Tag Archives: bookbinding

Back from Worldcon

Martin posted a blog entry from our hotel room, in the middle of our attendance at Worldcon. I agree with everything he said. The con was exhausting, busy, and an intense family experience. Both kids wigged out from time to time, but also had some really good moments. I saw people from work, from our St Andrews days, and from previous social groups here in Edinburgh. And like Martin, I only made it to one event – in my case, an informal discussion on the future of the book, both as a concept and as a physical object. It was a great discussion, with plenty of debate and no actual conclusions. I wonder whether I would have enjoyed all the programme events I marked out and subsequently missed as much (I doubt it).

But I wasn’t just at the con as an attendee and a parent. I was also there as a bookbinder, and it was the culmination of three very intense weeks in that world for me.

As I noted in a previous entry, I spent a fortnight doing the binds for the Guests of Honour. This was more difficult than I expected. Not only did it take longer (of course – everything always takes longer than you expect it will), but it was also more emotionally challenging than anticipated. Unlike at work, I had no human contact to speak of. I found myself intensely lonely at times. I also found that when things went wrong, I was less able to keep a positive outlook and to develop alternative solutions to problems that arose.

Then we had a houseguest. Liza Groen Trombi, to whom I hadn’t even spoken for nearly fifteen years, came to stay with us for a weekend. We had been close in middle and high school, but gone our separate ways after that – me to Scotland, her to singing in a band, managing restaurants, and finally working as an editor for Locus. My instinct, when we got back in touch, was that I would like her again, and I invited her to stay when she was coming over for Worldcon. I think that was one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. We spent the entire weekend chatting, and I could easily have spent a week or two more listening to her stories and telling a few of my own. She was patient about the fact that I was still binding (and gave very balanced feedback when things went badly). We rode bikes out to Craigmillar Castle, visited Mary King’s Close, drank whisky, and laughed a lot.

And, finally, the Sutherlands went to Worldcon. I was doing two things at once, as a binder. First off, I was co-ordinating the bindings to go to the Guests of Honour. Most of this involved being ready to meet the Publications manager, Steve Cooper, when he had gaps in his schedule and bindings needed signatures put in, or needed to be delivered to recipients. I got to see a lot of the Secure Storage area at the convention during this phase of things. At the same time, I was entered in the Art Show, hoping to sell some of my bindings.

I had four items entered: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, The Hobbit, Frankenstein, and a copy of the Worldcon Souvenir Book. And throughout the convention, I fretted. I went back and back to the art show, checking to see if anyone bid. I worried every time someone had moved a binding. I fussed at Martin (who has the patience of a saint for not throttling me!), at Liza (ditto), and at the boyfriend of the Art Show director, Pat (see previous comments). Two items got bids – the Hobbit and Frankenstein.

In the meantime, on of the Guests of Honour – Jane Yolen – had to go home early for family medical reasons. We arranged a swift presentation to her, and I got a chance to see her reaction to my book. She seemed to like it. (I will post photos of the presentation when I get them).

Thus matters stood this morning. Due to some significant sleep disruptions (thanks, Fi!), my memories of today are best summarised in list form.

  1. Alex and I, along with much of the Young Adult Fan Activities group, dressed up in masks and goggles and assaulted a panel on the Future of Fandom with inflatable weapons. The point was to remind attendees what the future of fandom really looks like, and perhaps to have a bit of fun on the side. Don’t pity the panel too much – they were forewarned, and forearmed with water pistols.
  2. Neither unsold binding sold during the after-auction sales. I collected them and left the Art Show. Then I rang Steve, the Publications manager, who immediately offered to buy the Souvenir Book binding. I was delighted, not only because I wanted to sell it, but because I wanted him to have it. After all the work he’d done on the book, I reckoned he would like something special. I understand he has all editions of Splitting Infinity now.
  3. The person who bought the Hobbit binding – Pat, who had been a friendly face throughout the con – asked me to sign it as the bookbinder. He then tracked down Alan Lee, the illustrator of that edition (and the designer who created the look for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films), and got him to sign the book while I was there. So I got to meet Alan Lee, an artist whom I respect greatly, not just because he does beautiful work, but also because he is so single-minded about doing it. We talked a bit about the binding, and exchanged email addresses. I even got a photo, with Fi in as well:
  4. During the closing ceremony for the convention, the co-chairs not only showed the entire audience one of my bindings, they incited them to a round of applause (mostly puzzled, admittedly) for me for doing them.
  5. I said goodbye to Liza – the only relatively down moment of the day. I miss her already.

