In August of 2022 I presented at my first conference. What you see above is the entire history of my bookbinding work in sample board form, laid out on tables at the front of a lecture theatre whilst I nervously waited for the delegates to swarm in and take their places!
The biennial Society of Bookbinders International Conference is well established as the society’s main event, often including speakers from other countries and delegates from around the world. There is a wide choice of lectures and demonstrations, which may be on history, design, conservation or related matters. It runs from a Thursday afternoon and ends with a formal Conference Dinner on the Saturday evening, followed by an auction of items donated by delegates and speakers. It is also the showcase for the entries to the International Competition, and these are on display throughout the Conference. There is also an extensive trade fair for delegates to visit including paper, leather, and general bookbinding suppliers.
The 2022 Conference was held at at the University of Bath from August 25th – 28th. I was joined by many other excellent speakers including; Stuart Brockman (Leather bound books: A two part demonstration on how to forward and cover), Mylyn McColl (Binding with fabric: An alternative method), Sol Rebora (Decorative design used inside and outside the covers of a flexible binding), Kathy Abbott (How things happen: Design and realising your ideas), Christopher Harvey (Held to Account: The history, making and repair of the ledger spring back bindings for the College of Arms Library, London), Alan Fitch (Pop-up slipcase box: A two-part demonstration), Gangolf Ulbricht (Making conservation grade papers), Pamela Richmond (Lighting up a book by tooling and working with gold leaf), Tom McEwen (Edge decoration within design bindings and more), Arthur Green (Leather paring and the importance of sharp tools) and also a Zoom presentation by Julie Chen (Artists Books).
This conference was due to take place in 2021, but inevitably was postponed due to Coronavirus so all of the attendees seemed keen to be back together catching up on all things bookbinding-related over the course of the long weekend. The subject of my presentation was, “Embroidered bindings: From design to sample board”, focussing on my ever growing collection of sample boards that I have always made as part of my binding process.
A big part of this talk would be about the bindings that my sample boards were made for. Whilst cataloguing all my sample boards I realised I was missing some vital information on the publishers, book dimensions and box sizes. It would have been easier if I’d have kept a master list over the years rather than bits of information being jotted down across different notebooks, computer files and blog entries but unfortunately I wasn’t that organised! I therefore spent a whole day working through (what was) this random unorganised box of my bookbinding past into chronological order and I felt so much better for it afterwards. Each of the files contains design drawings, making notes, test prints and other items from all my previous fine bindings and whilst looking through these I managed to fill in pretty much all the gaps – phew! I feel much better organised to keep a better record going ahead now…
Now that I am on the other side of the conference weekend I have decided to post up my presentation as a blog post, for my future personal reference, and for those that weren’t able to make it to either the conference or my talk in particular. The schedule of the conference allows most speakers to present the same talk during a 75 minute session on both Friday and Saturday. Three presentations happen at the same time in different lecture halls so if you missed a talk you wanted to see the first day then there was an opportunity to see it on the next day instead. I was very keen to go and see Tom McEwan demonstrating edge decoration but unfortunately he was scheduled in for the same time slots as me on both days so I’ll have to make do with reading his hand-out notes!
Below follows the transcript of my talk, plus the accompanying images that were displayed on a big projection screen behind me in the lecture theatre. Presentation number two was a little more slick than version one due to fewer technical hitches with my images (note to self, create a proper Powerpoint file for next time!) and a little more explanation of a few things based on comments I received in presentation one.
“Embroidered bindings: From design to sample board”
This presentation is titled, “Embroidered bindings: From design to sample board” and will focus on my most prized objects, my ever growing collection of sample boards. I hope to explain to you how I came to start such a collection, how my binding designs end up on these boards and my motivations for keeping it going. There will be time given at the end to view all the boards in person, and some of you will had already had a look on your way into the lecture theatre.
To this day I have made a sample board to the same shape and size for each of the fine bindings I have ever made. I have Tracey Rowledge to thank for this collection as I was doing a gold tooling course with her at City Lit at the time in 2006 and she encouraged students to work on small sample boards off the book first. I’ll come back to details of the first board I made a little later in the presentation, but in short this kick-started my intention to create a board of a fixed size for each book I would bind. At that time I certainly had no awareness that I would become a full time bookbinder ten years later and I’d be talking about this collection at a conference!
Since then I have amassed over 60 boards and counting, each measuring 124mm x 78mm, some landscape and some portrait depending upon the format of the design. Not all of which have actually made it into books, some were tests for other items or speculative pieces but most of which have made it through the binding process and are now spread across the world in book form.
* MY BACKGROUND
For those that don’t know me I want to start with a bit of background about myself. I am a bookbinder working from my home studio in Shepton Mallet, in the heart of Somerset, where I have lived for just over five years.
I studied Three-Dimensional Crafts at Brighton University, otherwise known as WMCP for Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics which are the material areas we were taught in. It was a three year course and I specialised in metalwork and ceramics in my final year. It was during my final year that one of my fellow students started doing a bookbinding evening class and I thought how fun that would be and signed myself up. My first tutor was Peter Jones, Fellow of Designer Bookbinders, and I absolutely loved the craft.
