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"I love the way it enables me to let go and get completely lost in making"

This is a guest post by Cass Barron, founder of Bookbinding With Cass.

Hello there, I’m Cass – a Bookbinder, Maker, Community Artist and Nature-lover based in Edinburgh. I am passionate about the craft of bookbinding and inspiring people across the land to transform remnant and recycled materials into unique and usable books!

Making a book from scratch, by hand, is such a satisfying process and there is something quite special about writing or drawing in a book you have made to your own specifications! Handmade books make great gifts too with lots of opportunity to add

personal touches that make them as unique as the person you are gifting them too.

In this blog post I will share a bit about how I came to bookbinding, why I love making books out of upcycled materials so much and hopefully inspire you to give it a go yourself!

When I say I am a Bookbinder, some of the common questions I get asked are:

What books have you written?

Do you work in a library?

Can you repair old books?

So to answer these up front...

What books have you written?

I am not an author or book illustrator, I largely show people how to make the physical book structure, not the contents, which in very basic terms consists of a hard or soft cover with pages stitched to it or encased within it. Like many heritage crafts, bookbinding used to be a more common profession, but mechanical processes and advances in technology mean that books no longer need to be made by hand. That said, there are some fabulous professional bookbinders around and a growing interest in the craft of bookbinding, which is great to be part of!

Do you work in a library?

No, but I am surrounded by books most of the time, mainly ones I have made or collected. I work mostly from my studio in Leith, which is in a converted shipping container – quite fitting that my workspace has been upcycled just like the type of books I like to make!

Can you repair old books?

Good question! There are many different types of and approaches to bookbinding, conservation binding being one of these, which is a really specialist skill that I admire greatly but am not trained in, so when asked I generally refer people to a trained Conservation Binder.

Upcycled Bookbinding

I call my style of bookbinding ‘Upcycled Bookbinding’ - here’s why.

When I moved to Edinburgh in 2010 to start my first proper 9-5 job, as a way to meet like-minded folk and weave some hands-on making into my week, I began volunteering with Remade in Edinburgh, now The Edinburgh Remakery - a fantastic community organisation that promotes a zero-waste economy, encouraging people to repair, reuse and recycle everything from IT equipment and furniture to textiles.

I was responsible for devising and delivering workshops for the local community, sharing sewing skills and showing people how to repurpose donated fabric into usable items. One day a big piece of leather from an old sofa was donated to the project and I instantly saw a library of upcycled leather-bound books (this was my lightbulb moment)!

I had some experience of bookbinding from my time at Art School - I was a bit of an obsessive sketcher during this time, drawing and re-drawing until I felt ready to get my sculptures off the page and into the world, this meant I went through sketchbooks like no tomorrow! In an attempt to save money, I started making my own books out of scrap paper, using wood and card offcuts as the covers. I really enjoyed being able to make my these the size and shape I wanted, including the type of paper I liked to sketch on – no more buying overpriced sketchbooks that weren’t quite right!

So, when the piece of old sofa leather crossed my path, without thinking too much about it, I set about developing a series of bookbinding workshops with the aim to equip people with the skills and confidence to create their own handmade books, while simultaneously diverting materials from landfill.

I really enjoy the creative challenge of using remnant materials and working out what type of book structures and bindings to combine them with. I also love to incorporate the imperfections and markings you often get on materials that have had a life as something else, which give the books real character!

In the years that followed my lightbulb moment, I continued to develop my offer of upcycled bookbinding workshops, teaching at evenings and weekends alongside my day-job. Then in 2019 I took the plunge, handed in my notice and went fully freelance to see if I could make a living doing what I loved…and what a journey it’s been!

Over the past 2 years I have worked with a wide range of community organisations, running creative projects that explore personal wellbeing, the natural environment, local heritage and the circular economy via the craft of bookbinding.

I have also teamed up with some extremely talented makers to create a dynamic programme of workshops that combine bookbinding with everything from eco-printing and journaling, to cyanotype printing and sketching. I love how bookbinding can be combined with so many different techniques, and teaming up with other creatives means that I am continually learning new processes too!

Seeing participants leave my workshops proud of what they have created gives me a real buzz and I love that this is just the beginning of a creative journey - people go on to use the books they make with me for all sorts of things, from sketchbooks and recipe journals to photo albums and memory books. Putting pen/pencil to paper is a great way to slow down and create something really personal - it is heartening to know that as our day-to-day becomes more digital and fast paced, people still value and get immense satisfaction from making and creating things by hand.

This past year, restrictions meant I could no longer run face-to face workshops, which resulted in me taking my workshops online. I quickly taught myself how to film and edit videos and launched my offering of online Upcycled Bookbinding workshops. These workshops take place in a variety of ways, from pre-recorded video tutorials you can watch at your own pace, to workshops that have a Zoom live element, with an opportunity to share your work, ask questions and meet your fellow classmates.

All workshops come with an optional materials/tool kit, which I strive to make as sustainable as possible with handmade bookbinding tools produced in the UK, eco packaging, lots of yummy remnant materials and my go-to Flat White paper, made from recycled takeaway cups. It's been great to see people gifting my kits to friends & family over lockdown and doing workshops together online! I also have lots of repeat participants who seem to love bookbinding just as much as I do – I think that part of the attraction is that there are so many book structures to learn and ways that different materials can be incorporated, so if you already dabble in other crafts, chances are you’ll have some offcuts that can be repurposed into books!

When I get time, I enjoy creating my own books too – these tend to be quite experimental and see me playing with the sculptural quality of the pages and cover, incorporating materials I find out and about in nature. So far I’ve made books from pebbles, items foraged from my local beach, leaf pressings from my garden and even a dried bean-pod! I find the whole process of bookbinding quite meditative and love the way it enables me to let go of any stresses or worries I might have and get completely lost in making.

If my booky ramblings have got you curious about the craft of bookbinding then I invite you to join me and have a go for yourself…

My April knack Workshop

My April workshop with knack shares some of my favourite book structures – a pamphlet stitch book, a cut and fold book and a Japanese stab bound book. We will work with decorative wallpaper samples to give your books character and I will share ideas for adding elements to your books that will make them functional and fabulous!

The kit will include all the materials you need to make 6 books (two of each kind) – I always think it’s good to make a few when learning a new method and this means that you will have a lovely set of books to keep and some to give away to friends & family (if you can bear to part with them)! You will also receive a set of reusable bookbinding tools so if you are interested in learning other bookbinding techniques after my knack workshop, you can save some money by selecting the ‘without tools’ option for any of my workshops.

I can’t wait to share the craft of bookbinding with you - I might be biased, but I think you’re going to love it!

Cass will be leading our April workshop, showing our members how to make a set of 6 books using 3 different techniques.