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  1. North Bennet Street School // Student & Alumni Exhibit 2019 – The Set Book

    May 9, 2019 by Erin Fletcher

    I am thrilled once again to be writing up this post after interviewing the graduating class from the North Bennet Street School’s Bookbinding Department. To catch up those who are new to the blog, every year I interview the second year students about their design bindings which go on display in the annual Student & Alumni Exhibit. And it’s my favorite time of year, I love sitting down one-on-one with each of the students to chat about their experience crafting a design binding and how their individual backgrounds tie into their work. That latter half was ever more present with this year’s set book: Rewarding Work: A History of Boston’s North Bennet Street School by Christine Compston, Stephen Senge and Walter McDonald.

    In this comprehensive examination of the School’s history, Rewarding Work, outlines the school’s impact within the local community and how it has evolved over the years to expand that community without compromising its initial mission “to bring about meaningful lives and livelihoods for its students, who come from across the country and around the world.” You can read a more about Rewarding Work at the school’s shop page, where you can purchase a copy for yourself.

    During the interviews, I discussed with each binder how their personal history with the school may have impacted their design choices. Every binding felt perfectly unique to the student who created it, which speaks volumes to their ability to reflect upon their two years and explore it in a visually creative way. If you happen to be in the Boston area, please check out the Student & Alumni Exhibit, which will be on display at the North Bennet Street School from May 1st through June 29th. The exhibit is free and open to the public, you can find out more information on the website.

    Séphora Bergiste

    The North Bennet Street Industrial School (the original name of the school) was established as an institution to better the lives of newly arrived immigrants through training programs to develop hand skills. Séphora Bergiste really latched onto this part of the school’s history. Séphora is also an immigrant having grown up in Haiti before moving to Rhode Island at age nine. Already her design decisions felt very personal, even before she talks about her art practice outside of bookbinding and its connection to dealing with and measuring time. The design mimics the face of a clock with the numbers replaced by symbols that represent the eight departments at NBSS.

    Séphora chose a color palette which represents the school’s unofficial colors: navy blue and golden yellow. The binding is covered in a beautifully hand-dyed goatskin. Séphora applied the spirit dyes using a wet on wet method in two ways: diluting the dye with an initial layer of alcohol and by continually saturating the same areas with dye. This application of dye created a dynamic and textured effect on the leather.

    The symbols are created through either tooling or surface gilding using florentine gold leaf. Séphora represents the Bookbinding department twice through the backing hammer on the back cover and the threaded needle on the spine. Below are the symbols for the Jewelry, Violin and Locksmithing Departments. The title fits within the needle/clock hand on the spine; Séphora used Gill Sans handle letters tooled in florentine gold leaf for the title.

    Séphora used a handmade Japanese paper that she purchased during a trip to Japan for the paste down and flyleaves. The paper has a subtle striped pattern in olive green and gold. She used the same dyed leather for the hinges, so there is a lovely pop of color between the two paper pieces. The elaborately hand-sewn French double core endbands include alternating bands of green, yellow, light blue and white threads.

    I love that Séphora chose to dye her own skin; that she took a chance to make her binding unique. The mottled effect she was able to achieve creates a beautiful contrast to the precision of the gold tooling. And I love that it is subtle, only in a well lit room can you see the true brilliance of the leather dyeing. I interviewed Séphora in a dimly lit room and it wasn’t until I photographed the binding could I truly see the variation in color. It was a lovely surprise.

    You can follow Séphora on Instagram: @somedays.bindery or check out more of her work at her website. Séphora will continue in her position working on an extensive housing project at the W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at the School for Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University after graduation.

    Rachel Campbell

    Reading through Rewarding Work, its apparent that the accord between NBSS and the North End neighborhood allowed both to flourish. Inspired by this idea and the surrounding architecture, Rachel Campbell gleaned elements from the neighborhood to build her design. Brick and concrete are common building materials throughout the neighborhood. The brick, in particular, felt so unique to Rachel as it presents itself more than in the architecture from her home state of Oregon. Her regular visits to St. Leonard’s Church also began to inspire aspects of her design, specifically the columns and stained glass windows. This draw to building structures and decor comes from a background in interior design.

    Rachel knew that she wanted to use a frame for the basic layout of the design. After sharing several iterations with me, I saw how she worked through her design and pared it down to it’s final stage. The shape of the columns changed from a classic Corinthian style, the detailed window design was reduced to simple line work and the overall design was reworked to be symmetrically balanced from fore edge to fore edge.

    The binding is covered in a grass green goatskin with over a 100 onlays used for the bricks and columns. The bricks are carbon tooled onlays in three shades of red goatskin: terracotta, crimson and maroon. Rachel carefully planned the arrangement of bricks to feel naturally random. The columns are also carbon tooled onlays; the grey goatskin is subtly marbled with black ink to resemble concrete. The windows are tooled in dukaten leaf. The title is laid out beautifully down the spine with hand tools to mimic an Art Deco typeface.

    A hand marbled paper made by Rachel is used for the paste down and flyleaf and has a color palette that perfectly pairs with the design on the cover. The marbling is irregular, but controlled within a linear frame which works well with the brick layout. Rachel also cleverly wrapped the bricks around the fore edge and over the marbled paper paste down. This is such a unique treatment and something I haven’t seen before. The text block edges are sprinkled with a brick red acrylic. The endbands are hand sewn around a single core in alternating bands of bright red and brick red.

