Book Review: Richard Horton’s “Sewings Workshop Guide, with 9 Exercises”

IMG_8255I received The Gibson System for the Guitar, carrying a copyright of 1939, when I began to take guitar lessons in 1960. This excellent foundation built my understanding and my skills. It focused on the fundamentals that mattered so well that it has value today.

On the other hand, my family camped every few years. Of course, when we skipped years we forgot how to “do” camping. My grandfather’s tent must have been Civil War surplus and weighed more than my sister and me. We could never remember how to put it up. And our camp stove? Another forgotten tool! We needed a camping version of the Gibson system.

For many students my workshops are like camp outs… These students immerse themselves in the bookmaking process with the experience compressed into a week. A year, or more, elapses until the next workshop. In the process, much of the information slips and is forgotten. ‘’Show me again, how to tie a weaver’s knot.’’ Some students are able to practice enough to embed the learning deeply. Others have different demands on their lives and need a reminder or prompt. It is useful if that prompt is also inspiring.

Into the sometimes sporadic interaction with sewing among those who love making books comes Richard Horton’s book with a unique value makers have sorely needed. It is a treasure for its foundation in sewing techniques so fundamental to quality binding.

IMG_8254I happened upon Richard Horton’s early books (Book Sewings by Hand and A Handbookbinder’s Guide to Making Photo Albums) and found Book Sewings so useful for students that I have had to replace my copy a few times. This newest book is the perfect book for a student with a foundation from a workshop (or book camp) to use all year as they practice and extend their work.

The Workshop Guide is admirable in that it speaks specifically to sewing. Considering this foundation practice in isolation ensures it is not diminished by other processes like glueing up or board attachment. Hundreds of other manuals cover these processes so I respect Horton’s choice to focus on sewing (with hundreds of other manuals why would we need one more?).

A few things come to mind. First, his book opens flat, making it a perfect bench companion. He provides open space around the sewing forms so each book can be a repository of notes. And his nine forms are so fundamental to the craft that all will be used by any serious student.

Of the nine sewing forms Horton offers, only one was not one I already use or, if not, was already familiar to me. Familiarity, though, does not diminish the need for the book. The more I play a tune on my Gibson the more wiggle comes into it as it takes on minute variations and aberrations — there is a collaboration between my learning curve and the music. So it goes with bookmaking. The more we work any form, the more small maneuvers show up as we make it our own. I have set off, for example, making at least ten copies of the rigid board form N˚9 as it appears to offer some interesting uses. So far I have made maybe 5 or 6 and I now “see” the theory and am starting to get the hand skills necessary to make it elegant.

One point here is about practice, rehearsal, and sewing. The camping example is about how we didn’t take enough time to become good at the outings. The guitar system, all my work in bookbinding, and anything I might do in the kitchen (or elsewhere) will all thrive through two things: focus and practice.

I can only suggest that a student focus but I can insist on and devise ways to establish a discipline that builds something like a sewing form quickly into your fingers. Then one can practice a form to fully get it or to explore it for deeper directions. With practice, I have a choice whether to hold to a classic or traditional form or boost some aspect to make it better for my uses — or perhaps even find out which bits might be eliminated.

I want Richard’s book to reach an engaged audience. With that in mind we felt that a guest post with Richard demonstrating his models in action would be useful. We have also included below three videos of his excellent work. Meanwhile buy this book or steal it from your teacher. And remember to practice.

Videos of Richard Horton’s excellent work:

A tour of his box of example books and bindings.

Two samples of his photo album bindings.

Two samples of his springback ledger bindings.

©2021 — Timothy C. Ely — All Rights Reserved


  1. Larry Ellingson

    Nice post! I watched the videos. He’s an interesting guy. I loved his comment, “People are sure to like it…because it’s useless.”

    Horton’s a living encyclopedia of history, technique and craft.

    Thanks for this.


    Sent from :|:E:L:L:I:N:G:S:O:N:|:



  2. Amy

    Thanks for the book review, Tim! I am interested to know what the eight types of sewing are, if you are so inclined to list them.


  3. Debi Cole

    You describe me. Practicing some things more than others and usually “the others” which need the most practice I set aside “to do later”. Could be I am constantly distracted by “Resistance”.


  4. Pingback: Celebrating Seven Years (and Seven Stars) | Byopia Press

  5. debijc

    Visiting this particular blog entry again. I started constructing a few books; now I stumped because one needs a different kind of sewing than we learned in workshops. This book looks like the one I need to handle the job! Great review of it, Tim. Thank you!


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