The art of making a book, in various forms
December 14, 2014 7:28 PM   Subscribe

The art of making a book (original video on Facebook, without added music) takes you through the traditional manual process of bookbinding, from selecting and setting the individual letters to finally binding the book in leather and adding finishing touches. If you'd like to try your hand at something similar but with some modern flourishes, there are plenty of tutorials and guides, linked below.

For comparison: Making Books (1947, Encyclopaedia Britannica Films), and Automatic Exercise Book Machine Model: SAC-1020 HP (2012), as well as How to Make a Book from the Internet Archive Bookmobile (2003).

If you'd like to try your hand at one of a number of ways to make a book, Meet Me At Mikes has a round-up of 25 online guides, more or less, from a simple method of binding a book with twine and a stick to a more refined process, complete with clamps. Some styles are repeated, while others are actually guides for sale, but it's still a handy list.

Creative Bloq has an Adobe InDesign-focused 10-step process, but if you ignore the technical specs, you can get a lot out of it, if you'd like to try a glued spine. For more options, WikiHow has a collection of a few ways to bind a book, with short video clips to assist you in the process.

If you'd like something more, and you're willing to download a 1.2mb HTML package, check out the Layman's Guide to Book-Binding by Supaslim on DeviantArt. This guide is divided into 7 steps, plus five options increasingly difficulty for binding (rope binding, glue binding, and three sewn bindings).

If you'd prefer video tutorials, there is no shortage of those. For a starter, here's Bookbinders Chronicle, who have 9 clips of varying lengths, from the short paring leather with Japanese Steel, to the two-part tutorial on sewing headbands, running almost 35 minutes long.

If you're lucky, you might have a local bookbinding group, like the Virginia Arts of the Book Center, who have some workshop materials online, including a guide on basic accordion books and a guide to make coptic books, made with two-needle sewing (both are PDfs).

If you'd like some help with the terminology, you might find the Multilingual Bookbinding and Conservation Dictionary wiki helpful.
posted by filthy light thief (18 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, well done!
posted by IndigoJones at 7:43 PM on December 14, 2014

Very nice indeed
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 8:11 PM on December 14, 2014

Fantastic post! I've been taking a few book arts classes over the last couple of years, and I've found it incredibly rewarding, though I never have quite gotten the hang of sewing headbands.
posted by MrBadExample at 8:26 PM on December 14, 2014

Obligatory from my childhood: At the Bindery. Thank you Geordi LaForge.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:35 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Full Episode here.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:40 PM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hat tip to korej for the original video, which set me off on this topic.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:59 PM on December 14, 2014

Making your own books is so satisfying.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:17 AM on December 15, 2014

When I was 20 I took a job in a "fold, stitch and trim" bindery that happened to be across the street from the cheap apartment I was renting in Cleveland. They trained me as a folder operator, which work entailed brief periods of configuring a machine to fold a particular size and type of paper in a particular pattern, followed by hours or days of loading unfolded paper onto one end of the machine and unloading stacks of folded paper from the other end. The folded pieces would pile up at the end of the machine, which would always be set to fold a certain number and then pause for a moment to allow the operator to unload a known-sized stack. Large, heavy sheets of paper being folded many times would take a while to go through, leaving the operator with brief periods of 30 seconds or so with nothing to do.

There was another folder operator, Joe, who was old enough to retire but putting it off. He was Dutch, and had done his apprenticeship in Europe just before WWII. Even then most bookbinding operations were handled by big machines, but he'd been trained as a sample maker. Sample books, made up for a publisher before a large production run, were still being bound by hand because the big machines were so cumbersome and expensive to set up. I frequently eased the boredom of those 30-second interstices by running over to Joe's station, listening to his stories of WWII and quizzing him about bookbinding. This was all pre-internet, and Joe seemed like an alchemist entrusting me with arcane secrets. The adhesive for attaching gold leaf to the edges of a book was a mixture, he told me, of egg whites and "the fluid from the gall bladder of an ox." He made crude sketches of the ivory-headed tool used to press the gold into the adhesive. How can you beat that? Joe gave me a big lump of animal-based glue -- translucent reddish-brown and gelatinous -- that I kept for years. It smelled awful when heated as was necessary to liquefy it for use, which is probably why I only ever made one or two books myself.
posted by jon1270 at 4:50 AM on December 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Head over to gwint's thread on the grey here to get some content for your handmade book.