    It is evident that Rachel put in so much thought and consideration into the design and execution of her binding. It’s clear to me that she worked very methodically and with precision as she laid in each of the onlays. Her carbon and gold tooling is so clean and so exact.

    In the recent NBSS exhibit, Bound Together, Rachel was awarded 2nd place for her binding of Emma by Jane Austen. She is incredibly talented and I can’t wait to see what binding she makes next. You can find more of Rachel’s work at her website here.

    Yi Bin Liang

    During the 2006 graduation ceremony, speaker Barry Moser, is quoted saying the following:

    The most important advice I can give you all–and forgive me if this seems glib–is to work. Work. Work. Work. Everyday. At the same time every day, for as long as you can take it. Work. Work. Work.

    You can’t depend on talent. Talent is as common as house dust…So remember that nothing is as valuable to solid craftsmanship as is the habit of work, and work has to become a habit. Has to become something that you cannot NOT do. It has to become bone within you.

    This quote really resonated with Yi Bin Liang as a self-proclaimed workaholic, who set out to create an ambitious design binding for her copy of the set book. Featured on the front cover is the school’s logo: a lantern. However, in Yi Bin’s design it is re-imagined as a lighthouse. The school’s strong focus in traditional crafts and hand skills became a guiding light to Yi Bin after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design. Like many of her fellow classmates, Yi Bin incorporated her own experience into her design, highlighting her transition from art school to trade school.

    Yi Bin used various shades of blue goatskin onlays for the waves and alum-tawed goatskin for the crests. The lantern is constructed with turquoise and black goatskin onlays. All of the onlays are tooled with a combination of moon gold and double gold. Behind the lantern is a sunburst of gold, all set to a backdrop of medium grey goatskin. The title is hand tooled down the spine in Gill Sans.

    As we discussed her process and design, she revealed that she worked almost spontaneously on the book. Although she worked initially from a planned design, some elements were added later on to build up the design providing depth and balance

    The light blue goatskin leather Yi Bin chose to use on her binding is notoriously known to fade over time. And since Yi Bin is quite resourceful, she collected various scraps from the communal bin which gave her a range of light blue tones. In choosing her materials discreetly, some piece came with tears, which Yi Bin decided to keep as an element of her design.

    The edge decoration beautifully mimics the handmade paper used for the paste down and flyleaf. To recreate this look, Yi Bin brushed on a dark blue goauche before laying on squares of leaf and then sprinkling small pieces of leaf. The endbands are hand-sewn in alternating bands of teal, blue and silver. I really enjoy Yi Bin’s design, it’s bright and boisterous. It really carries several emotions throughout the design, which I think, perfectly reflects anyone’s experience at NBSS.

    You can find more of Yi Bin’s work at her website or follow her on Instagram: @liang.yi.bin

    Greta Llanes

    Part of the history laid out in Rewarding Work is a timeline of the various programs offered at the school. Discussing trends and the politics on what the school should be teaching, highlighting the decisions to drop some programs and introduce others. In Greta Llanes design, she sought to capture the cultural influence of North Bennet Street School to the North End neighborhood and her own experience at the school over the past two years. These two main factors are represented as a core of energy centrally located on the spine of the binding. The veins of the marbling flow out from this point like a burst of energy.

    I really enjoyed my discussion with Greta, it became quite apparent that her design was driven from a thoughtful examination of her time at North Bennet and the surrounding community. Although her design may read as simplistic, Greta experimented greatly to achieve such a seamless design. The main component of her design is the marbling, which resembles 17th century Spanish-style marbling. Greta used acrylic pigments to marble on a blackberry goatskin.

    The color purple was very important for Greta’s design. It was her way of connecting with the color’s interesting history of discovery; that revelations can be discovered through mistakes and error. In many ways the binding embodies Greta and her experiences both leading up to and during her time at NBSS. To fully connect her design on the binding, she added gold leaf through surface gilding and by painting on shell gold to bridge the veins of the marbling to the central core on the spine. The title is tooled in moon gold down the spine using Edinburgh typeface.

    Greta created a “marbled” effect for her edge decoration. After applying a layer of graphite, she put down different varieties of gold leaf and wrinkled them to create a vein-like effect. She continued to build up the edge in this way; the added graphite toned down the gold in the previous layer creating depth and levels of vibrancy. All edge are tooled with a single line in dukaten gold leaf. The hand-sewn French double core endbands have alternating bands of blue, light blue and two shades of grey. The marbled paste down and flyleaf are from Chena River Marblers. A really nice detail, are the marbled leather hinges which match the marbling on the cover. This creates a continuous flow from the paste down to the flyleaf.

    I really love Greta’s binding. The colors are sumptuous, the design is elegant. After speaking with Greta and being able to connect the design with her personal history makes it even more electrifying. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

    In June, Greta will be at Harvard’s Francis L. Loeb Library for a 1-month internship before teaching week-long classes on decorative paper techniques at a summer camp for kids of all ages. She’ll be rounding out the summer with the Lisa Von Clemm fellowship at the Boston Athenaeum for the following 6-months. Check out more of Greta’s work on her website here.

