Growlygracepress's Blog

Re-engaging with bookbinding practice.
August 26, 2016, 7:53 am
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This is a little ‘proof of concept’ book that I did some months ago. It was after the set of ‘hinny’ books and I got distracted and wanted to make ‘memento mori’ books.


This is what I came up with. I was not that happy about the finish, not happy about the leather, not happy with the definition of the raised design and absolutely over the moon about the end papers. So when I hit the bench this week I reached out for the little book and glued down the endpapers and put it in the press. It can go to a good home.

I am going to have another shot at the little skeleton books because I am really keen on them as an idea. Another thing is that I can’t find a white leather to use for an onlay.

So I am going to make nine perfect ‘hinny’ books and then I am going to make ‘momento mori’ books. Can’t wait.

On becoming effective.
April 4, 2016, 8:53 am
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A million years ago when I was a lot more shallow and empty than I am now I wanted to become psychotherapist and I would go along to training events and be filled with absolute contempt for every one in the room and I had a fear that my anger would erupt so violently that the ‘group’ would not be able to contain it. Obviously that’s bull shit but none the less I faced up to the fact that I am very judgemental and I am a strong advocate for giving out directions. So I was not cut out for a life in client centred therapy and I would happily burn every copy of “On becoming a person” just to stop it getting in to peoples hands.

So I became a bookbinder.

I think the past couple of years have been about being an effective bookbinder. By this I mean developing techniques and production methods that will allow me to make books that represent all that I love (and I think I really mean ‘love’) in a hand made book.

So on the ‘journey’ I didn’t rate being commercially successful as a goal and I am happy about that.

At the end of last year I had a significant insight on how to progress my practice.

I had an actual epiphany and I would tell every one I would meet that I had made this colossal discovery on how to make a designed book that would be not only beautiful but cost effective so that the book as an object becomes so good it can’t be ignored and has to be bought. Profit!

I tooled up and was happily experimenting away and discovering new problems and solving them with new solutions. And I am loving the flow of success, of thinking, solving and creating.

And then I got the new allotment.

A new garden is a great big pile of problems that you have to solve and you have to deal with the solutions that the previous gardener made and in this garden he has been so effective and so skilled that you have no choice but to continue his methodology.

I have become a happy hostage.

People said ‘you will soon make your mark on it’ and for a couple of days I entertained the idea of putting up some tressals for climbing plants, planted baskets, painting the shed a fashionable colour and having a decking area with a lovely bench to sit in to have a cup of tea. I came to my senses and realised that all I had to do is continue to do exactly what he would do because he is going to do it right by the garden.

So no flowers, nothing hiding the miles of breeze blocks and concrete, the shed get a brown stain and he had no need for a bench because he has optimised the whole area for the production of vegetables. I will consider new structures made with scaffolding poles and an old metal gate for the growing of strawberries.

I have spent every day since the beginning of February working in the allotment and just doing a gentle restoration and fixing things. Just getting things ready for mid May when I will be planting things out. I have started a lot of seeds and today I will be re-potting a lot of leeks. The two beds in this garden are absolutely enormous and someone tipped me of to sow a lot more stuff to fill it. I plant whole trays of kale, broccoli and cauliflower.

When you have three green houses you can sew the whole packet of mixed chillies because you can have a whole greenhouse dedicated to peppers.

So I been making massive progress in the garden and I’ve put the bookbinding to one side.

Stuff has been piling up on my bench. New tools, new materials and new books.

A man was shouting at me in the street that it was his wife’s birthday in March and he wanted to me to make a book and I haven’t. It does not count because it was not proper commission. That is when a not insignificant sum of money comes my way.

I have been telling him I only want to make books with skeletons on them at the moment.

Today I am going to go to the lit and phil and the market and then I am going to clear the bench and start the skeleton book. I am going to make the book from the start rather than pull one of the shelf. After I have started the process I am going to go to the allotment and be effective.

surprising myself
March 21, 2016, 9:30 am
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I’ve been to London for a quick visit where I did a serious amount of art galleries. The stuff I had worked out for my self in my early teens is still solid thirty years later. I knew I was right then and I am still right now. I am absolutely fine about dropping out of my art history degree. I  would have not gained anything after the first year and the morsels I got have sustained me for decades.

When it get right down to it EH Gombrich is wasted on teenagers you need to live a bit to totally get it, where as I can’t read John Berger at all now but at the time when I was very young I felt that he saved my life.

