From Author to Author/Book Binder: A Journey

As an author there is nothing quite like the day when the printers send you that first proof copy of your work. You have dreamed of this day for years as you have spent countless hours agonizing over if the proper verb use is “seems” or “seem” in the third line of the fourth paragraph in the 20th chapter and you have changed it back and forth so many times you no longer remember which version is actually in the book!!

But I digress – that day comes and you rip open the brown cardboard package and out into your hands falls YOUR BOOK!! You carry it with you everywhere for a week, or two, or twenty, but then you finally put it on the shelf with all of your other prized books and step back to admire it…

And you realize that something is horribly wrong. For sitting between your leather bound version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and the Second Edition copy of ‘Ozma of Oz’ that has been in your family for over 100 years, your colorful modern book looks… well… like it doesn’t belong…

So you rush to the computer and do searches on what it would take to get just one leather bound copy of your book, just for your shelf. And you quickly discover that it is very easy to get 100, faux leather bound books for a very dear price, but it is next to impossible to get one, true leather bound book for a rational price.

And now your searches lead you to lots and lots of videos on people who bind books themselves. Some of the results are horrific, but some are really very, quite nice. So you start watching these videos and thinking – “Well I could do that.”

And then you start to really think about doing that. And you discover that to do it the same way as the lovely young lady in the videos, it takes a huge amount of equipment – and that equipment is both heavy, expensive and currently residing in someone’s attic 1000 miles away and they are willing to sell it to you, as long as you take your own vehicle to pick it up. And you take a look at your 1972 Volkswagen Bug and you know THAT isn’t going to happen. And even if you tried, the bug would probably be squashed by the heavy book binding equipment before you even got out of the previous owner’s driveway.

So you move on to plan B. You decide – “Well I could probably do this with the tools I have in the kitchen, my craft closet and the garage, in fact, I am going to make a game of this and see how little money I can pay out of pocket to make myself a leather bound book.” And you get started.

The first part is easy – you use google to help you figure out how to get your manuscript printed into the booklets (called signatures by the nice lady on the computer videos) and you print and fold and print and fold and print and fold. Voila – for no cost at all, except replacing your printer cartridge and using up all that leftover resume paper you had laying around – you have the “guts” of your book.

Out of craft closet – you grab your embroidery frame – it looks a lot like the fancy sewing table the nice lady has – and you are confident that it will work, and once you use the Yahtzee game that your parents gave you for Christmas to build up your “sewing table” it really does work rather nicely. And you follow the advice of the nice lady, use some turkey trussing twine from the kitchen and some thick thread from the craft closet and you get what she calls a book block. Two cutting boards and all the “C” clamps you can scrounge out of the garage makes your book press, your favorite hammer becomes your book backing hammer and soon your book block is ready for binding.

You cut book board from an old hat box you didn’t really like anyway, and your trusty school glue gets the boards onto your block. A needle, some embroidery thread and ribbon from the craft closet and a few choice words, and an hour later you have some crooked but acceptable endbands.

So far – you are doing rather well on your adventure. You have spent absolutely no money, completely destroyed the garage, the kitchen and the craft closet, stuck your fingers together a time or two with craft glue – but you have what looks suspiciously like a book – without the leather cover.

Well, if you are like me, there are no animal skins lurking in the garage, or the kitchen or the craft closet. The only skins available are on the family dogs who are rather partial to keeping their skins for a few more years, and your own, which you figure is too thin for the project anyway.

So you go back to the computer. Aha! There are any number of places that will sell you an animal skin. They even claim that they are split to a degree that you will need to do little or no paring (whatever that is.) So, do you get calf or goat or sheep or deer skin? Well of course you put it to a family vote and they opt for the deer. And so you order one. Not really knowing what to expect.

A few days later, for your $100, the deer skin arrives. Being a city dweller, you have never seen deer skin on anything but a living deer in movies – or possibly on a purse or a pair of moccasins – and what comes out of the packing tube looks nothing like a purse. In fact it looks a lot like a deer that has lost a run in with a steam roller.

i Bookbinding - Leather

And to top that, it is HUGE. It covers your entire dining room table. And there are two rather suspicious, quarter sized holes in the skin – that you realize are the holes that caused the deer to meet his demise. Suddenly, 100 books in faux leather for an obscene price doesn’t sound so bad. But you pull up your big girl panties and cut out a rectangle for your book and roll up the rest and put it back in its packing tube and hide it in the back of the craft closet. Hoping that your neighbors didn’t notice it lying on your dining room table and don’t turn you in to the local animal rights chapter.

Now that it is a rectangle, you don’t feel so bad, because purses are rectangles, so all is good. The nice lady on the computer tells you to get your paring knife and pare down the leather. So you go to the kitchen and get your best paring knife and scrape the edges of the leather for a while. Lots of fuzz comes off, so you must be doing it right. When you are buried in fuzz, you decide that you must be done, although the leather doesn’t really look all that different than when you started. But oh well – forge on…

You find that the nice young lady stopped making videos of her bookbinding at this point, so you are now on your own, but you can do this, you know you can. You have leather the right size, an awesome book block waiting to be covered, and an extra-large bottle of school glue – how much more ready could you be?

So off you go, and you bind that book, and actually, except for a few lumps here and there – it doesn’t look half bad if you do say so yourself.

i Bookbinding - Prior to gluing down end papers

All that is left are those beautiful end papers that your other leather bound books have – so you slap those puppies in and close the book and put it back in the cutting board press to dry, unbeknownst to you, wrinkling those end papers beyond recognition in the process – but you really don’t care – it just has to look good on a shelf, after all.

i Bookbinding - Finished Book

Considering you have enough leather left over in the back of the craft closet to make three or four more books (or purses for that matter) you figure you spent about $25 to make your book. And after you have vacuumed all the fluff away and put away all of your tools,  and slam the craft closet closed before anything scary can fall out, you place your leather bound book on the shelf between ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Ozma of Oz’ and step back to admire your work…

And smile…


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

i Bookbinding - Books on a Shelve-2