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An excerpt from The Thread that Binds

The Thread that Binds: Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders by Pamela Train Leutz is the compilation of interviews with 21 independent bookbinders. Each chapter tells the story of a different bookbinder offering a closer look at their goals, studios, challenges, successes, and lives. This excerpt contains parts of Leutz’s interview with Monique Lallier, a bookbinder from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Monique Lallier

“May I have your attention?” I first was introduced to Monique Lallier as she stood on a chair at the first Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence conference I attended. As the organizer of the annual conference, she was trying to get our attention to make an announcement. She was gracious, stunning, well-dressed, and speaking in her French-Canadian accent.

Monique is married to Don Etherington, perhaps the most well known bookbinder in the USA, originally from England. Their storybook romance took place in Finland. Swiss master bookbinder Hugo Peller had been asked by one of his students, a prominent woman in Finland, to invite an exclusive group of bookbinders from around the world to a conference at her home in Finland. It was there on March 4, 1987, that Hugo introduced Don and Monique. A magnetic attraction brought them together in marriage soon after and has kept them together ever since. I arrive at their Greensboro, NC home during rose season. The rose garden in the front of their large attractive home, a gift from Don to Monique, is abloom with an abundance of color. Tasteful art is plentiful throughout their house. Inside the front door sits a large standing press that once belonged to Edith Diehl, a welcome to their world of bookbinding. To the left is a room that is their shared studio. The space is large enough that they each have a separate space to work, equipment they share, and a small desk. Hugo Peller’s polypress, now belonging to Monique, is a treasured piece of equipment. The upstairs library, packed with books, is Don’s home office.

What about clients—how do you get them?

In Montreal we had good customers, collectors who kept coming back. In the states it is more difficult to develop a relationship. Most of my customers I haven’t met. They find me on my website, and they ask me to do something. I rarely meet them. Some I do know though. It is very different than Montreal. You have collectors there and they like to personally choose the leather and the end papers. I still make a lot of my own marbled papers, Asco-color papers [learned from Hugo Peller].

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a bookbinder?

They need to go to a regular class where they work every week, or go to a place like the American Academy of Bookbinding for two or three weeks where they are assigned work for the year. You need to start with a good teacher. It is more difficult to undo bad habits than to start with good ones. I now see many people that start with all these simple techniques. In a sense it will bring more people to bookbinding, and maybe to fine binding. For many people, they think that is what bookbinding is, but they need to explore more. After they feel comfortable doing a binding and working with leather, they need to have as many different teachers as they can. And they need to work regularly. They shouldn’t let two or three months go by without doing anything. They lose the details of developing their own techniques. But if they are passionate about it, it is not difficult.

I have Hugo’s polypress here, the one I worked on when studying with him. Hugo and I were writing to each other two or three times a year. We were going to visit in May. He wrote back that he was happy and that he was going to Finland. He died there of a heart attack on March 4th, the date he introduced Don and I.

Monique Lallier’s studio

What is your favorite thing about being a bookbinder?

The diversity. Each binding is a new endeavor, a new challenge. I don’t have a style that people will recognize in my bindings. People like Phillips Smith or Ivor Robinson have a precise style that you recognize from their bindings. I read the book and reflect on the spirit of the book. It is the inspiration from the book that makes each book different. And it forces me to do more that what I have done before.

How do you develop the design?

When I read the book, images come up in my head. The atmosphere of the book, in general, helps me start the process. I look at illustrations though I try not to be too influenced by them, just inspired. I take notes when I read. I feel the color, or write down words that struck me as inspirational or helped me understand the book. Sometimes it is more difficult, and I don’t come up with things. Then it is a struggle, but you do it; you come up with the best you can even if it doesn’t inspire you.

What is your least favorite part of bookbinding?

Sanding. I do it by hand to have better control, but it is a pain!

Is there anything you would like to achieve in bookbinding that you haven’t yet achieved? Can you think of a project that you would love to do?

I would like to write a book about bookbinding. I started to work on this but put it aside for a while. It will be a technical book with very good illustrations, a reference book that will especially help people who take my classes. They can read when they are away from class and comprehend what to do when the teacher is not there to answer questions. If students don’t have good notes, they can get a little lost. The book will help as a reference to refresh their memories so they can do the work at home.

What gifts or abilities do you have that make you a good bookbinder?

I think it is patience and paying attention to detail. I think these are the main qualities of a good bookbinding—details of the details.

For more information on Monique Lallier, and to see examples of her work, go to www.moniquelallier.com.

Click here to order The Thread that Binds.

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