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  1. My Hand // Field Book of Western Wild Flowers: Part Three

    October 31, 2013 by Erin Fletcher


    Part One can be read here
    Part Two can be read here

    I need to backtrack a bit. Part two ends with the covering of the matching leather doublures. The remainder of the design elements that are going to be explained in this post were applied before the doublures were pasted down. Part two has been revised accordingly. 

    The final steps to completing the design included the addition of a gold border and the title. In the early stages of designing the cover, I wanted to create the gold border through surfacing gilding. Which would have been done before covering because I didn’t want to risk getting gold leaf on the embroidery stitches. However, after a few tests I decided my supply of gold leaf was too yellow against the dusty pink buffalo skin. The border was therefore painted onto the leather with a fluid acrylic pigment. This is the same technique I used on the fine binding for The Songlines

    The title has been tooled with handle letters in the typeface Gill Sans. Buffalo can often feel spongy under the tool and requires slightly more pressure to achieve a crisp impression. I’ve found that buffalo will not blind in the same manner as other animal skins and can be a bit more finicky to tool. So with a bit more patience, the title was gilt in gold leaf one letter at a time. 


    With the completion of the binding, I was set to make a custom clamshell box. The box reflects the binding in terms of color and design. The spine of the box is covered in matching leather that has also been embroidered. The design is derived from an illustration in the book and includes similar onlays from the book’s cover. The stem was embroidered freehand and Margaret Armstrong’s name has been hand tooled with gold leaf. 


    The trays are covered and lined with the same handmade paper from Katie MacGregor that are used as the endpapers in the binding. The rest of the case and joint are covered in brown Canapetta bookcloth. A layer of Volara foam was added to the outer tray as protection for the embroidered stitches. 


    I am really pleased with my first attempt at an embroidered leather binding. I plan to continue experiments with this technique, as well as incorporate other sewn elements. I recently had the opportunity to showcase this binding at the Standards of Excellence Conference in Washington, DC. Through the ‘Mix & Mingle’ event, I got the chance to speak with and meet many new bookbinders while discussing my binding on top of receiving wonderful compliments and suggestions. 


    Finished binding next to clamshell box.


    Side profile. Detail of edge decoration and hand-sewn headband.

  2. My Hand // Field Book of Western Wild Flowers: Part Two

    October 15, 2013 by Erin Fletcher


    If you missed part one, you can find it here.

    After hours of embroidery work, I was finally ready to cover the binding. The book itself had been removed from its original case binding, taken apart signature by signature and resewn. Once rounded and backed with boards attached, the edges were ploughed and sanded down in preparation for edge decoration. At this point, I had been filling in for Jeff Altepeter at North Bennet Street School and conveniently the students already had everything set up for edge decoration and gilding. I spent the day perfecting the edge, experimenting with the application of gouache through various brushes and sponges. Finishing off the edge with the sprinkling of gold leaf. 

    The hand sewn double-core French headbands came next. I love sewing my headbands in an asymmetrical pattern and by extracting colors from the binding. Sadly, I didn’t take any in-progress photos of these two steps, but you can see hints of the edge and headband in some of the images to follow. 

    Now, back to covering. 


    After applying a healthy dose of wheat starch paste, the embroidered leather was wrapped around the binding, being folded and tucked and squished into place. The leather had expanded after paring more than expected, so covering became difficult to keep the shape of the design within the confines of the board. 


    The covered binding was put to rest under control weight between a bed of felt and acrylic boards. The next day I eased open the boards. Once the finishing design elements were added to the front cover I was able to line the inside of the boards and joint with matching edge to edge leather doublures. The handmade paper fly leaves are a perfect color match and came to me by happenstance from papermaker Katie MacGregor at Standards last year. 


    Part three coming next week…

  3. My Hand // Field Book of Western Wild Flowers: Part One

    October 8, 2013 by Erin Fletcher

    During my first year at North Bennet Street School, I stumbled upon this underrepresented category of bookbindings referred to quite accurately as embroidered bindings. Embroidery has been an interest and hobby of mine since I was a child. My research into this style of binding led me as far as Cyril Davenport’s Book of English Embroidered Bookbindings, which is one of a handful of books written solely on embroidered bindings. 

    From my research, I set out to create an embroidered binding using similar materials and techniques. I bound The Crucible in 2011. The overall layout and imagery on the covers are inspired by traditional outlines and iconography seen in historical embroidered bindings. The Crucible was a success (landing me Best Binding from the OBMI Chicago Public Library Exhibition) and ever since embroidery has been a technique that I’ve been wanting to translate onto a fine binding.

    Entering for the first time to the most recent Society of Bookbinders International Competition, I decided to bind a copy of Margaret Armstrong’s Field Book of Western Wildflowers. Margaret Armstrong is notable for designing covers for Publishers’ Bindings during the 1920s. As an illustrator, she also enjoyed drawing life-like representations of wild flowers. Margaret published Field Book in 1915, surveying wild flowers throughout the western hemisphere of the United States. The book includes 500 black and white illustrations and 48 colored plates. For the design of my fine binding I wanted to capture Margaret’s fame as a designer and skill as an illustrator. The cover on my fine binding is inspired by Margaret’s design for Henry Van Dyke’s Out of Doors in the Holy Land.


