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Traditional bookbinder preserving the word in West Berkshire

THE BBC Repair Shop’s expert Christopher Shaw, a Fellow of Designer Bookbinders, has done much to raise the profile of the craft. And we have an expert on our doorstep, who has chosen a career in craft bookbinding, made by hand using traditional methods and materials.

Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration
Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration

Local bookbinder Lorna McCurdy works in a small countryside studio. “It is,” she says, “a quiet haven where I can focus all my attention on the books that pass across my desk.”

She comes from a fine line of artists/ craftspeople – her grandfather Alec McCurdy, who died aged 102 in 2017, trained as a furniture maker under Edward Barnsley, later becoming a renowned cello maker working from his studio in Cold Ash, her father Peter, a specialist in the repair and conservation of historic timber framed buildings – most notably involved in the authentic reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe. Her mother Anne Payton is a painter too, who trained in theatre design.

So it may seem inevitable that Lorna was destined for a creative career.

“I have always been drawn to making things and creative subjects, inspired by my creative family.

“An interest in history as well as the arts led to my art history degree, but I was really more interested in the practical side of making rather than the academic.

“My love of art, history and literature and my innate creative ability has found a perfect outlet in bookbinding.”

Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration
Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration

Her interest in bookbinding and restoration was sparked by her great grandmother who was also a bookbinder.

“Although I never knew her, I had always seen and loved her books, which are jewel-like leather bindings. I was keen to try bookbinding so I had a go on a short course and have not stopped since.”

Extensive training is required and, as Lorna explains, “there is always more to learn, whether this is new techniques/materials or just learning from the different books you come across.”

Patience and precision are both essential to the craft, but also “being adaptable and responding to the book in front of you is really important – every book requires something slightly different, whether it is a new book or an old one. Being able to change your approach and treating each book individually is an important skill”.

Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration
Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration

Day to day, the projects she mainly works on are book restoration, creating new bindings, making bespoke boxes and fine leather books, but there are a large variety of different procedures and skills employed in bookbinding, so each day she might be doing a dozen different things.

“One minute I might be sewing some pages together for a new book, another I might be cutting and gluing a box together, another day I might be doing the long and careful process of traditional gold tooling. I love this variety – working on different projects and procedures, whether it’s repairing a beloved children’s story, binding an author’s first book or making a photography portfolio.”

The fundamentals of bookbinding have changed very little since the first books, meaning that many of the techniques Lorna uses have been employed by bookbinders for centuries.

“This connection with the past is something that I love and is particularly relevant when restoring an antiquarian book.”

What is the most satisfying part of what she does? “There are so many satisfying elements of bookbinding – the materials, the design, the functionality of the book, the tools! And on a different level creating or repairing books for clients is deeply satisfying. It’s not always easy to visualise the end result so when a book is finished there is often an element of surprise – there is a thrill when a client is handed the actual physical book after perhaps months of discussion.

“Another very satisfying element is being able to restore a beloved family possession. I am constantly delighted by the interesting books that are brought to me, and some of the most inspiring to restore are the ones that have seen people through wars, the records of family histories, and the well-used cookery books (Mrs Beeton is a favourite). These simple books, like WW2 flight log books, are not particularly interesting in terms of the binding, but they can be very fulfilling to restore.”

Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration
Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration

Each project brings something new, whether it’s a new design technique or a new method to restore a book.

“Some of the most interesting books I have worked on are the older books, early 17th-century books are beautiful.

“And it’s fascinating to discover the quirks and methods used by the 17th-century binder.”

Yet Lorna also employs traditional techniques in creative ways.

“An exciting part of my work is using traditional methods to create a completely modern book.

“Fine leather bindings allow for this combination. Traditional skills are required to create the perfect book object, and methods such as gold tooling which has been used for hundreds of years, are employed in fresh ways to bring to life modern designs.

“I am always thrilled to work on a fine binding commission for someone, to share this unique design process where each element of the book is carefully chosen and crafted as a response to the written words inside.”

Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration
Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration

Visit the website www.lornamccurdy.com Lorna McCurdy Bookbinding and Book Restoration.

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