Trip to Ryozo Paper, Echizen

My trip to Echizen almost ended in paper tragedy – at first, we were unable to get into a papermaking studio.

When we arrived at Papyrus House, we were given a map that listed a number of studios. When I asked which studio they recommended for a visit, we were told that the studios were closed because everyone was working.

We were baffled. Why list studios on a map if they weren’t open to the public? Then the realization sunk in – I traveled to Japan and wouldn’t be able to visit any studios. I was not happy.

The hubby and I called up our host and asked for help. He hopped in his car and zipped on over. He looked at the map and whipped out his phone. Within five minutes, we were on our bikes heading towards the Ryozo Paper studio.

We arrived at a nondescript building in what looked like a residential neighborhood.

Ryozo papermaking facility

I wasn’t sure that we were in the right place until I saw a small sign with a piece of handmade paper on it. Confirmed.

Sign on front of the Ryozo papermaking facility

We entered the studio and were warmly greeted by the studio’s owner, Ryozo Yanase. The studio was not at all like I was expecting – it was quite an operation.

On the sides of the room, there were three women at separate vats pulling sheets of paper. The screens were attached to ropes that hung from the ceiling, which I assume helps to relieve some of the weight when pulling sheets.

Woman creating sheet of handmade paper in Japan at Ryozo paper

Two of the women created solid base sheets. After a sheet had been formed, the screen was carried over to a slow-moving conveyor belt and the sheet was transferred to it.

Woman transferring sheet of handmade paper to a conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

The third woman made paper on what looked like a silk screen with a floral pattern. She’d scoop up pulp with the screen and the pulp would settle wherever the pattern was located. Where the screen was solid, the watery pulp would just wash off the screen. The result was more like small, individual pieces of paper than a sheet – the flowers weren’t connected in any way.

The artisan laid her work on top of each base sheet that traveled down the conveyor belt.

Woman transferring sheet of handmade paper to a conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

Handmade sheet of paper on conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

At the end of the conveyor belt, the sheet would get pulled under a ginormous metal roller. The water would get squeezed out of the sheet and it would get super flat.

Handmade sheet of paper on conveyor belt in Japan at Ryozo paper

The sheet would stick to the roller when it came out the other side and it was carried up to man on a platform near the top of the roller. He’d peel off the sheets and add them to an ever-growing pile.

Man pulling sheet of paper off giant metal roller at Ryozo paper

Wait, why am I explaining all of this in words when I can just show you the video I took? Warning: This is hypnotizing.

After breaking from the spell of watching paper being made, I took some time to look around the studio. Sheets of paper hung from the ceiling and in front of windows. It was lovely.

Sheet of handmade paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging in front of a window at Ryozo paper

Sheet of handmade lace paper hanging in front of a window at Ryozo paper

The wood supports (keta) for the screens (su) were also hung from the ceiling. The keta is a double-hinged frame made of Japanese cypress that holds the screen when a sheet is pulled.

Keta (part of the sugeta) hanging from the ceiling at Ryozo paper

Thank goodness for technology! We were able to communicate with the artist by using Google Translate on our phone. He used his iPad to do the same. I usually feel like technology creates distance between people, but in this case, it definitely brought us together.

He said that he’d been making paper for 25 years and that they produce 800 sheets of paper each day. There were buckets of pulp everywhere.

Plastic buckets full of red paper pulp

Plastic buckets full of purple and mixed paper pulp

There were buckets of wet hibiscus root (neri), a gooey substance that’s added to pulp to aid with fiber dispersion. It also helps slow down water drainage during the sheet forming process, which gives the maker more time to form an even sheet.

Plastic bucket with hibiscus root

At the end of our visit, we gave Yanase a gift of maple candy and thanked him for his hospitality. He returned the gesture by giving me a lovely sheet of lace paper – totally unexpected. The paper is so dreamy

The pattern is called uzumaki, which is the Japanese word for spiral. It measures 23.875″ x 35.75″ (grain short).

Handmade lace paper by Ryozo paper

Handmade lace paper by Ryozo paper


If you’re interested in checking out the facility for yourself, here are the details:

  • Address: 10-1 Otaki cho, Echizen-shi, Fukui Prefecture (Google Map)
  • Phone: 0778-42-1155 (I highly recommend that you call them in advance. Don’t wing it like I did.)
  • Public transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop. Assuming that you’re now at Papyrus House, you’ve got a 10 minute walk to get to Ryozo Paper. Here’s a Google Map that can help get you there.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 44 (although I did get a sheet of paper at Ryozo, I didn’t buy it so it doesn’t count)

Trip to Papyrus House, Echizen

We started our Echizen paper journey at Papyrus House. It’s kind of a mush of an information center, store, workshop space, and exhibit hall. The building exterior is nondescript and doesn’t come close to indicating what’s inside. You could just walk right by it and never realize it was there.

Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

But holy crap – the interior. Just inside the entrance was this fantastic wall piece composed of folded origami cranes.

Origami artwork at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Artwork composed of origami cranes at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

And then there were these insane pieces hanging from the ceiling – all of them included tons of origami pieces.

Folded paper sculptures at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Folded paper sculptures at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

There was a display that showed the papermaking process and all of the little figures were made of paper.

