Ouroboros Binding

This binding is a combination of late Coptic structure with a limp binding leather-covered sewing support cut through outer cover. The boards are sewn as the first and last signatures, then pasted together to make cartonnage boards. When the leather sewing support thongs are then laced through the boards, the book has bound itself to itself, making an ouroboros structure.


Ouroboros binding

Ouroboros binding


Drawing done in July, 2014


Sewing frame with double cords


Cover leather with thongs


Cover Leather glued together


First stitching


Inside of cover with first stitching


Cover with both stitched attachments


Textblock on sewing frame with leather cover set before frame


Text block on sewing frame with leather cover


Sewing stations cut into spine


Sewing as it progresses on the frame


First and last signatures shown before making cartonnage for cover boards


Textblock sitting on cover leather

Determining placement of text block on cover leather.


Cover with sewing support slots cut


Lined textblock in press, awaiting black leather liner


Cover laid over spine of textblock to insure alignment with sewing supports


Spine leather laid on spine of textblock in press


Black leather liner in place, cover laid over for alignment


Template to insure alignment of black leather liner


Black leather liner/support caps in place and laced through


Sewing endbands


Textblock with sewing supports covered, leather cover ready to attach


Cover leather set in place over spine


Pasted up cover leather


Cover leather drawn over cartonnage boards


The Ouroboros process continues. Thongs pulled through to outside cover, ready for lacing.


Pasting up watercolor paper first and last signatures to make the first layer of the Ouroboros structure.


Thongs now laced through cover leather


Wrapping cover leather over cartonnage boards


Cutting endcaps for spine turn-in


Turning in at covers, leaving endcaps exposed


Trimmed cover leather for endcaps


Endcaps turned in, leather ready to turn in around boards


Thongs passing through cover prior to turn-ins


Spine support cover leather showing inside outter leather cover


Turning in leather over cartonnage boards


Cover leather turned-in


Cover over boards, ready for lacing through boards


Holes punched through boards ready for lacing


Thongs laced through cartonnage boards making the Ouroboros binding active


Cartonnage showing laced thongs prior to pasting up endpapers


Manipulating leather turn-ins and corner cuts


Paste-downs in place


Endpapers with textblock open


Back endpapers


New book splayed open to show covers and spine


Speaking Out About Girdle Books!


I’ll be teaching a class on making Girdle Books at SFCB beginning next Saturday, January 25, 2014. It’s a series of 5 Saturdays where students will fold paper, sew text blocks onto cords, then cut and shape quarter-sawn oak boards and lace them onto the text block. Covering in leather with a long “tail” that is tied into a turk’s head knot allows the reader to carry the book hanging from their belt – or girdle as it was called then. The students will shape the wood, drill it and lace on cords and after covering they will work metal for clasps.


The Hand Book Binders of California have asked me to speak about my work on Tuesday, February 4th at 7:00, if you plan to attend, get there a little early as I think I start near 7:00. I’m speaking at SFCB located at 375 Rhode Island St., San Francisco.

While I will be speaking out about girdle books – I promise to be unfettered in my comments. I may even talk about my own work and bring a few things I’ve made. This being my latest example of a medieval pocketbook. After the big send-up that my friend, Simran Thadani gave me at the Colophon Club last week, I’ve got to step my efforts to entertain! ūüėČ See you on the 4th!




Interview with Jennie Hinchcliff; proprietoress of redletterdayzine blog

Jennie Hinchcliff will be teaching two classes:

Structures With Style: Secret Belgian Binding Class¬†–¬†March 9, 2013
10:00 am ‚Äď 5:00 pm$120 + 20 materials fee (must bring to class)

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Creative Caterpillar Binding Class¬†–¬†March 23, 2013
10:00 am ‚Äď 5:00 pm¬†$120 + 20 materials fee (must bring to class)

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Jennie’s a lot of fun & is a talented ball of fire. I had the pleasure of working with her when I taught at the SFCB and then when we were on the board of the Pacific Center For Book Arts. I keep thinking up things to do with her because she’s always got a great attitude and comes up with great ideas and projects.

I wrote Jennie a few questions that seemed pertinent to let students know what kind of teacher they would encounter in these great classes. Of course, I wanted to be serious. 

