An ancient and faded craft, “watoji bookbinding” is an art that has not been widely practiced for many years. Thankfully, with the increasing revival of niche stores and hobbies in New York City, the watoji bookbinding craft is making a comeback as well. To experience what makes this rare Japanese bookbinding technique so unique, I headed over to Amanda Hu’s Watoji Workshop at the Japan Society. While the Japan Society hosts new and enriching workshops periodically, this September, they hosted Amanda Hu; a mixed media artist who specializes in printmaking, textile arts, and book arts.
The Workshop began with an explanation of the origins of watoji and a comprehensive look at all of the supplies needed. Similar to sewing on fabric, watoji uses a stitch pattern sewn through hand punched holes to hold the book spine together, devoid of glue. This is why watoji is sometimes referred to as a ‘Stab Binding.’ To our delight, the workshop provided all of the supplies, and was encouraging everyone to take their supplies with them after the class, to continue exploring watoji at home. Each person had a unique and beautiful printed washi paper to use as their cover and back designs.
Using a visual guide to measure the layout of our spine holes, we moved on to the old fashioned technique of stabbing holes into the book with awls (a wooden hilted metal puncture needle). The trick to making sure everyone’s pages did not move while working was to use modern binder clips to keep the paper from misaligning. Once the holes were made and widened to accompany several widths of thread, it was time to prep the thread itself. The thread used for watoji has a slight twine texture, attributing to its durability. This needs to be run through a piece of beeswax to allow the thread to be sewn without friction causing knots or tear. A step-by-step class demonstration ensured that everyone mastered the Kokitoji (noble binding) sewing pattern at their own pace.
From the sense of accomplishment in completing stitches and measurements, to the comradery felt during the class, everything was delightful to behold. Children, adults, and even the elderly came together to help one another as they walked through the steps and gained an appreciation for the beauty of each piece they were making.
— Reported by Melissa Perrier
The Japan Society hosted 60 students for the watoji Japanese Bookbinding Workshop.
Ms. Hu made a class experience feel like a 1-on-1 lesson, thanks to her patience and teamwork.
The overall process of watoji reminded me of arts-and-crafts, but with a mature beauty and meaning to accompany it.
The awl is the traditional tool used for hole punching the book spine.
The sewing pattern used in class was Kokitoji pattern; both elegant to behold and simple to learn.
Every book completed so stunning that it was hard to believe that we’d all just created these!