Monday 9 March 2015

A dozen lessons I learned at a bookbinding workshop [hint: they're not all about binding books].

Hello you.

As I mentioned in February's Month in Numbers post, I extended my bookmaking skills last month by taking two workshops. One was online, in the form of videos created by Christy Tomlinson but the second was offline, in the real world, alongside other living breathing people who moved.

This one was hosted at the Navigator North studios in Dundas House Middlesbrough and was taught by artist Chris Morton and, because I'm part over-thinker and part introvert, I left it until the last minute to take the plunge and book myself into the class.

Heading out to a new environment always has its stresses; the previous week I went to check I could definitely find the entrance to it on my own. Twice.

But after applying my usual rule "if you miss out on the opportunity will you be more relieved ... or frustrated?' [otherwise known as - pardon my asterisk -'sh*t or get off the pot'] I decided that I'd kick myself if I didn't go. Plus ... it had been a while since I scared myself ... and that's what I need from time to time to keep moving!

And, because it's what bloggers do, I'm going to share the experience with you here:

And, because that's what I do ... I'm going to share all of the experience, and not just the shiny end results. Which, by the way, were these:
I know ... impressive isn't it? Like, super-professional-did-she-really-make-that? impressive.

I wouldn't blame you if you're sceptically thinking that, as someone pathologically allergic to precision [I make Junk Journals for goodness sake, the clue's in the name!], I couldn't possibly have made those myself. And, to be frank, if I hadn't been present when I made them, I'd have doubted it myself ...

And yet I did.

But hang on, we're leaping ahead, let's begin looking at what I learned from the experience by rolling back to a few days before the workshop ...

Lesson 1: When I'm anxious I might, maybe, sort of, have a tendency toward the hyperbolic ...

Exhibit A: a conversation in the kitchen:

Me: "Will I be OK?"
Him: "Of course you'll be OK, why wouldn't you be?"
Me: "Because I'm going to be trapped in a room with strangers for 7 hours."
Him: [Laughing, shaking his head, wondering how he got so lucky to be living with  me.]
Me: "What?"
Him: "'Trapped'??"

OK, so maybe the notion of being 'trapped' was somewhat melodramatic but I just like to think things through thoroughly beforehand.

And, for the record, while, fortunately I didn't feel trapped with my fellow bookbinders ... I did however get locked out when I went to the toilet! And I had to knock, pathetically, to be let back in. So, y'know ... I was sort of right to be worried after all .... ;-)

For my next lesson let's hop  to the night before the workshop ...

Lesson 2: That radiator pipe in our bathroom is lethal! 
I know that - as tips and hints go - this one is pretty specific. But, while reaching for a clean towel after my shower, I burned my leg. And it hurt. A lot.

I was so shocked by the pain I burst into tears and had to be consoled by James [whose jumper took the brunt of the mucus-filled hysteria] and then spent 4 hours holding a bag of ice against the burn wondering how I was going to be able to sit through a workshop with a blistered knee rubbing against my jeans.

Subsequently my shoulder 'went' over night, [probably from holding an ice pack against my knee for 4 hours!] leaving me waiting for pestilence, or a plague of frogs to arrive to show me that this enterprise was doomed and I'd be better off just staying home.

[Apologies if you hoped this post was going to be useful to you in a general way. Or even in a specifically bookbinding-related way. But, hey, if you're ever in my bathroom with bare legs, you'll thank me for this warning.

Although, FYI, if you are ever in my bathroom with bare legs ... you'll better be sure I invited you. If not, there'll be police involved].

Lesson 3: Strangers are just as recognisable as familiar faces.
When Vicky, one of the Navigator North directors, and organiser of the days events, came down to let me into the building she looked at me, looked down at her clipboard and said cheerily "Are you Julie?" then ticked me off the register.

Seeing as how we'd never met before, and how I didn't chat to her on Facebook beforehand, and how there were no photos or links to my blog in my email to her when I signed up for the workshop ... I stood there wondering how on earth she knew I was 'Julie'.

Did she somehow know my blog? Had she seen my avatar somewhere? Well, no.

When all the other participants arrived, they all started chatting to one another and to Vicky which is when I realised: she knew who I was ... because I was the only one she didn't already know! 

So erm, I guess I'm not famous after all ...

