A traditional, timeless craft

02:28, Aug 29 2012
Christine Carr
EXTRA FLOURISH: Bookbinder Christine Carr, left, shows Rosie Ann Pinney how to set up type for gold foiled labels.

Christine Carr - Book binder

Having a background as an embroiderer, an eye for detail and a passion for books have all come together for book binder Christine Carr, who runs Cambria Craft Binding from her home studio in central Nelson.

Christine was motivated to choose binding as a career mostly because she was profoundly deaf at the time, wanted to be self-supporting and knew she would need to learn a skill she did not need hearing for.

So while living in Whangarei she commuted to Auckland to attend a series of four-week block courses on traditional book binding.

She says she learnt the craft of book binding by seeing the processes demonstrated in class, reading the textbooks, and with the help of very nice classmates who filled in the gaps.

Christine was offered a job in Christchurch as soon as she had finished the course at the end of 1990, so moved down there with her two daughters.


She says her four-year time at Craft Bookbinders in Christchurch was really her apprenticeship, where she learnt all about the trade side of hand book binding, using trade techniques in addition to the traditional methods taught in class.

She learnt simple techniques, short cuts, clever ways to fix and make books, and got to meet travellers and suppliers and establish relationships.

After one year there she took on the role of manager, where she was able to use her accounting skills, and learn about the running of a binding business.

In 1994 she came home to Nelson and brought all the necessary equipment to set up her own book binding business.

This included a very heavy blocking press, weighing in at 650 kilograms, plus guillotine, board cutter, industrial sewing machine and several large type chests with shelves full of lead letters.

Christine got up and running initially by having a stall at the Nelson Saturday market, where she would work on hand-stitched books and sell miniature book earrings.

This drew people to her stall, because she says people love to see what you do. It was also an invaluable time for her to network and grow a client base.

People started bringing old family bibles to be fixed, often with family records in them like births, deaths and marriages.

Then came the occasional thesis, land information and legal binding, and now she has a good mixture of repair work and binding meeting minutes, crematorium ledgers and restoring old and rare books.

Christine says a lot of her work is repairing modern paperbacks, because they are so badly made they split not long after being opened.

Christine is adamant that book binding is not a dying art. To this end, she has taken on two students who come for classes every fortnight. She says she is reaching the point when it's time to think about retiring and she wants to pass her skills on to the next generation.

Christine says one student, Rosie-Ann Pinney, is so keen to learn it's a pleasure to teach her.

These days she finds there are fewer commercial jobs, with more work doing private repairs and restoration, with a couple of bookshops specialising in old New Zealand books.

Christine says the best thing about her work is the satisfaction of seeing the client's reaction when they pick up their restored book. Part of the enjoyment of being a book binder is that she meets many fascinating people who come in with wonderful books and special stories that go with them.

Christine's tips: Make sure you have the skills required for the job, that there is a market for your work and always deliver work on time.