Bookbinding Workshop at the Buddhist English Library

While taking my weekly woodblock carving class in Cheongju this Spring, I had the great fortune of meeting a wonderful woman named 김태자 who was a fellow classmate. She is a professional bookbinder, mounter, and conservator, and teaches a monthly bookbinding and hanji dyeing workshop in Seoul for foreigners. The workshop is held at the Buddhist English Library in Insadong, and I roped Daniel into taking it with me, since the teacher kept encouraging me to invite as many people as possible. As it turns out, we were the only participants.

me and daniel
Daniel and I, holding our books and dyed hanji

Although I had learned much of the bookbinding process already during my internship at Kyujanggak, it was VERY helpful to see how my teacher worked differently and how she ran the workshop, since I hope to teach a similar workshop someday.

teacher dyeing
My teacher demonstrating how to dye hanji

We began by taking turns dyeing a sheet of hanji in a gardenia seed (chija 치자) dye bath. This recipe was different than what we had used at Kyujanggak. Here was the recipe:


  • 200g chija seeds (cut open, in half, to get to the fruit)
  • 2-3 teaspoons alum (백반)
  • 1 L water

Soak overnight, then strain and it’s ready.

I liked that this recipe involved no cooking. It made for a really vibrant, lively orange/yellow color. The chija seeds were domestically grown; you can also get the seeds imported from China but according to my teacher, the color is not as vibrant.

dyeing hanji
Dyeing hanji with chija (gardenia seeds)

We also took turns burnishing a sheet of hanji, which the teacher had lined with several layers of paper in advance.

me burnishing2
Burnishing lined hanji with a smooth stone over a patterned woodblock


At first I showed Daniel how to burnish his sheet, based on how I learned at Kyujanggak. Then when I went to do my sheet, the teacher came over and used two hands and burnished it with a lot more force, using her whole body and going back and forth. The pattern came out much clearer.


During the workshop we also sewed our own side-stitched books. We each selected decorative lined hanji for our book covers, as well as corner pieces that were pre-cut to size and made of lined silk.

First we folded about 50 sheets of pre-cut hanji in half to form the text block.

daniel folding paper
Daniel folding sheets of hanji in half. You can’t tell from this photo but he is having a blast! (I think)

We formed the inner binding, this time putting paper cord through two holes per station and tying a knot to secure:

We then pasted the corner pieces onto the text block. This was an added step that I had not done at Kyujanggak. It’s a nice decorative touch that adds a bit of protection to the corners of the spine.

Then we prepped our covers, hammered five holes along the spine, and sewed our books.

hammering holes
Hammering outer binding holes into the covers and text block 


Sewing with thick red cotton thread
daniel sewing his book.JPG
Daniel sewing his book

daniel sewing

I wish more people would participate in these wonderful programs offered at the Buddhist English Library. They also offer classes in traditional tea ceremony, traditional Korean painting and framing, and even hiking to Bukhan Mountain with a temple meal and tour. Unfortunately the organizers haven’t had great success advertising their programs, and I don’t think they have an online presence. For any foreigners in Seoul this summer who are interested, here is the 2016 schedule:


I think interested local folks can call 02-722-0204 for more information.

In any case, we felt lucky to be a part of the workshop, and now I feel pretty confident and excited about teaching a similar workshop in the States.

group photo
Two workshop participants, the teacher, and two teaching assistants

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