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  1. North Bennet Street School // The Set Book Interviews – Class of 2024

    May 7, 2024 by Erin Fletcher

    Since moving to Austin, I miss out on establishing relationships with the students at North Bennet Street School (NBSS) as they navigate through their two years in the program. Therefore, these annual set book interviews have now become even more valuable to me. Speaking with each of the graduating students on their approach to the set book project gave me a glimpse into their personalities and creative influences. We also spoke about how they found their way to North Bennet to attend the Bookbinding program and where they see themselves after graduation.

    The students were presented with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men this year. This American classic is simultaneously taught in most high schools while also becoming one of the most challenged books of the 21st century according to the American Library Association due to its vulgar language, racism and sexism. I found that many of the students who read this novella in high school chose not to revisit it in preparation for this project. However, many of the students could agree that Steinbeck is a great writer and found his language about the landscape of California to be the most inspiring. This particular edition from the Folio Society presented a unique challenge with it being printed on heavyweight paper. In order to create a more flexible binding, several of the students explored ways of incorporating stubs into their final binding. The text block also included a set of prints which were either incorporated into their binding or given separate housing or left out entirely.

    The student’s bindings are on display in the 2024 Exhibition: Then & Now at North Bennet Street School through August 10th. To celebrate the 10 years since moving the school into its new expansive building at the entrance of the North End, this exhibit explores the personal evolution of the students and alumni by showcasing their work before and after their time at North Bennet.

    As always, the students presented such thoughtful consideration to their designs, choice of materials and techniques used. The students had fresh ideas to their approach to design and it was invigorating to discuss their experiments, successes and challenges. I hope you enjoy reading these interviews and please visit the exhibition to see these wonderful bindings in person. A big thanks to Jo Sittenfeld for photographing the students with their bindings and to NBSS for photographing the bindings!

    Fox Allen
    Fox Allen Bindery
    The design on Fox’s binding was spurred by his emotional connection to the text and Steinbeck’s use of color as a descriptor. The design you see below started out as a simple doodle as Fox began to play around with ideas. The dead mouse is the reader’s introduction to Lennie, a character who struggles with social cues and independence. He often strokes the soft fur of animals to help calm his nerves. However, unconscious of his own strength Lennie ends up killing each of these creatures that provide him with comfort. A habit that begins with mice and escalates throughout the book until he kills a woman.

    Like many of Fox’s classmates, he too was inspired by Steinbeck’s use of color and selected a color palette based on the text. The body of the mouse is a cushioned onlay cut from a beige goatskin with an undyed calfskin onlay for the tail and pinkish goatskin for the nose. The tail zigzags up towards the head edge intertwined with a blue goatskin onlay attached with the suede side up and wrinkled to show the flow of water. All elements are set on a background of tan goatskin. In lieu of an eye, Fox uses that iconic letter X indicating death. Using a handmade finishing tool, the eye is tooled in palladium. The tool’s irregular surface mimics the look of a pen scribbled deep into paper.

    The most surprising element of this binding are the feet protruding from the cover. Fox collaborated with a taxidermist friend to get these little feet from feeder mice. The feet are attached in a similar fashion as an ascona onlay. A small opening is cut and the feet are fed under the leather and secured with PVA, Fox affectionately called these “skin caves”. The title is tooled between the belly of the mouse and the river in palladium.

    Fox and I spoke at length about his many experiments with stubs before landing on the perfect construction for this particular text block. The stubs are laminated sheets of yupo paper, which is used commonly for watercolor due to its non-porous surface. The yupo paper was laminated together with heat-set tissue. The separate illustrations were added to the text block with their own unique stub constructed using museum board sandwiched by leather. This style of stub made it near impossible to round and back in the traditional way. So Fox created shoulders with a small rectangular stub encased in a thin layer of yupo and shaped the spine with a micro-plane. Since the yupo cut so easily with the plane, Fox had to be very careful when shaping the spine, so as not to lose the shoulders or create an irregular round. The spine was lined in the traditional manner, with a hollow for the final layer to create a soft base for tooling the title later on.

    The endbands are sewn through a laminate of paper and sized muslin around a rectangular core, as it was not possible to sew through the yupo stubs. Using silk threads in powder blue, navy and yellow, the design on the endbands matches the division of materials used for the stubs. The paste downs and fly leaves are Cave Paper dyed with that familiar swoosh of indigo and pomegranate rind. Inlaid on the inside of the front cover is a patch of mouse fur (also supplied by Fox’s taxidermist friend). This creates a moment for the reader to sympathize with Lennie or perhaps invites the reader to embrace the same calming technique as they read through this tragedy.

    Fox seemed almost destined to attend the full-time program at North Bennet. He began making books when he was 15 with his friend who ultimately became the taxidermist mentioned above. This became a full circle moment for Fox and he wants to continue exploring unconventional materials in future work. Fox had the opportunity to intern with Chena River Marblers to conduct research and experiments on the tiger’s eye pattern. Ultimately landing on a formula to make this challenging pattern easier to create and more accurate to historical examples. Fox also had the opportunity to learn under the great Daniel Kelm. With all this experience and two years at North Bennet under his belt, Fox has a goal of finding a full-time job in the field while also maintaining a studio space where he can continue to experiment and make creative work.

    Louise Capizzo
    It was great to reconnect with Louise during this interview. She attended of few workshops that I had taught at North Bennet prior to entering into the full-time program. Making books for the first time in my class, she felt her whole body light up! A feeling that many book people can recognize. As we discussed the text and how it inspired her design, it became apparent that her design was also restricted by her long daily commute from Maine. In order to complete the binding on time and work in her skill-set, Louise felt that simple was better. After reading Of Mice and Men, Louise found similarities to the injustices faced by many marginalized and working class people of today to the story of Lennie and George. Both men had a dream to live a simple life on a their own farmland, but without the support of society they would never see this dream come true.

    Working with such a simple design, it was important for Louise to choose a leather with a pronounced grain to cover the entire binding. A road is depicted on the front cover using an ascona onlay in a vibrant orange leather. The color is meant to evoke the heat of this era and the hardships of working outdoors. A terra cotta goatskin tooled onlay is placed on top of the road in the shape of a mouse, with its blind tooled tail sweeping below the road. Louise added the mouse to represent two things: there is the obvious connection to the mice both loved and unintentionally killed by Lennie early on in the story. The second connects back to the theme of injustice. Mice and rats are often seen as pests, creatures that are ignored until they become a nuisance to society. Unfortunately, this sentiment has also been applied to people experiencing homelessness, immigrants, marginalized communities and in regards to the book, itinerant workers. Rather than creating policies to provide safety and assistance they are often just swept away from the public’s eye.

    Of Mice and Men and Steinbeck are tooled on separate labels cut from the same terra cotta leather as the mouse. The text is blind tooled and intentionally staggered to once again shine a light on our imperfect society.

    Since the landscape is so crucial to the plot, Louise felt it necessary to represent it somewhere in her design. And as someone who has spent the majority of her life in Maine, Louise wanted to capture the contrast of the west coast sky in her design. The single-core hand-sewn endbands are stitched with bands of light blue and sky blue using silk threads to evoke the sky of Salinas. Upon opening the binding, you are flooded with bright blues marbled with black and white pigments to pair with the endbands. Louise made these marbled papers during a workshop with Chena River Marblers that took place earlier in the year.

    During our conversation about her journey to becoming a full-time student at North Bennet, it became quite clear how impactful those Community Education classes were to Louise back in 2018. She always loved to craft and build things with her hands. Her love of books led her to get a masters degree from Simmons University in 1999 and work as a librarian before retiring to attend North Bennet. After graduation she plans to open a small bindery in order to service public libraries in rural areas of Maine, who are in desperate need of conservation services.

    Elizabeth Grab
    Rambling Rambler Press
    Even though Steinbeck is considered an American classic, Of Mice and Men is brimming with racism and sexism. Elizabeth used the latter within her design to put a spotlight on Lennie’s final victim. The character in question was never given a name and is simply referred to as Curley’s wife. In a New York Times article, Steinbeck explained that she is “not a person, but a symbol. She has no function, but to be a foil – and a danger to Lennie.” Her ambitions of becoming a star on the silver screen are vanquished and she is cursed to live a meaningless life with an abusive husband.

    Curley’s wife falls victim to Lennie’s strength when she allows him to stroke her hair. When she becomes frightened, Lennie in turn becomes alarmed and inadvertently kills her. To highlight this part of the story, Elizabeth created a tactile experience on her binding by using a puckered leather technique inspired by the work of Tini Miura and Anthony Cains. The black goatskin is wrinkled and folded within a tooled outline and manipulated by hand in such a way to resemble the flow of hair. This part of the design was very challenging, as the black onlay leather had to start off slightly larger and fit into an abstract shape. The final results create texture and shadows and you see the effect of layering and overlapping at the edges.

    Elizabeth pulled from Steinbeck’s colorful descriptions of both the landscape and Curley’s wife to help choose the palette of her binding. The verdant green goatskin that the binding is covered in represents the river basin of Salinas Valley. Her face and neckline are tooled in blind, allowing her to fade into the green leather. A crimson red goatskin that closely matches a particular lipstick shade from that era was chosen as the tooled onlays for the lips (as red was used continuously by Steinbeck to describe Curley’s wife.) The ghostly look in the eyes comes from using leather with a faint blue tint. The title is tooled in palladium in her eyes to represent the pupil and iris. Of is tooled in the eye in the background with Mice & Men tooled in the foreground. For Elizabeth, it was important to minimize the story by tooling the title in the character’s eyes and to omit Steinbeck’s name from the design entirely. The title is so subtle it allows her presence to be in the forefront of the design. In addition she is set within a frame on the binding, as if we are peering into this scene and witnessing this atrocity.

    The hand-sewn endbands in cream and red linen continue the color scheme from the cover. The graphite edge showcases all that glitters is not gold to play on the character’s tarnished dream of becoming an actress. The over-marbled paper (or party paper) used for the paste downs and fly leaves were created by Elizabeth using acrylic paint to develop a real pop of color and to give a nod to a material contemporary to the setting of the book. From my discussion with Elizabeth, it became apparent that her choice of colors and materials were really rooted in the time period of the story.

    Elizabeth found book arts while studying at Wellesley College in the mid 2010s, where she studied under Katherine Ruffin, Director of the Book Studies Program. Katherine offered her students a full spectrum view of the letterpress and book arts possibilities by granting access to the Special Collections and Conservation Lab. Elizabeth then obtained a Library Science degree from the University of North Carolina in 2019, where she was also a fellow for the Learning from Artists Archives program. This fellowship allowed her to work with artists and art repositories to aid in developing their archives. During the pandemic she worked at an interior design studio in New York to build up her skills with leather. For her, the next logical step was to attend the full-time program at North Bennet where she could both gain skills in addressing preservation issues with works on paper with artists and lean into design binding. After running her small business Rambling Rambler Press and assisting in the foundation of a few nonprofits, she is ready to work full-time at an institution to dive deeper into conservation.

    Jacqueline “Jacky” Martin
    Battle Axe Bindery
    I have to admit that I have never read Of Mice and Men, but after speaking to the students I was told again and again about the immense care given to describing the landscape even over the main characters, George and Lennie. Jacky mentioned in particular that there is a starkness and simplicity to the way Steinbeck writes; that his writing is without flourishes. Relying only on texture to convey the majesty of the Salinas Valley, Jacky evokes the same strategies found within Steinbeck’s writing.

