Kathy Abbott. Bookbinding: A Step by Step Guide. Ramsbury: Crowood Press, 2010. 10.2 x 8.5 inches. 160pp. ISBN-13: 978-1847971531 (hardcover) $29.95.
Reviewed by Anna Embree
The book is divided into four chapters containing introductory information about materials, tools and supplies, and nine project descriptions. An appendix provides supplementary information, a glossary and a list of suppliers. In the chapter on materials and tools, the author clearly describes the equipment and supplies needed to outfit a functional bindery. She provides photographs of the items and an explanation of the ways each tool is used.
The chapters containing descriptions of projects are also laid out in a very logical format with step-by-step instructions and additional information about history and practice. The numbered instructions are coded in red to indicate an accompanying photograph, and this little key is very helpful for staying on track with the text. Also provided are boxes with supplemental text that give background information about the techniques that are described.
Despite the careful consideration put into the layout of this book and the wealth of information therein, the book suffers from the serious drawback of trying to appeal to too wide an audience. In the introduction the author asserts that the book is aimed at complete beginners, with the idea that they will be working at home. However, the beginner would be hard pressed to have a fully stocked and equipped bindery and - although she states that the tools and supplies she lists can be easily replaced with other, more available supplies - a beginner would have great difficulty doing this as they would not have the experience to know where to turn. In fact, it takes a strong understanding of procedure in order to see the best ways to make substitutions and yet attain good results. Further, the chapter on tools and materials, though very extensive, does not go far enough in explaining the importance of these items to the craft. For example, the section on grain direction clearly illustrates how grain can be determined in various materials but says very little about why grain direction is so important, both in the construction process and in a finished book.
Most of the projects in this book are also not really at the level of an absolute beginner. Many of the techniques covered in the projects would be difficult for someone absolutely new to the craft to accomplish from instructions alone. Rounding and backing, for example, is a very complex topic and, especially without an understanding of, or access to the proper equipment, would be hard to execute with any degree of success. The same is true for modifying equipment for leather paring and the leather paring techniques. Further, the description of the sewing structures for the book projects may be clear only to someone with some experience. These descriptions would benefit from accompanying diagrams to provide a clearer picture of the sewing patterns.
A section on basic techniques would also be extremely useful for the reader and would improve the overall coherence of the text. Processes such as gluing out, tipping on end sheets, and adhering turn-ins are described multiple times throughout the text, and the instructions would have been easier to follow had all of the information about each of these procedures been listed in one location. In fact, the book continually addresses simple concepts with repetition but glosses over some of the more complicated techniques. While the goal may be to provide something for everyone, I fear that this may make the book less than satisfactory for binders of all levels. As a teacher I believe that repetition can be very useful for reinforcing concepts, however the repetition within the step-by-step format creates a lot of duplicate information. A section on basic techniques would allow the beginner to refer back to these directions as often as necessary without forcing the more advanced binder to read through the fundamental instructions again and again.
Regardless of the limitations of this book, it does contain a great amount of information and is a truly practical bench guide. The repetition found in the first few chapters decreases somewhat as the book progresses, and the value of the content makes up for the inconvenience of replication in the instructions. Importantly, the projects are interesting and are all grounded in traditional craft. The straightforward descriptions of techniques are an excellent resource for any binder with a solid foundation in the craft but little overall experience, and for any advanced binder interested in reviewing procedures or seeing how another binder approaches the work.
While this book may have limited use as a manual for beginners working on their own, it is an ideal resource for the classroom. Much of the difficulty a beginner might face working through this book alone, could be easily overcome with some knowledgeable assistance. One of the greatest assets of the book is the huge number photographs that accompany the text and the strong organization of these images with the step-by-step descriptions. There are very few books on bookbinding that illustrate binding techniques so clearly; and students who have seen binding demonstrations, but are not yet confident in their skills, will find this book instructional and informative. It is a huge accomplishment to put together a manual of bookbinding that covers traditional practice in such detail and with such clarity. This is a book I can confidently recommend as a solid resource for bookbinding instruction.
Anna Embree has been teaching bookbinding for the MFA in Book Arts Program since August 2003. She came to the University of Alabama from Iowa City where she was associated with the University of Iowa Center for the Book. She has worked as studio coordinator for the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and in conservation at the University of Iowa Libraries. Ms. Embree received a Bachelors degree in Art from the University of Iowa in Iowa City. She received a Masters degree in Textiles and Clothing from Iowa State University in Ames, and a Graduate Certiﬁcate in Book Arts and Technologies from the University of Iowa Center for the Book. In addition to these degree programs, Ms. Embree completed a four-year apprenticeship in Bookbinding and Rare Book Conservation at the University of Iowa Libraries. She taught bookbinding at the University of Iowa from 1998–2003. Ms. Embree is active in the Guild of Book Workers and a Co-director of Paper and Book Intensive.