Bookbinding in Scotland


A book is much more than its contents, as Rachel Hazell discovered. It took only one bookbinding workshop for her to realize it was what she wanted to do. She became a bookbinder and now passes these skills on to others, giving courses on the Scottish island of Iona.

“As a child, I spent my pocket money on stickers and writing materials and I made little booklets that I fastened with split pens,” says Scottish teacher, author and book artist Rachel Hazell. “Later, when I was studying literature, I became just as interested in what was in the books. When I did a bookbinding workshop, I knew I wanted to be a bookbinder. The repetitive actions involved in bookbinding — folding, cutting, gluing, folding, cutting, gluing — brought order to the chaos in my head. The repetition and regular rhythm of the process make it incredibly meditative and relaxing.

“I wanted to get to know all the old techniques of the profession, and to work with materials such as gold leaf, linen, leather and special types of paper. When I had mastered the art of bookbinding, I wanted to pass it on to others. So I started giving classes in 1998, at my home in Edinburgh, Scotland. I am convinced that everyone has a book in them, in one form or another. It is my mission to get those books out. Whether it is a book that you’ve written or that you’re producing. The great thing is that you get results very quickly at a bookbinding course.”

“My home is in Edinburgh, but I spend a lot of time away from the hustle and bustle of city life on the Scottish island of Iona, where my boyfriend runs an eco-hostel. I feel very fortunate, as I have a room for myself in the city as well as a room looking out over the sea. I’m self-employed, and that makes it perfectly possible to do my work from the island three months a year. There, with seals and sheep at close range, I also organize courses where we make books with covers made out of driftwood. I not only give workshops in Edinburgh and on Iona, but also in Amsterdam, Paris and Venice. We browse for our materials on beaches, at flea markets and in second-hand bookstores and paper stores. If you can immerse yourself in creating something, you can escape your daily life — even if only for a moment.

  • Read the full story ‘Paper love’ in Issue 33.

Text Chris Muyres  Photography Nicole Honeywill/