of Aesop”). Do you view them in this scope as well? Tell us a bit about them.

Yes I do! What I love about the whole bookbinding process is the amount of design scope a book allows you to have. Not only are you decorating the covers but you have the endpapers, doublures, text block edges and container to play around with too – it is a truly three dimensional object. To date all of the bindings I have made have had paper doublures, I have never chanced leather ones but that is on my list of things to try! I would love to learn some more print-making techniques to adorn my endpapers with, there are endless possibilities.

I find that I usually have to think about the endpapers design first as this has to be finalised before the book can be forwarded. The endpapers have to be made up and sewn to the text block before it can be rounded and backed etc. so they need to be completed early on in the process. I think the most complicated endpaper design I have attempted to far was the ones I did for “The Fables Of Aesop”. The reason for this is that I wanted to print a net that ran across from the front to the back endpaper, across the front edge of the text block, so this had to be meticulously planned so that it would all line up which was rather a headache!

Let’s get a bit dramatic: a major apocalyptic event or socio-historical period looms heavy upon humanity and threatens to -god forbid!- erase all your work. If you could only save 3 of your bindings, which would those be and why?

That is a very tricky question! If I had to choose I think I would go for the following:

The Fables of Aesops
I absolutely loved working on this binding. It was to a tight deadline as it was for the Designer Bookbinders 2017 International Competition on the themes of “Myths, Heroes and Legends”. I was doomed from the start having typed the wrong postcode down on the website I ordered it from so the text block went missing for a while – argh! I remember taking the partly embroidered leather and all my threads on a family holiday with me to France and sitting under the sun umbrella sewing away trying to get it done in time for the deadline soon after our return.

(Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!)

What I loved about this binding was the scope for the design. Given the number of fables to choose from I couldn’t just focus on one which is when I came up with the idea of choosing six, one for each of the following: front cover, back cover, front doublure, back doublure, the endpapers/front edge and the box. I had at the time been coveting someone’s work on Instagram (@paperandwood_ ), and this inspired me to make some little three dimensional birds to accompany the book. They were carved out of tulip wood before being painted then I added paper and gold feathers and little brass eyes.

I decided I needed to make these birds removable (I mean, it wouldn’t have been practical to actually read a book with little birds permanently sat on the top book board edges!) so I devised a way to add rods into the lamination of the book boards so that a pin on the bottom of each of the birds could be slid in to stand them up for display. I also had a lot of fun making the container for this one adding a removable row of “perches” for the three birds to sit on!

All in all this was a total delight to work on, from the heavily embroidered wings on the cover to the edge decoration that I had to match up with the endpapers (as mentioned in a previous answer) this binding had many challenges to overcome.

(Upper binding made in 2016 and lower in 2012)

Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden
It is a bit of a cheat to choose this one as I get two for the price of one having made two versions of this binding! It is rare for me to repeat a design (and I only did so with the permission of the owner of the first of the two bindings) and did so using a different variety of coloured leathers. In fact this was another binding that I did for a competition, in this case is was for the Designer Bookbinders 2013 International Competition on the themes of “Shakespeare”. I love flowers and purely for that reason alone I would like to save these two!

The Somme: An Eyewitness History
I think I would have to save my first ever design binding! In fact, this is the only binding I still have in my possession. There is so much wrong with it but I had no inhibitions in those early days of learning how to bind a book and just did what I thought I should do! I love looking at this binding to remind myself how far I have come since 2007. It was this binding that I was working on whilst I did a gold tooling course at City Lit in London with Tracey Rowledge. It was she who suggested I made sample boards to practice on so this binding will forever be the first sample board in my series!

Concerning Kelmscott Chaucer.

Before getting to the question I would like to take a moment and thank you for painstakingly documenting and chronicling the creative process behind this binding. To read how it came to be is almost as enjoyable as seeing the finished book, perhaps even more so; instead of just introducing us to your binding “child” you take us through its entire childhood step by step, sharing the techniques you used and the challenges you faced, the meticulousness and care you devoted to every detail.
  It’s ironic how bookbinding is one of the most ancient crafts, and with such an important goal, and yet there are so few documentaries or articles about the  process and its artisans in the public sphere. I certainly hope that you’ll keep sharing your work in this way and perhaps encourage more binders to do so.

So, to put it in your words: “The commission of a lifetime!“. Your 8-part post (links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) is a fascinating read I’d recommend to anyone, bookbinding-savy or not!

How is Chaucer different from the rest of your bindings?

When I was asked to take on this commission I was rather dumbstruck, how could I possibly do justice to the inner wonders of William Morris? I admit I was a bit worried, knowing that this text block had quite a value to it before I took it apart elevated it to a level of book I had not worked on before. The provenance of this actual copy had been traced back to 1934 – never before have I known such history of book I have worked on. This was all documented in the “The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census” by William and Sylvia Petersen.
Also, they are rare and there are not many available for rebinding so it was an honour to be chosen for this commission.

I always try and do as much research as possible ahead of working on commissions, in this case I read up about the Kelmscott Press, visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and arranged to view some Morris objects at the V&A Museum. The prestige of this binding however made it different to the rest. I was really lucky to see two of the pigskin bindings, bound by the Doves bindery during a trip to the Wormsley Library. This was very timely as I hadn’t yet received my copy so was able to get a sense of the scale and grandeur of the book beforehand.

