Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


I am a weaver and textile artist who has moved into working in the book form. As a teacher at an art college I have been looking for ways to explain this movement by myself and several other textiles artists, like the late Shereen Laplantz who wrote a book on book arts techniques after many decades of making plaited baskets. I have the pleasure of doing that today with three esteemed colleagues: Laura Strand, of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, Susan Warner Keene, Toronto, Bronfman award winner, formerly at Sheridan College, and Pam Scheinman, artist and historian Montclair State University, NJ.

I presented my first research paper on the topic, Silk Velvet and Embroidered Bindings of Medieval England and France at the Smith College TSA meeting in 2002. Afterwards, Mary Dusenbury invited me to present up to date view at a subsequent meeting. I’ll start by reviewing eight medieval bindings and quickly catch up to the present.

Prior to the invention of the printing press, European books were hand written, religious and legal documents owned buy the church and royalty. They were luxury objects and craftsmen and their patrons confirmed that status by using precious metals, gemstones and, for a short period, precious fabrics. The first examples illustrate both uses. The left image is from a painting and shows a loose chemise style cover that is decorative, but also functional. These chemises provided a kind of symbolic protection to bibles and prayer books, protecting their sacred nature from contact with human touch. The second is another chemise that holds the Indentures between Henry the Eighth and the Abbott of Islip in 1498. The metal seals and coloured cords represent the regions covered in the document. Books were stored flat in this era. The flaps on the chemises became impractical when we started storing books up right on shelves.