A Christmas full of Pop-ups

No, we are not taking The Thistle Bindery down the road of a pop-up store. Instead the pop-up I am talking about here is much smaller, much more intricate and very much more appealing.

Workshop Group Photos

Group Photos for December Workshops

In the past one month, the bindery successfully conducted two English Case Binding and one German Bradel Binding workshop for more than 30 participants. It was a bountiful month, with an extra amount of donation going towards our charity beneficiary. More importantly, the workshops were also conducted in Dec, the month of Christmas. Hence came the idea of creating Christmas pop-up elements within the book.

The inspiration for this series of pop-up workshops arose from a workshop conducted by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud during the Singapore Writers Festival in Nov 2014. The duo are graduates of the École supérieure des arts décoratifs in Strasburg, France. Since their school days, the duo had been creating pop-up books. In fact, one of the school assignment was modified and improved to become their first published book, Popville.

From City (their school assignment) to working prototype and finally published as Popville

From City (their school assignment) to working prototype and finally published as Popville

It was through Popville that I knew their works. The use of strong primary colours and simple geometric shapes told the story of how a rural church and its surroundings were surrounded gradually but irrevocably through urbanisation.

3 Pop-Up Books from the duo that I have

3 Pop-Up Books from the duo that I have

Since then, I obtained their later books such as Under The Sea and Wake Up Sloth, which highlighted marine conservation and deforestation respectively. Again, the use of simple graphic and a straightforward storyline were effective tools in creating awareness for complex global issues.

Intrigued by pop-ups, I decided to explore how pop-up elements could be incorporated into my bookbinding workshops. Much of the credit goes to Ai Ling and Kenji, past participants of my workshops and now able assistants in these three workshops. Ai Ling even created one of the three pop-up models we taught in the workshops. She taught us the simple but elegant Christmas Tree pop-up on end papers which uses the multiple V-cuts and valley folds to create a multi-tier tree.

A basic V-cut popup that is made into a multi-tiered Christmas Tree!

A basic V-cut popup that is made into a multi-tiered Christmas Tree!

In the other two workshops, I shared the symmetrical Christmas Tree which stands up when the book is open flat. The tree, supported on two V-shaped flaps, could also support several “gift boxes” attached to it. When opened, the elements rise up in a cascading form.

The standing Christmas Tree held up by a V-shape flap pasted onto the base

The standing Christmas Tree held up by a V-shape flap pasted onto the base

The last pop-up technique explored was the creation of a floating platform on which flat ornaments can be made to stand. The illusion is created using two collapsible hollow square tubes along the valley of the section. When opened, the adjoining tubes and platform (or magic carpet) lifts up and supports the decoration.

Creating a Floating Christmas Tree Pop-Up

Creating a Floating Christmas Tree Pop-Up

Definitely, devising the additional pop-up elements for the bookbinding workshops took extra time and repeat experiments, but the end results and the appreciative comments from participants more than made up for effort spent! More pictures of what we did during the workshops can be found at my facebook page, fb.com/thethistlebindery

Before leaving you with a warm “MERRY CHRISTMAS”, let’s take a look at this video from one of my favourite rare book dealer and his amazing collection of pop-up books, some even come with movable elements!


Report Card for [A Bookbinding Cause] Season 2

The last workshop for Season 2 of [ A Bookbinding Cause] was held on 31 May 2014, yet the season only came to a proper close last Sunday when The Thistle Bindery co-organised the first-ever bookbinding event for kids with the team behind Singapore Mini Makers Faire. Titled “Let’s Bind a Book”, the event held at Singapore Science Centre bought together fellow bookbinding instructors, co-instructors and friends whom I had the privilege to teach and meet during the course of Season 2’s [ A Bookbinding Cause ].

coptic binding workshop

Coptic Binding Workshop

It felt like a complete circle. I saw participants who came for their first taste of bookbinding returned for more workshops in subsequent months. With more practice and confidence, these participants stepped up to become co-instructors for the bookbinding event. Some even went the extra mile by taking the initiative to express their loves for bookbinding and urban sketching by leading a sketch walkabout during the bookbinding event. I felt humbled by their efforts and the hard work every instructor and co-instructor put in for the event.

Case Binding Workshop

Case Binding Workshop

Beyond the regular fortnightly workshops raising funds for charity, these “extra”-ordinary events, such as Let’s Bind a Book, Singapore Makers’ Meetup and Makers’ Block are important causes which The Thistle Bindery supports and participates in. They resonate with the practice’s twin objectives of making bookbinding accessible to all and supporting worthy causes. More so, such events are also excellent platforms for past participants of our workshops—now budding bookbinders—to showcase their bookbinding skills and to share their bookbinding passion with more people.

