When I was in college, I briefly met someone who was headed off to a bookbinding program and I remember thinking that it seemed like a curious and old-timey choice of a career. Lately I’ve reflected on this and wondered why I didn’t think of it as something a regular person can learn to do. It is both an art and a useful skill.
I have fallen hard for thatsmybookshelf’s project in which she rebinds her books in the style of Penguin Clothbound Classics. I can, and probably have, watched her videos for hours. It made me look around at some of my older books and think hmm…that movie tie-in edition of The Hours could be so much prettier. I know that people have all kinds of feelings about taking the covers off of books, but if the publishers wanted it to endure, they shouldn’t have put the movie characters on it.
As someone who loves a pretty book above most other things, I have done some research as to how one might get started in bookbinding. After all, how better to express your love of all things book than to find out how they are made? It can only increase your respect for the process that brought that book into your life.
Learning the Lingo
The first step in learning a new skill is to figure out what it is you want to learn and why. Learning new skills can build confidence and increase your number of neural pathways. However, learning this particular skill can be a long process, especially if you are interested in rebinding books you already own versus making new books from scratch.
There are a lot of terms to learn before you can really get started. BookArtsWeb has a good listing of the different ways books are stitched, though you’ll probably want to look on YouTube or another visual medium to see them in action.
As much as I love watching videos of books being given new life as exquisite hardcovers, rebinding a book is a tricky skill to learn. I know myself better than to try this at home right now. I still have multiple knit sweaters in pieces. I decided to consult an expert: Kristy, otherwise known as boundbythefalls on Instagram and Etsy, and she told me that already-bound books are more fragile, one needs to use the existing binding holes of the book, and one is not able to choose the method to use to bind them. Kristy learned bookbinding a few years ago by taking a class at a local community college and now sells her creations on Etsy.
The Center for Book Arts offers both online and in-person (New York City-based) opportunities to learn about the book as an art object. They offer workshops in all kinds of binding styles and also instruction on special books like tunnel and embroidered books. American Academy of Bookbinding in Colorado and the Canadian Bookbinding and Book Artists Guild are also good places to start. You could also check in with the Guild of Book Workers to see if there is a chapter near you.
Some colleges may also offer bookbinding classes and workshops. This is especially helpful if you’ve found yourself to be more of a hands-on learner.
Some of the best tutorials to begin your bookbinding journey with are free and on YouTube. Sea Lemon is a very popular crafting creator and ThatsMyBookshelf also creates tutorials if you are skilled enough to be ready to rebind your books in the style of Penguin Clothbound Classics. There is also a handy beginner tutorial on Skillshare that is in step-by-step textual form if that is how you prefer to learn.
If you choose to take the plunge and learn bookbinding, you can also buy everything you need to get started by purchasing a kit. Check out this recent post which includes some of the best bookbinding kits available for purchase. I know that it would be much easier for me to start something knowing that I already have all of the supplies I need. Your finished creations will truly be one-of-a-kind and ready for your ideas and stories to fill their pages.