Sustainability is an important goal of immersive learning courses.  Preferably, immersive projects can continue to run as part of the standard curriculum.  The department of English has several sustained immersive learning projects, including the Broken Plate literary journal, Creative Writing in the Community, and Book Binding, which is one section of the capstone course, English 444, as taught by Dr. Rai Peterson.

The book binding course teaches students to hand-sew signatures and text blocks and to bind them as books, using a variety of binding methods such as Belgian, case-book, carousel, Coptic, Japanese stab, pamphlet stitch, and others.  Students in the course write researched, original text (which might vary from an in-depth, researched thesis to an introduction followed by a collection of original poetry or prose), and each student brings out a hand-bound edition of four copies of her work.

The book binding course is usually offered once per year.  Students in the class partner with Bracken Library’s Special Collections department, and Library personnel show students examples of artist’s books and specially bound volumes in Bracken’s collection.  They continue to consult with students about historical book-production practices.  The library also provides samples of work completed by students who have previously taken the book binding class because every student gives one copy from the edition she has bound to Bracken Library, where it is catalogued and kept in Special Collections.  That means every student who completes the final book binding assignment graduates with his name on his diploma, and also in Card Cat at Bracken.

Here are some students’ descriptions of the books they are currently making to contribute to Bracken Library’s Special Collections holdings.

Tara Olivero: My book is about my experiences in London after I won a Fulbright Summer Institute to study at Shakespeare’s Globe for three weeks during the summer after my sophomore year. I include a research portion about the history of the London Underground, but the majority of the book is a narrative focused on specific moments during my time there, with each moment centered around a location in London. The segments all begin with a set of directions explaining how to get to that location from the previous segment’s location via the Underground. I chose to do a Coptic binding for the book to signify the physical tying together of my memories. The front cover is grey while the back cover is a combination of yellow, green, red, and blue to signify the fact that my experience in London brought me much needed excitement, adventure, and life experience. The colors on the back cover are also the colors of the main Underground lines that I rode while I was there, and both covers are hand-painted paste paper.


*Photo Provided by Tara Olivero

Holly Miller: For this project, I wrote a creative fiction story.  I wanted my book to look like a traditional book I could find in a bookstore, but with an old-fashioned look to it.  I made a casebook and covered it in two different colors of blue, which reflects part of my story.  It was a difficult experience to make four books that looked identical, but it is rewarding afterward.  I now have four books that I’ve written, formatted exactly as I wanted it, and painstakingly pieced together.

*Photo Provided by Holly Miller

*Photo Provided by Holly Miller

Amanda Layne: I chose to double bind my book so I could include blank lined paper in addition to my research. My research covers the use of writing in therapy and how it helped me in my personal struggles. My book can be opened in one direction and then flipped over with space to write in another section. The book is coptic stitched, which is the oldest stitch used in book binding.

*Photo Provided by Amanda Layne

*Photo Provided by Amanda Layne

Kellie Suttle: My book is in two parts, the first a research paper on OCD, the second a personal narrative about my own experiences with the disorder. I initially used Secret Belgian Binding for the book itself, but I decided I didn’t like the look of it, so I glued another sheet of paper over the spine to make it look more like a casebook. At the very least, this seemed to fall right in line with the spirit of a disorder that makes its sufferers try to appear normal on the outside, even though they know they’re unusual on the inside.

*Photo Provided by Kellie Suttle

*Photo Provided by Kellie Suttle

Abigail Duerlinger: ENG 444 has stretched me beyond my comfort zone. As a writer and reader, I got to try out more of my hands-on skills, and it proved to be a challenge, but a good one at that! It was an excellent experience being able to bring my passion for research and history in literature together with a more hands-on approach not offered in any other class in my department. I wrote about the renegade writings of monks in the early Medieval centuries and tried to create a couple illuminations of my own. The focus of my writing and binding was letting all of your deepest thoughts come alive on paper. It was reviving!

*Photo Provided by Abigail Duerlinger

*Photo Provided by Abigail Duerlinger

Abigayle Devendorf: It’s called “Depression on Canvas” or, as I also call it, the little black book of depression. The cover is black leather-like material. I really love the more traditional look of books including the spine ridges and ribbon book marks, other features my book has. Also, I wanted the book to take on a journal look.

The book is small, like me, but it packs a heavy journal of my experiences with depression and how I have managed to cope through my painting. I left more pages at the end of the book for readers to write as well and called this section “Thoughts Dreams Realities.”

The front and back page covers are an original symmetrical design (aka mandala) that I painted this past summer.

*Photo Provided by

*Photo Provided by Abigayle Devendorf

Like most labor-intensive courses that require art supplies, the costs for the course are not inconsequential, but not usually more than the price of a new anthology and a couple of paper-back books.  However, since students cannot buy used art supplies nor sell them back at the end of the term, they practice and hone their book binding skills by making blank journals, which they sell at the end of the semester to recoup the cost of the books they donate to Bracken Library.

This year, the Blank Journal Sale will be held in the Arts and Journalism Building Atrium on Tuesday, December 3 and Thursday, December 5 from 8:30 until 4:30 p.m. (or whenever the books are all sold out).  Blank journals range in size from miniature books to sketch-book dimensions and sell from under five dollars to around twenty, depending upon the quality of materials in each book.  This year, for the first time, we will be able to accept credit and debit cards.  As apprentices, the students do not charge much for their labor or creativity.

Please stop by the book sale.  It is a great opportunity to learn more about binding and book sewing by hand and to chat with people who are knowledgeable about books.