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About Me

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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day Five!

Yesterday we had the last day of the cloth binding class.  Here are Francine and Judy working away!


It was a delightful class, mostly because the students were all such nice and interesting people.  It almost always seems to be that way, perhaps because folks who want to learn binding must be interesting and delightful people, perhaps?  These folks certainly were, it was a pleasure spending time with them.

We spent a day and a half on making fatback bindings, two and a half days on rounded and backed bindings and then the last day on serial bindings.  These bindings were used on binding of serials, like Time magazine.  It works on those serials which were folded in half and stapled together. They are quick, fun and have pedagogical value!


The students were talking about how that binding was a nice way to finish the class, since it's a bit easier than the rounded and backed binding.

What makes them so beautiful is the marbled paper.  The papers we used in this class all came from Chena River Marblers, our in Western Massachusetts.  Beautiful stuff!  I used to have lunch with them when they came by the school to teach and it was always really nice talking to them.  Again, nice people doing interesting work!


It can't all be about work, though.  There was, fortunately, time for this important task as well:


At the end of the day, as I was downloading the pictures I took I saw this, and thought it a nice conclusion to this post.  And a good descriptor of how I felt about the class:


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Day four of cloth binding class.

We've finished the fourth session of the cloth binding class.  At this point they've made a flat back and a rounded and backed book.  They're the two most typical kinds of books.  This is the class I wanted when I was trying to learn binding, and so it's nice to be able to offer it.

The class covers traditional bookbinding techniques and materials. When I decided I needed to learn binding I bought Edith Deihl's manual of bookbinding and it made no sense to me at all.  One really needs to have someone show them the basics in order to be able to comprehend the good manuals.  Of course there are manuals aimed at those with no knowledge of binding but they generally don't cover bindings like these.  

Here is one of the students, Dana, working on the spine linings of her rounded and backed book.


Students in this class will do at lease one flat back, one rounded and backed binding (the books with the rounded spine) and one serial binding. But here is part of what Dana has done:


In all my classes students are encouraged to take materials home to work on between sessions. This class is held on five Saturdays so it was not difficult to find time to sew more books between sessions.  But I have had students during the Monday - Friday courses work on books in the evenings at home, or in their hotel rooms.  These classes can be a bit tiring ( they run from 8:30 - 4:30), so not everyone is up to putting in a few more hours in the evenings and that's fine as well.

For that reason in some ways it's easier, perhaps, to get more work done in the Saturday classes.  As with all skills like this, the more the students do the more they are able to learn.  I suppose it's because the more they do, the more mistakes they make and learn from.  Another benefit of longer classes, I think.

Here are two books Dana has finished.  In addition to these she has finished a full cloth flat back binding as well.


In the last session we'll finish up the unfinished text blocks and make a serial binding or two. It's been a fun class.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Rebinding a limp leather book

The world is full of these types of books.  

They are called by bookbinders a "limp leather" binding, and they are most commonly used in religious books.  They are not really limp, more flexible than limp.People like them because they feel good in your hands either when reading them or carrying them around.  

However, they often have serious problems.  Many of them are made with bonded leather, which is leather particles put into a plasticizer and then impressed with a grain pattern.  They end up sort of looking like leather, and smelling like leather but it isn't really leather.  Much like MDF is not really wood, but wood dust solidified through the exciting use of chemicals and plastic.

Bonded leather books tend to break along the hinge -- the point where the cover meets the spine of the book.  It's a bit ironic, perhaps, because bonded leather is flexible to a point, but doesn't like to be bent very much (if one can call opening a book bending the bonded leather, but hopefully you get the point).  People like them because they are pretty durable, at least until the break along the joint and the spine falls off.  Publisher like bonded leather because it's cheap.  Sort of back to the widget issue of a few posts ago.

However, some limp leather books are actually made with leather.  Like this one:




In this case the binding failed because the leather was so thin it had no strength left.  I'll say this quickly so that you can skip over it without any guilt:  leather has several layers and if you thin leather to the point where only the skin surface is left it will not be durable and will not survive.  