Excellent FPP, BTW!
posted by Harald74 at 6:45 AM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, so, this is my job. Like, I go to work and do hand bookbinding. All day. From folding sheets to gilding decorations.

And it's great!

Here's some more stuff.

Our professional organization here in the states is called The Guild of Bookworkers. There are regional chapters that put together workshops for people to learn things. In Canada you have CBBAG, and in the UK you have the SoB and Designer Bookbinders.

There are also a ton of regional places, like the Center for Book Arts in NYC, the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis, the Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Maryland, the American Academy of Bookbinding in Telluride, CO, and the North Bennet Street School in Boston (disclaimer: I'm a graduate of the full time program and now teach middle school book arts there). And I'm sure there are more I don't know about!

The supplier most bookbinders use in the states is called Talas. If you want glues, cloth and various entry level tools, that's where to go.

Jeff Peachey is a conservator and toolmaker who has a pretty excellent blog. In the first video for the FPP, a beating hammer is used to beat the folds flat. Peachey did a census of beating hammers a year or so ago, and there aren't very many of those hammers left. Each one is probably pretty valuable, especially to a bookbinder interested in doing things historically.

Flash of the Hand is a blog run by my friend and studio-mate Erin Fletcher, and it has a few tutorials and a whole bunch of interviews with bookbinders and book artists.

Lastly, there's a decent amount of resources over on /r/bookbinding on reddit, although it's not super active.

I could tell you about this stuff for days.
posted by clockbound at 7:46 AM on December 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

There's also the University of Iowa Center for the Book, where I did my training 20+ years ago (I'm a book & document conservator, my work has been featured on the Blue previously).

And Erik Kwakkel's blog and tumblr are always worth a look, for those interested in medieval books & documents.

Great post, filthy light thief.
posted by Shadan7 at 8:24 AM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

clockbound, and I'd listen, rapt.

Do you, or anyone else, have any idea of who all are making the book in the video above the fold? Neither the Facebook page, nor the re-posted YouTube video have any credits, and I haven't seen credit given or claimed. (And does anyone know what book they're making? I tried to search by the text shown in the video, but I can't discern enough to get a full phrase, let alone a title, but it looks like a "reprint" of something old, due to the spelling.)
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on December 15, 2014

Another bookbinder here. Looks like the book is Sir Philip Sidney - Selected Prose and Poetry. Clockbound's advice is great - check your region and hopefully there is a bookbinder there offering classes. No better way to learn than from an instructor!
posted by ikahime at 1:30 PM on December 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks, ikahime! clockbound mentioned it may be a British or English-trained group, based on the binding style.

If you'd like to see some more gorgeous manually constructed books, Ambush Printing has some eye candy of their bookmaking process.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:40 PM on December 15, 2014

Thanks, filthy light thief, for giving me more reasons to ignore housework! (seriously, this is fabulous!)
posted by korej at 4:02 PM on December 15, 2014

Yes, Shadan! I thought of the University of Iowa's program while I was teaching my middle schoolers. The program at North Bennet actually comes from the program at the University of Iowa in a roundabout way. The great Bill Anthony taught the first instructor at North Bennet, Mark Esser (linking there to some exhibition work of Mark's as I can't seem to find a website for him). As a result, bookbinding at North Bennet is mostly in the English tradition, although the school is bringing in more guest instructors such as Sonya Sheats, who was trained primarily in the French style with some German influences.

Academically speaking, the University of Alabama has an MFA in Book Arts, and the University of Virginia runs Rare Book School every summer.

There's also the Paper and Book Intensive, which runs in mid-May in Michigan.

The Penland School of Crafts always has some Book and Paper related stuff as well.

Also, let's check out some more of this sort of thing here on the blue:

Here's the tag for bookbinding.

Book Art.

Book Arts.

And Ask's tag for bookbinding.

There's some good stuff in there, like one on Publisher's Bindings (highly collectible these days), and one of the British Library's database of Bookbinding (the main link no longer works, but the database is still online here).
posted by clockbound at 5:46 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, Bill was my mentor. Sally Key and a couple of other friends taught at your school, as well. The collection of digital images of binding models at Iowa is also not to be missed, but is surprisingly difficult to find.

Starting this coming year I'll be offering conservation training workshops. I'd recently come to the realization that with 20+ years in the business, it would be something of a shame to not pass on my experience to others who might benefit from it.
posted by Shadan7 at 7:11 PM on December 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thank you so much! I started bookbinding this year in a tiny artisan studio and am loving it.
posted by maca at 11:49 AM on December 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

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