    Liz McHugh

    As America’s first trade school, North Bennet Street Industrial School focused on training programs for immigrants in the North End neighborhood in the late 19th century. This connection to the North End resonated with Liz McHugh as she began to plan out her design. Being the oldest neighborhood in Boston, the North End has a unique old-world architectural feel. Liz walked around the windy, narrow streets capturing photographs of various buildings that caught her eye, which she then compiled into an imaginary landscape with the help of Illustrator.

    Liz used a selection of goatskin onlays to highlight each individual building ranging from royal blue, grass green, blackberry, terracotta, maroon and turquoise. Each onlay is tooled with moon gold using a range of hand tools. It is undeniable that the most captivating structure is her depiction of the Old North Church. Easily recognizable to anyone familiar with the North End. Yet even if you can’t place it, your eyes are immediately pulled to its unique silhouette and bold color. The Old North Church is located near NBSS’s original location and has continued to serve as the venue for the school’s annual graduation ceremony.

    Liz also added subtle details through the use of blind tooling, choosing more traditional finishing tools to represent the finer architectural details without adding too much decadence. I love this element of her design. It elevates her design, creating more depth and interest. The maroon goatskin title piece is treated in the same manner as the buildings with a frame of gold and blind tooling. The edges are splattered in blue, purple and gold acrylic paint, which is paired with French double-core endbands in alternating bands of blue, purple and a pinkish red.

    As I opened the book, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the brightly patterned marbled paper which is used for the paste down and flyleaf. Marbled by Liz, the paper pulls colors from the cover making it an easy transition as you move from outside to inside. I also love the energy of the paper, I think it resonates with the spirit of the school and its continued success building a vibrant community.

    The color palette and playful perspective of the buildings really speaks to the intensity of the neighborhood. Liz manages to balance the colors of the landscape, while creating a central focus. She knew where to add subtle details and when to retract. I think her binding has a lovely illustrative feel and really encapsulates the feel and look of the North End.

    Liz plans to move back to her hometown of Philadelphia to start her career in field of bookbinding. You can follow her next move on Instagram: @exmchugh

    Jennifer Pellecchia

    The colorful design binding that Jennifer Pellecchia is holding was not her original design, far from it. Taking her initial inspiration from a section in the book on lap joints, Jennifer’s plan was to mimic a dovetail joint with a grey chagreen goatskin laid over a hand-dyed skin which was decorated to resemble the floor around her bench. However, the chagreen skin proved to be too difficult to work with in the paring machine. Hitting an impasse, Jennifer had to decide whether she would push forward or scrap her entire idea. She decided on the latter and I think she ended up with a spectacular binding that showcases both her skills and personality.

    Honoring the her time at NBSS, Jennifer chose to incorporate a variety of techniques she learned during her second year. This includes her unique application of leather dye, which is a technique she learned from guest instructor Nicky Oliver. The fair goatskin is dyed with spirit dyes applied with cotton balls and pom-pom applicators. Dye was also dripped through a pipette and sprayed with an atomizer. The division of color follows the blind tooled design, which resembles the paneling on the ceiling in Windgate (an area of the school that was built during the renovations to connect two existing buildings). The blind tooling pulled out a variety of shades from the various colors of dye, making the overall effect more dynamic.

    The leather was pressed with lead shot and salt, which created small irregular divets in the leather. This is quite subtle, but effective at creating depth and an interesting texture. The panel rivets are done with itty, bitty tooled onlays in complimentary colors. The gold is applied with leaf and foil in specific areas. Jennifer chose to use foil for the solid dots, since it was challenging to differentiate between the tooled dots and the impressions created by the lead shot. The title is hand tooled down the spine in Gill Sans in the same gold leaf as the design.

    The endbands are hand-sewn around a single parchment core in alternating bands of dark grey, pink, tan and off-white. Jennifer embellished the handmade Bhutanese paper used for the paste down and flyleaf by stamping the paper with dye soaked bubble wrap. The dye permeated into the paper in a spontaneous way, creating soft splotches of color. Jen was quite innovative in her solution to add a pop of flair to the interior side of her binding and I really love the results.

    I commended Jennifer on her perseverance as she struggled with her initial idea, she really tried to make the best out of a difficult material. But, in the end that battle forced her to reshape her concept and design. She created one of my favorite bindings of the bunch. I’m drawn to the wonderfully saturated colors, the playfulness of her design and the ingenuity of material use (lead shot, salt and bubble wrap). Looking forward to her next design binding.

    After graduation, Jennifer will continue in her position as Preservation Assistant at MIT working on their music collection. Follow Jennifer on Instagram: @jenn1cakes.

    Clair Emma Smith

    When I spoke with Clair Emma Smith about her binding, I was intrigued not only by the gorgeous geometric pattern, but also by her design process. It was very indicative to the way binder, Annette Friedrich works to create her designs. Clair Emma worked within a set of parameters as she drew various linear designs on graph paper; penciling in lines as her mood saw fit. After building up a collection of illustrations, Clair Emma pulled elements from multiple designs in order to create what would become the final template for her binding. Her binding has a very Art Nouveau feeling and in a strange route to compliment her binding, I mentioned that it reminded me of an elegantly decorated elevator. I beam with delight at a an exceptional design in an elevator.