Soon after I moved back to London and carried on bookbinding classes at the Institute in North London. I also started to work for the Victoria and Albert Museum as a Mount-making Technician, and remained there for eight years working to make mounts for incredibly beautiful objects so that they could be displayed effectively.
It was during this time that I stumbled across both the Society of Bookbinders and Designer Bookbinders so started entering competitions and amazingly selling work off the back of exhibiting with the societies. This led to some commission work coming in and fast forward a few years here I am today at the conference I attended as a delegate in the hot seat presenting my own work! I specialise in embroidering on leather to create fine bindings and I really look forward to sharing some of my work with you today.
* MY STUDIO
I live in a Grade II listed building with a rich history dating from the 1700s. I am really lucky to work in a brand-new studio space above my home which was converted during 2021. The studio was created from an entirely disused space on the top floor of the house which appears to have been directly linked to a large adjoining mill. During the 1830s, the house absorbed its industrial features and became a private residence.
The studio is light and airy with plenty of windows, and has been opened up into the eaves, exposing the original roof timbers. Two of the six windows feature newly commissioned stained glass, made by a neighbour in his local workshop. These have been installed into stone frames that had been blocked up for many years. The walls have been rendered with traditional lime plaster which is porous and helps to stabilise the internal humidity of the space by absorbing and releasing moisture.
The floor of the studio was reinforced with extra joists to safely support my 500kg cast iron board chopper in one corner. Many of the cupboards within the studio were repurposed from old kitchen cabinets in the house, as the studio build was done at the same time as installing in a new kitchen downstairs!
I knew I would be doing this presentation a couple of years ago, and like any well prepared person I left it until the last minute to write this talk! It did however give me the push I needed to catalogue all my sample boards which has been no mean feat.
* MY WEBSITE, BLOG POSTS AND SAMPLE BOARDS
Over the last couple of years I have redone my website, which I am very pleased with but I lost a bit of content in the transfer which included publication details and sizes of all the early bindings which I’ve had to trawl my computer, old social media posts, auction listings and notebooks for which has been rather time consuming but very worth it in the long run as I now feel more prepared going forward to keep an accurate record.
I started writing blog posts about each of my fine bindings in April of 2014 when my husband and I started living in the South of France for 18 months whilst doing a house swap. The blog started off as a record of our time there for friends and family to read and has now morphed into a digital record of how each of my fine bindings and other projects have gone.
Although the sample board and blog elements make the commission process longer, in the long run for me it is now a vital part of each project. The combination of both of these elements have provided me with vital visual catalogue to show to clients and students, and a point of reference for future work I take on. As much as it is useful to have images of each of my bindings it is so wonderful to also have a physical record of each of my books too for their texture and colour and of course it is great to have for presentations such as this!
I am not going to take you through each of the 60 plus sample boards or else we’d be here forever, however they are all available for you to look at after this presentation. What I am going to show you is a selection of my favourite and the most interesting pieces I have made over the fifteen years I have been binding and why I have selected to show these particular ones to you.
Some of the sample boards are actually sample books, but where possible made to the same height and width dimensions as the rest of the boards so they sit in with the collection. There are a couple that are smaller than that as the bindings themselves were miniatures so they are made to the same miniature size as the commissioned binding. The reason why some are in book-form is to test out structures of the bindings as well as the cover designs.
When I take on commission work I offer two options to clients, either they can be involved in the design and have input or the whole process can be kept secret until the binding is presented to them. I like to think that I have done enough bindings now to know that the clients are aware of the type of binding they can expect to receive – embroidered with a lot of detail!
* WORKING THROUGH THE PROCESS
Before showing you some selected sample boards I would like to take you through a whistle-stop tour of of how they are created. This is not a demonstration of how they are made, rather a breakdown of the step-by-step points I go through as follows:
1. First I need to receive a commission, or in the case of creating a speculative binding source a text – for example for a competition entry. In this picture you see the original book I found of ‘Grasses of Great Britain’ that I bound for the 2022 Designer Bookbinders International Competition.
2. It’s really important to read the book or research it online to start to inform design choices. In the case of reference books or if it written in another language the internet can be very helpful.
3. I start to draw up the designs as line drawings either free hand or with the use of a light box, most designs span both covers and the spine too. Once I am content with the design I select a section of it to make into a sample board, often portrait but sometimes landscape. As all my sample boards are a fixed size being 124mm by 78mm, I have a window of the same dimensions cut out of card so I can select an appropriate part of the design for the board by visually isolating areas. If the book is very large I sometimes scale the design drawing down so that I fit more of the design on it.
4. Once I have an idea of the design I can start to source the materials; leather for both the full binding and the onlays, paper for the doublures, any additional onlay materials (sometimes wood or metal) and the thread colours that will work for the design.
5. I make up the inner board by laminating layers of different materials together to make it very stable. From the outside of the board in: two layers of watercolour paper (these layers are bevelled with sandpaper on all four outer edges of the board), a core of Gemini board (the thickness depending upon the size and scale of the book that the boards are being made for, often two or more layers laminated together) and then a layer of archival Kraft on the reverse.
6. I pare the leather on all four sides using my Brockman paring machine, taking the leather to level 0.4mm all the way around which is the same thickness as the watercolour paper I use to infill the inside of the boards. The step that is created by doing this is then removed using a French paring knife.