Maker's Meetup in Feb 2014

Maker’s Meetup in Feb 2014

Each update, photograph and news put up on Facebook in the first half of this year would not be possible without the support of our participants, collaborators and friends. It was a little overwhelming to realise that almost 100 people had attended the 8 workshops in the past season. This bought in a substantial amount of donation for our charity beneficiary, Loving Heart Multi-Service Centre.

The attendance figure and the amount of donation will pale in comparison to the support and effort from our venue supporters. Without the generous venue subsidiaries from The Arts House and The General Co, [ A Bookbinding Cause ] would not have taken off at all! Their steadfast support and accommodation provided the motivation and ease for the bindery to conceptualise and realise new programmes and collaborations.

The Thistle Bindery may carry different connotations to individuals. It could merely be a Facebook page of nominal interest; or it could simply just be a source of bookbinding instruction.  Yet personally, the impetus for starting the art practice then, and still holds true now, remains the desire to provide a platform for bookbinders and book arts instructors to gather and collaborate, and to grow the number of hobbyist bookbinders in Singapore.

The Thistle Bindery is an ever-growing community and [ A Bookbinding Cause] shall continue to be the practice’s flagship medium to attract more people to pick up the art of bookbinding.

Artists’ Books and Books Artist Bind

After one of our regular [ A Bookbinding Cause] workshops on 24 May, I headed down to Tiong Bahru for an art exhibition on – what else – books! Grey’s Project, located right in the heart of the colonial SIT estate, is a gallery/artist residency space that has so far produced a range of thought-provocative, yet intimate exhibitions by Radi Arwinda, Lee Wen and Gabriela Butti.

Intimate, surely is the first word I made in mind when I saw the range of self-published chapbooks and pamphlets (or fashionably known as zines now), books and art catalogs produced by visual artists, writers and designers displayed on wooden boards. Books are balanced delicately in between 2 screws nailed into the boards: simple, elegant and not trying to overwhelm the book on display. Curiously, book artists and bookbinders are under-represented in this exhibition, with only two technical binding editions produced by Eriko of La Libreria on display. Having spoken briefly to her during the exhibition, she elaborated on the design of one of the volumes. Bound in Japanese Stab Binding style and covered in a bark-like textured paper, the hand-size volume featured repeated prints of a block pattern. The initial pattern was printed in jet black ink, and the image gradually printed in paler shades of grey until the final print on the last pages is barely visible. The carved pattern featured a shoal of fishes extracted from one of Eriko’s kimonos.

Using clothes as an analogy to artist book is strangely apt. The choice of clothes is very much one’s personal choice, yet the motifs on our clothes, visible to others, are often a reflection of our public personas that we project for others. An artist’s book relate in the same way. It is an intimate collection of a creative practitioner’s thoughts and ideas, and yet undeniably it craves to be seen, read and for the contents to seek resonance with readers and viewers. An artist’s book does not contain the personality of the artist within its folios, yet it may provide a glimpse into the creator’s thought processes and the distilled works that resulted.

Drawing Out Conversations

The book is a vehicle that connects the artist to the intended audience. Unlike a physical exhibition, the book is neither spatially restrictive – the audience does not travel to see a work; nor temporal-based – a book will definitely outlive an exhibition; and by extension, the book’s message remains relevant and contemporary to an engaged reader.

This is why, I am pleasantly surprised to find Ling Nah’s volume of Drawing Out Conversations (8 Slangs) on display in Print Lab. The catalogue and the exhibition it documented shared the same name: Drawing Out Conversation was produced as part of the 2008 Singapore Biennale and featured a diverse representation of Singapore-based artists to explore their concerns with drawing and its relationship with their varied practices.

Two separate sections, a smaller black and a larger white section are bound together using the flexible Japanese stab binding technique. The difference in size immediately draws the reader towards understanding the dichotomy / duality of the subject in question – how to draw out conversations and how conversations are drawn – the former is answered in the larger section, where artists in the group show are interviewed and the contents of their conversations penned down in verbatim. The latter sections, document the work processes and showcase each of the artists’ work. It was a good accompaniment to the 2008 exhibition but yet it still remains contemporary as a standalone volume exploring the duality of word “drawing” in the context of local art practices.

