I think eBooks are great but nothing will ever really beat beautiful hardcovers.

A few years ago, I was browsing the tables at the University of Sydney Bookfest, looking for good secondhand books. Thinking that I might find some Sylvia Plath, I ended up in the Poetry section. Sylvia wasn’t there but I picked up this handsome copy of The Poetical Works of Keats, published in 1912.

The emblem on the cover was that of my old high school, so I think the book might have, once upon a time, lived in the school library. Funnily enough, in my short story, Colin the Dog, which I wrote in high school, the protagonist reads a book of Keats’ poetry to find inspiration for his own writing.

The coincidences didn’t end there. Six days after picking up the Keats at the Bookfest, I was contacted out of the blue and informed that plans for the film adaptation of Colin the Dog were being resurrected after years in hibernation and that Grant Scicluna had come on board as screenwriter and director.

Meanwhile, this poor red Keats of mine was falling apart. White fluff was coming out of the padded cover (who knew that books were stuffed?) and the red faux leather was disintegrating, leaving a disturbing trail of red flakes wherever the book went.

The Keats definitely needed rescue, so I left it to be repaired at Newbold & Collins in Glebe. I thought their bindery was fascinating and that it would be interesting to learn more about how bookbinders make and repair books.

So earlier this year I took an 8-week beginners’ bookbinding course. The course was taught by Rosemarie Jeffers-Palmer, a professional bookbinder. Lessons were held in Rosemarie’s bindery, which is located in Enmore above the specialty paper retail shop she co-owns, Amazing Paper.

Here are some photos taken during our last class, with Rosemarie demonstrating some final bookbinding steps for us.

Over the 8 weeks, we each made a few books from scratch. Below is one of mine, bound using Oriental side stitch.

Making books from scratch was fun and I discovered some stitching techniques that would be useful for making zines.

The best feeling, though, came at the end of the course when I finished my last project: rebinding an old orange paperback Penguin edition of The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. I’d brought it home with the Keats from the book fair and, like the Keats, it was on its last legs and desperately needed help.

The moment I realised in class that the book was starting to look like a proper hardcover, I was very excited. This is how it ended up.

If you’d like to find out more about Rosemarie’s work, she blogs about bookbinding here. You can enrol in her beginners’ course through Sydney Community College. If you’re interested in taking Rosemarie’s more advanced courses, you can enrol via the Amazing Paper website.

Nerdburger Alert

The University of Sydney’s Bookfest is on again this month from Saturday, 17 September until Wednesday, 21 September. They’re anticipating having 65,000 books for sale. The money raised goes into University scholarships and projects. More details here.

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