Handmade Women: With Natalie Stopka

Natalie Stopka loves to marry textile techniques in book binding. A look at her lovely work.

Natalie Stopka loves to marry textile techniques in book binding. A look at her lovely work.

By Kavita Rayirath

Making things by hand is revealing. It involves the body and mind, is intimate and expresses a personal way of seeing and doing. The maker thus is part of what is being made. Handmade Women is a series of interviews that shares words and thoughts of creative women around the world, who have chosen to craft their business by hand.

Natalie has a BFA in Illustration, post which she chose to pursue binding books. She enjoys working with uncommon fibres, repurposed and hand dyed fabrics, and vintage textiles. She’s currently running a handmade business on Etsy and binding and studying at the Center for Book Arts in New York as a Van Lier/Stein Scholar. Her work has structure and form, yet feels light and ethereal. She uses plenty of textile techniques and the details in her books are charming. Each one has a rhythm of materials that seems to sing the right note every time. I loved the Specimens book, the patterns on the spines and the woven books. Her blog is filled with her experiments, musings, baking and makes for a lovely read. Here’s a look at Natalie’s world in her own words.

What led to you to book binding?

I’ve always loved books, which led me to study Illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design, where I also took a few classes on binding and artist books. I found the process so engaging and the world of artist books so compelling that I simply kept making book after book!

Book of Specimens

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I knew what types of books I enjoyed, but it took a great deal of focus on binding technique to amass the skills for those results. As my capability and confidence grew, I was able to follow my vision much more faithfully. Now the more techniques I learn, the more daring I am able to make my books and push that vision.

What is the process like when you create a book?

My process is very much driven by materials and tactility, so simply choosing engaging materials really brings the finished book into perspective for me. Along the way I get to know their properties, testing the strength, malleability, permeability – figuring out how to use materials to their best advantage. I also really enjoy orchestrating the interplay of textures and colours.

Woven Vintage Fabric

Vintage fabrics, weaving, stitch work, textile manipulation, dyeing — what inspires you to pick and bring all these elements together in your work?

I love working with textiles! I enjoy researching fibre arts techniques which are unusual or can be incorporated in unusual ways. Historical or obscure methods – smocking, natural dyeing, ply-split braiding – these techniques are gifts passed to us by generations of artisans. Learning about and utilizing these in my work is a way to not only keep them alive, but to remind viewers of that long history. By marrying textile techniques to bookbinding, I am also participating in the evolution of each craft in my own small way.

Your work has structure and plenty of texture, yet there is a visual lightness to it. In a quote from Kendra Greene that you shared, she says ‘trusting my eyes and put faith in my fingers’ – what do you trust to tell you that you’re done with a book?

While each book is done when the pieces are put together, each book is just one step in the progress of that structure. Sometimes it takes many samples to achieve a complete book, and like Kendra Greene writes, completeness is something you feel. The weight of the pages, the many textures, the physics of the book in motion, and the relation between these contribute to a book being not just done but also complete.

Smocking – Lace

How do you balance studying and running a business?

Do I? I suppose I go through periods of focusing on one or the other. That gives me the time and space to consider the projects or classes I am not involved with at the moment. After awhile I burn out on one thing, but I am refreshed and ready to switch gears back to the studio or classroom.

What have you learnt along the way that you’d like to share?

Just keep going. Do whatever it is you love to do, and new perspectives will continually unfold before you. Just keep going in the direction that feels right.

Ombre Linen Book – Folio For Prints

What do you wish for?

The good sense to take my own advice. And a studio in the countryside!

Thank you for sharing your lovely handmade world Natalie.

If you’re wondering which side of the book is front or back, Natalie says “If the book binder has signed their work, it is usually at the back of the book. This signature is called a colophon, and might include information about the materials and edition. However, if none of these indicators proves the book binder’s intention, the decision is yours. Whichever cover feels like the front to you, so it is. Go ahead, make your mark.”

Natalie’s website: http://www.nataliestopka.com

Natalie’s blog: http://www.nataliestopka.com/goingson/

Natalie’s shop: http://www.etsy.com/shop/NatalieAsIs

Natalie’s flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/natalieasis/

*Photo credit: Natalie Stopka


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