    Jacky has prior experience working with tooling techniques traditionally used in saddlery, which is best achieved on calf skin. However, being restricted to using goatskin for her set book, Jacky looked to images of cuir-ciselé as well to find inspiration. This 15th century technique involved outlining the design with a pointed tool when the leather is damp. Areas of the design can be textured by stamping a succession of dots into the leather or by embossing from the backside of the leather. To create the landscape, Jacky added three layers of 10pt. museum board to the covers and 2 layers of thinly pared leather to the hollow on the spine. Then the binding was covered in a medium brown goatskin.

    After covering, the leather was dampened again and pressed with various grits of coarse sandpaper to create subtle texture in specific areas of the landscape. To create movement in the river that cuts through the valley, Jacky pressed the tip of a bone folder into dampened leather and gently pushed it forward. The title is tooled along a curve at the river’s edge using red gold leaf, while Steinbeck hovers above the mountains on the spine.

    Jacky chose the route of incorporating stubs into her binding. She landed on a laminate of Gutenberg and muslin for the stub, which made it easy to shape into a rounded spine. The hand-sewn endbands are a single-core wrapped in three different shades of brown silk. The marbled papers are a splash of blues and greens, acting as a nice reprieve from the monotone cover.

    Jacky spoke about her joy in creating this binding, how her training provided the necessary confidence to create success. Leaving the engineering department for literature, Jacky eventually found herself interning at the preservation lab at MIT. Afterwards, Jacky received a degree in Library Sciences at Simmons University. During this time, she had the opportunity to attend a summer course on basic conservation, which happened to be hosted at North Bennet Street School. The rest is history. After graduation Jacky hopes to stay in the New England area and work full-time in conservation.

    Spike Minogue
    While searching for inspiration across several iterations of the novella, Spike stumbled upon the cover design for the first edition of Of Mice and Men from 1937 (pictured above). With a background in offset printing and design, the oversized and stylized typeface really stood out to Spike. To tie her design to this new edition from the Folio Society, Spike recreated the typeface from the title page with feathered onlays.

    Also inspired by the bold and bright colors from the original cover design, Spike covered her binding in a vibrant orange goatskin. Teal goatskin was pared incredibly thin to be used to construct the letters for the title. A layer of Japanese tissue was attached to the goatskin to aid in cutting down the individual letters. After removing the tissue, the paste left a film to the leather and dulled the color. To combat this, Spike added two layers of shellac to bring back that vibrant teal color. Some of the larger letters are pieced together from different parts of the leather creating texture through the varied grain and saturation of pigment. The edges were finished with a paring knife to create a rough, feathered look.

    Spike bravely placed her finished binding under the Kwikprint in order to blind stamp the author’s name onto the back cover. To highlight the darkness of the story, the dripping blood underlining Steinbeck’s name represents the escalation of deaths and murders. This onlay is also comprised of several smaller pieces of feathered onlays in crimson goatskin.

    During an online workshop with Karen Hanmer, Spike learned a unique sewing technique for endbands devised by Jen Lindsay. The bead on this single-core endband is sewn over 3 strands of thread to give the effect of a double-core. For Spike’s endbands she incorporated orange, yellow, black and green linen. All three edges (including the stubs) have been painted with a yellow acrylic wash, with the head edge splattered with red to continue the blood stain motif. Spike experimented with different materials before landing on Arches text wove for the stubs. The layers of each stub are laminated together. Although Arches is a softer paper, Spike found this was the easiest material to shape at the spine.

    The paste downs and fly leaves are over-marbled paste papers or party papers, which were made by Sandy (a first year student) during a workshop earlier in the year with Chena River Marblers. I wasn’t familiar with the term party paper and Spike was the second student to use it. She noted that it refers to a paper that is marbled twice: one layer having large circles of pigment and the other layer having smaller, tighter circles. The marbled paper used in Spike’s binding incorporates those bright, bold colors from the cover and endbands.

    For nearly 30 years Spike worked in the commercial printing industry which led to her teaching the pre-press side of printing in the Graphic Design program at Algonquin College in Ottawa, ON. In 2012, Spike became involved with the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Arts Guild (CBBAG) after reading an article about rebinding books. She took many workshops with Betsy Palmer Eldridge, Dan Mezza and Karen Hanmer before advancing to teach many of the core classes and serving on the local CBBAG Committee for several years. Through her connections at CBBAG she found out about North Bennet. Spike chose to come to the program in order to challenge herself and really hone her skills. After graduation, Spike will be welcomed back to her home in Canada by her husband and dog. She will be teaching a course this fall at Carleton University in Ottawa and hopes to continue teaching for CBBAG.

    India Patel
    It was such a joy to discuss India’s path of discovery and contemplation to get to the final binding you see below. After rereading the text with an intent for design, India considered imagery inspired by Steinbeck’s colorful descriptions of the California landscape, the various animals and the farmlands. Textures, softness and structure also came into play, from the gestural marks of the illustrations to Steinbeck’s structured narration which is often disrupted by its own devices.

    Using imagery of the Salinas Valley, India sought to create an abstract landscape dissolving while also being pulled apart into pieces arranged on a structured grid. After learning leather dyeing techniques with the intent to color match for the purposes of conservation from James Reid-Cunningham during a workshop, India set out to use these skills in a more painterly way. Working on small pieces of fair goatskin, India played with Roda dyes through different ways of applying and diluting the pigments to create a variation of scale and texture.

    Once the book was covered with a medium brown goatskin, India blind tooled an irregular grid across the front and back cover. Instead of tooling a regimented and uniform grid, India highlights the abstract nature of the design by tooling perfect squares that collapse into thin rectangles before expanding back into squares. Even though India plotted a look for the landscape, she was ultimately under the control of the individual dyed pieces. In order to create an effective blurry landscape, she had to constantly arrange, rotate, flip and rearrange pieces before adhering them in place. The title is tooled across the spine in gold and is centered in relation to the onlays in order to create balance.

    Like many of her classmates, India also chose to sew her text block on stubs. However, her choice of using a colored paper stands out from the rest. The stubs were cut and folded into a “V” shape using a light brown handmade paper from the Morgan Conservatory. The endbands are a single-core sewn with a thick silk in a similar grey to the stubs. This choice of neutral tones for the stubs and endbands is a lovely choice that adds intrigue, but doesn’t distract from the beauty of the cover. The interior is covered with a meditative paste paper simply made by sweeping two shades of brown over a sheet of dark blue Hahnemuhle Ingres. I say simply because India has become a master of paste papers during her time at North Bennet.

    Initially interested in becoming a librarian, India spoke to many in the field, but while considering graduate school she worked for a private press doing bookbinding and repair as well as making paste papers. Coincidentally, her time there coincided with Ariana Rutledge’s internship. Ariana graduated from the Bookbinding program in 2022 and is the current TA. Hearing about Ariana’s experience and learning more about the program certainly became a factor once North Bennet became a contender for her next step. After graduation, India will be interning at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, which will be followed by an position at the Boston Athenaeum in the fall provided by the Von Clemm and Driscoll Family Fellowship in Book Conservation.

    Jennifer Pyburn
    Reading Of Mice and Men in high school was enough for Jennifer and she chose not to read it again for this project. However, one part of the book that stuck with her was a scene where an aging and sickly dog had to be put down. Though this scene was troubling to Jennifer, it is meant to foreshadow the death of Lennie at the end of the book. After it is discovered that Lennie murders Curley’s wife, George kills Lennie with a gun. The design on the front cover conveys this gunshot through the use of tooling to create a shattered effect. In a way I think it may also represent Jennifer’s disdain for the book.

    Using palladium on the front cover, Jennifer noted that she had a rough outline of the shattered design, but chose to freehand some areas directly on the cover to create the right balance. The title is also tooled in palladium and anchored to different segments of the cracked cover. The binding is covered in a navy blue goatskin to both set her binding apart from her fellow classmates and to allow the palladium to pop. Each plane of the book is framed with corner ornaments uniquely formed by combining three separate finishing tools.

    The back cover design is hinted at from the spine with the appearance of gold and palladium stars. The stars continue onto the back cover along with tooled dots. This nighttime scene evokes a dream-like atmosphere and nods at the desire of owning land that is so central to the drive of the two main characters. From the start, Jennifer wanted to include a mouse in her design and chose to place it on the back so that it wasn’t the focal point. This stylized mouse was created with tooled onlays in light blue and undyed goatskin. Before placing the light blue onlay, Jennifer adhered a small bead for the mouse’s eye. Then with the light blue onlay in place a small slit was cut into the leather and shaped around the bead to create eyelids.

    Although sewing her book on stubs was noted as her least favorite part, Jennifer understood their importance and was determined to have her binding function properly. The stubs are constructed in a “V” fold using Arches wove, with the layers of each stub laminated together. The endbands are a traditional double-core French style sewn with pale blue, sky blue and navy blue. Using an indigo paper laced with mica flakes from Cave Paper, Jennifer extends that dreamy night sky to the interior of the binding for the paste downs and fly leaves.

    Jennifer always enjoyed working with her hands, but never enjoyed traditional schooling. As a child she found folding origami and making books from scrap paper to be quite fulfilling. This made her a perfect candidate for North Bennet, as she was also seeking teachers that were passionate educators. So after ruling out college and taking a long gap year after high school due to the pandemic, Jennifer could justify the short commute from her parent’s home in Medford to attend the Bookbinding program. She loves making new bindings over repair work, but is still considering all avenues post graduation.

    Emily Stanley
    Struck by the trauma of Lennie’s interaction with animals throughout the book, Emily sought out a soothing medium for her binding. Emily began stitching during the pandemic to keep herself occupied and found a real pleasure in creating animals through embroidery. Even though Lennie never kills a rabbit in the story, Emily uses the image of a rabbit to represent the death of Lennie’s dream of owning a farm. His aspiration is used as a metaphor for the American dream and both are vanquished at the end of the book with Lennie’s death. Emily wanted her design to evoke folk art rooted in earth tones and simple materials that would be accessible to ordinary women in the early 1900s.

    Before covering the binding in a brown goatskin, the front cover board had to be built up in layers to create the oval well. The top-most layer of matboard was cut by a framer at a bevel and the offcut was used as the support for the embroidered muslin. The rabbit is stitched using DMC cotton floss in a range of browns, greys and whites. The single-ply stitches are delicate and intricately placed to create movement in the rabbit’s fur. Once the embroidery was complete Emily wrapped the fabric around the offcut and stitched the turn-ins with a running stitch to hold the fabric taut before securing with a layer of Arches. The entire piece was then inlaid into the binding with PVA.

    I appreciated that Emily seemed to embody a character in order to render a design made with care and precise imperfections. The organic quality of the carbon-tooling is a result of Emily’s tool choices. The scallop border framing each board is tooled using two different gouges, while the strands of barley are a result of a single tool modified by Emily and repeated either six times (front cover) or two times (spine). The swooping “V” shape is meant to evoke an embroidered stitch and reminds me of elements pulled from a stitched sampler. The title and author are tooled on the spine in a slight staggered effect along with a quote pulled from the book , which has been tooled on the back cover. With the layout of the quote, Emily showcases that she is once again making calculated decision to making perfection imperfectly.

