Meet the Maker: Jackdaw Bindery
Louise Knight-Richardson from Jackdaw Bindery is an independent bookbinder who uses traditional bookbinding techniques with a modern twist. Her beautiful hand-bound leather books and journals come in pretty pastels, rainbow shades and metallic silvers and golds, with colourful pages and custom embroidery details to finish. Louise started selling her own makes while recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but it was a small journal she discovered hiding at the back of a little art store that led her to bookbinding…
Can you introduce yourself and describe what you do?
Hi, my name is Louise Knight-Richardson and I run Jackdaw Bindery – an indie bindery based out of my home studio in Chichester, on the south coast of England. I hand bind soft-cover leather journals for all kinds of occasion, using traditional techniques.
I suffered badly from post-traumatic stress disorder. I found it difficult to really express myself through talking, so I began an art foundation course and used my coursework to quietly tell my story. When the course ended I felt like I’d closed a door on the darkest part of my life, but I wasn’t ready to let go of learning and so I began experimenting with the idea of working for myself.
Have you always been a maker?
Some of my earliest memories are creating. My grandmother taught me how to sew when I was very young – I remember making a sleeping bag and canvas tent for my toys and being amazed at the endless possibilities making had. During school, art, design and textiles were the only subjects that really kept me engaged, and afterwards I went on to study fashion and clothing at my local college, to explore more of what the art and design world had to offer.
I came across a book that took my breath away, hiding away in a little art store. It was so beautiful and hand bound, and I bought it without hesitation.
When and why did you start your business?
In my late teens and early twenties I suffered badly from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – I was just finishing up my fashion and clothing course which I loved but my plans to study a degree in Fashion Design crumbled. I withdrew all my applications to university and everything stopped. I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings and became a bit of a recluse. I found it difficult to really express myself through talking, so I turned to art as therapy and began an art foundation course to fill the void. I used my coursework to quietly tell my story without actually ‘telling it’ and took my anger out on sketchbooks, canvas and fabric.
When the foundation course ended I felt like I’d closed a door on the darkest part of my life, but I was still struggling with many aspects of my life. I wasn’t ready to let go of learning and so began experimenting at home with the idea of working for myself. I set up a home studio and worked hard to come up with all kinds of products, from textile items and home décor, to jewellery and photographic prints. I started selling them at craft fairs and put a few items online to test the waters, and it grew from there.
I started off selling gifts and home décor for a small income while I put my life back together and ended up binding books for a living.
How did you discover bookbinding?
I actually discovered my love for bookbinding totally by accident. I’d dismantled an old leather sofa a few years ago when I was moving home. It was no good as furniture any more but I just couldn’t bear to throw away the leather as a lot of it was in perfect condition and it seemed like such a waste. So I stored it away in a box in the hope that some day I’d think up the perfect project for it.
Journals, photo albums and guest books are all things we want to treasure forever. They’re a permanent record of our lives, which makes it even more important to find the perfect one.
A little while later I came across a journal that I’d been asked to buy after my grandmother passed away, for her family and friends to fill with wonderful memories they’d shared together. It was absolutely beautiful, with thick deckled pages. I remembered how it had taken me days to find, searching all the stores in my home town looking for something worthy of holding such precious memories. I was ready to give up when I finally came across this one book that took my breath away, hiding away in a little art store. It was so beautiful and hand bound, and I bought it without hesitation. I was fascinated by it and it really made me appreciate how a book doesn’t have to be just a book. Journals, photo albums, guest books, these are all things we want to treasure forever – a permanent record of our lives, making it even more important to find the perfect product.
I took some old atlas pages, thread, a piece of leather from the old sofa and a ruler and started playing around with it.
This little book inspired me to experiment with bookbinding. At first I just wanted to create a little scrapbook for myself – I had no idea what I was doing or how it would shape my then very small business! I took some old atlas pages, thread, a piece of leather from the old sofa and a ruler and started playing around with it. I have to say, the results were terrible, but I was hooked. I spent several months researching and perfecting my techniques before even considering I could sell them, and here I am today!
As most creatives know it isn’t always possible to keep everything tidy, so I try to make any creative-based mess in my spare room so I can shut the door afterwards!
Where did the name Jackdaw Bindery come from?
When I was younger, my grandmother ran an antiques store in Haslemere, Surrey, called The Jackdaw Antiques. Right at the very beginning of my journey into self-employment I was finding it really tricky to come up with a name that encapsulated exactly who I am and what I do. I had pages and pages of words that I tried to fit together to create something perfect but nothing felt right. Then one day I was clearing up some bits and came across one of her business cards and there it was staring right at me! Initially I used the name Dearest Jackdaw, but that soon expanded into Jackdaw Bindery.
My bookinding techniques remain traditional and timeless, but I like to give my hand-bound books a modern twist by adding rainbow pages, colourful leather or custom embroidery.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My bookbinding work is quite simple. The body of the journal remains traditional and timeless, but I like to give it a modern twist and mix it up by adding rainbow pages or colourful leather and custom embroidery to the cover, if requested. Outside of Jackdaw Bindery, however, I would definitely say I’m a bit eclectic. I have a love for antiques and vintage fabrics but I also appreciate modern design. I don’t follow fashion or home trends, I usually just buy something because I like the look of it.