It was also rather humbling to think that William Morris had likely thumbed his way through the pages of this and all of the other copies that were printed – I hope he would have approved of the binding I did on it!

In which ways has it helped you to evolve as an artisan?

I was genuinely proud of the binding I did for this book. My initial reservations about the size of the binding and how I would forward the text block were overcome and I am very pleased to have added this binding to my sample board collection! Looking back at all my previous bindings this has probably been the one with the most “rigid” design but that is what I felt would work best to try and do this book justice.

And, now that a year has passed and the dust has settled, tells us which things have stayed with you from its making?

The grandeur of the book lent itself to a grand design. If I were to bind this book over again would I change anything – probably not! The design evolved along the way and I was really pleased with how the different floral and butterfly elements all came together. During the making process, after hours and hours of sewing, I definitely thought to myself, “why did I decide to do it like this again?!” and my fingers were very sore but this was a small price to pay to create such an elaborate work.

To wrap things up: what is that you’re most proud of after 15 years of bookbinding?

The thing I am most proud of is the way I have developed my bookbinding work to the point I am now a self-employed bookbinder. What started off as a hobby has become a career, albeit I do it alongside many other things. The fact that I have recognition within the world of bookbinding and have managed to form a “house style” to the point that my bindings can be singled out as a “Hannah Brown” binding is very satisfying.

Having never formally trained as a bookbinder I am also proud that I have overcome my lack of forwarding knowledge and have developed a way of working that suits me. I still have so much to learn but I am getting by with what I already know.

And if you could enter a time machine, meet yourself back in 2004 and manage to avoid the time-paradox, what advice would you offer Hannah based on your experience so far?

Just to be confident in what you are doing and learn from your mistakes. I would encourage myself to share my work as I have had such a positive response from doing so. I would also probably say don’t underestimate how long it takes to bind a book and don’t set yourself unrealistic deadlines!

I would like to thank Hannah for taking the time to share her story, bookbinding insight and of course her work with us through this interview.

Be sure to check Hannah’s site:
and most importantly her blog:
where she chronicles in depth the creative process behind each binding.

If you enjoyed reading this I’d invite you to have a look at the blog section for Techniton Politeia, where you can find more interviews.
Till next time!

Interview with Hannah Brown Part I – Techniton Politeia


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Welcome to another Techniton Politeia interview. This time we have an interesting talk with bookbinder Hannah Brown.

This is an extensive interview and will be divided in two parts. This is part I.

Hannah graduated with a BA (Hons) in Three Dimensional Crafts from Brighton University in 2004 and began studying Bookbinding during evening classes at Brighton University the same year. She won first prize in the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Competition and was also awarded the Mansfield Medal for best book in the same competition. She has since won the same competition twice in both 2011 and 2013 and has also won two Distinguished winner awards in the Designer Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition in both 2013 and 2017.

She specialises in fine bookbinding and other bespoke commissioned works with a particular focus on embroidery on leather. She works with a variety of materials and objects, creating unique and hand-crafted pieces from scratch from her home studio in Somerset.

Undeniably, Hannah’s work is instantly recognizable. One could assume it’s because of her lavish designs, executed with painstaking attention to detail – and that would certainly be true to a great extent. However, a closer look reveals another reason that makes her bindings truly stand out: the immensely imaginative use of a thing as small and simple as a colored thread…

Lets unravel it slowly together with Hannah to see how it all comes together…

Whenever I happen to see a binding with embroidery, even if it’s used to a much lesser extent compared to your work, the first thing that comes to mind is Hannah Brown. This might certainly be unfair to those fellow binders but it goes to show how much of a statement your bindings make through this distinctive element; One could perhaps even go as far as to call it your trademark.

So, why embroidery?

From the very first fine binding I worked on (my entry for the 2007 Designer Bookbinders Competition, ‘The Somme: An Eyewitness History’) I introduced embroidery. For this first binding it was just a simple red line that I embroidered through the covering leather with my sewing machine. In fact, this wasn’t a decision made because I wanted the “look” of an embroidered line, simply because I didn’t at that point know how else to apply colour to the surface! What began as a single red line on that first binding has indeed developed into a an identifier for my work, I can’t think of one binding I have done without any on it.

(Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!)

Where lies the origin of your passion about it?

I studied at Brighton University and did a BA (Hons) Three Dimensional Crafts, this was nicknamed “WMCP” standing for “Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics”. Over the three years of the course we were taught techniques for how to work in all of these materials. I specialised in Ceramics and Metals in my final year and went on to make jewellery for my degree show. Throughout my degree I remember always wanting to find new ways of adding alternative textural qualities to what I was making. For example, planning ahead through the making process I would pierce holes through the wet clay before firing with a view to weaving threads through these when finalising the piece. I could then add extra colour and patterns in addition to the glazes.

How did you decide to combine it with bookbinding?

I guess I have subconsciously always liked adding threads to what I make and to me, with bookbinding, it was a natural choice to sew through the leather to create a design and add details before covering the text block.

On the same topic, I admittedly haven’t seen many binders use embroidery on their work, even more so on a regular basis.
Why do you think it’s so?

It is hard to say, to me it came naturally however it is very time consuming so perhaps that puts people off. The majority of my time is spent working on the leather before it gets stuck to the text block so there is a lot riding on the covering process, it can be nerve wrecking!

