Sunday, July 20, 2014

PBI 2014: Impress me, An Artist’s Approach to Emboss­ing Leather for Books

At Paper and Book Intensive this year, one of the classes I took was taught by Bonnie Stahlecker who showed us creative ways to emboss leather for bookbinding. Bonnie is an amazing artist who incorporates book elements into her work and you can see some of her work and learn more about her on her website at

Books that I made in Bonnie's class.

In this class, we embossed leather using an etching press. A design on a printing plate is impressed into dampened leather when they are passed through the press. We started by trying various methods of creating plates and doing test prints to see how the different techniques would look. Here are some of the test prints that I did:

A crocheted square.

A snake lino cut.

Modelling paste.

And drawing with puff-paint (unpuffed).

Other people in the class tried different techniques as well, using a variety of found objects, cardboard cutouts, string, leaves and ferns, etc. Once we had a chance to play with the various techniques, we created a printing plate for our first book. I did this lino cut, shown here, followed by the embossed leather.

Bonnie also had us try some different ways of embellishing the leather after it was printed using paints and polishes. Here is the same embossed leather after applying some dark blue shoe polish.

And the finished book.

I also made a puff-paint printing plate for another book. I'm not entirely sure what puff-paint is supposed to be used for, but we just used it to draw on fabric. Once the paint was entirely dry, it could be put through the press. It was more durable than expected, and could withstand multiple printings. This photo shows the fabric plate along with the brown printed leather, which was printed with too much pressure and damaged the leather. I printed it again with less pressure onto the red leather, with more success.

The binding technique that we used in this class, is one that Bonnie has developed and it combines different techniques. The covers are semi-stiff, there is no bookboard, just a paper lining in the covers. The primary binding of the textblock is a French link stitch. The textblock is attached to the cover with a secondary sewing using tackets. The result is a nice lightweight leather book. She also showed us a lovely little headband that is quick but also very effective. We used leather to make a false endbands and stuck them on with pva. Then with just a simple oversewing, it creates a really nice endband.

Thanks, Bonnie, for sharing all these great ideas and techniques with us!


Gina said...

These are so very cool. I especially love your tree design--it looks smashing as a finished book!

Gina said...

P.S. It's too bad you need a heavy press to do these.

Lu said...

Hi Rhonda, the books look fantastic! I use veg tanned for this. Did you?

MyHandboundBooks said...

Thanks Linda. yes, we were using veg tanned leather.

Jhon Staphen said...

thank you so much I enjoy working with leather very much, and I'm always on the hunt for tips, techniques, advice!
happy crafting

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