Vintage Books and Bookbinding

In our neighbourhood we have a ‘free shelf’. It’s a place to put or take, and to share items you no longer need. It is a nice community project which encourages recycling and we often use it for donating items and finding treasures!

A couple of weeks ago I was cycling past and spotted a large amount of vintage books on offer. I stopped and realised they were all historic books on Cambridge. One book from the 1900s had a beautiful ‘Cambridge Blue’ cover and illustrations of the city inside. Unluckily, I missed out as a couple passing by had noticed its beauty moments before me. I am sure it was worth a pretty penny too!


It felt pretty special to stumble upon these books (which were left by an older lady who was clearing out her home) so I added a few to my bookshelf. I especially like Things I’ve Seen in Cambridge which is part of a series of books for different cities. Some of the books are from the 1800s and have names or messages in the front covers.


I love that my home city has such a rich history and I have been enjoying learning about medieval Cambridge and traditions that still take place today.


Aside from the content of the books, I was also drawn to how they were made as many antique book binding techniques are still used today. A couple of weeks ago I visited Brignell Bookbinders in Cambridge for a class in Long Stitch Bookbinding with Edel Hopkin. Edel started by telling us a little about the history of bookbinding and then we got started on making a long stitched leather journal.

Here are some photos I took on my phone during the class. Look at that Singer! It was honestly the most wonderful place to learn, full of old letter press machines and ancient books. We learnt that many theses of Cambridge students were bound there.


Making a book with the Long stitch binding technique is very satisfying and we managed to make our journals in just one evening. I learnt that accurately measuring the components of the book is key, so the stitching is even and the pages are held together in correct alignment.


I am definitely going to be making more of these, perhaps for gifts or perhaps just for my own (enormous) notebook collection. I need to purchase just a few inexpensive supplies to get started, but I am confident it is a craft I can continue at home when I have time.


Now I just have to decide what to use my book for. Perhaps I’ll start my own series of things I’ve seen in Cambridge…..


I have started a Bookbinding board on Pinterest below, so do follow along if you’d like to see my inspiration. I would also recommend the You Tube channel Sea Lemon if you are interested in learning bookbinding and don’t have classes in your local area.

Follow Claireabellemakes’s board Bookbinding on Pinterest.