By the Book


The September 6-7, 2014 edition of The Business Times carried a feature article about “the ancient art of binding books by hand” and its “resurgence among craft-crazed aficionados” in Singapore.

“By the Book” highlights Ian Tan of The Thistle Bindery, Adelene Koh of DDDots, and yours truly, among others. An excerpt:

There is just something about the smell of books–that hint of vanilla, which experts attribute to the smell of lignin, a polymer present in all wood-based materials. Apart from its distinct scent, the heft of a book, the tactility of its cover and pages, makes holding a “real” book such a pleasure for serious readers. Which probably explains why, even as estimated sales of e-reader Kindle to have hit US$3.9 billion in revenue last year, a small group of aficionados are reviving the craft of bookbinding here.

“The lack of actual books with the feel and smell of ink and paper may be a possible explanation for the growing love of bookbinding,” says Winnie Chan, founder of a new bookbinding atelier Bynd Artisan, which opens on Chin Bee Road next weekend. “The possibilities of using different papers and cover materials with different touches, colors, and textures make books more interesting and encourage people to pick them up again instead of turning to technology for their reading or writing essentials.”

Me, on materials:

“As I tell my students, tools and materials are nearly impossible to find in Singapore or crazily expensive,” reveals Pooja Makhijani, a New Yorker who began holding a series of classes through her blog when she relocated here in 2011.

“Does that mean a hand bookbinding hobby in Singapore is a pipe dream? Of course not. I’ve shared my love of this quirky art with many who have not had the access or the means to procure expensive tools and materials. One can make beautiful books with a popsicle stick, needle, nail, dental floss, a stack of envelopes, a cardboard box, burlap, and glue.”

Ms. Makhijani adds that many book artists she knows import their tools and materials from Britain or Japan, and she “[hoards] bone folders, linen thread, and needles for use in my classes,” whenever she travels back home.

o o o o o

My opinion about the reasons for the craft’s popularity did not make in into print! I do think there is a resurgent popularity of traditional crafts and craft practices, both in Singapore and elsewhere in more “developed” economies. We live in a post-industrial culture that romanticizes, fetishizes, and commodifies the handmade, and “making stuff” is part of this resurgence. The interest is a nostalgia for the pre-industrial and enforces the not-so-subtle message reasserting the “value” of the handmade over the machine-made.

I love working with my hands and showing others the joy of doing so, too, but I often question what it means to be a crafter and teacher in Singapore. What are your thoughts, dear readers?


One response

  1. I do love physical books and want to try binding one myself someday, but I’m putting that off until I restart or properly put aside (i.e., clean up the materials lying around) the rest of my attempted craft hobbies. But regardless of how far away that might be, I really appreciate the bookbinding resources on your blog.

    By the way, the vanilla and old book smell factoid is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. There’s one discussion here: