Bookbinding With Heart

Conservation architect Ian Tan from the National Heritage Board is keeping a handmade tradition alive through bookbinding.

It surely must have been fated that Ian Tan, 28, lived above a book bindery while studying architectural conservation in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2011. During his stint, he had a lot of old academic texts and research materials that were torn and tattered.

“So I wanted to learn about how to conserve these books,” recalls Ian. “I went into the bindery one day and found out that they were running workshops. Eventually, I became an apprentice.”

Today, the Assistant Manager at the National Heritage Board’s impact assessment and mitigation department runs monthly bookbinding workshops at The Arts House and Tyrwhitt General Company.

The lion’s share of the proceeds from these one-day courses go to Loving Heart Multi-Service Centre, a charity based in Jurong East that services the community. The workshop fee also covers materials and instruction.

Each month, Ian’s workshops attract about 20 participants from all walks of life: design students, public officers and artists. He adds: “We have young adults who are generally interested in picking up a new craft as well.”

So why bookbinding? Ian says it is not so much about design or art, as it is a “very practical, down-to-earth experience” with tools and materials such as bone folders and handmade decorative papers.

It doesn’t surprise him to see students as young as 15 in his workshops. He declares: “As long as there’s a need to hold a book or smell paper, ultimately people still prefer something that is quite solid and tactile that they can hold in their hands.”

Ian has rebound old books, and also bought old books from eBay to practice his skills. Over the years, he has also branched out into teaching and research, and doing other forms of paper-related art such as marbling.

His advice to aspiring bookbinders: “I always tell my students that it only costs $10 to buy the tools and materials to make your first book. Just find things that you’re comfortable with working with, as there is no need to buy expensive materials.”

For updates on Ian’s bookbinding workshops, go to  or

    Jul 2, 2014
    Nicholas Yong
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