Lesson 4: I don't have to try to be someone I'm not.
So, yes, everyone there seemingly knew everyone else but  there's been enough clear sky between me and the school playground for it not to lead to a spiralling panic about feeling left out!

But I am aware that when amongst a group of people I tend to be quiet ... and that some people think that quiet people, introverted people, people like me should 'make the effort' or [worse still] 'come out of their shell'.  The same people clearly use themselves as the benchmark for 'normal' and would no doubt be baffled by the thought that they should sometimes make the effort to say less...

And at first, I wondered what people would think of me if was quiet ... and I almost pushed myself into 'making an effort' ... but then I thought:
  • Y'know what? This is my Saturday, my day off, it's something I'm looking forward to learning about and I paid for this with my money ...
  • So no - I'm not going to stretch myself or push myself and my shell will stay just where it is thank you. I'm going to enjoy this workshop for me, in my own way and if that means being quiet most of the time ... then that's just fine.  
This doesn't mean I took a vow of silence!

I was perfectly friendly - after all I do really like people! And I spoke, and laughed, and thoroughly enjoyed the class alongside the others [here's my workspace]

I just let myself off the hook and did it in my own way ... like everybody else does.

Lesson 5: Japanese 'midori' style folders are following me around.
I wasn't entirely certain what it was I'd be making a this class, there'd been a description, but no example images, but I didn't mind, I was happy to be surprised and just pick up some new skills.

[And when I say 'happy' obviously I mean I'd eventually be happy after having worried that we'd be making something really complicated and I'd never be able to follow the instructions and I'd feel silly and make a mess and everyone would do better than me. But yeah 'happy'.] ;-)

Anyway ...this is what I ended up successfully constructing [woo, yay, go me!] for our first main project:
While Chris Morton's instructions [below] call it a 'rubber band bound book cover':
... it was, to all intents and purposes, a 'midori' style folder.

The idea is that rather than make a notebook / sketchbook etc which when you fill it you have to replace the whole thing, these kinds of folders can hold separate smaller books, which, when filled, can simply be swapped out for a fresh one. They're also great for keeping various different style of books [eg. a journal, a sketchbook, a planner] together in one handy decorative folder for travelling.

Chris showed us how, in this particular style of hard-backed folder he'd created to teach us, the internal booklets [which I haven't yet made] are simply held into place with elastic bands!
It's a great idea - a bit like a Fileofax I suppose - and, serendipitously enough ... midori folders were also the focus of the Christy Tomlinson class I downloaded earlier in the week! Clearly I'm meant to be making these; there's no escaping it!

[If this has intrigued your journal loving gene then there are lots more 'midori' examples on Pinterest].

Lesson 6: I can be precise when I need to be!
I mean ... in the 6 hours we worked on our two projects [the small folder above and this larger, to fit A4, sized one]:
I didn't once tear anything, drop anything, get glue where glue wasn't needed or glue anything to the wrong side of anything. Or my clothes. In fact ... 

... the tutor commented that we'd all done really well saying that not only were we 'the fastest' group he'd taught but that we'd also 'used the least amount of wet wipes'. 
I could have wept with pride ... 

Heck, I even managed to finish off my corners like this. 
How'd that happen? 

That said ... Chris had already cut everything to size for us all beforehand ... I can't vouch for the accuracy of it all if I'd had to measure everything myself! 

But, yes, I was surprisingly competent. A thought which leads me on to my next few lessons ...  
Lesson 7: I don't know what I am ... but I knew that already. 
Naturally, it being an arts organisation and all, the word 'artists' flew about from time to time during the workshop and there were definitely a few people there who fitted into the category of 'artist'. and one of those asked me 'So, are you an artist?'. 

And I couldn't find it in me to say 'yes'. So I said 'I think that's stretching it a bit' and gave her a brief list of the kind of things I make. 

Now, don't think this is a case of false modesty on my part, I'm not fishing for compliments here - I just don't particularly see myself as an 'artist'. 
So what am I
Well, I've been pondering on this not only since she asked, but since I was about 7 and, appropriately enough .. like the folder we made ... my career is rather 'portfolio' in character!
  • An 'Academic Support Assistant' ? - well, that's what it says on my University contract, but I'm only one of those for 2 days a week in term time ... so what about the rest of the time?
  • A 'crafter' - for sure. I'll take that. I have room full of paper and sticky tape to back me up on this one.
  • A 'creative entrepreneur' - mmm, well, apart from not liking the word much, yeah, OK, I suppose running my Etsy shop fits that category and then there's ... 
  • A 'blogger' / 'writer' - well I hope so, because here I am, blogging, writing, And if I had to pick one thing that defined me ... I think I'd go with this one.
Funny how thinking about what doesn't feel like a good fit can lead to finding something comfier ...