Papermaking display at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Papermaking display at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

If you feel inspired to create while at Papyrus House, you’re in luck – they’ve got a studio where you can take a quick papermaking workshop.

And if you feel inspired to shop, you’re also in luck – Washidokoro Echizen offers a wide variety of products (fans, books, cards), all made from Japanese paper. 

Gift shop at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Yep – they also sell sheets of paper, many of which were made locally. So.much.paper.

Paper shelves at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Paper shelves at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

Most of the rolled paper you see in the image below cost just ¥100 (less than $1.00 USD)! This is the part where you picture me doing a happy dance.

Rolls of paper at Papyrus House in Echizen, Japan

So some shopping happened.

This sheet of Chiyogami with Samurai dudes was just too fabulous to pass up. It measures 28.25″ x 25.5″ (grain short).

Chiyogami paper with Samurai
Next I selected a few machine-made sheets with different designs. These papers don’t look printed. They seem to have two layers – the bottom sheet is a solid color, while the top sheet is a patterned, light color. I think that the pattern in the top layer is created like a watermark. All of the sheets measure 21.625″ x 31.5″ (grain long).

Machine-made Japanese paper with pink flowers

Machine-made Japanese paper with yellow flowers

Machine-made Japanese paper with blue flowers

The next paper was another machine-made sheet. It’s soft and has a crinkled texture. I’m pretty sure that this sheet is also made from two layers of paper. It measures 21.875″ x 31.5″ (grain long)

Japanese machine-made crinkled paper with peach and cream circles

The next two papers are machine-made and have lovely shiny fibers floating on the surface. This yellow sheet measures 21.875″ x 31.875″ (grain long).

Yellow Japanese machine-made paper with stripes and fibers

Interestingly, the purple sheet isn’t the same size – it measures 21.625″ x 31.75″ (grain long).

Purple Japanese machine-made paper with stripes and fibersThis next sheet is probably my favorite from today – it’s a handmade wood-grained lace paper. It is simply gorgeous – thin, delicate, and floaty. It measures 23.875″ x 35.75″ (grain short).

If you’d like to see how it’s made, check out Awigami Factory’s video. The process is really fascinating.

Japanese wood-grained tissue paper

Japanese wood-grained tissue paper

The next two papers are machine-made papers. They’re crinkled and reversible, which is awesome. Both sheets measure 31″ x 21.625″ (grain long).

Blue and orange reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper

Purple and yellow reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper

Then came two more crinkled sheets, but each has the same color on both sides.. The brown sheet measures 21.75″ x 32.125″ (grain long). It’s kinda chocolaty.
Brown Japanese crinkled paper

The purple sheet measures 22″ x 31.5″ (grain long).

Purple Japanese solid crinkled paperThe next two sheets are also machine-made, crinkled, and reversible. I love the crisscross pattern of the lines. The patterned side of the paper also has little iridescent flecks on it. Both sheets measure 21.625″ x 31.75″ (grain long).

Green reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper with lines

Blue reversible Japanese machine-made crinkled paper with lines

And the last sheet of the day – a brown Katazome paper, screen-printed with assorted symbols. It measures 24.875″ x 38″ (grain short).

Brown Japanese screen printed paper with symbols

If you’d like to check out the place for yourself, here’s the scoop:

  • Address: 8-44 Shinzaike-cho, Echizen City, Fukui (Google Map)
  • Phone: 0778-42-1363
  • Public Transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop. Click here to access a map of the area.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 44

Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 5

I can’t believe that it’s the last day of my Leather Binding Fundamentals class at the Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute. This week just zipped by!

Wait…don’t do anything stupid! The first time you open up a freshly-covered leather book, you could tear the leather. To prevent this from happening, wet down the joint on the outside and open the book gently. When applying water, feather it out with your brush. Once the book is open, wet down the inside of the joint at the turn-ins. Gently flex the covers back and forth to work the joint.

With that taken care of, our first task of the day was to remove the thin 2-ply mat board spacers that were added to the spine edge of our cover boards. Before doing this, we built up a platform of wood boards and sheets of bookboard to support the opened cover.

Karen recommended that we use a microspatula for this procedure. Using a knife, for obvious reasons, is a really bad option. I can’t believe how much time I spent scraping off small bits of mat board and the many glue boogers that had formed. It was very satisfying, however, to see the book go from this…
Inside cover edge of handbound leather book

…to this. So much cleaner.

Inside cover edge of handbound leather book

We then took off the plastic wrap from our text blocks (gasp). This was followed by removal of the tipped in sheets of waste paper. My text block was feeling very vulnerable at this point.

Inside cover edge of handbound leather book

The cambric hinges were trimmed to accommodate the turn-ins on each cover. Those awesome strips of cambric help to smooth out the insides of the joints when glued down. You apply PVA to both the inside of the joint and the cambric, then work it over the joint using a bone folder.

Karen gave a demonstration of how to fill in the inside of our covers. In a nutshell, you trim the fill and turn-ins at the same time. This idea is super-genius

Karen Hanmer doing a bookbinding demonstration

You start by preparing the fill, using a material that is the same thickness as your turn-ins. We used Stonehenge paper for our fill. Take dividers and measure the narrowest part of your turn-ins. You want to trim off as little of the turn-ins as you can.

