The idea to make the Brass Band Sticks originated from a fellow bookbinder who had muscle strain after decades of work, telling me she had trouble using band nippers due to the hand pressure required. Band sticks immediately came to mind.
Wooden band sticks have been around for a very long time. They’re an easy to make tool that helps form the leather around raised spine bands.
However they have some significant drawbacks. Wood contains natural oils which are in some cases likely to stain leather. The groove can widen through continuous use, eventually rendering the band stick useless. Most importantly though, it loses its smoothness and as a result the edges become coarse and eventually produce splinters which will scar leather.
Enter the Brass Band Stick
Enter the Made from a bookbinder for bookbinders, the Brass Band Stick is an updated version of the old-timey tool, one that is more robust, precise, friendly to leather and comfortable to use.
The Brass Band stick offers:
– A clean raised band As it will never stain leather, in contrast with wood.
– Smooth edges The edges are carefully finished by hand to be smooth enough to produce a great result, but not polished, so the tool retains some necessary grip over the leather to help form the leather crisply over the spine band. And of course, it will never become coarse or scar your binding.
– A lifetime of precisionAs brass is a material far more robust than wood, the groove will retain its width through a lifetime of use and produce a neat result each and every time.
Comparison with Band Nippers
Band Nippers work for all sizes, so why should you prefer the Band Sticks? Each tool has its strengths. Band Nippers work for any raised band width but require adjusting, applying pressure constantly and cost more due to their complexity. Band Sticks are easier to use, have a fixed width which allows repeatable precision and cost less. In the end it comes down to preference and way of working.
The Brass Band sticks are ideal for:
– Big binderies with high volume of work. – Bookbinding projects that involve doing a number of identical books on a regular basis. – Binders or bookbinding enthusiasts that have tendinitis or reduced hand strength (injury or age related) and have trouble using band nippers. – Anyone preferring the ease of use this tool offers!
The tool comes on a comfortable wooden handle, smoothly finished with oil and wax.
Current available groove widths are: 4mm, 5mm, 6mm and 7mm. The groove has a depth of 5mm. Custom sizes available upon request. Please take the leather’s thickness around the band into account as well when deciding which width you want!
Pricelist: – 60 euros for one Brass Band Stick. – 110 euros for a pair. – 210 for all four.
There has been quite the radio silence when it comes to this blog, but that is not to say it hasn’t been a busy year, on the contrary. And here’s proof: is the biggest binding that has been made in my bindery: an album to house WW2 newspapers.
And I say that instead of “that I’ve made” because it was a joint collaboration between me and two fellow bookbinders who came to pay me a long summer visit: Mia Heath and Jovana Ivezic. I couldn’t have made this without their help, skills and knowledge, for which I’m most grateful. We also had a great time working together at the bindery!
The pockets, in which the newspapers are housed, were made out of Mylar sheets. Normally, if this was made for a museum, the newspapers would be placed in the pockets, then the air would be sucked out of them and lastly they would be sealed by ultrasonic welding. However I don’t own the (very specialized and expensive) equipment for such a process and the client also wanted to have access to them, so the pockets were created from cutting large sheets, folding and then hand-sewing them. This took a lot of time. A regular book takes about 30 minutes to 2 hours to be sewn, depending on size and number of pages, this took 20+. Let that sink in for a bit…
Because of its sheer size I had to make thick laminated covers to prevent warpage as much as possible, using MSK Natur board which is of archival quality.
Due to variation in the thickness of the newspapers but also because of the folds and sewing at the bottom of the pockets the stacked pockets were quite uneven resulting in a sloping spine. To mitigate the width difference brass washers were placed around the screws between every 2-3 pockets.
I also milled a recess around the holes on the boards so that the screw heads would protrude as little as possible.
This is just one of the projects that were made in collaboration with Mia and Jovana, more to be posted in the near future.
Mighty Queen Nefertiti went to see the court sculptor for a new bust.
The sculptor Thutmosis was old and wise and the Queen found him examining a block of black basalt.
“Can you make me immortal?” asked she, to which the sculptor replied, “No, I cannot, my Queen, for only the Gods are immortal”.
“Can you make me perfect?” asked she, to which the sculptor replied, “No, I cannot, my Queen, for these hands belong to an imperfect man and thus cannot create perfection”.