But, hey, fellow crafters, maybe we need to celebrate our craftiness a bit more ...

Lesson 8: We 'crafters' don't give ourselves enough credit for how skilled we are. [I don't think it's just me!]

I've been writing tutorials for craft magazines for years now, and making mini-books, journals, altered books and 'stuff' for longer than that.

And yet why did I go into this workshop feeling like I'd be out of my depth?

OK, yes, it's partly because I'm an over-thinking-over-achieving type but I don't think I'm alone amongst those of us who are comfortable with the term 'crafters' ... in not taking time to reflect on just how accomplished we are!
  • Lots of the techniques we used in the workshop were already familiar to me: I'd picked them up along the 'crafty' way.
  • Some call them 'artists books', pamphlets, or refer to it as bookbinding and it all sounds 'proper' and 'arty': and we do the same things and just call them 'mini-books'.  
  • We have so many transferable skills, learned form 'crafting' but which can be applied far and wide in the creative realm that I wonder ...  if those of us who say we're 'just a crafter' are really doing ourselves justice.
Remember my Push-Up Bra Approach to Blogging class? Well, in the 'lesson' called 'The McFly Approach - Part 2'  I listed many of the technical skills we pick up simply by 'dabbling' as a blogger ... and seeing it in black and white really brought home just how much we've taken our skills for granted!

Maybe it's now time we did the same for our crafting capacities! If you wrote down all the techniques you've tried as a crafter I'd be happy to bet that the list would be as long as your ink-splattered arm!!

Lesson 9: I need a Japanese Book Screw.
Who sniggered?

I'm having something of a bookmaking extravaganza at the moment and I'd spent much of the week running up to the workshop reading online reviews about long arm staplers and Japanese hole making tools trying to decide if I needed either, or both, and if so which particular brand. Which is where I'd built on my vague knowledge of just what a Japanese book screw [also known as a 'screw punch' or a 'book drill'] was good for.

But if you've never heard of one then it's basically it's a Silent Setter crossed with a Yankee screwdriver [if that helps you any?] and it's used for creating the holes in pages and covers which you then stitch through in bookbinding.
And now, after using one at the workshop, I really do want one. Just look at the sharp clean hole it created:
A word to the wise ... by all means, if you want to know more about these intriguing tools, do an online search. But be aware that, as I began typing the phrase 'Japanese Screw Punch' into Google I got up to 'Japanese Sc ...' when Google wanted to know if I was looking for 'Japanese school uniforms'.

And I really wasn't.

So, y'know, for the sake of your internet history ... just be careful out there ...

Lesson 10: It's good to be reminded that artistic endeavours can have a deeper purpose!
While demonstrating some of the various small, folded, booklets he teaches, tutor Chris Morton discussed how he's spent a lot of time working in prisons, mainly with women, finding ways to help them maintain contact with their children and families.

These small books are the same ones he uses with the women, encouraging them to write down stories, memories or letters and then, as they're small and light, they can easily be sent home for children to add in their own drawings which they then return:
The case he made for using arts to help people really struck a chord with me and with things I've been pondering recently too.

You know how I like to pass on a wider message as well as a technique; after all ... this very blog post began simply as a way to share photos of the books I made ... and yet somehow it morphed into a discussion on introversion and a rally-cry for crafters to blow their own trumpets!

So with Chris's explanations about how his work ties in with his socio-political philosophies I was reminded again of how it makes my day when after reading one of my tutorials people let me know they were encouraged to try something new.  And when one of my blog posts makes someone laugh on a day they needed one ... it erases every doubt I may have had about what I'm doing here spending hours blogging ... without a business plan!

