Strange Little Girl : Emma binds it DIY style

In recent years, there has been a revival of various arts and crafts especially in the younger generation. Many young women and men are taking to knitting, sewing and a slew of other handmade projects. The great thing is that you can buy their warez online and at the growing number of festivals and crafts shows in the city. Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to Emma Jane Hogbin of Strange Little Girl, who has her own DIY (Do It Yourself) business, making and selling her own books. She will be selling her books at the Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts Sale this weekend and will also have a booth set up at the new Ear to the Ground festival during the following weekend.

PJ : How long have you been making books?

EH : Professionally for about two years. But I’ve got a really neat pop-up book that I made when I was 8 as part of a young author programme at school. (Bob Munsch came to our school. I got a “Made in Canada” sticker for my book. It was all very cool.)

PJ : What inspired you to start making your own books?

EH : In 2003 I went on a wickedly awesome road trip of the east coast of Canada with my partner Graig. 6000km in eleven days. We drove through five provinces and two time zones and took several thousand pictures. On the way home, a 24 hour drive from Nova Scotia, I knew I wanted something really special to put our pictures in. I headed down to the Japanese Paper Place wired from lack of sleep and bought everything I needed to make a scrapbook/album. While I was there I signed up for a workshop and learned about the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Arts Guild (CBBAG–pronounced ‘cabbage’).

PJ : What kind of training did you go through? Self taught? Courses?

EH : I’ve taken a few face-to-face workshops, and some on-line. I started my professional career as a bookbinder with a one-week intensive training course through CBBAG (Bookbinding I). In this course I learned how to make a standard “case bound” (hard cover) book. They’ve got an entire certificate program that takes you through to leather binding and gold tooling, but that wasn’t the direction I wanted to take. After the first course there were two subsequent courses that fall on wood structures (wood covers “Coptic binding” with CBBAG, and wood spines, “Medieval account books” with the Japanese Paper Place). Since that fall I’ve read everything I could get my hands on. I spent a week at the Metro Toronto Reference Library reading their entire section on bookbinding and paper making. I also adopted my mum’s old collection of books on bookbinding and paper making.

Since the first round of bookbinding workshops, I’ve also taken Peach Berserk’s silk screen printing workshop. They were fab. I highly recommend their course. Then there was paper dyeing with June-Etta, through the Japanese Paper Place, and some collage/art background on-line classes with Designedly Kristi.

In the beginning I made mostly hard cover books, but as I ran out of “traditional” bookbinding resources I started reading about the book arts as well. The structures I’m making today are based as much in the fibre arts as they are the bookbinding world. I’ve probably made a few hundred, if not a thousand books in the last two years. I’ve explored dozens of different structures. Each one teaches me something new about how to combine raw materials into book form.

PJ : What do you suggest for someone wanting to learn this craft?

EH : To those who are interested in making books I recommend … making books. Practicing will help you understand where the instruction books get it right, and where they’ve gotten it wrong. You will develop your own short cuts, just as the author of the resource has developed theirs. Once you’ve made your books, be sure to use your books. Shove them in your backpack and take them everywhere. Your friends won’t give your books nearly the same workout that you will. Using books hard is important to see where there are structural flaws, which are very different from visual ones. I also really like taking apart old books (ever seen a box of books on the side of the road? take the one that looks like it’s in the worst shape). Look at how books fall apart when they get old. Take notes. Ask questions. Explore.

PJ : Any good resource sites online?

EH : There are lots of resources on-line. I’ve found the “book arts” to be more sharing with their techniques than traditional bookbinders. I can appreciate why. There are at least 40 or so steps to make the easiest hard cover book, spanning at least two days when you include drying time. In the book arts, however, you can make something bookish in under 10 minutes. Choose your community wisely. If you really want to make leather bound tomes, join CBBAG. If you just want to make books and explore structures, you may have better luck finding community in a “plus one” discipline. A lot of book artists are books plus something else. For example, Volcano Arts is bookbinding and metal smithing. I am bookbinding and fibre arts (felting, fabric design and spinning).

PJ : How long is the process of creating a book?

EH : This really depends on the structure. I can make a book out of a restaurant menu in about 2 minutes. A hard cover book using standard supplies that I’ve used before may only take a day or two, but typically a book takes two or more weeks to germinate and transform itself from raw materials to finished book ready for use.

PJ : Where do you get your inspiration for the books?

EH : I love making raw materials. Designing fabric, making felt, screen printing designs, spinning yarn and thread. So I end up with huge piles of *stuff* in the apartment. Then it’s a matter of figuring out how I can use each of the materials in a book. I like to match the material to the book structure so that the two can compliment each other. For example, felt books should be soft cover books and squishy and loveable. So then I have to figure out how to make a loveable, squishy book that is structurally sound. I love that challenge. I’m always changing the style of books that I’m making. If you see a book of mine you like, buy it fast! Chances are it won’t be around for long, and it’s possible I might not make more. I also love coming up with crazy names for my books. On my workbench right now are “Patched Cloud Albums”, “Bolo Tie Albums” and “Tree Tabbed Journals.”

PJ : Is there a significance in the names you choose for your books?

EH : Most of the writing that I do is dry, technical documentation. I like coming up with fun names for my books. I love how the names tweak a person’s imagination. It’s completely selfish, really, but I love watching people smile as they read my descriptions when visiting my booth at a craft show. I’m able to make a complete stranger a little bit happier for at least a few seconds with my words. How cool is that?