“Of what use are you to me then?” wondered she, to which the sculptor replied, “I can give you beauty, my Queen, and that surpasses both immortality and perfection, for even immortals covet beauty and it defines perfection”.
What is beauty? Defining its nature is one of the oldest and most persistently pursued endeavors of the human mind. We’ve yet to reach a conclusive definition and most likely never will, which is strange for something that governs our life in all its facets, one way or another.
I was commissioned to bind the memoirs of an aesthetic surgeon and in them he writes poignantly on the matter:
“ Countless mathematicians and philosophers attempt to quantitate true beauty and define perfect proportion. While they have succeeded to some degree, pointing to repetition of forms and ratios in the natural world as proof of their theories, there exists something unquantifiable about beauty. For me, it always comes back to the moment in the museum in Paris when I knew I stood before something beautiful. If beauty could be completely and entirely described, then an understanding of beauty would be something that anyone could obtain through study. We all know that’s not the case.”
What follows is a long journey into the creation of this binding and the worlds/thoughts of the surgeon and bookbinder behind it. If that, dear reader, sounds like something you’d enjoy carry on, and maybe pour a glass or two as we’ll be here for a while…
A Surgeon and a Bookbinder
We discussed a lot with Miss V., the person behind this project, and while I had a few ideas from the get go, which managed to find their ways into the finished bindings, they were mostly concepts without yet a solid canvas to bind them into a cohesive whole.
The commission involved two identical bindings and since one was intended as a gift to the very author of the book I decided to get to know him better. As I read his memoirs, I was surprised to find parallels between our professions, more than I’d expect, ranging from the superficial to the essential. This intrigued me: I felt I was looking at a strange mirror, seeing a distorted reflection of myself…
On a first level, the bookbinder and the surgeon use some similar tools (scalpel and various other cutting instruments) and work with the same basic material, leather, although obviously in different forms. Their work has to not only look good but function properly too: a stiff book joint that doesn’t open, or a stiff face, do not make for a happy client (although it may be argued the latter is more frustrating than the former). They both have to be very precise in their work, fusing over details less than half a mm in size, and must pay great attention to detail. Both fields require a balance between a skilled and steady hand and a good perception of aesthetics. The result is either lifeless or inspired but poorly made, if one of the two is lacking. The ideal surgeon and bookbinder are both an artisan and an artist.
On a deeper level, both seek to produce something beautiful. Some will probably argue that the most important pursuit of bookbinding is to protect and preserve the text, and they’d be 100% right, but I doubt it would have become such a vast and complex craft/art if it was only restrained to its technical purpose.
On this note, I couldn’t help but share this quote where the author draws an analogy between books and his field of work – although he probably didn’t expect it would apply to his memoirs one day: “ We are all drawn to beautiful book covers: there’s a part of us all that looks to cover art to tell us something about what is inside.”
What intrigued me the most though were the similarities between the author and me. Although there are parallels it’s also true that his profession, work and world in general, differ a great deal from mine. Yet there were certain parts which resonated deeply with me.
A good example is his words on perfectionism: “ But the great ones (surgeons) are awakened by challenge and driven by a chronic dissatisfaction with anything that could be better. ” I highly doubt I’ll ever be considered one of the great ones and I’m not implying that here – it is, after all, a title that’s always bestowed by others upon one’s person, as the author does here. That said, perfectionism has been an incredible driving force but also an occasional plague for me – I’ve talked about it and the effect it has had on me as an artisan in quite a few of my posts.
Here’s another one: “ Aesthetic surgery is the perfect place for me. There is an intersection of art, science, and medicine that can’t be found in any other field. ” Upon reading this I said to myself “Yes, exactly!”.
Bookbinding is an incredible amalgam of crafts and arts, unmatched (feel free to argue with me on this one) in the number and variety of craft fields it encompasses. No other craft comes close to it and it is this vastness and depth that I have fell in love with, as it makes every part of me come alive: it is about encasing the human intellect and psyche in a three-dimensional artifact and making sure it is functional, long lasting and beautiful. Sounds like something a wizard would say describing his art, doesn’t it…?
