The Binding Story

Well, it’s an old story and a new one. Some may remember my book based on the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gules. I printed this book in 2005 for an edition of ten, and over the years I’ve only bound five. The pages and some of the materials have been sitting for the last ten plus years for me to finish. Now I really need to finish this edition, so I went to work preparing the boards and making boxes. This isn’t a perfect Instagram moment. I had exactly enough wood and leather for two more books, which seemed like it was meant to be. I planed the edges of the wood and attached the beautiful crimson red leather. I was almost ready to sew the binding, when one day I was driving my son home from school and it occurred to me…oh my god I planed all the boards and I’m supposed to plane only the outside boards! The inner boards for my dos-i-dos book need to remain flat so I can hinge them together.

All is not lost (I think). I know where I bought the leather and wood long ago and now I have enough planed boards for the outer covers of all five remaining books. I’ll just buy the matching materials and make the inner boards for all the books. Wow, maybe I’m way ahead of the game! 

So I go shopping. 

Well, Leo G. Stein has moved to the suburbs and they no longer have the beautiful crimson leather I once used, so I won’t be able to match the inner boards to the old ones. I find another leather that will work well and I buy a huge skin. Then I’m off to one of my favorite places on earth, Owl Hardwoods in Des Plaines. I look for my quarter sawn wood in 9 1/8″ width or more. I need 1/4″ planks cut to size for me, but they don’t have anything in this width except a 5/4 piece of rift sawn wood. It’s a beauty but such a waste when you only need 1/4″! Anyway, I went back and forth but this was the ONLY piece that was going to work for me. I’m told that quarter sawn oak in wider widths is becoming harder and harder to get. Oh dear.  Finally, Mo, helped me out. He had the guy in the wood shop rip it down to two planks for me and we crossed our fingers that it wouldn’t warp too badly. It worked beautifully and now there’s enough to make three new books from scratch. I am feeling sick about the waste of the old boards and having to start over. I feel like a total idiot and I’m so mad at myself.

So I start over. I have to make some lemonade out of these lemons!


I use one pair of boards and some handmade paper (that I made for end sheets on Gules but never used) to make a new book. Then I cut down some very old banner sheets with bird prints to make the pages of the new book. These 12 foot scrolls have been rolled up for fifteen years and I don’t intend to show this piece again – I love re-using old pieces to make new ones. I intended to make a new copy of an old book, with stories about each bird, but then re-reading the stories they seemed so old and I just couldn’t write them again. Things had changed too much, so I had to come up with something new. All told, the whole book concept came together in a day and I spent another day printing the wood type in Ben Blount’s new print shop, then stitched the binding that night. It still needed something, so I decided to do some more sewing on the pages. This was the most intuitive process I have been through in a while and I am very happy with the results. I’m really enjoying the sewing process, this is something I have been thinking about for a while and it is very gratifying to do. I feel  it ties in with my mother, and learning to embroider when I was a girl, yet it makes nice abstract shapes on the pages.

Well there you have it – lemonade!

3 thoughts on “The Binding Story

  1. Dear Mardy, I have probably missed a lot of your posts because I just found this one in my GMail’s Social file. You have quite the story in explaining your creative process, employing your many skills in block printing and book binding. I have been watching the World Channel and enjoyed a step-by-step book binding process from Ireland. Watching the process gave me a new appreciation about the artists behind the work and how precious the books are when completed.

    Your experience of having to redo your project brought to mind, on a very small scale of course, my own struggles with revision of my writing projects, sometimes many times before I’m satisfied and even then, I need one or two fresh eyes to make sure I hadn’t missed something. The only time this process ends is when I finally surrender it to be printed or published.

    Thanks for including me as a recipient. I’ll add your URL address to my contacts list so it shows up as an email next time. Hope all is well with you and your family. Suresh had a wonderful time with Sunita, Gopal, Vinuta and her little one. I’m glad he’s back home. Love, Diane


    • Hi Diane,

      It’s so nice to hear from you! I’m afraid my blog posts are sporadic, but if you go to the site you can see what I’ve been up to. The blogs look a lot nicer too. I have a small window into your life through Sharmilla’s Instagram account. I can’t believe how grown and lovely your grandchildren have become, but that is life isn’t it? I also can’t believe Ashwin is now ten!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the bookbinding post. We would love to see you all again sometime.

      All the best,



  2. The re-purposing and new sewn additions are stunning. I especially like the concept of re-purposing your art. Creativity that is never static despite the time that has elapsed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s