Photo: Julie Leutz
Sure, you can get just about any book in both hardcover or softcover editions. But if you want to buy a copy of Pamela Leutz’s The Thread That Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders and you have a do-ityourself attitude, there’s a third, less common, option: loose, unbound sheets. “A book about bookbinders,” Leutz explains, “is a good book to bind.”
She ought to know. Leutz has been binding books for more than 30 years, and teaching others to do so for nearly as long.
Leutz discovered bookbinding through her ex-husband, who worked for his family’s bookbinding supply company. When they moved to Dallas, she enrolled in a bookbinding class at the local craft guild, and eventually traveled to Switzerland to study with master bookbinder Hugo Peller.
Working under Peller’s direction from morning ‘til night for a solid month was transformative. “He helped me believe that I could be a bookbinder, too,” Leutz says. In 1985, she began binding professionally, creating everything from fine-leather bindings of limited-edition books to intricate “design” bindings for personal journals and photo albums. (The latter resemble works of art, and cost as much: One custom “book in a box” that Leutz crafted for a photographer ran $700.) She also took up teaching–first at the Dallas Museum of Art and then at the craft guild where she got her start.
In 2007, Leutz moved to Colorado Springs to be near one of her grown daughters. The local market for bookbinding was limited–few people will spend $500 to bind a book when they can buy a mass-produced soft cover at the local bookstore for $15–so she found steady administrative work at Colorado College, where she is now assistant to the dean of the college and faculty.
Still, Leutz yearned to make her living as a full-time bookbinder. So she set out to interview as many professionals as she could, in hopes of learning their secrets. What began as a personal investigation soon grew into a full-fledged book project. “It just snowballed,” she says. “I didn’t plan it; it just happened.”
The Thread That Binds includes interviews with 21 bookbinders. They are a diverse lot–which isn’t surprising, given the range of skills and knowledge they are required to cultivate. You can’t bind historic manuscripts, for example, without knowing something about the chemistry of leather, wood, and paper, much less the fonts and ornaments used in different eras. “It draws an intelligent crowd,” says Leutz. “You have to be a mechanic, an engineer, and an artist.”
You also need a day job. Leutz discovered that few of her subjects actually made a living through bookbinding alone. So she decided to let her avocation remain just that, binding on the side, teaching classes at The Press at Colorado College, and publishing her book–one that her colleagues can use as fodder for their own labors of love.
Leutz is fashioning a custom binding for the book that will be featured in an exhibit at the Lone Star Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers in 2011, and she has invited her interviewees to do the same. Chances are good that more than a few will respond, for the strongest thread that binds her subjects is their shared passion for bookbinding.