It has been a long while since my last blog post, not through lack of inspiration but very much due to lack of time. Visitors, learning French, commission work and speculative bookbinding have all gotten in the way of my writing recently but I feel there is no better excuse to start up again now given my recent good fortune! Last week I made a whistle-stop trip back to London from France as a few weeks earlier I had been informed I was amongst the prizewinners in this year’s Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition. It was quite a way to go but given I had missed quite a few bookbinding-related events already this year I decided to make the effort.

I am thrilled to report that it was more than worth making the journey, not only did I get the chance to catch up with a lot of familiar faces, I also picked up both the Folio Society Prize for the Set Book, and The Mansfield Medal for Best book in the Competition! The book that scooped the awards for me was my binding of Truman Capote’s, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, the set book for this year’s annual competition.

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For those unfamiliar with the competition, Designer Bookbinders has annually sponsored and promoted The Bookbinding Competition since January 1975, when it assumed responsibility for the Thomas Harrison Memorial Competition, founded in 1957. Since 1990, The Folio Society has been sponsoring the competition, each year donating printed sheets of a different selected text for the competition entrants to bind. In addition to entering a bound copy of the set book, entrants can also submit a binding into the Open Choice category.

The aims of the Competition are “to encourage professionals, amateurs and students to produce originally designed and well bound books, and to give them the opportunity to exhibit their technical and artistic skills…and its continuation is seen as essential to the vigour of the art of bookbinding in Britain today.”

In recent years the competition bindings have been exhibited at a variety of venues including the British Library, London, and The John Rylands Library, Manchester. From 2013, Designer Bookbinders has a new London venue at the St Bride Foundation where a purpose-built exhibition room is now in place to show these bindings, plus other DB organised displays throughout the year. This year’s display looks as magnificent as ever with 39 books on display in the large wall cases in the Layton Room.

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This is not the first time I have entered the DB annual competition, or indeed the first time I have won a prize. I started bookbinding in 2005, which seems like a scarily long time ago now! The first DB competition I entered was in 2007, the set book that year being “The Somme: An Eyewitness History”.

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It was great to enter and I was hooked, I loved having a deadline to work towards and then to be able to see my work displayed alongside so many other binders! I also found it fascinating to see all the different design ideas and possibilities given to the same text block by different creative eyes.

Since 2007, I have entered the competition five more times, in 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, entering nine books across the six years in both the set book and open choice categories. Previous to this year’s success, I have won the Mansfield Medal two times before, the first time was in 2008 for my binding of Daphne Du Maurier’s, “Don’t Look Now and Other Stories”, and for the second time in 2011 for John Craig’s, “Locks of the Oxford Canal”.

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I knew the story of Breakfast at Tiffany’s having watched the film many years ago. I did refresh my memory and re-watch it over the summer but I also made sure I read the book, knowing how film adaptions of novels can stray somewhat from the original story. I was amused to hear that in France, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is not known as “Petit Déjeuner Chez Tiffany” but in fact, “Diamants Sur Canapé” – literally translated as “Diamonds On The Couch”!

The description of Holly in the book is different to that of the iconic Audrey Hepburn figure we know and love in the film, in fact Holly has short blonde hair! The illustrations by Karen Klassen in this Folio Society publication show a more true depiction of the original character.

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My initial design thoughts were centred around the brownstone building that Holly Go Lightly is described as living in, with the fire escape outside the back window of her apartment. So much of the book is centred around Holly’s apartment itself, with the crates and suitcases making up the furniture, I deliberated over how I might depict this.

Holly seems like a party girl who cares only about money and finding the next fun thing, constantly attracting and then fending off unwanted advances from men she picks up at bars. She hosts a wild party at her apartment in New York that I chose as the theme for the binding. Although I wanted to show the party scene, I am not a fan of drawing faces and decided a great way of overcoming this would be to concentrate my design on the legs and feet of the party-goers, initially scribbling a small design on a scrap of paper. I felt it important to feature Holly Go Lightly on the front cover of the binding smoking a long cigarette, surrounded by a majority of men.

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I researched lots of shoes and legs and found an image of these great chaps, using them as an inspiration for how to treat the other legs on the cover.

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I decided to bind the book as a stub binding as I wanted to treat the edges of the book pages in two different colours, with 7 of the sections coloured in dark blue, and one coloured in light blue. This then was carried through with the colour of the stubs matching. The stubs were then sewn onto three tapes that were in turn laced into the boards.

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Once I had forwarded the book I could accurately work on the design knowing the size of the covering leather and where the board joints fell. I drew up a line drawing of the cover design to work from.

The covering leather was pared, and leather onlays stuck down with PVA glue where required. I chose to use a different highlight colour for each of the characters featured on the cover and sanded some sections of the leather and washed it with acrylic paints to add further detail. Over the top of this I machine and hand-embroidered the outlines and added extra sewn detail to the material of the clothes.

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Holly lives with a ginger cat but refuses to give him a name, as although he lives with her in her apartment she doesn’t believe she owns him. I added the cat into my design, with his ginger fur contrasting with the darker party scene on the majority of the cover, but only seeing a slither of him through the legs of the partygoers. He started off as an orange leather onlay which I washed with acrylic paint and then embroidered his fur with a variety of different coloured threads. The leather was then blind and gold tooled all over using both gold and moon gold leaf.  

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I chose the doublures because they reminded me of the wallpaper I imagined Holly to have in her apartment. I added a simplified detail to the plain endpapers to tie them in with the patterned doublures. This was done using a variety of stitched outlines, pierced sections and gold leaf.

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I also added this pattern to the doublures.

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It was rather to the wire with the finishing of the binding however I found just enough time to make a drop-back box to house the binding in.

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As I am currently staying in France this year, rather than working right up to the deadline and handing it in on the last day of acceptance I had to factor in postage time to the UK. I found a FedEx office about a half an hour drive from me, whizzed over there and just about managed to explain where I wanted the binding to go in French! One day later than I had been assured it arrived at it’s destination and I was able to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

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