Book Arts Guild of Vermont workshop: Buttonhole Binding

Last Wednesday I taught the second of my bookbinding workshops during a five-day period (read about the other one here). This workshop was for the monthly meeting of the Book Arts Guild of Vermont.

The focus of the meeting was supposed to be about all of the different online resources for book artists – forums, blogs, suppliers, etc. The week before the meeting, I found out that we weren’t going to have any internet access.

Kinda puts a damper on a discussion of online resources.

So in a spectacular state of denial, I volunteered to develop a different program for the evening. After a resounding chorus of “Oh Crap!”, I settled on the buttonhole binding.

I had never done the buttonhole binding before.

Fingers crossed (well, toes crossed – I needed my fingers), I picked up my copy of Keith Smith‘s Non-Adhesive Binding Volume I: Books Without Paste or Glue, found his directions, and got to work.

Buttonhole binding

My very first buttonhole binding

My first attempt was not too bad. I learned that Lokta paper is not a wise choice for a buttonhole cover – too soft and mushy. Once I understood what materials were needed, I notified the Guild about the upcoming program. I prepped my supplies on Tuesday evening and was good to go for the workshop.

Buttonhole binding workshop supplies

Workshop supplies, all neat and pile-y

With the short notice, I assumed that I would have  a small crowd – there were 16 people!

I made a point of telling folks that I just taught myself the binding three days earlier, so it has to be an easy method to learn. Although I experienced some short-term nervousness, I got over it pretty quickly. I mostly became focused on making sure that people were getting help when needed.

Buttonhole binding workshop

Overall, I think the workshop went pretty well. I received some nice feedback from the participants too, which made me feel good. I think that I’m gradually becoming more comfortable with teaching groups of people. I’ve started mapping out a possible longer class in my mind – one that I might pitch to a local art center – I need to flesh it out a bit more first.

Buttonhole binding workshop - hands at work

One of the best things about this whirlwind of a class was that I finally learned a new binding that I’ve wanted to try for a few years. Sometimes I get stuck in trying new techniques because I’m so concerned about having them come out perfectly – I don’t allow myself the space to practice and learn. Having a deadline made me more motivated to finally get to it and to stop making excuses.

For those of you who know the buttonhole binding, I have a question:

When I went through my library of bookbinding books, I was only able to find the buttonhole binding directions in Keith Smith’s book. Did he invent/develop this binding?

If not, does anyone know the origin?

3 Responses to “Book Arts Guild of Vermont workshop: Buttonhole Binding”

By Katherine - 17 March 2009 Reply

I found instructions for the buttonhole binding (which they term Buttonhole Stitch) in The Encyclopedia of Papermaking and Bookbinding, by Heidi Reimer-Epp and Mary Reimer, 2002 edition. The instructions are four pages long and well-illustrated, but the authors don’t mention anything about how the binding was developed. Interestingly, I tried this binding for the first time in mid-January, before your workshop announcement was posted on the Book Arts Guild webpage. I also used a somewhat soft paper for the cover, and ended up having to reinforce it on the cut-out part because it started to rip. Though I really liked the result, I had trouble with the signatures slipping around when I was sewing and the long exterior stitches on the cover not staying straight. I used a very thick waxed thread from Volcano Arts and maybe that was what was causing the trouble. The end result looked interesting, but I haven’t tried it again 🙂

By elissa - 17 March 2009 Reply

Hi Katherine,

Thanks for pointing out the Reimer reference – I actually have that book and must have skipped over it in my frenzy. For those who have the book, you can find the directions on pages 102-105.

In the workshop we used embroidery thread that we waxed by hand. I was wondering if waxed linen thread would look better because it was stiffer…your comment makes me wonder. I’ll have to give it a go and see what happens. I did have issues with getting the signatures to behave. In times like these, a third hand would be really helpful.


By Stitchworks-jackie - 28 March 2009 Reply

Very brave to teach 16 like that; I think they were lucky.It is difficult to practise binding, I have the same problem I can’t get started because I’m so worried about messing up. I’m a long way behind you of course.

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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