Thursday, 31 January 2013

BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS: A review of "People of the Book"

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

For my "books about books" post, I wanted to take a brief break from bookbinding instructional books and instead write a review about a novel: People of the Book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks. The novel was recommended to me by a shopper at an art show this past fall as we chatted about bookbinding, and I bet you would enjoy it as much as I did.

The novel centers around the journeys of an actual book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, a rare Hebrew illuminated manuscript.  The book begins from the perspective of an Australian book conservationist who is hired to work on the book.  As she carefully examines the pages and binding of this rare codex, she finds clues — such as wine stains, salt crystals, a piece of a rare butterfly wing, and a white hair — that provide insight into where the book may have traveled and how it was created. 

Each chapter of the novel goes into detail about a particular clue, filling in the details of how the insect wing happened to be hidden in the haggadah's binding, or how Kosher wine was spilled on its pages. And while all of these details unfold, the reader also learns of the book's journey, from its creation in Spain, to the story of how it survived the Spanish Inquisition, the rash of books burned by the Nazis, and the bombings in Bosnia.  And while People of the Book is a work of fiction with imaginary characters, many of these stories are actually based on the haggadah's remarkable history

And as a bookbinder, it was also a treat to read a novel that included mentions of linen thread, wheat paste, gold leaf, vellum, and other familiar materials.  Yes, this is a little bit nerdy, and perhaps the typical reader wouldn't get quite as much of a kick out of this as I did.  But regardless of the fact that the topic was of particular interest to me, this novel was one of the most engaging and enthralling books I've read in several years. It was easy to get caught up in the lives of the characters and their interactions with the haggadah, spanning from 1480 to the present time.  The pieces of the story were woven together as carefully as one would create an exquisitely-made handbound book. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.  

Have any of you read People of the Book?  I would love to hear what you thought of it in the comments.

Happy reading!
Katie Gonzalez of linenlaid&felt

Thursday, 24 January 2013

New Directions in Bookbinding by Philip Smith - a book review

Of all books on bookbinding and book art, Philip Smith's New Directions in Bookbinding has over the course of several years proved to be the most interesting one to me. It was the first book that really got me into binding when I was a sorry little student searching for the meaning and beauty in the craft. I had the basic knowledge but hadn't seen anything to my liking. Now that I have grown and my mindset and skills have further developed, I can still find all sorts of new aspects in this book.

New Directions in Bookbinding is above all an account of Smith's personal work, of his findings and observations. Regardless (or maybe because) of the aforementioned this book is also a great reference - not least because it has several pages of illustrations and diagrams of fantastic quality (drawn by Philip himself), all of which are especially useful for a designer binder and for someone like me who needs to check his facts every now and then. It features large, well-thought images of many procedures that one often tends to search from other bookbinding titles, finding only vague mentions or thumb-sized illustrations which are not very useful reference. The book comes with a couple of interesting appendixes depicting processes such as tanning or forwarding, and useful checklists on various parts of bookmaking.

Philip Smith is one of my favourite binders for many reasons - not only because of his innovative and focused approach to book structure and design, but also because of his philosophical and holistic attitude that resonates in me. (His endless interest in the Silmarillion might be of some importance too.) I have found Smith's clear yet creative and undismissive way of presenting things very inviting and encouraging. I suggest you see some of his works and read some of his writings, and then decide yourself!

The original edition somewhat suffers from lack of colour pictures. It features 109 photographs, most of which are in black and white, including many pictures of interesting bindings that appear a bit unclear in monochrome with all their inlay, onlay and other details. This to me is the only downside of the book. It was printed in 1974, which naturally makes it feel somewhat different compared to the candy-like modern-day books with lots of pictures but little actual content. It is still a great volume, and with its text it feels curiously timeless.

In addition to being a ponder on visual and structural fluency, New Directions in Bookbinding also shows the reader several details on how Smith's now famous bindings (for example King Lear) were made and effectively describes some techniques invented or re-invented by him, such as maril and various board attachments, which makes me suggest this as a bedside reading and a workbook for all bookbinding aficionados who are, by now, perhaps slowly getting bored of the ever-so-useful Thames and Hudson Manual of Bookbinding.

