WINNER ‘Progress toward circularity’ Marie Claire Sustainability Awards 2023

Bookbinding with Cass - Interview with Cassandra Barron

Zero-waste, repair and reuse of old fabric used to create a unique series of functional books is what Bookbinding with Cass is all about. We spoke to the founder Cassandra Barron about her bold choice to move across the country, how she pursued her passion for bookbinding and more. 

See the range of bookbinding kits and courses offered by Cassandra, and get started with this enduring craft that you'll revisit time and again.

woman holding multiple books

How did you get into bookbinding?

When I moved to Edinburgh in 2010, as a way to meet like-minded folk and weave some hands-on making into my week, I began volunteering with Remade in Edinburgh, now The Edinburgh Remakery - a fantastic community organisation that promotes a zero-waste economy, encouraging people to repair, reuse and recycle everything from IT equipment and furniture to textiles.

I was responsible for devising and delivering workshops for the local community, sharing sewing skills and showing people how to repurpose donated fabric into usable items. One day a big piece of leather from an old sofa was donated to the project and I instantly saw a library of upcycled leather-bound books (this was my lightbulb moment)!

I had some experience of bookbinding from my time at Art School so when the piece of remnant leather crossed my path, without thinking too much about it, I set about teaching myself new bookbinding techniques and developed a series of bookbinding workshops with the aim to equip people with the skills and confidence to create their own handmade books, while simultaneously diverting materials from landfill.

woman smiling holding a cup

How did you start your journey towards creating your label?

In the years that followed my remnant leather lightbulb moment, I shared my passion for upcycled bookbinding  with many people from all walks of life and slowly but surely ‘Bookbinding with Cass’ was born! In 2019 I took the leap from my day-job to become fully freelance and have been lucky enough to work with some fabulous venues, community organisations and Artists/Makers from other disciplines, devising and delivering a dynamic programme of workshops! 

When Covid hit, I reacted quickly and took my Upcycled Bookbinding workshops online, holding Zoom make-a-longs, sending out kits and recording step-by-step tutorials so people could continue to learn new skills and get creative at home. 

It has been great to connect with people across the country and the world through these online workshops, sharing my passion for the craft of bookbinding in a fun, accessible and sustainable way! 

Moving forward I am excited to be continuing my online workshops alongside teaching regular in-person workshops and have some exciting kits and courses in the pipeline.

Spin of a book and tools

Can you tell us a little bit about the process behind your practice?

I think the reason why I love bookbinding so much is the combination of creative freedom, which allows you to give each book its own unique character, and the need to follow a series of quite specific processes to ensure you end up with a functional book.

For me this satisfies my experimental and curious side, which involves me deciding what materials to use, giving my books a theme, playing with different colourways and patterned papers, while giving me some boundaries and a methodical set of tasks to follow that I can get lost in, such as folding paper, punching holes and stitching.

Like many heritage crafts, bookbinding used to be a more common profession, but mechanical processes and advances in technology mean that books no longer need to be made by hand and can be mass produced. This has paved the way for more experimental forms of bookbinding, which includes a growing community of hobbyist bookbinders!  

It’s great to see that, even as our day-to-day becomes more digital and fast paced, people still value the opportunity to slow down, and experience the sense of calm, satisfaction and joy that comes with making things by hand. In my workshops, I avoid using expensive equipment and materials to make this wonderfully addictive and satisfying craft as accessible as possible.

Seeing my participants go from having never made a book before to being really proud of what they have created gives me a real buzz and I love that this is just the beginning of the creative journey - people go on to use and gift the books they make with me for all sorts of things, from sketchbooks and recipe journals to photo albums and memory books. It’s also a great craft to combine with other creative interests such as needlecraft, printing and writing – I am constantly inspired by the books that people create following my tutorials and the stories they go on to tell. 

Book in hand showing the spin

How does your practice centre on sustainability?

I am passionate about giving recycled and remnant materials a second lease of life, which underpins all my kits and workshops. All kits include my go-to Flat White paper, made from recycled coffee cups, remnant leather/pleather for book covers and lots of ideas on how to repurpose decorative papers such as old maps, calendars and wallpaper samples into eye catching book pages.

The tools included in each kit are also responsibly sourced and include bookbinding awls produced from wooden offcuts made by a small company in Sheffield, bamboo bonefolders, rulers made from recycled plastic and pencils made from old newspapers, all wrapped up in eco packaging.

Ultimately my workshops are about encouraging people to discover the joy of transforming remnant materials into unique and usable books and giving them the tools and inspiration to do so!

four books standing

What do you do in your spare time?

Admittedly I spend a lot of my spare time making my own Artist’s Books, which I sometimes exhibit - these are largely inspired by my love of nature and being in the outdoors. 

I am a keen outdoor swimmer and you will often find me in the sea at my local beach in Edinburgh at all times of year, bracing the cold and bobbing in the waves. 

I also love exploring Scotland in our campervan with my journal to hand as a means of capturing what I come across on our adventures, be that through writing, sketching or more abstract mark making. This past year it has been great to spend some time honing my journaling practice and putting some of my blank books to use – a process which I find really helps bring me into the moment and clear my head.

See Bookbinding with Cass's full range of bookbinding kits and pick one up today.