Art and Design
Craft Bookbinding and Restoring
In recent years, there's been a revival of interest in creating or repairing beautifully bound books, but - like any kind of small business - bookbinding has suffered during the recession. There will always be a demand for craft binding, but demand will vary depending on the economic situation and, to some extent, on fashion.
A great part of a self-employed bookbinder's work is likely to be concerned with binding customers prized books, making expensive books for specific purposes (e.g. a full leather book of handmade paper as a gift), binding small numbers of publishers' books for presentation to the author, or rebinding and repairing books for libraries and individual collectors.
Styles of binding vary from all-leather, half-leather (leather spine and corners with hand-marbled paper or cloth on the boards), to cloth, paper, vellum or silk. In fact, virtually any material can be used to bind a book - some modern bindings look very impressive in perspex! Most books are decorated or titled in pure gold leaf, applied with heat to the leather or cloth.
What the work involves
Obviously, it is helpful to have a good sense of colour, proportion and design, and some artistic flair, when making up a complicated design of different leathers on the covers of a book. One binder had a customer who had written 'A Book on Death' and wanted the bindings to be as 'deadly' as possible! Every day brings something different and time must be given to understanding each customer's exact needs!
Where repair is concerned, there is rarely a book which it is not possible to restore or repair. One day you may be working on a book 500 years old and worth thousands of pounds, where even the pages have to be carefully repaired; next day you might be asked to rescue a book that has suffered in the jaws of the family dog! In every case, the binder tries to match the original style and materials as closely as possible.
Because of familiarity with handling leather, binders are sometimes asked to repair other items, such as antique desks with leather tops or antique, leather-encased telescopes.
Bookbinders are not always bench-bound. Craftspeople, working alone or in partnership, often travel to visit customers or to select materials. In a large firm it is less usual to be responsible for so many different tasks.
To learn all the skills needed takes much patience and training, although the basics may be learnt from a full-time or a part-time course. You may be lucky enough to get an apprenticeship, though this is becoming less common.
Various colleges provide full-time and/or part-time training courses in bookbinding and related subjects, such as paper conservation, calligraphy and book restoration and preservation.
The level Certificate degree.
Colleges offering courses include the London Institute, Guildford College of Further and Higher Education, Brunel College of Technology (Bristol), Roehampton Institute (London), Croydon College and Brighton University. Some courses require younger applicants in particular to have GCSEs at grade C/Intermediate GNVQ or two A levels/ Advanced GNVQ before entry. Check with individual institutions for details of entry requirements and level of qualification.
Adults may find that they can be accepted on to further and higher education courses without the normal entry qualifications of courses offered varies from a City & Guilds to a BTEC Higher National Diploma and a BA. Short courses of a few days are offered by some practising bookbinders. For adverts, see Crafts, the Crafts Council's birnontoy magazine. These courses could be particularly useful to complete beginners wanting to try binding, to see if they really enjoy it.