The craftsman tends by nature to be precise and pernickety, and abhors inaccurancy and blemish in his work. It is not surprising therefore that "randomness" is rare in craft-work. If it appears it is usually interpreted as carelessness and lack of control.
- Philip Smith

(see also my blog and Facebook page)

Monday, 21 January 2013

Team Member Kris interviewed on Rossi Blog

Three weeks ago our team member Kris from Scroll  got featured on the blog of a US retailer of Italian papers, Rossi:
Kris describes herself as a “maker” and a “designer.”   She says, “When I was really young it was construction paper with tape and staples (way too much tape and way too many staples!)  Then it was coloring books filled with abstract patterns just begging for the right combination of crayons. Next it was grand architectural plans for houses I wanted to live in when I grew up, complete with furniture arrangements and landscaping. Now that I’m an adult, I may not live in any of those houses I designed as a child, but I am still a maker and a designer, happily working at the intersection of beauty and function."
one of Kris's albums

To read the full interview, click here.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Blog Interview: papierdier

Welcome to today's BEST blog interview with Marjolein. She is located in Elst, Netherlands where she loves to create things out of paper including notebooks, journals and cards. She sells all her handmade goods on Etsy under the name papierdier, which means paper animal in Dutch.

Hi Marjolein. Tell us about the items you make and sell. What made you decide to start your own shop?
I create handmade notebooks, greeting cards and notepads, in which I combine my passion for graphic design with illustration and bookbinding. It all started with the idea of creating my own notebooks. I was bored by the stationery sold at typical stores, and I thought: I'll design it myself! One day I discovered my mother’s old school notebook, from about 44 years ago, with some stunning plant specimens in it. So carefully conserved and cute, with the old pieces of tape that turned sepia. My mother would tell me about it — all of those plants or leafs were picked by her in the garden, behind the house where my grandfather still lives. I created a series of handmade paper goods out of it, with a print of the dried plants. With those items, I started my shop, papierdier, on Etsy. Now I also design greeting cards, typographic items, bags and planners.

You can find more about the story behind her series with dried plants here.

How and when did bookmaking enter your life? Have you taken classes or are you self-taught?
My interest in bookmaking started at Art Academy, where I studied graphic design and began my love for book design. In books, a lot of things come together — of course the content, but also graphic design, typography and photography. A book is also a three-dimensional object. The size, texture, type of paper, way of binding — all very important. I've taken classes at a professional book binder to learn the most important skills. That inspired me to use those bookbinding skills to create products with my own signature and design.

Being a graphic designer, how does that world influence your bookmaking projects, and/or vice versa?
I know that there are many sellers on Etsy that have a lot of bookbinding skills and experience that I will never have. However, that's not a problem because I try to distinguish myself for other things. For me, graphic design is my main business, but I love to combine it with bookmaking, illustration, photography and crafting handmade items. I use my shop on Etsy as a platform to show what I design, and what I've learned and invented with new items. For me, Etsy is more than my shop — I get inspired by creative people all around the world, and I love to showcase and share my work there. 

How do you fit bookbinding and making other items into your schedule?
I always have more ideas than time to create items. I keep a little sketch book with me, in which I write and draw my ideas, thoughts and doodles. Most of the time I work in periods: some weeks in which I create new items, write new blog posts etcetera and some weeks in which I stop creating, but do other things that give me new inspiration.

I'm curious about other bookbinder's habits/rituals/preparations during the process of making. Can you share with us your ideal setting for when it's time to make things? What makes you most productive?
What works best for me, is to write down my ideas in my sketchbook and think about it for a long time. In the meantime, I see things that inspire me, and help the idea evolve in my head. I love to go to museums to see modern art, and read about design, art and architecture in books and magazines. The best setting for making things is then to shut off the computer (no distractions!) and to start sketching, experimenting, trying, and creating. I prefer to start by hand with sketches, and to work things out with my computer. Then end again with handmade work.

What has been your favorite piece you've made? Tell us a little bit about it. 
My favorite pieces are three greeting cards with my illustrations of houses in England. I wanted these illustrations to reflect the atmosphere in the English coast villages in Kent. That atmosphere of the sea, the light and the beautiful landscape along the coast is something that really inspired me during a trip in that area.

What do you see in store for the future of your shop?
My dream is to add more items to my shop and to generate more views and sales. I want to make people happy with my designs. The idea I'm currently working on, is to create a series of handmade sketchbooks with original cover designs. One thing I also would like to do in the future, is to design typographic posters. So keep in touch!

I look forward to seeing more of your amazing work. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview Marjolein! 

Be sure to visit Marjolein's Etsy shop at You can also check out her blog at Like her on and follow her on Twitter at @papierdier.