The 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.
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.