I recently completed the binding of one of my favourite texts, “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. Since I read this book last year I have loved the wisdom and beauty of its language and the messages it contains. From first picking it up I knew that I wanted to illustrate it with pinhole photographs. The book was printed on standard 100gsm Conqueror paper in contour finish and using A4 guillotined to A5 short-grain allowed me to print to a page size of A6.

First, the signatures were trimmed and then pierced. As I don’t have a plough I trim the pages as accurately as possible prior to binding to make the edge finish of the pages as smooth as I can manage. The result is usually not completely level but I find the slightly rustic unevenness suits me.


The pierced signatures ready for sewing.

Sewing the signatures.
Sewing frame


Once the signatures are sewn the cover boards and spine are pasted in place. I chose to use a hollow back made from kraft paper rather than a rigid spine. The inlaid section is fully covered by the covering material and pressed down after pasting to make an indented area into which I place the cover illustration (see below).
Hollow back and cover with inlay

The book starts to take shape now. The next step is to paste in the endpapers. I find this part the most difficult as a mistake can write off the whole book. The trimming of the papers needs to absolutely precise as does the application of the paste so that it does not touch the cover material and edges nor the inner pages of the book.
Endpaper materials

Once pasted, pressed and dried, the endpapers really finish the book beautifully.
Finished endpapers

The text pages of the book were laid out using Lyx.
Book open showing text

I chose to bind illustrations into the centre of two of the signatures. The images were printed on a heavier grade paper than the text (Bockingford Inkjet Watercolour double-sided 190gsm). This makes the feel of the page flow slightly uneven when leafing through the book but it was a necessary compromise to allow the images to be reproduced as close as possible to photo quality.
Book open showing photos

The final stage was to paste and press the cover illustration into the inlaid section. Although this method of titling is more fiddly than the simple pasting on of a cover title, I personally like to use it for a couple of reasons: it is more stylish and crafted; and the cover photo is protected from abrasion when rubbing against neighbouring books on the shelf.
Book cover with title photo

4 thoughts on “Binding “Letters to a Young Poet”

  1. mark, that is so beautifuly done, i love the choices you made throughout it.
    i imagine making books would become addictive, it must be so satisfying presenting your pictures alongside writings of your choice in the way you choose, there’s something very special about them.

    you’re an artist.

  2. I just happened across your blog.

    Being a bookbinder, and appreciative of poetry, I was deeply interested in your binding of Letters to a Young Poet, and how you treated it. Are those Cockerell endpapers?

    You also did a very nice job with the equipment you made. Thank you for sharing your work, very interesting.



    1. Thank you for your kind comments, Richard. Yes it is Cockerell paper which I got from Shepherd’s in London (although when I checked this morning they no long appear to stock these papers).

      There is definitely something special and satisfying about working with tools made by oneself. Wooden implements have their own beauty which I feel adds to the enjoyment of binding.

      I am an occasional visitor to your website which is full of ideas and information and makes me aware of how much I have still to learn!

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