    The sprinkled edge and tinted decorative paper used on the inside were a way to place the binding in the early 1900s, to make it feel intentionally old. All three edges have been heavily sprinkled using a raw umber acrylic paint. The impressive double-core French endbands are sewn with the same cotton floss from the embroidery work. To create the aged look for the paste downs and fly leaves, Emily used a more diluted raw umber sponged onto Gutenberg to slightly tint the cream paper.

    As an aside, Emily shared the diploma case she made during her first year for her classmate Kaylee, who graduated last year (as is tradition). At some point, Emily cared for Kaylee’s tarantula and so decided to stitch Adelaide onto the custom diploma folder. Emily also shared experiments she has conducted working embroidery onto cloth bindings as well. Prior to attending North Bennet, Emily was studying Library Science at Indiana University. She found herself working in the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab, first with film and then with books. Unfortunately, this experience was cut short due to the pandemic. However, Elise Calvi, Head of Preservation suggested Emily look into North Bennet. After graduation, Emily will be heading back to Indiana to be an Advanced Conservation Assistant where she will be focusing on both book and paper conservation.

    – – –

    Thanks to each of the students in this year’s graduating class for hanging out with me for an hour over Zoom and to Jeff Altepeter, Head of the Bookbinding Department, for once again letting me steal away his students. I still look forward to this moment every year and I can’t wait to see these bindings in person. I wish each of these students the best of luck as they embark into the field after graduation.

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

  2. North Bennet Street School // The Set Book Interviews – Class of 2023

    June 1, 2023 by Erin Fletcher

    Part of my move to Austin meant that I would not be able to conduct the annual set book interviews in person anymore. This year, I lost the ability to handle the bindings in person, to really see the incredible details of the work added with care and intention by each of the students. But the interviews, which were conducted through Zoom, were still the highlight of my week. It was such a joy to speak with each of these budding bookbinders. Their energy and excitement reminded me of how special North Bennet is as a place. We spoke about their futures, the dread over their two-year journey coming to an end, the collective pressure of creating their bindings and of, course the bindings themselves.

    This year’s set book was La Vita Nuova by Dante Alighieri. Originally published towards the end of the 13th century, this collection of prose and verse is an expression of courtly love that reflects the love a man has for a woman he’s never spoken to. Viewing this story through a 21st century lens, the students all had very interesting reactions towards the protagonist’s perpetual desire and lack of action. A few students created designs that outright repelled against the text, while others chose to highlight the work by expressing the torment and passion depicted in the text with either a contemporary or historical flair. You will also find several references to the number three and nine as they were significant within the text.

    Each of the student’s bindings will be on display in the 2023 Exhibition: Continual Craft at North Bennet Street School through August 12th. The exhibit includes work from several departments at North Bennet and highlights the careful considerations that go in to crafting an object that is long-lasting due to the intentional selection of technique and materials.

    Year after year, the students continually astound me with their thoughtfulness to design, material and technique. Whether they have the desire to continue with this style of binding or not, each student put considerable care into their work and they should each feel immensely proud of themselves. I wish them all the very best as they leave the comfort of their North Bennet benches and start their own unique journeys in the field of bookbinding and conservation. A big thanks to Jenn Pellecchia for taking photographs of the students and their work!

    Nicoline Meyer
    Silver Ocean Studios

    Setting aside the story within La Vita Nuova, Nicoline was captivated by the scaffolding of Dante’s writing style and his attempt at writing poetry that would be accessible to everyone. This draw is in part due to Nicoline’s background with pre-Renaissance history, but her time spent abroad in Italy also created a pull to incorporate a sense of place into her design. From the start, Nicoline surveyed historical bindings from the 13th century for inspiration. Finding it difficult to fully reinterpret these historical bindings, Nicoline moved forward in history and decided to take some cues from 18th century fine bindings as well.

    Using a color palette harmonious to the illustrations in the text, Nicoline covered her binding in pink goatskin. With a subtle nod to both medieval and 18th century bindings, the suggestion of a panel design is created through a frame of three blind tooled lines. The idea of including bosses in some way crossed her mind, but Nicoline shifted to adding a central medallion on the front cover instead. While this cherry red goatskin onlay evokes the silhouette of a stained glass window, the real significance lies in its number of sides: nine. By simplifying the title to Vita Nuova, these nine letters could be perfectly arranged to one letter per side and tooled in 23kt gold.

    Pulling the skyline of Florence from the text, this element identifies a location for the viewer and magnifies the significance of the city to Dante and his work. At the time of publication, it was more common to write in Latin. However, Dante chose to use a Florentine dialect, which caused a shift that would help modernize the Italian language as other influential writers followed in his footsteps. Nicoline used a blackberry goatskin back-pared onlay to illustrate the city with the bottom edge feathered off.

    A silhouette of Beatrice is pressed into the back cover surrounded by a halo of sprinkled 23kt gold and palladium. As with the other design elements, this imagery of Beatrice is conveying two ideas. Beatrice perishes in the story and the impression we have of her is hollow as it has been crafted by Dante’s blind infatuation rather than told by Beatrice herself. Extending the color palette further, Nicoline embellished the head edge with a dark red acrylic base sprinkled with red gold and palladium. The French double-core endbands include stripes of bronze, light pink, hot pink and purple. The interior is lined with an Italian vein marbled paper made by Nicoline.

    Over the course of our conversation, it became quite clear that Nicoline did not land on her ideas quickly, but only after long and careful consideration. I appreciate that within her sophisticated design, Nicoline employed a range of techniques. The three main elements of her design identify key aspects of her concept while working in harmony to create a cohesive composition. Enjoying the process that required precision and exacting technique, Nicoline hopes to continue working in this style. Her interests also lie in edition work and her plan is set up her own studio after graduation.

    Kaylee Moen

    While appreciating the significance of Dante’s work, Kaylee couldn’t help but consider how his projection of Beatrice has both immortalized and erased her at the same time. Putting herself in Beatrice’s position, Kaylee expressed that she would love to travel back in time and take control of the narrative by destroying any mention of her life. Kaylee decided to let her aversion towards La Vita Nuova guide her in the designing process. In the end, she created a binding that appears to be smashed into pieces.

    Burnt umber French Chagreen is used to cover the binding and also acts as the frame around the shattered glass. Kaylee built up the boards into three levels to accentuate the frame along with blind tooling the edges. The shattered glass is comprised of crimson and scarlet goatskin with the cracks tooled in palladium. The title and author are placed right along the edges of the cracks and tooled in gold.

    The shattered effect radiates from a ‘hole’ placed at the tail of the spine. Rather than breaking up the design at the spine, this portion of the binding was given the same panel treatment. Kaylee crafted the binding as a tightback so that the spine could be given the same number of layers as the cover boards. To create the ‘hole’ in the design, Kaylee simply cut a hole in the onlay leather to expose the burnt umber below.

    The edges of the text block are painted with diluted acrylic ink to match the burnt umber leather, giving it the appearance of being a solid object. The leather wrapped endbands match the red used for the onlays. Kaylee choose to stay true to the simplicity of the illustrations for the palette of her binding.

    While the design was driven by emotion, Kaylee also wanted to set herself up for success and choose techniques that would both compliment her design along with simplifying the process. As we spoke candidly about her reactions to the text, I greatly appreciated the route she took with her design. While I think it’s important to create a striking design, it doesn’t necessary have to paint the text in a positive light. After graduation, Kaylee will be moving back home and begin building up her portfolio while she seeks a position in repair and conservation.

    Abra Mueller

    The route towards inspiration can sometimes start with the desire to work with specific techniques. This was the case when Abra, a very technique-driven individual, began to think about her design. Reading and re-reading through La Vita Nuova, Abra considered how she might explore tooled onlays and eggshell panels in her design. With an overwhelming sense of exhaustion caused by Dante’s obsession with Beatrice and his search for salvation through her virtue, it only seemed fitting that Abra create a design with nearly 200 individual pieces of leather.

    The mosaic design of the front cover is indicative of a stained glass window so characteristically found adorning medieval churches, putting the viewer in a time and place. The design, which sits on a backdrop of blackberry goatskin, is comprised of several onlays cut from various scraps of goatskin leather with carbon-tooled edges. After much trial and error, the title has been perfectly placed within this design using individual handle letters and red gold leaf. Abra searched for the right balance within the onlays large enough to hold each letter. The author’s first name is given the same treatment as it rises up the spine of the binding.

    With the use of an eggshell panel, Abra shows us the stained glass window not in its pristine state, but something that is shattered and crumbling. The panel was created by first crushing, then layering and sanding turkey eggs. The pigment was added through blending alcohol inks and isopropyl alcohol to create a hazy, cloudy effect that mirrors the way the colors are arranged on the front cover. A bit of shimmer comes from flecks of gold paint dotted throughout the panel.

    The central theme of deterioration continues onto the other decorative surfaces of the binding. Using the same range of colors, Abra dabbed acrylic paint onto the head edge and included moments of gold paint. The flat vellum-core endbands are wrapped with the same dyed leather used as part of the mosaic on the front cover. Further driven by a desire to play with technique and finding inspiration in the work of Roger Green, Abra created these fantastic decorative papers for the interior of the binding. Using a mask that resembles the silhouette of the eggshell panel, pigment was sprinkled onto the paper using a toothbrush. The placement of the mask was played with to create layers of both color and texture.

    Right from the start Abra declared that she wasn’t an artist and leaned into her strengths of more left-brain thinking. Yet after our conversation and her thoughtful approach to design, I think she can reconsider this outlook. She spoke so fearlessly about approaching each technique and expressed how freeing this binding process was for her, an unexpected surprise that she hopes to recapture with the next fine binding. While she waits to hear back from applications submitted to various institutions, Abra is seeking to land a conservation position after graduation.

    Rachel Payne
    Saga Bookbinding

    One route to designing a cover for a binding is to overlap your own interests with the text. Finding threads between two distinct sources can offer unique results. Rachel began with her love of Gothic architecture and stained glass. Using medieval architecture as a starting point, Rachel found herself steeped in historical bindings and eventually came upon the collection of Thomas Mahieu, a 16th century collector who took a special interest in decorative bindings. Taking some visual cues from these bindings, Rachel also decided to incorporate another interest of hers: Celtic knots. The intricate knots thread a connection to Dante’s tangled obsession for Beatrice.

    Draping her binding in a simple color palette of dark navy blue and scarlet red, Rachel can put the emphasis on the texture of her boards. While surveying older bindings, one aspect that Rachel found herself drawn to over and over again was dimension. To create the geometric boards, panels of 10pt. museum board were cut to size with the letter ‘B’ cut from the center in a stylized Blackletter script. Once affixed to the boards, these panels create both raised and debossed areas of the board that are further defined through blind tooling. The entire design is framed with a blind tooled double line and a flourish in each corner.

    To create the delicate and intricate knots from scarlet goatskin, Rachel employed a Silhouette machine to insure each angle would be cut with precision. This was only after several experiments to find the correct way to support her materials and the right depth for the blade. The complexity of the knots is beautifully mimicked on the spine in blind tooled lines that frame the gold tooled title. This effect on the spine is perfectly executed, creating a balance to the design. The tooled lines extend onto the endcaps and bring your eye to the extra details Rachel has added to the text block edge.