Perhaps embroidery is seen to be quite vulnerable on book covers. In all my time doing it I have developed ways to try and make it more durable.

Also, throughout all the bookbinding teaching I have done to date it generally seems to be females interested in the embroidery side of things!

Which would you say are the difficulties involved in adorning one’s work this way and what would you suggest to fellow binders interested in trying it?

There are definitely some difficulties with this technique, as follows:

Depending on the extent of the embroidery work it is a very time consuming process. There are ways of speeding up the process, for example if I am working on a design with lots of linear detail I do all of this using my sewing machine and then hand-whip over these lines by hand.

You need to consider how the book it going to be handled. You don’t want the threads to be loose and able to catch easily on anything. I take care to loop down any long threads and take extra care when I have embroidery across the board joints (I tend to try and avoid this but it is not always possible with some designs). You also have to be careful not to pull too hard on threads whilst sewing as it is always possible to pull through the leather if your holes are very close to one another.

If using a sewing machine you have to be careful not to make the holes too big and perforate the leather. For example, I always get asked whether I use a leather needle in my sewing machine (one that has a triangular point at the end) but I don’t. I have never found this necessary, perhaps because leather that is prepared for bookbinding purposes is soft enough not to need a needle such as this to get through it. I feel that these needles pierce too large a hole in the leather and can look unsightly. If using a sewing machine it is advisable to do some test runs on scrap leather first, the feet on some machines can leave marks on the surface of the leather which you probably don’t want!

It is tough on the fingers! I usually pre-prick holes in the leather through a template – partly so I know where I need to sew the threads and also so that the leather is already pierced before trying to push the needle through the leather with my fingers. I have never worked with a thimble before (another question I regularly get asked) but would probably recommend this to anyone starting out as it is also very easy to prick the end of your fingers.

” Throughout the whole process of working on the onlays I had to be pretty organised and keep them all separate so used zip-lock bags to hold the images of each flower along with the leathers used for each, plus the chosen embroidery threads. “
” I developed different ways of holding the leather to make it possible to get to the areas I wanted to sew through. “
The above quotes are just a few of many illustrating how experimentation and problem-solving are a big part of your work.
Do you simply go for what you have in mind and challenges come out of the blue as you work or do you intentionally choose to try things that will present you with a challenge?

I would say I go for what I have in mind and challenges come out of the blue as I work. I have an idea in my head of how I hope the end result will look and I overcome the challenges that appear during the process. The good thing about the way I work is if, for example, the piece of leather that I find has a natural mark somewhere on it that I don’t want to be visible I can generally work the design so that it is covered in some way with onlays or embroidery. As I make a sample board for each of my fine bindings, this is a great opportunity to test out design elements and techniques in advance ahead of doing them directly on the binding so that helps a lot. On a couple of occasions I have made up small maquettes of books too to test out structures in advance, all this pre-planning can help to make the whole binding process happen more smoothly.

Is it always a thrill, or can it turn into a thriller too?

Ha! I haven’t really thought of it like that before. The only thriller moments are really time constraints. I often find I am pushed for time at the end of the making process, working to a deadline for a competition entry or exhibition submission can be stressful. So in that respect it is not always a thrill!

And lastly, given that everything we see from you is amazing, would you mind sharing a “failure”? An idea, big or small, that you really wanted to do at some point, tried a lot, but couldn’t make it work.

To be honest I haven’t yet had the time to be experimental enough to have anything I would class as a failure! Time is very tight as I am doing my binding work alongside having two young children, keeping on top of housework, correspondence, plus I do two roles for Designer Bookbinders. I have many many projects in my head that I would love to try out, these may become failures when I get a chance to work on them. Top of my list is trying out a binding with wooden boards, I think this will be a difficult task to work out to maintain the aesthetics of the embroidery I do on leather bindings, this may therefore lead me in a very different direction with my work which could be very exciting.

I would like to turn the spotlight to blogging for a moment.

 To speak for my part, blogging has been really important: it has kept me active and focused, it allowed me to showcase my work to people from all around the world and has contributed a great deal in my livelihood.
Blogging has also other, less personal but perhaps equally substantial, benefits as well: it raises public awareness for our craft, it helps bookbinding enthusiasts in many ways and brings new people in the community. Furthermore, by being able to see each other’s work we discover new techniques and ideas as well as solutions to shared difficulties.
All that said, upon stumbling on an informative and helpful post it’s often easy to overlook the fact that blogging requires work – a lot of it!

 Your posts always include an impressive amount of high-res photos and details about the binding process. To be honest I can’t think of many blogs out there on par with your thoroughness when it comes to bookbinding! 
Could you share a few words on why/how you began blogging and some “behind the scenes” of a post?

I am always very pleased to hear that people actual read my blog posts(!). In fact, I didn’t set out to write a post about each of my bindings, it just naturally morphed into that. The reason I initially started writing a blog is that my husband and I moved to the South of France for 18 months in 2014. We did a house swap with a couple and spent one and a half years living in their converted farmhouse in Provence. I mainly started the blog to document our time there so our friends and family could read about what we were doing, it was so idyllic and I have fond memories of our time there.

