October 23, 2021

Books: bound heart and soul

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

A row of completed books in Tricia Borg’s Newfield studio.

Tricia Borg has always loved books and paper, especially hand-made paper — fascinated by its texture and color.

“What could I do with it?” said the client service manager for a software company.

The Newfield woman, 60, turned to book binding. After a weeklong seminar in the art at Wells College, a whole new world opened for her.

The novice book maker has been crafting writing and sketch journals for a year now and has made about 75 books. She has sold several and has an Instagram presence, BoundforGloryHandmade.

“There are so many neat people all around the country, all around world,” she said: people who make marbled paper in Italy, people who make paste paper in New Mexico; a book stitch guru in Rochester and a Boston book maker who teaches the craft online.

“I have discovered so much — and have many, many lifetimes to learn, to explore. I will never be bored,” Borg said.

Borg applied to be in Cortland’s Steampunk Festival in 2019, creating three steampunk journals, a Facebook page and blog, necessary for the application to get into the festival. This kickstarted her side business. Now she’s entering her work at Cinch Art Space at the Cortland Corset Building.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Tricia Borg works on cutting cardboard for a handmade book in Newfield.

Coming at art from outside

Borg came to her art late in life.

“I have a 23-year-old daughter, Katie. She’s remarkable, a born artist,” she said. “She was frustrated in art education at age 9.”

Katie wanted to learn more than playing with materials. Tricia and her husband, Gary, found a strict art instructor to teach her Chinese brush painting. Katie got professional results at age 10.

“What can we do with this?” said Tricia Borg.

When Katie was 11, they sold her work at art and craft fairs, festivals and farmers markets.

“I love farmer’s markets and meet and greets,” Borg said.

The mom and daughter made it a practice for the next 10 years. Her daughter is now a college student and graphics whiz.

“I just turned 60. All right, maybe I should find something I can make of my own. What would that be? I’m not really sure,” Borg said.

Epiphany overseas

On a visit to Ireland’s Book of Kells book shop in December 2018, she had a “moment.”

Looking around that bookstore, she realized how much she loved paper and books.

“I am going to make a book and before 2019 is over, I will make a book and sell it,” she said.

She attended the book binding seminar in July 2019 at Wells College.

“That was really invaluable,” Borg said. “Everything since then has been online, largely because of COVID. I am so grateful I had that one interactive week.”

“In the class of eight I was absolutely at the bottom of the pack,” she said. Others had been selling books for years and were professional artists. “The only other amateur had been making books for 15 years. I was in over my head.”

“I worked really hard … I asked a lot of questions of the teacher assistant,” she said, not wanting to bother the instructor too much.

“I didn’t fail. I feel I am the least visual person alive. I really should have failed,” she said.

Her stubbornness pulled her through, she laughed.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Borg has been to China several times. Pandas are special to her.

“(It’s) an old craft. People take it for granted. It’s really unique … I took a course in book making. I found it really difficult,” Lyon said. “Book making is an art form. Whether she considers herself an artist or not, she’s an artist.”

Borg said she’s dabbled in pursuits over the years, but the book binding is sticking.

“I am 60. What am I waiting for?” she said. “I pick this. I didn’t know I would love it.”

Simple, but not easy

Borg buys batches of folded, cut paper from a company in Michigan, not having the room for a paper cutter in her tiny studio. She uses a quilting mat, a utility knife, ruler, an awl for hole making, templates to keep the holes in paper and cover lined up, thread and needles to make her books.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Borg works in her small studio. It has deep shelves in one corner, a treasure for a book maker.

Borg makes hand-stitched, non-adhesive books with paper and fabric. But there are many other kinds of books.

There’s paper that is an actual water color painting. There’s paper designed with graphics and stencils and various colors. People use embroidery and buttons on their covers.

Borg decides on the size of the book, folds and cuts the “signatures,” which are groups of paper that are folded together and sewn.

Papers are pressed to flatten them, with the goal to get the book to lie flat.

“That’s not easy. The grain of the paper is supposed to be parallel to the spine,” Borg said. “It’s hard in the U.S. to find paper to go with the grain.”

An 8 1/2- by 11-inch piece of paper, folded correctly, would fold left to right, side to side, to be with the grain. But that’s narrow and unwieldy for a book.

Holes are punched in the signatures with an awl, making sure all is even, using templates to line up the holes. Being consistent is tough.

“It’s really easy to make mistakes,” Borg said. A book binder can add marks to the paper for a guild line, erasing them later. But say there is a mistake in size and the paper has to be taken apart and redone. Will the paper look fresh and untouched? Should the book maker undo two hours of work?

It’s a tough call.

Master binder weighs in

Robert LoMascolo is a book binder, printer and designer with his own press, The Press of Robert LoMascolo, in Aurora. He lectures in book arts at Wells College. He has a MFA in book arts from the University of Alabama.

Bookbinding is hard work, he said.

“Books are so common, most of us don’t think too much about how complicated they are. Books are engineered. They must be flexible yet strong, able to open easily, yet capable of protecting their content for decades, if not centuries,” he said in an email.

“The bookbinder needs to understand the materials they are working with and develop the hand-skills to control them while at the same time being an artist. Uncontrolled moisture and humidity can wreck havoc. You probably never thought much about paper not being dimensionally stable, but the bookbinder is continually aware of it,” he said.

“Unlike many artists, such as an oil painter, the bookbinder rarely has the option to go back and edit or refine their work. If you glue down a sheet of paper and it isn’t perfectly straight or flat, it is pretty much stuck that way. Still, bookbinding is rewarding work, and a well bound book is a thing of lasting beauty.”

Borg says sometimes a book will have to be considered practice.

After the holes are punched in the signatures and the cover, “then you finally get to sew.”

“Which is the fun part. That is a small part of the whole thing,” said Borg of sewing paper and cover.

Katie Keyser/living and leisure editor

Borg loves sewing a hand-made book. It’s her favorite part of the process.

A binder could use a single needle to secure the book, and up to six needles to sew it down, with a variety of color and design to make it unique.

“It could be more than six, God help me. Six is the most I have done,” she said.

She spends four to eight hours on a typical book, over several days. Glued paper has to dry. Pages need to flatten. Borg has a 9 to 5 job she has to do.

Getting better

Borg joined a hand-made book club out of suburban Boston that charges $10 a month for a project class in a private Facebook site. The people were using their original art work to make paper and designs.

“You learn every month with a group of people. That has absolutely been invaluable,” Borg said. “I made every single project. I learn so much from that.”

“If there’s something you want to learn or to dabble in, this is the time to do it,” Lyon said. Isolation fuels the process and creativity is good for emotional, spiritual and mental health.

“Because of the pandemic, there are a lot of online gatherings,” she said.

She’s networking among artists on IlluXCon, a group that explores imaginative realism. “So many people are online. So many creative groups are out there.”

Borg has found that to be true.

“There’s never been a better time to learn art online,” she said. She’s found she can do stamp graphics and “fun artsy things that I never did before. I am not terrible at it.”

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” Borg said.