Friday, October 7, 2011

My hands remember...

In my life B.C. (Before Children, that is), I was a hand bookbinder, and more specifically, a restoration bookbinder.  I repaired and restored old books.  I discovered the art/science/craft of it quite by chance, thanks to a second hand book dealer who got tired of me spending hours in his shop and told me to make myself useful and find something better to do with my time.  He handed me the business card of the man who was to become my mentor and friend.

I took to it with a passion and apparently some natural talent for it.  He taught me on books from the vault at the University of Arizona.  I have been privileged to turn the pages of some really magnificent books--the types of books you handle wearing white cotton gloves.

When I left Arizona I began to work on my own.  Mostly on things of sentimental value--grandma's old cookbook; dad's old high school yearbook; a lot of beastly large Victorian family Bibles.  Now and then there would be something really nice to work on.  I love restoring 17th and 18th century books.  They are beautiful  and so dignified (and most require a heck of a lot less gold tooling, which I never did enough of to get really good at!)

Anyway, just as I had discovered my craft a little late (at 29 years old), I also became a first-time mother late (at 35).  Una was born, and suddenly the books I had been so passionate about were, well, only books.  I still did some work in my bindery, but then Sebastian was born two years later, and I found it almost impossible to find time to work.  But I was okay with that, since I was discovering a whole new world through my little son and daughter.  The books could wait; the children would not.

When we opened our little Etsy shop back in February, I decided I would make some pocket-sized watercolor journals.  I made five of them.  It felt good to dust off the sewing frame and pull out the linen thread and beeswax. 

  My mentor passed away a few years ago, but I have many of his tools and books, and I find myself talking to him occasionally as I work, as I used to sitting at my workbench beside his in Arizona.

I am working on a second batch of watercolor sketchbooks right now.  My children are old enough to not need me at every moment (although I am right here when they do), and are numerous enough to keep one another company.  Thee oldest are old enough to keep an eye on the little ones.  I am finding my "bookbinder hands" again.  

  You know you have found your craft when you are in love with your medium.  Well, I love books and the stuff they are made of.  I love the precision required in book making, and I love the many ways in which a book can be put together.

Although it is not exactly like riding a bicycle, it is coming back to me.  Luckily I have a pretty good library of books on the craft and a lot of notes to remind me of what I haven't done in about ten years (but for the odd job as a favor for someone).  It feels pretty good...

Have you been up to something creative this week?  Would you like to see what others have been doing?  Stop by Natural Suburbia for Creative Friday and be inspired.


  1. WOW ~ this is amazing. I'm thinking this is a lost art, as there aren't many bookbinders around. You should be sure to pass this talent on to one of your children. :-)
    God bless and have a nice weekend!

  2. What an interesting craft! I love history. I would love to handle books from so very long ago. Amazing. God bless. (A very nice post!)

  3. What an amazing talent you are. I am facinated at your craft. The little journals are gorgeous. Jacinta

  4. What an amazing thing to know, and possibly pass on to your children! As amazing as the old books are the tools and equipment you use! LOVE that last pic...are those YOUR handdrawn notes? Simply beautiful. Thanks for telling us about it. I refer to life as BC, too, btw!

  5. When I went to library science grad school in Alabama, the other half of the program was "book arts," which was an art binding and book-making graduate program. I never got to take a class, but I loved looking at the books and often wished I could learn the art. It seemed so beautiful, that I occasionally wondered if I was studying the wrong thing. I don't regret my library science degree, but I do think book binding is absolutely lovely.


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