Thursday, March 31, 2011

Article by Joelynn Chin

This article was written by Joelynn, student from my 1st workshop. 
Enjoy & thanks Joelynn:)

Book Binding Craft

The long drive to Taman Botani, Putrajaya did not deter the eight students eager to learn the art of book binding in a 2-day workshop conducted by crafter Samsiah Jendol (better known as Syam).

It was her first class for the public, and I was invited by my long time friend to be part of it. I first knew Syam when we worked in the same ad agency about nine years ago. When I left, she made me a farewell present. It was a lovely little book hand-bounded with a fabric-wrapped cover.

Even back then, Syam was already a keen crafter. Six months ago, she decided to do it full time and quit her corporate job as creative designer. Bookbinding was just one of the crafting skills she picked up during her student days at the Wanganui School of Design in New Zealand.

Having taught the art to students at Dasein Academy of Art in Kuala Lumpur, it was just a matter of time before Syam opened her class decided to the public.

The crafting community is quite a close-knit one, so it was no surprise that almost everyone in her first class had some sort of arts experience.  There was a graphic designer, a craft shop owner, a tutor on interior designer, a jewelry designer and two from the collaborative craft group OH&AH.

Being in such fine company, I was a little worried that I would not be able to keep up with the rest. The last time I dabbled in any sort of handwork was way back in school. Patience and concentration are not my virtues.

Thankfully, Syam let us take baby steps with the most basic, Japanese stab binding. This technique is for binding loose pages and soft covers together, much like the old kung fu manuals. Confidence gained, we then moved on to the fancier hemp-leaf binding.

Beauty under cover

The second half of Day 1 is where it gets really interesting. And complicated.

When you pick up a book, do you notice its binding? Probably not. Aside from spiral binding for notebooks and comb binding used on office documents, the technique that holds pages together are often hidden under the spine. Which is just as well because there’s really nothing to see with pages glued together. But with kettle stitch binding, the spine is best left exposed to show the beautiful work.

We had to work harder with the kettle stitch. It was a good thing Syam provided us with pre-cut papers and hard board, which came in a lovely silkscreen bag she made herself. So ‘all’ we had to do was drill holes into the hard board and saw folded sections of paper (signature) to make little holes for the stitches. No blood was spilled but fingers were pricked. Cotton tape, ribbon, leather or even paper strap are used as a ‘bone’ to attach all the signatures together and make the book structure stronger.
Book binding is not just about being creative with the stitching. Material selection also adds to the beauty of the final product. From the fabric to wrap the cover to the colours of the thread and paper, they all have a part in making a handmade book unique and personal.

Day 2 introduced me to what would be my favourite technique – Coptic binding. The aesthetic of the chain stitch is simple yet beautiful. This technique was developed by the Copts of Egypt in the 2nd century AD. Coptic binding is favoured for journals because the book can opened 360 degrees and laid flat without creasing the spine.

The rest of the day was spent finishing up our work and putting personal touches to our books, like sewing fasteners and adding beads. Being the impatient person that I am, I had to undo my stitches many times due to hasty mistakes.  Since the class was small, Syam could give each of us some personal attention, and I needed a lot because I kept forgetting the steps. Book binding is a skill you need to practice constantly. 

Some of the inspired students did their homework the night before by making more books at home with Syam’s book binding starter kit.  I just didn’t have the discipline.
Checking out the work of others helped me understand the motivation that drives them. Lay Hoon, a quantity surveyor in her early 30s, joined the workshop to learn how to bind her art journals. It was the same with Norrashidah, a 29-year-old tutor who wanted to make her own photo album.

For Fazaleena, a working mother in the airline industry, it was a matter of picking up a creative skill. Book binding seemed like something that she could learn and does not require a natural artistic talent, like drawing or sewing.

Lee Wan Fong (Mimmy) on the other hand, joined the workshop with her boyfriend as it was an interesting activity they could do together, better than hitting the shopping malls. Mimmy also has plans to open a shop for handmade creations, so workshops such as this help her understand how crafters work.

For myself, the workshop was a fine way to spend a weekend. I learned something new and have a few beautiful books to show for it. Plus, spending time with such spirited company gave me a whole new appreciation for crafting.

For information on future workshops, check out or

1 comment:

Mescrap said...

A beautiful 2-days-workshop.
Met with wonderful people.
Knew Syam in personel.
Thank you Joelynn for this great article shared for.