Lay the fill on top of the inside of your cover, making sure that it creates an even margin on all of the edges. You should also back off a smidge from the spine edge of the book – this allows for any stretching of the fill.

When you’re ready to start trimming, place your book (and its support) on a piece of felt or flannel to protect the leather. Move the whole shebang to a board and plop a weight on top of the fill to keep it from moving.

Transfer the turn-in measurement from your dividers to the fill. Trim the fill and the leather at the same time, cutting through both layers with a knife. Don’t force the knife in an attempt to get it done in one cut – taking several shallow passes is a better strategy. And don’t contort your body as you trim – simply rotate the board lazy Susan-style to work on each side of the book.

When you’re done with the cuts, remove the weight and the fill. Gently peel away the excess leather from the turn-ins, pulling towards the outside edges of the book. Voila! Perfect fill. Be sure to mark the fill so that you remember how it all fits together.

Open handbound leather book

We used PVA to attach the fill to counteract the pull of the leather on the covers. Place the fill starting at the outside corners – you can always sand off excess fill at the spine edge of the board. In fact, that’s what I need to do.

So here’s what my book looks like now – it’s kinda sproingy and the covers clearly need to mellow:

Handmade leather bound book

And I still have to fix these problems:

Inside cover of handbound leather book

Tail end of a handbound leather book

I asked Karen what to do about these issues and here’s what she recommended:

  1. For the gouge on the inside cover, I can make spackle (leather shavings + PVA) and cram it in there. Afterwards, I can cover up the area with an onlay.
  2. The tear near the cover joint is probably in the world’s worst location. I can use an onlay to cover it, but I can’t let it interfere with the joint. The fact is that a bit of that hole is going to show. Poo.

Karen made some super-thin onlays for me, which was awesome. I’ll show you how it all turns out when I’m done playing book doctor.

That’s all the work we did on our books today, other than putting them under weight. Karen said that we needed to wait until our covers settled down before we could attach the end papers. It looks like I’ll have more work to do when I get home!

Hand-sewn leather-bound book under weight

By the way, I haven’t yet mentioned that the text block we bound included actual text – it was from The Art of Bookbinding: A Practical Treatise by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf. The book was originally published in 1890 and it’s now in the public domain.

Karen’s hubby printed copies of the text for us to bind – what a nice guy! If you’d like to do this yourself, you can download a copy of the book here.

Open handbound leather book with text

But the day wasn’t over yet – did I mention that there were plaquettes? We worked on these a bit earlier in the week, but there wasn’t much to talk about…until today. Today was Let Your Plaquette Have It Day.

Note: Our cover leather came to us pre-populated with an onlay that was not back-pared. I missed the whole story, but I did learn that this was due to the occurrence of the Leather-Spokeshave Incident of 2016. 

Karen showed us different decorative techniques for spicing up our plaquettes. The first technique I tried was inlaid lines. It all started with scoring a line in the leather using a bone folder. Easy enough.

Leather plaquette

Then you cut a super-thin strip of pared leather (0.3 mm thick) the same width as your scored line. Brush paste on the back of the strip.

Thin strip of leather

Brush some PVA on a piece of mylar and drag the leather strip through it, making sure to cover the back evenly. Lay the strip in the scored line and trim as needed. Cover the area with mylar and rub it down with a bone folder. If you get oozing PVA, just wipe it off with a wet sponge.

Next, I decided to try a simple onlay. I had some wicked-thin leather scraps left over from another workshop, so I didn’t have to do any paring. I just cut out a small shape, pasted it out, then attached it to the cover with PVA.

Last came tooling, which is essentially a controlled scorching of leather. I was really worried about burning myself. I hadn’t yet cut myself during the week, so I figured that an injury was on its way. Thankfully, I escaped unscathed.

After heating up shaped metal tools, you apply the hot tips to the leather to create marks. Well look at that, I made another line.

Leather plaquette

And then a little swirl on my onlay. What a cutie!

Closeup of leather plaquette

And that’s the very last thing I did, so that brings this class to a close. Sadness.

Many thanks to you, my short-term worktable. You were good to me, with your large surface and storage below. I have no love for you, stool. You had no lower rungs where I could prop my feet. Boo.

Clean worktable

If you’re on the fence about taking one of Karen’s classes, don’t be. I’m a repeat customer for a reason – actually several reasons. Karen is a skilled, kind, and patient teacher. And damn funny.

And speaking of funny, I’m so very sad to report that today is the final day of Karen quotes. Enjoy these last nuggets:

I yakety-yak so much.


It’s not me. It’s the skin.


Another ship in the armada that has sailed.


I don’t know what I want and I’m not making good decisions.

Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 4

Day four of my Leather Binding Fundamentals class at the Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute has come and gone. I can see the finish line – and there’s actual finishing there!

We started off the morning with Karen’s demonstration of how to cover our books in the leather we had prepared. There were many steps. Thankfully, the class would be split in half so that Karen could supervise the process – the first group would work with her before lunch and the rest of us would work post-chow.

Since I was in group two, I had time to work on my leather some more – now that I had rested, I was ready to give it another go.

Pared goat leather with Japanese tissue patches

Karen advised me to patch up my torn leather with pieces of Japanese tissue. I didn’t really care how the leather looked at this point – I just wanted to stabilize it so I could continue working. There was no way I was starting over.

