It’s no secret that the arts and crafts movement is enjoying something of a resurgence in the UK – with knitting circles, screen printing courses, painting classes, cookery schools and make do and mend workshops springing up in practically every village, town and city across the country. Within this resurgence there is also reinvention – craft as the anti-consumer therapy. No longer the domain of ‘women of a certain age’, these workshops are attracting a wide range of multi-gender/age groups, bringing together people who need to unwind from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. With office environments becoming more and more corporate, it is perhaps unsurprising that there is increasing need to reconnect with ‘simpler’, rootier things. Perhaps it’s about putting ourselves back at the centre of the equation and seeing the results of our labour in a clearer form, without the politics of the office or the demands of shareholders muddying the waters; or perhaps it’s more simply because it’s a fun way to relax.
Keen to erase the stressful associations I have regarding anything related to crafts at school, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and have a go myself. Having moved to the West Country last year, I am lucky enough to have a number workshop venues on my doorstep (Folk House in Bristol and the Bath Artists Studios both came highly recommended), so I flicked through their ecclectic brochures to see what appealed. After discounting lampshade crafting, underwear making, cake icing and anything which involved clay, ink or paint, I happened upon a book-binding workshop led by Guy Begbie, which promised to teach participants how to create a French Stitch Hardcover book in a day.
Guy Begbie holds lectures in design at UWE and other universities across the UK, and has long been interested in books as an art form. This workshop had more of a practical focus – the aim being to create a small hardcover notebook, with pages bound together by french link stictches. It was one of the coldest days in January and more snow had fallen during the morning so the studio where the session was taking place was filled with heaters when we arrived. Many hadn’t been able to make it so there were six of us in total – two men (me and a Maths PhD student from Bath University), and three ladies, two of whom were currently taking OU design courses. Guy provided all the raw materials which somewhat surprisingly were fairly standard – set squares, cutting boards, A3 paper, chissels etc. Guy explained that once you’ve mastered the process, it is not difficult to carry on experimenting with book binding techniques at home so I’ll try and summarise the basic procedure below:
First off, we were given A3 sheets of paper which we folded in half and then half to create section sheafs of around 8 pages which you then stitch together to make bigger books. It was important to fold along the grain correctly and Guy taught us some techniques for getting a good, repeatable fold. A tool called a bone folder is used to make sure that the paper is tightly folded. The choice of paper is quite important, as is the way you cut the pages. Different grains and cutting techniques can yield a quite different end result in the texture of the book, and can be varied depending on the kind of book you’d like to make.
Next you have to measure and punch holes along the sections in preparation for sewing and gluing them together using a technique called French Link Stitching, which produces nice X-shaped patterns along the spine of the book. The bound sheafs are then glued together at the spine with standard PVA glue, and the spine is reinforced with a layer of soft fabric. You can now measure out the end papers (the coloured sheets that line the inside of a book at its start and finish). One sheet of A5 paper was folded in half and one side glued to the front and back page of the completed the naked book.
Finally we add the cover, which I found to be the most difficult part of the process. The book’s cover is typically made from a hard board (we used Grey board), which gives the book its rigid exterior. This is cut into two rectangles (one for the front and one for the back) and a thing rectangular spine. these are then lined with a hard-wearing cloth or leather to protect it against the elements. A section of book cloth is cut to the right dimensions and laid out, after which the three sections of cut board board are laid out and glued, with some room given where the spine is going to fold. Once the board has been glued to the cover it needs to be pressed tight with your fingers and smoothed to remove any air bubbles or creases. The book is then completed by gluing the outside edge of the end paper to the cover on each side. Care has to be taken when folding the cover over otherwise the spine of your book can end up at a strange angle (like mine!). Books should then be put into a bookpress over night, though you can substitute this with some heavy objects to weight it down.
The finished product:
In terms of getting started, there are a number of good guides and instructional videos on the internet if you can’t make it to a course. In terms of supplies, you can get most of the things you’ll need from a local craft shop. If you want to get some really good paper, suppliers are few and far between (a good one that Guy recommended for those in the UK is John Purcell of Brixton), though local craft shops will often have a way to order some supplies for you.
I was really happy with my new notebook, which I’m slowly filling up now. I think I’ll be experimenting with embossing and printing on the cover, trying different papers and sizes over the next year. I found the experience a great way to practice taking time over what I’m doing and it was a really great way to unwind (the stitching part proving particularly relaxing, oddly). The Maths student had attended several of Guy’s courses before and similarly admitted to finding it a great way to distress so I can definitely recommend putting any reservations aside and giving it a go.