But the part which resonated with me the most was his recollections of Paris, and more specifically coming face to face with masterpieces of art:
“Paris was an incredible setting for expanding my horizons. I spent my time immersed in a culture that gave rise to some of the most beautiful art in the world and spent hours in the most celebrated museums. I was charged. Anyone who appreciates art knows the moment in a gallery or museum when perception of the sound of the floorboards or the knocking sound of your shoes on concrete gives way to the tidal wave of visual stimulation bestowed by a painting or sculpture. It shakes you. It isn’t just your eyes, but a feeling. You just know, with something beyond your eyes and brain, that what you are looking at is beautiful and meaningful and true. That feeling has the same force as the one that brings people to tears at symphonies and causes riots after Avant guard plays. As a young man in Paris, I experienced that over, and over, and over again. Standing feet away from perfect human forms released from marble,the abstract and yet completely controlled paintings of Seraut, and the luminous pastel forms of Degas, it clicked. The nebulous appreciation for art that had permeated my childhood coalesced and became a central part of who I am.”
The feeling he describes is something very familiar to me and I’ve had the pleasure to experience it in many cases. None of it however prepared me for my trip to Rome…
Rome was sublime. I never imagined such an immense scale of art and beauty -magnificent art that ranges from fragments of the ancient past to enormous masterpieces of the renaissance and beyond- could exist in one place in the world. It was simply too much to absorb and I’m still trying to process it.
Perhaps the most characteristic single instance was in Palazzo Massimo, which I highly recommend spending the time to explore.
Here I must note that I had the huge privilege to be almost entirely alone there during my visit, as it was during “off-season” (as much as it can be in Rome) and while the pandemic was still in almost full effect. This allowed me and my partner to have entire floors, sometimes entire museums, to ourselves, making the experience deeply personal. It was as if all of this art and beauty was created and collected there just for us…
Anyway, back to Palazzo Massimo. While it contains some extraordinary pieces of art, like the breathtaking sculpture of the Wrestler, it was something entirely different that stood out for me. At the 3rd floor of the museum are on display, excellently preserved, the interior walls and paintings of a Roman villa. Among them was a room portraying a garden. Viewing it in the serenity of absolute silence and solitude, I was moved. There was something in that artificial garden, it’s hard to put in words, as if this unknown painter was so in control of his skills, so confident and at the same time so humble and close to what he was depicting, making it seem completely effortless and full of life, as if he could do anything with his art. He could bring forth the mysteries of existence but instead created this garden, which felt in some ways more real than the real thing. I was almost in tears.
It also brought to mind what Picasso (supposedly) said after seeing the Altamira cave paintings “We’ve invented nothing”…
It was this trip to Rome that gave me the inspiration I needed for the design, which is somewhat of an irony since I was asked by a couple of people if I believed it could find its way into my work and, having a hard time digesting the excess of excellence I came in touch with, I remember thinking to myself the unlikeliness of such a possibility.
In his memoirs the author writes: “ Standing feet away from perfect human forms released from marble […]” and “In many ways I consider myself a sculptor, and my medium human cartilage, bone, and tissue.”
I knew there was something I could -no, not could, should!- work with there. But I couldn’t come up with something. After returning from Rome, and while I was trying to convince my ideas to work in unison, I kept thinking about the trip. I remembered my visit to the Vatican museums. The first stop was their great collection of Egyptian antiquities, among which were artifacts and statues made of black basalt. Suddenly, something clicked. A concept began to emerge, my up-until-now random ideas gravitating towards it.
An important part of the design I came up with was to surface-gilt the back cover with a foil that would make it look like dark granite or basalt. This was a technique I was familiar with and I also did various tests, which looked great in person. However, when I went on to apply it on the bindings themselves disaster struck: for some reason beyond the result was “clotted” and didn’t look at all like the test boards, although the materials and the process was exactly the same.
Hmm, this felt familiar… Fortunately, I am not the binder I was 10 years ago. This disaster forced me to rethink the design and the final piece of the puzzle was revealed: I decided to use a material I bought a while back and had been itching to use, a paper with a stone texture. Why didn’t you think of it in the first place, I hear you ask? I’ve no idea, tunnel vision I guess. The point is abandoning the surface-gilding technique and introducing this paper freed me and eventually led to a much more nuanced design.
One of the reasons I immensely enjoyed working on this project was how well it lended itself to my beloved play on symbolism. As you might have seen in my South Sea Scheme or Hamlet binding, I like to create layers of meaning, some of which point inwards and some outwards, by playing with the three elements interacting with each other: the book’s content, the thoughts it creates and lastly the binding, the physical object, itself.