I had a list of things to get done before I’d be ready to start covering my book. As I crossed these tasks off my list, I was reminded of how random it was that this Arches watermark ended up where it did on my inner cover lining. I showed it to Karen, who simply said no. This made sense – you don’t want to introduce anything to your cover that has variations in it. You want everything to be awesomely smooth.

Once I had all of my prep work done, I decided to tidy up my headbands. The ends of the headbands were very noticeable after having been trimmed, so I mixed up some acrylic paint and colored the ends.

Rolled leather headband

Hand-sewn headband

This is when I ate lunch. Then I came back. Time for the second group to get into some covering.

We started out by wetting down the hair side of the leather with a sponge – this helps prevent staining when pasting. We then flipped the skin over and pasted the entire surface with wheat paste. Once the paste on the leather was no longer shiny, we added a layer of paste to the book spine and one of the covers. Lastly, we added another later of paste to the leather.

Pared goat leather with brushed on wheat paste

We placed our books on our leather, making sure that the drawn guidelines matched up with the edges of the book cover. Paste was brushed onto the other cover. We then rolled the book over its spine until it landed on the leather. Again, we verified that the edges of the second cover matched up with the drawn guidelines on the leather.

Pared goat leather wrapped around hand bound text block

We rubbed the leather over the spine with the palms of our hands to help snug it up. I really enjoyed this process – it felt like I was giving my book a massage so it could work out all of the stress it had experienced during the week (dear book, I’m so sorry I cut you).

Next, we peeled back the leather on each cover, rolled it back down, and worked out the wrinkles out with our hands. Don’t use a bone folder. Using a bone folder mars the surface. There was repeated peeling back and reapplication of leather, followed by more smoothing. The paste stayed wet long enough to allow us to do this work.

Then came the series of steps that I messed up. Poo. I’m going to do my best to tell you how it was all supposed to go down, although I’m not convinced that my notes are accurate. Perhaps Karen will see this and let me know if any corrections are needed.

Inside the first cover, you trim the excess leather at the corners at a bevel. You then fold over the fore edge turn-ins. The head and tail turn-ins involve a bit of wizardry – you tuck them into the hollow at the spine. Those slits we cut in the hollow yesterday? They create the flexibility you need to finagle the leather behind the spine (very clever).

Where the turn-ins meet at the inside corner, you trim the leather as needed to create a 45 degree angle. The leather should overlap slightly with no visible gaps. You can press it with your bone folder once, but that’s it. No oversmushing, please.

Leather corner inside the book cover

Lastly, you do this cool pleating thing at the tips of the corners to neaten everything up.

Leather corner inside the book cover

Next you set your joints. Lay a piece of wood on top of the text block, against the joint. Gently push the fore edge of the cover towards you, into the board.

On to the forming of the headcaps, which is a nifty process. You start by pressing the tip of your bone folder into the joints at the head and tail, about 0.5″ up from the edge. It’s kinda like giving your joint a cleft chin. My book now has the Ben Affleck.

Karen made us a tool for working on the headcaps, but I’m saving details about that for another post. Anyway, the tool wrapped around the book, aligned with the joints. You hold it in place while manipulating the leather at the end of your book. The leather should partially cover the headband. You’re basically tucking in the headband (reading it a story is optional).

After the first headcap is done, you move on to the second cover and form your corners. At this point, you might be tempted to open up the first cover and check out your handiwork. Don’t do it. It can wreck all of the work you just did. And if Karen catches you, she’ll give you the stink eye.

The remaining headcap is formed last. Here’s what a headcap looks like when Karen helps you – it’s so very plump and juicy.

Handmade leather bound book

And here’s what a headcap looks like when you do it yourself for the first time:

Now that the book is fully covered, it’s time to clean that baby! A gentle sponge bath does the trick quite nicely. You can also brush the surface of the leather with a silver polishing brush to clean up the grain.

Handmade leather bound book

Time to press and dry – make sure that the book is square first. Glue mylar to a piece of blotter paper and slide that sandwich (mmm…sandwich) into the joint with the mylar side down. Put the book in between two pieces of blotter and press boards, then put under weight. Swap out the blotters for dry ones every now and then to help the book dry more quickly.

Handmade leather bound book with inserted blotters

And that’s the end of day four. It feels so satisfying to have something that now looks like an actual book instead of a bunch of miscellaneous parts. Whee!

If you’re interested in a more detailed blow-by-blow account of the process (with more pictures), check out this blog post by Papercut Bindery. He pretty much nails it – we just didn’t do the string wrap at the joints.

Drum roll please…here are the quotes of the day:

You will all be mindless robots doing things my way.


That’s something I wouldn’t do, but you just saw me do it.


My work here is done. If you’ll excuse me.

Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 3

Welcome to the third day of class at the Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute’s Leather Binding Fundamentals. So far, I’ve written a total of 13.5 pages of notes to date. Yeah, I take lots of notes.

Here’s what my book looked like at the start of the day.

Tapes laced into the cover boards and secured with Japanese tissue

The first item on our agenda – sanding. Lots of it. And when you sand, you need to go into the basement or as Karen affectionately called it, the Hellmouth. As a longstanding fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I approved of her name choice.

We had to sand down any bumps that could be felt through the inner board linings.