Lesson 11: [at the risk of sounding like Amazon ...] People interested in bookbinding also like: turn-ups on their jeans.
This may not pass any objective scientific tests but ... I know hardly anyone else who wears turn-ups on their jeans and yet at the workshop I found myself around a table of four where three of us were wearing turn-ups. What do you make of that then?
And, finally ...
Lesson 12: The Navigator North 'Hub' room made a perfect workshop space.  
I know that Navigator North intends to offer more workshops in future, although I'm not sure how many as I know it's not the prime focus of their organisation. But it would be nice to think that it's an area they could expand into, especially as the space was ideal.  
With windows on three sides there was lots of light - essential if you're trying to turn perfect corners [which, unbelievably I was!]. And there was a kitchen, for even-more-essential tea-making and a comfy corner to sit in and eat lunch ... and its entrance sits in the same shopping centre directly opposite a Boyes store which has a craft + haberdashery department inside! So if you ever ran out of anything you needed you wouldn't even have to go outside to stock up!
Plus it has great transport links; the A66 runs right behind it, there's plenty of parking beneath the building, and there's a train station and a bus station just a stone's throw away. Oh  and it comes complete with view of the Transporter bridge, which is essential for any visit to Middlesbrough:
And no ... no one is paying me to say any of this. I paid for the workshop with my own money and no one from the organisation is aware I'm writing this post.

I'm just saying this as, while I was still debating whether or not to attend the workshop I said to myself 'You can't complain that there are never any decent things to do round here ... and then not attend when there finally is!'.

And so I went, and I'm sharing my experiences with you in case you too want to keep an eye out for future events either here - at Navigator North - or maybe near to where you live. There may be more than you first thought.

My first thoughts on visiting Navigator North made me think it would be interesting if it developed into something like what Art from the Heart have built up in Harrogate ... only with this having the treat, for me at least, of being a lot nearer home! 

[Please help a blogger out and 'Pin' or share this post! Thanks in advance!]
So ... there's my dozen 'lessons' for you ...
  • if you were expecting more on the actual nitty-gritty of bookbinding ... apologies. Maybe go to a class like I did ... or drop into Youtube.
  • if you recognised something of yourself in my angsty moment, or my quiet-loving side ... Hi! You're not alone after all! If I can go somewhere and enjoy myself like that, you probably can too.
  • and if you were actually at the same workshop ... Hi ... I was Julie. Still am in fact. I wore turn-ups and was pretty quiet and didn't need a wet wipe. And ...
  • if you too recently found a new venue for artistic workshops in your area ... feel free to share your experiences / links in the comments.
In fact ... feel free to chat in the comments about anything this post has sparked up in you .... it'll be interesting to hear from you.
I might even write up your thoughts in one of my new - ahem - handmade books ...
Julie :-)


  1. Replies
    1. I love that this is the kind of comment someone would leave for me! Crafters are great! [As, indeed is that hole!]

  2. It took me ages to get to the end of this post because I kept having to stop reading while I laughed! So glad you had a great time.

    1. Thanks Ruth - it's hard to know if people will enjoy reading it [even if it makes me smile .. that's no guarantee!] :-)

  3. Great post Julie!! I've been on a book-making spurge too - also online and in the flesh. This weekend I did a brilliant workshop with Neil Walker where we decorated a cover, hand sewed signature, then bound it all together. There is always something new to learn and it is good meeting new people and bouncing ideas.
    I have also joined a new monthly craft group and am getting to know the new members. Some have already become 'friends' and 3 are booked onto one of my forthcoming book-making classes. This evening we used Tyvek - a new materials to me. So I agree entirely, it is good to go outside your comfort zone and to get out and do new things. The workspace you used looked perfect and I love the view of the Transporter Bridge. Even more I love the books you made. I have a Cropodile that I use for making holes in my pages and covers. It can make a hole in a CD so makes light of mountboard and other materials. I also have a Cinch and Zutter for ring binding, I've not needed a Japanese Book Screw but I'll certainly bare it in mind if my other tools do not deliver what I need.
    Have fun making more books Julie and I look forward to seeing more over time. By the way, your sense of humour always leaves me smiling and having a chuckle to myself!

    1. Thanks Sandie - making people smile is a big motivation for me. And yes, I have a Crop-a-dile too ... while I was at the workshop I kept thinking 'Who knew how many hole-making devices I've collected ... and yet how many I still *need*'.

      I think the difference is rather than compress the materials - the book screw - well ... 'screws' its way in - which s where the cleaner hole comes from I think.

