Sylvia Fischbach-Braden on Plorkology

Editor’s Note: Over the next few weeks, our Plorkology student publishers are going to share some of their thoughts on the process of creating this anthology and why publishing (particularly handbound) matters. This week, you’ll hear from Sylvia Fischbach-Braden, a second-year student in the UB MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts. 


I’m attached to my bone folder (in a tactile and emotional way). It’s blonde, either wood or bamboo. Talas, the legendary bookbinding and conservation supplier, lists elk, moose and deer bone folders in their catalog, decoratively-carved folders from the horns of Nepalese water buffalo, and Teflon folders “which will not glaze or mar delicate papers.” Teflon costs more.

We’re folding Plorkology pages. We accurately align the page edges, set the crease lightly with our hands, then bear down on it, hard, with energetic swipes of the bone folder. Flip and repeat on the back. Individually folding every page of 150+ copies of the anthology is a challenge, but we’re up for it.

Meredith says it will be OK to fold a whole signature–eight pages–at once. This will cut our labor dramatically. Since the pages of the signature are going to be living together, they might as well be folded together, she adds. I think: the pages are alive, they’re like couples spooning, or hippies in a commune.

Before folding, there’s cutting. Meredith orders the text paper from an online supplier who will cut it to size. The endpapers are a different story. We need to hand-cut them from the large sheets of rich burgundy/chocolate Canson paper we’ve chosen.

I spend an evening in the studio with the whoosh of the paper cutter’s blade. I notice that the machine trembles slightly with each cut. Cautiously lifting the cutter I see that one of its feet (a 1/4″ thick dot of rubber) is missing. I make a little cardboard shim. I love that I know what a shim is. I didn’t always. There was no shop class for girls in my high school (is it even taught anymore?) My husband, an avid tinkerer, has helped me become more confident when faced with mechanical conundrums.

I enjoy the vibration and, well, the power of the power drill I use on Plorkology book covers. I enjoy the hand awl I use to poke holes signatures…the scimitar of the curved needles used for Coptic-style binding…the heft and waxiness of the richly-colored bookbinding thread. At the end of one of the sewing sessions, I gather from the table tails of thread scissored off after knots are tied. I squeeze them together as I head for the wastebasket in the hallway. By the time I get there, the warmth of my hand has softened the wax so that the threads have fused into a single malleable ball, workable as a coil of clay.

plork bindingEngagement with Plorkology provides social pleasures as well as tactile ones: the camaraderie, the exchange of knowledge and experience, the chit-chat at the sewing table, the jokes, the varying pitches of curses and small cries as mistakes are made. (Our exquisitely curved needles are sharp; misdirected they can tear skin or paper–I’ve done both). So many people have come to the Book Arts studio to help make Plorkology–current and past UB MFAers, teachers and mentors, book artists from the wider community, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners, spouses–and the roster’s different each time. Well-wishers stop by.

We use math all the time, to measure our progress and our paper. As we get close to the launch date for the anthology the most pressing question is, how many hands times how many studio hours will it take to reach “done” by October 3?

Volunteer work sessions are scheduled on Wednesday evenings and on weekends throughout September. If you don’t know how to sew, we will teach you. If you don’t want to know how to sew, you can fold and punch holes. You can clean work surfaces, take photos, fetch frappuccinos from Charles Street.  You can sign up here:


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