In anticipation of issue six’s studio visit to Cockpit Arts, allow us to take you back to the halcyon days of June, when The Holborn set up camp at the Summer Open Studios and met Megan Turner-Jones from Novella Bookbinding. Using traditional bookbinding techniques, Megan hand-dyes and makes beautiful, brilliantly coloured books in a range of deep pastel tones. Here, Megan shares a detailed guide to her process, more about working at Cockpit Arts and the joys of a £5 pencil sharpener…
Please can you introduce yourself and Novella Bookbinding to The Holborn readers?
Hello, Holborn readers! I’m Megan. By day I’m employed full time as a bookbinder and by night / weekends / the rest of the time, I run Novella Bookbinding. Novella is just little old me and I am based in the heart of Holborn at Cockpit Arts studios. As well as making a range of notebooks and diaries to sell, I complete bespoke commissions for a wide range of clients and occasionally I have been known to teach private lessons or group workshops.
Can you share the process of making one of your gorgeous colour-blocked notebooks?
What’s your favourite part of the process?
The Colourblock notebooks were an idea I had wanted to try out for a really long time! Sourcing the book cloth, paper, ribbon and thread to match as closely as possible was the first challenge. In the end I had to dye all the threads myself using mixtures of different shades of Dylon (I spend a lot of my time unravelling thread as it gets very tangled in the process- if anyone has any tips for avoiding this I would be very grateful!).
I begin the making process by trimming down the sheets of coloured paper and folding each piece in half using a teflon folding tool. I then collate them into the ‘sections’ – or the groups of pages which will make up the book. I use an awl and a template to make every hole in exactly the right place ready for sewing.
The sewing is my favourite part!
I find it incredibly therapeutic and satisfying as the stacks of folded pages begin to take shape into book form. I use my hand-dyed linen threads and traditional binding techniques to do this. It looks really cool while all the stitching is still exposed! The edges of the pages need a trim on a guillotine at this point so they are all neat. Next I add a ribbon bookmark, endbands and mull to the spine using plain old PVA which covers the sewing and makes it nice and strong. The ‘textblock’ is now ready to go inside the case.
Meanwhile, the cases are made by gluing three pieces of greyboard to pieces of bookcloth, all of which I have cut down to the correct sizes. The boards will make the spine piece, front cover and back cover, so they need to be placed on to the back of the cloth accurately. When the cases are all dry I can foil them with my Novella Bookbinding logo in a matte silver foil.
All that remains is to attach the textblocks into the cases (again using PVA glue) and to give them a good nip in the press and leave under weights to dry overnight. Oh and I then check each one over before putting them into their packaging.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered running Novella Bookbinding so far? And the greatest achievement?
I feel the answer to both those questions is the same! Let me explain:
I never really truly understood the phrase ‘learning from your mistakes’ until I made the leap and decided to run my own business. There are so many varied elements which come with the day-to-day running of Novella Bookbinding and I have had to become a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none (apart from the bookbinding aspect of course – of which I am very clearly a master!) Before, I was very unused to this feeling; it feels as though I have made every mistake there is to make along the way, large or small, and I know there will be many more to come.
It is this daily challenge which makes running Novella Bookbinding both such a chore, but also a pleasure at the same time. Setbacks can often seem like the end of the world when I am tired after a long day at work, but when I run into the same situation again and know how to tackle it this time it is so, so rewarding! Running a business forces a person to very quickly learn about themselves. You can actually feel the progress you are making over time in a way which just isn’t possible when you are working as part of a team for someone else. So yeah, it’s the little things along the way which challenge me most, but also give me that sense of achievement.
Tell us about how Cockpit Arts have been a part of your work.
Starting a business from scratch can be daunting, especially if it happens to be a creative business, and especially if you are basing that creative business in London! In order to get the ball rolling with Novella Bookbinding, I completed the Prince’s Trust Enterprise course a year ago and was awarded a loan, one-to-one business mentoring and the opportunity to attend workshops on accounting, marketing and time management (these are just a few examples).
As my business is a creative one, I was advised to also apply for the Creative Careers programme at Cockpit Arts, which is run together with the Prince’s Trust.
Through the Creative Careers programme, young entrepreneurs like myself are provided with a subsidised space to work at Cockpit Arts. Here we are surrounded by other professional makers and supported by a wonderful team of creative mentors. We are regularly made aware of opportunities to show our work or apply for funding, which we would otherwise not have access to. Creative businesses can present quite specific challenges, particularly if one person is carrying out all aspects of running the show as well as physically making the products, and so my Prince’s Trust mentoring fits well alongside that offered by Cockpit Arts.
It’s basically an incredibly supportive, inspiring and vibrant place to work – so much more than just a studio space!
What’s your biggest dream for the future?
I dream of being part of something like Penland School of Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love the idea of a space for makers to come together to collectively practise their craft and generate an income from teaching others new skills and selling beautiful, unique objects. There would be studios for painting, drawing, glass, ceramics, textiles, woodworking, stone carving, bookbinding and maybe some yoga and dance. A veg patch would also be cool and a big kitchen and communal eating space.
What would you recommend to anyone who wishes to give bookbinding a go themselves?
Don’t expect to make something perfect for a very long time! Concentrate on learning the skills first and the accuracy and flair will come eventually as you perfect your own way of manipulating the tools and materials. The same techniques in bookbinding have been used for centuries but we all have our own ways of achieving the end result.
If you have an eye for detail, dextrous fingers and enjoy working meticulously in an orderly fashion then bookbinding is the one for you!
What does ‘a well made life’ mean to you?
A well made life means so much to me! I am hugely into conscious consuming and being aware of how everything we buy and do has an impact on something else. The aim is to reduce the negative effects and increase the positives where we can.
By living a well made life, I think we definitely consume in less negatively impactful way. Buying products which have been made well by someone who knows what they’re doing, means they often perform their intended function correctly and with more longevity than mass-produced items which can have more of a ‘throwaway’ feel to them.
Take for example my favourite pencil sharpener(!). I bought my pencil sharpener in Berlin and first and foremost it brings back good memories of that trip. It was a little pricey at around £5.00, but I fell for it immediately due to its unique design and its solid weight in my hand. I can confidently say I will be using this pencil sharpener for a great many years to come! Compare this to if I had purchased a pack of five plastic sharpeners for say £3.00. Firstly, I obviously do not need five pencil sharpeners! I would probably have lost three of them almost immediately because each one would have a smaller emotional meaning to me. Being made of plastic and on a huge scale will probably mean they are more likely to break, or not work properly and so they might end up in the bin. The five sharpeners would ultimately finish their journey and be banished to a landfill site for all eternity before my beautiful German pencil sharpener ceases to function! I would also then have to buy a new sharpener, which would push the overall cost of pencil sharpeners over my lifetime to a higher price than if I had just bought the single £5.00 when I could afford it.
I believe in this method of purchasing fewer items and having fewer belongings and wish it was more the norm today. I also agree with your policy of ‘quality not luxury’. A higher price tag does not always mean a better product! I tend to buy things which have a ‘utilitarian’ feel, the very definition of this word resonates with the notion of a well made life: ‘designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive’. This does not mean everything I own is ugly – I just find a certain beauty in objects designed without unnecessary frills and which perform their intended function well.
By Verity Inett | Workshop Editor | email@example.com
Meet Novella Bookbinding and 170 makers at the Cockpit Arts Christmas Open Studios | Hoborn – 24 – 27 November | Deptford – 2 – 4 December | More information http://cockpitarts.com/shop-cockpit/open-studios/