Sanding down bumps on the inside of the front cover

Next we had to sand even, gradual bevels on the outside of the covers at the fore edge, head, and tail. The bevels started approximately 0.5″ away from the edges of the board. After the sanding was complete (with masks on, of course), we escaped the Hellmouth and returned to our classroom.

We cut back corners next. I totally can’t remember if I’ve done this before. If I’ve taken other workshops with Karen, then I probably have done this before. Anyway, this involved cutting a thin sliver off the inside of the covers at the spine edge, approximately 0.75″ high and a 1/2 board thickness deep. I don’t know why, but I found this task very satisfying.

Cutting the back corners of the covers

Hollow time! Yes folks, it’s time to fold up a tube of paper that gets stuck on the spine of the text block – this assists with the opening of the book and allows for the addition of tooling. When you make a hollow, you want to use a paper that doesn’t cockle when it gets wet – we used Arches text weight paper.

We cut 1″ slits along the top and bottom sides of the hollow to give us space to tuck in our leather headcaps (you’ll learn more about that tomorrow).

Hollow for the spine

Here’s the hollow stuck onto the spine of the text block. It looks rather happy there.

Hollow attached to the spine

Since the inner board lining was so much fun, of course we did the same to the outside of the boards. The paper used for the outer lining is based on the thickness of your shoulder – you want the board and spine surfaces to have a smooth transition (no ridges). We used PVA to glue on the linings instead of paste so that it wouldn’t exert a strong pull.

I’d like to mention that at this point in the day, Karen told me that I don’t have a beefy shoulder. Poor, wimpy shoulder. 🙁

Book with outer board lining applied

Once the lining was dry, we sanded down any bumps, just like we did with the inner board linings.

Here begins the leather portion of our program.

Things got demo heavy as Karen showed us how to prepare our leather for binding. We started by boarding our leather. What’s boarding? Well, if your leather is stiff, then you need to soften it up before working with it – this process is called boarding. You roll the skin back and forth in each direction so that it becomes more flexible. I found it very relaxing.

Next, we created paper templates to mark off how far our turn-ins would extend beyond the edges of our book covers. We were basically creating a map for leather paring. Notice how I kept getting confused about which end was up.

Paper template for covering leather

Once the template was done, we transferred the lines on to our skins. It’s getting real now.

Marked up cover leather

Then we got to watch a series of three paring demonstrations. Yes, three. We would be using three different tools for paring – a Schärf-Fix, a spokeshave, and a paring knife.

The Schärf-Fix would be used to pare down the leather on the outside edges of the skin (turn-ins). The spokeshave would be used to pare the leather at the spine of the book. Lastly, a paring knife would be used to pare the leather at both the headcaps (just above/below the ends of the spine) and the corners of the skin.

Karen showed us how it was done and of course, she made it look easy. It was not easy.

Karen Hanmer doing a paring demonstration

This is a Schärf-Fix:

Paring leather on the Scharf-fix

It scares the crap out of me. I cut myself on one once and I bled like crazy. In addition, I have a history as a leather shredder. To say that I was anxious using it is an understatement.

Paring leather on the Scharf-fix

But you know what? It was totally fine. It took a while for me to get the hang of it, but you know what they say about slow and steady. A few things I realized while using it:

  1. If your blade gets caught, slide the leather out and reposition it. Pretty much every time I did this, I was able to continue with no further issues.
  2. I had the greatest control when I pulled a little bit of the leather through, then repositioned my grip on it. I also found that the leather stretched less when I frequently moved my grip.
  3. Seriously, don’t be lazy. Just change the dang blade.

Spokeshave time! I had never used one of these before. Start off by securing your leather on a stone with blue tape to keep it from shifting (and creating problems). Gently push the device forward over the surface of the leather to shave off little bits. Remove the tape, rotate your leather, and repeat the process in the other direction. When the blade gets dull, run it over a strop.

I found using the spokeshave to be very relaxing. And I thought I was doing a pretty good job until I removed my tape and found this in one spot…

Torn leather

…and this in another. Didn’t I say something about problems?

Torn leather

It seems that I rolled the spokeshave over the tape, which bunched up – that’s when the leather got cut. Boo. It looks like I have some consultation with Karen in my future.

At this point I was feeling discouraged, but I pressed on – I used a paring knife to work on the headcaps and the corners. Thankfully, there was no drama there.

Pared goat leather

And that’s when I called it quits for the evening. It was after 9:00 p.m., which is my witching hour. It’s my gluing cut-off time and it definitely wouldn’t be any good for bladey things. To better understand where I’m coming from, please refer to Ted Mosby’s Nothing Good Happens After 2:00 a.m.

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for – Bits of Wisdom with Karen Hanmer:

Scrapey, scrapey, scrapey.


You’re damn lucky you’re studying with me.


So this kinda blows.

Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 2

Day two of Leather Binding Fundamentals at the Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute has come to a close. I think I’m finally settling into the routine here. I’m especially digging the coffee break at 3:00 p.m.

The first thing we did was trim our cover boards. The boards were originally oversized so we could customize them based on the resulting dimensions of our text block.

Hand-sewn text block with covers

Next came headbands. I love sewing headbands. Actually, I love sewing in general, but headbands are especially fun. The beginning is a bit tough, as things can be loosey-goosey. It gets easier as you go along and the stitches eventually get snuggly with the text block.