Why are you a book artist/postal modern, instead of the ruler of the free world?
“Ruler of the Free World” is a great title to put on the ol’ CV, but it seems like a straight up 9-5 job…I’m pretty attached to keeping my own hours.

Did you ever think you’d be making a living by making art?
I can’t imagine¬†how else¬†I’d be making a living, to tell you the truth.

What is it about mail-art that fascinates and enthralls you? 
I love the whole philosophy of mail art: anyone can take part, that it can be as simple or as complicated as one wants and people exchange with each other because they want to — not out of obligation. ¬†Mail art goes far beyond being passionate about the USPS, although that definitely plays a part. The artists and letter writers I’ve met through the mail art Network are incredibly creative; I feel so fortunate to correspond with the likes of¬†Cascadia ArtPost,¬†John Held, Jr.,¬†Reed Altemus,¬†Sally Wurlitzer…there are too many to name, all truly talented artists. Every time I stop by my PO box, it’s like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one. Mail artists have a saying, that “the mailbox is a museum” and it’s oh-so-true.

When did you know that making books and doing mail-art wasn’t just a passing fancy?
I’ve always made things with my hands; as a kid I would make little books and fill them with goofy stories. My grandmother and I would make origami animals or glue up collages — things like that. I was first introduced to mail art when I checked out the book¬†“SWAK: The Complete Book of Mail Fun for Kids” by Randy Harelson¬†from my grade school library; as a fifth grader, I couldn’t believe that there was a community of people who sent wacky things to each other through the mail. Because things like paper, postage, and books are so much a part of who I am, I never considered them as passing fancies.

What is your five-year plan for changing the world through your artistic endeavors? 
Well, I can neither confirm nor deny that my five year plan is currently in effect. But I can tell readers of the Biblioforge blog that the plan-which-shall-not-be-named will involve plenty of stamps (postage AND rubber!), lots of postcards, and a workshop or three. There might even be an artist book series and a postmaster thrown in for good measure.

Will you show mercy on the congressional ogres that keep undermining the good in the USPS once you’ve taken control?
(Taking a deep breath, stepping away from the soapbox) I think that every lawmaker who has had a hand in decimating the USPS should have their Saturday delivery service taken away and their¬†free mailing/postal privileges¬†revoked. This would be a step in the right direction towards awareness of how important the USPS is to individuals, as well as the country.¬†Fact: the current USPS vs. the US government situation is confusing, but anyone who uses the postal system should understand the basics of how this happened. And then, I would invite Biblioforge readers to sign the¬†“The Post Office Isn’t Broke, It’s Being Robbed”¬†petition.

Final thoughts?
I’m looking forward to teaching at Biblioforge in March! Workshops are one of my favorite ways to meet new folks who are enthusiastic about making books. I love skill sharing with students, seeing that “aha!” moment occur when someone “gets it” as far as learning a new book structure is concerned. After all, there’s no substitute for holding a “real” book in your hands: turning the pages at your own pace, feeling the paper. And if you’ve made that book yourself? Well, there’s truly nothing like it.

Jennie Hinchcliff currently teaches book arts classes in Fine Art Department at the Academy of Art University, as well as numerous workshops nationally and locally. You can follow her postal adventures at: http://redletterdayzine.wordpress.com/ 



A visit with Tom Conroy

Tom Conroy holds a small bible - for scale

Tom Conroy holds a small bible – for scale

I went by Tom Conroy’s house on Wednesday after having visited the Robbins Collection at Berkeley Law. Tom and I are going to teach a woodworking for bookbinders class in the fall using a few local wooden-board bindings as models.

Bookbinding often means book repair or rebinding, not just new bindings. Tom has a select clientele that uses him for this, and one customer had left a miniature bible for Tom to repair and rebind. Here you see it in his hands, and below you’ll see it again.

Using a foot-treadle lathe allows Tom to take the time to do woodworking slowly (by our modern electric tool standards). When he was learning how to make finishing presses, he made these small little sample presses. He gave a few away, but kept this one. It was hanging out on the mantle, so I grabbed it and put the little bible in it.



It’s not a very big press. But it wasn’t easier to make – it was harder!