When I was at the British Library I went to see the Gospel of  Saint Cuthbert because I have just stepped off a train from the north east and it would be rude not to say hello. I had a little ‘hinny’ book because I show it to my sister (I took her hostage to shops and galleries) and it felt totally all right to take the little ‘hinny book’ and compare and contrast it to the heart stopping beauty of the little gospel book. I was reaching out to the bookbinder who made the book and wanted to gain an insight in to how to develop my techniques.

It was a bit bold but the insights I gained are priceless.

I seen a Sybil Pye binding I have only seen photographs and I was shocked by the size of it. I had assumed that her books would have been massive but the one I seen was small I just was not prepared for the size.

I’ve been occupied by the new allotment and I have not been at my bench. I would love to have a proper, full fat and real commission. I can just about imagine what it would be like to make a book like that and perhaps I can do it.

I think I am going to to pretend I am the bookbinder who made the gospel that was placed in the grave of St Cuthburt. and there no harm in pretending that.


While on the train I did read over my notes on the mythical bookbinding handout and I’ve really done the writing part I just need to type it up.



the value of structure.
February 18, 2016, 9:05 am
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I consider the paving in the poly tunnel amongst the best work I have ever achieved. I know that is a massive sweeping statement but it’s true. I liked what I did and how I achieved it, it gives me pleasure and it is as proper as a proper thing.

Put it this way a professional mason would not have a problem with it.

At all.

So this morning I am going to rip it out.

I have been a bit quiet of late because I was coming to terms with the fact that I have a new allotment. I learned that I was going to be offered the new plot just before Christmas and it took a lot of coming to terms with. I was in allotment limbo. There was no purpose in working on my existing plot (even though it was January my plot is planted with sprouts, kale, broccoli, leeks and winter lettuce)  and I wouldn’t get the new plot until February. So I’ve been thinking about what I want to achieve on the new plot and being totally all right about walking away form the old plot.

Because my new allotment has everything you would want and more I didn’t need to dismantle the greenhouse or the poly tunnel or any of the existing structures and the hoard of materials which I had stored. You name your price for it and if it’s acceptable it’s a done deal. This is not virtue signalling (except it is) but if the people who got my old plot were unemployed, on benefits or students or pensioners than  we would happily give them everything for nothing. I get it £125 is an enormous amount of money if you have nothing.

So we had ‘we are fine about the price’ right up until yesterday when I had the ‘the door does not close properly on the green house so can we pay £85’ so I said no I thought it was a fair price and I’ll happily dismantle it. I made sure that the person understood what I was about to do that is remove all structure from the allotment. I phrased the question in several different ways so they were clear about what I was intending.

They would want the poly tunnel but as far as I am concerned it’s all or nothing.


In very real terms the only thing of any value here is the polycarbonate greenhouse ‘glass’ and the beautiful paving in the tunnel the rest is what it is and it’s just structures.

I can think of half a dozen people who have plots close by who will happily take the green house and tunnel because I am going to give it away for free and these are people who understand about value and the materials might have come from a skip but if you have two pieces of metal sidings on the premises as it were it’s better than going out to buy it at the builders merchants.

The fence might last another season but I had found the materials to rebuild it. The decking that I used for all the 1.2 meter beds I dragged out of skips and memorially a workings men’s club where I was ‘caught’ by the steward who assumed I was stealing it.

All the structures : shed, greenhouse, tunnel, cold frame, paving, compost bins, netting, plastic pipes, bamboo and I know that the best thing is the paving and the ‘glass’

So I have until Saturday morning to get the stuff off and redistributed to people who will value it and best of all in my new allotment which is absolutely and totally bonkers with industrial strength ‘structure’   I have been ‘left’ a wheeled trolley that is specifically for the moving of paving stones!


the ten little hinny books
January 15, 2016, 9:38 am
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I have to confront on of my biggest flaws on a regular basis and it is quite simple I engage in cluttered thinking, I don’t make clear plans, I fail to set out clean and clear objectives.

The little hinny book is a case in point. I was messing around and having fun when I accidentally made this book.


This is not the result of planning or any thing considered it just happened. When I made a copy of it I got it really wrong, the colour choice was poor and inconsiderate and I couldn’t give it to the client so I had another attempt and got it wrong again. It was a different size, bigger letters and although I got the colours right the charm had been drained out of it.

So I got out the rulers and really stuck to the brief.


This is the ten little ‘hinny’ books they are clones of the first one. The biggest improvement is a new range of leather and the letters are die stamped.


so I have this


I made a paper die for the exact placing of the letters by printing the word ‘hinny’ on to tracing paper,  I pasted on letters cut in 300gms on the reverse side of the tracing paper, covered it in cling film and I use this die on dampen leather and give it a nip in the press.