What started off with posts about nighttime frog choruses, vintage tractor fairs and sunflower fields has now become a step-by-step guide of my making process. I have no idea whether I would have thought to write up about my bindings if I hadn’t started a platform writing about our life swap – perhaps this was a happy accident! The feedback I have had about my posts has been brilliant so that also spurs me to carry on with it, I don’t believe in keeping any of my techniques a secret and I am pleased to hear that reading about my making process has inspired some binders to try out new things.

Obviously the most key thing when it comes to blog writing is to take as many photos as possible. It is so very easy these days as my phone usually sits on my work desk however I do often forget to take photos at key moments, plus more often than not I need two hands to do certain steps with no third hand to take a photo so some steps go undocumented.

I must admit, my computer is in disarray and really needs to be sorted out. I have two young girls so half of the photos on my desktop are of them, the other half work! The photos I take on my phone automatically sync onto my computer and I periodically sort the relevant images for my blog posts into a labelled folder on my computer. I then work through them and discard images that I don’t feel are relevant or are bad quality. Next I edit each of the making photos in Photoshop (cropping, brightening, resizing etc) and give them file names and numbers so I know what each photo is and to get them into the right order.

Once the binding is complete I take photographs of the finished book and add these to the folder once they have been edited. I am then ready to upload the photos onto my blog site and draft the text in line with the images. It is often the case that when writing out the process I need to backtrack and take a photo of something I have forgotten (for example an image of the design drawing or the sample board) so that gets added later.

Hannah’s sample boards: she makes one for each of her fine bindings to test the design ideas.
Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!

It is a labor of love. From the very beginning of my bookbinding career I got into the habit of making my sample boards for each binding and now I am also into the habit of writing up about each project, to the point I feel I can’t miss a binding any more! I do however think I will be eternally grateful to myself to keep it up, this is an invaluable tool to me to remember tips and tricks for future work. At present my blog posts are held on a separate Tumblr site, my website is in desperate need of an upgrade as I have completely outgrown it. As and when this happens I will have a dedicated blog section on my new site.

Both of your sites showcase wonderful design bindings and the creative process behind them. Does this amount to a 100% of your work, or is your bench also occupied by more humble binding tasks?

I am lucky that my practical time is largely filled with fine binding tasks. I would say 70% of the time spent in my workspace is spent doing fine bindings. The other 30% is administrative work, blog writing, prepping for teaching etc. But this fluctuates week on week depending on the projects I have on at the time.

In case of the former, was this your goal from the beginning or something that came along the way and how?

When I began bookbinding it was only ever as a hobby, I was doing it alongside full-time employment at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a Mount-making Technician. Initially was just doing speculative pieces for myself or bindings for competitions. I didn’t at the time imagine I would ever become a self-employed bookbinder, or for that matter that the majority of my time would be dedicated to making fine bindings.

When I won the Mansfield Medal for Best Binding in the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition was a turning point, the binding sold as a result of being exhibited in the competition exhibition and I took on my first commission as a result of it. Through becoming a Licenciate of Designer Bookbinders and exhibiting with them raised my profile and led to more work.

In case of the latter would you share a few examples of simpler projects?

As mentioned above, as the majority of my time is spent working on fine bindings there is little time for simpler projects. I have however recently branched out and taken on some alternative work that is slightly out of my comfort zone. This includes making some cloth-covered bindings for a fashion company however I have been commissioned to do these as they wish to have embroidered elements on the front of them – there is no escaping it!

At this point we reach the end of part I.
You can read part II here.

Be sure to check back next week for part II where Hannah and I talk about her favorite bindings, her views on what makes a good forwarding & finishing, her magnum opus Chaucer’s Works and more!

In the meantime you can have a look at Hannah’s site and -most importantly- her blog where she chronicles in depth the creative process behind each binding.


Board Shear (Finally!) – And tips on restoring one


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After 10 years of working as a bookbinder I finally got me a board shear! Ain’t she a beauty?
(correct answer: Yes, yes she is.)

It’s been a long time needed. Sure, after so much practice with an olfa cutter I can practically split atoms in a straight line or a perfect 90 degree angle, but it can get a bit tiring spending many hours per week hand-cutting boards and what have you when it could take seconds, be effortless, accurate and instantly repeatable.

I really got that “I need a board shear in my life” feeling particularly whenever I had to make laminated boards;  which is often, and they feature 3 layers… For what is more cutting things straight by hand is a struggle, especially if it involves many small pieces that must fit together accurately. The clamshell boxes I’ve made in the past 2 years constantly pointed to this essential piece of equipment missing from the bindery.

Fortunately I became the owner of this lovely shear (thank you A. for prompting me to go ahead with the purchase despite the change in circumstances) a very hot summer day couple of weeks ago.

Bringing it to the bindery, and since it was already in pieces (my bindery is a basement so we had to disassemble it to get it in), it was thought best to give it a good cleaning: after all  I’d only have to do this once and it would accentuate the fact the shear has a new home.
Upon removing some of the old paint though, which turned to be 50% paint – 50% solidified grime, I discovered to my dismay there was rust underneath several places. I couldn’t just clean it a bit, paint it and call it a day – didn’t feel right for something that may accompany me for a lifetime.