Tom has been at this for a while, yet considers himself a student rather than a master. He’s still perfecting binding craft – both forwarding and finishing¬†as well as becoming a better woodworker. His interest in tools has resulted in the publication of a 20+ year research project about binding tools:¬†Bookbinder’s Finishing Tool Makers 1780-1965.¬†Knowledge of the literature is one thing: Tom knows the tools because he has found them in piles of greasy rags, under workbenches, in old wooden boxes, etc. And he has made his own brass tools, knives, saws, awls, fids, etc., and teaches how to make them as well.


He loves using tools – and he likes traditional bindings – even enough to make his own!

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Modern books bound in an historic style – it’s not a common sight. His library shelves are filled with bindings he has done on trade hardbacks that he has purchased, read and bound.

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Just so you know that Tom has a sense of humor and a bit of the risque – as every binder should. ūüėČ Look at the spine and tooling.

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Here you see Tom bending the book inside-out. A sure sign of a well made book. And a clear freak-out for those that haven’t seen this before.

When we teach, we get a little boisterous with our books when showing how sturdy they are. Our lively interchange keeps students alert while keeping us on our toes.


Medieval Pocketbooks in Oakland

Four people showed up for the Medieval Pocketbook and made steady progress throughout the day.

The text block consisted of six signatures  totaling 96 pages. They folded, punched and sewed on cords.

Punching holes in signatures in preparation for sewing

Punching holes in signatures in preparation for sewing

When that was completed, they pasted up the spine and set the text block aside. The next challenge was to take wooden boards and shape them with a chisel. The shaping is designed to keep the book from being too heavy and remove edges that can hurt the owner or get damaged in use. Two students had never used a chisel before, so they were excited to develop some skill in using this tool.

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Once the boards were shaped, they drilled the boards to accept the cords and cut a channel for the cords to lay in.

A quick lining of the spine with linen helps to consolidate the connection of text block to board attachment.

They chose leather and decided about metal decoration next. In some instances, leather was applied prior to metal, and in others, metal went on the boards first.

Metal selection

Metal selection

As the afternoon wound up, the books were completed to the level each student wanted. (One student wanted to make an exposed model to remind her of the structure).

Notes by Jennie Hinchcliff of RedLetterDayZine

Notes by Jennie Hinchcliff of RedLetterDayZine

Making something from paper, thread, wood, leather and metal gives one insight into the mechanics of the reading machine called ‚Äúbook‚ÄĚ and it continues to enthrall the craftsperson that makes one.

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Finished books!

Finished books!

I’ll be doing this again on February 9th, for those that couldn’t make it last Saturday.


BiblioForge.biz begins

National guillotine

This very nice tabletop guillotine took up residence in West Oakland at BiblioForge just yesterday, January 17, 2013 – on Art’s Birthday! Thanks to encouragement from friends like Jennie Hinchcliff, I am realizing a goal I’ve had for a while. Workshop space where books/art are made and classes are taught.

Bookbinding, calligraphy, letterpress, printmaking, papermaking and good ol’ art have long been avocations, professions and passions of mine; and now living in W. Oakland I am embarking on this new effort.

I trained as a scribe, binder, conservator and librarian. I continue to study binding structure and design by looking at books in collections throughout the US. Making books that work well and last while looking good is the focus of my design mindset.

Tomorrow is the first class – The Medieval Pocketbook. Where else are you going to be able to make a wooden-board book in one day? Nowhere but West Oakland! ūüėČ



I made this book in 1992 and used it as my calendar for 1993, putting it in my back pocket and sitting on it, pulling it out to use many times a day. The back cover snapped, so I made a silver panel repair. Then I added the rectangle of nickle silver in the upper right. When the wood cracked near the leather, I put that patch in. Near the ned of the year, the outer corner of the wood broke and I tried to repair it with the brass patch at the top. That didn’t work and I lost the little corner piece. By the time I retired the book that year, it had shown its scars and wear patterns quite well. This is the type of book that we’ll make in the class.

I’m starting off slowly, with this as my first class. I’ve lined up teachers with varied backgrounds as a means of expanding the offerings. Jennie Hinchcliff, Ward Dunham, Jody Alexander, Tom Conroy and Patricia Wakida have committed to classes this spring. In another post I’ll list the schedule for those upcoming classes, and I think it’ll be a lot of fun for students and teachers alike.

In addition to classes, I will be writing about books, history, art and maybe even motorcycles.