However in this case the concept of layers took on a much more literal meaning as well, a nod to the topic at hand. Books have layers, just like human bodies. And just as is the case with people those layers take on a metaphorical sense as you peel deeper: Books and People are more than the sum of their parts.
I tried to incorporate the aspect of layers in different ways. First by actually taking off a piece of leather/skin from the face on the front cover, “unveiling” that way what lies beneath. The cover itself is a layer and when you open it you are once more left facing the tissue underneath, but bigger/closer now. The endpapers are followed by a section of two papers that differ in hue and texture, to add tactility but mostly to simulate a transition from one layer to another into the human body. And finally, we reach a paper in the color and texture of bone upon which the thoughts of the author are laid.
The layer concept, as described above, also doubles as a play to the authors quote on being a sculptor with human cartilage, bone, and tissue being his medium.
The cases could be considered as adding a final extra layer over the bindings.
Moving on to the covers themselves, which I named Pre-operation side and Goddess side respectively in my mind.
The Pre-op side features, with some artistic license, surgical markings inspired by Langer lines, which normally depict skin tension.
The detail that stands out the most on this side, in fact one of the core elements of the design in general, is the incredible marbled paper that Daniela from Papiers Prina managed to create, custom made for this project, which was also used for the endpapers. I had the idea of such a paper in my mind long before the design began taking shape and so a lot of it was created around this paper. I needed something that would bring the image of human muscle, tissue and blood veins in mind, while being artistic and interesting to look at – beautiful but also slightly disturbing. It was, as requests go, very specific and at the same time quite vague.
Daniela’s paper surpassed my wildest expectations. It was extremely difficult to make, as it was triple-marbled and required a great amount of experimentation and precision to achieve the intended result and have all the layers show through each other in the right way. In the end though her skills, meticulousness and artistic perception allowed her, through the strange mix of chaos and order that is marbling, to create the most unique marbled paper I’ve ever owned and used.
I wanted the Goddess side to have a transcending quality to it. To be a beautiful face but also one that isn’t exactly real. Gone are the anatomical lines and the jawline indicating a face contour, the skin and tissue underneath: a black stone with intense texture, abstract lines and gold accents has taken their place. Its shape, the shape of the face now, is not anymore bound by the restraints of human anatomy. The straight colorless hair has turned to golden ornaments. A vibrant electric blue emanates from the eye, capturing the light in every move of the cover.
This is the desired image of ourselves, beauty itself. The disparity between the two faces is huge, yet they exist on opposing sides of the same book and if one would flip the covers open in a 180 degree angle (ideally don’t though!) they could gaze onto each other…
The eye, lips and nose of the Goddess side were traced over an astonishing face, that of Queen Nefertiti, as seen through the famous bust.
The title, running down on the bindings spine between the two covers, underlines how the surgeon is the intermediator between us and our desired image of ourselves. The letters of the title are each tooled in two colors: gold and a silvery black, inspired by the gold-black stripes on King Tut’s sarcophagus.
For the headbands I went with a red leather core held in place by golden silk threads, the idea being to resemble exposed veins.
It’s a happy coincidence that this is the first binding I’ve put some sort of personal insignia on – something that’s been long overdue. The symbol you see represents a monogram of K and D, my initials.
The story of Nefertiti and Thutmosis (“calligraphy” on papyrus by Marianna Koutsipetsidis) originally came to me as a nice extra touch. However, in the end it became what really brought everything together: the idea behind the design, the source of its inspiration, the style of the bookcase, the book’s content and my thoughts during the whole binding process.
I’m a storyteller at heart and, to me at least, this short story is the most important part of this project and why it’s possibly my most “artistic” work yet. Binding the book and making a case for it, no matter how special, is simply a transformation process through my skills, it’s still taking X and using it to make Y. The short story represents the transition from transformation to emergence, creating something entirely new, that also grants meaning to my design. It’s the core, the life-giving heart of it all.
I always considered myself a craftsman and not really an artist when it comes to bookbinding – the artistic side of me usually being just a sprinkle on the cake. That’s why this project, for the reason mentioned above, felt like a birth of sorts, as if entering a new realm where strange and exciting things happen.
Who knows, if I manage to stay here long enough I might even find Thutmosis somewhere, patiently revealing a face hidden in stone…
Before signing off I’d like to express my gratitude for G.V., the person who commissioned this project. By giving me freedom, patience, helpful pointers, trust and last but not least a decent budget, she made it stress-free and allowed me to immerse myself in it, to explore, experiment and finally produce something that speaks of the creative in me as much as, I believe, speaks of the book’s content.