    An interlacing design informed by the patterning on the spine is gauffered on the head and tail edges. The gauffering sits on top a layer of lamp black ink embellished with palladium and 23kt. gold sprinkling. The leather wrapped endbands are the same scarlet goatskin used for the knots on the covers. Adorning the inside are these incredible marbled papers made by Rachel. She used two tones of red and navy blue for an Italian vein pattern. While pulling the paper, Rachel worked the sheet back and forth to create a Spanish wave effect.

    I couldn’t help but exclaim out loud at the drama of the endpapers. I wasn’t expecting such a bold, rich color to be lining the inside. I particularly love the contrast between the organic flow of the marbled paper against the static quality of the outside. Rachel found a way to express both herself and the text in her design; a harmonious outcome not always so easily achieved. After graduation, Rachel will be moving back to the Twin Cities in Minnesota where she plans to set-up a studio space and start her own bindery business that will take commissions focusing on conservation and unique bindings.

    Sara Pines

    Sara set up a few parameters when tackling what the design of their binding would look like. First, they really wanted to capture the spirit of Art Nouveau in the design. Second, they wanted the design to incorporate an eggshell panel and tooled lines constructed with gouges. Sara initially felt uninspired by the structure of La Vita Nuova and the melodrama presented by Dante’s archaic version of love. However, it was Dante’s lack of action that propelled the design forward and lead Sara to create a simple silhouette of Beatrice walking on a road that begins to disappear.

    Sara’s use of peacock blue goatskin sets her binding apart from the darker palettes seen on the other bindings. It’s also the perfect choice, as it creates a heavenly, ethereal backdrop for the design. The whimsical lines that make up the road in which Beatrice is walking upon were creating by carefully charting the different gouges required to illustrate each wave and curl. Modifying the free form lines of their original design through the confinements of the tools was a task that became both challenging and rewarding for Sara. Each of the nine lines starts and finishes with a tight curl, creating the sense of movement and that at any moment they will evaporate into nothing. The author’s name is gilt between the bottom two lines.

    Working with a classic Art Nouveau typeface for the title, Sara further connects to their initial inspiration. To create the gold tooled edges around the vibrant crimson red goatskin onlays, Sara once again faced the need to modify the curvatures of the letters to best fit the shapes of the gouges.

    Selecting duck eggs for their thicker shells (and because they would make a delicious omelet later), Sara created the eggshell panel inlay that would be used to represent Beatrice. The space between the cracks is filled with black acrylic paint, creating a stark contrast to the white of the eggshell. Sara was attracted to this technique and how it would highlight the perception of Beatrice presented by Dante. The purity of the white eggshell along with the translucency of the material creates this angelic version of Beatrice, yet the cracked effect works to represent her misrepresented identity.

    With the book still closed, the remaining details are colored red. The endbands are wrapped in the same crimson goatskin and the edges are painted with red acrylic paint. The head edge was further embellished with gold leaf. Once you open the book, you are greeted with an explosion of color from the marbled paper flyleaves. Sara greatly challenged themselves with each aspect of their design and was able to achieve a cohesive depiction of the text. Given the freedom to design a binding and work with techniques in a creative way really resonated with Sara and they hope to continue working in this style in the future. However, their main focus is in conservation and after graduation, Sara will be on the search for a position in the field.

    EJ Youcha

    As a student, working with leather is initially used to create historical models and for rebacks, so EJ delighted in the opportunity to finally use leather in a creative way. As we discussed the inspiration behind their design, EJ acknowledged that the style of writing used by Dante is not typically what they find themselves reading. However, they found a way to connect to the passionate love felt by Dante towards Beatrice and the underlying dreariness of his reality. Each element in the design is making multiple connections to both the text and EJ’s concept, some that were intentional from the beginning and some that arose as we discussed their binding further.

    That dreary reality that I mentioned above is expressed through a bed frame splintering amongst dancing flames. The carbon tooled onlays in medium brown goatskin representing the bed frame act as a stand-in for both love and a crumbling infrastructure. Dante’s love is more of an obsession over Beatrice and their love story is one sided. His delusions begin to deteriorate with the realization that his one true love will die someday. However, this does not push Dante to act, instead he chooses to withdraw from society.

    The entire scene is set against a dark navy blue goatskin with the fire created through back pared onlays in red, orange and yellow goatskin. The onlays are purposefully misaligned to create the illusion of movement, as if we are viewing this scene of destruction as it is happening. In truth, the story is about unrequited love or a dangerous love as described by EJ. The perplexing title is carbon tooled onto the bed frame. What does a new life mean in the context of Dante’s story. EJ has established the bed frame as both love and infrastructure, but could it also represent new life? EJ is simultaneously creating a visual representation of the text while also encouraging the idea that perhaps La Vita Nuova is a cautionary tale and one that promotes the idea that when things fall apart a new phase of life can begin.

    While the design originally included more splinters, EJ landed on a total of nine to create a design that is more visually impactful through its simplicity and to give a nod towards the importance of the number nine. The flames are also comprised of three groupings of three colors each. The vibrancy of the flames is cooled by the blue marbled interior. EJ made this marbled paper specifically for their binding to represent the hot interior of a flame. The head edge is rough edge gilt and the endbands are hand-sewn with colors pulled from the overall design.

    EJ was the first student I interviewed and they really set the stage for me. It was a joy to speak with them about the entire process, what excited them and what created stress. In the end, I think EJ crafted a design that speaks volumes in its simplicity. For now, EJ plans to stay in the Boston area and is searching for a studio space to share with a fellow classmate. They are interested in both bookbinding and conservation and has goals of bringing both into their practice. And perhaps another fine binding or two is in their future!

    Mimi Zycherman

    The fear of rejection is so powerful, it compelled Dante to never reveal his true feelings to Beatrice. With her design, Mimi sought to visualize the turmoil a person may experience from internalizing something so potent for a great length of time. Like many of her other classmates, Mimi was determined to work with certain techniques to achieve her design. This included leather dyeing, embroidery and doublures. As someone who uses embroidery often in my own work, Mimi sought out my expertise to find the right style of sewing to create the bold thick lines seen in her design. I greatly enjoyed working with Mimi on this task, as it encouraged me to consider adding these new stitches to my own work.

    The binding is covered with hand-dyed goatskin using a technique that blends spirit dyes and diluted alcohol. Rather than applying the dye directly to the leather, Mimi placed the dye onto a plexiglass board and then spread the dye by spraying diluted alcohol. The leather was then placed grain side down and dabbed to absorb the dye. To achieve a more layered effect with the black, the skin was placed lightly, lifted and then placed again to absorb more dye. The main inspiration for this effect came from Helen Frankenthaler’s Causeway and Mimi’s style of working greatly reflects Frankenthaler’s unique technique dubbed “soak stain”.

    The central medallions are onlays of stitched muslin. The messiness of the thread scraps highlight the turbulence experienced from keeping something hidden and trapped inside. The threads are secured through machine stitching and a layer of paste wash. Closing in around these nine-sided medallions are thick stitched lines of heavy chain stitch in black embroidery floss. The heavy chain stitch is dense and sits prominently on the surface of the leather. The texture created with the embroidery acts as an invitation to handle the binding. This result was part of Mimi’s drive to use embroidery in the first place. Something that I can greatly appreciate and desperately wanted to do. The gold-tooled title is framed by overlapping lines running across the spine from both directions.

    While dyeing the leather for the cover, Mimi dyed a second skin to use for the doublures. The same blend of color and tumult continues onto the interior, but is arrested by the black on black suminagashi flyleaves. Working within a simple color palette, the endbands are black leather with three sewn bands of color in yellow, orange and pink. The head edge is a peachy acrylic base with sprinkled moon gold.

    Even though her passion lies with conservation, Mimi found freedom in being creative during the process of crafting this binding in addition to putting decorative techniques she had learned throughout the year to good use. I greatly encouraged Mimi to continue in this style of working. Through thoughtfulness to design and technique, she was able to craft a really beautiful binding. After graduation, Mimi will get the chance to pursue conservation further at the Boston Athenaeum as the Von Clemm Fellow. This position will last an entire year starting in September.

  3. North Bennet Street School // The Set Book Interviews – Class of 2022

    May 13, 2022 by Erin Fletcher

    At the beginning of the school year in Fall 2020, I had the honor of ushering in a new group of students. I was invited to teach the incoming class for about a month and a half. And over the past two years, I’ve enjoyed getting to see their journey and show them a couple of other techniques here and there. In the past, I would be at school at least once a week, but the time I get to spend at North Bennet has continued to be limited due to COVID. So when I stopped in to interview the students, I had very little knowledge about the outcome of their set books. It was a real treat to be thoroughly surprised. And I will add, completely impressed with their ambition and tenacity.

    This year’s set book is The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury. This collection of short stories was originally published in 1951, but the students bound a recent edition from the Folio Society. The collection of unrelated stories share some reoccurring themes such as technology, space and human psychology, but the main thread that ties them all together is the “The Illustrated Man”. An unnamed man, covered in tattoos, acts as the narrator. As the tattoos become animated each of the individual short stories are revealed.

    Each of the student’s bindings will be on display in the 2022 Exhibition: Making Matters at North Bennet Street School through August 26. The exhibit offers a behind-the-scenes look at how work is created throughout the different departments at North Bennet. Each binding is displayed alongside some of the experiments, materials and tools used to create them. Check out the NBSS website for information on the best time to visit.

    I hope that each of the students feels pride and satisfaction when they look at their binding. It takes an incredible amount of skill, patience and passion to get to the that final stage of the binding. I wish them all the best post-graduation as they find their path within this field.

    Lucy Dunphy Barsness

    Lucy (she/her) and I share an affinity for embroidery and throughout the past two years, we’ve discussed technique and new ways of incorporating embroidery into bookbinding. About halfway into her first year, we discovered that we had actually met years earlier while attending a course at Rare Book School. What a small world! So needless to say, I was not surprised that Lucy used embroidery on her binding, but I was certainly sparked by her ambition in recreating a fanfare-style design through stitching. Being introduced to this 16th century form of decoration during the course at RBS, this heavily decorative and intricate layout of compartments, coils and foliage stuck with Lucy over the years.

    While each cover is unique, similar design elements that hint towards the fanfare-style link them together. Lucy covered her binding in a maroon goatskin and embellished the back cover with garnet silk thread. The blind tooling on the front cover relates directly to fanfare, while the gold tooled borders give off Parisian vibes, pinpointing her inspiration to both time and place.

    A central motif, typically a heraldic crest, placed within the complex layout is found on most historical fanfare bindings. With a drive to play with different techniques and materials, Lucy decided to work with stingray. Due to the hardened cartilage that makes up their skin, stingray is a notoriously difficult material to pare and manipulate. But Lucy took it a step further and decided to surface gilt the skin, which you can see proudly placed on the front cover. The surface gilt stingray has a brilliance that draws you in to reveal the subtlety of the skin’s texture.

    Although the fanfare-style was historically executed in gold, Lucy’s embroidered version is no less opulent and sophisticated. Using garnet silk, she embellished the back cover with six different embroidery stitches to create variation in line thickness and ample texture. The position of the stitches catches the light, creating depth and space around a natural white inlay of stingray. The spine is segmented into compartments with false bands. Two stamped labels on brick red goatskin showcase the title and author. The limited color palette on the exterior is met with an explosion of color as the book is opened to reveal a traditional marbled paper. The head edge is gilt over a layer of Armenian red boule. The gold and red striped double-core endbands blend perfectly with the rest of the design.