    This year, the second year students really experimented with a variety of leather dyes through workshops with guest instructors Nicky Oliver and James Reid-Cunningham. Roda dyes, which are metal-based dyes, were introduced to the students through the lens of conservation. Clair Emma wanted to see how these dyes could be used for creative, artistic purposes.

    By blending pink and yellow dyes with cotton balls, the pigments merged to create rich orange tones. These diamond shaped tooled onlays evoke jewels set in the leather. Clair Emma used a navy blue goatskin for the base leather with the geometric design tooled in dukaten gold leaf. The title is beautifully balanced into the design on the spine in Edinburgh handle letters.

    I was pleasantly surprised when I opened Clair Emma’s binding to discover a vibrant and ornately patterned paper used for the paste down and flyleaf. This bold and lavish paper broke from the rigor of the cover design. Clair Emma noted how this paper created a nostalgic connection to her home town and felt like the perfect paper to incorporate into the binding. The French double core endbands are hand sewn with alternating bands of navy blue, gold and maroon silk threads.

    Although Clair Emma’s design may appear as a simple geometric pattern, I want to point out the precision it takes to lay out tooled lines in a straight and even fashion. Her design is beautifully balanced across the entire cover. I love her choice of color, the brilliant orange onlay leather dances against the navy blue forcing the eye to move around the cover. Her design choices are on point and they surprisingly bring me to my love of elevator interiors.

    Matthew Lawler Zimmerman

    As I’ve mentioned already, Rewarding Work is about the history of NBSS and its impact on the community in the North End. Because the text is so site specific, Matthew Lawler Zimmerman wanted to emphasize this in his design. The school recently underwent a massive change when it moved from the original location on North Bennet Street to it’s new home on North Street. Matthew chose to capture this transitional point in the school’s history by recreating the blueprints of the original location and the new location with traditional decorative techniques.

    Influenced by the brick buildings in the North End, Matthew chose to execute his design on a gorgeous vintage oxblood goatskin. A portion of the school’s original location is tooled on the back cover in dukaten gold leaf, while the new building adorns the front cover and bends around the doublure on the inside. The new building is tooled in moon gold, which is softer and less yellow than the dukaten gold leaf. I particularly love the slight overlap of the two blueprints at the spine.

    In order to engage more of the school, Matthew incorporated a variety of materials as both tooled onlays and inlays to represent all eight programs currently offered at NBSS. These include various wood veneers, such as bird’s eye maple, cedar, aspen and walnut, metals, ebony, elk bone and hand-dyed leather.

    Matthew chose the ambitious route of adding leather doublures and leather flyleaves to his design binding, using the same oxblood goatskin for the doublures and a terracotta goatskin for the flyleaves. There is a subtle difference in tone, with the terracotta being slightly darker, and has a more even grain pattern. This transition from light to dark is so seamless, especially since the design on the doublure floats onto the flyleaf into an abstract pattern. The head edge is rough edge gilt with moon gold and the board edges are tooled with a single line in dukaten gold leaf. The French double core endbands are hand sewn with grey and two bands of maroon thread.

    The students graciously allow me to handle their bindings so that I can survey every detail and lend them a critical eye. Matthew’s execution of his binding is exceptional. Crafting a full leather binding, with leather doublures and flyleaves is quite a challenge and Matthew rose to the occasion. The leather doublures in particular are flawless, which can be quite a task. I think he is quite observant and has a keen eye for detail, which really shone through in his binding. There will certainly be more design bindings in Matthew’s future and I look forward to it.

    Matthew plans to merge his printmaking background his newly honed bookbinding skills by crafting editions of work from the printed page to the custom binding. However, he also plans to pursue a career by working with other printers and binders. You can check out more of Matthew’s work at his website.

    – – –

    Thanks again to the 2019 graduating class and Jeff Altepeter, Head of Bookbinding Department. It was such a joy to get to know you all a little bit more and speak candidly about your work. I can’t wait to see how you all take your skills and apply them to our community. I wish you all the best.

    If you want more interviews from past classes check out the list here.


  2. North Bennet Street School // Student & Alumni Exhibit 2018 – Alumni Work

    May 10, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    In this next installment covering the 2018 Student and Alumni Exhibit, I will be showcasing some of the work submitted by former bookbinding students at North Bennet Street School. If you missed my previous post where I interviewed the graduating class on their set book, check it out here.

    This year I submitted two of my own bindings. I’ll begin with my miniature binding of The Island: An Amsterdam Saga by Geert Mak with illustrations by Max Kisman. This binding was apart of Stichting Handboekbinden Miniature Bookbinding Competition and was first exhibited at the Meermanno Museum in The Hague.

    Bound in as a three-part Bradel, the boards are split into two designs. The top half is constructed with stone veneer, embroidery and ivory leather panel pieces. The bottom half is a mix of foil tooling, vellum onlays and embroidered feathers. The spine is covered in leather with painted suede onlays. The book is housed in a full leather box with an embroidered rat. You can see more of images of this binding on my website.

    My second binding is 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke. The book is bound in black buffalo skin with goatskin onlays in white, yellow, teal, lavender and fuchsia. The teal and lavender are attached suede side up. There are additional kozo paper onlays in yellow, orange and pink. All of the onlays are adorned with embroidered floss to expand on the explosion of color. The back board includes four stanzas from Dies iræ.