The headband core was made of a sandwich of leather and vellum. We cut a piece of core to be a smidge shorter than the size of our squares. The type of headband we made was a single core with a front bead.

Headband sewing in progress

Looking okay from the back…

Headband sewing in progress

My beads were a bit inconsistent, but I was able to adjust them by finagling with a microspatula. Mmm…stripey.

Hand-sewn headband

After trimming off the excess core, we secured our stitches to the spine with Japanese tissue.

We made a different type of headband on the other end of our books – a rolled leather headband. This one took much less time to put together. I think I might have trimmed the ends a bit too short.

Rolled leather headband

Rolled leather headband

Our next task was to carve channels in our covers to allow the text block tapes to lie flush with the surface of the board. Channels were also carved into the inside spine edge of the covers. I’m not sure why, but I love seeing a bunch of penciled scribble on the cover of a book in progress.

Carved out channels on book covers

We added thin strips of 2-ply mat board to the spine edge of our boards, in between the cut channels and at the head and tail. This was to help counteract the anticipated shrinking of our covering leather.

Spacers on the spine edge of the cover boards

Karen taught us a nifty trick for lacing in our tapes. We wrapped the tips of each one in blue tape and cut them off at an angle on each side to create a needle. It really helped with getting the tapes through the cover slots.

Using blue tape to create needles for lacing in tapes

See? I told you it worked.

Tapes laced into the cover boards

We loosened our tapes and brushed PVA into the carved channels. We also glued both sides of our tapes so that when we pulled them through the slots, adhesive would get on the inside, helping to secure them. After the tapes were pulled taut and glued into position, we hammered them down. The ends of the tapes were then trimmed. On the outside of the covers, we added a layer of Japanese tissue over the recessed areas.

Tapes laced into the cover boards and secured with Japanese tissue

At this point, we had to put our books into the nipping press. If you were everyone else, you put styrene sheets in between the covers and the text block. If you were me, you spaced on this detail and used mylar instead. Thankfully, it came out of the press just fine.

Hand-sewn book in the nipping press

Arches text weight paper was used for the inner board lining. We used paste for this step because it creates a pull to counteract the opposing pull of the leather covering material. It will be interesting to see how the covers eventually balance out.

After pasting down the linings, we wrapped our text blocks in saran wrap (capping up) and let our covers dry overnight (and get their dangle on).

Text block and covers drying overnight

That’s the end of another fun and full day! Tomorrow we start leather work…oh boy…

I leave you with today’s gems from Karen:

Don’t do that. Be better than me.


Your text block is a wonderful blotter that you may never use.


This will be my last retreat to my seat of shame.

Leather Binding Fundamentals with Karen Hanmer – Day 1

I just finished my first of five days at the Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute. Coming here is on my Book Arts Bucket List and I’m psyched to be able to cross it off. I’m taking Leather Binding Fundamentals, which is pretty much what it sounds like – we’re going to complete a full leather binding and experiment with different decorative techniques.

I’ve taken a handful of workshops on how to work with leather, but for whatever reason, I don’t feel like it’s sticking. My brain gets it, but I’m just not feeling it in my hands. I know it takes lots of practice, so I need to be patient. I’m not very good at that.

Thankfully, I’ve got an awesome instructor – Karen Hanmer. That’s right, folks – the location may be different, but the instructor is the same (this is my 4th workshop with Karen). She may very well be tired of looking at my face. It’s her own fault though – she’s got skills and she’s a fun teacher.

Here’s where I’ll be spending most of my time this week:

Morgan Hall at Wells College

When you go in the front door of the building, you’re greeted by this friendly sign:

Broadside on the front door of Morgan Hall at Wells College

Our classroom is up on the third floor. I’m getting quite a workout with all of the up and down I’ve done today.

Ah, how I love to sit down to a neat work space and the possibilities of fresh supplies. And a scary to-do list. But good scary.

Leather binding workshop materials

Most of the day was spent working on our text blocks. We started by tipping in cloth hinges on our end pages, which were made from Bugra paper. This was followed by the punching of the holes.

Text block with punched holes

We got to watch Karen do a demonstration of the sewing on a really huge sewing frame. She’s back there – trust me.

Karen Hanmer doing a text block sewing demonstration

Since I had previous experience using a sewing frame, I got to use a special one that had been MacGyvered from two ratcheting bar clamps and a dowel. If you give this setup a try, leave additional room on the sides of your text block – I had a hell of a time completing my kettle stitches.

Improvised sewing frame

Karen advised us to not look inside the signatures while we were sewing – we should be able to feel where the holes are from the inside by using the tip of our needle. She stressed that there was nothing to see in there, so just.don’

I humbly admit that I peeked (I tried to be cool about it). I mostly did so because I repeatedly stabbed myself with the needle and I was convinced that I was bleeding all over the pages. And then I think I did it a few times just because she told us not to.

14 signatures (and a couple of hours) later, I was done. And on top of that, I wasn’t the last one finished. Yay! In case you’re wondering, we only linked stitches on the first 2 and last 2 signatures due to time constraints. If we had more time, we would have linked all of the stitches.

We glued up our spines and entered rounding and backing territory. This is one of those not-in-my-hands things I was talking about earlier. I hold on to the hammer too tightly because I get tense. Then I’m too tender with the text block – I’m a tentative whacker.

