I was delighted to be contacted by the fine folks at Bill Baber late last year about being included in their ongoing Made in Scotland series, where they highlight indie businesses making interesting things across the country. I’ve included a small snippet of the ensuing interview below, but if you want to read the whole thing you’ll have to visit the Bill Baber website.
This week we feature a very special Made in Scotland small business and perhaps our most remote yet! We have enjoyed running this project with J Boult Designs mostly as it has led us to discover some truly inspiring small businesses!
Based on the Isle of Iona, Baile Mòr Books is a studio and bindery, home of bookbinder and bibliopegist Toben Lewis. Offering bespoke bookbinding, book repairs and book binding workshops, it is a real haven for book lovers! We were enchanted by the exceptional craftsmanship and unique designs of Baile Mòr Books and we are sure you will be too. We might have to book a bookbinding workshop to create a handmade memento of our trip next time we visit Iona!
We asked Toben Lewis to tell us a bit more about his business, where he finds inspiration and how the beautiful books are made.
Can you tell us how your business got started?
I have been an avid reader and book lover for as long as I can remember. I have always liked being surrounded by and deeply immersed in books. My background, and what I now think of as my first career, was in graphic design. I worked in both the publishing and advertising industries, though my love was for the long form designs like books and their covers. An early job as the in-house designer for a publishing and printing company led to a fascination with traditional offset and letterpress printing. And once you can design and print a book, what’s left but to bind it?
I sort of stumbled into that part accidentally, though, finding a tutorial online in how to sew your own book. It seemed like a nice, calming way to unwind from my stressful job. Once I made that first book I was utterly hooked. It was a bit of a Goldilocks situation. I had found the part of the book world that fit me just right and never looked back.
I immediately started teaching myself as much as I could using the internet as a resource. And then graduated to scouring books about the history and craft of bookbinding. This included a week at Gladstone’s Library, a residential library in Wales, which was a book nerds dream. I spent every waking hour of the day taking copious notes from their vast collection. I struggled to speak at the end of it, because the only time I had used my voice was to select my meals in the cafe.
Eventually I progressed enough that I was able to win a scholarship from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust to further my studies. This funding allowed me to study with bookbinding masters across the globe and in the UK and really push my skills in binding and conservation repair. I would not be where I am today without it.