    The head edge is painted with a white base and misted with black pigment. This sprinkled effect continues along the fore edge. The fly leaves are also decorated in this pattern to give the illusion of one continuous look.

    Lauren Calcote, ’15
    This miniature binding of The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen was bound by Lauren Calcote. Done as a Coptic binding, the boards are covered in vellum and decorated with embroidered stone veneer. I love the seamless continuation of thread that spans from the endbands onto the boards framing the stone veneer. 

    Fionnuala Gerrity, ’11
    Strawberry Thief is wrapped in a cheerful embroidered chemise on deep teal dupioni silk done by Fionnuala Gerrity. The light-hearted design is mirrored on the back board. Fionnuala’s use of hefty cotton floss creates so much texture and height to the embroidery. 

    Kate Levy, ’17
    Bound as a three-part Bradel, the book itself features a range of artists working with textiles and fiber as their medium of choice. By piecing together scraps of colorful handmade paper with embroidery floss, Kate Levy plays homage to one of the artists featured in this binding of Stitchillo. By clicking on the images below, you can see that the title is stamped in clear foil on the lower red paper panel. Working with thread on paper is such a delicate task, but the effect is so lovely. 

    Anne McLain, ’10
    Anne McLain demonstrates the playfulness of traditional decorative tools in her binding of Julia Miller’s Books Will Speak Plain. Thoughtfully placed ornamental lines span across the binding in a way that connotes a firework explosion. Small accents, such as silver foil dots and blind letters, are scattered amongst the flares. A small red dot holds the initials JM to signify the author. The endbands are hand sewn in alternating bands of white and dark grey. The head edge is splattered with various shades of grey and splotches of white.

    James Reid-Cunningham, ’90
    What a surprising mix of materials in James Reid-Cunningham’s binding. Les Negres is a play by French dramatist Jean Genet and is bound in black Tyvek. The cover is adorned with mother of pearl and lines of gold tooling. Their is a really lovely relationship between the figures of mother of pearl. The iridescent quality of the material provides movement against the black background. 

    You can see all of these bindings in person and others while the show is open. This year the Student and Alumni Exhibit will be on display at two locations: from May 7 – 23 at Two International Place and from June 4 – 30 at North Bennet Street School (both located in Boston). Check out the website here for more details and opening hours.

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  3. My Hand // Invisible Cities

    March 13, 2018 by Erin Fletcher


    I was introduced to the work of Italo Calvino through his 1972 novel Invisible Cities. I became infatuated with his writing style and imagination. The tales within Invisible Cities project so much imagery and color and emotion. And so I set forth to create a binding worthy of Calvino’s descriptive tales of fantastical cityscapes; the binding was completed in 2017.

    Bound as a traditional French-style fine binding, the book is covered in two separate pieces of buffalo skin which meet along the center horizon. The top half is busy and heavy; the collaged materials depict abstract images of buildings with gilt “scaffolding”. The abstract building structures were achieved through various onlays of suede, goatskin, stone veneer and palladium lacunose. The stone veneer and palladium lacunose were too textured and too stiff to back-pare, so to achieve the look I wanted I attached stand-in onlays in the full shape of the collaged structures before paring.

    Once pared down, the top half was attached to the book and the stand-in onlays were removed to make way for the final onlay pieces. In order to cut each onlay to the correct size, I used additional pieces of tissue drawn with the same shapes used for the back-paring. The final onlay pieces were cut out through the tissue to ensure their exactness.

    The palladium lacunose is a technique I learned during a workshop with Mark Cockram. An assemblage of goatskin and suede scraps was surface gilt with palladium. Additional texture was created through stamping, tooling, sanding and paring.

    With all of the onlays placed in the top portion, I was ready to work on the bottom half. My first step was to trim both halves at a bevel to create a seamless connection at the center of the book. The design was marked in the leather and sewn with a cotton floss in a matching light grey color. Some shapes span across both halves of leather, so it was vital to have the embroidery line up with the onlay pieces.

    The final aspect of the design to put in place was the “scaffolding”. After making my own thin line brass tools, the top half was tooled in palladium, while the bottom half was left blind.

    Despite finding the entire book inspirational, one particular city drew me in deeper than the rest. Within chapter seven under the group “the dead” Eusapia speaks of an underground city where the dead attempt to mimic the living or vice versa. These opposing forces of truth and falsehood are represented by the two opposing panels. The lower portion of the design is meant to poorly mimic the top portion. This was achieved by removing the color, texture and glisten of the upper panel.

    This theme of polarity and symmetry continues onto the edge of the book and the leather doublures. The entire edge was initially covered in graphite, then palladium was applied to just the head edge and half of the fore edge. The palladium was left looking distressed to compliment the broken palladium on the lacunose onlays.

    As you open to the interior side of the covers, more imagery is unearthed leading you back into the richness of the text. Pulling from Calvino’s references to building structures and the solar system, the front doublure depicts the orbits in our solar system with inlays representing the planets. The bottom half shows the constellation for Cancer. The stars are embroidered in a matching cotton floss with connecting lines tooled in blind.

    The back is similarly styled with a palladium tooled dome and the constellation for Pisces. The fly leaf is a metallic cork paper. The book is housed in a quarter leather clamshell box. The spine of the box hints at the design of the binding with three small inlays collaged together. The rest of the box case is covered in stone veneer. The trays are covered in handmade Katie MacGregor paper and lined in the same faux suede used on the binding.

