Bespoke bindings

In a world where books are cheaper and more throw-away than ever before, the painstaking craft of bookbinding is a pleasing anomaly.

Personal libraries are on the decline – gaze into the future and, surely, most books will be read via a screen rather than on paper. Yet a new breed of artistic patron is paying thousands of pounds to commission bespoke bookbindings of favourite volumes by highly-skilled designers and makers. It’s a process that can take weeks, even months.

First the binder comes up with a concept that evokes a flavour of the text. Then come the highly-skilled tooling, stitching, dyeing, carving and inlaying – whatever it takes to get the desired effect. ‘You have to have a good technique and the design is the cream on the top – you can’t have one without the other,’ says Jeanette Koch, bookbinder and organiser of the exhibition Covered, which this month showcases 100 pieces by 40 of the UK’s elite designer-binders at London’s Flow Gallery.

These give a glimpse of the huge range of styles, techniques and materials used – from Christopher Shaw’s fine gold tooling for The Accidental to Paul Henry’s carved wood binding for Drawing Dragons. And as society grows increasingly screen-centred, the cult of the book as a tactile and precious object will surely grow and grow.

Covered: Beauty and Art in Contemporary Bookbinding runs 18 to 27 May at Flow Gallery, 1-5 Needham Road, London W11. Tel: 020 7243 0782

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