7. I then work on the leather onlays, cutting them to the correct shape and sticking them to the covering leather using a tracing paper template in order to place them correctly. They are then back pared using a French paring knife.
8. Next I work on the embroidery. This can’t be done any sooner in the process as back-paring the leather would cut the stitching.
9. Once all the embroidery is complete I stick the leather to the board with paste, made from flour and water cooked on a Bain Marie. The edges and corners are turned in and the board is then left to dry overnight between boards under a light weight, regularly changing blotting papers to draw out the moisture from the leather.
10. Once the board is dry I add any extra items I may have made for the board including any metal cut-outs on pins that are drilled through the boards. Once these are secured I can infill the reverse of the board. This is then left to dry and any lumps and bumps are sanded down once the paper is dry.
11. Finally a layer of Zerkall is cut a few millimetres smaller than the overall board size and stuck down on the inside of the board before being left to dry. This is then sanded, before the doublure layer can be stuck down to finish the board off. The doublure is usually made of patterned paper, designed to match the board design in some way.
* THE CHOSEN BOARDS
I have selected twenty five of my sample boards to go more detail into. I am going to start at the beginning, back to the first binding I ever made that I referenced at the start of this talk. I would liek to explain that each of the images of the sample coming up show the front of the board on the left and the back of the board on the right.
SAMPLE BOARD #1: ‘The Somme: An Eyewitness History’ by Robert T. Foley and Helen McCartney
‘The Somme: An Eyewitness History’ by Robert T. Foley and Helen McCartney was the first fine binding I ever worked on. I made it for the 2007 Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition, and it tells the story of the Somme as an edited collection of extracts from eyewitness accounts woven into a narrative.
I based the cover design on a map of the trenches that accompanied the text block and I made a pocket in the back board of the binding to slide this in and out of. I used a series of hand-made finishing tools to tool the leather in both carbon and Moon gold. As I mentioned earlier, at the time I was doing a gold tooling course with Tracey Rowledge at City Lit in London.
I used my sewing machine here to add some thread detail in red through the pale blue goatskin across the cover so from the very beginning each of my fine bindings have included sewing. This is the only binding of mine that I actually still own and I have it here with me today to show alongside the sample board at the end of the talk.
SAMPLE BOARD #3: ‘Don’t Look Now and Other Short Stories’ by Daphne Du Maurier
The second sample board I am showing you is number three, from what I am going to refer to as my “pierced brass onlay” phase. After graduating from Brighton University I worked for nine months with a couple of jewellers down there before moving back to London. This gave me the chance to hone my soldering skills and metalwork became something I experimented with adding to my bindings.
‘Don’t Look Now and Other Short Stories’ by Daphne Du Maurier was the set book for the Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition in 2008. The book contains many short stories but the one I chose to focus on was “The Birds”. It’s a horror story of a farmhand, his family, his community, and all of England, under attack by flocks of birds in kamikaze fashion. The design was chosen to depict a menacing flock of birds spanning the whole cover of the book.
For this book I tested out piercing bird outlines from plate brass and I then soldered brass pins onto the back so that the birds could be mechanically fixed through the boards of the book. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any images of the brass birds in my records but these images hopefully give you an idea of what I am trying to describe. The first shows the brass pins and the cut and rounded tops, the second shows these pieces soldered together, and the third shows cut-outs of animals (like the bird outlines) soldered onto similar pins.
When making my books I always try to think ahead about the life of the book. I don’t like to trust glues as they may degrade over time meaning the bits may start to fall off so I always ensure items are additionally fixed to the book boards by some mechanical means too, either using posts like here or with stitching. There are also some machine sewn bird outlines and tooling on this board too.
SAMPLE BOARD #9: ‘In the Heart of the Country’ by H.E. Bates
I am now going to take you through to what I am calling the “attaching other materials” phase with sample board number 9. ‘In the Heart of the Country’ by H.E. Bates represents a tribute to the many facets of the English countryside. It describes the spring of 1941, the coldest for a hundred years, and June days as grey as January; a reassuring mid-summer of foxgloves and fishing trips; an autumn of kingfishers and trees heavy with fruit; and the rural isolation of a harsh winter with bushes still laden with berries in December. The design of this book was based on one of the images within the story, showing a field of flowers and ears of corn blowing in the wind.
This binding was made whilst I was working at the Victoria and Albert Museum. As I worked in the workshops at the museum I would encounter lots of little scraps of materials being thrown away. Forex Board, otherwise known as PVC Foam Board, is a very strong board, a lot stronger than standard foam board. It has a matt finish with a very fine texture and sometimes has a protective layer on the other side to ensure it is suitable for printing purposes.
I thought I would try using it as a bold element on a book cover so used a jewelry piercing saw to cut out the daisy shapes from the Forex and these were attached to the board after covering with the leather. I used stitches passed through small holes drilled in the boards, plus each daisy has a hand-pierced and lacquered brass centre also sewn to the book.
SAMPLE BOARD #10: ‘The Collected Stories of Nikolai Gogol’ by Nikolai Gogol
Sample board 10 was for a binding of ‘The Collected Stories of Nikolai Gogol’, the set book in the 2010 Designer Bookbinders Competition. Nikolai Gogol was a Ukrainian-born Russian writer. Although many of his works were influenced by his Ukrainian heritage and upbringing, he wrote in the Russian language and his works are among the most beloved in the tradition of Russian literature. The design of this book is therefore based on the iconic onion domes seen all over Russia. They are a type of architectural dome usually associated with Russian Orthodox churches. The book cover has a series of domes running across it made from a variety of materials.
This was the first binding that I added frosted acrylic pieces onto the front of. We used a lot of acrylic at the V&A to make mounts so there were many offcuts being thrown away. The acrylic pieces were profiled slightly using a machine with a hot wire to heat the acrylic up enough so that it could be bent (we utilised this machine a lot for the production of acrylic book cradles). It was important to do that so that the bottom edge of the acrylic could follow the bevel of the book cover on the bottom edge of the cover design.
This was the first binding that I had the brass pierced elements plated in gold too. Again, as with the birds binding, I soldered pins to the back of the cut-outs and these were used to physically attach the metal pieces through the boards.
SAMPLE BOARD #11: ‘A Choice of Churches’ by Michael Harrison
On the binding of sample board 11 I also used some tiny acrylic offcuts to make up a dry stone wall. The binding is ‘A Choice of Churches’ by Michael Harrison and is a guide to churches with literary connections from Cornwall and Devon including selections from writers such as D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. I wanted to depict a quintessential scene of a British Church on the cover to match the content of the book including a dry stone wall and rolling hills.
The binding is covered in brown goatskin with miscellaneous leather onlays in dark grey, light grey, green, cream and black ,and inlays in pink and lilac. The dry stone wall is made up from hand-sewn outlines of stones, plus some hand-pierced frosted acrylic stones with ‘moss’ behind, which was in fact bought from a model shop as grass for dolls houses. The acrylic pieces were attached through the sample board and covers of the book with lime green thread and brass wire. On this binding too I added some wooden trees and bushes, cut to puzzle-piece in with the metal church that was made from gold plated brass.
SAMPLE BOARDS #13 AND #28: ‘Mayflies of the Driftless Region’ with wood engravings by Gaylord Schanilec
When we get to sample board number 13 I started to experiment more with different stitches to build up a more complex design. I had been working just with running stitch up to now but on this sample board I also included: chain stitch, French knots, cable stitch and couching.
‘Mayflies of the Driftless Region’ was published by Midnight Paper Sales in the USA in 2005. It includes beautiful Wood Engravings by Gaylord Schanilec. A book called Dry Fly Entomology by Frederic Halford, published in London in 1897, was the inspiration for Mayflies of the Driftless Region. Frederic Halford was the Victorian innovator and populariser of modern fly-fishing. He didn’t claim his work as a comprehensive entomological catalogue of all mayflies, rather it was aimed at providing anglers with a basic, working understanding of the nature of aquatic insects. The same applies to Mayflies of the Driftless Region; it is not a field guide but instead, it is a study of mayflies by an artist.
The text block consists of thirteen coloured wood engravings and scientific identifications of different species of mayflies found in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, USA. I started by looking at images of mayflies, and more specifically their wings, as I liked the structured yet random pattern made by them. I felt embroidery would lend itself well to representing the mayfly in my design, enabling me to show the delicate forms of the wings.
For the eye of the mayfly on the cover I rounded off the end of a brass rod, sliced this piece off and soldered it to a pin. The surface of the dome was then patterned with dots using a centre punch. The eye was then inserted through the board with the pin on the reverse.
This was the first binding that I made two sample boards for as I was commissioned to make a second copy of the book for another client. As a general rule I don’t duplicate bindings, however on three occasions now I have made an exception to this rule. I have always done this with the advance permission of the owner of the first copy of the book to check that they don’t mind me working on a second copy.
My condition of making a second version is that I change the colours of the leather and embroidery threads (although the design itself has remained the same). Copy two of this binding was made three years later in 2014 and is sample board 28 in my series.
SAMPLE BOARD #17: ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy
The next sample board I am going to show you is number 17 and shows my design for Tess of The D’Urbervilles, a novel by Thomas Hardy. Though now considered a major 19th-century English novel it received mixed reviews when it first appeared. Tess was portrayed as a fighter not only for her rights, but also for the rights of others. The novel is set in an impoverished rural England, Thomas Hardy’s fictional Wessex.
The design features the figure of Tess sitting milking a cow doing her job is a milkmaid. Red was chosen as an overall theme for this binding as there are many references to it in the story, including Tess wearing a red ribbon in her hair and the symbolism of red strawberries.
This was the first binding that I experimented with inlaying wood veneer into the leather, so was the start of my ‘inlaid veneer phase’ , rather than having it cut out and laid proud on the surface of the leather. The oak veneer was being sold as wood for a dolls house floor with the appearance of planks which worked really well for the wooden hut on the cover of the binding.
SAMPLE BOARD #18: ‘David Golder’ by Irène Némirovsky
Whilst studying my sample boards in preparation for this talk I noticed that sample board 18 was the first that I started to use whipping stitch. A whip stitch is when a second piece of thread is wound around the running stitch on the top of the leather which helps to consolidate and clean up the line of threads.