    This binding was apart of the Student and Alumni Show at North Bennet Street School before going on display for the Society of Bookbinders International Competition 2017 in Keele, England. You can read more about my concept and see even more images here.


  4. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 4

    January 21, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    This limp suede staple binding by Coleen Curry was bound in 2017. Published by The Perishable Press, Pulsars is authored by Harry Lewis and includes a silkscreen print by Sam Gilliam. Coleen left the text in its original brown paper wrapper along with the prospectus, but added red and blue Moriki endpapers and embossed green goat suede flyleaves. The text is affixed to a red wood stub piece, which allows the print to open completely flat. The book is attached to the cover with 18 carat gold wire staples secured by handmade wood and parchment tackets.

    When I look at your work as a whole there is a clear appreciation for the materials used. Even when a material is manipulated or distressed it is done so with care. Your use of suede on Pulsars reminds me of leather’s hidden beauty. The suede remnants of a split skin can reveal an interesting array of splotches, veins and other blemishes where the dye did not penetrate. I wonder if you feel the same attraction to suede and if that irregularity influenced your reason for using suede on Pulsars?
    The Perishable Press prospectus calls this book a “tactile event” and I wanted my binding to be just that, a tactile event. Sam Gilliam’s vibrant multi-media silkscreen centerfold captures the energy of a pulsar with a vivid green machine stitching across it. I chose a gorgeous purple suede split with a myriad of colors as my covering material as the colors compliment that energy and reflects on some of Lewis’ references to astrophysics. I used a variety of techniques to manipulate the cover including bright paper collage, embossing, tooling and acrylic paint. I chose Italian silk thread in blue and red to machine stitch across the lower right corner of the cover.

    I am attracted to asymmetry and imperfection as a point of beauty. Irregularity – I love it – it creates curiosity, intrigue, and begs the question ‘What is that?’  or ‘How did you do that”. Many of the materials I choose have ‘imperfections’ and these, in my opinion, are what breathe life into my bindings, that intrigue.  When the leather is split, often many variations appear that ware previously hidden. Tick bites, scars, veins, dye variation, texture variation all appear and are always a secret surprise.  Additionally, when various coatings are applied, completely different colors may appear, darken, enrich or even change altogether. The goat suede split was really purple, however when I applied layers of paper and then a PVA wash, the purple darkened and an amazing orange appeared along with some purple dots.

  5. Online Exhibit for Stitch·illo – Creative Expressions through Thread and Fiber

    January 14, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    binder: Jennifer Evers

    Last year, I posted about my binding Feed Sacks: The Colourful History of a Frugal Fabric, which came about through an invitation from Todd Pattison. Along with fourteen other binders, we each bound a copy in our own style. The Feed Sacks bindings are now on display at the Iowa Quilt Museum alongside objects made with feed sack fabrics. In addition to our bindings, we also had the chance to recommend a binder for a second project. Janine Vanpool, the publisher of Uppercase magazine generously donated copies of Stitch·illo – Creative Expressions through Thread and Fiber.

    binder: Becky Koch

    This book profiles 46 contemporary artists who are using embroidery and other textile processes to explore their art by honoring historical techniques and exploring new ways of crafting through fiber arts. Check out the fifteen binders who put their own unique spin on Stitch·illo.

    binder: Gabby Cooksey

    binder: Kate Levy


  6. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 2

    January 7, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    LOOM was published by Nawakum Press in collaboration with printmaker Richard Wagener and poet Alan Loney. After Richard began to explore the structure of a loom and the process of weaving, he approached Alan with three finished engravings. Alan was asked to respond in the form of a poem that would equally explore the beauty between connection and disconnection found in both woven work and life.

    Coleen Curry bound this copy of LOOM in 2015 in a black goatskin with inlaid pieces of manipulated leather. The interior is covered in distressed edge-to-edge leather doublures that include two additional inlaid panels of the same manipulated leather.

    The main decorative element on this binding captures the essence of Richard Wagener’s prints beautifully. Can you discuss your technique for creating these amazing distressed leather onlays?
    It was love at first sight when I laid my eyes on LOOM at the 2014 Fine Press Fair in NYC. Richard’s pristine end block maple prints are stunning and Alan Loney’s poem gently flows. I purchased a set in sheets and sat on the project for some time awaiting that design inspiration.

    Later that year, while experimenting with suede splits, I rather unsuccessfully attempted to emboss mull into the split – it stuck and I couldn’t remove it. My ahha moment, it was beautiful! This was perfect for LOOM!

    I made the colorful panels on one large piece of red by layering vivid colored papers, pressing and sanding. I then took sections of mull and carefully removed strands both vertically and horizontally until I had the shapes I desired. These were then pressed into the suede and additional layers of paper added. More sanding and pressing until I had the desired effect.

    To create the design, I cut and arranged the pieces to flow across the book, taking care to ensure the mull pieces flowed harmoniously. I embossed large sections of distorted mull into dampened black leather for a few background onlays and inlays to add texture and continuity. All the panel pieces with the exception of one, are inlaid at various levels: recessed, even, and raised. I inlaid two even panels on the edge to edge leather doublures as well. The pink leather incisions were added to weave the components together.

