The Paper and Book Intensive

I wrote earlier about the insanity that is end of term. Somehow, despite my best efforts, I’m never as well prepared as I would like to be, and the end of term always passes in a frenzy of papers, exams, and presentations.

In my case, all of this was exacerbated by the fact that I had a plane to catch on May 12. This meant that everything pertaining to Spring term 2013 absolutely had to be done by that date, since I most certainly would not be working on it after then.

Anyway. Term ended and I caught my plane and before long, I was in beautiful Saugatuck, on the banks of a lagoon near Lake Michigan. This was the location of this year’s Paper and Book Intensive (PBI), a series of book arts workshops attended by artists, binders, papermakers, and conservators from around the globe. This summer, PBI featured workshops on printing, papermaking, and binding, with teachers including Bernie Vinzani, Jessica Spring, Paula Jull, Sarah Bryant, and Timothy Ely.

Did I mention this place was beautiful?!

Did I mention this place was beautiful?!

Like others at PBI, I was signed up for three workshops. The first two were half-day workshops that took place over the first four days, with one workshop in the mornings and the other in the afternoons. Then we had one day’s break, followed by the third workshop, which lasted four full days. After this, we had a day to relax and enjoy a costume party, variety show, and live auction (to raise scholarship money for next year’s PBI) before we returned home.

As a wannabe book conservator, my focus at PBI was binding. I started my time there with a workshop on leatherworking with Jeff Altepeter, who teaches at North Bennett Street School in Boston. Never having worked with leather before, it was exciting to get an introduction to leatherworking from someone who was so comfortable with the material. We mostly used Scharf-fix paring machines in working with the leather, with some minimal hand paring. However, over the four days, we all developed some level of familiarity with the material and the skills involved, as well as an understanding of the tools we would need to proceed further. While we didn’t bind a full book, I did complete a mock-up of a cover with a back-pared onlay and another mock-up with two types of raised onlays. I also ended up with a lovely piece of leather I’ve pared with a Scharf-fix to 0.2 mm thick, and I have a miniature book in progress that I think it will work with quite well.

The collected works of Jeff Altepeter's class in leatherworking!

The collected works of Jeff Altepeter’s class in leatherworking!

My second workshop during that first week was on limp vellum bindings with Adam Larsson, conservator at the University of Uppsala Libraries in Sweden. In that class, we bound 3 books: one with a link-stitch structure, one with a long-stitch that was woven through, and one that we could experiment with. These structures had parchment covers with a fore-edge flap and closures, but their most interesting element was the spine plate – historically, a piece of leather, wood, or bone that added addditional structural support on the outside of the parchment at the spine.

The cover for one of my limp vellum bindings, ready to be attached to the textblock.

The cover for one of my limp vellum bindings, ready to be attached to the textblock…

All you need to create a beautiful leather  spine plate: scrap pieces of leather, a Japanese screw punch, and a bone folder!

And here’s the spine plate, along with all you need to make it: scrap pieces of leather, a Japanese screw punch, and a bone folder!

These pieces added a decorative element as well. However, in terms of the binding, they added a certain complexity to the sewing process – I think most people, myself included, struggled with the first structure we made. It did eventually make sense, though, and we all left with a lovely collection of books to be proud of.



This structure included weaving on the spine!

This structure included weaving on the spine!

My last workshop was with Pam Spitzmueller, with whom I took a class on Scandinavian calender books earlier this year. This workshop was also on a calendar book; however, this one was bound on wooden boards covered with leather and stamped.

Cord, gatherings, wood board, and cardstock gatherings to simulate erasable pages.

Cord, gatherings, wood board, and cardstock gatherings to simulate erasable pages: almost all you need for a medieval calendar book!

We just made one book in this class, but it was a truly lovely book – roughly 3 x 4.5 inches, it had an accompanying stylus to allow its medieval professional owner to write on erasable pages, and was held shut with clamps. Needless to say, making the clamps and the stylus was all part of the workshop, and I have to admit that the rudimentary metal-working was one of my favorite parts of the class.

Back cover

The cover was embossed on both sides; here, the stylus can just be seen poking out between the clasps!

Although the classes may sound relaxed, my time at PBI was packed full. People tried to get as much time as possible in the studios, and several people made more objects than were required in class. Personally, I have several books in progress to finish up now that I’m home!

In addition to attending my own classes, I, like everyone else at PBI, visited the other classes as well. My friend, Yasmeen, was teaching a class on Islamic bindings that I ended up visiting quite often – I even tried to see if I remembered how to make an Islamic endband. (Answer: kind of!) But each of the classes made amazing works, and when we had class demonstrations at the end of each workshop session, I think everyone wished they had the time to take all the workshops. Honestly, people made beautiful things in these two weeks. It was truly humbling to be around such talented and creative people.

Some of what was produced in Sarah Bryant's letterpress class.

Some of what was produced in Sarah Bryant’s pressure printing class. 

All good things come to an end, and PBI ended on May 23. In ten days, I had learned new skills, come up with new ideas, and, best of all, made new friends. I don’t know if I can manage it, but I will certainly be looking at the application again next year!


About Saira

Saira is a newly fledged book conservator currently working in Saint Paul, MN.
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