    Beginning with a detailed sketch of the cover design, I labeled each onlay with a number and color. Each flower is taken directly from one of Margaret’s illustrations. The onlay leather ranged from goatskin to buffalo, the colors chosen to best represent the natural color of that specific species of flower. The leather was pared down to almost nothing, the illustrations were then pasted down to the leather and carefully cut out.


    I carefully arranged each piece of leather onto the sketch as a means to keep order to the mounting onlays, which came out to a total of 93 itty bitty pieces.


    I cut down the base leather to it’s final size, I chose a dusty pink buffalo skin both for it’s soft, muted color and texture. I glued down each onlay one by one with PVA, pressing it between acrylic boards as I went. Once the onlays were in place and secured, I pared the entire skin to it’s final thickness. While paring the blade is removing more flesh from the areas with onlays creating a ghost-like silhouette, thus the technique of a back-pared onlay. This allows for a smoother transition between the base leather and the onlay leather.


    At this point, the leather was ready to be embroidered and this became my favorite part. Each flower onlay was outlined with a floss that best matched the color of the leather. Additional colors were chosen to add highlights and shadows. Stitching through leather was surprisingly easy. However, a misguided needle could leave a lasting hole, so it was very important to accurately pierce through the leather. 


     Part Two coming soon… 

  4. Best of 2013

    December 27, 2013 by Erin Fletcher

    The year of 2013 has been surprisingly busy, both in my business and my personal life. Over the course of the year I established my own business, bound my first leather embroidered binding, became an Aunt for the second time, started an impressive board game collection, interviewed with Susan Mills for Bookbinding Now and moved into a spacious new apartment with my husband, Jason.

    I’ve also been busy posting on my blog and creating more bookbinding-related content. This year I started an interview series that I will continuing into the new year. Thanks again to all of those who agreed to be interviewed for my blog. The content from the interviews has really allowed my blog to blossom. Below is a small collection of some of my favorite posts from the year. Enjoy!


    1. Artist: Matias Santa Mari
    2. Moving Images: Whale Fall
    3. February // Bookbinder of the Month: Hannah Brown
    This was my first interview. Thanks to Hannah for being my guinea pig. Her work continues to inspire me and I am always looking forward to her next binding.


    4. June // Bookbinder of the Month: Sonya Sheats
    Sonya’s interview was so inspiring from her unique training in French fine binding to her use of nontraditional binding materials. I’m in awe of each binding Sonya creates.
    5. Tutorial: Top Secret Belgian Binding
    My goal for this upcoming year is to offer more tutorials on my blog. The Secret Belgian was my first and a blast to work on.
    6. August // Bookbinder of the Month: Annette Friedrich
    I could not pass up featuring Annette’s bold and distinctive style. I admire her ambitions to bind all of Virginia Woolf’s novels.

    7. September // Book Artist of the Month: Michelle Ray
    Michelle’s work is so flawlessly executed as she beautifully combines letterpress and book arts with her fascination of the sea and water.
    8. Photographer: Alma Haser
    9. Artist: Christian Maychack

    10. Artist: Mark Warren Jacques
    11. Daily Glimpse Project
    This 365 project began in 2012 and ended in July of 2013. The image above is the final image sent between my friend, Anna, and I. Over the course of the project, I collaborated with 11 people as we sent images to one another daily. Capturing the same single moment of our days.
    12. December // Bookbinder of the Month: Karen Hanmer
    This interview was my most ambition to date. On top of the initial interview, I asked Karen a single question about each piece to be featured throughout the month. This format will carry over into the new year. Karen also had one of the highest viewed interviews, no doubt due to her popularity and thoughtful responses. 

    13. My Hand: Field Book of Western Wild Flowers
    As I mentioned above, I completed my first leather embroidered binding this year. Inspired by the historical embroidered bindings I attempted by first embroidered binding on cloth and then stumbled upon the work of Hannah Brown. In this 3-part post I write about my process behind such an ambitious fine binding.

    Happy New Year!

  5. Book Artist of the Month: Natalie Stopka

    April 27, 2015 by Erin Fletcher


    In this final post with Natalie Stopka, we continue the discussion on her techniques that employ natural pigments for dying and image making by looking at her 2012 artist book Botanica.

    This binding consists of a series of eco-prints that are brilliant in both color and detail. Can you discuss the process behind eco-printing?
    Eco printing is the process of making a plant print using only the natural colorants contained within the plant. As opposed to nature printing in which pigment is applied to the surface of natural objects, in eco printing the plants can be smashed, pressed, bundled, soaked, steamed, or even frozen to coax the dye colorants out. There are a variety of techniques and terms to describe them. Hapa zome is the pounding of fresh plants directly onto a fiber substrate, and bundle dyeing involves tightly wrapping plant or other dye materials in fabric before burying or steaming them.