Now I get to go back to real life. It’s been a good time, rather like being tossed up and down in a blanket while slightly drunk. In other words, I’ve been to Worldcon.

It’s Alive!

After endless promises and 404 messages, the Evilrooster Bindery has its own sales and display site. Thanks to Martin’s Movable Type wizardry, I can now post photos and descriptions of my bindings in a more customer-oriented site than the Bookweb. (Not that the Bookweb will go away – but I felt the need to differentiate between the face I present to people who might like to buy my books and other binders.)

The driving urgency to get the site up is that we are at Worldcon, I’m in the art show, and I want people to see the same books there that are on display on my site.

Go look! Evilrooster.com awaits. What are you doing reading this?

Holidays and Secret Identities

Do you think Superman ever took a holiday by just pretending to be Clark Kent all the time?

I’m on holiday for a fortnight, and I’m not going anywhere. (That is not strictly true. I may ride my new bike around, and I have to go to the tannery. But I’m not off to the Azores to sun myself senseless.)

Instead, I’m spending a fortnight pretending to be a bookbinder. Necessity is the mother of this particular intention, because I need to have eight books bound for Worldcon and I only got the sheets on Friday.

I need the break. Work is great – I love my job and the people I work with, but I’ve been getting stressed too easily. I’m fresh out of patience, optimism and gentle tolerance, and have been running on waspish comments and sarcasm.

Time for some solitude, some creativity, and some peace. Time to be the mild-mannered reporter and leave the battles with Lex Luthor for someone else.


Rick Horowitz at Unspun “tagged” me with a questionnaire about books. He thought it would get me blogging again.

The reasons I’m not blogging much aren’t ones that a questionnaire will address. I’m simply too busy right now. I’ve committed to a large number of bindings by early August, for Interaction, the World Science Fiction Convention, to be held in Glasgow this year. I bind in spare bits of time, in evenings and weekends, and this time was formerly blogging time. I will answer the questionnaire, but it won’t get me blogging much again.

My relationship with books is a little more complex than Rick’s. For me, a book is not just a box of words (which is a special enough thing in its own right). I am a bookbinder as well as a reader. Books are things I make, physical structures I love for their own sakes, as well as containers for stories and knowledge. Some of these questions will therefore get two answers, one from me as a reader and one as a binder.


1. Total number of books I have owned

Like Rick, I’m going to take this as “total number of books I own.”

Over the years, Martin and I have acquired and disposed of thousands of books. At one particular point in this cycle, we concluded that we could not shelve all of our books at once, and moved to a “catalogue and store” approach, with most of our books boxed up in our loft. I have some doubts as to the accuracy of our catalogue with regard to physical location, but the quantity listed is about right.

According to our catalogue, we have 2255 books between us. I would estimate that there are about 45 books on our shelves that are not catalogued, either because they are recent purchases or because they are bookbinding books (I’ve never got round to cataloguing that collection).

The next question is whether I divide the aggregate total by two, since the books are community property. But we believe that books are shared wealth – we even have a separate budget in our accounting system for book purchases, which do not come out of our personal funds. So I would contend that I own in the region of 2300 books.

2. Last book I bought

The last book that I bought to read was the Penland Book of Handmade Books. It bills itself as a technical book, but most of the things that it describes the makings of are “artists books”, which frequently do not really match my definition of a book at all.

The last book that I bought at all was a Folio Society edition of The Hobbit. I have been rebinding a HarperCollins edition of the book (for the Worldcon art show, at which the evilrooster bindery will be an exhibitor), and I bought this one to compare the bindability. I suspect that I will not love it as well as I do the HarperCollins one, but as a binder, I learn by doing.

