A Needle Pulling Thread: The Basics of Book Binding

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Guest artist Professor Joseph Lappie leads a bookmaking workshop in Garwood 13

Shaggy brown hair, a beard, glasses, and a t-shirt sporting a cat playing the banjo. What could such a man as Professor Joseph Lappie possibly have been doing in Garwood 13 on such an unassuming Friday morning? Using terminology such as guillotine, tail, kettle stitch, and spine there really is only one possible answer. He was leading a book binding workshop, of course!

Prof. Lappie visited Western Illinois University from St. Ambrose University where he teaches a number of courses in printmaking and book arts. His art exhibition, Always Toward the Space and Moment, will be on display in the University Art Gallery from January 17-March 17, 2015.

I was among the fortunate ten to fifteen people allowed the honor of taking two hours off work and skipping a class (sorry Professor Kiebel) to attend the five hour long workshop in which we were instructed in how to measure, stitch, and glue together our own homemade books—also known as every English Major super-nerd’s dream come true!

Right from the start, Prof. Lappie assured us that though we would be learning simplified versions of the types of books he’d be demonstrating how to make, “it will still be sexy.” Unfortunately, the general public does not seem to share Prof. Lappie’s enthusiasm for the aesthetics of books, or libraries would probably be a lot more popular. You must admit though, these little guys are pretty handsome.

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Prof. Lappie taught four book binding techniques

As we passed around our materials for the first book, Prof. Lappie explained the purpose of the different types of paper we were being handed. I was most interested in the endpaper. The endpaper, Prof. Lappie explained, is the decorative paper after the cover of the book, but before the actual story. He described it as the pause or breath that a reader experiences before passing from the real world into the world of the book. That’s right, you’ve read correctly: I created portals to another world! I’ll be here all week.

Prof. Lappie taught the gathered faculty and students four different book binding techniques. We started with the Basic 3-Hole Pamphlet Stitch, which covered many of the basic stitching techniques that we would use on later books. After everyone completed the 3-Hole Pamphlet Stitch with minimal difficulties, we moved on to a simplified version of the Japanese Four Hole Stab Bind (which sounds more like a karate move than a book binding technique to me). We then moved from the needle to the glue bottle to make a book using the Drum Leaf Binding technique, which conveniently allowed for a lunch break as our bindings dried beneath the chunks of cement we used to weigh them down. Lastly, we returned to the needle to try our hand at the most complex technique so far, the Link Stitch technique (which I promise you is much more complicated than it sounds).

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Some of the materials used to make books. From left to right: Bone folder, needle, awl, waxed thread

Despite how much I enjoyed the workshop and the visual evidence above of my success in creating my own books, I knew right off the bat that this was not my life calling. One of the first steps—threading the needle—took me so long that eventually I had to interrupt Prof. Lappie’s instruction so he could thread it for me. This pattern continued the rest of the workshop. I was always the last one to finish a step and often had to ask those around me how to continue since they were all three steps ahead of me. There’s a reason I’m majoring in English.

With sore fingers and a feeling of triumph I emerged from Garwood 13, my four creations safely stowed in my backpack and my new knowledge of book making safely stowed in my mind. I learned how to bind my own books and through all of the stabbing, pasting, and cutting I never had to pull out one of my emergency band-aids. That makes for a day successfully spent in my book. (pun intended)

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