The white letters are cut from tyvek. They are glued on to the leather and given a quick nip and left to dry.


This means that after I have back pared the leather, pasted the leather out and put on the book, give it another nip in the press then the tyvek letters will cleanly peel of the leather.

I am going to come back to the process I have created to put letters on books again and again mainly because there is not enough information out there about how bookbinders have created their own techniques.




what I did with the money
January 7, 2016, 10:25 am
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I get money from commissions, teaching workshops and the little books in the craft shop and I spend it on tools and materials and make more little books. I refine my ideas and my techniques get better.

At one point last year I made a little book and I was stuck by it’s own awesomeness and went about showing it to people and a couple of them said ‘yes! make me that book’. So I went back to my bench and failed to make it which has led to the current state of affairs where I am practically cloning the book ten times.

Last year I seriously thought about how best to achieve for want of a better word ‘success’ and I am currently making progress. In fact I was telling every one I met in December that I had concluded a really exciting time in bookbinding and I had great expectations.

Obviously I sounded absolutely bat shit crazy.

For what it is worth it’s this : Back in the Autumn  I was leaving a cafe / gallery and I turned around and looked at the people sitting at tables and what I seen was grandmothers, daughters and grandchildren. I realised that the grandmother needs and wants to buy presents and that all I need to do is make it.

So I went back to our old favourite Geordie terms of endearment.


I think that the black leather is to gloomy and decided to try again with some brighter colours.


So the first one was the eponymous ‘hinny’


It’s a goldielock book. It’s just the right size, it’s perfect and most of all it’s sticky. If I put it in your hand you will want it. As I was working through the books I came across a massive problem when I discovered that my lettering cutting ability is not what it should be. To put a pared leather title on a book means that the letters have to be cut out multiple times, I would cut them out of pared leather, I cut them out to make a die so I can get the position of the title on the book and I cut them so I can back pare the leather to except the dropped in letter.

I am not doing myself any favours in using my favourite font Clarendon as it was unforgiving straight edges. So I screwed up the books with sloppy work.


Poor beuk!


And then it hit me “that grandmother does not need to know it’s Clarendon’ she just needs to buy a gift” So I thought is their anyway I can get the letters punched out in any material I choose with out losing my mind. I am eluding to the horror that is using a computer driven vinyl cutter which did spit out letters it is to say the least a very harsh mistress.

So I thought what did the women who make cards and scrap books use before they moved on to vinyl cutters and I realised that they used die cutters on essentially a cylinder press. The card and scrapbook making business absolutely massive and I mean enormous. At least three channels of television selling tools and materials every night and on the news racks there must be at least twenty magazines about making cards.

So I spent the money on dies and leathers and I am going to die cut birds and stick them on books. It does not make the books any less hand made. They are just as much a tool as a hammer or a saw. Some books I cut with a guillotine and some I cut with a plough.

So we are going to find out this week what happens when you die stamp letters out of leather and stick them on a book.


The power of making.


I have taken it for granted for so very long that when it comes to sewing a book I sew on to tapes which I cut from a sheet of tyvek and I don’t need to use a sewing frame. I have a very proper and ancient sewing frame it’s an absolute monster, a positive whopper and it lives on the top shelf with lots of other heavy bits of equipment.


There it is lurking at the back. Being awkward.

One of the reasons why bookbinding equipment is so expensive is that it made to be used in a professional setting and could mean that the equipment could be in use every day so the sewing frame needs to be robust, have the capacity to allow for the sewing of very large books and that the binder might want to sew multiple books one after the other on the same sewing supports. Hence the the ‘awkward’.

I want to sew little ‘beauty books’


And I want to sew on to ‘cords’ so I need a sewing frame and I decided that I would just bash one together from the ‘materials at hand’ this means that all the materials must be at hands length from the bench and no comparisons or considerings. Just bash, bash, bash and job done.
So I made this.


I thought of how it would work and what size it should be and how I could solve the hardest part of it and proceeded to manufacture it.
It’s not pretty and I can’t saw straight but it will do the job I intend it to do. I might at some point make a beautiful one but then again this one works.

When I thought about the process of making the sewing frame what I found surprising was that it was the making of the allotment shed that made it possible. It’s possible to view shed building as a deceleration of war or at the very least a statement of intention. I seriously recommend that you take the opportunity to make a big structure that is water tight and secured by a door. It’s massively empowering one of the best learning experiences I have ever engaged with. I have never have felt the need to swim with a dolphin or climb a mountain but I believe these to be over rated compared to the simple pleasure of building a shed.