    I always end the interview by asking the students about their experience creating a design binding and whether or not they plan to make more in the future. I was particularly interested in Lucy’s answer as I can see the potential of where her work with embroidery can go and also how it may surprise me! Thankfully, Lucy enjoyed the challenges that this binding presented and looks forward to exploring the possibilities future bindings could bring. Soon after graduation Lucy will be relocating to Raleigh, North Carolina to start as a conservation technician for the State Archives of North Carolina.

    Alexa Garvin

    When Alexa (she/her) told me she wanted to incorporate as many of the techniques she had learned throughout the year onto her binding as she could, I was instantly transported back 10 years when I was designing my own set book. I think it’s highly ambitious and risky to incorporate lots of technique into a design. However, when Alexa pulled out her binding to show me, I was so blown away with the brilliance of the surface gilt sun against the softness of the hand-dyed leather. I had gotten a few peaks into Alexa’s design and her dye experiments prior, but I was just so impressed with the final look of the binding.

    Before winter break last year, I taught a quick workshop for the entire bookbinding department on the leather dyeing techniques I had previously learned from Nicky Oliver and Coleen Curry. Using a blending technique, Alexa was able to seamlessly fuse aniline and spirit dyes together to create a nebulous atmosphere on fair goatskin. Alexa took her inspiration from The Rocket Man (which doesn’t appear in this edition, but is included in other editions of The Illustrated Man) and how it related to the myth of Icarus. The blind tooled rocket quietly moves through space on a course set for the sun.

    The almost invisible rocket is sandwiched between three back-pared onlays of Earth, Venus and Mercury. Each of the planets have been uniquely dyed to capture the essence of that world. The iconic blue dot is created with a layer of blue spirit dye dabbed with yellow to create green land forms. Alexa used the craquelle technique to create Venus, putting a layer of chili pepper alcohol ink over yellow spirit dye. Mercury also includes a base of yellow spirit dye, but is finished with a layer of bubbles made from a purple/blue mixture.

    The negative space is filled with various constellations that have been gold tooled with large and small dots. Each constellation is easily recognizable, but Alexa specifically included the Pleiades star cluster to give a nod to the fact that she attended one of the Seven Sisters colleges prior to coming to North Bennet. The title and author’s name are hidden inside the surface gilt sun, following the curve of the sun from spine to the fore edge. The surface gilding continues around the turn-in and aligns with the fore edges of the text block. The exterior of the binding feels mostly cold with the use of purples and blues, but once the book is open a blast of yellows and oranges envelope you. The head edge is gilt in the rough in gold over a layer of Armenian red boule. Alexa jumbled up the folios and the sections to create a true random edge. The single core endbands are sewn with purple and blue/green silk giving the eye a break from the swarming gold.

    Since I had the chance to speak with Alexa during the process, I can clearly see her determination in executing her design to perfection. She persevered through a series of dye experiments to find the right plan for her binding. The overall look of her binding is clean and crisp. The concept speaks volumes through her clever use of technique and the right balance of loud and quiet elements.

    You can discover more of Alexa’s work here and follow her on Instagram.

    Chloe Goff

    Chloe (she/her) has set her binding apart from the rest by shifting away from the prominent theme of space. As a fan of Bradbury’s novels, Chloe was equally engaged by this series of short stories and their captivating imagery. In the short story, Marionettes, Inc. a company by the same name offers customers identical avatars as a means of disengaging with the people around them and to separate from any emotional responsibilities. Using this story as her main inspiration, Chloe wanted to build a design that spoke to the cold, bleak reality brought on by this revolutionary tech.

    Each grouping of marionettes is comprised of overlapping onlays in light green, mint blue and forest green goatskin on a backdrop of medium brown goatskin. Chloe’s choice of simple shapes and complimentary color palette creates a striking design that has the ability to draw you in from across the room. The faceless figure is relatively the same from puppet to puppet and even though the onlays are stationery, the positioning of the body and the slight asymmetry in the placement of color creates a feel of movement on the binding.

    The remaining elements that make up the marionettes are quite delicate materials. Yet Chloe, fearlessly cut into the binding in order to inlay both the decorative wood veneer for the handles and the cotton threads for the strings. Her decision to include these additional materials is so smart, they each lend additional texture that contrasts beautifully against the leather.

    The negative space around the marionettes is filled with blind and gold-tooled stars in different sizes, giving a small nod to the theme of space relevant to many of the other short stories. I know that it can be challenging to incorporate a title onto a design binding and most of the time I leave this part off of my bindings. I love Chloe’s unique spin on integrating this element into her binding. Continuing with repetition, each color used for the marionettes was stamped with the title and author. Reading each word three times creates a level of disorientation and connects to the overall design. The interior is flooded with colors complimentary to the exterior with the use of a marbled paper made by Chloe. The head edge has been decorated with moon gold and gauffered with the same star tools found on the covers. The hand-sewn endbands blend beautifully into the edge decoration with the use of light grey cotton thread.

    Chloe’s design is comprised of just a few elements, but each is deliberate and connects to the themes presented within Marionettes, Inc. The difficulty of creating a design binding and the challenges of trying out new techniques resonated with everyone, including Chloe. She spoke to enjoying the evolution of the design process and how creating this binding has informed her mindset for any future bindings. Can’t wait to see the next design binding Chloe makes!

    Martyna Gryko

    Back in 2020, while teaching the students how to make paste papers, I was instantly captivated by Martyna’s (she/her) design aesthetic and skill as a painter. I couldn’t wait to see how her creative past would influence her binding work. And as she shared her work with me over the last two years, I began to see how she thoughtfully incorporated her training as an artist into her design choices no matter how small. Her work displayed real intention and dedication to both the visual and structural aspects of bookbinding. Her approach to the set book project was no different. With the main influence coming from the narrator, Martyna also pulled in concepts from The Veldt and The Visitor in addition to a vintage 1950’s color palette. Her intention was to design a Mars-like landscape that would speak volumes to isolation and loneliness.

    Every decorative element of Martyna’s binding was added after the binding was covered in a navy blue goatskin. This style of working instantly connected to Martyna’s process as a painter. I commended her for being so brave in this style of execution, but noted that a design binder needs to find the path that is most comfortable for them to really steer them towards success. Working from the top of the horizon, Martyna created a Mars-like landscape by layering various goatskin feathered onlays in desert tones. Some of these onlay pieces have been blind tooled to create additional texture and depth. Tufts of grass were added as onlays using different shades of green goatskin.

    The Illustrated Man stands alone in this desolate scene and becomes the focal point of the design. To convey the tattoos that cover the narrator’s body, Martyna employed the craquelle technique and used the same color palette as the landscape, but with splashes of teal over a piece of fair goatskin. With its tooled edges and matching color palette, the Illustrated Man is elegantly integrated into the landscape.

    The ethereal and other-worldly night sky was created through a leather dyeing technique that involves blowing bubbles. This technique can be tricky to apply to a skin that is commercially dyed as the pigment doesn’t always stick. After trying several different mixtures, Martyna found two variations that worked to create this milky haze looming above the desert landscape. Sprinkled amongst the blue vapor, Martyna has tooled stars and circles with moon gold. The title dances along the horizon, also tooled in moon gold. When the book is opened, a familiar color palette is presented with a feathered marbled paper made by Martyna. It perfectly flows with the design of the cover and is seamlessly split at the leather hinge as to not break the pattern. The head edge has been given a graphite base sprinkled with moon gold. The tri-colored striped sewn endbands bring together colors from the landscape and marbled paper.

    Working directly on the binding offered Martyna a certain level of freedom, giving her the chance to edit in real time and to place each element intuitively. The overall finish and look of the binding feels so naturally connected to Martyna’s process as both a binder and an artist. I truly can’t wait to see how her work will evolve through bookbinding and artist books. In the fall, Martyna will be joining the conservation lab at the Boston Athenaeum as the new Von Clemm Fellow.

    Follow Martyna on Instagram to stay updated with her work!

    Ariana Rutledge

    The Illustrated Man is filled with science fiction short stories, which Ariana (she/her) admitted isn’t her favorite genre to read. However, she was hooked to the psychological connection of the individual stories and grasped to the fact that each story was meaningful and profound. Like many of her fellow classmates, she leaned into the themes of space, disaster, loneliness and death.

    Blending leather dyes together can be difficult to control, yet Ariana managed to expertly lay down pigment onto fair goatskin to flow in such an exquisite manner that undeniably captures the feeling of outer space. With the addition of white acrylic bubbles, Ariana was able to create a perfect balance of light and dark tones. Ariana also managed to pack an entire solar system complete with gold-tooled stars into her design with sunken onlays for each planet. To control the placement of each planet and its blind-tooled orbit, Ariana initially cut wells in the board prior to covering. The unique make-up of each planet gave Ariana a chance to really play with leather dyes further:

    Sun // yellow dye with a layer of red bubbles
    Mercury // sprinkled with various colors
    Venus // blend of purple and yellow dye
    Earth // blend of green and blue dye (plus a neighboring parchment Moon)
    Mars // craquelle (cracked over a textured wall) red dye over orange
    Jupiter // red, yellow and orange dye streaked on with a pipette
    Saturn // blend of blue and orange dye with a gold-tooled ring
    Uranus // craquelle (cracked over a stack of chairs) purple dye over purple with a palladium-tooled ring
    Neptune // blend of blue, purple and green dye
    Pluto // craquelle (cracked over cement wall) purple dye over orange

    Since Pluto was classified as a planet when The Illustrated Man was published, Ariana felt it was appropriate to include the dwarf planet in her design. Each planet was given individual consideration and I was particularly impressed by the beautiful rendition of Jupiter with its Great Red Spot.

    To signify death and disaster, Ariana incorporated pieces of tin and watch parts to represent shrapnel floating through space. The irregular shapes of the watch parts contrast beautifully with the symmetry of the planets and stars. The large tin pieces are placed in sunken panels and attached to the covers with brass rivets. Ariana manipulated each piece through bending and scratching, giving the tin a more authentic feel. The title is seamlessly worked into the design by being tooled along Earth’s orbit in palladium. Ariana further showcases her incredible skill by adding an edge-to-edge leather doublure on the inside. The head edge celebrates the design of the binding with a base of black pigment sprinkled with both gold and palladium. Using the same color palette from the binding, Ariana created a tri-color striped double-core endband in navy blue, purple and white.

    It was apparent by the way that Ariana spoke to me about her binding, that she thoroughly enjoyed the process of making it and is quite pleased with the outcome. Complex and layered designs often require extensive forethought and planning, Ariana proved to be incredibly thoughtful in her approach throughout the construction and design phase of the binding. I’m on the edge of my seat to see what she comes up with in her next design binding. After graduation, Ariana will be spending her summer in Pennsylvania interning at the Haverford College conservation lab.

    Follow Ariana on Instagram

    – – –

    Thanks to the 2022 graduating class for sitting for these interviews and thanks to Jeff Altepeter, Head of Bookbinding Department, for inviting me once again. I look forward to this moment every year and I really enjoyed speaking to everyone about their incredible design bindings. I can’t wait to see where each of these lovely people land in the future and how they explore this style of binding further.