This text block came out better than ones I’ve done previously, so I guess that’s progress.

Rounded and backed spine

Next came the spine linings. I got to use a very, very long finishing press.

Once I got my text block in the press, I noticed that my rounded spine got a bit wacky – it was like the middle of it sank down. Boo. It’s still roundish, so I’ll count that as a victory.

Rounded and backed spine

We used Cambric (a.k.a. Jaconet) for our spine linings. It was added to the areas between our stitches and at the head and tail of the text block. We used PVA to adhere each lining, then brushed paste on top of them to help with adhesion. It worked like a charm.

Sewn text block with spine lining in finishing press

That was the last thing we did today. I know it doesn’t look like much in this post, but by the end of the day I was exhausted. I’m glad that we didn’t have any homework for tomorrow.

By the way, I forgot to mention that when you take a workshop at Wells, you get swag – behold, the apron!

Wells College Book Arts Summer Institute apron

I close this workshop post in my usual fashion of let’s document what the instructor says that is useful and/or embarrassing – as long as I’m amused, that’s all that matters.

Here we go:

I’m going to show you what I would do if you weren’t here.


She sucks. This is perfect.


I kinda like being able to make people do stuff.

The awesomeness of Echizen

I’m just going to say it – I love Echizen.

View of Echizen, Japan

Yet it has been really hard for me to write this post. I think it’s because the place is just beyond words. Visiting this papermaking village (Washi no Sato) was the absolute highlight of my trip to Japan. 

When I think of my time there, I get overwhelmed by warm fuzzies and my brain turns to mush. And then I get sad. I wonder if I’ll ever get to go back there. I feel a loss for having not having been there longer. I long for the warmth and kindness of the people I met there.

I first became aware of Echizen back in the early 90’s when I worked at Paper Source (back when they actually sold paper). The store carried a variety of papers from the area, but at the time, I didn’t understand that Echizen was a place. I might have thought that it was a brand name (embarrassing). It was later on that I realized that it was an actual location in Japan.

When I started doing research for our trip to Japan and rediscovered Echizen, I knew in my gut that I had to go there. The official village website offers the following as an introduction to the area:

There are now about 70 factories that use either handmade, industrial, or processing methods, with about 500 people working in Washi related jobs in the Imadate area “Goka”.


Goka” is called by five villages of the town, Oizu, Iwamoto, Shinzaike, Sadatomo and Otaki, in all together. This area have been producing Japanese paper since 6th century and constitute “Echizen Washi no Sato”.


There used to be lots of paper villages every where in Japan, but it is very unusual to see an area like Echizen only making paper through all the year, whereas the others used to make paper only in winter when they didn’t produce rice. As a result, Echizen is one of the largest handmade paper industries in Japan along with Tosa in Kochi and Mino in Gifu Prefectures. 

Echizen, Japan

It amazes me that Echizen played such a vital role in the history of Japanese paper. Its reputation as the producer of fine, high quality paper is well-deserved. Echizen washi was used for printing both the first paper currency in Japan and official court documents. It is believed that Rembrandt used Echizen washi for his etchings.

According to The Association for the Promotion of Traditional Craft Industries, the area has 26 government recognized Master Craftsmen. On top of that, a number of artisans in Echizen have been certified as Living National Treasures.

So yeah, the place is fantastic.

Aside from papermakers, the village offers several paper-related destinations:

We were lucky enough to be able to visit each of these places, except for the Paper and Culture Museum (me = sad). I’ll share those experiences in future blog posts.

Everywhere you go in Echizen, you can see the influence of paper on the community. We had lunch at a restaurant and handmade paper was all over the place.

Handmade paper wall hanging

Handmade paper wall hanging

Suminagashi and lace paper under glass

And the postal service in Echizen is in on the paper fun too. If you go to the Okamoto post office and ask for fukei-in, the postmaster will hand stamp your letter with a special postmark – it includes an image of the Okamoto Otaki Shrine and a woman making paper. I’m still kicking myself for not sending myself a postcard.

We were lucky enough to have access to bicycles during our stay, so it was easy for us to get around.

Elissa Campbell on a bicycle in Echizen

Yep, I rode around with my paper tube on my back. Getting paper home safely was a priority!

As we rode our bikes, we became more and more aware of what was going on inside the buildings we passed. Sometimes we’d hear the whirring of machinery coming from a building that looked like a residence. Other times things were out in the open.

Paper warehouse

Paper warehouse

Paper warehouse

I know that we didn’t even scratch the surface of what there is to learn about Echizen and its rich papermaking history. If I ever return to Japan (fingers crossed), I’d love to go back there.

I’d like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to photographer Katz Hata, our Echizen host and guide. He was beyond awesome. It was embarrassing just how many times we got lost and he came to our rescue (FYI – Google Maps is not much help in this part of Japan). Without him, we wouldn’t have had such a rich experience.

So, now you want to visit Echizen, right? Go – you won’t regret it.

Here’s the scoop:

  • Address: Google Map
  • Phone: 0778-24-0655 (tourist information about Echizen)
  • Public Transportation: Take a train to JR Takefu Station. After exiting the train, you’ll see the bus stop (sheltered area). Take the Fuku-Tetsu bus for the Nanetsu line (heading towards Akasaka) – it’s about a 20 minute ride. Get off at the Washi-no-Sato stop.

