Toben Lewis

Award winning bookbinder with a focus on design bindings, book repair, and conservation based on the Isle of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides.


Artist Statement

I am a lifelong bibliophile and professional biblioplegist, which are both just fancy ways of saying I’m a gigantic book nerd. Most of my working life has been either directly or tangentially related to books in some form. My career started as a graphic designer in the publishing and advertising industries and has evolved to focus on bookbinding and repair/restoration. Since finding my way into the world of bookbinding I have studied the subject intensely, the physical craft and engineering of it alongside the history of the practice worldwide, and produced hundreds of books for others to enjoy.Humans have been creating books for thousands of years and I take great pleasure in employing the same techniques and skills that generations before me have honed and passed on. I use conservation techniques and materials when I’m working on older books, in keeping with the binding and in order to preserve it for many years to come. When working on commissioned design bindings I delight in slightly subverting these techniques with unique and contemporary materials and themes.

What craft do you work with? 

I have been binding books for around seven years now. I initially bound a book out of curiosity more than anything. I knew how to design a cover and layout the inner typography digitally, and I had learnt how to use letterpress printing machines and type. All that was left was to bind the  physical book together. It lit a spark for me, and I have been solely focussed on this part of the book universe ever since. My favourite part of binding a book is the sewing. Both the binding itself and also the head and tailbands. Those are the processes I find the most meditative.

What inspires you to work with this craft? 

A deep love of books. All I wanted to do as a child was read books and be surrounded by them – I had no idea then that a career making books was possible, but I’m sure it would have been my dream had I realised. The history of books, our interactions with them, reliance on them, and the information they hold is so long and enduring. It’s important to me to keep it alive and pass it on to future generations as well. Although I enjoy playing with new materials, particularly those drawn from the environment around me and ones that are ecologically sustainable, I really love working with traditional bookbinding materials: paper, parchment, and leather.

How do you start your creative process?

I will usually start with research, as a lot of my inspiration is drawn from historical forms. From there it will progress to sketches and maquettes before I will finally start working on the final book.Troubleshooting can equally be the most difficult and most enjoyable aspect – it depends on how successful things are going at any given point. There’s a surprising amount of engineering involved in making books, particularly if you’re using new or experimental materials. Even when making a traditionally bound book there are elements that will vary with each new project that will need thought through and planned out.

How would you best describe your workspace and what tools could you not do without?

I work in a small but mighty bindery that looks out across the Sound of Iona to our neighbouring islands of Mull and Erraid. The scenery changes constantly with the weather and seasons. It can be both distracting and inspiring. I have a small bone folder inherited from a family friend who was also a bookbinder, that I treasure and use every day. That and my Dryad standing press are probably the two most necessary bits of kit in my workspace.

Are there new techniques you would like to try?

Edge gilding is a traditional technique I have not yet attempted, but will be learning in a couple of months. I look forward to that.

What have you learnt or the best advice you have received that you would like to share with fellow crafters?

I have found that creative people can often be their own worst enemy, myself included. It’s important to be able to take critiques and learn from them, but it’s just as important to take encouragement and learn from it.


Media & Contact


Company: Baile Mor Books







Instagram: bailemorbooks

Facebook: Baile Mor Books



Photography credit

All photographs taken by maker on the Isle of Iona, with the exception of ‘TobenLewis-Bookbinding’ which was taken by Tony Handley in Oban.


Isle of Iona, Scotland, United Kingdom

Material Library entries

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