    The layouts of your designs have a rather organic flow to them, yet LOOM feels more hard-lined and controlled. Was your decision swayed by the nature of the materials or the subject matter of the book?
    I hadn’t thought about the book content being so controlled. The poem is very much about weaving, earth, spirituality, and movement. The typesetting although controlled and consistent, has breaks mid line for a pause and those breaks add to a weave or flow. Richard’s prints begin with a very simple weave and build into ever more complex weaves. Nawakum Press made a 15 minute video on the making of the edition that I find inspiring.

    My binding of LOOM is one of my favorite bindings and it was a hard one to let go. That said, I have another 2 sets in sheets, one of which I am working on these days.


  7. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 1

    January 1, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    The first time I interviewed Coleen Curry was back in 2013. I am continuously inspired by Coleen’s work. She skillfully brings layers of color and texture to her work in new and interesting ways. So let’s start off the year feeling inspired to challenge and improve upon our own work with this updated interview with Coleen. We are starting off with Coleen’s binding of Of Woodland Pools, Spring-holes & Ditches.

    Of Woodland Pools, Spring-holes & Ditches was design and printed by Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press and includes 28 engravings by Abigail Rorer of Lone Oak Press. The prints are accompanied by selected entries from Henry David Thoreau’s journals from the months of March, April and May. These passages elegantly describe the early springtime landscape in New England. The woodland pools, spring-holes and ditches were all terms Thoreau used to describe the breeding grounds of wildlife as the fauna awoke from the winter season.

    Coleen’s binding is covered in a hand-dyed goatskin with edge-to-edge leather doublures. The design includes inlays of cat-tails and green calfskin with additional onlays of bronzy calfskin. The author and printer’s last name were hand-tooled in golf leaf. The leather doublures are distressed and paired with a leather split flyleaf. Coleen bound this copy for the Designer Bookbinders InsideOUT Exhibition in 2014.

    When I saw this binding for the first time, I felt that you had created a style that was uniquely yours. The most striking element of this binding is the hand-dyed leather. The dark veins flow across the book like water making the pieces of inlaid cat-tails and leather almost appear to float on the surface. Can you talk about the dying process for the leather and why you choose to have the accented pieces both sunken on the board and jutting outward?
    I would walk my dogs in a coastal woodland area by my home that has ponds and pools as described by Thoreau. With my tall wellingtons protecting me from the water, I would spend a few hours at various times of the day and peer down into the pools observing the multiple layers of life and plants teeming within. This murky layering was the inspiration for my design. I am deeply attracted to texture and color, and during my design process, I spend a lot of time choosing materials and found objects, mixing and matching, in an attempt to try to visually create the emotions I experience while reading a text and enjoying the art. I find stuff, constantly experiment, and keep everything. I want my designs to introduce the text by appealing to all 5 senses. This binding captured that essence and perhaps that is why you feel it is my own style.

    Working with undyed ‘fair’ goatskin, I applied several paste resists using liquid acrylics, a technique called ‘Craquele’. Thick layers of wheat paste are applied directly to the leather, allowed to dry, and then ‘cracked’ intentionally. The acrylic is then applied and is absorbed in the paste cracks; the paste is then removed. Several resists in various colors were applied to achieve depth and layers I desired. Hewits’ aniline dyes were applied to create the ruddy brown color, along with various embossing and debossing with inks.

    The leather became my water, and now I needed to create movement. First, I gold tooled dotted lines to create the glints of light that appear when sunlight hits water at certain angles. I used a special roulette, that I designed and Pascal Alivon crafted, of uneven dots that roll out crooked. Next, I added a few bright green inlays and onlays for the color of new plant life in the spring. I collected cat-tails from the ponds and dried them. After many experimentations with finishes to seal and protect the cat-tail, I settled on layers of black bison wax – a fine wood finishing wax that has an aroma of wood. To create the feeling of floating layers of intertwined cat-tail leaves, I created two inlay pieces off the book and these needed to be a variety of thicknesses to accommodate effective layering. At this point I had what Suzanne Moore and Don Glaister call ‘the eleventh hour blues’, this is when I experience the ‘my design sucks, it needs something else, it is ruined…”. And yes, this happens with almost every binding I create. At this point, I sift through all my materials and usually find that ‘one thing’ to add. For Pools it was some bronzy calf. I placed thin strips over the cat-tail leaves and inlaid only the tips so the mid portion has air.

    I’m also curious about the treatment of Thoreau and Rorer, their names appear in a sort of V-shape on the spine. It’s quite an unusual layout, does this reference the text in some way?
    The title is quite long ‘Of Woodland Pools, Spring-holes and Ditches’ – I toyed with a variety of shortened versions and settled on ‘Woodland Pools Spring-holes Ditches’ tooled in gold each on its own line meandering line on the front upper right in tiny type.

    I decided to highlight both the prominent author and artist on the spine. I enjoy incorporating letters as part of the design to add interest and intrigue. The ‘O’ in each name lines up with the cat-tails on both front and back covers and the gold letters add that glint on water and adds some continuity between the front and back covers.


  8. Catching Up With Lori Sauer // No. 5

    August 27, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    For the final post, I wanted to highlight one of Lori Sauer’s more recent bindings. Done in 2017, Lori created a binding for Russell Maret’s Linear A to Z. Using an unusual binding style, Lori combine’s vellum and Japanese paper to create a binding that works beautifully with the text’s imagery.