So I went all the way: I removed each and every piece to the smallest bolt and flange; I removed the old paint almost entirely until I was left with the bare cast iron; I removed all the rust I could and converted with chemicals what was left in hard to reach places; And finally I repainted everything, double coating exposed pieces or large surfaces.

I must say, in all modesty, that the process bestowed great wisdom -and several muscle strains- upon me, so I’d like to provide a few tips, equal parts of advice and warning, for those brave, optimistic, or unlucky enough to restore a shear on their own.
To own one in need of restoration I assume you live some place without a supplier properly set up to offer or arrange this (my case), or you bought one cheaply enough to not be deterred from its state.

Here’s my tips on the restoration of a board shear.

Don’t do it!
Seriously don’t. Pay someone else to do it for you instead – that is of course if you can afford it. Professionals will do a much better and thorough job by sand blasting, repairing (if needed) and then electrostatic-coating your shear and save you from a lot of trouble as well.
Is that doubt I sense forming in your mind? Keep reading then…

There will be Dust.
There’s dust and then there’s Dust. Like when you sand some board corner to smooth it out and cough a little compared to everything being black because of paint and rust particles having ingrained themselves so deeply in your skin pores that you feel them clogging your soul.

Here are a few pictures to understand what I’m talking about. And this is nothing compared to the whole picture: there was dust stuck on the ceiling, and pretty much everywhere, and it took me 2 full days of scrubbing and cleaning to get the bindery back to a decent state.

If you somehow still want/have to go ahead and remove the old paint and rust then absolutely do this OUTSIDE. If that’s not an option then use some small room/space where you can separate the board shear from the rest of the bindery. If such a space is available but not in your bindery it’s still worth it to clean the shear there and go through the trouble of moving it two times.

If that’s not an option either then carefully isolate the board shear using plastic sheets. Be-VERY-thorough, I cannot stress this enough: make Dexter look sloppy with his covering.

A few additional tips regarding the plastic sheets:
– Use thick ones for the floor, you’ll thank me later. I did, but unfortunately not for the entire “restoration area”.
– Make sure there are no gaps where the plastic sheets hang from the ceiling or touch the floor.
The sheets should overlap at some points: that way they part easily when you have to move in/out and prevent dust from escaping by naturally adhering one to another by static charge.
– Don’t neglect to cover the ceiling with plastic sheets too. I did: some 6-8 hours of ceiling scrubbing can really make you ponder on your life choices…

Even doing all the above will not ensure the absence of dust outside the secluded space. Moving about will also unavoidably carry a lot of it on the floor.

It still costs
Even though it will be much cheaper compared to a full professional restoration, doing it yourself is not exactly cheap: I had to spend about 150 euros (approx 165$) for lots of sandpaper rolls in a few different grits, several wire and scotch brushes for the sanders, paint, disposable latex gloves and several pairs of nitrile gloves, rust converter fluid, brushes, plastic sheets, scraping chisels, mineral spirits, WD-40 cans, sponges and scotch cloth, surgeons masks, plastic masks and a few other things I don’t currently recall.

Keep in mind that I already own two different types of sanders, a very handy drill and a workhorse of a jewelry polishing machine capable of some hard work, all of which proved useful.

It’s hard work
I’m not talking about the ability to do something tiring for hours on end – which you will. I’m referring to doing something very tiring with the added bonuses of breathing and being covered in dust, holding a sander in place that violently shakes your arms every other second when it meets a ridge or a corner (and there are many), having to hear its racket constantly, carrying around heavy cast iron parts and working in uncomfortable positions.

If you have respiratory, skin, muscle or nerve issues, back or neck pains, then it would probably be best to avoid the whole thing. If you can’t however, be prepared to wear a dust mask, safety glasses, plastic face shield and noise-cancelling headphones non-stop for many days.

It’ll take a while – ask for help
It took me 5 days to remove paint and rust, sanding and painting and 2 days to clean up.
The week mentioned above was not without assistance: I knew this was going to be a lot and had significant help for 2 days.
If you have someone willing to lend a hand don’t hesitate to kindly ask, it will make a huge difference. Consider hiring some help if no friend or relative is available.  

Here’s a photo of my charming assistant who, unlike me, was not willing to get intimately acquainted with the dust – hence the full cover. Guess who doesn’t have dust in their skin pores several days later…

Hope this was helpful, or intimidating enough to prove helpful!
My heart goes out to all the people toiling without a board shear for too long: may your crafting life be graced with a mechanical companion soon!
Now you know, use that knowledge wisely when the times comes…

Before closing  I would like to thank Kostas Boudouris, a fellow binder, for lending a hand in moving and assembling the shear.

A huge thanks goes to George Balojohn, also a fellow binder, who helped a great deal: he evaluated the working condition of the shear and was willing to labor with me for many hours in disassembling, moving and assembling the shear back together after it was restored.

Both are friendly and knowledgeable chaps, don’t hesitate to get in touch with them for your binding needs or if you’re an amateur with lots of questions!

The Silmarillion – Binding Tolkien


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When I was 11-12 years old an uncle and aunt came to visit. Not knowing what to bring as a gift they went to a bookshop and asked the bookseller to recommend something for a child of said age. “You know… I have just the thing, he’ll love it!” said he – and gave them the Hobbit…
Twenty years later I still feel grateful to that person.

