Published On: 19 October 20231226 words6.2 min read

I’ve been sitting on this news for a few months now and am beyond delighted to finally be able to share that I have won Best Creative Binding in the Elizabeth Soutar Bookbinding Competition for the second year in a row. The winners were announced at an event at the library in Edinburgh on 19 October. I was able to attend and was asked to share a bit about my creative process for this binding.

With some books the creative process can be a long and involved process that can include reading, re-reading, sketching, planning, and pondering, and even then it still evolves during the binding of the book. The creative process for this book took about 10 seconds. When climate change was announced as the theme for this year’s competition I knew immediately and unshakably that I would bind This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein, and I wanted to bind it in rubbish.

The technical process of binding this book, however, was a long and involved process that included testing, re-testing, sketching, planning, and researching. And it evolved constantly during the binding of the book.

I was set in the idea that the book would look ‘normal’ at a glance and wanted to complete as close to a fine binding as possible within the limitations. But I did have various questions in my mind about the source of the rubbish – my initial thought was to collect it from beaches here on the Isle of Iona, but I wasn’t convinced I would be able to find suitable materials, either in terms of size or malleability. What could I use in place of leather for covering and how in the world would I manage to sew endbands?

This is one of the beaches not far from my bindery, and where the concept for the binding solidified.

A few weeks into the thought process, I was grudgingly coming to the idea that I may have to source binding materials elsewhere. Until I was out walking and came upon this familiar sight: old, washed up netting. It was perfect for an endband but far too thick and chunky. But, like most other ropes, this was made up much smaller strands which I realised I could take apart and rewind to the thickness I required. With this, I was now firm in my commitment to use only materials washed up on the beaches for this book.

Over the next few weeks I gathered an empty crisp packet, a carrier bag with a drawstring, and a livestock ear tag. What I continued to struggle with was a covering material. My options were plentiful but none were what I was after: something flexible, thin, and large enough to cover the entire book. I realised that the ideal would be to find a rubber innertube. I continued to not find a rubber innertube or anything remotely similar.

A friend of ours is the local National Trust for Scotland ranger, though, and I was asking her about the best (worst) beaches for washed up detritus. She suggested a few that I might try on Mull, our neighbouring island. But that she had a truck innertube in her shed from a previous beach clean that I was welcome to have. No brainer. Yes please.

When I thought of an innertube as the perfect covering material I neglected to account for two properties: one, it is curved. I had of course thought of the curve of the overall piece so that it could fit around a wheel, but had forgotten that they are also tube shaped. I had been thinking it would be as simple as cutting off a section, slicing it open, and laying it flat. This was not to be. Fortunately I had recently been introduced to the Tudor style binding by Dominic Riley, and wondered if it’s use of strips of material to cover an entire book could be a viable solution here. After a few discussions with Dominic about the process I settled on it as the best way forward.

I deviated from the ‘traditional’ Tudor style* by using strips horizontally across the spine rather than vertically all over the book. I had experimented with colouring or abrading every second strip of innertube to break up the monotony of identical black rubber but none of it was satisfactory. Turning the spine pieces 90 degrees provided some visual interest and references back to quarter leather bindings.

The second was adhesives. Although I was using unconventional materials I was still of the mind that I wanted to use conservation grade materials and adhesives wherever I could. But it turns out paste and EVA/PVA does not work on rubber. I went through a large number of increasingly foul chemical adhesives before finally returning to one that worked well enough, super glue. I cannot tell you how many times my fingers have been temporarily attached to parts of this book.

Covering had other challenges as well. The material could not be pared, despite my best efforts, so at overlapping areas the board was notched out to allow for excess thickness. And headcaps were nearly impossible to form with a springy material. Wire has been glued into the innertube to allow some shaping but even that is minimal at best.

The other two materials found on the beaches became the flyleaves (the carrier bag) and inset doublures (the crisp packet, reversed so it acts as a bit of a mirror). The edge sprinkling includes all the colours from the disparate materials, to help pull it all together. I think here it is also somewhat reminiscent of a pebbly beach, as well as being a very traditional form of edge decoration.

The clamshell box is the only piece that includes a covering material not found washed up: a black bin liner. Although I encountered many bin liners in my searches they were shredded or not in large enough pieces to cover the box. Inside the box sand from the beach that my bindery overlooks is glued into both trays.

The box ended up looking a bit reminiscent of a tombstone. While this was not my original intention, I’m not mad at it. I think it works.

I don’t know how the materials used on this book will age, and I certainly don’t know how the adhesives will last. I know from the state of my bindery after finishing this book that the sand in the box will wear away. I am honoured to have this binding as part of the National Library of Scotland’s permanent collection and can only apologise to future conservators who may have to deal with it. But I also think that the inherent instability and unknown nature of the physical binding is somewhat of a perfect metaphor for how we’re treating our planet.

This Changes Everything and it’s accompanying documentary are powerful and intelligent statements on climate change. They highlight the effect climate change has not just on the planet but on people and communities. My ultimate aim was to do this book justice with the binding, and I can only hope I have achieved that in some small way.


*The Tudor style binding is in fact not all that traditional. It was conceived of by Paul Delrue and derives it’s name from the first book it was used on, which was a Shakespeare.