You can see where the cover had torn and how the edges were worn away.  Not good, because eventually the wear gets to the point where the cover is no longer protecting the pages of the book.  And really the pages are what the book is all about.  

As a binder, of course it pains me to even think those words, let along write them.  

In this book, though, the damage has extended to the inside of the cover as well:




This is a large book, and the attachment of the textblock (really the book block, but let's not dwell on that, ok?) to the cover was not strong enough.  Again, it is almost always the case in mass produced books that the attachment is not strong enough.  It goes back to the fact that factories often have only one method of binding books and so can't vary the construction very much between a small, light, thin book and a large, fat, heavy book.  And, so this happens.

I cleaned off the spine of the textblock and saw that a couple of silk bookmarks used to be on the book, so I added them.  Then I sewed on new endsheets and an airplane linen hinge.  The end sheets are pretty heavy and the airplane linen is pretty strong so I'm confident the attachment of the cover and textblock is more than strong enough.

I made the cover using Hewit Chieftan goatskin.  Yes, real leather.  NOT bonded leather.  I think it will last longer and certainly feels better in one's hands.

It ended up looking like this:





The thing to notice is all the stamping on the spine.  I need to be in the right mood to do this, because one mistake trashes the cover and I'd need to start over again.

I learned, though experience (that is a euphemism for disastrous mistakes) that is is very, very easy to not pay attention to every detail and use a G for a C, an O for a 0, reverse a p and q (thus minding your p's and q's!) or something that like. And it's not easy, or not possible, to fix that mistake.  Or to put a letter in the wrong order. Or, and this is the worst, to assume that the spelling is what I think it should be rather than what it actually is.  I don't have quite enough power in this world yet to change spelling of words.  Hard to believe, but true.

My trick, if you can call it that, is to always stamp the word on a piece of blotter paper and look carefully at it.  Sometimes I read the letters backwards to make sure I'm seeing what is there rather than just glancing and assuming.  I read somewhere that copy editors do that, but I'm totally sure that's true.

This spine had more lines on it than any other spine I have stamped and I've been stamping titles on books for more than 20 years.

I picked a time when I would not be interrupted and went at it, took my time and gave it my full concentration.  That's another lesson -- to learn when I'm not able to give something my full concentration and to then put it aside for another time and do something else.  Sometimes in the middle of doing something meticulous I notice my mind wandering.  I learned years ago to just stop at that point and move on to another project, or part of the project.  That can save hours and hours and hours of working correcting a mistake.

I suppose this might make it sound like I am always making mistakes.  In fact, I'd say that I make a surprisingly few mistakes because I've learned when I need to move on to something else.

Here is that book from another angle.  




I've done several of these limp bindings in the past year.  The first one took a few attempts to get it right, since the client wanted it to be as flexible as possible. And limp leather bindings, traditionally, were not all that flexible.  And doing them the traditional way had all kinds of issues when trying to make one of these.  But I figured it out after a week, and four attempts, and this the third one I've done using the technique I developed.  And it works pretty well, and I'm grateful for that.

Few books seem to mean as much to  folks as their Bibles, for good reason. And it's nice to take something that was so beat up and make it look as good as I think this one does.  It was a fun project and I'm grateful the owner let me work on it for him.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Book festival aftermath

Led Zeppelin.  I survived because of Led Zeppelin.

In 1977 I saw Zeppelin at the Kingdome.  Back in those days all concerts were "festival seating" meaning no assigned seats.  Clearly this was before The Who and Cincinnati.  The Kingdome was a huge concrete dome and the sound was going to horrible, the only hope was to be down front.  So I got there in the morning of the show and waited all day for them to let us in.

