Making books & creative connections with The Travelling Bookbinder

[Alyson Kuhn] At the beginning of February, I attended Rachel Hazell’s five-day bookmaking workshop, Colour of Love, as previewed here. It was the week before Valentine’s Day, but the theme was love in the broadest personal sense: what — rather than simply who — do you love? The workshop spun into a house party, and the gathering expanded into a rather remarkable mix, or maybe a confluence, of paper-loving merrymakers. All of whom — including the instructor — found the most inspiring aspect of the experience to be … the other participants. The idyllic setting was a distant second.

The craft barn, with sunlight pouring in mid-afternoon

The workshop was held at Barbara Colvin’s barn-compound in the Napa Valley. Colvin, a lifestyle designer and global sourcer, had met Hazell in the spring of 2011, while checking out Few and Far in London. Hazell’s A-to-Z collages were on exhibit in the shop’s gallery, and she struck up a conversation with Colvin … who was so taken with Hazell’s creativity that she decided to fly to France for The Travelling Bookbinder’s summer workshop in the Dordogne — and to scoop up her sister Mary Alice in Boston en route.

Rachel Hazell radiates enthusiasm during the Colour of Love.

Colvin, who is unquestionably the Hostess with the Mostess Paper & Ribbons & Fabric, took no supplies with her to the workshop in France. She says, “I think that made me more creative. When you have your own supplies, it’s more challenging to think you’ve got the right stuff. With someone else’s, I think it’s easier to embrace them.”

Place settings included a felt pencil pouch by Daff. (I have now put an aqua Felt & Wire ampersand button through my zip tab.)

Creative abandon: The tables got scrap-happier as the day wore on, and then were tidied overnight.

Inspiration boards abounded.

Hazell sums up her experience in the Napa Valley: “This workshop revealed a new page of possibilities for creative book art in its generous combination of people, paper, place and chocolate. Illuminated by a constellation of lightbulbs, surrounded by an abundance of materials, the studio exceeded any other location taught at by this Travelling Bookbinder. My first — and very joyful — Stateside teaching experience was daunting, delightful and ultimately delirious — but that may have been the sugar rush after handfuls of heart candy.”

Mary Austin was in high production mode.

Mary Austin, co-founder of the San Francisco Center for the Book, likens the workshop to a symphony rehearsal: “When they play Baroque music at a rehearsal, it unleashes something bigger, it helps my brain work better. In this group, in this mix, my brain was working better. I felt both tremendously privileged and inspired, to be in a spectacular setting at an arts retreat where you can concentrate whole-heartedly on book arts in the broadest sense. Everyone brought something very different, and I learned a lot, not just about bookbinding, but about being in that creative space where you can see more things.”

One of Mary Austin’s books became a demo of techniques, a kit of enclosures, a lovely many-folded thing.

Of the abundance of materials and inspirations, graphic designer Tom Ingalls says: “I think the Iron Chef is a good analogy. The workshop provided every ingredient we could need. So, instead of ‘Hmm, what foods tell this story?’ you could focus on love or whatever you were cooking up. It’s helpful to have a theme or a context – something to narrow it. I was more focused on visualizing ideas than on making objects – and I think these ideas will ripen later. As I remember it now, it was a feast for all the senses.”

From left: Linda Smith, Tom Ingalls, Rachel Hazell, Alyson Kuhn

Ingalls was the guest griller on Saturday evening, but before putting on his embroidered chef’s jacket, he treated the group to an aperitif presentation of his studio’s project for a maker of French sparkling wine.

Ingalls Design’s label plays to the color of the glass, the color of the wine and, of course, the name Je T’aime.

Everything’s coming up rosé: Ingalls also showed the foil options for the bottle’s capsule and talked about the practical value of a neck label in finishing the rough edge of the spun foil.

Mary Alice Stielau, Barbara Colvin’s sister, is an early childhood educator. She reflects, “What I will remember most about both workshops is the people. As for what I ‘got’ or learned about bookmaking, I’d say more confidence in trying new techniques and undertaking other projects that may seem difficult. It also opened my mind to endless possibilities of paper art. I am not as much of a collector of crafty stuff as Barbara — I am more of a gleaner of trash. Having the luxury of time to explore our own creative spirit and carry through with an idea, meeting creative people in a beautiful spot, was … well … heaven.” Colvin chimes in, “I agree. My favorite part of both workshops was the people: getting to know people who would normally never cross my day-to-day path — and who share some of my passions. The workshops remind me that my inspiration frequently comes from less obvious places, that there are different ways and places to get inspired. And my favorite ‘lesson’ was the pop-up techniques.”

A spread from Mary Alice Stielau’s book

Linda Smith is no stranger to bookmaking and labor-intensive limited-edition projects. For about the last 20 years, she’s made holiday cards that she and her husband send to an ever-growing list of recipients. She observes, “My making tends to get squeezed into the rest of life, and it was a delight to spend an entire day with Rachel, surrounded by red paper and chocolates and the most delicious food. But the best part was Rachel and her amazing spirit and talent. I hope to meet up again in another Rachel Hazell class somewhere in the world. I was a low producer in the workshop, but the day inspired me to come home and a week later finish a book about a trip to Death Valley that I’d been working on for ages.”

Anne Millett taught us to fold kirigami flowers from squares of tissue paper.

Barbara Colvin had met Anne Millett, founder of Mira Aster, at the National Stationery Show in 2001. Colvin asked Millett to join the party and to give a show-and-tell of her sewn stationery line. Millett decided “to teach something with dimension. Since Rachel’s books cause us all to expand our ideas of what I book is, I thought it would be fun to bust out in 3D. You can punch a hole in a card and pull the strings of the flowers through, for 3D blooms on your valentines. Precise folding is vital to this endeavor, so I provided a template to size. I loved seeing all the ways people used the heart-flowers they made.”

As for me, I cannot sum up Alyson’s adventures in bookbinding wonderland better than Millett’s toast: “All the materials that Barbara supplied were divine, and I could have made valentines all week. I’ll remember it as a dream. I’m hoping she’ll do it again next year!” Tomorrow, on Felt & Wire, I will show you what I made at the Colour of Love.

Flavors of love: Blood orange sorbet with raspberry coulis, made in Colvin’s collection of antique pewter ice cream and chocolate molds.

Lead photo and images 2, 4, 8, 12, 13 © 2012 photographer Nancy Cohn, who attended the workshop with one of her two photographer daughters, Lauren Ross. Cohn says, “I loved the whole process. I’m inspired to continue meeting people from all over the universe who share the love of books, paper, art, and travel.”

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