    If you find yourself in the Boston area this summer, stop by North Bennet Street School to see each of these bindings in person in the 2022 Exhibition: Making Matters.

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

  4. North Bennet Street School // The Set Book Interviews – Class of 2020 & 2021

    June 30, 2021 by Erin Fletcher

    Every year I look forward to presenting the set book interviews from the graduating class at North Bennet Street School’s Bookbinding Department. However, like many events and plans for 2020, this too had to be put on hold for a later date. Over the past month and a half, I’ve had the opportunity to meet both virtually and in-person with the recent graduates. In the past, I typically got to speak with them about their work and discuss the progress of the binding in real time. Since I didn’t get the same experience this past year, I was thoroughly wowed and surprised by all of the work the graduates were able to produce over a period of uncertainty.

    The set book for this group of graduates was Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table. This memoir of 21 short stories reflects on the author’s experiences as a Jewish-Italian chemist before, during and after being held captive at the Auschwitz concentration camp. With his background as a chemist, the stories are interwoven with connections to an element from the periodic table which is first introduced with the title of the chapter. As the contemplated their designs, this thread connected with some of the binders, while others chose to focus on a single portion of the book.

    During the interviews, I spoke with each of the binders about their design process and how they chose to execute their vision. After missing the chance to engage with them on a weekly basis, it was wonderful to sit down and see their personalities shine through their work and the way they spoke about the process. I wish them all the best of luck in their various endeavors post graduation.

    Shelley Esplin – BB ’20

    One thing that I know about Shelley is that she has a love for the outdoors and is a spirited adventurer. So it was no surprise to me that she latched onto the way Levi intertwined themes of nature into his short stories. Engaged with this theme of connectivity between human and nature both on the micro and macro level, Shelley began to develop her design. She walked me through her design process and shared with me a range of ideas before settling on this typographic-style map. I find that the design is directly representing a landscape, but also gives me vibes of a fingerprint.

    The monotone palette of Shelley’s binding intentionally highlights both the chemical process and earth tones. What is not evident in the images here, is the incredible texture she was able to add to the leather. As Shelley explained the process for creating her design it reminded me why I love conducting these interviews. I find that these students have a certain level of fearlessness that drives an ambition to create something completely new.

    After dyeing a piece of fair goatskin with bright yellow Roda dye, Shelley took a special debossing plate to create this imaginative typographic map. The plate was layered with pieces of sandpaper in 5 different grits with the coarsest grit creating the deepest part of the map. Each piece was laser cut and etched with a corresponding number by Sarah Pike from FreeFall Laser. Sarah was using a Illustrator file created by Shelley to map out the pieces. Once reassembled onto an acrylic board, the damp leather protected by a layer of saran-wrap was pressed in a standing press for about an hour.

    Some of the definition in the leather was lost after the binding was covered. However after doing several tests beforehand, Shelley discovered the benefit of back paring the low points to maintain some of that definition after covering. The edges were further accentuated with a bit dye brushed around the perimeter. The title and author snake around curves in the design and are tooled in Gill Sans in blind. The edge-to-edge terracotta goatskin doublures are embroidered in a gradation of yellow to brown in a design that mirrors the front cover. The doublures are opposite a suede fly leaf in apricot. The endbands play with the same palette as the embroidery on the doublures and sit over an Armenian boule edge. Shelley used her thumbprint to create texture on the edge decoration, which relates nicely to the cover design.

    Shelley’s familiarity with laser cutting ultimately led her down this route and I love to see how binders creatively incorporate other disciplines and experiences into their work. I found so much inspiration in Shelley’s technique for creating her binding and I hope she continues blending her design background with bookbinding. I am particularly excited to see how binders engage with new technologies like laser cutting to bring something fresh to design bindings.

    You can follow Shelley on Instagram @bs_collective.

    Lindsay Gibbons – BB ’20

    Lindsay was compelled by the progression of the story as told through inert, stable elements slowly building to the more explosive elements from the periodic table. Before landing on this concept for her design, Lindsay expressed her initial lack of interest in the text, which is a potential hurdle that we discussed during the interview. Sometime it can be difficult to draw inspiration, but Lindsay knew she wanted to create something that felt organic and contemporary. Finding inspiration from an illustration in the book, she chose a warm palette of yellow, orange and red.

    When the binding is fully opened you can clearly see Lindsay’s concept illustrated from left to right. Starting at the back cover the fuse is a pair of back-pared onlays in hand-dyed grey and black goatskin. The fuse wraps around the spine and ends right at the front cover so that it is only visible when the binding is open. The fuse also runs through the author’s name which is tooled in matte red foil. The explosion is represented with hand-dyed orange and red goatskin back-pared onlays.

    Lindsay chose to hand-dye the leather for the onlays in order to control the hue of each element, in addition to creating a mottled effect for the red and orange. This texture gives the onlays that organic feel Lindsay was hoping to capture. The title is tooled in the lower right hand corner in the same matte red foil.

    The edges of the text block are decorated with buckthorn which offers a pale yellow hue and perfectly matches the yellow variegated thread used to create the hand sewn endbands. The paste down and flyleaf bring the vibrant palette to the inside with orange Colorplan paper.

    Much of Lindsay’s design was familiar to me, since we had the chance to discuss her design before the students were disrupted by the pandemic. Some aspects of the design were removed or rearranged during that span of time, but it was amazing to see her small sketch realized into this impressive and colorful binding. Towards the end of our conversation, we spoke a lot about fine bindings and creating work of this nature for exhibits and clients. I can’t to see what Lindsay decides to bind next.

    Follow Lindsay on Instagram @lcgarts to find out what she’ll be doing next.

    Samantha Griglack – BB ’20

    After listening through the audiobook in between a busy schedule of school and work, Sam decided that her design would create a feeling for the story as a whole. Working with a limited color palette, Sam uses navy blue and silver to highlight Levi’s Jewish faith. Meanwhile the mica pulls double duty within the design, speaking to the predominant themes of nature and chemistry presented in the short stories.

    The medium blue goatskin is adorned with panels of “eggshell” mica that span each cover in a symmetrical pattern. Using the eggshell technique, Sam replaced the traditional material with sheets of mica. Working on a large sheet of paper, Sam layered on a wash of black gesso over the cracked mica before sanding. This process was continued until the right effect was achieved. The panels were sealed with wax and then cut to size before being inlaid into the covers.

    Palladium is tooled as a single border around each panel and used for the author’s name in the lower right hand corner of the front cover. The palladium offers the same shimmer as the mica and is a perfect pairing to the inlays.

    The head edge is sprinkled with palladium leaf over a graphite ground. This marries perfectly with the mica panels. The endbands are sewn in a matching blue floss with metallic fibers. The marbled paste down and flyleaves come from Pamela Smith. The over-marbled paper has a texture that mimics both the mica panels and the sprinkled edge.

    While creating a fine binding may not have been Sam’s cup of tea, her use of mica in place of eggshell is quite innovative and like nothing I’ve seen before. The organic quality of the mica panels offer a blend of light and dark, a duality threaded throughout the book. While talking with Sam, she declared a real interest in marbling which she realized during a workshop with Chena River Marblers. I can’t wait to see where she takes this excitement for marbling.

    After graduation, Sam plans to build up her bindery business that sells ready-made journals, marbled earrings and other items. Follow her on Instagram @caviidaemara and check out her website: Wildwood Bindery.

    Mitch Gundrum – BB ’21

    Mitch latched onto the overarching theme of duality within The Periodic Table. Levi weaves a thread of contrast throughout with presentations of chemistry and alchemy (or the idea of turning something worthless into something precious). Running with this idea, Mitch created a spectacular binding, illuminated by gold and palladium.

    The book is covered in a gray goatskin and blind tooled with a cubic design reminiscent of minerals and crystal formations. The title was also blind tooled into the lower right hand corner before any other design elements were added. Small flecks of gold and palladium were sprinkled on their respective halves before Mitch added a layer of surface gilding. The blind tooling created a crisp edge for the leaf and offered a greater depth to the design. All areas were tooled again, which allowed the leaf to settle in and create a more defined texture to the cover.

    The division of the design continues onto the edge of the text block with gilt and sprinkled layers of leaf over a ground of graphite. The cracked effect from the gilding creates a lovely organic texture to the work. The endbands blend into their corresponding edge by being sewn with gold and silver grey threads.

    Upon opening the binding to explore the paste down, I was pleasantly surprised by the detail added to the leather hinge. Here too, Mitch has continued the design from the cover by adding layers of leaf through sprinkling and surface gilding. It’s a unique touch and not an area of the binding that is greatly utilized. The marbled paste papers perfectly match the aesthetic of the binding with threads of gold and silver running through areas of grey, black and white.


    I was so excited when Mitch pulled out his binding to show me. His ambition to really play with techniques matched my own experience as a student with my set book of The Songlines. He really worked outside his comfort zone and took advantage of his time at North Bennet to explore a range of techniques on his binding.

    You can follow Mitch on Instagram @a.swing.and.a.mitch and catch more of his work at Boundless. Following graduation Mitch left for D.C. to start a 3-year Conservation Technician position at the National Archives where he will be working on treatments of Civil War Era pension files slated for digitization.

    Jane Knoll – BB ’21

    After playing with many iterations of more illustrative designs that put the focus on a single chapter from the book, Jane took a step back and decided to consider the book as a whole. The act of writing a memoir pushes one to create order among the scattered tales of their life. A good memoir threads together individual tales in order to create a greater story. This process is what inspired Jane’s design. Although the process of executing the design is quite formulaic, the covers express two very different concepts.

    The binding is covered in a black goatskin with an overlapping grid pattern tooled in blind. The overlapping lines create an incredible texture giving this binding an even greater appeal. Each tooled onlay was meticulously cut from strips of crimson, yellow, blue and green goatskin. Row by row, the back cover is neatly arranged with alternating squares of yellow and crimson followed by squares of blue and green.

    The front cover is more chaotic in the placement of the colored squares. In the process of writing a memoir the author can package their life stories in a neater and more organized fashion. Yet life is rarely carried out this way and Jane wanted to express this in her design. So Jane used a number randomizer to create the layout for the design and stayed true to the pattern until she ran out of the crimson goatskin. However, the remaining portion without crimson pieces was also randomized in order to maintain that theme of chaos. The title is gilt with gold leaf in Gill Sans and spans across the spine near the head edge.

    With such a bright exterior the remaining areas are left more subdued with no edge decoration and a simple endband of black with a band of red around a rectangular core. The paste downs and flyleaves are marbled papers from Dodin’s Marbling and were selected by Jane to highlight the palette on the cover.

    It was great to see Jane’s process for experimenting with different designs and materials. Many of her designs were explored through Photoshop, which is how she prefers to work since ideas can be manipulated quickly. The binding is superb, but I would expect nothing less from Jane. Her passion for bookbinding is apparent every time I visited North Bennet, as she always had some new treasure or discovery to share.

    You can follow Jane on Instagram @mrkgnaopress and see more of her work on Mrkgnao Press. This fall, Jane will be sticking around Boston as the next Von Clemm Fellow at the Boston Athenaeum.

