The Art of Bookbinding

The craft of bookbinding is believed to have originated in India thousands of years ago. Religious sutras were copied onto palm leaves using a metal stylus, dried and then rubbed with ink which would form a stain in the lettering. These leaves where then numbered and twine used to bind them together between two wooden boards forming a palm leaf book. Buddhist monks took this idea through Persia, Afghanistan, Iran, and China in the first century BC. Over the centuries the techniques spread further and continued to evolve. With the introduction of rag paper and the invention of the printing press, the modern book, as we would recognize it today, started to appear from the fifth century onwards.

Today bookbinding has become a predominantly mechanized process, with many books printed and bound on an industrial scale for mass consumption, particularly in paperback, and more recently eBooks are doing away with the need of some printing altogether.

However, CACHE practices the traditional binding techniques with renowned master bookbinders and takes tremendous pride in creating beautiful editions using only the finest papers, hand-stitching the pages, and creating covers in stunning designs using the finest materials. This attitude elevates the use of a book to a ceremony of sorts, a very personal or hugely communal experience, rather than the fast paced ‘disposable’ reputation that printing now has.

Cathy Robert is one such artisan. Working from her bindery studio in Clerkenwell, central London, Cathy and her small team of professional and creative binders apply traditional practices to a range of contemporary binding challenges: from one off prototypes to limited editions and small runs, to traditional tomes and coffee table books. In addition, Cathy also takes on contemporary commissions, pushing the possibilities when it comes to using new and different materials, creating books that are works of art. Cathy also creates beautiful bespoke digital tablet presentation cases, for when the book is full of circuits instead of pages.

“These days a lot of personal book printing is done online and although images can be sent easily over the internet or uploaded to websites, the image quality is low”. When it comes to photographs “the quality of original artwork is key.” You can have your own books printed by print-on-demand services, but still the image and paper quality is no where near as good nor as long lasting as a traditional hand-bound folio. A well printed book has the remarkable ability to slow you down. Taking the time to explore a book is a completely different experience to consuming modern print.

“We have been making books for 25 years and over that time format and materials have morphed and change”. Today “images are printed on high quality paper, single or double sided, we hand-score each page and lay them in individually. “Each page is then hand drilled and stitched together to form the basis of the book” before binding. It is important to create a narrative and flow for the book. “To achieve this you must choose your images very carefully and like any collection it must have a theme, a discernible style and make a powerful visual impact” But then the storytelling must also be told through the materials chosen and the style of the binding.

Cathy always spends “a lot of time with clients discussing format, quality of paper and materials that will best suit the style – from a primary color leather-bound embossed book to a wood veneer finish – the book must be unique and stand out. The good news is anything is possible!”. It seems that one must always judge a book by it’s binding.

Perhaps it is time to collate and curate your family history through the photographs collecting dust in the cupboard; or remember recent times through all those family snaps that are sitting unseen on a hard-drive or memory card; or even commission a project from scratch with one of our photographs to tell the story about you, your family or an event that must be remembered and shared.

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