‘David Golder’ was written by Irène Némirovsky and was her first novel. It was first published in France in 1929 and won instant acclaim for the 26-year-old author. The novel opens with David Golder refusing to help his colleague of many years, Marcus. As a result of this, Marcus, bankrupt, commits suicide. Following the funeral, Golder travels to Biarritz where he has a huge, opulent house. His wife and daughter reside there in luxury, spending David Golder’s cash like water. On the train, he suffers a heart attack. Seriously ill, he is forced to re-evaluate his life.
The design is based on the rags to riches life of David Golder who is a self-made man, from humble beginnings turning into a cold, ruthless businessman. He realises that his wealth has not brought him happiness, he is just a provider for his uncaring family. His wife and daughter are selfish and only look to him when they need money for more jewellery, furs and cars. The chandelier on this design illustrates his wealth and is in contrast to the bare light bulb on the back of the book. David Golder dies in self-imposed poverty having learned a bitter lesson about money and happiness.
SAMPLE BOARDS #19 AND #44: ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden: A Posy From the Plays’ by Walter Crane
I love flowers and next want to highlight two sample boards that I did for two versions of the same book. ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden: A Posy From the Plays’ is one of a series of “flower fantasies” produced by Walter Crane towards the end of his life. This book combines the originality of his earlier illustrative work with fragments of quotations from Shakespeare.
It is a full leather binding in purple goatskin with miscellaneous coloured leather onlays. The leather is embroidered over the onlays with coloured silks and metallic threads using a variety of embroidery stitches and there are some gold plated brass pieces attached to the boards too. The second version was bound in grey goatskin and is sample board number 44.
All of these quotes contain names of flowers. Walter Crane who, throughout the book, depicts figures wearing outfits made up of each of the flowers illustrates all of these quotes. The first of these books, shown in sample board 19, was made for the 2nd Designer Bookbinders International Competition in 2013 where the set theme was Shakespeare. The cover, doublure and endpaper design is made up of each of the flowers mentioned in the book.
SAMPLE BOARDS #25 AND #26: ‘Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker’s Journey Through 9-11’ by Richard Goodman
Sample board number 25 was the third book for which I have made two bindings. The second of which is sample board number 26.
‘Bicycle Diaries: One New Yorker’s Journey Through 9-11’ is by Richard Goodman and was published by Midnight Paper Sales, USA in 2011. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Richard Goodman, like many New Yorkers, was on his way to work. As he crossed Madison Avenue, he looked south to see one of the World Trade Center Towers “bellowing smoke.”
He wrote, “I could set my position in time by that moment, like the frozen clock at Hiroshima.” For the next three months, Richard rode his bike almost every day from the Upper West Side to the World Trade Center disaster site, or as near as he could get to it. When he returned home, he wrote about what he had seen.
From his bicycle, Richard could “feel” the smell of water as he pedalled along the Hudson. He navigated through the chaos and uncertainty in the city, and observed the massive mobilisation of the rescue effort. The Bicycle Diaries is a very personal account that documents the process of one New Yorker, among 19 million, dealing with the World Trade Center tragedy: from the initial shock through the process of returning to some sense of normalcy.
The binding design simply illustrates the scene of a bike parked on a New York Street whilst the author gets closer to the aftermath of 9-11. I had been in New York myself around the time I made this book and the layout of the cover was based on a photo I took of a bike locked up against a lamp post.
The wheel spokes on this sample board and binding were made using fine gold wire, and there are two gold plated brass elements inserted through the front board. The wires were secured down to the boards using tiny little stitches that were passed through small holes I drilled in the boards. Version two of this binding has very thin black wire for the bicycle spokes instead and was bound in brown goatskin.
SAMPLE BOARD #27: ‘Claude Monet’ by Janet Savin
Sample board number 27 is the first that in fact isn’t a sample board but a full sample book instead. This was the first commission I had for a miniature book and I decided to test out the book structure by making a duplicate miniature binding to the same dimensions as the actual book. The miniature, ‘Claude Monet’ contains a short history of Monet’s life, including a final chapter about The Water Garden at Giverny, which was the main focus of Monet’s artistic production during the last thirty years of his life.
My design is based on the many paintings that Monet did of waterlilies (approximately 250 in total), many of these works were painted while he suffered from cataracts. I made up the pages in the same size as the original, and bound the book as a stub binding sewn onto two tapes.
It is a full leather binding in fair goatskin, dyed with analine dyes. Sections of the leather are dappled with acrylic paints and there are miscellaneous leather onlays in green, yellow, maroon and light blue. The leather is embroidered over the onlays with coloured silks using a variety of embroidery stitches. The headbands are made from leather, with the visible top edge painted with acrylic paint.
In order for this little book to sit in my sample board box up to the same level as the rest of the sample boards I made it a little sleeve for it to live in.
SAMPLE BOARD #31: ‘Sonnets From the Portuguese’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I absolutely love handwriting, and still to this day choose to keep handwritten lists and notes over digital ones. My website header shows my handwritten signature and my business card has been created from an embroidered version of that signature (which also now acts as the introductory board in my sample board collection).
