Onionskin Bookbinding class at Penland School of Crafts

Ruth Bleakley bookbinding at Penland School of Crafts

This summer I got to fulfill a dream of mine for many years, to attend the Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina near Asheville. Ever since reading about it in the Penland Book of Handmade Books, I’ve wanted to go take a class. Well, after getting back from a week-long course on Onionskin Binding taught by Benjamin Elbel, all I can think is “why didn’t I go sooner?!”

I am hoping that I’ll get to go back at least once a year if time and finances allow. They do have a work study program where you get free room and board and 1/2 price tuition in exchange for working 10-20 hrs during the week, but as it was my first time attending I thought I would check it out first before accidentally signing up for ditch-digging duty (don’t worry, it’s mostly dishwashing and cleaning).

I have SO MANY PICTURES (thanks for the birthday iPod, Mom & Husband!) so I’ll try to group them together in posts by type – today is showing the modeling and production of my first onionskin album and I’ll probably also post about Asheville in general because it was an absolutely charming city that I’d love to visit again.

Benjamin Elbel demonstrating onionskin binding at Penland Onionskin bookbinding in progress

operating an old fashioned guillotine cutter for bookbinding

Onionskin Bookbinding after trimming in the guillotine

blank signatures all folded and ready for bookbinding at Penland

Benjamin Elbel's onionskin bookbinding course at Penland

More pictures to come, in the meantime, if you want to check out the book that started it all, you can purchase The Penland Book of Handmade Books on Amazon – over 400 photographs of gorgeous journals, handmade books and artist’s books (one of a kind books with content) to inspire you!

Penland school of crafts offers 1 week courses, 2 week courses, 8 week concentrations and a 3 year core program in way more than bookbinding – you can also take courses in jewelry making, wood working, glass blowing, ceramics, textile dying, weaving, paper making, printmaking – and more! The list goes on, depending on what’s currently being offered – I loved my time there in the mountains!




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Tiny little pamphlet books made just for fun

Blue Dot Handmade Books by Ruth Bleakley

Today I’m showing off these cute little blue pamphlet stitch and perfect bound (glued spine) books I made – I printed out sheets of patterned paper myself – I have a fairly fancy Canon printer because I have a stationery business, and I have LOTS of black ink, so I experimented with printing my own patterns on card stock, with great success.

Over the past few days I’ve been challenging myself to:

A) work on bookbinding projects “just for fun” and

B) Start and finish a project in one sitting – or at least clean up after myself after each project!

For those of you who are reading and going “what do you mean, just for fun? it looks like you’re always having fun!” Well, yes I am, I love bookbinding – in fact, I sometimes jokingly refer to it as more of a “compulsion” than a hobby. HOWEVER, I start to get into a mode where I think “if I make this, will it sell?”

I do rely on sales from my etsy shop and local craft fairs to help keep me from being buried in a pile of handmade books, as well as fund new paper purchases and all that fun stuff. But then I end up making mostly things I know will sell, and rarely experimenting or just doing whatever I want (fellow crafters, does this happen to you?).

So I’m changing that!

And now, less talk, more pictures:

blue and black patterned paper

Gluing a tiny perfect bound book by Ruth Bleakley

tiny blue and black handmade book by Ruth Bleakley(and then ‘viola!’ your tiny book magically grows larger after you cut it…just kidding! I forgot to take a picture of the smaller book with trimmed edges, so this will have to do!)

I can’t find my trusty very favorite bookbinding awl (so sad! it’s in here somewhere…) so after getting fed up with piercing holes for pamphlet stitch with a needle, I thought “hmm, is it possible to just do a glue binding with PVA?” and then in the spirit of “doing whatever I want for fun” I tried it, and it came out great.

And in case you were wondering, yes I did manage to also come through on challenge B, cleaning up after myself – here’s the proof! Maybe one day if I’m feeling more self-revelatory I’ll post what it looked like BEFORE I took it upon myself to keep it clean…
Ruth Bleakley's Tidy bookbinding studio


5 Great How-to Books on Bookbinding

5 great how-to books on bookbinding from RuthBleakley.com

Are you interested in learning bookbinding, and wondering how you can get started binding your own books? Believe it or not, most of what I learned about making books by hand is self taught! Here are some of the most helpful do-it-yourself bookbinding books I’ve personally used, in order of easy to difficult with links to buy them on Amazon:



5 Great How-To Books about Bookbinding: How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith
How to Make Books: Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-of-a-Kind Book

This is a great book for beginners – lots of great photos, and Esther K. Smith has a great range of projects, from super simple no-sew 8 page books to more complex binding styles. I love the raw book board cover, too!