 The book is the medium

While the design of the previous example was driven by largely by the content in the book, self-published artists’ books (a loose term here, referring to any creative / art practitioner) are often conceptualised with the book design in mind to be representative or at least analogous with the content within.

A friend of mine and a past participant of my bookbinding workshop, Jasmine Cooray produces handmade zines/chapbooks as part of her poetry practice. In her words, she described the production of her recent zine ‘True Colours’ as a means to “fill the gap before any other publication comes through.” Each of the zines is handpainted and hand sewn by the poet and contains ten of her new poems which have not been published.

(Photos by Jasmine Cooray, taken from Facebook)

There is a strong sense of autonomy here with Jasmine having creative ownership over the content, layout, design and even production process of the book. The sense of coherency in her design intention is evident. Jasmine’s poems are rich in visual metaphors which translate into the design of her zine. Consider the excerpt of “True Colour” below and then look at her zine production process. It is not hard to identify the fluid translation from word to form.

Outside, football fans warpaint their faces
with St George’s flags, and as they stumble
through tourists pouring coins
at the feet of a rich elderly lady in pastels,
I feel my cheeks burn. I am
the kind of latte brown that sits tepid
in most company, but shouts of eng-er-land
and your manicure’s imperious drum
on the countertop boil me, steep me
in something older than this moment.
My waters flush, bleed through innocuous gauze:
the ancient taste of my true colours,
a wince in my blood.
(from USP website )

Book + Artist = Book Artist?

With crafty artists like Jasmine delving into both written and visual forms, it is not hard to imagine a future generation of visual and literary artists handling the entire creative process from thought to print, aided by DIY books and computer technology. Yet it does not necessarily spell the doom for book artists or bookbinders per se. While having autonomy over the entire production of print materials makes it easier to control the articulation of the creative intention, it does not necessarily restrain the artist/author within an ivory tower devoid of interaction with book designers and bookbinders.

Many book designers, even those working for established publishing houses like Folio Society and Penguin had demonstrated synergy and finesse in the translation of the written word into a visual form within the confines of a book structure. The onus is on the bookbinder to continuously improve upon their technical precision and creative quality to be fit for the opportunity when artists require a unique book form worthy of containing their creative output.


P.S:             Print Lab is on at Grey’s Project until 14 June 2014 (6B Kim Tian Road)
P.P.S:        Drawing out Conversation is available online on ebay and amazon. You may also want to contact the artist, Ling Nah at her blog
P.P.P.S:   Jasmine Cooray’s UK activities are be tracked here. Please stalk her out at events. 

[A Bookbinding Cause] March workshops are now open for registration

Interested to learn German Long and Link Stitch Binding? Join The Thistle Bindery’s March workshops. Learn a new skill and contribute to a good cause at the same time.


Proceeds from [A Bookbinding Cause] series of workshop will be donated to Loving Heart Multi Service Centre.

For more information, refer to:
22 Mar (Sat) Long Stitch Binding:
30 Mar (Sun) Link Stitch Binding:

Many firsts during the Hidden Stab Binding Workshop

First times are always memorable. More so when there are quite a few firsts for today. Firstly, this is the first bookbinding workshop conducted at GOHD Books, probably the only antiqurian bookstore in Singapore. The participants for today’s Hidden Stab Binding workshop enjoyed it tremendously by the way. The space is intimate and cosy for the group of nine of us.


I am always feeling jittery when I teach at new venues. There is a sense of unfamiliarity with where I have placed my tools and materials, but my nerves were soon soothed and the workshop got off to a good start. And yes to emphasise, secondly, this is offically the first workshop in our second season of [A Bookbinding Cause]. I did not feel well for the workshop the day before and had to cancel it armt last minute’s notice. (Many apologies to those affected).


Once the workshop got underway, participants were brought through the process of identifying parts of a Japanese Stab Binding book, deckling paper, making the book covers and folding the spine card.

Once all the preparation were completed, everyone launched into the stabbing of the book block with gusto. This must be the first time anyone had asked them to stab or drill holes through such a thick pile of paper! With the holes made, the completion of the book was not far away. Before long, everyone had finished their first Hidden Stab Binding book, sewn with a double overcast stitch.

Oh yes thirdly, this is also the first time Thistle Bindery is using decorative papers made of natural materials such as Sa (mulberry), bamboo bits and rice husks for the covers. These papers were bought from HQ Papermakers in Chiangmai, Thailand. Take a look at their website if you love different types of papers.


And yes, do look out for future bookbinding workshops conducted by The Thistle Bindery under its [A Bookbinding Cause] series. The next workshop will be conducted in March 2014.

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