The first binding I started embroidering words for was on a copy of ‘Sonnets From the Portuguese’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The book is a collection of 44 love sonnets written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning for her husband Robert Browning. She was hesitant to publish the poems as she thought they were too personal, however decided to do so under the guise of being translations of foreign sonnets, in order to retain some privacy.
The design reflects the importance of the letters written between Elizabeth and Robert Browning over the course of their life together. There are many references to letters throughout the book, so with this is mind, I decided to create a design incorporating a writing desk, ink well, fountain pen and paper. On the paper is part of one of the most familiar sonnets, number 44, written in script. The posy of flowers on the desk is to tie in the flower imagery that Elizabeth Browning also includes throughout the sonnets. On the endpapers and doublures, shown on the reverse of the sample board, I decided to have more of the sonnets hand-written, as if there are many letters placed on top of one another.
This binding also had a burl wood veneer inlaid into the top of the writing desk. Burl wood is cut from abnormal growths in knots or stumps at the base of a tree and it is the best type of wood that people use to make furniture and interiors. In this case the sample board was very necessary to test the gluing of the burl to the book.
SAMPLE BOARD #34: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Truman Capote
Some binding designs I have done to date have combined both machine embroidery with hand embroidery. I tend to steer away from machine embroidery now as it is harder to control the stitches than sewing by hand however I do turn to it for designs with lots of linear work. ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Truman Capote was the set book in the 2014 Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition. It was published in 1958. In it, a contemporary writer recalls his early days in New York City, when he makes the acquaintance of his remarkable neighbour, Holly Golightly, who is one of his best-known creations.
The design of the book shows a party scene, with Holly Go Lightly featuring on the front cover of the binding smoking a long cigarette. Holly seems like a party girl who cares only about money and finding the next fun thing, constantly attracting and then fending off unwanted advances from men she picks up at bars. She hosts a wild party at her brownstone apartment in New York that I chose as the theme for the binding.
As the book progresses we learn more about the vulnerability of the character. Holly lives with a ginger cat but refuses to give him a name, as although he lives with her in her apartment she doesn’t believe she owns him. I added the cat into my design, with his ginger fur contrasting with the darker party scene on the majority of the cover as her attachment to the cat was greater than she imagined.
As I was binding this book in haste in time for for the submission deadline I used my sewing machine to work the outer lines of the character’s legs to speed up the process. The machine stitches were then whipped with embroidery threads afterwards to make them look less machine-sewn.
SAMPLE BOARDS #37 and #40: ‘Love is Enough’ by William Morris
We now move onto two sample board versions that were made for one commission, however only one was actually made it into the binding. Number 37 and 40 were both designs made for ‘Love is Enough or the Freeing of Pharamond: A Morality’ by William Morris.
This book was published by William Morris’s The Kelmscott Press in 1897 and is a short nine-line poem that speaks on the power of love in the face of humankind’s most depressing, darkest experiences.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that “Love is enough.”, meaning that love is enough in the face of darkness. It has the power to make lovers fearless in a world that contains a lot of drab and depressing places.
The thing that struck me most about this book was the many references to the cycle of nature. The first design that I came up with for the binding was creating four quadrants on the book cover, depicting different flower designs in each. I was very taken by the drawings done by William Morris that were seemingly unfinished, with parts of the designs left uncoloured as line drawings which is where the appearance of this sample board emerged from.
After working on this sample board and discussions with the client, it was decided that they would actually prefer the design to not have an unfinished appearance so I worked on a second design option.
This was based on one of William Morris’s “Trellis” designs which has birds repeated on it. I decided to modify the pattern and change these birds to represent one for each of the seasons. For spring – a Goldfinch, summer – a Housemartin, autumn – a Serin and winter – a Brambling. Each crossover of the trellis has a gold plated brass piece attached, twenty eight in total on the book itself.
This experience showed me how useful sample boards can be, it is much better to spend time working on a sample board and then changing the design at that stage than having to redo a whole binding!
SAMPLE BOARD #42: ‘A Descriptive Bibliography of the Books Printed at The Ashendene Press’ by the Ashendene Press
Sample board number 42 is ‘A Descriptive Bibliography of the Books Printed at the Ashendene Press’ published by The Ashendene Press in 1935. This was a bibliography and the last book from the Ashendene Press. William Morris’s Kelmscott Press was the first of the major private presses, started as a way to counter the Victorian habit of producing thousands of cheaply made books. Alongside Kelmscott are ranked two other major presses from the same period, The Doves Press and The Ashendene Press.
The Ashendene Press was a small private press founded in Chelsea in 1895 by Charles Harold St. John Hornby. He was a partner in W H Smith & Sons, but he set up his own press to print books for his family and friends. It operated from 1895 through to 1935 with a break from 1915-1920 during the First World War.
The press often produced books in very small print runs and not many of the books were for sale – those that were sold were done so through a subscription service. The books were often illustrated and the Press employed Edward Johnston, Graily Hewitt and Eric Gill to design coloured initials for use in the books.
The book is a bibliography of the Ashendene Press and pictures many fonts that were designed for the Press. I decided to base my design on these, using them to illustrate the title of the binding across the cover. The endpapers were designed to look like a sample sheet of the Subaico font, based on a half-Roman type that was specially cast for the press, with the words “Ashendene” and “Press” pierced out on the front and back doublures and highlighted with gold leaf.
