Friday, October 30, 2009

Making Journals with Wooden Buttons

I've been making large leather journals with wooden buttons on the covers for a while now, and in the past I ordered the buttons from various woodworkers on Etsy. It was surprisingly hard to find someone who was interested in making buttons for me -- I guess making buttons isn't as exciting as doing other kinds of woodworking. :)

The buttons I purchased were great, but it seemed to me that it would be even better if I made the buttons myself. My dear old Dad has been doing woodworking since he retired, so I joined forces with him, and "Dean Simler and Daughter" has been busy cutting and sanding and polishing wooden buttons. The sawdust has really been flying in his little workshop!

Here are a couple of the finished buttons on journal/sketchbooks that are in my Etsy shop:

The button in the photo above is made from cherry wood. The buttons I make are very natural and rustic -- not too uniform in shape, so each one is slightly different. I sand them until they are very smooth, and then finish them with walnut oil and a coat of special beeswax polish.

This one has a bird's eye maple wood button:

The bird's eye maple was roasted in a kiln for 12 hours, which makes it darker in colour. It also brings out the natural sugars in the wood, so the button has a slightly smoky, maple sugar smell, which is very nice.

Friday, October 16, 2009

European Bookbinding Trip

Where have I been, you might wonder, all these weeks that I've been sadly neglecting my blog. Well, I just got back from a trip to Germany and Australia (my husband went on business, and I decided to go along). Bookbinding nerd that I am, I was keen to see as many examples of medieval bookbinding as possible.

First off, I made an appointment to visit the City Archives in Freiburg, Germany. Freiburg is a lovely city on the edge of the Black Forest in Southern Germany. The head archivist, Dr. Ulrich P. Ecker, showed me some wonderful things, including some medieval illuminated manuscripts
that were created by local nuns. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take any photos of the books, but here's an exciting shot of the front door of the archives:

Next, I went to Vienna, Austria, and visited the Austrian National Library. The State Hall at the Hapsburg Palace is the part of the National Library that's open to the public, and as the Hapsburgs were enormously powerful and wealthy in their day, it's a grand sight, with hand bound books from floor to ceiling.

The current exhibition at the State Hall is Approaches to Distant Lands. Geographic Gems from the Austrian National Library, a collection of 17th century atlases showing how Europeans viewed the world outside of Europe. Here is a photo of one of the displays:

Not surprisingly, those 17th century Europeans got a few things wrong. My favourites were the drawings of men (I'm not sure from what country) with no heads--their faces were located in their chests. They all looked a bit surprised about it. You can find out more about the exhibition here:

Saving the best for last, I wound up the trip by visiting Mainz, Germany, home of the Gutenberg Museum, which also houses the Bookbinding Museum. Here is a photo of the museum building:

and one of a book-shaped sculpture made of stone. There were several book-related sculptures at the entrance to the museum.

I spent some happy hours wandering through the exhibits, and a nice, long chat with the resident bookbinder, who sported a magnificent 1400s-style long beard, and was most friendly and helpful. Gutenberg invented the art of the printed book in Europe in the 1450s, and two of his first books, Gutenberg Bibles, were on display. I wasn't allowed to take photos of them, but here is another book at the museum, a sort of printing manual, I think:

Lastly, we visited Frankfurt, Germany, where I didn't see any medieval books, but did get to sample some sausages:

And then I came home, tired but happy, with a couple of books on bookbinding that I bought at the Gutenberg Museum. Now, I just have to get my husband to translate them from German into English. Should be interesting...

[NOTE: if you know of any other great bookbinding/book arts places to visit in Germany and/or Austria, please do share them in the comments. Book arts - obsessed people like myself would love to know about them!]