3. Last book I’ve read

Atypically, it’s a self-help book. (Usually, I’m too contrary for self-help books). My line manager at work recommended that I read Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzer as a book that had had a strong impact on him.

My reaction to the book was mixed. I already do much of what the book recommends, in particular the effort to understand where the other parties in a heated dispute are coming from. It goes on to discuss the ways to find and highlight shared goals between the parties, in order to find common ground. I see these techniques as part of my goal to be a peacemaker, though I don’t use the cheesy business-speak acronyms that the book does to describe them.

So on the one hand, the book gives away my trade secrets. If everyone follows it, then one of my key skills becomes a commonplace. On the other hand, I’d love to see a lot of those techniques applied to the American political scene, where the victory of one party over another seems to have superseded the goal of improving the common good.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me

1. The Bible

I value this book both because I am a Christian, and because I am a member of the Western intellectual tradition. I don’t blog about my faith (not directly, anyway), and if you don’t realise the Bible’s influence on Western culture, I can’t start explaining it here.

Most of the time, I prefer the New Jerusalem Bible, which is one of the Catholic translations. Part of my preference is because it renders the text in a clear and comprehensible way, and contains all of the “apocrypha” that I want in the book. But my other reason for liking it is that JRR Tolkien was one of the original contributors, and that’s just cool.

For the Psalms, Wisdom and the Song of Songs (and, on some days, the Gospel according to John), I find that I turn to the King James Version. Some of the Bible is best read as poetry, not prose, and KJV has never been equalled as a work of art. In short, Shakespeare trumps Tolkien.

And sometimes, when I need to really understand a passage, I go back to the Greek. I have an Oxford University Press edition of the Greek New Testament that is of use at times.

As a binder, I have a standing policy of not rebinding Bibles. They’re rarely well-bound, because the majority of them will never be read much, and it would be too expensive to bind a 1500-page book on tissue-thin paper in a durable fashion. Add to that the emotional impact of messing up someone’s dearly beloved family heirloom, and you can see why I’m just not keen.

(Having said that, I did do a repair on a colleague’s reading Bible, but on the explicit understanding that it might be ugly as long as it preserved the life of the book. He just didn’t want to recopy years of marginal notes if he could avoid it.)

2. The Left Hand of Darkness

My parents read me some interesting books when I was a kid. Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel was one of them. It’s from the 1960’s and 1970’s trend toward intellectual and philisophical science fiction, and is (in my opinion) the best of the breed. As a meditation on gender, alienation, friendship, and politics, it’s always got something to say to me, after over twenty years of rereading. Having a strong plot and good characterisation is a bonus. Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, one of the two main characters, was probably the first literary figure I ever really loved.

Many people don’t like the book, particularly ones more rooted in the action and war trends more popular in science fiction now. Takes all kinds, I guess.

I’ve never bound the book, but if I did, I think I would design a binding showing a night time snow-bound landscape (it takes place on a world gripped by an ice age). The shapes of the land would echo the double curve of a yin-yang symbol, which is an important image in one scene of the book.

The book is also the source of one of my favourite recipies for dealing with problems: When action grows unprofitable, gather information. When information grows uprofitable, sleep.

3. The Secret History

Donna Tartt’s first novel describes a Californian Classics student who travels to an East Coast university, where he becomes caught up in the activities of a close-knit clique. Since those activities include a recreation of a Greek bacchanal, which culminates in a murder, his social life gets a bit complicated.

Tartt knows her Classics, and her Classicists. Many of the fine touches of the book ring very true, from the students’ spurious pedanticism to their use of fountain pens. The characters have clearly been changed by their knowledge of Classical languages, as I was deeply changed by the study of Latin and Greek. And the author herself shows signs of those same changes, in that the book’s plot works equally well in the ancient Greek cosmology as it does in the modern one.

I haven’t bound this book either, nor thought deeply about how I would do so.

