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?!” (Also, I’ve been getting questions about this binding – you can purchase a tutorial and materials on Ben’s website here: Onionskin Bookbinding Tutorial )


I think one of my favorite parts about attending was that I really felt like I “fit in” as a person who loves to make things. Bookbinding is such an esoteric craft that I usually find myself explaining exactly what it is, rather than being able to discuss the finer points of being a production bookbinder vs. a book artist or what type of  bone folder or adhesive you prefer, but at Penland I got to be surrounded by fellow bookbinders and book artists (of all levels!) and I found that very inspiring.

Elbel's Onionskin bookbinding workshop at Penland School of Crafts 2014 - books made by Ruth Bleakley

Benjamin Elbel demonstrating onionskin binding at Penland Benjamin Elbel demonstrating onionskin binding at Penlandoperating an old fashioned guillotine cutter for bookbinding


blank signatures all folded and ready for bookbinding at PenlandPenland School of Crafts Books and Paper Workshop 2014bookbinding workshop at Penland School of Crafts 2014 - 1


The photo above was taken just across the road from the cafeteria – what a stunning and beautiful place to make art, and I ope you’ll get a chance to go one day. 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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Thanks Cynthia! going to the class really revitalized my interest in bookbinding, so I hope to be posting more often in the future!

Paul Thomson

Fantastic work there Ruth from an avid follower! I thought I would let you know that your link to Penland School of Crafts is not working at the bottom of the post. I think you forgot to include the http:// before the address (assuming you’re using wordpress) – this happens to me all the time.

Anyway, keep up the good work. I’ve added your site and Penland School of Crafts to our links page. If you fancy writing something for iBookBinding (http://www.ibookbinding.com) to further promote your works please let me know and we’ll get something arranged.

Have a good day and thanks again,


Very interesting binding! And I love the strong cutter completely removing a whole section of the book in the video. Sounds like a great place to learn.


Hi Ruth,
You are amazing and super inspiring !!
I am from India and really want to learn bookbinding.
I work in handmade notebook and it is my life… 🙂
Please suggest how can I also take up a course like this and also if you know about the scholarship.
I love your work…. keep inspiring
Thank you


Thank you Vidhi! Please contact Penland School of Arts and Crafts directly for any scholarship information – good luck!


Great job, great staff Ruth. Very useful information. Can you kindly explain the steps of the onion bookbinding, please? I appreciate you in advance. 🙂


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