Upon reading the Hobbit something “clicked” in me. What was a vague fondness for a number of things began to acquire form, to move in a certain direction. It acted as a spark for my imagination and creativity.
I honestly don’t know if I’d be the same person if I hadn’t read Tolkien’s books, or if I did so many years later. That’s how great of an impact his work had on me.

So, I was delighted when S.B. asked me to bind a copy of Silmarillion; strangely enough it was the first time anyone had commissioned a Tolkien binding.
S.B. had a very clear idea of how the binding was going to look like: classic, with grey and silver being the prevalent colors. The client also requested a very particular marbled paper which had to be custom made – many thanks to Jemma Lewis who managed to do a spectacular job: the photos don’t do it justice really!

After some time the binding was almost finished, the spine decoration was all that was left. But then disaster stroke…
  I noticed a tiny tear, in the one spot that could spell doom for the entire binding: the inner part of the leather hinge, just next to the headband (there’s a word for that, isn’t there? help me out English colleagues!).

I was not very happy with the particular calf, it felt “dry” from the beginning. It was the only grey leather (per the client’s request) I could source that was suitable for bookbinding though and I was able to get to this point without any real problems. For what is more I was also impressed with how well it set on the spine bands during covering.

Yet here I was looking at the tear and trying to decide what to do with it. It was only on the interior and minute in size, half a rice grain in length. With a good leather patch over it the book could perhaps endure a lifetime of use without any problem or …it could start expanding and tear through the entire hinge ruining the binding…
There were 3 options:

a) Cancel the commission and refund.
b) Proceed with finishing the binding at the client’s responsibility.
c) Or bind a new book using a different leather.

All affected the client in one way or the other so I thought it best not to take a decision without first discussing it with S.B.

I explained the issue in detail. S.B. was willing to wait so we went  for the third option, this time with a new edition.
After a lot of work forwarding was once more complete and was time for tooling.

The client wanted Tolkien’s monogram on the spine so I carved a new handtool for the occasion.

For the spine’s decoration I came up with 8 versions for the client to choose, all within a more classic style.

The client also wanted a leather-bound case to house the book and I proposed that we use a part of the Beleriand Map for its decoration.
This way it would compliment the classic-looking binding while being an nice item on its own. Its spine would also stand out on the shelf and be instantly recognizable among the rest of the books.

Silmarillion comes with a map that is 5 times the book’s page size when unfolded. Keeping it in the book was not an option as it would prevent the binding from closing well and put stress on the back hinge.

However I also didn’t want to just place it on top or under the binding inside the case as that could potentially mark the leather and would simply not look nice. It had to be at a separate compartment, yet readily available.

This is the solution I came up with: a “ drawer” with a silk ribbon that allows for quick and easy removal of the map – pretty neat!

Choosing which part of the map to use for the decoration was tricky: there are many empty areas and others that are full of mountains and forests. I wanted a bit of everything and so I went for Doriath and the northern mountain ranges.

I printed a template and used a pyrographer to trace the design on the leather. I then deepened the impression with a 2nd and occasionally a 3rd pass. After that I used an acrylic pen to color every single detail.

The entire process, from outlining to tooling to coloring, took much more than I expected – J.R.R. sure loves his trees…!

Kaethi K. of the Prancing Pony (Greek Tolkien Society) had kindly helped me in sourcing a suitable edition and had expressed interest in seeing the finished binding. When my work was complete I sent an invitation to her, open to rest of the members as well.

Some defied the summer heat and visited my bindery to see the binding up close. To make things more interesting and illustrate the amount of work that goes into a bound book I did a small presentation of the bookbinding process and many were keen to try their hand at sewing and tooling – with great results!

I must say, I have rarely seen so much excitement for a bound book and bookbinding in general! It was simply great to be able to share this with you people, you rock!

After that, binding and case began a long voyage to Alaska, which I’ll admit was rather exciting to add to the list of destinations for my work – Achievement Unlocked!

A few days ago I received notice that the binding has arrived and the owner is quite happy!
May they keep each other good company for all the years to come.





A visit to Gennadius Library – ARA Greece


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ARA Greece recently visited Gennadius Library, one of the most important libraries in Greece. It came into existence from a donation by Joannes Gennadius, a collector and bibliophile, who gave his personal collection of 25.000 (!) volumes back in 1922 for its creation. This number has kept growing ever since, reaching today a total of 138.000.

Besides boasting an impressive collection, the beautiful library and surrounding facilities are a garden of peace within the bustling and bereft of trees Athens.

Gennadius was particularly interested, among other things, in the binding aspect of the books he collected. There are many volumes he acquired solely on this basis and he personally created scrapbooks and catalogs listing them. You can imagine how this could be of particular interest to a group of people passionate about bookbinding!

Props to Thaleia Michelaki -the president of our hearts- who sacrificed her publicity for the sake of documenting the visit.
Also, a big thanks to Irini Solomonidi for welcoming us at the library, giving us access to some lovely books and sharing interesting stories about them and the establishment.

Binders of today examining the handwork of our past colleagues.
I wonder if there’ll come a day when a scrutinous eye will focus on our bindings as well: will it look down upon our shortcomings or admire our skills? Who knows…

Here’s a little something for all you sherlockian type of fellows;
Ms Solomonidi informed us that there’s sort of a dispute between the librarians concerning these two identical volumes: it is apparent they were made to resemble each other, yet we also know that they weren’t made by the same person… So, which one is the original and which is the copy?
  Our team had a few ideas, but there was always a counter argument and we weren’t able to reach to a verdict. What do you think?

