A Featherston woman will share her skills in the centuries old art of bookbinding when she runs free workshops during "Booktown" this month.

Robyn Ramsden has been researching and binding 15th century incunabula-style books since 2005.

Booktown - a festival for book enthusiasts - is to be held in Featherston over the weekend of October 16-18.

Here, Mrs Ramsden will teach bookbinding at St Teresa's School on Saturday and Sunday from 10am to noon.


The mother of two said bookbinding was a way of preserving life events.

"You can book bind anything that's paper.

"It's a way to preserve your own memories and important treasures."

Mrs Ramsden, who has a background in classical history and geology, taught herself the art through observing period books of the Renaissance and medieval times.

She makes books as gifts, for friends at their request, and binds blank books for people to fill in themselves.

Although she sells her books through her business, Athena Bookbinding, these days her involvement with the art mainly revolves around teaching it to others, free of charge.

"It takes four hours to make one and if I'm charging for minimum wage, taking materials into account, it's out of people's price range.

"I'm doing it because I love it, not because I'm trying to make money. It's a passion, not a job."


Four hours to make one book is excluding time spent waiting for glue to dry.

Mrs Ramsden's first experience with bookbinding was binding about 25 Shakespeare playbooks together for her husband, Alastair.

The couple met through their shared love of medieval re-enactment.

Mrs Ramsden said back in those times books were expensive.

"They were written out by hand. The binding part would have been the quick part.

"If you had 10 books in the Renaissance you were considered extremely wealthy.


"Peasants may have a family Bible that would be cared for and protected."

The style of book Mrs Ramsden specialises in is called incunabula, which refers to "the infancy of printing" - the first printed books.

These books consist of multiple quires (a quire is four sheets of paper folded to form eight leaves) stitched onto cords, which are laced through a wooden cover and then covered in leather.

In 1455, the first book was printed by Gutenberg, from Germany, and he printed a 42-line Bible, which had two columns of 42 lines per page.

"He worked out if you sold Bibles you would make more money because everyone wanted one."

Eight metal studs, called bosses, were added to the four corners of the books to protect the leather on surfaces and the cover's decoration.


Mrs Ramsden made her own wedding album using fabric from her wedding dress and taught a woman how to bind her masters thesis into a book.

She has also taught bookbinding at Featherston School, where she showed the students the Nag Hammandi style, which were texts from the 4th century.

With only one quire, this style of book is easier to make.

-Robyn Ramsden's books are available through www.felt.co.nz/shop/athena