4. The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin

This was a gift from my friend James, the first Christmas that I knew him. We were both twenty at the time, and the poet’s angst and faintly defeatest style suited us. He is the master of taking away almost all that he gives the reader, with lines like this from An Arundel Tomb

…the stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love

Another example of what I mean is from Talking in Bed:

At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Although I’ve grown up since then, some of what Larkin says still works for me. His poem The Importance of Elsewhere is one of my two favourite mediations on being an expatriate. And I often reread No Road, usually as a counterweight to Robert Frost’s Mending Wall.

5. The Craft of Bookbinding

This book, by Manly Banister, was the bookbinding book that got me into the craft. It was one of two that Martin gave me one Christmas, and it was the one that convinced me that an amateur with woodworking skills could bind books and make bindery equipment. It also showed the difficult parts of binding, unlike many beginning books, which never get past the “learn this in half a day” level of techniques.

It was only later that I discovered that Manly Banister was a pulp science fiction author and fanzine editor.

5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog

I’m not comfortable doing this, because it feels like placing an obligation on others. I’ll tag one person: Mark, we’ve already discussed this. Can you put a link in the comments section when you’ve done it?

If any of my other readers (whoever you are) feel like doing it too, again, put a link in the comments.


Web Businesses: A Study in Contrasts

I have had two very differing experiences with Web businesses lately. One has left me seething with fury for almost five months. The other filled me with dread and Martin with foreboding, but came out beautifully.

The Good

As I’ve gained skill as a binder, I’ve decided to sell some of my work as well as giving it away (advt). Despite its negative connotations in some circles, I’m pretty much inseperable from the evilrooster identity as a bookbinder. So the obvious thing to do was to obtain the evilrooster.com domain name. I used to own it, several years ago, but never did much with it.

Now, I am – apart from a role player named Joe somewhere in the States who turns up on two or three sites – the only evilrooster on the Web. So I was not facing much competition for the name. But old domain names, no longer owned, don’t always vanish into the incohate pool of available URLs. If they are still linked somewhere on the web, then they are often bought, en bloc, by search engines and link farms, and redirected to the main search engine page. (It boosts a site’s Google rating to have multiple links into it.)

Evilrooster.com was such a site. It was owned by a search engine named Netster, on the strength of a link from my mother’s old site. That was discouraging. But the Netster site said that the company’s policy is “to transfer a domain name to any person or company that, in our reasonable opinion, has a legitimate claim to that domain name…We do not sell domain names”.

These are very important statements for Netster‘s sake, because the use of domains not immediately related to one’s business is a feature of cybersquatting. (The most famous example being whitehouse.com, which is a porn site – try whitehouse.gov for the seat of American government.) And the current body of decisions on cybersquatting makes it clear that buying a URL one is not entitled to with the intention of selling it to the proper owner at an inflated price is not on either.

(A related web offence, passing off is irrelevant to this discussion – they don’t bind books – but often gets mentioned in the same context as cybersquatting.)

But a policy is not the same as an action, and the new owners could very easily have put a maze of red tape in their policy on website transfers without breaking the rules. For instance, since I don’t have evilrooster trademarked, they could have denied that I am legally entitled to it. Or they could cut a deal with a registrar that includes a high price for domain name transfers, then recharge me their “costs” for handing over evilrooster.com. Neither would be illegal, and I would have fallen back on an alternative URL rather than get into a scrap about it.

Instead, they engaged in a very civil and helpful correspondence with me. In the absence of a trademark, they asked if I was using the identiy on my work. My rooster finishing tool came in handy then – it’s plainly visible on most of the bindings on my gallery page. So they agreed that I was entitled to the site. If I would get an account with their registrar, thy would initiate a transfer. I signed up with the registrar in question, and reviewed their pricing. Their transfer fee was not extortionate. Then I got an email from Netster, which I will quote verbatim.


We have moved the requested domain(s) to your account. Please take care to manage it from there. While during this process we have incurred transfer, registration, and administrative costs, it is not our desire to seek reimbursement from you. Instead, we would appreciate any positive references you might make about our search engine, www.netster.com. We are sure that would be more valuable to us than any fee.