The names are also descriptive though. Patched Cloud Albums are quilted patchwork covers which are quilted by me from my own hand dyed, hand screen printed fabrics. They’re squishy (softcover) books that feel exactly the way I think a cloud would feel…if you could squish a cloud. Bolo Tie Albums have a tie closure that reminds me of the Western bolo ties. I crack myself up every time I look at those albums. Some of the albums practically have a John Wayne accent. And finally the Tree Tabbed Albums. Umm. They’ve got trees on the front (silk screened by me), and tabs on the inside. The tabs let you glue in post cards so that you can read both sides (how novel), or a business card with a home number on the back…or just about whatever! I use one of these books to collect the ephemera from my daily adventures. It has party invitations, thank you cards, movie and AGO stubs, letters from around the world from my ATC trades, yarn dyeing recipes, and more.

PJ : What sort of materials do you use? Good places in the city to buy your supplies?

EH : Right now I’m really into “textured fabrics.” I hand dye fabric and add prints with (usually with silk screen prints). So mostly I’m looking for paper and fabric.

PJ : What else do you create on your own? paper.. etc etc

EH : I’ve already gone over some of the textile design stuff (fabric dyeing and silk screen printing). Another huge area for me is spinning. I spin my own thread. Right now I’m using primarily wool and silk thread for embellishments, but over the next year I will be incorporating my own linen thread into my structures. I also make felt for book covers. With very few exceptions, all of the fibre that I work with I dye myself.

PJ : I know you have a rabbit? Do you harvest hair from the bunny to use in your books?

EH : I do have a rabbit! His name is Gir and he’s a silver French angora male. French angoras moult (approximately) four times a year. I harvest the wool by using a brush to gently pluck his undercoat. Once the undercoat (the good quality, soft stuff) has been plucked, I use scissors to trim the guard hair, which doesn’t moult. Once the wool has been harvested I mix it with sheep wool and then dye and felt the wool blend to make book covers.

PJ : Do you do all your book making at home? or is this something you can do, like knitting, in a car, on transit, or anywhere?

EH : I do all my book binding at home, but some related activities, like spinning, come on the road with me. I use a high whorl spindle (aka “drop spindle”) to spin my own thread and wool tie closures. I also use transportation time to plan new structures, and read books about bookbinding. I’m a compulsive list maker, so I make a lot of todo lists when I’m riding the rocket.

PJ : Where can people buy your merchandise? Will you be doing any shows in the near future?

EH : At this point I’m not doing any wholesale–so you can only get my warez directly from me. Either visit my web site and buy on-line, or visit me at a craft show. I typically do four or five craft shows a year–most of which are in the Toronto area. This fall I’ll be at Cabbagetown and Ear to the Ground. I’ve also done the DUDE craft show, which is lots of fun.

PJ : Are you available to create Custom books? What custom work have you made in the past?

EH : I love doing custom work! But custom jobs are longer term projects and are more expensive than production line work. I have to figure out all the minutia of how a structure should work with the specific materials. Custom jobs will often take 2-3 months to complete. I’ve still got a little bit of space left on my plate for Christmas of this year, if anyone’s interested. I’m currently finishing up a rebinding of The Ashley Book of Knots (yes, the one that was featured in Shipping News), working on a ring binder for an artist’s portfolio, and a mixed paper sketchbook for an artist (it will have watercolour paper and “regular” weight paper). I’ve also done some custom wedding albums (one was made from the same fabric that was used for the bride’s wedding gown!).

If someone is creative and crafty and wants to do a custom binding they should consider a private class specific to their needs. I’ve also been known to afternoon “apprenticeships”–come hang out for an afternoon, perform menial tasks like slicing paper in half, and pick my brain on whatever topic interests you. And if a group of people are interested in learning how to make a specific binding, they should get in touch about hosting a bookbinding party (these are LOADS of fun). Only one warning. Enthusiasm is infectious and bookbinding is addictive.


* Akemi Nishidera papermaker in the distillery district. (416) 214-1882 no web site.
* Canadian Bookbinders and Book Arts Guild
* Designedly Kristi
* The Japanese Paper Place
* Peach Berserk


* Above Ground Art Supplies
* Curry’s Art Supplies
* Designer Fabrics
* G&S Dyes
* Tern Art Supplies
* Woolfitts
* Dollar stores (great for craft supplies like crayons and random stuff — take cash). There are a number of dollar stores in Parkdale. There’s a big one in the basement of the Dufferin Mall as well.
* Try also this little guide to TO for fabric:

Festivals & Craft Shows

* Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts
* DUDE Show
* Ear to the Ground
* Summerfolk
* Wayzgoose

Win a Strange Little Girl shwag bag

Photojunkie in conjunction with Strange Little Girl will be giving away a Strange Little Girl Shwag Bag.

There are two ways to be eligible.

a) Visits Emma at the Cabbagetown Arts and Crafts show or Visit her booth at the Ear to the Ground Festival and fill out a ballot.
b) Blog about this spotlight along with a link to Emma’s site.
c) Visiting her booth and blogging about it will get you two ballots.

One person drawn at random will win a Strange Little Girl Schwag Bag.
This giveaway closes on Friday September 23rd at NOON EST.


  1. G

  2. Hoping that this means me: “… and a mixed paper sketchbook for an artist (it will have watercolour paper and “regular” weight paper). ” !!!!!!!!!!!

    Vacation was great, I have been asked to write an article for a magazine, my book proposal is being considered at a could of publishers. Things are good here, how about over there?

  3. ut oh! I meant all of this for Emma!

  4. wow, thanks! this was really helpful and informative.

  5. As a student in NY, I can tell text books here cost a fortune. Though in India, they are soo cheap. I dont know what factors decide the price of the textbook.


  1. […] is an interesting interview with Emma Jane Hogbin of the somewhat defunct (I say somewhat because the site has been in […]