The sample board played a crucial role in this particular binding as I managed to spell the word ‘Ashendene’ wrong on it! But thankfully this was pointed out to me before working on the binding itself which was a huge relief. There are two wooden letters, “A” and “P”, plus one gold-plated brass “E” attached to the boards and I made an bespoke ivy leaf finishing tool with mahogany handle that was used to tool the binding and then stored in a compartment in the box with the binding.
SAMPLE BOARD #48: ‘The The Fables of Æsop’ Illustrated by Edward J. Detmold
Sample board number 48 appears on first glance normal around the turns ins. But when you look closely on the top edge you will see a small hole.
This board was for a copy of ‘The Fables of Æsop’ and bound for the 3rd International Designer Bookbinders Competition in 2017. The theme of the competition that year was ‘Myths, Heroes and Legends’ and I selected it as the fables each contain a narrative that seeks to illustrate a hidden message. The book contains a group of stories thought to have been written by Aesop, a Greek storyteller. The main characters in these stories are animals, and each story demonstrates a moral lesson.
I chose six fables to illustrate on different parts of the binding, as follows: The Oak and The Reeds on the box, The Eagle and The Arrow on the front cover, The Hen and The Golden Eggs on the front doublure, The Fisherman and The Little Fish on the book edges and endpapers, The Swallow and the Crow on the back doublure and The Ant and The Dove on the back cover.
I wanted to add little three dimensional characters to ‘sit’ on the top edge of the book, but to be removable. The hole in the sample board was a test run of inserting a metal tube into the boards in which to slide a pin that the little three dimensional birds were mounted into. The 3D birds could be removed from the top of the book boards and stored on perches in the top portion of the box.
SAMPLE BOARD #51: ‘Lines’ by William Wordsworth
Sample board number 51 is also an example of how I used both machine embroidery and hand embroidery to build up the design for this cover.
‘Lines: Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a tour: July 13th 1798, or, in short, ‘Lines’ is a 2002 publication by The Old Stile Press of a poem written by William Wordsworth which is often abbreviated to, ‘Tintern Abbey’ although the building doesn’t actually appear within the poem.
It was written by Wordsworth after a walking tour with his sister in this section of the Welsh Borders on the banks of the River Wye. The abbey fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Although there is no mention of Tintern Abbey by name in the poem, the full title of the book is very specific. The whole point of the poem is the location and the time, it tells the reader exactly where the speaker is and exactly when it was when it was penned. The influence of this bit of nature “a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” had upon Wordsworth’s development influenced the cover design I chose for the binding.
I searched for plans of Tintern Abbey online and found some wonderful architectural drawings that were published on March 22nd 1884 in, The Builder. The Builder was a journal of architecture published in the UK in the 19th and 20th centuries. It began publication in 1843 and absorbed another journal titled ‘Architecture’.
The cover design of the book depicts the “Detail of West Entrance”, but I chose to split it and tie the front and back covers together by drawing Lines (therefore directly relevant to the title of the book) using carbon tooling. I was able to incorporate the title of the book in between these lines on the bottom half of the spine.
Given the linear structure of the design, this lent itself very well to machine embroidery. Once all of these initial lines were sewn I was then able to whip threads by hand around these lines to consolidate them and neaten them up.
SAMPLE BOARD #54: ‘La Prose Du Transsibérien’ by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay
I don’t often work with vellum but a few years ago I bought myself a small skin of vellum that I was looking forward to using. Sample board 54 is another that in fact was made as a sample book in order to also test out a book structure.
‘La Prose Du Transsibérien’ was a book by by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay, published in 1913. Kitty Maryatt of Two Hands Press in California, USA, re-created this wonderful book in 2018. The 1913 book was printed on four large sheets of paper, trimmed, glued into a scroll, then folded in half vertically and folded again into an accordion-fold book.
150 copies of the re-creation were made and bound by a variety of professional binders around the world, each including hand-painted pochoir (stencil) illustrations and the text was printed by letterpress in multiple colours and typefaces.
I did quite a lot of research ahead of binding this book I found out that the author of the book, Blaise Cendrars, lost his right arm in WW1 and had to learn to write with his left hand following this. Taken from examples of his actual handwriting, the left-hand board (back) has part of the story transcribed in his left hand and the right hand board (front) in his right hand. The words are intricately embroidered using the colours and patterns taken from the wonderfully vibrant pochoir of Sonia Delaunay.
As the book was supplied to us in large sheets, they needed to be stuck together and folded into a concertina. I decided to make a sample book to test out how best to make a case to contain this concertinaed book block plus to test out how the vellum would react on the boards of the binding.
SAMPLE BOARD #57: ‘The Grasses of Great Britain’ by John E. Sowerby
Jumping straight onto another sample board made as a book is number 57 in the collection. Made in 2021 for the 4th Annual Designer Bookbinders International Competition is a copy of ‘The Grasses of Great Britain’ by Charles Johnson.
This book is an important English herbarium with 144 colour plates by John E. Sowerby. Not only does it include the history of grasses but also their uses as medicines, edible plants and for healing.