    Mike Miura – BB ’20

    My interview with Mike was not in person as he moved back to Colorado at the start of lock down last year. He finished the remaining months of his second year remotely, but I do recall a few conversations we had regarding his design prior to this disruption. So it was a delight to finally see his binding come through my inbox. Reading through the text, Mike felt a strong desire to create a design that would play with the elements highlighted in each chapter set over that familiar layout that makes up the periodic table.


    A second idea began to emerge, as Mike also jotted down the various molecules that were incorporated throughout several different chapters in the book. Upon reflection, the combination of the two designs became more than the sum of their parts. It’s no wonder with Mike’s background in science and biology for more than 12 years, that he would gravitate towards structuring his design in this way.

    The binding is covered in blackberry goatskin with the periodic table blind tooled across both covers. The gold tooling shines bright against the dark purple leather and forms molecular structures that span across the binding in a triangular pattern as a means to break out of the confinements of the grid. While most of these structures are pulled from the book, Mike incorporated a few extras, such as TNT and ammonium nitrate. A nod to the explosive quality of chemistry and some elements within the periodic table.

    When a book has themes on chemistry, I can think of no better paper to use than marbled paper. Many of the designs are explosive with color and have an organic quality to them. So it’s no surprise that almost all of the binders chose to use it in their bindings. To counter the dark exterior of the blackberry, Mike picked a marbled paper from Claire Guillot that includes hints of dark purple between the bright shades of gold, pink and white. The use of a dark leather and bright marbled paper felt like the perfect way to showcase the darker themes in the book, while also highlighting the brightness that courses throughout. The head edge is decorated with graphite with a leather wrapped endbands in blackberry goatskin.

    The calculated choices for these materials create a balance and give an overall feeling for the work inside. The design on the cover creates a spin on the layout of the periodic table and the inclusion of more explosive formulas plays to Mike’s humor. There is nothing to hide behind with his design and his execution of the blind and gold tooling is very clean and precise.

    You can follow Mike on Instagram @mike.miura and check out more of his work at Catspaw Books. Mike plans to create his own bindery where he can continue to crafts fine bindings in addition to other binding work based on commission.

    Lisa Muccigrosso – BB ’20

    The class of 2020 had a 6-month break due to COVID between the start and finish of this project. This pause gave Lisa the opportunity to rethink and rework her design. Taking inspiration from the chapter on Zinc, Lisa wanted her design to express the catalyst that can cause behavioral changes in both people and cultures by illustrating a chemical reaction. At the time Lisa was enrolled in the course Chemistry for Conservators where she was able to witness the chemical transformation of zinc to copper.

    Before the final transformation to copper, the bar of zinc will run through a gradient of blue, which led Lisa to bind her book in a teal goatskin. A color she was more than happy to use. The design has a subtle interactive element: the head edge is decorated with palladium over a ground of graphite to represent the bar of zinc. So for the design to read correctly, the binding must be flipped onto its head, so that the bubbles are emerging from the head edge of the boards (or the bar of zinc). It’s a lovely and unexpected detail.

    The bubbles begin at the edge of the board before flowing onto the covers and are tooled in palladium with a set of tiny dots and circle tools. It is not unheard of that a binder may react to their design as they are working and sway from their original intent. Using a tooling stencil, Lisa made slight changes here and there by adding or omitting bubbles. An organic process that also led to scraping away the grain of the leather to reveal the lighter suede underneath. This subtle change in color gives the design movement and texture.

    The paste down and flyleaves were hand marbled by Lisa during a workshop with Chena River Marblers and are reminiscent of a chemical reaction on a macro scale. The paper includes veins of teal and copper running through areas of black and white. The endbands are sewn in alternating bands of light grey and dark grey.

    A simple design does not mean the execution was simple. In working with a pared down design, Lisa was able to put her focus on making sure each bubble was tooled to perfection and that the leather was pared evenly smooth. With no where to hide, the work has to be flawless and I think she was able to achieve that in her binding.

    You can find more of Lisa’s work on her website. She is the current Von Clemm Fellow at the Boston Athenaeum and will continue in that position through the end of the year.

    – – –

    Thanks to the 2020 & 2021 graduating class and Jeff Altepeter, Head of Bookbinding Department. It was such a joy to get to know you all a little bit more through your work. I wish you all the best of luck in your pursuits post-graduation and how you build on your education and interests.

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

  5. Cut the Craft Interview

    June 30, 2020 by Erin Fletcher

    I was so delighted to be interviewed by Brien Beidler and Amy Umbel on their new podcast Cut the Craft. We had a really fun and in-depth conversation about making. I got the chance to talk about why making books is so important to my practice as an artist and why I love the bookbinding community.

    Check out my interview here or subscribe on your favorite podcast listening app.

  6. 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.

  7. Bookbinder of the Month: Annette Friedrich // Post Five

    February 24, 2019 by Erin Fletcher

    With Annette Friedrich’s binding of Between the Acts we wind up both the series and the interview. Bound in 2018 in blue goatskin, the binding also has hand sewn endbands in green silk with champagne (with a purple tint) paper edge-to-edge doublures and yellow fly leaves.

    The design on Between the Acts is made up of an impressive number of foils and might be my favorite out of the bunch. There are three metallic foils in two shades of silver and gunmetal with an additional twenty-three pigmented foils in the following colors: white, four shades of grey, purple, three shades of blue, two shades of yellow, five shades of red, four shades of green and three shades of brown. Also making an appearance are the special guest foils: transparent pearl and transparent neon yellow.

    The chemise is inlaid with green and purple hand-dyed papers with blue goatskin across the spine. The title is tooled in green and purple foil. The slipcase is covered in the same green paper and lined with an equally green Alcantara. Tooling on the binding is done by Claude Ribal.

    The final binding in the series, Between the Acts is so playful in both the design and color palette. The design is explosive and feels like a celebration; it contains more pigment colored foils than the preceding eight. Did you incorporate every tool that had been used prior?
    Thank you! Gosh, it feels as if I might just have used all of them, but I do not know for sure? Actually, no. There are no dots and only very few lines. But it does not matter, it had not been my intention anyhow.

    In the last post, we discussed the choices you made regarding the titling. In this binding and Mrs. Dalloway, you chose not to include Woolf’s name. Is there any significance to this?
    Same answer as above: artistic license. The need to come up with the best possible design for titling over-rides the rules of accuracy and correctness. So there!

    You embarked on this project in the hopes to find change and freedom outside of safety nets. You choose Virginia Woolf as your guide. I imagine you’ve developed a unique bond to Virginia; that the two of you have now walked a similar journey to discover your voices. I think the depth of what you’ve achieved is so incredible. Some binders may revisit the same title or author throughout their career; one can’t help the lure of an exceptional book. In fact, you’ve bound The Years at least three times and Mrs. Dalloway twice. Do you think you will revisit Virginia again at some point in your career?
    Thank you Erin! It is wonderful to share the results and even better to observe, via your perceptive quizzing, that the things I tried to achieve seem to communicate themselves. It was the first time that I tackled such a vast project and loved digging in as deep and all immersive as that. YES! I think it is highly likely that I will revisit her books at some point in the future. There is just so much in there and I bet that each time something else will surface at my end. But for now… I will give it a little break. Phew! New things to come!

    A beautiful documentation has now been published, that traces the development of this project, which, as it turns out, took seven years to complete. WOOLF I – IX ! 98pp, with an introductory essay and 1:1 reproductions of the bindings, background information, and text excerpts.

    Text: Annette Friedrich, Virginia Woolf
    Design: BUCHmacher, Germany
    Photo: Shannon Tofts, Scotland

    £30 + postage / reserve your copy at

  8. Bookbinder of the Month: Annette Friedrich // Post Four

    February 17, 2019 by Erin Fletcher

    In this post, you get two for one with a discussion on the seventh and eighth book in the series. Starting with The Waves, which Annette Friedrich bound in 2017. The binding is covered in a dusk-rose goatskin with blue silk hand sewn endbands, dark green edge-to-edge doublures and light green flyleaves.

    The number of foils is ever increasing with each design. On The Waves, Annette incorporated two metallic foils in gunmetal and matte silver with nineteen pigmented foils in the following colors: two shades of white, four shades of grey, purple, two shades of brown, two shades of yellow, five shades of red and three shades of green. Special guest foils include neon yellow, transparent pearl and iridescent silver.

    The chemise is covered in two shades of hand-dyed bluish-silver paper and dusk-rose goatskin. The title is tooled in the matte silver foil. The slipcase is covered in mauve paper with an equally mauve Alcantara. The design on the binding was executed by Claude Ribal.

    I noticed the introduction of a “V” tool on The Waves. It made me wonder, is there any significance to the shape and the novel?
    Yes, you are picking up on the fact that I am expanding my range of tools, adding to them as I find fit. I mostly do this by filing ‘blanks’ into the shapes I need. There is no real significance to the “V” shape as such, except that it is distinct and weighted. I actually cut three ever so slightly different “V” tools, all of which are on the book! Sometimes on their own, sometimes in conjunction with others, creating more complex figures.

    I also began to wonder more about your design process. At the very beginning of the design stage, how are you selecting your tools? Do you pull a combination from the cabinet and force yourself to develop a design with only those tools? Or do you allow yourself to swap out tools that don’t quite work?
    To begin with, I pull out the ones that I think I will want to work with. However, if I feel the need for others I just go and have a look if something else fits the bill, or, if I cannot find what I need, I just go and cut the shape(s) that I am missing. For example, I noticed that when I work within a cluster that a variation within size is crucial to give it ‘life’. One can observe that my toolbox has expanded steadily over the duration of the project. I have now two sizes of the ‘3’, four variants in different sizes of the “(” and three “o” etc.! Only two books earlier I would have only been working with a single shape for each… All part of the learning curve, right?

    As I mentioned in a previous post, the bindings visually appear to be part of a series, that they follow a formula. We discussed this topic with the chemise already, but I wanted to bring up another element that ties the work together: the use of hand-dyed papers. Can you speak about the reasons for using hand-dyed papers for the enclosures, doublures and fly leaves? Were these papers dyed by you and if, so what is your process?
    The reason for me to hand dye my papers is that I seem to be a complete nerd who needs to be in control of everything, down to the exact shade of color for within the bigger scheme. The process is easy, I use offset printers ink and dilute them down with turpentine. I have the four CMYK at my command, as well as screaming signal yellow and signal red, as well as silver. That’s all I need. The rest is just mixing it to the shade that you want and then use a cloth to soak up the color and apply it to the sheet of paper with circular movements from one edge to the other. The beauty of this process is that there is no visible brushstroke etcetera, just one smooth surface.

    Also bound in 2017, Annette used a grey goatskin for her binding of The Years. The binding also has hand sewn endbands using grey silk with silver edge-to-edge doublures and matching flyleaves.

    The number of foils is dialed back significantly on this binding with five shades of metallic foils, which include four shades of silver and blue. Seven pigmented foils were chosen, which include the following colors: two shades of red, grey, blue, two shades of yellow and green. Special guest foils are present with transparent pearl and transparent iridescent.

    The chemise is covered in silvery-green and silvery-blue hand-dyed papers with grey goatskin on the spine. The title is tooled in matte silver and silver foils. The slipcase is covered in the same silvery-blue paper and lined with red Alcantara. The design on the binding was tooled by Claude Ribal.