Here’s two of my recent bindings, Blake’s Prophetic Books in two rather large volumes.
Though it’s not apparent, the tooling is in (dark) purple. I used ink tooling (here are a couple of examples: one and two), a technique I’ve invented based on carbon tooling, the idea being for purple to contrast the vibrant green.
However in retrospect I believe I could have done it differently (regular blind tooling perhaps): the color is barely noticeable and also doesn’t take advantage of the lovely gradient effect that you can achieve by using two different colors. Overall though I’m pleased with the end result.
The lovely marbled paper I used is from Papiers Prina. Recently bought a few marbled papers from her and I must say I’m in love with them: vibrant colors in balanced combinations and the patterns are delicate and beautiful.
Daniela is also very helpful and a pleasure to work with. For what is more she was able to accommodate a custom request I had (needed one of her designs in different colors) in a fairly short time! Make sure to add her to your marbled paper supplier list (site/online shop and Instagram account) – can’t recommend her enough!
Dear reader: this is a post where I discuss in (some) detail why and how I made a paper cabinet and a new bench for my bindery. If you’re more interested in how these rather ordinary workspace improvements are linked to my journey as an artisan you can skip to the last part which is the musings I’ve become, for better or worse, notorious for.
Even though I have what many consider a roomy bindery it somehow became clogged over the last years and I’ve had to always move things from one bench to another. This wasn’t simply a matter of “tidying up”; Storage is a multifaceted topic that strongly determines whether a workspace is functional or not. After 5 years I decided to finally tackle the issue with a few additions and realizations that had much more of an impact than I anticipated.
One of my main griefs with the workspace was the paper cabinet/bench I made back in 2016 when I first moved in. I had the option of making a paper cabinet with drawers, but that would had taken a lot of time and effort and would cost almost twice as much so I chose to go with this bare-bones approach.
This proved – shockingly! – the wrong choice. As a bookbinder I work with paper every day, often having to take or return sheets to their place dozens of times within a few hours. The initial paper “cabinet” had all sort of problems:
– The drawers rested on wooden laths, which meant it was a hussle pulling them out or pushing them back in. For the same reason they could only be pulled a certain amount, which was not comfortable enough in examining or handling the papers.
– The drawers protruded outwards from the face of the furniture and there wasn’t some kind of door. That meant dust -and my bindery is quite dusty due to the absence of large windows and also because of toolmaking- constantly accumulated over the top sheets of every drawer. I hung a paper sheet to cover most of the drawers but, for practical reasons, the corners of the drawers remained exposed, which still allowed a lot of dust to settle in. Cleaning it was pointless, so I simply placed some disposable sheets on the top of each stack in order to protect the rest of the papers.
– The “drawers” were flat pieces of wood. I naively thought they were thick enough to not mind holding 3-4 dozen of papers each and so I was not too happy to find some of them rather bent after 5 years of use.
– Last but not least, I felt my beloved marbled papers’ disapproving gaze every time I pulled their drawer. After a while it became too much to bear.
It can be draining when your workspace gets in your way instead of making your life easier. For what is more I will be working on some interesting and challenging commissions in late 2021 and 2022, plus a couple of important personal projects, and so it felt like it was time for some much-needed improvements in the workspace.
The paper cabinet was the main project, followed by a new bench and some shelves in the tooling section of the bindery. It took me 5 days to measure, design and put together the entire thing. I’ve watched enough woodworking and furniture making videos to know a proper cabinet maker would do 99% of it differently. Even so, given the complexity and difficulty such a project posed, my respect for the trade climbed to even greater heights.
I’d also like to -sacrilegiously- add that I love plywood and even consider it good looking, (those yummy stripes!) apart from being an affordable and easy to work with material.
I’ve added a small twist to the cabinet: the front wall of the drawers is hinged and can fall down. I believe this may be useful when placing in new papers, especially when they must go in the middle or lower part of a stack, which is most often the case. Remains to be seen though!
The new bench that sits next to the board shear is basically shelves with a working surface on top of them. I was tempted to make it fit the geometry of the wooden panel behind it and blend in better with the surrounding space but then I thought I might have to someday move to a new space, so it would be ill-advised to let the current one dictate the bench’s dimensions.