John Edward Sowerby was a British botanical illustrator and publisher active in the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Coming from a family of botanical painters, his father and grandfather both published books on English plants, it is likely that he began illustrating at a young age. He inherited a taste for botanical drawing, and in 1841 produced his first work – the plates for his father’s Illustrated Catalogue of British Plants. His life was later mainly spent illustrating botanical works for several books, in collaboration with Charles Johnson, and his son Charles Pierpoint Johnson, who contributed the text for this volume on The Grasses of Great Britain.
The cover design of this binding was based on the wonderful colour plates found in this book. Twenty nine species of grass were selected from the 144 colour plates and laid out across the front and back covers of the book, around a half circle. The grasses were embroidered in colours to match the plates and they were laid out to best use the space on the boards.
When I pulled this book to my horror it was stab bound in individual sheets. I needed to test run a new binding method for this type of binding so again it made sense to make a small book to enable me to do this. The individual pages of the book were grouped together into new sections by tipping together bunches of pages at the spine. These new sections were then sewn to multicoloured stubs through a paper guard that I stuck to the spine edge of the new sections and I then proceeded to bind the book as a normal stub binding. I have written a full blog post about this method if you are keen to find more as unfortunately don’t have time to go into depth about it now.
SAMPLE BOARD #59: ‘Patience’ by E. Helene Sherman
The third in a row and yet another sample board made into a sample book is number 59. ‘Patience’, is a miniature binding by by E. Helene Sherman of which I made a duplicate for my sample board collection. This was actually the perfect little portable project to take away with me on a trip to France for three weeks last summer for some holiday sewing! A miniature book containing a manuscript, called Patience. Illustrated by Helene Sherman with her calligraphy work adorning the pages, the content depicting Eastern proverbs with paintings from nature.
As I have explained previously I love writing which extends to fonts in general. The design of the book is based on the original cover of the miniature, which had the title, ‘Patience’ illustrated on it. The cover design uses negative space embroidery, with leaves, flowers and butterflies making up the pattern, leaving the title of the book exposed.
The book is bound in blue goatskin with onlays in a variety of colours across the whole cover. Each of the onlays are embroidered over with polyester threads in a variety of colours using French knots and other linear stitches. The binding has a false round spine, made from a half-round wooden dowel and the doublures are made from bright pink eel skin. The binding and sample binding are housed in Poplar wood boxes, hinged and with a brass clasp.
SAMPLE BOARD #61: ‘Monograph of the Meropidæ or Family of the Bee-eaters’ by Henry Eeles Dresser
The penultimate binding I am going to show you today is my most recently completed fine binding, ‘Monograph of the Meropidæ or Family of the Bee-eaters’ by Henry Eeles Dresser. The author had a lifelong interest in birds and collected bird skins and eggs from his early teenage years. Whilst he was in Finland in 1858 he discovered breeding waxwings and was the first Englishman to collect their eggs; this brought him fame amongst English ornithologists, most of whom were egg and skin collectors. Through the 1860s, he travelled widely through Europe and sought out ornithologists with whom he could exchange birds and eggs.
Dresser became a leading figure in ornithological circles and was the author of more than 100 scientific papers on birds, mostly concerned with geographical distribution, descriptions of new species and illustrated the eggs of many species for the first time. This book on bee-eaters, alongside other publications of his own, were based upon examination of the leading collections of the day, most notably his own. The book contains 34 hand-coloured lithographed plates by J.G. Keulemans. The author was a Member of the Athenæum Club, from 1885, and donated this copy to the Library.
The cover design of this binding was based on the wonderful colour plates found in this book. Seven species of bee-eater were selected from the 34 hand-coloured lithographed plates. A selection of feathers from these seven bee-eaters were traced and laid out across the front and back covers of the book. The feathers were embroidered in colours to match their natural markings and they were laid out in a scattered fashion across the boards, with a more dense mix on the front cover.
This was yet another binding that when pulled I discovered the original text block had been stab bound single sheets rather than sections. I was therefore able to implement the same rebinding method as the one I used for the Grasses of Great Britain binding which was very helpful.
SAMPLE BOARD #63: ‘A Winters Tale’ published by Neale Albert (work in progress)
The very last board I am going to show you is still a work in progress. It is for a little miniature concertina binding of ‘A Winter’s Tale’, published by Neale Albert in New York, USA. The Winter’s Tale miniature book was inspired by Neale’s flower photographs. He has taken and sent one every day since the beginning of Covid to a group of his friends. The design for my binding is chosen to match the colours within the book, and the concentric circles of coloured embroidery mimic the flower centres.
Given the board is only half covered, you can see the structure of the inside board including the laminations and the bevelling around the sides.
All the sample boards are housed in wooden boxes that were made specially to store them. They are made with with multiple slots so they can easily be identified and be slid in and out. The boxes are incredibly useful for keeping them safe and in order and for transporting them around to meetings. The first in the series is now my embroidered signature, a recent addition that I decided to work on to also turn into my business cards!
I hope you have enjoyed hearing about some of my collection of work today. I would like to conclude this presentation by first asking if anyone has any questions for me. I would then like to welcome you up to the front to see all of the sample boards in person. I ask that you take special care in handling them and try to place them back where you picked them up from as there is accompanying information alongside each.