December 8, 2016
Is it even accurate to say that I am grateful to a binding?
I had a tough time finding time to do any kind of artwork when my children were young. Bookbinding was especially hard. Cutting boards, working with bookcloth, making and gluing down decorative papers: it was all such an unmanagable production, but I absolutely missed making books. I just really like making books.
This was, like, twenty years ago. Joan Duff-Bohrer, an artist and friend who lived nearby had taken a workshop with Paulus Berensohn and had learned what he called a Coptic binding. When I saw this binding I immediately recognized it as something that I could actually fit into my life. With a stroke of great luck my friend Susan Joy Share was visiting the East from Alaska, and she came by and taught me this method of sewing books.
OMG. I realized that I could use anything I wanted for covers. Raw bookboard, sturdy papers, and boards wrapped in decorative papers were all possible to use and I could do the sewing in stolen moments, put my work down and pick it up at random times.
I taught workshops using this binding method just so I could buy more waxed linen threads (at about $17.00 a spool!)
I made book after book for any reason whatsoever. Books for birthday and Christmas presents. Books for my children’s scrapbooks and drawing books. Books just for the joy of making books. It was just so liberating to be able to have a book-in-progress all the time.
After awhile I started experimenting with different cords. I’d buy these glittery cords to do my sewing with.
I’d use raw boards and shoelaces for books, too. It was so much fun experimenting with all sorts of materials.
I promptly turned it into a book.
My favorite moment with this binding, though, was teaching it to my friend Judith in New Jersey. She desperately wanted to learn this stitch, but had failed miserably in figuring it out, even after taking two separate weekend workshops in Coptic binding. She lamented that the last time she had tried, she had inadvertently sewn the book to her sweater. By this time I understood this sewing method so thoroughly that I assured her that I could teach her this sequence of steps and it would only take fifteen minutes for her to get it. Well, it took twenty minutes, but she got it, she really understood how to do it, and she cried.
Yeah, I understood why she cried. Seems like a simple thing, but it can mean so much.
Just a few years ago I took a workshop up in Chestertown NY with Robert Walp, a bookbinder who teaches workshops in his Adirondack bindery. Chestertown is 75 miles from here, a doable day trip, at a time that I was restless to take a class. Robert showed an interesting way to sew the boards to the book block, and it was a pleasure to spend the day sewing with the three other participants. It was at Walp’s place that I met another thoroughly delightful bookbinder, Keith, who, as it turns out, lives, truly, just a few miles away from me, but who I had never met. But the reason I mention this workshop is that Robert Walp was decidedly against calling this stitch a Coptic binding. He had his reasons and they were good reasons, but they were the kind of reasons that would invalidate the names of French Toast, English muffins, or Guinea pigs, misnomers all. So, sometimes I call this stitch a Coptic Binding, sometimes I call it a link stitch, sometime just an exposed sewn binding, but whatever it is, I’m grateful to it. It just opened up so many possibilities and pleasures to me during a challenging time.