What or who else inspires you?
So, so much inspires me! I love nature, the colours of changing seasons, the ocean, dilapidated buildings, the textures the decay creates and the stories they leave behind. Music and films (The Dark Crystal is my favourite). For the most part, however, my customers are my biggest inspiration, constantly providing me with new ideas to bring to life. I love collaborating with people to create something unique just for them. Often, after drawing up designs and ideas for my customers, lots of new ideas come to mind, so I always have a journal ready to scrawl down ideas as and when they come to me. When I have a spare evening I revisit my ideas journal and work on new ideas to introduce to my shop.
I make journals in batches so every day is different depending on the orders that come in. I’ve managed to get a pretty good system going after years of practice.
How long does it take to bind a book and what’s involved?
It’s difficult to say really, as I make journals in batches so every day is different depending on the orders that come in. I’ve managed to get a pretty good system going after years of practice.
Each day goes a little something like this… First job of the day is replying to emails and printing off orders with a cup of tea (or several). I’ll then write a list with all the components I need – leather colour and size, page type and size etc. I’ve created a weird coded system using different coloured ink so I can quickly write down the necessary info and get on with the fun stuff. I’ll then cut all the leather I need and pile it up ready to go. Then I prep my pages, folding each one separately while my printer is going in the background, printing off any printed pages I need. After this, I cut the pages down to size and I’m ready to bind some journals. It’s a cute little production line!
My bookbinding space is in my living room. It works really well and means I can keep things separate.
Can you describe your workspace? Where is it and what is in it?
I have a home studio space. Initially I had it set up in my spare room, but it got a bit chaotic as I was using the space not only for work but also for all the things I love to make outside of Jackdaw Bindery. Although inspiring to work alongside, all the different art materials and fabrics kept distracting me, and when I’m making something I do like to make a mess. So I moved my bookbinding space into an area of my living room. It works really well and means I can keep things separate.
I have some large shelving for all the leather I keep in stock, so I can easily see what I’m running low on.
I mostly work from my table with everything I use daily close to hand on shelving in front and behind me, and a guillotine on either side – one for cutting down large sheets of paper and one for smaller sheets. I then have some large shelving for all the leather I keep in stock, so I can easily see what I’m running low on. I try to keep my work space as uncluttered as possible, although as most creatives will know this isn’t always possible, so I try to make any creative-based mess in my spare room so I can shut the door afterwards! It’s taken a lot of moving around but I think I’ve pretty much got my set-up just right for my needs now.
I don’t think I could live without an electricity supply in my studio! My binding techniques don’t require any power but I like to have either music or Netflix on my laptop in the background.
Is there anything in your studio that you couldn’t live without?
This is going to sound ridiculous, but I don’t think I could live without an electricity supply in my studio! My binding techniques don’t require any power but I like to have either music or Netflix on my laptop in the background. Supplies-wise I don’t think I could live without my quilting ruler and rotary cutter – they make cutting leather to size so much easier.
My advice for new sellers would be to work hard, be original, try new things and don’t be afraid to change things up.
You do lots of DIY craft tutorials on your blog. Bookbinding aside, is there a particular craft you love doing and are there any other craft skills you’d like to learn?
I’d love to be able to contribute to my blog more. I really enjoy writing tutorials and inspiring people to try new things. Apart from bookbinding, I love photography and really enjoy dressmaking and sewing. One of the skills I’d really love to learn is silversmithing. I’m hoping to branch out into jewellery in the summer with a brand new shop, using leather remnants produced from bookbinding. I like to change it up every now and again but don’t worry, the journals are here to stay!
I spent several months researching and perfecting my techniques before even considering I could sell my books… and here I am today!
What’s the best thing about being creative for a living?
I absolutely love what I do and being able to share that passion and my products with those around me is amazing. Being my own boss is something I never imagined I would be able to do, and I’m so grateful to have found my calling and that I can actually call it my job. It’s allowed me to create my own schedule and means that if I want a day off, or a few hours out of the house, I can. I’m constantly learning and trying out new things and always looking for ways to grow as a person and as a business, and I’m really grateful for that.
I’m constantly learning and trying out new things and always looking for ways to grow as a person and as a business
How does it feel to be part of the UK craft scene right now?
Working from home can feel isolating at times, but social media has made it easy to connect with other creatives. It’s great to see so much amazing work from people in the same position as me. I’ve met so many fantastic, talented people at craft fairs too and everyone is so supportive, which is wonderful.
What would you say to someone thinking about selling their work?
When I ventured into selling my work I had no idea where it would take me. I started off selling gifts and home décor for a small income while I put my life back together and ended up binding books for a living. So I would say just do it! With platforms like Folksy it’s never been so easy – you can set up your shop with minimal costs. Don’t feel disheartened if things don’t go to plan though – work hard, be original, try new things and don’t be afraid to change things up. I did and it was the best decision I ever made!