The point here is that when I got there everyone was having a great time.  I got my spot in line and sat down. When the line moved I went with them and sat down. When they let us in I ran down on the field and as close to the front as I could, and sat down.  By the time the concert started I was probably 30 yards from the stage.  And folks were dropping like flies from having been standing for over 12 hours.  A few songs in I was ten yards from the stage.

This scan shows the stub, just to prove I'm not lying here:




I should mention that it was so loud that I couldn't discern what songs they were playing until half an hour in when I think my ears got so numb that I could figure out what they were.  Still it was fun and I have great memories of that show.

The point is that I learned success is dependent on sitting as much as you can, I think in every aspect of life.  Unless you're a marathoner, then that might be difficult.  Maybe I need to revise the lesson.  Anyway, I did sit as much as I could this weekend and it was a good thing.

Here is a shot of the festival from the Arizona Daily Star:




They estimate that over 100,000 people attended.  I had the same booth I had last year and had a great time.  I pushed classes and repairs, and got a good response to both of them.  The strange thing is that I really won't know how successful it was until a few months.

I also had some stuff I made around Christmas when I got curious about how many jigs I could use and how I could organize the work more effectively.  More an exercise than anything else.  Still I sold several things, which was a bonus.

Here is a shot of the booth.  The weather was mid-70s each day.  Perfect.




In this picture are our friends Jim and Lynne Owens, owners of Thorn Books. They're pretending to be customers.  I'm pretending to help them.  Hopefully a casting director will read this blog and hire me for blockbuster movie role.  Notice how into character I am here, my "essence" is just pouring out of my pores, but not in an artificial or contrived way.  Just like Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud or the guy who played Greg Brady on the television show.

Diane came by to bring me lunch, which was a nice improvement over last year.  I think you can see the difference between Diane and myself, she's playing a role where I fully inhabit a character. Can you see it?




A few folks brought damaged books by, which is always pretty fun.  But mainly it was a chance to talk about to people about books, which is always fun.

It was pretty smashed on Saturday, but slower on Sunday - especially Sunday morning.  Still, even though there were less people on Sunday, I ended up talking to about the same amount of people both days.  Gave out lots of brochures, cards and class schedules.  Really had a nice time.

It did occur to me that I should keep records during this, like count how many of each thing I handed out just to gauge interest from year to year.  I do think I gave out many more than last year, but have no statistical proof of that.  Doesn't matter on some level, but I'm kind of curious.  And I like statistics.  But the only stat that matters is how many people follow up.  





Friday, March 9, 2012

Festival of Books

This weekend I'm going to be at the Festival of Books here in Tucson.  It's the fourth year of the Festival and I heard that it has become the third or fourth largest gathering of its type in the country.  They expect around 100,000 people.


I did it last year and it was really fun.  It's always nice to talk to people who are interested in what I do.  Last year was the first time I did it and so I had no idea what to expect, what people would be interested in, how many people I'd actually talk to.  As a result I used one table where I set up examples of repairs (because most people have no idea what a good book repair is) and brought some models of historic bindings.

One thing I find fascinating about books is how few people understand how they are made, or how they are intended to function.  I truly believe that most people know more about how their car works, how the internal combustion engine works, than they know how their books function.  I suppose I believe that because it explains why the public is to willing to buy incredibly poorly made books just because the cover is pretty, or because they like the content.   Commercial bindings have become the Yugos of manufacturing, and that's a sad, sad thing.

But, with all these things, I think it creates a renaissance of hand made, quality books that a segment of the public appreciates and understands.  I think most people would understand if it could be explained to them.  Still, it's sad that the Kindles of the world are replacing awful bindings, instead of replacing well made bindings.  It just doesn't feel like a fair fight.

A book from 1508 I repaired.


So that's what I try to do at the Festival.  Show people how books were made, and how they should be made today.  I'm avoiding my rant here about how books can be sewn by machine for less than a penny per section and less than a second per section. That means that the typical book could be manufactured in a sewn binding for less than 25 cents per book.  (See how restrained I am about this, by not putting that last sentence in italics and underlining it?)  Of course a sewn book on good paper will last centuries. Centuries.