That email made my day. When I get evilrooster.com redeveloped (watch this space for an announcement when it’s up, but don’t hold your breath. I do have a job and two small children, plus a lot of binding to finish before Christmas), I’ll be adding a link to Netster. Considering that they’re primarily a US-based site, I’m not likely to get a lot of use out of it, but maybe the link will be of use to them. I hope so; I want to encourage good Internet neighbours.

The Bad

I wish everyone was as good as these guys. I wish that an internet-based book vendor, whom I had paid, was as friendly, communicative and effective as Netster.

There’s a book on headband construction that I wanted. I have a photocopy of it, from when it was out of print and unobtainable. Oak Knoll Press (to whom I will not link lest I boost their page rank), the publishers, printed a new edition, and I wanted to buy it, to support the bookbinding publishing market and the authors who did the work.

So I went to the Oak Knoll site. First problem: it doesn’t work in Firefox (the mouse-over activated pull-down menus have some strange ideas about where the mouse pointer is), so I needed to use Internet Explorer. It’s a minor nuisance.

I ordered the book on June 17 and paid for it by credit card. Oak Knoll emailed me and told me it would be about 1 week for processing the order, then 5 weeks’ surface shipping. So I expected it in late July.

By early August, I was wondering where my book was. I emailed Oak Knoll, and got no reply. I emailed again, and finally got an answer that showed that my email was caught in their spam filter. Without wanting to tell a business how to run itself, I might suggest that a spam filter that traps your customers’ emails is probably not a good thing.

Apparently, Oak Knoll’s postal supplier lost a bunch of June shipments somewhere in Florida. Did they email their European customers to find out whether the shipped books had arrived? Of course not. Did they contact me and tell me when I’d be shipped a replacement? Don’t be silly.

So I waited a bit, then tried again. Again, no one answered my emails. I finally called them and got some attention at the cost of a transatlantic phone call. They said they’d send out another copy on September 17 by expedited delivery, and could I contact them when it arrived? No estimate of delivery time was given, so I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, well into October, I got peeved and sent them another email. I can’t say I was surprised that they didn’t reply. Only when I sent another email, threatening to post an account of the transaction on the book-arts listserv, did a woman named Jeanette write back. She complained that I was “SHOUTING” at her, and that she was tired of it. She also said that the book should have been inserted into the UK postal service 8 – 10 days after shipping; clearly it had gone astray. Again. Not that they were interested in checking when they could wait for me to complain.

By this time, I was heartily regretting ever having tried to buy the book, or support their business in any way. I finally emailed them to say forget it, I’d source it elsewhere (a UK bookbinding supplier whom I trust to deliver what I’ve paid for, Shepherd’s). Then, after no reply, I emailed them the same thing again, and got an answer. Apparently, without telling me or updating my online order sheet (which I checked after logging onto IE, sigh), they’d already sent a third copy out.

They have since refunded my money, which they held for the 4 1/2 months that they fumbled delivery and failed at customer service. Murphy’s law says that the third copy of the book will arrive, at which point I will either contact them and pay again, or refuse delivery and notify them that it is on its way back to them. One thing is certain, though:

I will never buy anything from, or recommend that anyone buy from, Oak Knoll Books.

As publishers of bookbinding books, they will get some of my money from resellers, but I won’t deal with them directly again. To be clear: I accept that they can’t help it if their delivery company lets them down. But it’s when a problem occurs that a company gets the chance to show its competitive advantage. Oak Knoll’s policy of never answering customer emails the first time and without threats, much less actually communicating with them when they know things have gone wrong, does not shine.

Bookbinding Meets Politics

As part of my desire to encourage a little more civility in American politics, I have decided to give a gift to someone whose politics I disagree with. Specifically, I’m sending a handbound copy of the Constitution to President George W. Bush.

I was going to be sarcastic about it, and say something about the rules of good gift-giving. After all, you’re supposed to give people something that they might find useful, for instance at work, and something that they don’t appear to own already.