Last but definitely not least come the shelves next to and above the polishing machine.
I’ve come to realize that many of a bindery’s problems come from the lack of shelves: does your workspace feel cluttered and uninspiring? You probably need more shelves. Are you having trouble meeting deadlines? You need more shelves. Does the bindery cat avoid your company? It is most likely frustrated by the lack of shelves.
They might not look like much but given how toolmaking is becoming more and more an important part of the bindery’s day to day work their addition will make a big difference. You can never have enough shelves folks!
To compliment these improvements I bought a number of storing boxes (I recommend this from Plaisio if you’re a greek reader – no ties with them, I simply like these boxes very much: convenient size, sturdy enough, they have handles and are very affordable) and also had some custom ones made to suit specific needs. As I said, storing stuff is a multifaceted topic that ranges from small things to how you arrange your workspace in general. For example, effectively storing your collection of colored threads or sandpapers might sound trivial but even spending a few seconds more in finding or getting them can accumulate in working days, weeks, or even months over the course of years – especially if you consider all the little things this might apply to.
Reflection part ensuing from here on.
If I’m to be completely honest with myself these improvements were much needed but cost a lot more than I felt comfortable with at the moment and also took precious time away from commissions, with which I’m trying to catch up after a very disruptive 7 month long lockdown (dear reader from the 2040s, this was the year of the Covid pandemic). So why did I invest resources and time into something like this? Were a paper cabinet, a bench and some shelves all that important? I believe they were; apart from their practical benefits they embody the fact my workspace finally feels like home.
The bindery is my home. If you count out sleeping, that pesky biological need, I spend more hours there than I do at my actual home. I would guess this holds true for many of my fellow artisans out there, bookbinders or otherwise. Since that is the case it’s important I also feel at home when I’m at the bindery.
Up until now however it always felt like a suit cut 1-2 sizes short, if you know what I mean. Instead of being an extension of me, at times it almost felt like a unwilling entity that I had to convince or trick into collaboration in order to get things done.
It’s hard to explain this, as it seems I was unhappy when in fact I loved my first workspace, although it was severely lacking in all aspects (this was because of many reasons that had to do with the resources I had available and the timing in which I started exploring bookbinding – the 2008 financial crisis which sent Greece into bankruptcy).
Same goes for when I moved to my current space; the space itself and the way I set my bindery there was a vast improvement but still lagging behind my needs and desires. You can love someone or something deeply and still feel they can’t give you everything you need. And that’s alright; you (can choose to) accept that, try to improve what can be improved and make do.
Even though I made improvements over the years and things got better and better, storage has always been an issue and even though I moved to a new and roomier location it kept plaguing me. That’s why making these was liberating; for most of my bookbinding career I used to see photos from other binderies and -admittedly- drool over them. However now, after 13 years and with this issue solved, the bindery in my mind finally matches the bindery in front of my eyes.
If you’ve read so far I’ll have you know that there’s an interesting project coming in the future, where the bindery itself will play a pivotal role in.
Greetings everyone, hope you managed to enjoy the holidays and brace for whatever 2021 has in store for us! Without further ado lets… dive in this special project.
Mister C. owns an admirable collection of marbled papers from around the world. Word on the bookbinding street is that he keeps them in a secret room in his study, revealed only if you press 43 books -out of 6000- in a specific order, while others claim the way to reveal the entrance is to loudly name the 3 greatest economists in reverse speech while standing on one foot. In any case, Mister C. often initiates a project by choosing a marbled paper for a book, either on his own or consulting with the bookbinder, and building the overall design from there.
Such was the case with a pamphlet on the South Sea Bubble, a famous financial scheme that involved slave trading. More specifically the pamphlet is focused on the absurd case the defendants made in court, since the scheme resulted in a financial disaster on a national level. Coincidentally 2021 marks 300 years from the South Sea Bubble, as the fraud was revealed in 1721.
Mister C. had a few requests when it came to the design. I was to use one of the marvelous marbled papers made by Antonio Velez Celemin, which had swirls that would resemble a turbulent sea. I tried my best to capture the beauty of this paper on camera but one really has to see it in person to appreciate its extremely fine details, such as the numerous hair-thin gold lines that populate it and add to its splendor. The design was to also include a ship, chains, the pound sign and the words “human rights” among its elements. The overall layout and the way all these would be incorporated was left to my crafting judgement though. The intention was to create a binding that would narrate the story of the South Sea Bubble in a symbolic way, while at the same touching upon its repercussions and ethical questions it raises.