I saved a binding treat for last: a bookcase made in France over a century ago. It was simply astonishing how snuggly it closed and how well it functioned after so many years – just have a look at the video!

There’s a small secret that allows the gradual and smooth descend of the top: a small hole, so small that it’s hardly observable up close, that allows the air to escape while controlling its outflow. It would be hard to close the case shut without this simple and yet ingenious little detail.

Gennadius library is open to the public and is well worth a visit!

My Second ever Binding – And how I got into this Craft


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Since new content is still in the brewery I thought of sharing with you some old stuff, and by that I mean as old as it gets really…

Allow me to give you some background…
ack when I entered uni there used to be frequent and big book fairs in Athens. At two of those I stumbled upon kiosks that featured handbound books and it sparked a discreet but persistent thought: at the time I was making small leather goods -working with leather has been a passion since my early adolescence- and selling them on the streets, while my studies were focused on philology. So, books and leathercrafting – bookbinding seemed like the lovechild of those two!

I decided to have a go at it. After a very crood first attempt my interest was captivated and felt compelled enough to learn more. I went ahead and made another journal, which I took with me to binders, asking to be accepted as a helper and learn the craft in exchange.
You’d be right to say my approach on the matter was somewhat dated and would have possibly worked better a few decades ago!

This is that binding, the second one I ever made.
Though it’s not visible, it is mostly a mix of coptic and longstitch, the name or existence of which I ignored back then. I used a Bic pen as a bonefolder and the boards are made of thin plywood – I even remember sawing the boards on the balcony.

Not to boast, but examining it after 12 years I’m a bit impressed; I was able to get a number of things “right”:
– I managed to make grooved joints.
– It has decent turn-ins and inner joints – it opens without trouble and closes fully.
– The spine throws up when opened.
– All the lines and paralles are pretty much straight.

Overall it functions almost as a binding should – or at least certain types of bindings. It’s kinda strange, because in some aspects it looks better compared to those I made later on when I started learning bookbinding, “looks” beying key word here: for example the boards open just shy of 90 degrees, which is enough for the book to lay flat on a surface… if substantially encouraged by hand pressure!

I must also mention this was made without any knowledge on bookbinding, I simply tried to reverse-engineer what was on display at the bindery shopfronts. I had no idea what I was doing or how all of the elements should come together and function, and I didn’t ask binders for advice or sought online tutorials. This was partly in purpose: I wanted the “sample” to reflect my perception and crafting abilities in regards to something I knew nothing about. And as far as tutorials are concerned, internet in Greece was fress off the dial-up era and since up till that point it was a struggle to do even the simplest of tasks it never even occured to me there could be instructions available online to begin with.

So, what was your first attempt at bookbinding?
Awful or wonderful? Are they linked with a specific life period or turning point?
Come on – don’t be shy!

Clamshell box


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Leather Solander box made to house a 1748 parchment binding. The binding will also be wrapped in acid-free paper (not in the photos) before stored in the case.

To err is human; To fix, divine!

Oh, no…!

Though we bookbinders do our best to deliver sound and beautiful bindings there’s always the possibility of things going wrong: a new material might behave in an unexpected way, an accident might occur or -most likely- we’ll make mistakes…

In this case a few months ago, I miscalculated a couple of things and as a result the cover wouldn’t open properly. I had to remove the endpapers, sand very carefully and paste new ones. I went in expecting I’d probably have to rebind the whole thing. Turned out fine in the end.

One of the things I’ve learned through the years is that knowing how to correct your mistakes has great value. Being able to do so without compromising the structure and function of a binding means you don’t have to start over everytime something goes wrong. It’s as much of a skill as learning to do it right in the first place.

Η Ζωή εν Τάφω


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Μια επίκαιρη παραγγελία ένεκα της Μεγάλης Εβδομάδας που πλησιάζει: Η Ζωή εν Τάφω, του Στρατή Μυριβήλη.
Για όσους δεν γνωρίζουν το βιβλίο η Ζωή εν Τάφω αφηγείται τα χρονικά ενός στρατιώτη στα χαρακώματα του 1ου παγκοσμίου στο Μακεδονικό μέτωπο. Ειπωμένο σε μορφή ημερολογίου που ο στρατιώτης θέλει να στείλει στην αγαπημένη του, το βιβλίο είναι βασισμένο στα προσωπικά βιώματα του συγγραφέα και αποτελεί ένα από τα σημαντικά έργα της νεότερης ελληνικής λογοτεχνίας.

Το γράψιμο του Μυριβήλη είναι άμεσο, σκληρό και συνάμα ευαίσθητο όπου χρειάζεται, διεισδυτικό, αλλά πάνω απ’ όλα βαθιά ανθρώπινο, δοσμένο με ένα χαρακτηριστικό χειρισμό της γλώσσας που δεν έχω συναντήσει σε άλλο συγγραφέα.
Το συστήνω ανεπιφύλακτα στους βιβλιόφιλους που ενδιαφέρονται για την συγκεκριμένη θεματική.
Η βιβλιοδεσία είναι ένα δερματόδετο case-binding, βασισμένο στο κλασσικό εξώφυλο από τον ζωγράφο Σπύρο Βασιλείου. Το συρματόπλεγμα έγινε με την χρήση των γραφίδων βιβλιοδεσίας και foil ενώ η παπαρούνα επιτεύχθηκε με onlays (κομμάτια πολύ λεπτού δέρματος).