A sewn book.

When I was at Washington students would come in with engineering textbooks which had fallen apart in a few weeks because they were glued bindings.  For which they had paid over 75 dollars!  Irony, eh?  They obviously replaced them, but not doubt it just happened again.  If they're going to produce crap then why not give up and run to the Nook?  After all it feels like publishers (at least the large ones) aren't really producing books any more, they are just producing widgets that have the appearance of books.


The book in the picture just above was less than a month old and broke.  Why?  Because the people manufacturing the book had no idea how to make a book of that weight and heft strong enough to last longer than that.  It was just a widget to them.

I spent the past two days getting my things together.  It felt like packing for a trip where you just want to get on the plane because then there isn't anything more that can be done.  It'll be nice to get set up on Saturday morning.  I'll have some historical models, some new stuff to sell and information on upcoming classes.

Should be beautiful weather.  And thousands of nice, book loving people.  Now I just need to show them the exciting world of binding.  And not rant too much.

I'm at booth 110, the same as last year.  Stop by if you're there and say hi.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

hectic times, with puzzles to boot

This week I'm getting ready for the Festival of Books here in Tucson.  More on that later this week.

Last week I got a call from a guy I've done books for in the past.  He had a book he wanted fixed quickly so he brought it over.  I had just a couple of days to get it done.

Here it is:


From the outside it looked like a nice repair.  If you enlarge the picture I think you can see that someone inserted new cloth under the original spine, which is pretty standard.  They did a nice job on it, so at first I wasn't sure what the problem was that needed my attention.

Then I opened the book and saw this:


No picture can capture this, I'm afraid.  The book is about a hundred years old, and the paper they added here (it's the paper sticking up in the air and glued onto the cover board) is a typical new machine made paper.  When compared with the paper in the book, you almost needed sunglasses.  It was that bright.

Originally this book probably had a solid colored endpaper, most likely a shiny yellow or brown.  Almost certainly not white.

My first thought was that the person doing the earlier repair had ruined the original paper, something we all have done at one time or another.  These papers can be very, very thin and   one slight mistake and it's a, well, disappointment.  But maybe it was trashed when it arrived at their bench.

In any event no doubt they chose the best paper they had, but it was like restoring a 68 Mustang and putting a lawn chair in as the driver's seat.

I first removed the offending paper, by wetting it out with methyl cellulose, letting it sit and then scraping it off using a spatula.  That took some time because you don't want to cause any damage to the board or the turnins of the cloth.  But it went well.

At that point I had to reattach three pages that were separated by the textblock. The other problem with that paper is that it pulled off the outer pages because it wasn't put in properly. The mechanics of opening the cover dragged the end sheet up and that pulled those pages off the book.  Paper that old is pretty brittle.

But then came the challenge.  I thought about putting in a colored charcoal weight paper, but they have texture and laid lines and the rest of the pages are pretty smooth finish without laid lines.  

So I decided, quickly, to replace it with a marbled paper.  I have a bunch of marbled paper from Chena River Marblers, who do amazing work.  One  of their papers fit in really well with the cover.  I attached a soft brown paper to the textblock to cover up the back of the marbled paper.

A cloth binding at that time would not have had marbled paper end sheets.  Leather would have, but not cloth.  I was just trying to get the book back in the right ballpark, and I think it did and I was happy with how it came out.

All this went well, but then the customer didn't like it and wanted white paper back on it.  Which is perfectly fine.  It 's a lesson on explaining to customers what the book looked like originally and that I would try to bring it back to what it was, or in this case what I thought it should be.  I write it off to the lack of time.   And if that's the worst mistake I've made in years I don't have much to complain about.  

Want to have some fun?  Ask a bunch of binders about the mistakes they've made.  You'll get laughter, embarrassment, and good commiseration.

It'll take some time to find an appropriate white paper for a book like this, but it can be done. 
Lesson learned.