The first thing I did was trying to find out which part of the marbled papers to cut and how. I had to decide which areas best suited the design, take into account the paper grain and the exact outline of the cut. As the entire design would be based on the resulting pieces and I only had one sheet it took me 3 hours to complete this process.
I felt like a lapidarist, who has to study a rough diamond and come up with the ideal final shape, in order to remove the impurities but also preserve as much of the precious material as possible, thus revealing its hidden beauty and ensuring the resulting gem will have be of the highest value.
Once the pieces of paper were cut I knew the space I had available and its exact geometry, allowing me to create the rest of the design in detail.
The ship sailing on the turbulent sea under a storm and its wreck sinking to the bottom to meet the remnants of other ships were made using small pieces of leather pared down to a 0.3mm thickness, called onlays.
The chain on the front cover carries a double meaning: representing the shackles of the people that suffered under the slave trade conducted by the South Sea Company as well as the cuffs that were put on many of the ones responsible for the scheme, falling upon the ship and their business in the shape of a lighting – hinting at allegorical interpretations of “divine punishment”.
This design was also an excellent chance to utilize my (copyright pending!) Round Circle Title form, which I haven’t used for a very long time. (Here’s two examples: A and B)
Ι blended “human rights” with the title and tooled it in a blood-red foil to add even more symbolic notes to the overall theme and make a stark contrast with the dark leather and gold title. Fun fact: I haven’t been able to find this foil locally and so I’ve been religiously keeping/saving a small scrap for nearly a decade. It paid off, as I think it adds a great touch and becomes in some ways the central focus of the design. Take that Marie Kondo!
The pamphlet itself sits comfortably within a recess on the velvet and marbled-paper covered interior. When removed it reveals what is in many cases the cause of human suffering: money. As with the paper on the covers I tried to use a piece that would make the most of the marbled paper chaotic and fine details.
The pamphlet was a binding at some point in the past, though the only remnants from that state were a damaged endband sliver and some dried up goo along the spine. I decided to intervene as little as possible and simply guarded the folios with Japanese tissue, later binding them on a strip of thick paper using the longstitch method. This way there was almost zero harm to the pamphlet, as most of the holes used for the longstitch were already present and the strips of Japanese paper can easily be removed if necessary, while at the same time remaining readable.
Some years ago I watched a documentary on the construction of the Florence Cathedral, highlighting of course its magnificent dome and the life of its maker, Fillipo Brunelleshi. I encourage anyone with an interest in history, architecture and engineering, or good documentaries in general, to watch it!
The story behind the massive dome and its brilliant maker were most interesting and stayed with me for years so it was not without some excitement when V.G. tasked me to make a binding for a book on the architecture and physics of the dome.
One of the notable features of the dome is its octagonal shape, upon which I based the decoration.
I wanted the design to hint at red chalk, which was often used historically to draw/plan all sorts of things. In order to achieve that I used ink tooling, a technique I came up with inspired by Hannah Brown’s carbon tooling. The resulting effect is quite interesting: a dual-color impression, randomly shifting from one color to another.
Last but not least I tried to match the leather with the color of the roof tiles.
The second binding is more straightforward with a mix of blind and foil tooling on a lovely teal leather.
Presenting the new, improved and expanded, Stylus Set. Suitable for free hand tooling/designs and made by a bookbinder for bookbinders.
Scroll to the bottom to see the limited edition tools.
The previous stylus set in offer has been my most popular tool/s. Since it was made available in 2012 it has been used by professional and hobbyists around the world and received excellent reviews (read further down for reviews).
That said I’m always looking for ways to improve my tools so during the last 2-3 years I’ve been preparing the new stylus set. In order to take this one step further I tested and designed the set with the help of the bookbinding community.
A comprehensive survey was carried out to test various versions of the tool and its handle, with the valuable assistance of Karen Hanmer, whom I thank deeply for her active involvement in this project. More than 30 professional binders, conservators, artists, artisans and bookbinding enthusiasts from various backgrounds, from the US and Greece, took part in the survey.
The feedback provided, in combination with my own research and testing, has contributed in the creation of the new set: high quality, practical and comfortable to use bookbinding tools, with improved features.
