A Week in London – Bookbinding

It’s always a good idea to refresh your skills – and see what others can teach you. When I’m making books, I’m usually driven first by the content, which determines the form of the book; in all my work I’m trying to achieve the right combination of form and content. By way of an example, this piece is a tunnel book. The inspiration for it was a scene in the film that is my constant source of material – I Know Where I’m Going. In the scene, one of the characters is telling a story which features a dungeon. That dungeon exists – in a castle on the Isle of Mull. It’s a bottle dungeon, which is to say it’s circular, just big enough for someone to stand at the bottom of it and look up at a small circle of light above his head. The book features the words of that scene – and is hung from the ceiling, so that the viewer looks up through a series of decreasing circles to a tiny circle at the top, which has the words : ‘to the end of his days’.

to the end of his days

Of course, finding the right format means constantly exploring new book structures – having a library in my head of different options. It’s perfectly possible to find good books on the art of making books, but there’s no substitute for actually being shown how to do things – I know this as I often run courses myself. It’s so much easier to show people how to do things than it is to explain it in writing. I was delighted to find a short course at the London College of Communications. This college ran the only degree course in bookbinding (as far as I know) which has sadly now been cut, but it does still have excellent facilities. It’s great to be in a huge studio space with all the equipment you’ll ever need. I had forgotten what a complete delight it is to have access to a proper board cutter. I have to cut all my greyboard by hand which actually does put me off using the thicker sort, as well as being very frustrating if your measurements are a bit out and you have to cut it all again. I had also forgotten how very handy a pair of dividers can be so my order is winging it’s way to Shepherd Falkiner’s as I write !

Our tutor was Jane Drinkwater – and she was  full of good advice and useful tips. We spent an entire day learning how to make a clamshell box – I was so delighted to get to grips with box making properly. Jane is fantastically neat and careful with measurements and it’s absolutely worth getting these perfect.

clamshellboxI have so many ideas for using boxes – and her technique will make it much simpler. So you might be seeing more of this sort of work in the future :


We managed to cover such a lot in three days; this is a star book, which is a favourite of mine as I had a couple of these as a child – which had scenes from fairy stories in them. In fact, I still have them….starbookblank

starbook1 starbook2

There was plenty of folding – from double fold concertina books to various sorts of origami folding, including how best to do a circular cover. On our last day we did some stitched bindings; a buttonhole stitch and a long stitch book. I particularly liked the latter as we tore all the pages so they had deckled edges. longstitch

It was a delight to work with a bookbinding expert – and to focus purely on structure for a change, as well as to have some time just to learn and think – a bit like being back at college. And it’s great to know the rules first – then you can go ahead and break them!