Bound to please right from the start: In class at Summer Art Institute 2014

July 28, 2014 by
SAI week 1: 10 bound books

My week’s work, minus the wedding present.

When the first 2014 Summer Art Institute course hit the WSW studios on July 7, this archivist found herself charging into Full-Tilt Bookbinding with a bravado that belied her fear of being bound to flounder. But Susan Mills (whose recent residency resulted in 26 plants from the property molded into 26 types of handmade paper collated into an edition of 50 artist’s books with a sly reference to the history of the formfoiled my fears. Her class was energizing, edifying, and eerily productive. Who knew I could make 10 books in 5 days? I certainly astounded myself.

Full-Tilt Bookbinding: Class in session

Full-Tilt Bookbinding: Class in session

Susan’s method of teaching accommodates all types of students. The seven of us were a diverse lot of skill and talent. Stephanie teaches a college class in artists’ books. Suzanne teaches in the public school. Jane is starting a small press of poetry chapbooks written by women 50+. George, a photographer, wanted to make a book for his latest project bound in wood. Karen, a musician with the acoustic old-world folk band Caprice Rouge, was taking her second bookbinding class of the year.  Patrick is gearing up for art school. And I’m an archivist-librarian in the midst of tackling 40 years of WSW history.

Double-fan glue binding

Double-fan glue binding

Being persnickety and, to put it in the best light, a person who pays great attention to detail, I soon found myself lagging behind the others. (My propensity for measuring everything with a scale rule didn’t help—impossible to overcome residual training from my days in theatrical design.) But Susan repeatedly assured me I was keeping up just fine. “We must remember we all have different working methods,” she said kindly. It was easy to remember the structures Susan taught, because she demonstrated the steps in consumable chunks, and then spent her time troubleshooting individual quandaries as we worked. When half the class had finished the demonstrated tasks, she continued to the next stage. We produced at the rate of two books a day, learning a range of structures, including:

  • a single-quire (Nag Hammadi) codex bound in leather,
  • a non-adhesive multi-section limp paper cover binding,
  • a herringbone stitch with exposed spine,
  • a German Bradle flat-back case binding (with French groove),
  • a double-fan glue binding,
  • a single-sheet pamphlet binding,
  • a drumleaf binding, and
  • a Coptic stitch binding. (I challenge you to say all that fast.)
Patrick makes the single-quire codex leather binding

Patrick makes the single-quire codex leather binding

If you’re curious, definitions and instructions for a few of these structures can be accessed in the handy online Education Manual provided by the Booklyn Artists Alliance. More comprehensive and complicated resources are available on the Tutorials and Reference page of the Book Arts Web.

[pull_quote]There’s still time to have this much fun. In August, SAI is offering six more classes. Plus you can journey to Morocco with us in September. Why not sign up?[/pull_quote]

For the last day and a half, we were free to use these structures on works of our own devising. Some improvised with accordion and concertina bindings, which Susan hadn’t formally taught, but she nevertheless provided the needed instruction in the spur of the moment.  The inspiration for the concertina binding came from one of WSW’s artists books, Barbara Beisinghoff‘s The Angel is My Watermark.

Coptic binding, carefully sewn

Coptic binding, carefully sewn

At the conclusion of the class, I was proud of my output, and one of my endeavors was pressed to immediate use. I presented my herringbone-stitch book to my friends for their wedding anniversary, along with the suggestion of writing their feelings for each other on alternate pages.

My chef d’oeuvre was the rebinding in hardcover (with French groove!) of my precious and well-thumbed paperback Norton Introduction to Literature: Poetry, which I used as the text for a class I taught at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1970’s. Cased in a soft burnt-sienna suede, it opens perfectly. And my juvenile marginalia is intact.

Scaled up, scaled down, these techniques will underpin my efforts to write poetry and make art to place between two covers for many future years.  Armed with such pleasing artifacts, I am bound to go to town.

If you’re in the New York/New Jersey area, you can taste the joys of working with Susan Mills on September 28 by attending the fifth annual Sneak Peak event at Freshkills Park on Staten Island.  You’ll go home with a field notebook of your own creation.  Susan is making the cover paper, from plants harvested at Freshkills Park, here at WSW in early September.  If you’re in the Rosendale area around that time, come and lend a hand!


Interested in taking Full Tilt Bookbinding? You’re in luck, because we’re offering it for 2015, too!

Case-bound book, opened

The Norton Anthology of Poetry, flat on its back.