THE STYLUS SET
Curved stylus The “standard” choice, covering a wide range of free-hand tooling needs. The designs that can be achieved with this tool are simply endless.
The curved stylus is ideal for tooling lines (simple, blind or gold tooling). The leather friendly brass and smooth finish, along with the geometry of the blade, make this tool excellent at tracing prior to tooling and allow it to also double as a creaser. It is also good at shaping leather over relief and textured surfaces.
Below you can see a few examples of tooling using the curved stylus by TeoStudio, Robert Wu and myself.
Flat stylus The latest addition to the set, the flat stylus is ideal for tooling fine details and sharp curves.
The flat stylus is hand-finished at 0.5 mm thickness and 1.5mm width. However it can easily be modified to be thinner or wider in either dimension by “filing” it against a fine grit sandpaper laid on a flat surface.
NOTE: The flat stylus does not substitute the curved stylus, i.e. using it both for fine details and sharp curves (its intended use) and also for long lines. Its tip geometry requires an upright hold (as opposed to the curved stylus) of the tool when using it, and as such the gliding motion often needed for tooling long straight or slightly curved lines will change its shape and properties.
Below you can see a few examples of tooling using the flat stylus.
Point stylus The point stylus is the utility tool of the set and can be used for tooling, marking, tracing, adjusting etc. They are ideal for marking/tracing, used to handle and adjust fine decorative elements (f.e. onlays) and also piercing (if sharpened) since they offer better grip than an awl and won’t stain leather.
It is shipped with a fine but rounded tip, suitable for most uses and for tooling small dots, however you are encouraged to “sharpen” or “blunt” it according to preference.
Below you can see a few examples of tooling using the point stylus by Nate McCall and Macrina Walker.
You can acquire them as: – Single stylus at the cost of 55 euros (plus shipping) – Set of 2 at the cost of 100 euros (plus shipping) – Set of 3 at the cost of 140 euros (plus shipping)
1) Temperature control. The first and most important reason is that the stylus can be rapidly cooled or heated while a pyrography tool takes time to raise or lower temperature. Being able to adjust tool temperature fast makes a big difference for those who perform tooling on a regular basis and facilitates the whole task.
2) Decoration depth. A pyrography tool usually “burns” the upper layer of a leather surface or -in the case of gold tooling- simply adheres the foil on the leather. The stylus however embosses it, leaving a mark that has depth and volume. This ensures that your decoration will be long-lasting since it can’t be easily abraded by the hardships of use such as scratches, friction and climate variations.
3) Overheating While not always a case, many of the pyrography tools will overheat with use even if they are set at a specific temperature. This can be a nuisance since the tool has to be left to cool-down gradually and then heated again, which of course is not a problem with the stylus.
Nate McCall Excellent and beautiful tools…I would highly recommend these to any bookbinder who wants to step up their work!
Ulrich Widmann Τhey are magnificent. It (the edged one) slides very easy over the leather and leaves a good grove.
Joel Nilsson Looks and feels great. Very happy with these.
Kae Sable Beautifully made tools. Well balanced and solid.
Mervyn Leavesley Very nice quality, good feel to work with.
Marilla Beecher Fantastic tools! Love the detailed work I can achieve with them.
Elizabeth N. These tools are as beautiful as they are useful! I bought them in preparation of an art show recently and I think everything turned out well. The tools left me a LOT of creative room, and is absolutely perfect for my kind of work. I’m so glad I made the purchase
Accompanying the presentation of the new stylus set are limited sets with beautiful handles from Olive, Padauk, Purpleheart, Zebrano and Bubinga wood – at no extra cost!– as well as two hand hammered brass band nippers and two typeholders with stunning Bocote handles.
Hammered Brass band Nippers
The Brass Band Nippers were the first of the their kind to be introduced back in 2012. This unique version was created by hand hammering the tool and using blued steel rivets. Only 2 available at 140 euros.
Versatile Typeholder with Bocote handle.
A typeholder for single type pieces comes much handier compared to those used for whole words in many cases, such as when tooling a title vertically on a spine, for design purposes which call for tooling letters individually and for corrections when tooling entire titles and a single letter didn’t leave as clear an impression.
The special edition features beautiful Bocote handles with striking dark stripes. Only 2 available at 150 euros.
Contact me at email@example.com (Support small businesses by shopping directly from them!) or visit my Etsy shop if you’re interested in the limited edition tools.