But really, that sort of commentary is pretty nasty and counterproductive. And I think this is a matter more for sincerity than nastiness. So here’s the text of the letter I’m sending along with the binding. The language is a little stiff and florid, but the feeling behind it is sincere.

Dear Mr President,

I am an American citizen, although I have been living in the United Kingdom for almost eleven years. Living abroad has given me an interesting perspective on our shared identity as Americans, particularly with regard to our Constitution. It really is a unique and valuable document, one that has made our country what it is today.

I am concerned, therefore, by the ways in which your current policies do not reflect the values enshrined in this foundation of our nation’s law. I know that, as President, you must find a balance between the security of our fellow citizens and the culture of liberty that America values. I am sure you are sincere in the choices you have made. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with those choices, which seem to me to undermine many of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

I am particularly worried by the lack of trials for some citizens suspected of terrorism, the chilling effect that use of “free speech zones” has on the First Amendment rights of people who disagree with you, and the drive to use the Constitution to limit peoples’ freedoms and the states’ rights to legislate with regard to marriage. I am also concerned by our frequent disregard of the Geneva conventions, either by the reclassification of prisoners or by a simple failure to follow its rules.

If we are to be the beacon of liberty to the world that we hope we are, then America must take the lead in defending peoples’ freedoms, both inside and outside of our borders. Peaceful, secure people do not as a rule join terrorist organizations; people who feel that their culture and religion are under attack may very well do so. By working in isolation and appearing to target Islam as a whole, we are the terrorists’ best recruiting incentive.

As a token of my regard for the Constitution and the ideals it expresses, I am sending you the enclosed leatherbound copy of this most important document. I created it myself, using traditional fine binding techniques. If you prefer not to keep it, I would appreciate its donation to an educational institution, where it can inform and educate another generation of Americans.

Very Truly Yours,

Abi Sutherland

I plan to post the book and letter on Tuesday (post offices are closed tomorrow). Normally, I wouldn’t post pictures and binding notes on a gift before the recipient has seen it. But I doubt that President Bush reads this blog, so I’m unlikely to spoil the surprise. (If I have, I’m sorry, George!)

Bookbinding Conference!

Though it was rather overshadowed by subsequent events (scan, tenth anniversary), I did actually go to the Society of Bookbinders biennial Training and Education Conference.

I was deeply intimidated by the entire thing. I’d never met a bookbinder before, ever. And the bookbinding world is still deeply rooted in the traditions of apprenticeship and mastery. Self-taught amateurs are like orphans among the hereditary nobility. Add to that that I’m crushingly shy about talking to strangers…

Of course, my fears were entirely groundless. Like any group of enthusiasts, the bookbinders were keen to talk to a fellow addict. I fell in with the Scottish contingent almost unintentionally, when I struck up a conversation with a woman from Aberdeen while touring the Reading University library bindery. Soon we had an accustomed place at the refectory tables for meals, and were chatting at tea breaks.

It was the first time I’ve ever had to listen to people talk about binding, watch demonstrations of bindings, and get a good in-person look at a few (very) fine bindngs. I even managed to buttonhole Mark Ramsden for some feedback on my green book. I’m still reeling a bit, digesting it all.

A few preliminary conclusions:

  • I’m not so hot on forwarding (book construction) as I thought. This is actually a good thing, because it means I need more practice, which means I have an excuse to bind more books. Previously, I was more conscious of my need to practice finishing (cover decoration), so the effort of forwarding (while pleasant) felt like a distraction from the learning process.
  • I have become increasingly conservative in my binding efforts. It’s time to reverse this trend. My interest in a lot of the more adventurous structures and decorational techniques was reignited by the things I saw, and heard about, in the conference.
  • I have a real taste for modernity in bindings. Most of my books on binding focus on the traditional styles, from about the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries through to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s. Some of these binding styles were very gaudy, and my taste runs more to simplicity. But until I saw some of the slideshows of modern bindings, I didn’t really see how to marry that taste for simplicity with fine binding. Now my head is full of ideas, visions of simple, restrained bindings. They’ll even cost me less in finishing tools!