Εδώ θα ήθελα να μοιραστώ μια προσωπική γνώμη όσον αφορά την αντιστοιχία αγγλικής και ελληνικής βιβλιοδετικής ορολογίας. Το case binding έχει επικρατήσει να αποκαλείται στην γλώσσα μας “κάλυμμα”. Ωστόσο θεωρώ τον όρο αυτό ακατάλληλο καθώς ενισχύει την λανθασμένη εντύπωση που έχει πολύς κόσμος ότι ο βιβλιοδέτης απλώς ξεριζώνει το υπάρχον κάλυμμα για να το αντικαταστήσει με ένα άλλο, ομορφότερο.
Κάτι τέτοιο δεν έχει βεβαίως καμμία σχέση με την πραγματικότητα αφού το μεγαλύτερο και σημαντικότερο μέρος της εργασίας μας αφορά το ράψιμο του βιβλίου στο χέρι και την δομή του ενιαίου σώματος που προκύπτει από την διαδικασία αυτή. Συνεπώς δεν είναι ορατό στο τελικό αποτέλεσμα – το κάλυμμα είναι μονάχα η “κορυφή του παγόβουνου“!

Για αυτό το λόγο πιστεύω πως θα έπρεπε να αναζητήσουμε έναν καινούριο όρο, που να ανταποκρίνεται καλύτερα στο συγκεκριμένο είδος βιβλιοδεσίας.

DIY finishing presses


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No finishing presses available locally or too expensive to buy? No sweat – I made my own!

Actually, who am I kidding: there was a lot of sweat…

I needed some new finishing presses for my leather binding seminar. I already have two but there are 4 students, plus me, and so it was essential that each one has his/her own press for the seminar to run smoothly.

I couldn’t afford buying new ones as the only local woodworker I could find making bookbinding presses charged 180 euros (about 200$) for each.

To be fair, I consider the price quite reasonable for a well made piece of essential bookbinding equipment from hardwood, that will be used for decades. However there were three problems: first was that the woodworker’s version didn’t include pegs on the sides. Second, I needed 3, raising the overall cost beyond my budget. And last but not least is the tendency of wooden threads to loose their pitch because of  abrasion as years go by.
Comparison of Old (commercially available) vs DIY/New

In Greece we have a saying that sounds something like this: “Penia technas katergazete”. It means “you get crafty when you’re poor”…
The saying fits nicely with the case at hand: I didn’t have enough money but I had time instead and knew where to get what I need and how to use it.

To make the presses I had to order the wooden cheeks (cut and beveled) and the threads (cut and chamfered) from a wood supplier and a machinist. This meant I had to be very precise with my calculations and make sure everything would fit and work well in the end, which is hard to ensure when important pieces of a set are made by different people who don’t understand the function of what they’re making.

The wood supplier was Germanos. I would recommend them for your corresponding needs as I’ve used their services time and again and been satisfied with their work.

I also have to give a big shout-out to Eleni, who kindly helped in several stages. She is now the proud owner of one of the presses!

Given that I went for the steampunk route (as opposed to an all-wood construction) one of the things that drastically decreased cost was being able to make my own flanged nuts.

Brass flanged nuts for this thread size cost about 30 euros – each. These cost me only about 7.

To make them I created a model of the flange and then sand-casted as many copies as I needed. Next I proceeded to weld them with stock brass nuts. Each was then sanded gradually using finer and finer grit and coated in protective lacquer.Another issue I had to solve was the handles. Although I happen to have a great woodworker as a friend I needed these fast and at almost zero cost, which is improper to ask of a respectable craftsman – friend or not!

So I decided to try an idea Martin has used for a handle of the Marble Machine X: using a cnc Martin cuts plywood discs that together form a handle, much like a wooden stacking ring toy, but much cooler!
I don’t have a cnc, only some cup saws for a handheld drill… And so I cut about 66 discs from thin plywood and press-glued them. Then I used my jewelry polisher to sand them smooth and apply an even coat of lacquer, which added some luster to this otherwise plain execution of the idea. For what is more they have a strange sheen, that seems to subtly change the stripe colors as the handle is rolled from one direction to the other, which is impossible to capture in a photo or video.

By the way if you love crazy projects and music (and also happen to frequent that dark corner of YouTube full of machining videos) consider spending some time to get acquainted with Wintergatan and the Marble Machine X project: definitely worth your time.

The overall process was mostly repetitive: each of the pegs -all 160 of them- had to be hand-cut, sanded in two different grits, pressed in place and lacquered. The press cheeks had to be drilled, sanded, dyed, sanded again, dyed again, lacquered, sanded (again!) and then finally lacquered for a second time.The result however was sturdy, easy to maintain, decent-looking finishing presses.

The cost was about half that of the woodworker’s. If you count in the hours needed I didn’t exactly pay less, since time=money. I was just able to pay the rest with a different currency of equal value.

Plus I learned how to make a finishing press and had some fun in the process, so I guess I even managed to make a profit in the end…!