5 Great How-To Books about Bookbinding: Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction by Aldren A. Watson
Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction

This is an older book about bookbinding, and it doesn’t have photos, but it has lots of neat, detailed illustrations. The author Aldren A. Watson also does a little bit on the history of bookbinding. Good resource for all-around bookbinding.



5 Great How-To Books about Bookbinding: Bookbinding Techniques and Projects by Josep Cambras
Bookbinding Techniques and Projects (Decorative Techniques)

This bookbinding guide written by Josep Cambras is unusual in that it was translated from Spanish! Lots of photos, but for me the best part of the book is that the author has a project on making your own Moleskine-style travel journal.



5 Great How-To Books about Bookbinding: Japanese Bookbinding by Kojiro Ikegami
Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions From A Master Craftsman

This is a dense and authoritative guide to Japanese bookbinding (the style with the stitches going down the side of the book) by Kojiro Ikegami – you learn the history of this ancient binding style and there are plenty of guides to sewing patterns.



5 Great Books About Bookbindng: Keith Smith Non Adhesive Binding Volume 1
Books without Paste or Glue

Keith Smith’s Non Adhesive Binding Vol. 1 is a must-have if you’re interested in coptic stitch binding – it’s dense and contains lots of text and many, many bookbinding projects that don’t require any glue to make. It’s definitely more technical than the other books, and with it’s biblical proportions (352 pages!) it’s more of a good reference book if you’re already into bookbinding and want to learn some new sewing techniques.


Do you have any recommendations on good how-to books? Which bookbinding book is your favorite? Post a comment!


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Troubleshooting Tips for Suminagashi Paper Marbling

Suminagashi Marbling Tips - ink bleeding

Suminagashi marbling is a Japanese paper marbling technique that involves floating sumi ink on water in concentric rings. While relatively easy, there are still a few things that can go wrong while you’re marbling, so here are some tips if you’re running into trouble on your marbled paper.


Problem: Ink isn’t Floating

Answer: add another drop of dispersant to [...]

Handmade Wasp Journal

Handmade Wasp Journal by Ruth Bleakley - red and navy

An oldie but a goodie – I can’t beleive I made this almost exactly 2 years ago. For a while I was on a hardcover case-bound book bender, before I switched to coptic stitch books. Part of the reason I like coptic stitch better than the traditional “hardcover” book you see here is that you can [...]

Little Paris Travel Journal

The story behind this little Paris-themed handmade book is that it’s the first I’ve made in over four months! This might not seem like such a long time, but because of a cross country move I’ve had to pack up nearly all of my bookbinding studio supplies and put them into storage.

Right now I’m living in [...]

Suminagashi Marbled Handmade Journal

Suminagashi black and whtie Journal handmade by Ruth Bleakley

Suminagashi is a gorgeous type of paper marbling invented in Japan over 1,000 years ago. I wrote a post a while ago when I taught a suminagashi marbling class at Clark University and you can see every step of the process. Basically you float rings of black sumi ink (I really like using this Yasutomo brand [...]

Bookbinding Tutorial Secret Belgian Binding

Secret Belgian Binding

It’s tutorial Tuesday! I am sharing great bookbinding tutorials I’ve found around the web on Tuesdays – today’s tutorial is about a mysterious sounding bookbinding style called “Secret Belgian Binding” – This binding was invented in the mid 1980s by Anne Goy, a Belgian bookbinder. She was looking for a Western version of the traditional Japanese [...]

Chevron Washi Tape Chain Stitch Journal

Chevron Washi Tape journal handmade by Ruth Bleakley

I love Washi Tape! A friend from Japan sent me a huge care package of washi tape, a thin Japanese masking tape with designs printed on it ( you can even get washi tape on Amazon)- I used the tape to create this pretty striped pattern on raw book board, and then sealed the whole thing [...]

Bookbinding Tutorial Accordion Book Photo Album

Accordion Book Photo Album - Mother's Day Gift Idea

It’s tutorial Tuesday! I am sharing great bookbinding tutorials I’ve found around the web on Tuesdays – today’s tutorial is about making an accordion book photo album – a lovely gift to give to friends or relatives. This lovely tutorial was made by Carrie who writes at Making Lemonade: freshly squeezed ideas for home and family click [...]

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