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 29 (trust me, that number’s going up)

T.W. Wood Art Camp

I was honored to be asked to speak to the campers at the T.W. Wood Art Camp yesterday. The camp is held every year at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT and lasts for two weeks.

This was my second visit to the camp – I talked to the campers about my work back in 2011.

T.W. Wood Art Camp sign

My visit had two purposes – to talk about my work in the book arts and discuss my recent trip to Japan. I brought a selection of books to share, including artist’s books and models of Japanese bindings. I also brought several sheets of paper that I purchased in Japan – my intention was to teach them about washi and its creative applications (Chiyogami, Shibori, Katazome-shi, etc.).

I set up my display and waited for the kids to arrive…

Display of handmade books and paper at T.W. Wood Art Camp

Display of handmade books and paper at T.W. Wood Art Camp

…and then they were there!

I really value the opportunity to educate others about the book arts and to me, it’s especially meaningful to talk to children. It’s so important for them to understand the value of the arts and I appreciate that I get to play a small part in that learning experience.

I started by talking about the first book I ever made when I was in the 2nd grade – The Dog Who Couldn’t Bark. I’m not sure why, but the kids latched on to the story and kept asking if I would read the book to them. At the end of my talk, I held an impromptu story time.

Elissa Campbell talking about handmade books at T.W. Wood Art Camp

The kids asked lots of questions, which I loved. They just don’t hold back, like adults often do. I invited the kids to come up to my display and get a closer look at my work. They quickly swarmed around me and the table – it was a total mob scene, but in a good way.

When they left, here’s what was left of my display:

Display of handmade books and paper at T.W. Wood Art Camp

It may not look like it, but the kids were very respectful of my work when handling it.

Many thanks to the very awesome Martha Fitch for inviting me to speak. Not only is she the T.W. Wood Art Camp Director, but she’s also the Executive Director of the Vermont Crafts Council. The woman is a rock star.

Book and Bed Tokyo

One of the many things I love about Japan is how it skillfully blends the traditional, the modern, and the whimsical. When I researched lodging options in Japan, I decided that I’d do my best to find a range of places to stay that touched on all of these qualities.

When I discovered Book and Bed Tokyo, I knew that it just had to happen.

From their website:

Book And Bed is “an accommodation bookshop”. The perfect setting for a good nights sleep is something you will not find here. There are no comfortable mattresses, fluffy pillows nor lightweight and warm down duvets. What we do offer is an experience while reading a book (or comic book).

Screw a restful night’s sleep – I’m going to Book and Bed Tokyo!

The hostel is tucked away on the 7th floor of the building. After exiting the elevator, we were deposited into a wicked small check-in room. Even though we saw the door shown below, we somehow weren’t convinced that we were in the right place. 

Entry at Book and Bed Tokyo

Obviously, we were in the right place. After ringing the bell, someone opened the door to assist us.

Please note that if you arrive before the established check-in time (4:00 p.m.) as we did, they won’t let you inside. They will, however, let you leave your bags while you’re out and about (this was much appreciated). After dinner, we returned to the hostel to retire for the evening. We were in!

Check out this awesomeness:

Book and Bed Tokyo

One side of the room is lined with a massive bookcase. Those ladders you see are for accessing the top bunks, which are behind the bookshelves. Oh yes, we slept in the bookcase.

If you’re a couple, you have to split up – one person to a bed, please. They were kind enough to situate us in the same area – I had the top bunk and Chris slept below.

Book and Bed Tokyo

Here’s what the bed looks like:

Bed at Book and Bed Tokyo

As they admitted, there was no lush bedding here. But that’s not the point. The point is that you’re sleeping in a bookcase.

They had a really cool light fixture made of books (sorry for the quality of the photo – the room was on the dark side).

Light fixture at Book and Bed Tokyo

The hostel is less than one year old, having opened in November of 2015. It was designed by Makoto Tanijiri and Ai Yoshida of Suppose Design Office. As of their opening date, the bookcases contained approximately 1,700 books (in both Japanese and English) that had been supplied by Shibuya Publishing & Booksellers. I imagine that the book count is higher now.

Before going to sleep, we made a point of spending time on the couches, reading whatever caught our fancy. I found a book that was a guide to doing everything (I can’t remember the title) and funny enough, it had a section on bookbinding. I just can’t escape this stuff.

I can’t say I had a restful night’s sleep – it was a Princess and the Pea thing, but with a futon. But I don’t care. And why? Because I got to sleep in a bookcase.

When you leave, the exit offers you a sweet send-off:

The current nightly rate for a bookshelf bed at Book and Bed Tokyo varies depending on when you stay – we paid about $44.50 per night, per bunk (including taxes). If you’d like to save some money, you can stay in the “bunk room”, which offers basic capsule accommodations without a bookcase. But seriously, the whole point is to sleep in a bookcase.

This video offers a quick tour of the place:

If you’d like to check out Book and Bed Tokyo for yourself, here’s how to get there:

  • Address: 1-17-7, Lumiere building 7th floor, Nishi Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo (Google Map)
  • Phone: 03-6914-2914
  • Public Transportation: 5 minute walk from Ikebukuro Station (West Exit)

Total sheets of paper purchased to date: 29

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