What I learned on my holidays

A week's worth of bookbinding
A week's worth of bookbinding


Well, my week’s bookbinding has come to an end.  I am amazed how tiring it was.  Lots of concentration required and it is also surprisingly physical.  My arm, hand and wrist is stiff from all that tensioning the stitches and slicing away on the stanley knife (although my confidence grew on the guillotine by the end of the week).  The end results. though are impressive.

I learned quite a lot about making this week, not just the technical skills of bookbinding, but about making in general.  It reminded me, of course, that having the right tools makes things considerably easier – so the industrial guillotine and the massive old pinch press meant that it was much easier to get things flat and square, and the pricker worked so much better than the kitchen skewer I tend to use to punch holes.  But the real revelation was the book cloth.  I remember having work done on the house and it looking like a bomb site until the plasterer came round and suddenly it looked like a room again.  It was the same for me with the book cloth.  Rubbish-looking boards suddenly looked like real books after this miraculous cloth went on.  And one of the things that I enjoyed most was the day we made our first books with it and everyone’s face lit up and we shared one of those ‘look what I made’ moments as we all twirled them round in our hands.  Guy, our tutor, showed us the trick for mitreing the corners so they looked beautiful, and flipping up the edges with a bone folder before glueing them to the inside covers gave a sharp, crisp, professional edge.  The books are lovely, but what I would like to hang onto is the feeling of making something well.

So, six people who had never done this suddenly felt better about themselves because they had made something ‘not rubbish’, something of which they could be proud and which filled them with satisfaction and a certain joy.  But we also wanted to show each other what we had done, and in the making we entered into a little temporary community.  Making is connecting, as David Gauntlett would say (www.makingisconnecting.org/).  We connect to the materials and the end product, but also to each other as a contingent organisation of women learning to handle tools,  and to the wider world in a funny way – to a tradition of people who have done this over the centuries.  The room also filled with positive energy, which I have noticed on several occasions when people are absorbed in making things.  The energy in the room is amplified.  Making in this sense, for me, is medicine.  It increases happiness.  And this is the essence of creativity for me: the human joy in making something.  The joy is most intense when it is for the sheer joy itself – making for pleasure and not to increase an organisation’s bottom line, or to get UK PLC out of the mire.

The other fascinating thing was watching people starting to improvise and customise.  First came some hand-painted end papers, then some collaged covers with little birds appearing on an accordion notebook, then some real fine bookbinding with two colour covers, then some paper engineering which was exquisite and seemed to seize one of our number in some kind of frenzy.  People started to make the craft their own which was lovely to watch.

The week ended with a masterpiece kind of project – making a book box.  I made a terrible botched job because I was rushing, but Guy stepped in and sorted out quite a bit of it so that it at least looks okay.  I know what I want to do with it, and it solves the problem of what to do with a very long, thin piece that I have made about Laura Ashley.  More photos to follow, as both are still under construction.

The final thing that I wanted to think about is what it feels like not to be able to do it, whatever it is.  Usually in a class I know what I’m doing and I am reasonably good at it.  But here almost everyone got it and I didn’t and they all seemed to have better ideas about how to customise.  I experienced moments of real panic, sickness in my stomach and a desire to quit.  I felt real incompetence.  And interestingly, I felt it.  It was visceral.  It was good for me to sink into that embodied experience and really feel useless.  That sounds odd, but not being able to do something seems to complement and complete being able to do something.  I know that we must overcome the binaries in our thinking, but those two things do appear to combine into a whole.

This may have dissolved into pretentiousness, so I will end here.  There will be a gap in the blog as I go to a conference.  I might post something, but it is likely to be the weekend before I post again.

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