  4. I loved this post Julie, you have an amazing sense of humour and style of writing! I totally understood so many things you wrote, I'm not good at going to things like that either and I would have felt exactly the same. Fab books, you must be thrilled with them. I did a book making course after work a few years ago (I work in a school and the Art dept opened up all their equipment which included an amazing huge book press. Using that was the highlight of the course!) trouble is, I love my book so much, I can't bear to use it!

    1. Thank you :-) It's funny how people are saying 'that's just like me' ... you know there must be people like you 'out there' ... but it's nice to actually *meet* them!

  5. I absolutely loved this post Julie. The bookbinding info was great, but now I know I'm not the only one who has to go and check out where somewhere is before an event!! I too love your writing style - something to put inside the book maybe (and then publish?). Well done on doing your thing without a business plan - I'm a bit tired of seeing the phrase "creative entrepreneur" at the moment. As if people can't succeed if they are not aggressively proactive (but maybe that's just coming from an introverts perspective?). Glad you were "brave" enough to attend - look how much inspirational writing it produced :-) Kind regards

    1. Thank you for you kind words Theresa. I know what you mean about the entrepreneur thing - fortunately I have come across some writers who discuss things from a more 'quiet' / thoughtful perspective such as Susan Cain, Sarah J Bray, Kelly Rae Roberts and also Tara Gentile.

  6. Great post Julie - I can see myself in so much of what you write!! I'm glad I'm not the only one that checks out a new venue before I go!!
    I've also done a couple of bookmaking workshops which I loved and I'm looking forward to making more books! so do I need a 'Japanese screw punch???? I use an awl but I'd love neater holes!! Let me know if you get one,how you get on with it etc
    I'm hoping to go to the NEC next week - should I have a JS punch on my shopping list???

    1. Hi Gill - it seems there's an army of us pre-checkers coming out of the woodwork! Hurrah!

      As for whether you need a Japanese screw punch ... I don't know .. do I even? The one we used at the workshop - which is the only one I've ever used - came from and is close to £50! Which is why I'm biding my time on it!

      I've seen plenty of cheaper ones online but then I read the reviews ... and resisted. It's tough to know whether to splash out on the brass + wood one or go cheap [and put up with imperfections].

      Enjoy your trip to the NEC!

  7. wow I feel like I was there not only for the bookbinding class but the anxiety beforehand and the severely damaged knee, hope that's improving now.
    I love the two books you created, they look simple and clean but I bet they took alot of thought and hardwork to make. I love how you took a picture of your corners, really in crafting is it accuracy we strive for or for the fact we did it ourselves and take pride in our work. But that corner is beautiful Julie, really it is.
    Look forward to seeing more bookbinding in your future
    Jo xxxx

  8. Julie, if I were to comment on all the things I would like to in this super post, it'd be almost as long as the post itself :). Your writing style has me chuckling, your thinking is thought-provoking (how inelegant is my phrasing compared to yours), your honesty cheering and endearing, and I really hope we get to meet one day ... Those books are beautifully finished, and right up my proverbial simple street. Oh, glorious! Thank-you for a great read.

  9. I am so with you on the "trapped" thing. I have NO art background and decided to sing up for a color theory class at the local Art College. Me and room full of art majors. Sounded like a train wreck waiting to happen. Of course, they were all very kind. And it probably helped that I didn't mind being the bad example a few times. And I survived. Thanks for sharing. Made me laugh out loud.

  10. Oops! Obviously I didn't "SING" my way into the color class. I actually SIGNed up. Ha! Guess it must be time to go to bed.

  11. Ahh thank you for this post! I've been working myself up over something new I've got myself into and your experience really put things into perspective for me x

    Sophie |

  12. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post.... Julie! When did you get inside my head??? Happy to meet a fellow introverted bookbinder who overthinks things....!!! Continued success with your blog, bookbinding, crafting, artising !!!

  13. To be honest, I was expecting a book-binding tutorial when I clicked on this post, but through the experiences you shared I gained a deeper insight of myself. Sharing your vulnerable moments really resonated with me because I definitely have similar thoughts about new experiences. But the part you shared about experiencing this class in your own way, at your own pace unlocked some deeper part of myself that always feels the need to push, to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Because how can I get the most out of an experience if I'm not? I've heard the phrase several times in various forms that we all go at our own pace, but you elaborated on that concept in a way I could really relate to. All that to say, I really enjoyed reading this and can confidently say that I gleaned so much more from this post than the book binding tutorial I expected.


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