    To create Botanica, I gathered a dozen different dye plants one August day. These included mint, yarrow, dahlia, coreopsis, and goldenrod. Each specimen was folded within alum-mordanted paper, guarded with additional paper, and vigorously smashed with a mallet to break down the plant fibers and transfer the colorants within. I lowered this sandwich, with the plant still inside, briefly into a pot of simmering water. The hot water further drew out the dyes, creating an aura of color around the plant image, and made the print as permanent as possible. I was left with two mirrored images of each plant to create an edition of two books.


    In binding the books I adopted a flat back variation of Richard W. Horton’s light album structure, with each print mounted inside an accordion fold of naturally dyed paper. The paper as well as the silk book cloth and thread on the cover were dyed with a mix of wildflowers.


  6. My Hand // Leather Embroidery Samplers – Part One

    April 15, 2014 by Erin Fletcher


    Since my last embroidered leather binding, I’ve had the urge to experiment with various traditional stitches in leather. Through my experiments I aimed to find which stitches would translate the same way on leather as they do on fabric. In addition, I wanted to know if I could easily keep a stitched line straight during the covering process.

    I began with a rough sketch of each sampler, a total of six. The stitches I chose were divided into categories (such as chain stitches, variations on the back stitch, couching, etc.) and then laid out onto each sampler sketch. I choose to experiment on both goatskin and buffalo which were pared down to the thickness I use when covering a full leather fine binding (~.5 for the buffalo and .7 for the goat). 


    Then, I cut down a piece of Japanese tissue to the size of the plaquette board and adhered it to the center of the leather. Once the pieces were dry, I proceeded to draw out a 1 x 1 mm square grid onto each sampler. This grid made it incredibly easy to lay out the stitches and to make sure I kept them even and straight. Before I began a stitch, I figured out the hole placement and spacing. Then with my pin vise I made pin-pricks through the leather. Laying out the holes beforehand made the act of stitching easier and faster. 


    After completing all of the stitches on a sampler, I prepped the leather for covering. Excess strings were trimmed and pasted down in line with stitches on the backside. This way any strays would not be visible on the front side of the leather. Once I readied my bench with the proper tools, the leather pieces were pasted up with wheat starch paste and attached to the board. After folding over the turn-ins and working down the corners, I stuck the plaquette under a press between foam and press boards. The foam pushes down the leather around the stitches much easier and quicker than I could. 

    When working with embroidered leather, I don’t wet out the piece before pasting up as I normally would. I do however add some moisture to the turn-ins to aid in the covering process. 


  7. Bookbinder of the Month: Hannah Brown

    February 24, 2013 by Erin Fletcher

    locksoftheoxfordcanal_hannahbrown1The Locks of the Oxford Canal: A Journey from Oxford to Coventry was published by The Whittington Press in 1984 and includes fifty wood engravings by John Craig. In 2011, Hannah Brown bound a copy for the Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition, receiving the Mansfield Medal for Best Book. The binding is full leather in a turquoise goatskin with various leather onlays and inlays of pink eel skin, turquoise shagreen and yellow, grey and cream goatskin. All embroidery is done over the onlays with colored silk and metallic threads. Two gold-plated, hand-shaped brass pieces were inserted through the covers and recessed into the boards. Tooling in carbon and gold.

    Doublures have been soft-plate off-set printed to include two images taken from the book and are hand-embroidered and tooled with gold foils. The book is housed in an oak box stained black with suede dyes. The front and back include recessed frosted acrylic panels with cut out sections, brass wire, gold foil tooling and sewn details. 
    locksoftheoxfordcanal_hannahbrown2 locksoftheoxfordcanal_hannahbrown4

    Can you go over the process of embroidering onto leather, when did you first introduce this technique into your fine bindings? How do you decide between machine-sewn to hand-sewn embroidery?
    Ever since my first design binding, ‘The Somme: A Eyewitness History’, I have added sewn detail to the leather. During the first couple of years of making fine bindings, the sewn detail was always done using my sewing machine. This method could however be a little hit and miss with fear of the sewing machine foot leaving marks on the leather.

    The first book that I decided to hand embroider was in 2010, ‘Wildlife in a Southern County’, as I felt the design would appear stronger with hand-sewn outlines. From this point on I have largely chosen to embroider the leather by hand as it gives me more control.

    My most ambitious embroidered binding to date has been on my Shakespeare competition entry, ‘Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden’, the embroidery alone taking me over one hundred hours to complete. I love the way that it is possible to build up depth of colour and different textures by using a variety of embroidery stitches. I have had no formal embroidery training but have taught myself by experimenting on sample boards.

    I begin by creating a base colour on the covering leather by adding coloured leather onlays. I then back pare these and build up the design by adding silk threads in a variety of colours.

  8. Artist: Montgomery Perry Smith

    July 19, 2012 by Erin Fletcher

    Montgomery Perry Smith collects everyday objects like glass bowls, incense sticks, fake flowers (to name a few) and transforms them into something more foreign then common. Symmetry and repetition compose circular forms that lure your gaze with familiarity, yet leaning inward could arouse feelings of bewilderment. 


  • Visit My Bindery
    My name is Erin Fletcher and I live in Boston working as a Bookbinder.  This blog is an extension of Herringbone Bindery where I can share my inspirations with you.
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