I have met many creative people in the Washington DC area who own and operate a handcrafted business, but Katie Wagner is unique among them. She is the owner and creative soul behind Moonlight Bindery, where she makes hand bound books for all occasions. Her educational and employment background is in…believe it or not, bookbinding and book conservation! This is unlike the typical DC area crafter, who might be an accountant who likes to make jewelry, or a lawyer who bakes cupcakes for birthday parties on the side.
Katie has been interested in bookbinding since college. She took classes in book conservation at the Smithsonian Institute, and has studied under Tom Albro, former Chief of Conservation at the Library of Congress. Suffice to say she knows a thing or two about making books, making them beautiful, and making them last.
While working in the conservation field, Katie occasionally made decorative books for friends and family, but didn’t start Moonlight Bindery until August of 2007, when she opened her Etsy shop on a whim. After enjoying brisk holiday sales, she began applying to area craft shows, including the Crafty Bastards show hosted by the Washington DC City Paper. Her experiences with Etsy and shows like Crafty Bastards showed her that people in the DC area and in general were hungry for unique, handmade items, and she knew she was on to something.
Katie’s product line has evolved over the years, and now she offers two basic types of book: coptic bound and case-bound. The coptic bound journals, like the Build Your Own Cover books made from LEGO base plates, are sewn together by hand. Katie folds the paper to into sections, and then cuts them to size. She punches holes in the sections and then sews each section together by hand. For case-bound books, Katie uses pre-printed text blocks (e.g. the printed innards of an address book or agenda/planner), and creates a decorative cover using boards, bookcloth, and anything else that strikes her fancy from her collection of lovely materials. After the case-bound books are assembled using archival, acid-free glue, they spend a while in Katie’s cast-iron nipping press to ensure a lasting bond.
Using these two processes and a variety of materials, Katie can make an essentially endless array of books. She is inspired by the materials she uses, and not just traditional bookbinding supplies. In addition to LEGO base plates, she has used handmade papers, paste paper, fabric, chalkboard oil cloth, felt, maps, custom-printed bookcloth, and even Hershey’s kisses wrappers to make books!
Katie is also inspired by her customers, and loves to work with clients on special projects. She can even add foil lettering to the final book using her hot stamp machine, for personalized items like wedding or baby photo albums. She always purchases her special materials – felts, fabrics, and fancy papers – in small quantities, so her books are always unique. Looking at some of her custom creations, I can’t help but covet the idea of a travel journal made from a map of the place I’m going to visit!
Although sometimes people don’t think of books as possibly handcrafted items, Katie has found that people respond very well to her products. “The DC area is full of libraries, and as a result, people who value books,” she says. Those people really treasure the idea of a handmade journal or photo album. Most of the time at craft shows, she is the only bookbinder, and people really do appreciate the effort that goes into each item. Katie has found that even people who have taken bookbinding classes would rather buy from her than make their own!
Bookbinding may be an unusual craft, but it is in Katie’s blood, and she didn’t even know it back when she took her first conservation class. Her great-great-grandfather was a bookbinder who emigrated to the US from Denmark. His picture sits in her studio as inspiration, and as proof that Moonlight Bindery was meant to be!
You can find Katie’s handcrafted books in her shop and at local craft shows.