    Russell Maret’s Linear A to Z is a beautifully printed book. And your play on the geometry perfectly harmonizes with the prints in this abecedarian text. Can you talk about the binding structure you used for this binding (particularly the board attachment and how it functions)? Is the vellum limp or over boards?
    I don’t know the name of this structure and sadly I can’t remember who showed it to me years ago. I’ll do my best to describe it. The text is sewn on vellum supports that are shaped like a bar with an arrow on each end. They have to be very precisely cut and measured as the bar is the width of the sewn spine plus the thickness of the covering material.

    The three covering pieces, in this case vellum, are cut to size. The spine piece is folded along the joint and the sidepieces are turned-in along the spine edge only. Slits are then cut in to the fold of the spine and folds of the board pieces that correspond to the sewing stations/supports. The ends of the arrows are very carefully fed through the slits. The points of the arrow shape lock the pieces together and on to the text block.

    I then tipped in a thin board to the gutter of the board vellum and drummed the vellum on resulting in a semi rigid cover. The black lines are waxed Japanese paper laid in to embossed lines. The horizontal line is cut in to the board vellum and inlaid with a laminate of vellum and paper.

    The doublures and flyleaves have black and white lines that echo the design on the outside.

    This structure can also be done in a single piece. A gusset is then formed between the inner board and text block. I hope I’ve explained this well enough. It’s very hard to describe without drawing some pictures!


  9. Catching Up With Lori Sauer // No. 4

    August 20, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    In 2016, Lori Sauer was one of six Designer Bookbinder Fellows selected to bind one the six titles shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Lori bound Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which was presented to the author on the night of the award ceremony.

    Your designs are so delicate, but have the power to capture deep emotion. Each element feels meticulously planned and placed in perfect harmony. Can you go through the stages of planning for Do Not Say We Have Nothing, specifically touching on the placement of the small red pieces?
    This is a binding done for the Man Booker Prize shortlist, work that always has a very tight deadline. I loved the novel, an epic tale spanning three generations of two separate families, who lived through a turbulent time of Chinese history in the mid twentieth century (the Cultural Revolution through to Tiananmen Square). There is a book within the book, called The Book of Records that ties the families and generations together. Classical music also plays a big part, in particular The Goldberg Variations, a piece based on repeated patterns and mathematics.

    I usually tend to work in light and pale colours, my penchant for minimalism. This is the first dark binding I’ve done for a long time but I felt it was needed to capture the psychological temper of the period. All of Chinese society at the time wore uniforms – drab, dark colours with only the Red Guard having something bright.

    With all of these elements stewing around in my mind I begin to sketch and when some of them start to work for me I make paper mock-ups – cutting out the right colours and shapes and moving them about – and take photos of the best compositions. I also work on my iPad with a drawing app. (I like Art Rage). I eventually settle on something that makes my fingers want to start work. Sometimes I settle on a design that’s a very long way from my starting point but I’m not unduly bothered that I move off in a sideways direction, as a good design will stand up on its own.

    The final design is my visual solution to a novel about music, the passage of time, families and Chinese writing.

    You’ve asked specifically about the small red dots. The ones on the outside (leather, shown above) were placed for compositional balance and add a necessary shot of colour. The dots on the doublures (paper, shown below) were very randomly applied. I worked instinctively and fairly quickly here and photographed a pattern I liked so I could use it for reference when gluing them down later.


  10. Catching Up With Lori Sauer // No. 3

    August 13, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    Lori Sauer bound The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins in 2015, just three years after it was published by Arion Press. This limited edition includes illustrations by Stan Washburn. As Lori mentions below, she split the text into two volumes, creating two fine bindings that compliment each other beautifully. Each binding is covered with calfskin and decorative handmade paper.

    Can you talk about your use of materials and how they connect to the text? Which elements are paper and why use paper over another type of material?
    Relating a material to a text is not something that I ever find myself mulling over. In rare cases one might pick wood for a book about wood, etc., but in the majority of cases leather is used, as convention. I’ve moved away from leather and now mainly bind in vellum because it’s so beautiful. Just to break out from my habit I bound this one in calfskin and paper. The calfskin because it has no grain and paper because I’ve always wanted to use it as major material for a design binding. I’ve always had the feeling (perhaps I’m wrong here) that paper is not considered appropriate for serious work. But it has a longer shelf life than leather, is open to a wide range of decorative treatments and I haven’t met a binder yet who isn’t besotted with it.

    The circular shapes are paper and the area around the circles is calfskin. The paper is a heavy weight Griffen Mill, specially made for a commission I did and these are some of the off-cuts. The pieces have been tinted with watercolour to achieve a range of neutral shades. The leather has been sanded over the top of a pimply surface to create texture.

    This is a very long novel with many characters and lots of narrative layers. There were a number of key scenes set on some shifting sands, a metaphor for the quasi-surreal nature of the plot. My colour choice came from this and also why I wanted to use a variety of textures/materials.

    This is a single volume production (Arion Press) but I decided to split it in to two bindings because I find very thick books rather clumsy. It worked out well to divide it because of how Collins had structured the story into two sections. I liked doing a pair of complimentary bindings, as I was able to use more than just one of the many compositions I had played around with.

    Shown below are the two interior views of each volume. 


  • 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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