    Up until this point we’ve mainly discussed the design of the binding, I want to get into the way the books are titled. The spacing varies with each title, with The Years the spacing speaks to the agony Woolf encountered when writing this novel. For the bindings you chose to title, did you chose a layout to reflect the text or the design in some way?
    No, the titling does not reflect the text in any shape or form (but if you see a connection, feel free to do so). Neither does it reflect the design, but is rather part of the design. The title links the two sides of a book and I find it fascinating to find different ways to do this. It is only since Orlando that I cottoned on that it might be helpful for me to start taking basic typographic variants into consideration. They are spacing, direction/placement and the size of the font. Coming up with sexy titling solutions is my new hobby-horse. Thank you for noticing!

    Virginia appears as V. on The Years. This treatment is unique to this binding. Is there any reason for this?
    Yes. The trouble with titling is that you are stuck with the title and the author and that you have to work with what you’ve got. I usually design the titling after the design is executed, and normally I only work on one book/design at a time. In this instance though, for reasons of timing, the last three books of the project had gone to Claude together and, after having picked them up again, I worked on the titling for all three books at the same time. The Waves and The Years have a very similar appearance, and I think I just wanted to get some leeway by at least tightening up the length of the authors name a bit. So ahem… the answer is artistic license! I have actually done this before within the project, not with V. Woolf’s name, but for Night and Day where I exchanged the ‘and’ with a ‘+’ to get a more distinct change within the length of lines.

    The tone for The Years has darkened. The palette is heavy and moody with minimal colored foils. You mention reading Woolf’s diaries and letters in addition to biographies written about her during this project. How did Woolf’s own practice as a writer and creator inform your approach? Were you pulling influences from her thoughts as well as the novels?
    I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to Virginia Woolf, her books, her letters, her diaries, her essays… as well as the mind-blowing and insightful biography by Hermione Lee. It was wonderful to sort of get-to-know the person behind those fairly dense and abstract novels. And there are many parallels between her quest as a writer and me as a maker. The looking around, the searching, the time when one feels super apprehensive and down, as well as those where one jumps up and down with excitement and glee when one thinks that one finally has clocked something. I loved that!

    I don’t think though, that reading about her life and delving into her thoughts influenced my approach as such (the novels did!). Maybe I have just not yet noticed though? Who knows.

    A beautiful documentation has now been published, that traces the development of this project, which, as it turns out, took seven years to complete. WOOLF I – IX ! 98pp, with an introductory essay and 1:1 reproductions of the bindings, background information, and text excerpts.

    Text: Annette Friedrich, Virginia Woolf
    Design: BUCHmacher, Germany
    Photo: Shannon Tofts, Scotland

    £30 + postage / reserve your copy at

  9. Bookbinder of the Month: Annette Friedrich // Post Three

    February 10, 2019 by Erin Fletcher

    Orlando is the sixth book in the series and was bound by Annette Friedrich in 2016. The binding is covered in a bright red goatskin with grey hand sewn endbands and green paper edge-to-edge doublures and matching flyleaves. The tooling is made up of four shades of metallic foils which include silver, champagne, purple and green. The design has an additional seventeen shades of pigmented foils in white, grey, two shades of purple, two shades of blue, three shades of yellow, three shades of red and five shades of green. Transparent pearl and iridescent silver foils are added as accents throughout the design.

    The chemise is inlaid with light and dark green paper at the sides and red goatskin across the spine. The title is tooled in iridescent and silver pearl foil. The slipcase is covered in the same hand-dyed dark green paper used on both the slipcase and flyleaves and lined with a green Alcantara. The design was tooled by Claude Ribal.

    During the design process, you describe creating around 50 versions per binding. I wondered if you could speak more specifically about this. Are you reinventing the design each time or pulling elements from previous iterations to make your final layout. I imagine you might flip the design in all directions or look at it in reverse.
    Yes, there are many versions of a design before it is ‘just so’. It’s a little bit of everything that you just mentioned. At first I start out though and cut white sheets of paper to the exact size of the boards and get my handtools and the inkpad out. I will have read the book at that point, but normally I do not go in with a preconceived idea for a design as such. However, this book is actually an exception, as I did know that I wanted to work with a distinct historic tool as a stand-alone player. But to begin with it is just plain old doodling and letting things flow. After a while something will have perked my interest, and I will start looking at this with a more inquisitive mind. I try to understand what exactly has caught my attention, how it worked and why, and then, how the hell to develop this into a full-blown design. During all of this I will continue to dip in and out of the book. Reading the authors voice, sensing the rhythm, feeds back into my design process. So at first the steps are big, then they get smaller and smaller. And yes, sometimes I look at a sheet from the reverse or flip it into a different angle, but unless I don’t actually use it for the next sheet, I would not count this as ‘a’ step. I have a light-box that helps me to carry forward the elements that I like, but there is no real telling what will stay in the game until the very end. Once I am happy with the design in black and white, I then go out in search to find the colors that build up the atmosphere.

    Woolf wrote Orlando more quickly then her previous novels. Were you aware of this as you were designing the binding? Did you try to quicken your pace as well?
    Yes I was aware of it, but it had no influence on my own process. It takes as long as it takes to get it right.

    The design for Orlando is very playful. I love how you used the historic tool in a more atypical manner, it really evokes the feeling of the novel as it floats and dances through the design.
    You make me very happy with the words you just chose. Floating and dancing: excellent! That was exactly what I was after, and it is fabulous that you mirror this back to me. Thank you!

    A beautiful documentation has now been published, that traces the development of this project, which, as it turns out, took seven years to complete. WOOLF I – IX ! 98pp, with an introductory essay and 1:1 reproductions of the bindings, background information, and text excerpts.

    Text: Annette Friedrich, Virginia Woolf
    Design: BUCHmacher, Germany
    Photo: Shannon Tofts, Scotland

    £30 + postage / reserve your copy at

  10. Bookbinder of the Month: Annette Friedrich // Post Two

    February 3, 2019 by Erin Fletcher

    The fifth book in Annette Friedrich’s Woolf I–IX series is To the Lighthouse, which was bound in 2015. The binding is covered in a tan goatskin with green hand sewn endbands and edge-to-edge doublures. The flyleaves are a light yellow hand-dyed paper. The design is executed by tooling through silver folio and fifteen shades of pigmented foils including white, mauve, two shades of grey, two shades of blue, three shades of yellow and four shades of red. Transparent pearl foil was also used within the design.

    The chemise is inlaid with blue grey paper and tooled with three shades of silver foil. The slipcase is covered in the same lilac paper used on the chemise and lined with mauve Alcantara. The design is tooled by Claude Ribal of Paris.

    In your description of To the Lighthouse, you mention that Woolf’s style of writing changes with this novel. In comparison, the design on To the Lighthouse incorporates more color than any of your prior bindings. Do you use color in your design as a means of representing something in the text or is it an aesthetic choice or perhaps a bit of both?
    Yes, next to her ongoing interest to tell a ‘story’ from the inside of her characters minds and link them together in one big flow (the stream of consciousness) she now adds another layer by weaving in a sense for the surrounding atmosphere and the general passing of time. In a weird way this is almost detached from the main plot… Anyhow! All I want to say is that it reverberates with pure poetry throughout and this did lead me to start working with color from a more painterly perspective: to create light, elusive moments, buzz and the occasional ‘clunk’.

    With this binding you introduce the “special guest” foils. Is your inventory of foils growing at this point? What characteristics are you looking for in your foils and what do you try to avoid?
    My collection of pigment foils has grown steadily over the years. I think I have approximately 60 different colors to work with at the moment. And only ‘recently’ have I discovered my ‘special guest’ foils, which are iridescent, pearly translucent or whatnot. They are used on top (or under) other foils and thus give it a kick into a direction that is beyond ‘regular’. I love them, but of course one needs to be a tad careful not to go too far down that particular route.

    What do I look for in my foils? Well, pigment foils are mainly created for the industry, but one has to understand that the foil is merely the clever carrier for the pigment, before heat releases it from the foil onto whatever it is meant to be on. There are two main challenges that the industry is interested in and which they have solved in a satisfactory, yet mutually exclusive, way. One is to block big and coarse areas in one go. To do this, the pigment releases easily from the foil and is not too choosy about the exact level of temperature or pressure. The downside of this is, that the edge definition tends to be blotchy and that any inner negative shapes should not be covered… well, they are very likely to get filled in regardless. So they are brilliant for the big work, but not at all good for lettering. However, no need to be depressed, for the industry has developed another type of foil that is geared up for detailed and precise work and excels in high edge definition. The problem with this one is that it is super sensitive and tricky to use for hand tooling, as the temperature window needed to pull it off is extremely narrow and the surface needs to be well prepped and super flat. So those are the characteristics one can find in foils and usually each supplier will offer the same color in the varying types. So read the description and choose the ones that fit best your needs.

    The finishing work on this binding is executed by Claude Ribal. Up until this point, you had been completing the tooling yourself, why did you decide to outsource this stage of the process moving forward?
    Yup. This is a very sad story and a big learning curve for myself as a maker. I have been working with tooled designs for years and years and am pretty good at it, even if I say so myself. However, as it turns out: not good enough! When I transfer a design onto the book, I do this in various stages, which are basically the same as for gold leaf tooling. The sole exception being that the foil is slid over the blinded in impression at the very last moment. It thus obscures the sighting and makes it extremely difficult to get the tool bang-on into the shape without fumbling around too much (lethal). Working with dots, lines and gauges is easy, but tackling complex shapes… basically blind-folded… eh!

    As we discussed earlier, this is one of the first books where I launched myself into working with color pigment foils in a massive way. Pigment foils are more temperamental to work with than metallic ones… You can guess where this is heading to? I did it once and was not quite happy. I retraced my steps, removed the leather from the book and covered it afresh. Second attempt. Again… not good enough. It only takes three or four shapes of the many to be ever so slightly off and the whole thing looks ghastly and heavy handed. I got fairly depressed, but told myself that ‘what has to be done, has to be done’. So the next time I actually bought a completely new text block and started from scratch (just in case that this particular book was doomed). When the time came for tooling, I held my breath and launched into the third round. Do you care for fun facts and figures? To execute this design in full takes 14 hours. So no small feat, particularly if it goes again pear shaped, which it DID! What was I to do? Try and try again? I felt pretty confident that if I practiced hard over the course of a year that I would be able to raise my game from my current 88% to 95%. But did I really, really want to do this? No. What I really wanted was to push on with my design work. And so I decided to get help (I still do the titling though!). A colleague recommended Claude Ribal who is a fantastic finisher in Paris, and that’s where I went. It is a little bit complicated to get everything ready for him though, for not only does he get all of my tools, foils, and my design master sheet, but also an exact guide to inform him which shape has which color. I said earlier that I have 60 shades by now and everything needs to be super clear. Nothing is left to chance, everything is specified. Claude is not only a very kind man, but he is also really good at what he does. His expertise brings the touch of lightness within the execution to the design that is absolutely needed to pull it off and that makes me very happy and grateful.

    A beautiful documentation has now been published, that traces the development of this project, which, as it turns out, took seven years to complete. WOOLF I – IX ! 98pp, with an introductory essay and 1:1 reproductions of the bindings, background information, and text excerpts.

    Text: Annette Friedrich, Virginia Woolf
    Design: BUCHmacher, Germany
    Photo: Shannon Tofts, Scotland

    £30 + postage / reserve your copy at

  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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