A Bookbinding Story: Grandpa Turns 100

My Grandfather is turning 100 in a few weeks and the whole family is getting together to celebrate! Some of the people coming I have not seen in years and I am very excited. Wow – turning 100 – you don’t see that every day!

So I need to bring a gift. What on Earth do you buy for a person turning 100? What do you really NEED at 100? He is in good health, and doing remarkably well, but he sleeps a lot and doesn’t have a TON of energy – so what could he possibly want or need? The exercycle seems to be out, and skydiving lessons might not be spot on. He doesn’t want to leave the house much less go on a trip to Europe, so that kind of scratches those ideas. Well – I will go get a cup of tea and let you think on it for a while – if you have any great ideas let me know…

…Thought of anything? Me neither… But wait a minute. You see a lot in 100 years. His grandfather never owned a car – but drove a horse and buggy until the day he died. Women still wore corsets the year he was born, and his father was the FIRST president of the town electric company – first because there was no need of a president of the town electric company before him – because there was no electric company! So maybe, just maybe, he would like a remembrance of his life!

2015.10.20 - A Bookbinding Story - Grandpa Turns 100 - 01

When my son was born, some sadistic person gave me an eight generation family tree chart – blank of course and I started working on it. I only really knew up to my grandparents and a few of my great grandparent’s names – so I asked my relatives and my husband’s relatives for any information that they had to help me fill out this &*%& chart. I got some interesting replies! It seems that there were people in the family who didn’t WANT to tell me about the past – I guess some of those relatives of ours weren’t very nice. Seriously, all I wanted was their names, birth and death dates and where they lived – I didn’t want to know their dirty laundry!! But doors slammed in my face at every turn.

Except for Grandpa. He sent me this huge box just brimming with pictures and mementos from his family and his own research into his family’s roots. He and I e-mailed back and forth as we worked on the project together and with his help, I finished HIS 8 generation portion years before I even made a dent in the rest of the tree.

So what if I gathered all the information that I had gotten over the years together into one book, and then put my recently acquired bookbinding skills to use and make it pretty? I attended a fabulous bookbinding class at the American Academy of Bookbinding in July and was anxious to try out my new skills. (FYI the AAB class was worth every penny and every moment – if you have a chance to take a class there DO! You won’t regret it!)

So I dug in my closet, contacted my relatives, swore them to secrecy and enlisted their help to make the book. First I complied the information into some semblance of order:

And once done and edited, printed it out on some beautiful French paper by Ingress using Word’s booklet feature. Since the paper didn’t absorb the inks well – I had to manually print both sides of the paper allowing for extra drying time.


Because I wanted this to look “old fashioned” I used acid free tissue paper to make “tip ins” to cover the main pictures in the book. I did this before sewing the book so that the extra bulk of the tissue paper wouldn’t affect the swell on the spine or the closing of the book.

2015.10.20 - A Bookbinding Story - Grandpa Turns 100 - 04

I also found a copy of my Grandfather’s college newspaper from 1936. He was actually quoted in it in one of the opinion columns so I printed it out in miniature and created a way to put it into the book as well using a little pocket of the text paper to hold it in place. The newspaper was printed on very, very thin acid free copy paper to mimic the consistency of newsprint.


Since my class, I had purchased some inexpensive bookbinding equipment from (aptly named) affordablebindingequipment.com and wanted to give it a test drive. I highly recommend their punching cradle, sewing frame and finishing press with ALL of its accessories (backing boards and lacing attachments). I will be saving my pennies to get a better plough and book press – but for the cost they are acceptable too, and will certainly hold me over until I can afford fancier ones!

Printing on Leather

One of the cool things I figured out how to do was to print on leather. I don’t know how to gold tool yet and I really wanted something on the front and spine of the book. So I decided to see if my printer could print on leather, so I grabbed a goat and shoved it through the printer… (Just kidding, I was checking to see if you were paying attention!)

To do this, I went to word and created the labels I wanted in the sizes I wanted and then printed them out on standard copy paper. After checking to make sure that they were the right size and everything was spelled right – I printed a second copy making sure to note which way the paper went into the printer. Then, I Schärffixed a small piece of leather very, very fine and about ¼ inch on each side larger than the label. Using a glue stick, I lightly glued the edges outside of the label area, sticking the leather down over the printed parts of the paper.

Then I fed the paper back through the printer, printing the labels again. Using a rotary cutter – I cut the labels out and since the part of the leather that was printed on had no glue on it – the paper just fell away – leaving me a thin leather label ready to affix.

The only question that remained was were the labels waterproof and smudge proof enough to be pasted to the book and stand up to normal wear and tear? I did a lot of tests, both using my laser printer and my ink jet printer and the results were pretty good. Once they had fully dried from the printer, they did not smudge with normal touching and when I pasted them on the cover and dampened with a wet sponge, they did not run or rub off. I am not sure they would hold up to constant wear, tugging and touching with dirty fingers, but I don’t usually let my books be treated that way anyway. I even was able to print in color on the inkjet.

Obviously, this works better on light colors of leather and the leather does need to be pared very, very fine. I am looking forward to using this technique for lots of things in the future – as I think it will open lots of opportunities for book design for me.

I made a presentation box by covering an existing box that I had that was the right size with leather and the left over paper I used for the flyleaves, and now the book is ready for Grandpa’s birthday. I do hope he enjoys it!

If not, I can always get him those skydiving lessons…

Written by N. L. McEvoy. Author of ‘The Muses: Escaping Montague Manor

Please Support us on Patreon!

The minimum level of contribution is only $1 per month. Pledges received from our patrons cover the editing services for our bookish podcast!

Moreover, starting with the pledge level of $3, you will get a digitized vintage book about bookbinding, book history, or book arts each month from us!

These pledges help iBookBinding to continue its work and bring more information about bookbinding and book arts to you!