I’ve been photographing my bookbindings for some time now. And after my (much more artistic) fellow binder Chris asked me the dimensions of some of my things, I’ve even been measuring them. So I’ve had a growing collection of photos and measurements clogging up my hard drive and my notebooks.

At the same time, I’m often looking to show people the work I’ve been doing. I usually have my small green book with me in person, and at work there’s my big black and brown notebook. But anyone I know online has no way of seeing what I’ve been up to since the experiment last May.

And recently, since I’ve started doing more with the covers of my books, my learning curve has taken another steep climb. I find myself wanting to record the lessons I’ve been learning. I take a lot of mental notes about how my bindings go, but then I forget it all as other bindings get my attention. And since I’ve been giving much of my work away, I don’t even have the books to remind me.

It’s amazing that it took me this long to put the three issues together and make a gallery. But it’s up now, with pictures of most of the bindings I’m willing to have seen by the public, plus binding notes on some of my recent works. And with a format is in place, it’s going to be easier to record what I’ve been doing.

(Those who know me best may have a comment or two on the tone of the binding notes. You know who you are, and I know what you’re going to say. But trust me. It’s the flaws I learn from, not what goes right.)

On Craftsmanship

I went through a pretty bad patch at work last month. I was feeling annoyed at the people I work with, stressed out by a developing problem that I couldn’t seem to solve, and frustrated with myself for getting into the situation at all. I was even having work stress dreams (coming into the office naked from the waist up, that sort of thing).

A lot of this was based on fear. I am performing a role pioneered by someone with vastly more experience and knowledge than I have. Even after a year, I am still scrambling to catch up, learning on the fly. But I feel like by now I should know everything I need to do my job. This made it hard to ask questions, and consequently made me defensive and unadventurous. I found myself backing away from challenges because I was afraid they’d turn into cans of worms, that people would ask me things I couldn’t answer. Easier to say no than to find a way to say yes.

But I was rereading A Degree of Mastery, one of my bookbinding books. The author, Annie Tremmel Wilcox, writes about the time that she was an apprentice bookbinder. She spends a lot of time thinking about the idea of craftsmanship, particularly as embodied by the master bookbinder she is studying with. And, reading that, I understood my real problem. The lack of knowledge, the feeling of looming intimidation, was only a symptom.

I had stopped approaching my job as a craftsman. I was no longer taking pride in the innate quality of the work I was doing, but had got tied up in the politics of it all. It’s easy to do in my role, where there is a lot of political give and take.

To a politician, the quality of your work is one of many negotiable items. You take shortcuts to do favours, until taking the time to do something right is seen as an imposition. A craftsman abhors this approach, and would rather do something less fancy but do it right than do more in some half-assed way.

As a craftsman, with the priority on the quality of my work, I find the barriers to asking for help have diminished. If the quality of my work is my primary concern, then the desire to save face by not appearing ignorant cannot be. That’s the primary concern of a polician.

Going into work is a lot easier now. I even keep a bone folder on my keyboard (above the F keys). It’s sort of a personal emblem of craftsmanship.

                              – o0o –

Grammar notes: Although I am a woman, I use the terms “craftsman” and “craftsmanship”. My alternatives appear to be “crafter” / “craftership” and “craftswoman” / “craftswomanship”. Now, “crafter” sounds like “crofter” to me, and I have nothing whatever to do with sheep. And while “craftswoman” is fine, “craftswomanship” is just too awkward. (Don’t even get me started on “craftspersonship”…) Besides, I am confident enough in my femininity to be able to use a masculine term about myself.

Bookweb Redux

Last year, I started up the Bookweb to document some of the bookbinding work I’ve been doing. After an enormous amount of effort, I created one small area, describing an experiment in spine construction. Then I got wrapped up in, erm, binding books.

So now I’ve taken a week or two to add some more to the site, and to impose a bit more structure on it. I’ve added book reviews, spurred on by my father’s gift of four excellent binding books. And now I’ve finally got my information on equipment, describing how I have made many of my pieces of equipment myself.

Now all I need to do is add a gallery of my best work. If I can find the time between bindings!

Check it out!