When I attend a craft show or an art fair, every attendee becomes my captive audience, for no one can resist the tactile discovery of a blank, beautifully hand-bound book; even those who are daunted by the task of filling those same blank pages, and fear doing it all wrong. (Hint: There is no wrong way to fill a journal, and like anyone else, I also envy those who cover pages differently, or more creatively.) At any show, individuals draw near for a closer look, exclaiming over color and prints, examining the structure and workmanship of books, weighing their choices. And, each time, I have the opportunity to tell them a little about why and how I create.
I started creating journals because I love to write. I’ve filled journals since I was in high school, and those were spiral bound notebooks – the kind that you buy for $.15 in August's anticipation of a new academic year. Reminiscing, recently, I recalled the first creative thing I ever tried to write, which was about one of my favorite childhood places: a vacation home which my great-aunt and uncle owned: camp.
As I’ve learned to fill a book with my own thoughts, for personal and for cathartic reasons, I’ve also developed opinions about what type of book I would like to use. Over time, and a good amount of bookbinding classes, I’ve come to the Coptic stitch as my favorite for the purpose of a pocket journal.
The Coptic stitch is actually an old binding, a historical technique originating from Egypt. Named after early Egyptian Christians, this style of binding involves sewing through folded groups of pages called sections. Originally on papyrus, parchment, or even paper, these become a standard form for most books from the second century onward. As the book is sewn, each of the sections is pierced, anchored, and finally attached directly to a cover, which protects the pages from wear and tear.
But, that’s the how and what.. Here’s my why:
A Coptic stitch is first elegant. Beauty lies in the form. As a bookbinder sews this stitch, it evolves into a braid along the spine of a book. For each station, where a set of pages is pierced, the thread emerges and a plait surfaces along the spine, weaving from back to front in a series of link stitches which go below the sewing stations preceding it, rise, and link underneath the original point of emergence. Each linking stitch locks the section in question to the sections before it in a way which creates a beautiful raised support from the back cover to the front. This support is flexible and lays flat for writing. It expands just enough that each cover can fold back upon itself and will swell as a writer or artist collects and saves the daily ephemera which inspires creativity.
Second, it is strong. These linking stitches lock down to one another as they climb from cover to cover, creating a series of bonds which are hard to break, and will hold up as a binding is tested; word upon word, and transported place to place. Part of this toughness is owed to each pair of sewing stations being sewn independent of one another. This creates durability by isolating one paired sewing station from any other pair of sewing stations. In essence, this means that if one thread is cut through overuse, or worn to a fray, the other corded supports will not break or unravel. Repairs are therefore easier. And, broken books can be rebound.
Any designer will tell you that form and function coexist in a careful choreography. At times, one takes the lead, and in others, the counterpoint rises to assume the advantage. Likewise, in bookbinding, form and function interact in a way which link beauty with utility. And, as the two communicate, one unique object rises to occupy the space between those values which infuse our lives with grace and refinement but also usefulness. That is where, I hope, that you find my journals; at the intersection of beauty and resourcefulness. Function and form for everyday use.